Saturday, May 21, 2016

DeVivo Bros. Eatery ~ Keller, Texas

I promised some new entries, so time to get crackin' on that. As mentioned, we do tend to enjoy our favorites, and have moved away from trying new places. Not only is that routine beginning to change (again) but there are some restaurants we've added to our favorites that we have yet to write about here. DeVivo Bros isn't quite in the latter category yet, but it's moving towards it.

We actually had intended on writing about DeVivo Bros. back in 2014, not long after it opened, and was receiving rave reviews even then, while racking up some local awards. We had a visit in October of that year, and unfortunately we weren't impressed, and decided to wait it out. Today, DeVivo Bros. is considered the #1 restaurant in Keller for both TripAdvisor and Yelp, and #10 in Zomato (where they list it simply as a "bakery"). But we all know that the latter is completely broken these days (we really do miss Urbanspoon). In any case, all these people can't be wrong. We must try it again. And are we glad we did!

Food: Self-described as "Rustic Comfort Food", that seems as good as any definition I could come up with. Rural Italian perhaps would be another? A very unique concept (for America anyway), where you order up at the counter, sit, and wait until your meal is actually prepared and cooked. And then delivered to your table. Chef driven quick service restaurant? Yep, pretty much! The food quality reminds me of what we would get in Italy itself. All made with fresh ingredients, and unique recipes. Our first experience was a meatball sandwich, which wasn't distinctive enough for us to recommend. Something wasn't right, and the meatball seemed bland to me. On this visit, I tried the chicken parmesan lunch meal and it was absolutely delicious. Finally, someone understands the concept of crispy breading! The pasta was definition al dente, cooked to perfection. The sauce is a bit more chunky than I prefer, but it was delicious all the same with fresh basil, tomatoes, onions, and spices. And it was served hot! Mrs. RJG enjoyed a Devivo's Omelette, which is basically a vegetarian omelette with potatoes, and she stated it was excellent, though she would have preferred a bit more cheese. While not cheap, the prices are fair considering what you get. We just settled on water to drink, and so our total bill was under $20. And they show the courtesy of not expecting a tip, when indeed it is counter service. So we have every intention of going back and trying multiple things on the menu, as there are many tantalizing looking items. And yes, Zomato is right, they do have a bakery. But it's far more than that! They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Drink: It's BYOB, so yet another chance to save. Since we were there for lunch, we didn't partake early (not that we haven't done it before...).  Otherwise the usual assortment of fountain drinks, etc...

Location: Anchors the first of the endless row of strip centers fronting the railroad, south of downtown Keller (and south of Bear Creek), on the west side of US 377. The restaurant is very pleasant, airy, and bright. White dominates with black color enhancements. Ordering at the counter seems a bit awkward at first, since it doesn't look like a place to order. But they'll guide you through if you appear lost (which I often do...).

Notes: You can read all about the actual DeVivo brothers here. Solid, hard working duo. They've also expanded to Southlake and operate a Latin Fusion restaurant that we'll need to try. In addition to that, they also have a mobile fire truck (yes, a real fire truck) known as the Hook and Ladder Pizza Company, that provides catering. These guys are clearly on the upward trajectory. Bravo to them!

Rating: 4.0 We anticipate this will go up to 4.5. But we need more visits to confirm.

Website

TripAdvisor

Facebook

DeVivo Bros. Eatery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Jack Mac's Swill and Grill ~ Dallas, Texas

Originally published July 4, 2013 and updated with a recent visit.

Interesting that I've met with The Garland Troublemaker for the last two straight weeks. Especially considering I may see him two times a year these days. This visit was from last week, and Jack Mac's is just as great as it always has been. I'll leave the review below pretty much intact, with a few edits and formatting changes. Jack Mac's is incredibly consistent. And one reason for that is Jack is usually there and cooking for us! Great guy too.
 
Original 2013 Notes / Food / Drink: It all started with some research on Ratebeer about some local beers that folks were rating. I asked myself "Where are these guys getting this stuff?" In the reviews I would commonly see "on tap at Jac Mac's (sic)" . What the heck is Jac Mac's I ask? So I look it up on Urbanspoon, and then went to their website. Wow! This place has my name all over it! All local to Texas craft beers and a very interesting looking menu. So I suggested to The Garland Troublemaker that we meet at Jack Mac's Swill & Grill rather than Flying Saucer next time for our next quarterly "executive briefing".

And so it transpired. And I'm happy to say: We have a new meeting place. We love The Flying Saucer, but Jack Mac's is even better for what I'm looking for. They only have 14 taps. But those 14 constantly rotate - with many hard to find / obscure beers - all from Texas. Anything from established micro's such as Rahr, Saint Arnold, Ranger Creek, and Franconia, onto up and comers like Firewheel (Rowlett) and Community (Dallas), to just-out-of-the-womb 903 Brewery (Sherman). And to think next time we go, they will all be different (2016 update: And that has remained true to form). Maybe not different breweries of course, but different beers from those breweries (or others). That's exciting. As they state on their website: "All 14 of our handles are Texas craft beer and to keep it interesting, we’re constantly rotating brews.  So stop in to see what we’re featuring this week."

But as I often say, even if you only drink iced tea, Jack Mac's will satisfy on a strictly culinary level. They have an ambitious menu, that goes far beyond sandwiches, chips, pizza, and burgers. They have all those things (even standard variations), plus much more. On this visit they were featuring llama burgers. I wasn't quite ready for that adventure, and stuck to a standard meat filled pizza - which was excellent, and featured some homemade chorizo (May 2016 update - I also really enjoy their Cubano Sandwich!). TGT went with The Mexican Burger which is, get this, two cheese enchiladas between a bun. Ooo, that sounds awfully heavy doesn't it? Anyway, their menu is filled with dozens of interesting looking items, that we will be certain to try on subsequent visits. This is the first place I've listed as a gastropub in the RJG. The offerings are just too imaginative to call it strictly pub food. About a year ago, I dined at the Magnolia Brewery in San Francisco that was advertised as a Gastropub. Their offerings weren't any different in spirit than what is at Jack Mac's - just less of it.

Jack Mac's is exactly the type of place I wish we had in NE Tarrant. Certainly we've grown up in the last couple of years ourselves, and even have a Ginger Man now (May 2016 update - and more than that now... more to come on the RJG!). But Jack Mac's is in a different league altogether.

Fans of Hopdoddy in Dallas, that we featured awhile ago, should also give Jack Mac's a try!

Location: Anchors a strip mall on Preston Rd in far north Dallas, south of the Bush Turnpike, and north of Frankford. Nice airy place, with a fine area to sit around the bar. Also darts in the back room!

Rating: 4.5. Love this place!

Website

TripAdvisor

Facebook

Jack Mac's Swill & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Casa Milagro ~ Richardson, Texas

Originally published July 9, 2012 and updated with a recent visit.
 
Timing really is everything. The last time the RJG visited Casa Milagro was in May of 2013. In fact, I believe that's the last time I was in Richardson altogether. The RJG's work changed at that point, and the need to go to Richardson subsided. And yet exactly 3 years later, in waltzes the RJG just as the blog is rolling again. And for this visit, The Garland Troublemaker who graces the article below, has rejoined me. And we also had the Indian Godfather on hand. It was time for a meet. We talked about this prior in our Banana Leaf review a few years ago. This could very well be the last one too. The end of an era. Why? Well, our Monster Corporation X sold our business unit to Monster Corporation Y at the end of last year, but managed to leave out our group. An unfortunate oversight, but hard to untangle now. These are Fortune 10 companies, and Twilight Zone activity commences often (think Dilbert). SoCal Gal (below) left us late last year for New Company on the Rise, at our encouragement. The Salt Lake City gentleman has been gone since 2014. In any case, the 3 of us (and others left in our group) have an uncertain future. It is our hope we can stay at Monster Corporation X (which we all think is better than Y anyway). We'll see where fate takes us. Well enough about me...

As for Casa Milagro, everything is exactly as I remembered it. Absolutely brilliant. I do have one key update (made below) regarding a menu change. But otherwise, I won't have too many edits other than a bit of formatting.

Original 2012 Notes / Food / Drink: In a very short period of time, Casa Milagro has become our favorite Mexican restaurant in DFW. Wow! I didn't see that coming. We first visited in April while conducting one of our training sessions with a gentleman from Salt Lake City who has a similar job to ours. My co-worker, The Garland Troublemaker, suggested Casa Milagro, as it is one of his favorite restaurants. And since he knows the area far better than myself, who was I to argue?

Oh... Oh.... this is really good. No, no. It's exceptional. From the beginning, when the smallish glass filled with the adult slurpee known as a frozen margarita hit my lips, I knew it was going to be a good night. Small glass, powerful punch. Two of those is plenty. The chips taste like real corn, and the table salsa is very good. But wait... do you guys have a hotter one? The waiter's eyes lit up. He had a chicken in the coup. Sucker. You can't handle our hot one, said his eyes. Try me I said back silently. Out comes this scary looking yellow habanero concoction that would scare off war veterans. In goes the chip. Boom goes my tongue. Lift off. What a great flavor! And the hottest sauce I've ever had at a Mexican restaurant. Ever. There's one place in Santa Fe called Horseman's Haven that has a much hotter green chile to smother a burrito in, but I can't recall any table sauce this spicy. Oh, and before you get all high and mighty with the "it's so hot you can't taste it" argument, just know that IMO the flavors become even more distinct and pronounced. I do agree, though, that building up tolerance is key. Training your palate as it were. Anyway, I lapped up a bowl of that and asked for another. I thought the waiter's eyes were going to bulge out of his head. The Garland Troublemaker took a couple of bites, but just sat silently for a few minutes afterward. It appeared he wasn't sure if he would make it through the night. Our co-worker from SLC saw the events unfold and decided to sit out the experience entirely. And to think we haven't even tried a dish yet! With my palate all set, the dish that just floors me is Camarones a la Chef* which they describe as "Five jumbo bacon wrapped shrimp, grilled to perfection, stuffed with Monterrey jack cheese and fresh jalapenos. Served with rice and Latin stir-fry vegetables." Of course, that was only one visit, but I wanted to go back and soon! *May 2016 update: They took it off the menu! Ack! But they did make it for me anyway, and it was just as great as I remembered. So hat's off to them for that.

So... a couple of weeks later, we hired a new gal who I'd worked with at software-company-most-people-have-heard-of (and she needed rescuing after 17 years there) to take on some parts of the organization that the Troublemaker and myself were holding down, but didn't have time for. So she flew in from Southern California for a week long round of training with us. First night we're back at Casa Milagro. On this visit I tried their shrimp tacos, which were also delicious. The Troublemaker gave another go to the "Yellow Beast", but was defeated again. I lapped it up with much glee. So. Cal Gal stated that super hot food wasn't in the cards for her. However, she commented, how incredible the taste of the food was. Best Mexican she'd had! That's high praise indeed from someone who likes to dine out quite a bit and lives in Orange County. So I think we're onto something here.

OK then, final test. Mrs. RJG! I had of course told her about my new dining find. She was insanely jealous, stated that it didn't sound like I was "working" at all, and was enjoying myself all too much. So, she suggested, you're taking me there. And so the perfect opportunity was around Memorial Day. My dad, grandparents, and great-grandparents are buried in nearby Restland cemetery, in one of the military Veteran plots. I'm not much a grave watcher (nor was my dad when alive), but it had been many years since I last went, and it was high time I got over there. A new tradition was born. Memorial Day...Cemetery...Casa Milagro. Let's just hope The Yellow Beast doesn't make it Casa Milagro...Cemetery. Anyway... Mrs. RJG can handle a hot sauce with the best of them. She enjoyed a few bites, and her mouth was a blazing on fire. Her test dish is shrimp enchiladas, and her favorite is at Anamia's. Casa Milagro wins again! Incredible she stated. Oh, and I haven't mentioned it yet, but their rice is exquisite. As is their charro beans.

Anamia's remains our favorite in NE Tarrant, but Casa Milagro - in very short order - is now our favorite Mexican restaurant in DFW. Give it a try and report back.

Location: In a strip center northeast of Plano Rd and Campbell. Very pleasant surroundings. Comfortably dark, with a nice bar area. On one wall they play old black and white silent Mexican movies across a series of TVs. Get a few margs in you, and they start to make sense!

Rating: 5.0. Seriously, the best Mexican around DFW that we've tried.

Website 

TripAdvisor

Facebook

Casa Milagro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

El Paseo ~ Keller, Texas

Originally published July 5, 2008 and updated with a recent visit.

Well here's another old favorite that we've been frequenting since we moved to the area in 2003. I would say we go on average about 4 to 5 times a year. But since we just visited over the weekend, it's timing is fortuitous. And we haven't updated the post with our new format, so... 

Original 2008 Notes / Food: When the RJG first started discovering Mexican restaurants in the 1980's, one of the logical axioms was that the more fancy the place seemed to be, the more bland the food proved to be. I felt this to be 100% true until deep into the 1990s, and suddenly one would find themselves in restaurants you would feel comfortable taking anyone to, and also would come out completely satiated. Such were my thoughts when I entered and exited El Paseo for the first time in 2003. And ever since...

As mentioned in prior posts, one can usually get a quick read on a Mexican restaurant based on the quality of their chips and salsa. Here the chips are excellent, very crisp, with a strong taste of corn (and lots of chili powder - see comment section as well!) while the salsa has more of a kick than expected. It's a tomato based sauce with garlic and chiles, reminding me most of the Herrera's chain in Dallas, though not quite that fiery. El Paseo seem to excel in the basics, and we here at the Regular Joe's Guide always admire that. Tacos, enchiladas, tamales, and fajitas are all excellent, though not exceptional. They claim a wide variety of spicy dishes, but none so far have proven to be that hot, though still good. Over the years, we've dug through the menu, and lately the RJG has become quite fond of the Pollo Ranchera. It's a large chicken breast, smothered in a smooth ranchero sauce, and comes on a sizzling fajita like plate, with excellent rice and beans. Mrs RJG speaks highly of their Flautas de Pollo as well.

Drink: We love their margaritas. Mrs. for on the rocks, and me for the frozen. It's a sweeter blend, with an appealing bit of carbonation. And generally contains a nice tequila kick. But not always... They also have a full set of Mexican lagers, and the usual non alcoholic drinks.

Location: With multiple large rooms, a Spanish courtyard, a full bar area, and windows overlooking a city pond with views to Keller City Hall and the Art House, it would seem that El Paseo will be an anchor of the community of Keller for some time. Hard to miss the rather opulent structure while driving on Keller Parkway. It's on the south side of the road, just east of Keller Smithfield and slightly past (or before) the Tom Thumb shopping center.

Notes: Like many such nice Mexican restaurants, El Paseo possesses a heritage that is far more modest. In fact, the Keller location seems to be the pinnacle of achievement for the local chain, that also has locations in west Fort Worth, Azle, and Mineral Wells.  I haven't been to any of the other locales, but have driven by the Fort Worth one on Jacksboro Highway, and the outside appearance seems night and day. I believe they started in Azle in 1986, but details are scant. They have not expanded since the Keller restaurant opened.

Rating: 4.0. Closer to 4.5. For whatever reason, this El Paseo has never scored well on Urbanspoon/Zomato, though it ranks #11 out of #104 (for Keller) on TripAdvisor. Clearly a split vote, though we agree with TripAdvisor on this one!

Website

TripAdvisor

Facebook

El Paseo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Sea Siam ~ Keller, Texas


Originally published April 30, 2008 and updated with a recent visit.

I just realized I never reformatted Sea Siam in last year's flurry of activity. So much has changed since we wrote this review just over 8 years ago. Sea Siam was just starting out, and so was the RJG. In fact, Sea Siam was the first Thai restaurant we reviewed for the blog, so we had to introduce where we were coming from in regards to the cuisine. Today, Sea Siam is one of the most popular restaurants in NE Tarrant County, and deservedly so. And for our part, we have remained loyal customers for the entire time. With that prelude, I'm going to leave our original notes as stated, even though many of my comments you no doubt have already figured out if you've peeked on this site before. But for those new to the blog, it does provide some context. And if for some reason you haven't been to Sea Siam, or it's been a long time, be sure to visit. They have only gotten better with age!

Original 2008 Notes / Food: Want to know the RJG's favorite food destination? Thai food. Why? Because that's Mrs. RJG's favorite food - and pretty close to my favorite as well. And we've been to every, or just about every, Thai restaurant in NE Tarrant (with multiple ventures into Ft. Worth and Arlington as well).

Before I get started here on Sea Siam, I want to tell a little story. A couple of years ago, I walked into a Southlake based pizza joint (that is now closed), and mentioned to the owner that I was glad he was still here, and the food is great. His response to my magnanimous comment? "Yea, well no thanks to YOU". He didn't say it rudely, but matter of factly, with a slight smile. I was a bit taken a back by his comment, paid up, grabbed my pizza and got out as fast as possible. On the way home I realized he had been right. Truthfully, as someone who tries as many restaurants as possible, I'm not what you would call a reliable customer. If the business counted on folks like me to make a living, they'd all be broke quickly!

The two paragraphs above are there to set the stage for this important statement: We go to Sea Siam every single week. Almost without exception. If that doesn't underscore how great this place is, then I'm not sure anything else I say will.

For me, the battle I have at Thai restaurants is getting the heat level to where I need it - scorching hot. See, I'm a fair skinned blond, with blue eyes. Naturally, Mrs. RJG is dark haired with brown eyes, so usually on first visits she gets the hotter plate, even though I ask for it spicier than her. Preconceived notions? You bet your sweet biscuits on it! Perhaps it's because Jam ran a restaurant in southern California, but right away when I asked for it hot, I got it HOT. Thai hot - and I don't mean the menu Thai Hot, but what the locals consider as such. It doesn't take long for Mr. RJG to hear that the only other person who eats it as hot as he, is the cook himself. Yes, it makes me proud! And Mrs. RJG is no wimp either, as she's right behind me on the heat scale, maybe one or 2 notches less.

Thai basil chicken is my standard fare. It's a core Thai dish, and I could eat it every night. I prefer ground chicken, to really accentuate the Thai authenticity, but most Thai places don't have it. Sea Siam doesn't either, but they always cut the chicken very fine (on my request), thus allowing the spices to penetrate the meat better. Mrs. RJG loves her vegetables with her chicken, and her dishes are loaded with the greens. The other barometer is the rice, which many local Thai restaurants think should be mushy. Wrong! Mrs. RJG will quit going to a Thai place on the spot if they offer mushy rice. Sea Siam always has firm and fluffy rice!

We've tried many of their appetizers and they're all uniformly great. Mrs. RJG has had the Pad Thai on many occasion, and she says it's the best she's had. Prices are insanely cheap (not to mention the extra savings with it being BYOB), and the ambiance is perfect for the setting. Best of all, maybe, is that Jam and Eddie are great folks, who have a lot of fun. It reminds me of the good old days when customer service was authentic and an essential part of the business.

If you live anywhere in the DFW area, and love Thai food, make a beeline to Sea Siam. You won't regret the trip I assure you.

----------

With a few edits, that more or less was the original review. And now to fill in the other buckets...

Drink: As mentioned above, it's BYOB, so a great opportunity to save there. They provide chilled glasses for wine, and an opener if you need it (we always bring our own - it's easier!). If for whatever reason you forgot to bring your own bottle or cans of beer, you can always go to the Kroger next door and load up! For you non borrachos, there's the usual Thai coffees and teas, as well as "fizzy drinks" as the Brits like to say.

Location: Sea Siam sits peacefully in a strip center location anchored by a Kroger grocery store at the southwest corner of Keller Parkway and Rufe Snow. The decor is cordial. It's not a big restaurant, and it fills up quickly - especially on Friday and Saturday! (they are closed Sunday). They took over a former home cooking place (that came and went so fast, we never tried it). Prior to that there was a Wings-N-Things, that was pretty good actually!

Notes: Jam and Eddie are veterans of the restaurant industry. For years they had a similarly named restaurant in Huntington Beach, California (and, would you believe it, Mrs. RJG and I tried it while there in May of 2008! It clearly wasn't as good as our Sea Siam). Relocating to the Keller area, they brought their expertise in Thai cooking right here to Northeast Tarrant, and I think the local denizens have benefited ever since from that decision. In addition to the restaurant, Sea Siam now have their own line of product that you can buy at the grocery store! They started with their famous Peanut Sauce, and I believe they have introduced (or will soon) their Green Curry sauce. These are distributed at Central Markets in both the DFW and Houston areas!

Rating: 5.0. The best Thai in DFW? It's in the conversation at least.

Website 

TripAdvisor

Facebook

Sea Siam Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Tolbert's ~ Grapevine, Texas



Originally published July 3, 2008 and updated with a recent visit.

Have family from out of town, and not sure where to take them? Start right here with Tolbert's! You'll be known as the family know-it-all who has the "in" on all the good places in town.

Food: Simply put, Tolbert's is our favorite place to bring out of town guests who are looking for something uniquely "Texan". The food, naturally enough, has a traditional Texas focus with chili, Tex-Mex, chicken fried steak, beef steak, and hamburgers dominating the menu. I like to start with a bowl of red, and ask for it 5 alarm. In the old days, they use to serve it straight-up spicy. Nowadays, they provide the mix for you to add to your heat tolerance - apparently they received too many complaints about it being too hot. Obviously, the RJG dumps the whole thing in! Mrs. RJG prefers the North of the Border, which basically adds beans to the mix. In addition, we like to get the Henderson County burger with fries as our main meal. Mrs. RJG will tell you that Tolbert's has the best burgers in town, and while I might not go that far, it does underscore how good it can be. We've brought friends and work colleagues alike, and they all go home happy. Some swear by the chicken fried steak.

Drink: When Tolbert's started out, the craft beer movement hadn't yet taken hold here in Texas. So we always took advantage of their $1 Lone Star longnecks. That deal is over, but in its place is a very healthy craft beer selection. They have 32 micros on tap, and half of those are from Texas! None are real obscure, but it's just cool they have a good selection of beers on tap from Real Ale, Saint Arnold, Franconia, Rahr, Revolver, Spoetzl, and more. And their selection of out-of-state micros is also well researched. In fact, they give full descriptions of everything they serve. In addition, they carry Texas made wines and hard liquor as well.

Location: The setting simply could not be more perfect. The restaurant is set as the cornerstone of one of the many old buildings lining the old town, this one from 1911. Tolbert's sits in a large space, with a fireplace, full bar, multiple open rooms, and now a concert stage (though I personally preferred the old closed room, which presumably was for rehearsal dinners, conference gatherings, and the like - guessing business for this wasn't brisk). The music can be a distraction if you come here for conversation, so file that away for the appropriate audience. In any case, one imagines riding in on horseback, roping the steed to the hitchin' post, slamming through the saloon doors, and demanding some chili and a beer. Extra points if you go in looking like Clint Eastwood circa 1967.

Notes: Tolbert's was originally started by Frank X. Tolbert, the legendary journalist who co-founded the Terlingua Chili Cookoff. In 1976, Tolbert opened a chili-themed restaurant in Dallas that eventually closed down. Fast forward a few years later, and his daughter and her husband reopened the restaurant, but in a far more appropriate locale: Downtown old Grapevine.

Rating: 4.5 A long time favorite of the RJG!

Website

TripAdvisor

Facebook

Tolbert's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, May 16, 2016

Quick update from the RJG

Hello everyone! Back again, after a long silence. After a nice bit of restaurant going last summer and early fall, Mrs. RJG and I fell back into the habit of eating at home, with a few dinner excursions, mostly to our standby's that we've already written about here, and dutifully updated. Seems the Santa Fe trip wore us out! LOL. I have to say it's been a somewhat permanent status for us. It's certainly a lot healthier this way!

In any case, we do have a few exciting new restaurants to review, as well as continuing our update program. My original plan was to update an existing entry every two years, and that's still my intention. There are some long time favorites, and even those we only frequent occasionally, that need a good thorough scrubbing. So we'll be pushing those forward to keep them relevant and up to date.

In the meantime, we lost two more RJG restaurants to closures. One is Billadelphia's, a favorite of ours since the beginning of this blog, and one we always had front and center in the update column. They recently closed down, and now a Mexican take out is there (really? Is that we need - another one?). Maybe we'll try it anyway. The other is Apeizza e Vino, which was one of many Italian styled pizza joints to have sprouted up in these parts. We did like it, but only managed to get over there a couple of times. I suspect they had too many customers like us, and hence they are no longer here. They too became a Mexican restaurant (Un Rincon de Mexico) and we did try it and were nonplussed. So if you see our Closed Places tab on the right, 46 restaurants we've written about have now closed (including outside DFW). And that's just the ones we know about. It's been a rough industry for the last decade that's for sure. And I just recalled that the Freebirds on Tarrant closed as well. I'll probably just update that post with another location.

On the plus side, we have continued to see the development of the craft beer fueled restaurants, and so that can only be considered something to celebrate. More to come on that.

Concerning social media, it appears Zomato was hapless. The one bright spot was Alyssa, who may or may not still be there. In any case, she was unable to have executed any of the changes I suggested (like restaurant openings, closings, etc...). And as predicted, the site has fallen into disrepair. The readership is almost nonexistent. With Urbanspoon, some of the RJG reviews reached into the 1000's of page views, as it added up over time. Those days are long gone. We're lucky to get 100 anymore. Not very inspiring. Facebook is the ultimate ADD tool, and while we might get hits on the first day, there is no sense of history or reference checking via that channel. It definitely serves a purpose, and we'll stick with it. If we were more aggressive, we'd be all over it with constant postings, but that's not our nature.

Word on the street says more and more people are heading over to TripAdvisor for restaurants. That's interesting to me. I have hotel reviews on there going back to 2001 (!!), but under a different alias of course. But we never considered them seriously for restaurants, but there does seem to be more activity. So we plan on investigating further.

Back soon!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Taste of the Islands ~ Plano, Texas

I've been sitting on this review from Mr. Music for over 2 months. Need to blow the cobwebs off this machine, and see what we can do here. In any event, Taste of the Islands brings us back alive. And this is our first Caribbean entry - and we've been going at this for 8 years!

Today Mr. Music found himself in Plano at Taste of the Islands with some friends. This is a Caribbean restaurant / bakery / grocery store that has a small quaint room for lunch time and a larger room with a stage for reggae music on the weekends. On Thursdays and Fridays they have a buffet which is a great opportunity to try different things if you’ve never had Caribbean food! They change things up from day to day, but today they had steamed rice dotted with pigeon peas (a bit like black beans) or plain steamed rice. They served yellow curry potatoes, seasoned spinach, spicy cole slaw and seasoned green beans for veggies. There were several meat choices including my favorite, goat curry as well as curried chicken, jerk chicken, stewed chicken and fried fish (with a seasoned corn bread batter). Everything was very tasty and very fresh. It wasn’t crowded, but steady enough for them to be constantly bringing out freshly made food. The curry dishes all had a little heat to them; the Indian influence was very apparent. Make sure you get a fresh homemade roti (on request only). Roti is like a tortilla-like flatbread from India; the whole wheat batter is heated on a grill. Order it early as it is made on the spot and takes a few minutes but the warm, flaky bread enhances the experience with the curries and gravies immensely! You really only need one for every 2 or 3 people as they are huge! I read that in the Caribbean they are often used to make a wrap by stuffing it with some savory dish and that is exactly what we did! Yum! You can shop while you eat because all the spices, canned goods, bakery items and even frozen meats/dishes are on shelves/coolers that surround the tables and are easily seen from your seat. The staff was great; very friendly and attentive. The one thing that I want to make sure to communicate is that it was a little more expensive that I expected; I think it was $13, but it was worth it to me. I’ll be back!

Website

TripAdvisor

Facebook

Taste of the Islands Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fuzzy's Taco Shop ~ Southlake, Texas


Originally published April 14, 2011 and updated with a recent visit

Food: Fuzzy's are the pioneers in what I call tacos y margaritas, and these kind of places are popular everywhere today. Their tacos (or what they call Baja Tacos) are excellent and feature a wide variety of choices from grilled or tempura shrimp to shredded pork and onto more traditional offerings like shredded beef, chicken, and spiced ground beef. Soft or hard corn shells are offered. They also have breakfast, burritos, tortas (called grilled sandwiches here), salads, and soups. Be sure to try their habanero sauce - it's definitely got a kick. Even their regular table sauce packs some heat. We eat here regularly, and it's consistently good.

Drink: Nice selection of taps, including local craft brewers such as Grapevine Brewing. And their frozen margaritas are as good as most of the Mexican restaurants in the area - and at a fair price. And they're not afraid to put tequila in the mixture. This is definitely an adult fast food place. Nothing beats a good Moose Drool (a brown ale from Big Sky Brewing of Missoula, Montana) with a shredded chicken taco and habanero sauce!

Location: Fuzzy's took over a two time loser Chinese restaurant location (Blue Fish being one of them and something with Eden in the name) off of Southlake Blvd (north side) not far west of Centennial Park. Fuzzy's is a quick serve restaurant, so just order up, grab your flashing ashtray, and enjoy your beverage of choice while awaiting the buzz (so to speak). The corporate decor dictates that they have the look and feel of an old fishing warehouse near the docks. A fishing warehouse with flat screen TV's mind you...

Notes: Fuzzy's Taco Shop first opened near TCU in Fort Worth around 2003 or so and was an instant hit in the area. Today, Fuzzy's is one of the fastest growing chains in the nation, and is definitely one of the better chains at that.

Rating: 4.0

Website

Menu

Facebook

Hours: Sun-Thu 7a-10p; Fri-Sat 7a-11p

Fuzzy's Taco Shop (Southlake) on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pho Big Bowl ~ Watauga, Texas

Finding a quality Vietnamese restaurant in the northern parts of Northeast Tarrant county has always been a challenge. Recently we've been blessed with two new start-ups, and at the current time, we think Pho Big Bowl is the best of them all! Though the other place is very good too, and we'll be reporting on them soon as well. It's a long drive to Haltom City, so we're hoping these places stay around.

Food: It's soups, sandwiches, and full dinner entrees, as you would expect. On our first two visits, Mrs. RJG and I tried the pho. In fact, on our very first time here, I was beginning to get a cold, and what better way to knock it out than with a big ol' bowl of meatball soup! Their noodles are fantastic, and the broth is somewhat unique (excellent of course), adding to the allure. On a recent visit, I was most curious how their entrees would stack up. I had the lemongrass chicken stir fry, and Mrs. RJG went with the charbroiled chicken. Mine was good, lacking a bit in strong flavor, but a decent variation of the classic dish. On the other hand, the Charbroiled chicken was an absolute slam-dunk instant classic awesome dish. We haven't tasted chicken this well prepared and marinated since our days in Denver and the hall of fame Kim Ba (which we reference a lot). Loved it, and I can see this being a crave worthy dish. Once you achieve that level, you have a loyal customer. We'll see if they're consistent with it. And besides, there's always the fantastic soup. Oh - and the entrees do come with a cup of broth, which is a nice touch (many of the Haltom City restaurants do this as well). Worth noting as well that the rice was expertly cooked (this is becoming something of a lost art it seems).

Drink: Typical Vietnamese drinking fare, including the always great sweet coffee. We actually snuck* in a bottle of wine, which was met with tacit approval. They're not truly a BYOB place in the sense that they don't have anything to support it - but if you bring your own gear (opener, cups/glasses, etc...) you can imbibe. While BYOB/alcohol is common among patrons of Thai food, it still seems foreign in a Vietnamese place. We need to change that! (*- you know - I didn't realize snuck wasn't an actual English word until now. Who knew? Sneaked I guess is proper....)

Location: On the north side of Watauga Rd. (Mid Cities) just west of Rufe Snow in an old strip center. This used to be a Mexican restaurant (you can still see the touches of it), which we never frequented.

Notes: Pho Big Bowl opened roughly a year ago. Interestingly, when Mrs. RJG and I first moved to NE Tarrant in 2003, there was a Vietnamese restaurant across the street (near Tony's) called Red Mango. We liked it, and on a second return it was already closed. Nice to see a decade plus later Vietnamese returning to the vicinity.

Rating: 4.0 We're starting to get excited about Pho Big Bowl

Facebook

Hours: Haha - see menu above!

Pho Big Bowl Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, October 2, 2015

Taco Casa ~ Keller, Texas

Originally published May 1, 2008 and updated with a recent visit

Going to bump this entry up. We're doing a little testing along with Zomato here. As well, it gives us a chance to reformat the entry for one of our favorite fast food places!

Food: Mr. RJG likes his tacos. We mentioned in other posts that while Italian and Thai probably constitute my favorite restaurant experiences, taco places represent my favorite fast food excursion. And I'll boldly admit that it isn't even the authentic Mexican taco / taqueria stand that has been in vogue these last 25 years (though we like those too!). No, I like the good old fashioned American styled, crunchy taco. Taco Bell may be its iconic image, but it's hardly the best representative. Most taco chains are of the regional variety. And I've been to many of them! I've liked tacos since I was a little kid. There are few pleasures in life better than walking off with a sack of tacos, knowing the great taste sensation that comes with the meeting of spiced mush meat, lettuce, cheese, crispy shell and taco sauce (for some reason, I don't like tomatoes in my tacos). If the bag doesn't have a hole at the bottom with orange grease, then you may have gone to the wrong place... Taco Casa isn't the best taco chain I've been to, but I'd put them in the top group. They load up the tacos, so a bag of 5 really fills you up. Lots of cheese and lettuce, and of course meat. The wife likes them too, but depending on her mood sometimes says they have too much meat (how is that even possible?). For regular RJG readers, that's a recommendation right there! The meat is a bit saltier than most chains, but is extremely tasty. Another crucial element of a good taco stand, is the quality of their sauce (in the bottle or packaged). And they have a simple, not too hot, but very good red taco sauce. I would prefer some hotter options, but it's not going to keep me away. Besides, I can always take them home and add my own habanero sauce if so desired (and I never do that anyway).

Location: When we moved to NE Tarrant in 2003, I was thrilled to find out there was one in Watauga. We went there exclusively for years. You'll find this location on Mid-Cities, just west of Rufe Snow. For years, and maybe even today, if you arrived at prime lunch and dinner times, there was a drive-through line around the building. When folks tell me nobody eats this kind of fast food anymore, I just laugh. Yea, sure. Because of this popularity, a couple of more Taco Casa's opened up in Northeast Tarrant in short order: Colleyville (Hwy 26 and Glade - near the Goody Goody and Whole Foods) and then Keller. The latter is the closest for us, and we've been going regularly there for at least 9 to 10 years. The Keller location is on Keller Parkway just west of Pate-Orr on the north side of the road. Because of the story below, I also added a link to the Durant location. And according to the their website, Taco Casa's newest location is in Hurst!

Notes: Taco Casa is a classic regional chain. They are based in Gainesville in far north Texas at the border of Oklahoma. They continue to be in rapid expansion mode, and now are somewhat ubiquitous - especially in Tarrant County. I suppose it's strange then, that I first discovered Taco Casa in Durant, one of only 3 Oklahoma locations. In the early 1990s once a month, my old man got the bright idea of journeying up to Durant, which is located just over the border from Texas, to buy cigarettes from the Indian reservations. Gas was cheaper then (though lately...) and he apparently saved a bundle (God knows he smoked like a chimney). I'd tag along on occasion, especially on lazy Saturday mornings (there was no Mrs. RJG in those bygone days). Also a compliment about their signage: Taco Casa has the perfect retro cornball look, with the big sombrero and handlebar bigote. Awesome.

Rating: 4.0

Website

Menu 

Hours: Sunday - Thur 10am - 10pm; Fri - Sat 10am - 11pm

Taco Casa on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Benito's ~ Fort Worth, Texas

Benito's is a legendary Mexican restaurant in Fort Worth, having come around before such establishments were commonplace. We'd never actually been, until very recently. I see places such as this as a good barometer to see where the RJG fits in the local dining culture. Because of its institution status, much ink has been spilled over the years on the pluses - and minuses - of the food and ambiance. Some say it's the ultimate late night dive to cure a hangover (or conversely to tie one on), while others say they have the best breakfast around. One aspect you will constantly read about Benito's is that it's not Tex-Mex, but rather more authentic south of the border fare. Mrs. RJG, born and raised in Sonora, agrees that it certainly feels like a place from the homeland. The food, on the hand, isn't quite as convincing, but it's definitely not Tex-Mex, this she agrees with. This foreshadows our entire experience I'm afraid. They can't all be good right? I don't always publish mediocre or negative reviews, as we don't wish to hurt struggling establishments. But our review won't put a dent in this steel juggernaut, I can assure you of that. Nor do we want to. But I think it's good for you, our readers, to see where we stand on such places of notoriety. On occasion anyway.

Food: The first area of much dispute you will read about Benito's is the topic of chips and salsa. Apparently they resisted serving them at all for many years, and now they do so - but at a price. This doesn't sit well with current diners who are used to them being complimentary, and excellent at that. When they sit you down, they bring pico de gallo to the table - for no apparent reason. Then they ask if you want chips. Regulars know the routine of course, but it's an odd regimen for outsiders. When we first saw the salsa, we thought it would be great. But it barely had any flavor at all. And I fear to say, the entire dining experience could only be described as bland. Not terrible by any means - certainly good enough - but bland never left my mind as we continued through the meal. The pico for its part is good, with a nice spicy kick. So I spent more time dipping the chips (also ordinary - likely from a local distributor) in that bowl rather than the salsa. I ordered a trio of chicken items, and Mrs. RJG went with Huevos Mexicana. My meal came with a complimentary soup, which in reality was a consomme with strips of raw tortilla. And again, no flavor. Then this big plate of goo came out, and here were the results: The Mexican rice was good, nothing special though. The refried beans were excellent, with a nice smoky taste. It was the best part of the meal. You don't want the refried beans to be the best part of the meal. The chicken taco is a waste of time - nothing more than boiled chicken inside of a raw flour tortilla. The chicken enchilada had the same boring chicken smothered with an odd sour cream green and heavy cheese sauce. By the looks of it, I thought it would be flavorful at least. No such luck. The chicken flauta, on the other hand, was much better. Crispy and with a better cut of white meat chicken. My only gripe is they smothered it in sour cream, which I don't personally enjoy (and it wasn't mentioned on the menu as such, which is annoying). So I had to rub that off. Mrs. RJG had the exact same reaction regarding the rice and beans. The eggs were well done per her request, but still a bit oily (in her words). Not bad she said. The corn tortillas were from the bag as well.

Drink: They are known for their frozen margaritas, and it's easy to see why. We ended up with large ones (though had intended on ordering regular). Oh well, had to take one for the team right? Out came this globe of lime green goodness, overflowing the rim. No matter what my reservations on Benito's is, one cannot deny they give you all they can for your money (chips aside). At first I thought the margarita to be too sweet, but ultimately grew to love it. Of course, it helped that they tilted the tequila bottle in the right direction. The margarita on the rocks was met with a similar response from the spousal unit.

Location: In a wonderful standalone building off of the lovely street of restaurants known as Magnolia (Benito's is between Fairmount and 7th Steet - north side). Technically in the Near Southside neighborhood, and across the street from the Fairmount neighborhood. The restaurant itself is brightly decorated with the local flavor of real Mexico. It reminded me of the restaurants on Maple in Dallas when I first started getting into Mexican food in the 1980s.

Notes: Benito's first opened in 1981, and has been gathering local awards ever since.

Rating: 2.5. 'fraid so. Can't go above average on this one, sorry folks. Not sure if you agree or disagree? This is where Mr. and Mrs. RJG stand at the current time (always willing to be convinced otherwise). It seems to me that Benito's is a restaurant of a past era's palate, where spicy food (not necessarily meaning fiery hot either) was still a rarity and not expected. It also appears to be more about quantity over quality.

Website

Hours: Mon-Thu: 11-9; Fri: 11-2a; Sat: 10-2a; Sun; 10-9

Benito's Restaurante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bangkok Cuisine ~ Haltom City, Texas

First published July 6, 2008 and updated/rewritten with a recent visit

Food: We've been visiting Bangkok Cuisine since 2004, and it remains one of our favorite Thai restaurants in DFW, along with Sea Siam and Sweet Basil. It's just simply exquisite. The owner, Manit (who is always there), will make it as spicy as you want (actually the chefs are usually his wife or daughter), and all the dishes we've tried here are excellent. They cook with more of a syrupy (but not sweet) texture than most Thai places, so the dishes tend to be sauce heavy. Mrs. RJG and I both don't typically go for that, but Bangkok Cuisine is an exception. It's that good. I have to say that Bangkok Cuisine tastes like no other Thai place I've experienced in the country. It's very unique, and yet another reason why we venture here often. Personally I love their basil chicken, which they custom make for me, and often times cooked with a few Thai chiles added in (super hot). Mrs. RJG likes their chicken with vegetables or their cashew chicken. In addition, their version of chicken satay makes for an excellent appetizer, though we've generally gone straight to the meal in recent years.

Drink: Good news here as it's BYOB, so a great way to save, and enjoy a bottle of your favorite wine (or beer). Manit (or your server) will open the wine bottle and provide chilled wine glasses for you as well! No one does that for you, except those who charge a corkage fee. They also have, of course, sodas, Thai coffees, teas, etc...

Location: In a strip mall, next to the Hoffbrau steakhouse on US 377, not far south from I-820 and just north of Glenview (west side of 377). The setting is very simple, with about 15 tables, and recently repainted in a light blue color. It's a fairly bright place (though the new paint helps with this), with a TV near the kitchen if you're dining alone. It feels like a casual lunch cafeteria, but we almost exclusively go for dinner, and always enjoy the experience. The parking lot is always crowded, but 95% of the people are at the Hoffbrau. And that's a good place too (we've been a few times), but it's a shame more folks don't venture in to Bangkok Cuisine and give it a try. Note that they are closed on Monday.

Notes: The reviews on the wall point to a heritage that goes back to 1986, when they first occupied a place further south on Belknap (US 377), where there there are dozens of restaurants today (primarily Vietnamese). I believe Bangkok Cuisine is the oldest Thai restaurant in Tarrant County, or at least NE Tarrant.

Rating: 5.0 A time tested place that we continue to rave about.

Facebook (unofficial)

Hours: Tue-Thu: 11:00 am - 8:00 pm; Fri-Sat: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm; Sun 11:00 am - 8:00 pm; Mon: Closed

Bangkok Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fresco's Cocina ~ Watauga, Texas

First published December 27, 2008 and updated with a recent visit

We've been going to Fresco's for many years, and it consistently rates for us among the best of the Mexican restaurants in NE Tarrant.

Food: There are a few things that make Fresco's special, and worth the journey to Watauga. Foremost is their trio of sauces that you can request to supplement the regular salsa that comes out with the chips. Actually, even if you didn't know about the trio, the primary sauce is a medium heat level chipotle concoction that is unique and quite excellent. Amongst the trio, they offer a fiery chile de arbol, a honey jalapeno, and a blazing hot habanero. They added the latter in the last few years, and it replaced their tomato based mild sauce. Apparently everyone liked the hotter alternative. Just like the RJG! And while the chile de arbol made us happy enough, the habanero clinches the deal. This may be the hottest salsa I've ever had at a Mexican restaurant - at least of those that weren't custom designed for me by a sadistic, angry chef. The flavors for everything I tasted later on were flying everywhere - and my senses were alive. As for the chips that we are using to dip into these sauces, I would prefer a more hearty and homemade corn chip. These are of the thin "Chili's" variety, and appear to be bought off the food truck. The sauces are thick (especially the honey jalapeno), and tend to break easily, so I think this would be an easy improvement for them. Another aspect of Fresco's that we both enjoy is the high quality of the enchiladas. Their sauces are uniquely flavored, and aren't run of the mill tasting. And while I have no delusions that each enchilada platter is homemade, I will say that they are exquisitely prepared each time, and they're always ready for the large crowds they seem to get. The fajita meat enchiladas, in particular are quite good, with tender beef and chicken layered on top of the delicious cheese and onion enchilada. The rice and beans are both superb as well, and expertly prepared. And nothing better than that first forkful of hot beans while your mouth is still on fire from the habanero... We've tried many things on the Fresco's menu over the years, and they are all uniformly great, but the enchiladas remain our favorite.

Drink: This used to be their signature line, but they really do have great margaritas. Perhaps a bit sweeter than I typically prefer, but still flavorful and they consistently pack a punch. As I've said many times before, us citizens of DFW are spoiled when it comes to frozen margaritas. Travel anywhere else in the US, and the adult slurpee is almost always a disappointment. We just experienced that disappointment again while in Santa Fe, as you all may have read.

Location: Fresco's sits comfortably on US 377, just south of Starnes, next to the Krispy Kreme. It's a large spacious restaurant, that gets especially crowded on weekend nights. We typically go here for lunch.

Notes: If you didn't know any better, you could be forgiven for thinking Fresco's is a national chain. They have the corporate signage, a rather large restaurant in a prime location, with consistently huge crowds on the weekends. But it's a locally owned small chain (by an industry veteran), and this location is the flagship. They later opened in Burleson, and even more recently in Highland Village. When we first visited Fresco's, sometime after we first moved here in 2003, they were some sort of a hybrid between a quick service restaurant and a full service establishment. To say it was a confusing concept would be an understatement. We never knew what we were supposed to do. Order up front, but they would bring you the food. You were on your own for the chips and salsa, but they got you the drink. In a nutshell, it was a mess. Fortunately they changed their strategy, and we've been regulars ever since! Note that they are closed on Monday.

Rating: 4.5. Consistently outstanding for over 10 years!

Website

Menu

Facebook

Hours: Mon: CLOSED; Tue - Thu: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm; Fri - Sat: 11:00 am - 10:00 pm; Sun: 11:30 am - 8:30 pm

Fresco's Cocina Mexicana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gloria's ~ Colleyville, Texas

You may recall recently that the RJG's official boss was in town from New Jersey and we went to Trulucks in Uptown. Well that same week my former boss, and now good friend, from Phoenix was also in downtown Dallas (I sense a conference here). He's been in these pages before, but I'll rename him Danny Huston since he's a spitting image of the actor. And my friend and peer The Garland Troublemaker (who is also in a few of these posts) was on hand as well. We decided to meet at the Gloria's in Dallas (on Lemmon near Oak Lawn). I had intended on writing about that experience, when I recalled that we have a Gloria's here in Northeast Tarrant as well. The RJG's Official Mom was wanting to take me out someplace nice for my belated birthday dinner, so I suggested Gloria's. We haven't been to this location since 2006, and quite frankly, I just forgot about it. So off the 3 of us went for a recent dinner....

Food: Gloria's is in reality a Salvadoran restaurant, but serves up Tex-Mex as well, for those who would prefer something a bit more familiar. Veterans of the Maple Avenue/Little Mexico (Dallas) area of the 70s and 80s will recall when Mexican food was still somewhat "cutting edge" for most Americans. There was one restaurant in that area called El Gallo de Oro that pioneered the food of El Salvador. This is the environment Gloria's started with back in 1986 (in Oak Cliff). Today, you would think Gloria's was a corporate creation, rather than one with a humble beginning. I bring this up, because it explains the menu and its backdrop. So while you can get that "same old enchilada", I highly recommend trying something a bit more upscale. I've taken a shine to the Pollo Asado Salvatex, which hedges the bet a little bit I guess. The charbroiled chicken breast is very tender, and wonderfully seasoned and charbroiled. The enchilada (chicken again) allows an opportunity to try their two sauces - the Ranchero and the Tomatillo. Can you tell we just got back from Santa Fe? I think I ordered it Christmas to a confused look... In any case, the Ranchero is a more thick saucy red than the usual thin-and-chunky and is delicious. And the Tomatillo has a tangy rather than tart flavor and is better than most I've had. The rice is very good as are their refried black beans. The Official Mom followed my lead and had the same thing and she lapped up every bite. Mrs. RJG had the salmon which was divine. She claimed it was the best salmon she's ever had. A nice big thick slab of grilled salmon (Salmon Costeno) and it comes with veggies and Gallo Beans - which is a mix of black beans and rice. Going backwards (here I go again) the chips are homemade and flavorful. Each comes with two dipping sauces. One is a traditional tomato and cilantro based red sauce, that has more kick than usual. And they also bring out a black bean dip, which is very similar to the beans that came with our meal. Overall, an excellent dinner for all of us!

Drink: Now this is a frozen margarita! So smooth with plenty of tequila and a great flavor. Were I not driving, I would have had two. Mrs. RJG had a margarita on the rocks, and she was very happy with hers too. The Official Mom had a Shiner Bock, since she can't drink margarita's anymore. They also have wine and a full bar.

Location: Gloria's is in the rather large shopping center on Hwy 26 that houses a movie theater and a Market Street grocery. The restaurant is cool, hip, and elegant. This is a good place for business and special occasions.

Notes: As mentioned in the Food section, Gloria's traces their roots to Oak Cliff in the 1980s. Currently they operate 15 restaurants, primarily in the DFW area, with two in Austin and one in Houston. Our first experience with Gloria's goes back to 2004 and the Addison location, nearby to where the RJG used to office.

Rating: 4.0

Website

Menus

Facebook

Hours: Sunday & Monday: 11:00am to 9:00pm; Tuesday to Thursday: 11:00am to 10:00pm; Friday & Saturday: 11:00am to 10:30pm

Gloria's Latin Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, September 21, 2015

Freebirds World Burrito ~ Fort Worth, Texas

First published September 29, 2013 and updated with a recent visit

Food:  BIG is a good word to describe Freebirds' burritos. From our experience, Freebirds was the first burrito chain to offer up more than just a flour tortilla. You can choose between spinach, cayenne, flour, or whole wheat.  And they offer a tremendous amount of toppings to get stuffed in those massive tortillas. It's basically Chipotle x10 - which can be a good thing if you want more than just a few items. The rice and beans are delicious (again, they offer more than cilantro lime rice and pinto/black beans), and the chicken & steak have an excellent charbroiled flavor. I also like that they have ground beef, something I always appreciated from Qdoba, since the meat allows for the salsas to penetrate. I love that their signature habanero sauce is on every table. And dousing some of that habanero all over those massive burritos, will result in a truly sublime experience. They sometimes feature different salsas, for example they have a mango chili as I write this. Mrs. RJG speaks favorably of their version of the Burrito Bowl (sans tortilla that is).

Drink: Sodas, bottled drinks, etc... No alcohol

Location: Freebirds is on North Tarrant, a couple of blocks west of US 377, on the south side. It's a spacious restaurant - we remember the days when Freebirds always had a line out the door. They finally have met the demand it seems and is now a comfortable dining experience. The biker theme is prevalent.

Notes: Freebird's growth strategy in Northeast Tarrant has been interesting to watch. They continue to circle around the RJG pasture like vultures awaiting a cow tipping. Our first visit goes back to when the (at the time) College Station based chain first broke into the DFW market with the Greenville Ave. location all the way over in that other galaxy known as Dallas (2003). Then they opened up a store in Addison, just as the RJG was packing up his satellite office in Far North Dallas and heading to Las Colinas (late 2004). Years later, while patiently waiting for them to go through our rusty gates in Northeast Tarrant, they finally made an appearance, but at the far end of the ranch in Alliance. Dutifully I went again. Each location received precisely one visit. And then they opened in Grapevine, then Hurst, and now finally in Ft. Worth just west of US 377. Each location almost precisely 6 feet closer to us than the last. And they're still not close. Close - as in 5 to 10 minute drive and take it back home close. It's just funny. C'mon guys - get it over with and come to Southlake/NRH/Keller would ya? There's not even any competition beyond Chipotle (maybe Costa Vida), and even they aren't less than 10 minutes away. In the meantime, this Fort Worth location is likely to be our home store until then. Freebirds actually has its roots in California, but relocated to College Station when a store manager from Texas A&M bought out the rights.Things have come full circle now, as the chain has gone corporate and is now located in the East Bay region of California. As such, they are rapidly growing. Texas and California remain their base customer areas, but they've expanded to Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Utah since - and no doubt will eventually cover the map.

Rating: 4.0 Consistently excellent!

Website

Menu

Facebook

Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10:30am - 9:00pm; Friday-Saturday 10:30am - 10:00pm

Freebirds Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tacusa ~ Fort Worth, Texas

We're always on the lookout for high quality street tacos at the RJG, and the Mrs. is a fan of the Salvadoran favorite papusas, so Tacusa came across our radar for a try. And off west we journeyed.

Food: While the front of the menu clearly portrays a Mexican taqueria, it becomes obvious quickly this is truly an El Salvadoran eatery. All the same, I stuck with street tacos and tried their carne asada, pollo, and al pastor. Priced attractively at $1.25 and listening to a sizzling kitchen, I felt I could do no wrong. Tacusa features a salsa bar with 3 different sauces, an onion/cilantro mix, lettuce, and other items. So we gathered up a sample of each, sat down, and a few minutes later out came my tacos. Well these are kind of dinky, aren't they? Explains the cost. Double corn tortillas, but extremely small, and packed with the meat of my choice. From there you add the onions, etc... The beef was slightly tough (I have to say this is where most taquerias struggle the most), the al pastor had a very nice marinate, and the chicken was delicious with delicious spices. The salsas were somewhat disappointing. Both the molcajete and the verde were thin and runny - and lacked spice. The spicy chile de arbol was by far the best, but even at that, it was a bit mild for the style. Mrs. RJG had two papusas, one with pork and the other shredded chicken. She didn't enjoy the pork much, but said the chicken was very good. She did like the cheese quite a bit, and the corn tortilla was cooked right. They also serve breakfast.

Drink: Mrs. RJG had the horchata, which was creamy, rich, with a nice cinnamon flavor. I sampled a couple of sips. Not something I would drink a lot of, but certainly can appreciate the beverage. They also have homemade lemonade, otherwise it's bottled drinks.

Location: On the northeast corner of Beach and Basswood. This used to house Ted E's Burgers & More that we wrote about many years ago. You order up at the counter, and there's plenty of seating. Comfortable surroundings.

Rating: 3.0. Definitely a good place, but we didn't feel it transcended the genre much. We might give it another try in a couple of years, unless we're convinced to go back sooner.

Website

Menu

Facebook

Hours: Sunday: 8:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m; Monday-Thursday: 9:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Friday: 9:00 a.m.-Midnight; Saturday: 8:00 a.m.-Midnight

Tacusa Tacos n Pupusas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chapps Cafe ~ Keller, Texas

First published May 27, 2008 and updated/rewritten with a recent visit

Chapps is another place we probably take for granted. We've been coming here since we first moved to NE Tarrant in early 2003. I suspect they had opened not long before us arriving. In any case, we still love their hamburgers!

Food: We feel that Chapps has the perfect recipe for burgers. Excellent seasoning, on the salty side, with plenty of fresh ingredients as toppings (which you can choose from). I tend to break from the norm, and ask for raw onions over grilled, but otherwise I stick to the usual cheese, lettuce, pickles, and mustard. The fresh baked buns are also quite good. A single cheeseburger is more than enough, and I don't even think they offer a double (believe me, that would be way too much). They have a smaller burger called a Baby Chapps, and naturally Mrs. RJG goes for that, plus the Baby Chapps comes with fries as part of the price (otherwise it's extra). I usually eschew fries in general, and eat a handful from the spouse's plate - and they are hand cut, fried to perfection, and very tasty. They also have very good hot dogs and chicken sandwiches that we've tried in the past. They keep the menu simple, always a plus as far as we're concerned.

Drink: Soft drinks, tea, juice.

Location: You'll find Chapps in a strip center fronting the Keller Town Center, at the southeast corner of Keller Parkway and Rufe Snow (next to the Starbucks and Pizza Hut). The restaurant itself is a throwback to the 1960s diners, with vinyl booths and checkered floors, and is quite pleasant. It's quick service, so order up, grab a drink, take a seat, and they'll bring it out usually in about 5 minutes. You can hear them grilling your burgers!

Notes: Chapps first opened in downtown Arlington in 1984 (back when the RJG was still a college lad!). They currently operate 7 locations, mostly in Tarrant County. Us denizens of the northeast portion can choose between Keller and NRH. The Keller locale is more convenient for the RJG.

Rating: 4.0. As noted, we've been coming here now for almost 13 years, and it has yet to let us down. Easy recommendation.

Website

Menu

Facebook

Hours: 11a - 9p Daily

Chapps Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jet's Pizza ~ North Richland Hills, Texas


First published February 20, 2013 and updated with a recent visit

Well it's football season again (hooray!). After returning from Santa Fe last week, what better way to relax than to spend a lazy afternoon watching NFL Red Zone, and enjoying a Jet's Pizza!

Food: We love their Jet Boats, which is basically an inverted pizza. Not a calzone, only in that they use mozzarella rather than ricotta cheese, which is more preferable for our tastes anyway. You get two of those bad boys with every order, and one alone makes a full meal. And their meatballs are fantastic (which are made in Detroit and flown in - inquire first as they don't always have them in stock). But so are all the other ingredients, and I absolutely love the sweet tomato sauce they use. And the outer bread is garlic and parmesan encrusted, and is baked to perfection. Jet's is the latest to utilize the "conveyor belt" style of baking a pizza - similar to how Schlotzsky's and Quizno's toast their sandwiches (except the oven is much larger of course). We also really enjoy their thin crust, which remains crispy even after taking it home. As stated above, the key ingredient to Jet's pizza is their tasty sauce, which is slightly sweet, and penetrates the flavor no matter what the topping. As well, while the Mrs. was out, I had the deep dish (not her favorite style), and was impressed that the pizza was more about the toppings and less about the doughy crust. That's the secret to a high quality Chicago styled pizza. Seems many lose focus on that point. They also have wings and subs which we have yet to try.

Drink: Whatever libation you have at home. They do sell liter bottles of soft drinks if needed.

Location: On Davis between Precinct Line and North Tarrant Parkway, on the west side inside of a newish strip mall (across Davis from the Super Target and Super Wal-Mart basically). There's an enormous amount of construction going up in the area, but when they opened a few years ago, it was a relatively isolated strip center. It's a take-out only spot, and of course they deliver, but we always pick it up to ensure we obtain the pizza as hot as possible. It's pretty close to our graze land.

Notes: If you want to start a burrito chain, then you might consider beginning in Denver. And if you want to launch a new pizza chain, may I perhaps suggest you do so in Detroit? Both Dominos and Little Caesar's trace their roots to the Motor City. And now they have a third major player: Jet's Pizza. Their first expansion into the DFW area was the location on North Tarrant in far North Fort Worth, and that was our first exposure as well. Since that time, they've exploded in the area, with at least 8 DFW locations if not more.

Rating: 4.0 (well, it's true, we like to eat Jet's pizza often - primarily during football season)

Website

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

Jet's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Second Street Brewery ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

And we have arrived at our final destination for our 2015 week long visit to Santa Fe, which as I write this, was over a week ago itself. This is our third trip to Second Street in as many years, and it appears I may have ordered the wrong thing this time, but we're still bullish on the brewpub.

Food: On our first visit back in 2013, Mrs. RJG and I just stopped by to try one of their handcrafted beers before dining elsewhere. While there, we noticed they had a special on green chile chicken noodle soup. I can honestly say it was the best chicken noodle soup we've ever had! And very spicy! It's too bad it's not a menu item. They offer a similar green chile chicken stew, but it's a bit different (still very good though). In any case, we vowed to come back for a full meal on our next visit to Santa Fe (we were wrapping up our trip at that point). In 2014, we decided to have a mid-week lunch here. I tried their grinder, which was outstanding. And I want to say they had the chicken noodle soup again, which I had along with the sandwich. Their version of the classic grinder, is very much like an "Italian sub" or "hero". I remember loving the bread and the seasonings, and of course you can't go wrong with mortadella and capicola. And the homemade potato chips were excellent as well. So it was with much anticipation that we returned for our final meal in Santa Fe for 2015. This time we ventured for dinner. It occurred to me that we had yet to try their New Mexican food, beyond the soup. So along with the green chile stew (as mentioned above), I tried their New Mexican Style enchiladas. Ummm.... yea, this isn't Casa Chimayo or La Choza that's for sure. They were OK, and the red/green chiles were decent recipes, but to be brutally honest, this isn't Second Street's forte. I suspect they have it on the menu out of obligation more than passion. I think pub fare is where their heart is. The whole black beans were good, but the rice was a BIG MISS. They weren't cooked - like waaaay undercooked. Crunchy and down right annoying as I kept eating it by accident since it was sprinkled into my chile sauce. We were fortunate (or unfortunate depending on one's perspective) to be seated at a table next to the kitchen. And the wife and I noticed that about 75% of the dishes coming out of the kitchen were Fish and Chips. Big blobs of brown food. And we were salivating just looking at it. I'm sure each meal comes with a co-pay card to the nearest clinic, but you only live once, and you might as well go down happy. Mrs. RJG for her part, was wise and stuck more to traditional brewpub offerings. She had the Patty Melt made with buffalo meat. She let me have a couple of bites, and I have to say it was absolutely delicious. And the fries were great as expected. This is exactly what Second Street is good at. I really love this place, so now I know better on what to get. Rule: Avoid New Mexican food at Second Street. Get Pub food instead.

Drink: Like we said about Blue Corn, I'm sure they have other things to drink, but unless you are alcohol intolerant or the designated driver, one really should sample their crafted beers. We've tried about 5 each now over the last 3 years, and every one of them was delicious. This time we stuck to the APA/IPA tradition, as that was their specials brews at this time.

Location: No prizes for guessing they are on Second Street. The restaurant comes up suddenly, but you'll know you're there once you hit the railroad crossing. In the grand tradition of Santa Fe restaurants, parking is limited. Basically the street east of the railroad, and the dirt road along the rail tracks are your next option. Don't be fooled by the lot across the street, which says in somewhat small letters "Parking for Second Street Studios only". Keyword: Studios. We made that mistake, fortunately realizing it prior to leaving the lot, and getting towed away no doubt. The restaurant itself is very spacious, and gets crowded in the evening. It's very popular. Also worth noting is that on the evening we were there, they had live music, which featured a very fine jazz trio and was perfect for the setting.

Notes: Second Street first opened in 1996. Second Street has another location at the Railyard/train depot, which isn't far from here, and I suspect represents an overflow option.

Rating: 4.0 (I ordered the wrong thing. I have faith this is a place we'd go often to)

Website

Menu

Facebook

Hours: HOURS: MON - THUR 11AM-10PM; FRI & SAT 11AM-11PM; SUN NOON-9PM

Second Street Brewery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shake Foundation ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

If you spend enough time in Santa Fe, you'll learn that another local favorite meal is a green chile cheeseburger. Shake Foundation has a good rep in town, and it was lunch, so let's check it out!

Food: It's burgers and fries, and all made with strictly fresh ingredients. They also have burgers beyond the usual beef, including lamb, turkey, and portobello mushroom.We each went with the traditional "Junior Foundation" which is a simple cheeseburger (and good size for lunch) and jack cheese with... green chile. The chile is added similar to a condiment, so it's not overly sloppy. The buns are buttered (a Midwest tradition) and lightly toasted which is another differentiator. Just a superb tasting burger, and the chile is very hot (spicier than the norm for Santa Fe). Which works for the RJG! And that spiciness continues to penetrate, and thus opens up the flavor of the burger that much more. Also, special mention goes to the fries, which are of the super thin shoestring variety, crispy, and delicious.

Drink: Given the name, it should come as no surprise that handmade shakes are also a specialty here. Mrs. RJG and I were very tempted to share one, but since it was near the end of our trip, and we were not feeling svelte by this point (witness the prior reviews), we decided to pass. Next time we will most certainly indulge. The reviews are very positive, and their shakes have a variety of flavors.

Location: On Cerrillos between Guadalupe and Paseo del Peralta (east side of the road). Apparently this location housed a gas station for many years. As such the lot is large, with plenty of parking (finally!). Order up at the window and sit on any of the picnic tables, under the big trees. Very pleasant outdoor dining.

Notes: The owner/chef of Shake Foundation has a long history in Santa Fe. Like our own Tim Love, he wanted to create a high quality alternative to what is usually considered "fast food". Shake Foundation opened in January 2014.

Rating: 4.0 (only one visit so far. We have high hopes for repeatability)

Website (with menu)

Facebook (unofficial)

Hours: MONDAY-THURSDAY 11-7; FRIDAY AND SATURDAY 11-8; SUNDAY 11-6

Shake Foundation Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, September 18, 2015

Casa Chimayo ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

OK, time for another new-to-us restaurant. Casa Chimayo has a solid reputation in dining circles and we were ready for some more New Mexican food. Did it live up to the "hype" as they say? Oh yes, and even more so! We'll be back.

Food: Casa Chimayo's fare is solidly in the New Mexican camp. Perhaps a bit more upscale than the usual New Mexican breakfast/lunch hybrid house. Casa Chimayo offers complimentary chips and salsa, which isn't always a given in New Mexico. The chips were very thick and crisp, clearly homemade, and taste fantastic on their own. The salsa is a thick and smooth red, with garlic and chiles, and very satisfying. For entrees, we both settled in on the Blue Corn Enchiladas, which they proudly state were featured on Fiori's DDD. We weren't feeling diverse this evening, so we both went with the chicken and Christmas chile and it comes with whole beans and rice. WINNER! Without a doubt, Casa Chimayo holds its own against the formidable local competition. Both the green and the red were excellent, and definitely a bit spicier than the norm in Santa Fe (though not like Horseman's Haven by any stretch). I use the word "velvety" often when describing the red chile, and I struggle to find another adjective, and so once again I'll use it here. The beans and rice came out piping hot and were delicious in their own right. Oh, and they even served us a couple of their famous bizcochitos (cookies) for dessert. They were excellent too.

Drink: Nice selection of beer, wine, and margaritas. We had the latter, which were tasty, though perhaps a bit more tequila would have been nice. I regretted not trying a glass of the New Mexican Chardonnay they had on the menu.

Location: Yet another restaurant in the artsy district on North Guadalupe. And once again, parking is a challenge. There are two pay lots surrounding the restaurant, and metered parking was a breeze on this one mid-week evening. And it would have been free, if we had arrived after 6, but we went earlier per our custom. The restaurant itself is very pleasant, as if eating at someone's spacious villa. Plenty of both outdoor and indoor seating. We were surprised to see the restaurant nearly empty for the course of our dinner. Folks, if you don't feel like standing in line at one of the more established restaurants, can I recommend a quick pop over here? One other point I'd like to make. We don't usually fuss about service, bad or good. That can change with a single visit. But I have to say everyone from the bus boys to the hostess to the servers were incredibly friendly. That points more to quality management. And friendly service is not always a given in Santa Fe, where often times the staff seems more bothered than pleased to see you. So kudos go to Casa Chimayo! Oh, and one other thing. We loved the background music of Spanish guitar as well. How many restaurants fail on this front? Soothing and sophisticated is how you'll feel while dining here.

Notes: The name of the restaurant comes from the name of the small town north of Santa Fe, and halfway to Taos. This is where the family originates from. I believe the restaurant first opened in 2011.

Rating: 4.0 (I expect this to go higher on repeat visits)

Website

Menu (Dinner)

Facebook

Hours: Lunch: Monday, Wednesday - Saturday, 11:00am - 2:00pm, closed Tues.
Dinner: Served Daily: 5:00pm - 9:00pm
Sunday Brunch: 10:00am - 3:00pm

Casa ChimayĆ³ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato