Friday, August 28, 2015

I Fratelli ~ Irving, Texas

First published November 28, 2008 and updated with a recent visit.

When I wrote the review in 2008, that represented our first visit. Since then, I Fratelli has become my go to place for local business in the area. Since all of my DFW co-workers are based in the Plano-Richardson-Garland region, while I'm here in Northeast Tarrant - we needed a meeting place that is halfway. I Fratelli is about 30 minutes away for each of us. As well, the DFW airport location makes it ideal when we meet with partners, vendors, and clients. I Fratelli is absolutely perfect for business: It's local; popular; has a nice bar; easy to get to; plenty of parking; and most importantly - great food. Everyone from out of town asks if we can meet there again.

Food: Like many locals in the DFW area, we first discovered I Fratelli via one of their many pizza to-go portals throughout the area. I Fratelli makes what I'd call "Dallas styled Italian pizza". It's a cracker thin crust, cut in tiny bite sized pieces, and served via an oval plate. Closer to the St. Louis style of Imo's (though no provel cheese) than the thick gooey, but crispy, New York variety. In effect, I Fratelli is the equivalent of the Dallas based Campisi's, which we covered earlier in the RJG. And like Campisi's, the pizza outlets are an extension of the anchor store as it were.

The I Fratelli restaurant on MacArthur is their Campisi's Egyptian. The menu, old and crinkly, also points to an earlier era (darn - they updated it recently!). And they're quick to point out that everything is homemade. That's music to my ears. Homemade meatballs, sausage, sauces, and salad dressing. No reheating what they bought off the Lisanti truck. They bring out a bowl of parmesan cheese, and actually leave it there. "Go ahead and dump the whole thing on your plate, that's fine". How many times does the RJG have to wait around and ask for cheese, and after they put one tiny teaspoon on, they seem irritated you might actually want more? Regular readers of the RJG know that I like my food spicy. At best, you might get the shaker with crushed red pepper (usually the wrong shaker, with holes meant for cheese, rather than the slat top for red pepper). And the kind of filtered, tame red pepper flakes you can buy at the grocery store. I Fratelli provides freshly ground red pepper, that will light you up. And they leave a bowl of that too. "Go ahead, dump the whole thing on your plate - we'll call 911 for you".

The house salad is delicious - pre-tossed and mixed with just the right amount of oil, vinegar, and Italian spices. Reminds me of the salad at Prego, also written about on this blog. As for the main course, many of the dishes are slathered in an old fashioned red sauce which is thick and smooth, with a unique recipe that goes beyond the usual flavors. The meatballs are delicious. Old school all the way, thick, meaty, and spicy. I had the chicken parm, again superb, though not quite as crispy as I like (update: On recent visits, the chicken parm is indeed crispy!). Honestly, I want to try everything on the menu, though I keep finding myself going back to the chicken parm. And it's good value on the lunch menu. I've seen my friends devour everything in sight with glee, whether it's Lasagna, Fettuccine Alfredo, or anything else.

Drink: Full bar with a couple of local craft brews usually on tap, plus a real Belgian once in awhile.

Location: I Fratelli is in a fine stand alone building that once housed Jack Astor's, a Canadian chain that has since exited the market. It sits on the west side of MacArthur between 161 and I-635, in front of a massive strip mall, and has its own street light to enter to and from. As you enter, it becomes apparent this is going to be a trip back to the 1960s and 70s. Open the door and you get a darkened waiting room (sans chairs) with a handful of plaques containing various newspaper clipping and other accolades. Facing you is another door. Open it up and there's the hostess table. Looking around, the restaurant is dark, with candlelit tables, dark woods and the air of spirited conversation. A welcoming place to be sure, and besides, everyone looks good. The RJG has long complained about restaurants that look like supermarkets with bright overhead lights. Save that for the fast food takeout joints. When I'm dining, I want to focus on food, drink and conversation, rather than noticing scars, wrinkles and spider veins for the first time - my own, that is... In general, I prefer the bar area, which has full table service, and is actually more comfortable than the restaurant proper.

Notes: In 1987, the Cole brothers first opened up I Fratelli just north of where they are located now. At that time, if you wanted Campisi's, one had to go to Dallas. Why not open a similar restaurant near the DFW airport? It was a hit, and the restaurant is enormously popular throughout the area, as evidenced by the proliferation of I Fratelli pizza stores that dot the landscape. This location, however, remains their sole restaurant.

Rating: 5.0. It rarely gets better than this!

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Hours: Sunday - Thursday 11 a.m. - 10 p.m; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.

I Fratelli Italian Ristorante and Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The RJG and Zomato - Round 2

Well, folks, there's been major changes since I wrote my scathing review of the restaurant website two months ago. What I would have never imagined to happen in my lifetime, I actually received an emailed letter from Zomato and an invitation to speak with them. It did not occur because of my review above, nor because of any supposed status I may have had (or not had) at Urbanspoon. It happened because while I was testing their "spoonback" feed that Urbanspoon used so successfully, it appeared to not work (like everything else it seemed to me by that time). I figured maybe I lost my status as a blogger, so I reapplied (it turns out I was still listed as a blogger). That's when a note showed up in my e-mail box from a one Alyssa, who is what they call a "Community Director", and she has DFW as her domain. She offered to speak with me by phone, or even meet for coffee. So I setup a conference call last week, and we chatted for about an hour about Zomato. She was incredibly enthusiastic which was quite refreshing honestly. I felt like I was speaking to one of my nieces, and they are all about the same age (early 20's I suspect).

I learned a lot about Zomato and their philosophy. And while nobody questions the switchover was somewhat of a disaster, it seems the website has made great strides since then. The primary difference between Urbanspoon and Zomato is that US was "crowd sourced", meaning in effect, folks like you and I provided the data. Zomato, on the other hand, actually employs people to do just that - maintain the integrity of the data. They visit the restaurants, or call them directly. I applaud this approach, as long as the company sticks with it. I put an enormous amount of effort into Urbanspoon in the past, to try and keep their data clean, and so I was entirely frustrated that I no longer had access to do that. But the good news is, I now have a channel to Alyssa (and hopefully any other Community Director), and she will assist me in making these changes, I just sent over about 15 errors this weekend, so we'll see how effective the system works.

The fact I only had about 15 errors to send over demonstrated to me just how much they've accomplished in a short time. In June the site was a complete mess. You couldn't search it, and it just seemed completely broken. But now it works reasonably well, though I find I have to double load pages on occasion, which is frustrating, and a few other things are still in a state of disrepair. So if Zomato is really going to commit that many dollars to this project (it can't be cheap employing people all over the country), then I can at least try and help. It was always charity from me, and will continue to be so. My blog notes are now filtering through the site again, just as in the past. And that's why you'll have noticed I put back in the Zomato links on newer reviews.

I will continue on with Facebook as well. What I have noticed is that Facebook will yield me immediate results, and then it pretty much dies on the vine. This is why I liked Urbanspoon. Some of my posts have 1000's of views over the years, making it well worth the effort. With Facebook, you might get 40 or 50 out of the gate, and then it just ends right there.

OK, so we're back in with Zomato. Stay tuned. Perhaps there will be a Round 3.

In other news, I'm trying to get more disciplined around blogging on the RJG. I'm regimented in all areas of my life it seems, except this. It's too much "last minute" thinking about what and where to eat. So often times we end up going to the same places, which is good too - but perhaps not always good. And then I stop writing for the blog, and complacency settles in. The weekdays have been too volatile, because of my real job of course. And I've just given up trying to squeeze in a restaurant lunch here or there. I have a good routine for lunch at home during the week (pasta, pasta, pasta...) and it works well for my non-stop conference calls. So I think if I can commit to the weekends, or vacation days, for this blog, we might have some consistency. We'll see. Worth a try.

Feedstore BBQ ~ Southlake, Texas

First published July 29, 2008 and updated with a recent visit.

It's been awhile since we headed over to the Feedstore in Southlake. How about some good old fashioned barbeque?

Food: Well it's barbeque, so it gets down to how they do with the marinates and the smoking. To date, we've tried the ham, hot links, beef brisket (chopped and sliced), turkey, pork ribs, chicken, and pulled pork (though it appears their hamburgers are popular as well). We've been pleased with most of these selections, and at this point, I think the chicken and pulled pork comes the most recommended. They have a nice variety of sides, including what I think to be the best dirty rice I've had at a barbecue place. The Feedstore also has two sauces, one spicy and one mild... the former has a small kick to it. On a January, 2014 visit, I noted: "On this visit I tried the smoked chicken and pulled pork in addition to the hot link. The chicken didn't quite measure up to the Cousins/Back Forty standard, but it was still very good. The pulled pork is some of the best I've had in a long time. And the dirty rice and spicy beans continue to be amongst the best sides served in all of DFW. Mrs. RJG had a chopped brisket sandwich, and it too was quite good." While I really enjoy Feedstore, there are better barbecue joints in the area. But definitely worth a visit now and again.

Location: The Feedstore location on White Chapel Rd could not be any better. On a winding two lane stretch, with magnificent estates on either side, comes a wide place in the road that houses an old wood store, circa 1950. These aren't the typical McMansions that dot the area, but rather opulent palaces, many of them a visual definition that the TV show Dallas portrayed in the 80s. Add to that a large open grazing land for cattle, and you have the picture perfect setting for an outdoor BBQ roadhouse. In this setting, the Feedstore BBQ is as anachronistic as one could possibly fathom. It really was an old feedstore, that served the local ranches and farms that for many years were predominant in the area. And major credit should go to the owners, and the town, for having the foresight and vision that an old barbecue stand sitting in a field of stately mansion ranches is an attractive feature. If you have guests from out of town, and they are looking for some place "distinct and local", I would make a beeline over to Southlake and its historic Feedstore BBQ.

Notes: The new Feedstore is now also open in Keller! They completely gutted and remodeled the old Up n' Smoke location in the old town, that we featured here prior. I have been once, with the RJG's official Mom, and we enjoyed it, but we prefer the atmosphere of the Southlake location.

Rating: 3.5

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Hours: Mon-Thu 11:00am - 8:30pm; Fri-Sat 11:00 am – 9:00 pm; Sun 11:00 am – 8:00 pm

Feedstore BBQ & More on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 3, 2015

Burrito Jimmy ~ Irving, Texas

Originally published: September 1, 2013 and updated with a recent visit

As I write this in July of 2015, Burrito Jimmy remains our favorite burrito place in DFW! We go often since the Las Colinas Beverages store mentioned below has become a regular destination for the RJG when he seeks new beers to try.

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I was looking for a new place to stock up on craft beers, and noticed that Irving has a cool new store called Las Colinas Beverages. Since it's on the other side of the Great Divide, Mrs. RJG and I decided to make the area a lunch destination. After lunch, the plan was to drop her off at the TJ Maxx (apparently this location has far more stuff than the usual) and I would drive a few miles south on MacArthur to the beer store. Now we haven't been to Cavalli since last year, but I had remembered they were closed for lunch during the weekends. So off to Urbanspoon I went to look for places nearby - and right next door is Burrito Jimmy, a name I hadn't run across before. As soon as I saw "Home of the Smothered Burrito", I knew this was the place to go. Smothered burritos are a staple of the Denver diet, and it's a concept that hasn't really taken hold here in DFW yet. As well, Mrs. RJG and I tried a couple of cool burrito chains while in Northern California this past week, so we are in a "burrito mood".

Food: From the beginning, you get the feeling that Burrito Jimmy is more Freebirds than Chipotle, as they ask you what kind of tortilla you would like. I settled on a large burrito with jalapeno cheddar. Then added rice, pinto beans, chicken, cheddar jack cheese, chives, diced jalapeno's, and lettuce. Now comes the key component: The smothering. I chose the hottest one (of course I did) which is the green tomatillo (one day I hope we'll see "smothered in green" where green equals spicy Hatch Green Chile). As a bonus he added a little heated super creamy queso on top. All this was laid out on a metal pizza tray. After I cut into my first bite, I knew this was going to be my favorite burrito place in DFW to date. This is definitely better than Freebirds (which I do like). The sauce was spicy and flavorful, the chicken was peppery, and the rice was absolutely cooked to perfection. Oh, and it was HUGE too. Mrs. RJG went with a Burrito Bowl, as she typically doesn't like flour tortillas. Her selection was similar to mine, except she was convinced to try the steak. It was super tender, and overall was a huge hit with her as well. Apparently they are known for excellent breakfast burritos as well!

Location: In a strip center NW of Regent and Belt Line, just south of 635. Just take the Belt Line exit and head south and start looking right!

Notes: Apparently Burrito Jimmy has a heritage that goes back to the Bronx, but this is strictly a Dallas area chain for now. How about that next planned location comes over here to Northeast Tarrant? One sure would look great in Grapevine/Southlake/Keller/NRH :-)   We'd be regulars, that's for sure. Their website still shows 7 locations, but Im not sure how accurate that is. But we do know the Irving one is still here! By the way, Las Colinas Beverages has an excellent selection and Mrs. RJG did confirm that this TJ Maxx was indeed superior to our local one. Of course, it cost me a new handbag to find that out...

Rating: 4.0

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Hours: Will need to note this next visit as it's not on their webpage (I hate that!)

Burrito Jimmy on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tacos y Mas ~ Keller, Texas

First published: December 16, 2012 and updated with a recent visit

Tacos y Mas is one of our go-to spots in the local area when in the mood for a few street tacos.

Food: As Mr. Music once noted, Tacos y Mas sort of fits a middle ground between the hardcore barrio lengua and sesos taqueria and the high end frozen margarita fueled fancy tacos that have penetrated the more affluent areas within the last couple of years. There are no margaritas here and the meats do not feature tongue and brains. After sampling a few of their tacos, I have to say the "senorita" is an absolute must. Wonderful tinga styled chicken that is quite spicy, and doesn't require any sauce. As for the $2 street tacos, definitely try the grilled chicken, steak, carnitas, or al pastor. All the meats are well cooked, loaded to the top, each possessing a great flavor on their own without needing a sauce - and they sprinkle a little onion/cilantro and add a lime wedge to each. But perhaps the real exciting factor is their 5 salsas that are stored in convenient squeeze bottles. The mildest is a Chipotle Mayonnaise sauce, that is delicious and goes best with any of their chicken dishes. The next sauce on the "spice meter" is the Ranchero, which is a noticeable step up on the heat. It's a typical red, but very tasty. The Verde sauce is next, and is arguable as to whether it's hotter than the red. Most likely it has more to do with the peppers in season rather than the recipe. The next two are the real winners of the batch for the RJG: The Bombero which is a mix of all sorts of chile peppers and was Mr. Music's favorite when he was here, and the Roja, a chile de arbol mixture that is my favorite. And they're working on a supposedly hotter green one that will be offered soon (as of June 2015, we're still waiting!). Anyway, I tend to splatter random sauces all over my tacos - and end up eating all of them in equal amounts. Well, maybe an extra squeeze or two for the Roja.... Worth noting that Tacos y Mas does serve breakfast everyday.

Drinks: Since we first published this post in 2012, Tacos y Mas started without alcohol, then did have frozen margaritas for a short while (which were quite good!), before shutting that down again. So it's back to fountain sodas, or if you prefer, real Mexican sugar sodas (in the bottle) that are very sweet and use more natural ingredients. This includes Coca-Cola as well.

Location: Tucked away in a strip center at the SE corner of Keller-Smithfield and Keller Pkwy. This particular location has a bit of history. Well, not their location but the one their predecessor moved into. Snooty Pig inhabited this space for many years, and as one of the only independent breakfast places around, was always too crowded for the relatively small spot. So they moved to the much large space a few doors down that was once inhabited by the very good Mezza Luna, a higher end Italian place that we wrote about a long time ago. Following their demise, a Thai restaurant called West of Asia took over. Quite frankly they were awful and I said as much on Urbanspoon. The owner surprisingly took me to task on the website, to which I responded even more harshly - and I'm sure did him no favors with potential new diners (who likes to see a spiteful owner? Just let the food do the talking!). They went out of business in about 3 months (no surprise to me), but resurfaced again as Chan of Asia (easy to change only one name on the neon sign right?). We didn't bother to go again to see if they magically improved, but of course they went out of business again shortly thereafter. At least now, a legitimately popular restaurant in Snooty Pig has usurped the spot, and will most likely be there for many years to come.

Notes: Tacos y Mas has a history dating back to 1997, and was pretty much a taco truck in a parking lot - that became known in Dallas via word of mouth. Now investors have joined in, and the Dallas Forest Lane location along with this Keller branch are their first forays into the "Mexican Grill" concept. I'm rather certain they plan on expanding from here. I do think they have a good thing going here, and fit a niche between the suburbanite sports-bar-taco-houses like Funky Baja's or Fuzzy's Taco Shop - and more traditional taquerias like Austin Taco House and Jalapeno's. For whatever reason, the Keller location does not show up on the website, and the Facebook page hasn't been updated in close to two years. So I'm not sure if this is a runaway branch, or just an oversight.

Rating: 3.5

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Hours: Mon-Sat 6:30a - 9p; Sun 8a - 8p

Tacos Y Mas 4 on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 29, 2015

Baker's Ribs ~ Grapevine, Texas

Baker's Ribs was next on the stack for this blog last November when the RJG decided to take a break. Bad timing I suppose for them. So here we are a few months later, and ready to report after a very recent visit.

Food: Solid selection of barbecue meats (brisket, chicken, turkey, ham, sausage, ribs) along with a decent mix of sides. On our first visit, Mrs. RJG reminded me that the St. Louis ribs were tough, but the sausage and brisket were delicious, which all rang true with me. So on this trip, in sticking with my chicken-first theme, I tried the baked half chicken special (no sides). And Mrs. RJG went for a Smoked Turkey sandwich plate with mac n' cheese and fried okra. And of course, we went about splitting the order. The results? The turkey was a big hit, absolutely delicious, moist (how many times have we sampled dry turkey!) and wonderfully smoked and seasoned. Mrs. RJG also stated the bread to be excellent, and while not toasted, it held together perfectly and didn't become mushy. The chicken was also excellent. Baker's Ribs variety is baked, not smoked, and has a slightly sweet glaze that penetrated throughout. Again, it was perfectly tender. It's a small half chicken, but at $5.99 on the special, it was still a great value. The m and c was very cheesy, though still appetizing and creamy enough to appreciate deep into the cup. Mrs. RJG also stated that the fried okra was nicely breaded, crunchy, and fresh inside. In short, excellent (I didn't partake).

Drinks: Baker's Ribs features a bar area. Their beer taps aren't overly imaginative, but they do have Grapevine Craft's Lakefire, which is always a good choice. We passed on alcohol this visit, to try the soda fountain which features exclusively the Real Sugar Soda Company from Oak Cliff Beverage Works. I never heard of them, so that was really cool! Unfortunately, Mrs. RJG won't let me drink a sugar soda, but they do have one diet cola option and it's quite good actually! But one of these days I want to try their other offerings...

Location: A new standalone location at the NE corner of Hwy 26 and Bass Pro Dr, predictably right behind the massive Bass Pro Shop. Order up at the counter, and they'll bark out your name when your order is ready. Head to the soda fountain or to the bar to grab your beer. And then sit wherever you like. On our visit during the lunch hour, the place was quite crowded, and we did have about a 10-15 minute wait in line to order. But our meal was ready in less than 5 from there.

Notes: Baker's Ribs started in Dallas in 1988, and has grown to a chain of 10 locations, mostly in the environs of DFW. Though there is one franchised location in the Minneapolis area!

Rating: 4.0. It's only two visits in, but I have a feeling we could over and over and find uniformly excellent results. If not, we'll change it. Ah, the beauty of real time data! :-)

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Hours: 11a-10p everyday

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Anamia's Tex-Mex ~ Southlake, Texas

First published: October 27, 2008 and updated with a recent visit

As far as the RJG is concerned, Anamia's remains our favorite Mexican restaurant in NE Tarrant (as I update this post in June of 2015). And we award them with the very rare and coveted 5.0 rating! We've been going to Anamia's ever since we first moved back to the area in 2003, so this recommendation has some heft to it. Anamia's is not inexpensive, but it's worth the extra dollars for a consistent, high quality meal, every time!

Food: Despite having "Tex-Mex" in their name, I would avoid the combo plates (they're average at best). We recommend you go straight for the Mexican specialties and never look back. Mr. RJG personally recommends Rickey's Tacos which features charbroiled white meat chicken in a homemade soft corn tortilla, heavily seasoned, that is served with rice and many condiments (onions, diced jalapeno's, and cilantro). Along with a wonderful, and entirely unique, fiery dark red pasilla  sauce. Mrs. RJG gets a monthly craving for their shrimp enchiladas, which she says are the best she's ever had - any city, any place. And the few times she lets me sneak in a bite, I can see her point. One thing that Anamia's does, and it seems like such a simple concept but so few do it, is they season the meat / fish before rolling them in the tortilla. That is to say, the shrimp could be eaten ala carte and still be delicious. Most places will just add plain boiled shrimp and hope the enchilada ingredients take over from there. Not Anamia's. When looking for lighter fare, I recommend Pollo Cancun which is a heavily season chicken breast, and comes with rice and charro beans. This dish isn't always on their menu, but you can still ask for it. Mrs. RJG also recommends the Tortilla Soup, and she mentions to make it "super hot temperature", perfect for a cold winter day. And to think I'm this far into the review without discussing the chips. Once again, Anamia's does not skimp on quality. Homemade crispy chips with a great corn flavor on its own - and the salsa has a slight punch with a strong chili pepper / garlic taste. It's a one-of-a-kind salsa - I can give no better compliment than that. They also have what they call a "molcajete" sauce, which is in reality their fire burner, and it looking for extra heat, ask for it by name.  Also worth mentioning that Anamia's has dedicated servers for chips and salsa, so you never have to trun your heads looking for a refill! The tableside homemade guacamole is also a hit, and we see many families go for this option.

Drinks: I have to say that Anamia's is tops when it comes to house margaritas. Mrs. RJG gets it on the rocks, and I always get it frozen. Always great - every time! They actually put tequila in them (imagine that?). Even their regular/small size packs a punch, And that's all we need to be satisfied. They have a full bar, with plenty of Mexican lagers and a wine selection as well.

Location: Anamia's is a stand alone building on the NW corner of Southlake Blvd and Gateway(Commerce). It's just west of 114, so it's easy to get to if you are anywhere near DFW airport. The restaurant itself is cozy (or as cozy as a family Mexican restaurant can get). We like the bar area, where we can relax in the lounge chairs, and perhaps escape some of the screaming children, and also take a sneak peak at the games on the various televisions nearby. Also worth noting is the quality of the help staff. This was an issue in the early days for Anamia's, but strong management has obviously fixed this problem in the last 7 or 8 years. We see many of the same smiling faces each time we visit, and now know some of them on a first name basis. I also like that they wear sharp uniforms, adding to the professionalism. My dad was in the uniform business, so the RJG tends to notice those details... If you go during primetime (Fri/Sat dinner or Sun lunch especially), be prepared for Mr. RJG's personal nightmare: The long wait and the black ashtray buzzer. But we've never had issues getting in any other day of the week.

Notes: Anamia's started in Coppell in 1996 and has since branched out to Flower Mound, Southlake, and Plano. Clearly they are a successful local chain.

Rating: 5.0

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Hours: Sun-Thu: 11a-10p; Fri-Sat: 11a-10:30p

Anamia's Tex-Mex on Urbanspoon

Taco Villa ~ Fort Worth, Texas

Originally published: August 6, 2013 and updated with a recent visit

Ask and ye shall receive right? It was only a little over a year ago that if you wanted to go to Taco Villa, you had to venture 6 hours to West Texas (Amarillo, Midland/Odessa). Then came their surprise entry to the DFW market with a new location in Benbrook. Much closer of course, but still a good 45 minute haul for us here in NE Tarrant. So I suggested on these very pages perhaps a new location up our way will be met with much glee. And indeed it came to pass and we are filled with glee :-)

Food: Let's cut to the chase: We really love their old school crunchy ground beef tacos, loaded to the top with fresh meat and cheese (and a big slice of tomato). While the meat is not a strikingly seasoned one, its subtlety is instantly familiar and comforting. And you can get this meat in various other formations like chalupas, salads, sloppy joe's, burritos, quesadillas, etc.. Their hot sauce is a nicely spiced pepper blend, thick but smooth. Not hot at all, but again familiar and tasty. But if you do wish to have something with a bit of kick, this location has a homemade habanero sauce, which packs a bit of heat (sometimes more than others). If you're really bold, they actually offer whole habaneros. I've never seen anyone do that before! At one time they offered a homemade spicy green sauce, but it appears they replaced it with the habanero. Also worth mentioning, is this location offers breakfast. Not all Taco Villa's do.

Location: Free standing structure on the east side of Beach St, a few blocks north of North Tarrant Pkwy. Newly built in 2013. Brightly decorated in the old fast food style, and very clean.

Notes: I often would eat at Taco Villa while a student at Texas Tech in Lubbock back in the early to mid 1980s. Before we go further here, a quick history lesson. Taco Villa was a decent sized regional chain based in West Texas and was started by Bobby Cox in 1968 (Odessa). Sometime after I left college, in the late 1980s, he sold the chain to some investors. From what I understand, they ran the chain into the ground, and Cox wanted to buy back in. About 10+ years ago he bought most of the stores back, and had a friend of his buy the Lubbock locations (and a couple of other locations). So there are two different Taco Villa's, each independently run and with different logos (and we did manage a visit to one in Lubbock recently). The branch that has ventured into the DFW area is the original one as owned by Bobby Cox.

Rating: 4.0

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Hours: Sun-Thur: 6:30a-11:00p; Fri-Sat 6:30a-Midnight

Taco Villa on Urbanspoon

Grimaldi's Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria ~ Grapevine, Texas

Originally published: March 16, 2013 and updated with a recent visit

Both Mr. and Mrs. RJG consider Grimaldi's the best pizza in DFW (as of June 2015!). That's no small claim, especially considering worthy challengers such as INZO, Coal Vines, Campania, and Cavalli.

Food: Basically, Grimaldi's has perfected the coal oven baked pizza formula. Apparently they use a special coal imported from Pennsylvania, that burns hotter and cleaner than traditional coal. Grimaldi's, of course, insists that all of their outlets use this coal. We've been many times over the years, and the pizza is perfect every single time. The ingredients are out of this world, and most are homemade. The sauce is delicious and the mozzarella is clearly made from local produce. I'm not even sure you can make a pizza better than this. As Dan Patrick is fond of saying: You can't stop them, you can only hope to contain them. And we haven't even started on their delicious salads, which Mrs. RJG devours - and I fortunately get to help. Their Mediterranean Salad is outstanding, with fresh greens, a splendid vinaigrette dressing, feta cheese, and lots of olives, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Worth noting the nomenclature Grimaldi's uses. When you see the term "personal", think "small", When you see "small", think "large". That's the kind of portion size we're talking about here.

Drinks: They have a fine selection of wine and beer as well. And nothing goes better with a Grimaldi's pizza then an ice cold bottle of Brooklyn Lager. Or a pint of Peroni on draught. They have a nice bar area, that we've yet to take advantage of. But it looks appealing if I were to be on my own. Grab a pint and a personal pizza, and I'd be in heaven.

Location: Sits at the corner of a new center (2012) built on the NE corner of 114 and William B Tate. Now that the airport freeway road construction is complete, getting here is a breeze. The interior is awesome with dark woods, and plenty of black and white pictures of The Big Apple. Plenty of flat screens in the bar too, and it's a welcoming place if you're single and perhaps traveling on business.They also tend to play classic pop in the Frank Sinatra tradition, which I prefer in places like this. No small detail is overlooked.

Notes: We first came across Grimaldi's with their Brooklyn Bridge location, and there were lines a mile long it seemed. So we never took the time to eat there (if you can't find good pizza while in Brooklyn, you are truly an unlucky person). Some very wise investors from Arizona decided to replicate the concept and bring it nationwide. It seems they are holding to a very strict standard, and if they continue to do so, will be successful for many years. My only advice to them is not to go to the public markets. Once they do that, profit will become more important than high standards. DFW is fortunate to have a few locations throughout, including Northeast Tarrant's own in Grapevine.

Rating: 4.5

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Hours: Sun-Thu: 11a-10p; Fri-Sat: 11a-11p

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In-N-Out Burger ~ Hurst, Texas

Originally published: January 22, 2013 and updated with a recent visit

I wanted to get a new entry here for In-N-Out.  We had previously written about them, after a visit to the Prescott, Arizona location. Also worth noting for folks in NE Tarrant, In-N-Out is also open in Grapevine too. The locations are equidistant from the RJG, but the Hurst store is a bit more convenient for our daily use.

Food: As we stated in the previous review, the beauty of In-N-Out is their limited menu. So burgers, fries, shakes, and sodas. That's about it. All at a very affordable price. Fresh ingredients define their hamburgers, the meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese, and buns always seem if they were bought right off the farm and served up steaming hot. Their signature dressing is a Thousand Island basically. The Double-Double is their signature burger. It's a double meat (thin patties so not overly filling), double cheese, and still the best value in town. Oh, and their fries are delicious as well. There's a reason In-N-out is extremely popular. High food quality + Low prices = Success.

Drink: Great tasting shakes, even if they are machine made. Naturally, fountain sodas and water available too.

Location: The familiar red and yellow signage can be seen on the NE corner of 121/183 and Precinct Line Road. And if you go through the drive through, it's like being in a car wash, as you can see the workers cooking and assembling everyone's meal (not to mention the refreshing shade in the summer). In-N-Out has a reputation for paying their workers more and better benefits, and as such, they tend to get more squeaky clean employees than the usual fast food franchise.

Notes: So after much hoopla, In-N-Out has finally arrived to NE Tarrant. I waited. I didn't cheat and go to one in Irving or Richardson. We've been featuring the restaurant long before Texas was even a gleam in their eye. We laughed at the false announcement on NBC 5 a few years ago. And on our Whataburger review, we predicted that folks from Texas were going to protect their goofy little brother and attack this "unwanted" California chain. They can take their fancy fruits' and nuts' asses out of here! And bring Del Taco with ya, you ingrates! And as sure as the sun comes up every morning, it came to pass. Look at this! Be sure to read the comments. My goodness, how silly.  As if eating at different burger places is mutually exclusive and one cannot possibly enjoy all of the above. In-N-Out Burger knows exactly what they're doing. These folks can scream to high heavens and suggest they're not going to make it here and be out of business in mere weeks. No way guys. As someone who watched them succeed in none other than the Bay Area (a polar opposite culture to Los Angeles), I'm rather certain they'll do fine in a burger culture like DFW. In-N-Out is a Southern California type place, so for me to see lines around the building for years and years at various San Francisco area locations proves to me that folks like a good tasting burger at a great price. It's a simple pleasure. It doesn't have to be the best ever to be good. Why does everything in our culture now have to rule or suck? Where's the middle ground? We've become Bevis and Butthead in our opinions. Me? I'm just grateful they're here and I can go anytime I want. It sure beats having to wait until I travel out West!

Rating: 4.0

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Hours: Sun-Thu: 10:30a-1:00a; Fri-Sat: 10:30a-1:30a

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Schlotzsky's ~ Southlake, Texas

Original published: March 4, 2010 and updated with a recent visit

Schlotzsky's is one of those chains folks tend to miss if you don't live near one. We've been fortunate that in both Texas and Colorado, they are well represented. But it's not something we take for granted, and they would be sorely missed if suddenly they were shut down due to something like bankruptcy. If you haven't been for awhile (or ever), support your local franchiser and give it a shot!

Food: With Schlotzsky's, it's all about the bread. Long before Quizno's showed up, Schlotzsky's pioneered the conveyer belt toasted concept, and their bread reacts well to it, providing the right crispiness and flavors when heated properly. That being said, the Southlake location, going back to the first time we went here in 2003, never got their ovens set right. No problem for the RJG, as he always gets the sandwiches to go, and toasts them again at home! Problem solved. They have various breads, veggie, and meat combinations that are all very good, but if it weren't for the bread itself (including for pizzas), Schlotzsky's would be long gone from the culinary landscape. My favorite is a medium Original Deluxe, which is double the meat. It's a big sandwich, and certainly something I only eat after having run over 3 miles. Mrs. RJG likes a small Original on Jalapeno Cheese bread.

Location: This particular Schlotzsky's sits on prime real estate, on a surprisingly undeveloped stretch of Southlake Blvd northeast of Davis. It's there all alone. Though a choice location, if heading east, you will need to make a U-Turn on Southlake Blvd to get there. It's a clean restaurant, though as stated above, we now only use the drive through so we can reheat the sandwich.

Notes: Schlotzsky's humble beginnings goes back to 1971 in Austin. Being relatively close in proximity to Austin, Dallas was an early expansion city for the then small chain, and so I first enjoyed them at their northwest Dallas location in the early 1980s while still in high school. And they followed me to my college years in Lubbock throughout the middle 80s. Today, they are an international chain, though Texas is still their primary home, and where you will find the most locations.

Rating: 4.0

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Hours: Mon-Sun: 10:30a - 10:00p

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Jack Allen's Kitchen ~ Round Rock, Texas

And here's the final of the latest submissions from Mr. Music. And this one comes highly recommended!

Started with complimentary homemade pimento cheese and flat bread crackers. I’ve never been much of a pimento cheese fan, but since it is homemade, I figured “what the heck”. I’m glad I did because it was very nice! The menu was very interesting and I knew I’d have trouble making a decision! Luckily the waiter came by to tell us about the local craft beers they had on tap. Mrs. Music mentioned they had Live Oak Hefe and I knew my search was over! Mrs. Music decided to check out the Thirsty Goat Amber from Austin’s Thirsty Planet. Neither of us had tried anything from them before; it was nice, but not really my thing. They have about 5 or 6 local craft beers at Jack Allen’s. They source all their food and drink from local sources in Texas. We thought that was pretty cool and decided we’d try a few things. We decided on an appetizer called “Smashed Guacamole” after belaboring the interesting appetizers like “Blue Crab Gratin” baked with artichokes, spinach and parmesan or the “Red Chile Fries”, “Spinach Gorgonzola Ravioli” or “Carl Miller’s Layered Chunky Queso” with green chili pork, queso and guacamole! Our dish was a very chunky, hardly mixed guacamole, covered in pumpkin seeds and cojito cheese. A little onion, tomato and cilantro were sparsely mixed in; just the way I like it! For an extra buck they throw in a bowl of their homemade salsa; yes please! Oh, the guacamole was delicious! I’ll be making some at home! The salsa was good and had a chipotle theme; but what made it awesome was when the waiter brought in a BIG bottle of their homemade habanero sauce which they make gallons of daily! It was yummy and mixed in with the salsa and guac, excellent! It did need a little salt for my taste, but just a dash. The chips were light and crunchy; yummy! On to the main courses. Music junior went for the 5 cheese mac n cheese and baby music opted for the hand battered chicken strips. The mac and cheese was served with amori pasta. I had to look it up, but was basically long spiraling tubes and were filled with the yummy cheese blend! Everyone loved it! Baby music didn’t love the chicken strips as much as the rest of us; she preferred the mac n cheese. But we thought the chicken strips were some of the best we’d ever had! Mrs. Music decided to check out one of the specials; a giant crab cake made with Texas Gulf lump crab in a mole verde topped with fresh relish made from local greens and corn. She loved it and from the taste I got, I did too! I ended up going with the same Mexican/Seafood/light theme and checked out the “Baja Grilled Fish Tacos”; they were stuffed with red snapper and served with avocado, a yummy fresh slaw and “veggie studded” rice smothered in black beans! Lots of their habanero sauce was used on this plate; by me! The entire thing was fantastic! Our waiter, Aryan was amazing; we talked with him all night. The prices were very reasonable too. We had a great experience and cannot wait to return!

Notes: There are 3 Jack Allen locations, the other two in Austin: Oak Hill and 360

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Hours: Monday-Thursday: 11am – 10pm; Friday-Saturday: 11am – 10:30pm; Sunday: 10am – 10pm (Brunch 10am – 2pm)

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Thai Spoon ~ Round Rock, Texas

Another review from Mr. Music!

Thai food is one of my all-time favorite ethnic styles of food. So I go as often as possible! Mrs. Music likes it; she used to love it but sort of lost that love, so we don’t go as often as we used to. Fortunately, music junior and baby music both LOVE Thai food. They love tom kha gai (coconut chicken soup) and pad kee mow (the wide noodles with lots of basil and slightly sweet sauce). There are many Thai restaurants around these days, but I’m all for it! I’m interested in trying each one! We got the chance to try Thai Spoon in Round Rock; rated one of the better Thai places in the area. We didn’t really get to try all the usual items because were weren’t as hungry as usual. Baby music got some dumplings and music junior opted for fried rice with chicken. Both were very good! Mrs. Music and I each ordered a big bowl of Tom Kha Gai and decided to split a salad with ginger dressing. The salad was made with lots of fresh spinach and carrots with cucumber and tomato with a ginger/soy dressing. It was yummy. The soup was great; the broth had lots of flavor from galangal and lemon grass although they strained the pieces of them out. I actually prefer to see the galangal and lemon grass in the soup. They had lots of moist chicken and mushrooms. The soup was solid, but nothing ground breaking. I’d definitely be up to check this place out again and try some curry or noodles! The menu had about everything you know and several you don't!

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Hours: Mon-Fri (lunch): 11.00am - 2.00pm; Mon-Thu (dinner): 5.00pm - 9.00pm; Sat (lunch): 11.30 am - 3.00pm; Fri-Sat (dinner): 5.00pm - 9.30pm; Sun (dinner only): 5.00pm - 9.00pm

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El Taquito Sabor Mexico ~ Round Rock, Texas

As mentioned a few weeks back, we have a fresh round of reviews from Mr. Music and family on a recent excursion down to Round Rock. Let's see how they fared! (Note: Mr. Music's reviews/notes going forward will be in blue).

Mr Music is a huge fan of good Al Pastor! Trouble is, I don’t really know where to find great Al Pastor anymore. While down in Round Rock over the weekend with the Music family, I saw that Austin and Round Rock are heavily populated with taco stands! I decided to do a little reading to see if I could find a place. Of course most of the places that were touted as great Al Pastor joints (and there were several!), were all near downtown Austin, East or South. By the time I took up this adventure, we didn’t really have that much more time so I decided to save them for another time and see what I could find on the north end. In comes El Taquito! I read some really mixed reviews about the place, but when I saw that they make Al Pastor using El Trompo, one of those big spits like they use for gyro meat and they make homemade tortillas, I figured it was worth a try. My only chance was to run down Sunday morning as Mrs. Music took the kids to the restaurant’s free breakfast buffet. When I got the place, I was a little disheartened; it looked like an upscale Taco Cabana! I was afraid it would be Americanized and fast food like. The counter looked like a fast food place as did the menu.. except for a few things. For one, they have a section on the menu showing the meats they sell by the pound! Deshebrada, carnitas, Barbacoa, Al Pastor and more! Alright, al pastor here I come! I ordered a pound! After I paid, I saw on the other side of the cash register was a big salsa bar! This is getting better all the time! There were two green and two reds and the sauces were labeled hot and very hot, except for one mild red! They also had cilantro, onion, marinated cucumber and grilled jalapeno strips on the bar! As I waited they brought me a basket of hot fresh chips; so I tried all the salsas, which were all very tasty and definitely had a decent amount of heat. I got the meat back to the hotel; it came with about a dozen thin, hot and fresh tortillas heche amano! Lots of cilantro and onion along with my buckets of salsa! The meat was great; it was hot and moist; it was seasoned pretty well and just a little greasy. The tortillas were nice as well. So here is the honest truth. I like this place; the food we tried was really good, not great. The service was awesome and the prices are good. It is pretty commercial compared to the little hole in the walls I usually haunt and is a bit like a chain, but a very good chain! I’d love for one to open in my neighborhood

Notes: El Taquito is an Austin area chain with 3 locations including the Riverside neighborhood of Austin, and Pflugerville.

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Hours: Sun-Wed: 7a - 10p; Thu-Sat: 7a - 1a

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Back Forty Smokehouse Barbecue ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

Reader Michael had suggested this place on our Riscky's feature, and coincidentally Mrs. RJG had requested to go not long after. So here we are for the first time in nearly a year. We had stopped eating barbecue for awhile, but we're back, and this remains our favorite in NE Tarrant. But we haven't tried them all either. That's a disclaimer meaning... we need to go out and eat more BBQ!

Food: As alluded to above, the barbecue here is excellent, and not a side show for the entertainment. We've tried many cuts of meat here, and almost without exception, we have come away pleased. The favorite remains the smoked chicken, and it is because of here that it became my test dish for barbecue as opposed to the traditional sliced brisket. In past visits we were quite enamored with the jalapeno cheese and German sausages, Carolina pulled pork, sliced brisket, pork ribs, and the country ham. Only the turkey has disappointed us - but again that was two years ago. As for sides, the mac and cheese continues to wow, and they even make corn on the cob interesting by leaving it vertical in a pile of sweet butter. Mrs. RJG did express some displeasure with the pinto beans stating they were a bit too much on the lard side. And the potato salad wasn't a hit either as she claimed it was too sour. Back to the positive, both the BBQ sauce and the hot pepper sauce are excellent condiments. Though they aren't needed to make the barbecue taste good.

Drinks: They have a full bar for wine and beer, but nothing on tap that is worthy (sure, I like Shiner Bock, but c'mon, they can have more than that). They do have a few craft brews in bottles though, but nothing too exotic. Also worth noting is they carry a full line of Dublin Bottling Works cane sugar sodas. But Mrs. RJG wouldn't let me have one. I'll have to sneak one in on a separate visit. (Shhh.....). So we had Coke Zero from the fountain. That's what we drink at lunch when at home (read: boring).

Location: As the owner said to the Star-Telegram "The building just screams barbecue!" It's an old dry goods warehouse, smack dab in the middle of old town Smithfield. It sits prominently on the NW corner of Davis Blvd and Main. Across the street is the Cotton Belt passenger railroad line (which I presume will eventually be a stop if light rail ever surfaces in this area). Smithfield was eventually incorporated by NRH in 1960, but the old town has remained intact and includes historical markers dating back to 1872. In addition to the large indoor space, there's also a nice patio where live country music and other entertainment is performed on weekend evenings. Oh, and plenty of flat screens around to watch sports if so desired.

Notes: Back Forty is the 3rd barbecue restaurant to occupy this space. The prior two - Cotton Belt and Big Barn, each had a few year run before petering out. We tried them both over the years, and neither made much of a mark. Also worth noting that Back Forty is directly related to Fort Worth BBQ royalty: Cousins

Rating: 4.0

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Hours: (copying in - too complicated lol): SUNDAY 11am - 3pm;  TUESDAY - WEDNESDAY 11am-8pm; THURSDAY 11am - 9pm; FRIDAY-SATURDAY KITCHEN 11am - 10:00pm; FRIDAY -SATURDAY BAR - 11am - 10:30pm; CLOSED MONDAY

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Chuy's Tex-Mex ~ Southlake, Texas

Some of you may recall my somewhat scathing review of the Arlington location a few years back. It was one of those ridiculous outings where everything that could go wrong - did go wrong. We had a better experience for a business lunch at the Plano location about a year later. But we haven't been back since. Thing is, the RJG wants to like Chuy's. Even though Tex-Mex is prominently featured in their name, it is their fascination with New Mexican food that keeps us wondering if it isn't better than we recalled. There's so few places that serve New Mexican cuisine in DFW, and so we get somewhat desperate I think. We've become such fans of the food type, that Mrs. RJG and I now have gone to Santa Fe for the last two years and spent a week each year there. I work from the hotel and we eat two squares a day, trying different restaurants (or going back to favorites). And we plan on making it again this year. One of my regrets is not featuring Santa Fe on this blog. I really hope to fix that this year. Anyway, as most of you know already, the hipster chain has made its way to Northeast Tarrant. So how did we fare this time?

Food: With Mexican food, a large of the experience is the chips and salsa. The chips are lame, very thin and break easily when dipping. The salsa is really a pico de gallo. It's freshly blended whole tomatoes (still foaming when served) with other spices. It's not bad (surprisingly), but compared to a cooked and blended sauce, it's a huge disappointment. I think they should offer a real salsa at this point in their career. As for the entrees, my eyes on this visit fell to the Elvis Green Chile Fried Chicken. Oh man. It's amazing I'm still walking around eating stuff like this. It's breaded with crushed Lays potato chips, and smothered in a fine green chile. It was like a chicken parmesan with green chile! It was excellent, no question about it. As for their "smothered in green" it's pretty good, but lacks the flavor we've come to expect from both New Mexico, and even Colorado for that matter. This was served with green chile rice and refried beans. Mrs. RJG went with the Vegetarian combo, but with hatch green chile instead of ranchero sauce. She expressed delight at the crispiness of the chile relleno and the melted white Mexican cheese. And we both enjoyed the rice and beans which were uniformly excellent.

Drinks: They claim fame with their margaritas (don't they all?), and they have a variety to choose from. I had the frozen concoction, and as they promote, it is very clear it's made with fresh lime juice. They aren't super strong, but at $6 I didn't expect they would be. You can always add a tequila "floater" if you want more of a kick. Mrs. RJG enjoyed her margarita on the rocks and stated similar to me.

Location: Chuy's anchors a new strip center on the southeast corner of TX-114 and Carroll Ave. It's a spacious restaurant, and for those coming up or down Carroll, most of the parking is off the freeway service road. We chose - somewhat at the last minute - to go here on a Saturday night. This decision was made at 4 something, so we left right away knowing it would be crowded. Even at 5, this place was an absolute zoo. We did get seated right away, but it was mobbed with families and big groups. There were so many screaming babies and toddlers, it seemed more like a nursery school than a restaurant. Not a pleasant experience at all. I'm not sure what the restaurant can do about this (answer: not much unfortunately), but if you're the type who gets exhausted by having people around you at all times, noises coming at you from all directions, and just general mayhem, then I would suggest coming here at 2:30 on a Wednesday (maybe). Obviously folks love coming here - or it wouldn't be jammed with families waiting to get in. But it's not a Regular Joe's kind of place, that's for certain. When we left, there was a line that made it seem as if the Rolling Stones were there in concert. Whew - good luck to them and their stomachs!

Notes: Chuy's started with humble beginnings in Austin circa 1982. They are now expanding rapidly around the country with dozens of locations. No question about it - this is a popular place to eat.

Rating: 3.0

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Hours: Mon - Thu 11am to 10pm; Fri - Sat 11am to 11pm; Sun 10:30am to 10pm

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Jersey Mike's Subs ~ Keller, Texas

Seems like the RJG has been following Jersey Mike's all over town. From their start in the area in the mid/late 1980s in Northwest Dallas (which everyone seems to have forgotten, including the local newspapers) to their 2003 reemergence on Greenville Avenue in Dallas to their Las Colinas location near my office at the time (2005-2006). Since then they've opened two locations on Southlake Blvd, and now a brand new store further west on the same road known as Keller Pkwy. As I joked in the summary post a few days ago, the RJG now has a closer location - by about 3 minutes. Sorry Southlake! Take it up with corporate...

Food: Old fashioned deli styled sandwiches, where they slice the meat right in front of you. They then go on to assemble the sandwich with "Mike's Way", and chips/drink/pay/done. C'ya! The bread is homemade at each location, and I have to say after two visits, the Keller location is better than the Southlake one (Centennial Park). Seriously! I didn't think that was possible, but I have to say the bread here is truly sublime. The meats are all top notch, and the fixings are very fresh. No old lettuce here! In the past (at other locations), I've tried a couple of their "hot" items, but really I go to Jersey Mike's for cold sub sandwiches, and generally of the "Italian" variety. I could eat here every week. And sometimes I do (thus earning its rating)... It's perfect for to-go orders, and I can get back home for a quick conference call while stuffing my face. From my perspective, I think it would be hard to beat Jersey Mike's for subs, even for a small family run operation.

Drinks: Sodas / teas / bottled drinks. Nothing special. Like I said above, I usually take it home, so it doesn't matter to me.

Location: Anchors a brand new strip center (2015) which is on the north side of Keller Pkwy, west of Keller-Smithfield. Exactly my friends - pretty much next to Freddy's that we just spoke about recently. This location seems a tad smaller than the others, and the parking is a bit more scarce.

Notes: Starting as far back as 1956, Jersey Mike's is now on a tear. They have over 750 locations and are found in the majority of the USA.

Rating: 4.0

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Hours: Every day 10:00a - 9:00p

RJG May 2008 feature of the Las Colinas location

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Monday, June 8, 2015

Thai Chili ~ Roanoke, Texas

When we first moved to NE Tarrant in 2003, the closest Thai restaurant to us was Thai Chili in the Southlake Town Square. With their traditional Thai cooking, pleasant surroundings, and a "Kill Me" option regarding heat level, it quickly became a favorite within the RJG household. But over time, customer service waned, the cooking was inconsistent, and we were tired of paying for the markups on the wine. So we started going to Top Thai in NRH (sadly long closed), Thai Rice (Grapevine - also closed), as well as two favorites of the RJG for years to come: Bangkok Cuisine (Haltom City) and Sweet Basil (Hurst). When Sea Siam came to Keller, that seemed to end our wanderlust for Thai food. We had 3 favorites all within the NE Tarrant. The last time we dined at Thai Chili was in 2006 before the birth of this blog. And now we return. For their part, Thai Chili has recently moved out of their posh digs, and moved NW to Roanoke.

Food: Thai Chili has a full menu of traditional Thai selections (fortunately it's a real Thai place - not "Asian" which is sadly all too common these days). The RJG's primary dish is Thai styled basil chicken, not something always offered, but Thai Chili does claim to have an authentic version. It's not (for one thing they use regular chicken and then shred it, rather than ground chicken), but it is a good facsimile. Honestly it tastes different than I remember - very heavy on the onions in particular. Which recalled Thai Rice (mentioned above) and I'm wondering if Thai Chili has new ownership - or at least new cooks. Mrs. RJG likes their Wild Chili Fire which is white meat chicken and loads of veggies. She had hers 3 star Hot and I went with 4 star Hot Hot. Neither of us could complain about the heat levels and they definitely lived up to their name. I chose not to go Kill Me this time, but probably will next, when or if we go back. We decided to forgo our usual appetizer and, as per custom, we didn't have dessert. I will say that Thai Chili's prices are considerably higher than the competition, especially when you consider....

Drink: ...unlike most Thai restaurants in the area that allows for BYOB, Thai Chili sells beer and wine. And it's not particularly cheap either. While it's nice to get Kiran Ichiban on tap, we would prefer to bring our own bottle of Chardonnay at a third of the price they charge.

Location: Thai Chili took over the old Bayou Jack's (who moved to the main square) that sits on the east side of US 377. They don't have the signage on the building yet, so keep a sharp eye out for their placard. They did a nice job of renovating the former seafood house, which was quite honestly a bit of a dive. Though pleasant, it's not near as nice as their former site in Southlake.

Notes: Overall, a good choice for Thai food when up this far north. But if you head further south, better options await you.

Rating: 3.0

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Hours: Mon-Thu: 11:00-9:00; Fri-Sat: 11:00-9:30. Closed Sunday

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Sunday, June 7, 2015

Freddy's Frozen Custard & Steakburgers ~ Keller, Texas

In early 2014, Freddy's opened this location in Keller, bringing them that much closer to the RJG's cow pasture.

Food: No surprises here, it's a burger joint. They have two signature burgers: Freddy's Original and California style. The latter influenced by In-N-Out and has a tomato slice and thousand island dressing (Freddy's sauce). Because we now have INO, there's little reason to go for the imitation, and rather it's best to stick with the Freddy's Original Double. This particularly yummy burger contains cheese, mustard, pickles, and onions - and it's recommended to get two patties since they are so thin. And speaking of those patties, they are burnt to a crisp on the edges, which honestly is delicious. You get all the grease of burgers' past that way! They also have patty melts, hot dogs (that look really good), and a chicken sandwich if you insist. I have to admit, a Freddy's double with gooey yellow cheese is a very fine tasting burger (even if a bit salty). I haven't been so inclined to try much else - other than the California burger we mentioned in the above link. Oh, and the fries are awesome. The super thin crispy "shoestring" kind. And they don't skimp on the quantity either.

Drinks/Desserts: And this is the other reason to go to Freddy's: Frozen custard. I get a mini, and still feel guilty. But their Concrete's are truly wonderful. They're not hardcore like Ted Drewes in St. Louis where they hold it upside down or anything (thus the name concrete), but for your local fast food franchise they do a fine job. You can get vanilla or chocolate, and a variety of mix-ins/syrups. They also have sundaes, if you think you can get out of your car after eating one. Soda/tea for drinks of course.

Location: On the north side of Keller Pkwy, just west of Keller-Smithfield (Keller likes to have their name in half the street signs...). It's a standalone building, that you can't miss, with a drive-thru, which is usually what I use. I have dined in the restaurant once, and it's a typical loud and bright fast food joint. I brought the RJG official Mom once and she couldn't hear much with her hearing aids. So file that away if you're in the same boat as her.

Notes: Freddy's started in 2002 in Wichita, Kansas and has grown exponentially since then, now well over 150 stores and in 60% of the States!

Rating: 4.0

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Hours: Sun-Thu 10:30a-10:00p; Fri-Sat 10:30a-11:00p

Our review of the Euless location back in 2009

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Saturday, June 6, 2015

VertsKebap ~ Southlake, Texas

VertsKebap is a new chain from Austin, that opened in NE Tarrant for the first time in 2015. They claim to be born in Bursa (Turkey). Perfected in Berlin (hence the name). And jalapeno'd in Austin (lol).

Food: A new twist on the more familiar kebab concept. Combining the Chipotle styled assembly line for creating your sandwich/wrap/salad, with the rotating skewers of meat, Vertskebap has tapped into a winning formula. All over Europe, enticing rotisseries of meat are on every corner it seems. And sadly absent from our own culture's daily cuisine. Until now that is. I had the Kebap, which is a Turkish flatbread (known locally as Pide), grilled to crispness and then opened up to place in the ingredients. I went traditional with the beef/lamb combo (generally known as gyro meat), and added veggies, feta cheese, and the Spicy Red sauce. Mrs RJG had the Verts Original with chicken. Mine was excellent, perhaps the only demerit would be that the meat wasn't as flavorful as I would have expected. However, Mrs. RJG let me have some of her chicken, and it was indeed much better. Next time I will have the same thing, but with chicken, and I will try the Hot Sauce which we presume will be hotter than even the Spicy Red. A regular sandwich is more than filling. We also had a side of fries which were thin and crisp. Just the way we like them.

Drink: A pleasant surprise as they have local craft beers on tap! And not lame ones either. The Southlake location on this visit had Deep Ellum IPA, Live Oak Hefeweizen (from Austin), and Peticolas Golden Opportunity. The latter two are not sold in cans or bottles, so tap is the only way you can try them. I had the Golden Opportunity, which proved to be the perfect thirst quencher. They even have happy hour on Tuesday nights starting at 5. They also feature Cuvee iced coffee.

Location: In a brand new strip center just in front of the Sprouts on the NW corner of Southlake Blvd and Davis. Has the now familiar industrial look. Counter/Assembly Line service. Plenty of places to sit, but not much room for the line to form. Very friendly service on this visit.

Notes: As mentioned in the prelude, VertsKebap is a fast growing chain out of Austin, with locations also within the Houston and San Antonio environs. Plus Lewisville and Addison here in DFW.

Rating: 4.0

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Hours: Everyday 11:00a-10:00p

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