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

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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

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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

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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)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 5, 2015

Johnny B's Burgers & Shakes ~ Southlake, Texas

After much hand-wringing and headbanging (wait, that may have been the Iron Maiden album I was listening to...), I've decided to produce fresh reviews of places we've featured before. I will provide a link to the old post, and do a bit of cleanup to ensure both posts are worthy of reading (presuming of course that any are worthy of reading...). And on second thought, I think I'll move posts forward. Oh well, Johnny B's will be an anomaly then,

It's been almost a year and a half since we last visited Johnny B's. Despite intense competition from all sectors, it appears Johnny B's has their loyal client base, and remains a popular destination.

Food: Would you believe burgers and shakes? And chili. And the latter is not something the RJG is likely to forget, as it's a favorite item for me. Loaded with hamburger meat and chili powder - and served at a super hot temperature - this remains a side I cannot go without. As for their signature burgers, they remain true to the original recipe: Fresh beef patties (thin), crisp lettuce / onions / tomato, gooey American cheese, and Thousand Island sauce. All of that fits snugly into a sweet Hawaiian type roll, that is toasted and lightly buttered to perfection. It is indeed a formula similar to In-N-Out Burger, but Johnny B's was here long before the California based chain showed up. You can also get the Dragonburger which is a triple with chili and jalapenos. Sounds ideal for any member of the Southlake Carroll football squad! The fries are homemade cut potatoes, plump, hot, and not soggy. Very good. Often times, Johnny B's find its way onto local Best Of lists. That honor is well earned.

Drinks/Desserts: Fountain sodas and real ice cream shakes.

Location: Hidden in a strip center on the northeast corner of Souhlake Blvd. and Nolen. Look for Weir's Furniture and start heading towards Southlake Blvd. The inside is decorated with Southlake Carroll and Texas Tech memorabilia and regalia. It's a scene straight out of the 1950s, exactly what they strive to do, both regarding the food and dining experience. Counter service.

Notes: Johnny B's opened not too long before our posting in 2008. As stated above, they were ahead of the arrival of In-N-Out, and had a chance to build a faithful following. It's very apparent after 7 years, that Johnny B's can only be called a success. They even own/rent the space next door for special events.

Rating: 4.0

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Hours: Opens at 10:30a every day; Closes 8:30p Mon-Thu; 9:00p Fri-Sat; 3:00p Sun

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Riscky's Barbeque & Deli ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

We first visited this location of Riscky's in March of 2007. It was a cold dark evening, and the place was dreary / ready to close. Probably not the best idea to try the BBQ, but we were hungry, and ultimately walked away disappointed. I never felt we gave Riscky's a fair shake, and so I refrained from further comment or rating, until I had a chance to go back and give it a proper tryout. I never intended that to be 8 years later, but finally I made it back. And I'm glad I did.

Food: Well, it's barbecue and all that goes with that. In the past, I would always get a 3 meat platter so I could try as many cuts as possible. And then walk out bloated for the rest of the day... No more doing that! I've taken on a love for smoked chicken, so as I visit various barbecue joints in the area, that will probably be my first test dish. And then I'll move to other meats as I go. With that in mind, I had the smoked chicken basket which comes with fries at the very reasonable price of $6.99. The taste possessed the requisite smoky flavor and was excellent, though perhaps a bit dry overall, so guessing this isn't one of their strength areas. The fries were hot and flavorful, nicely sliced potatoes but not too soggy. I dipped the fries into the BBQ sauce so I could try it. The sauce itself is a bit thin and lacks distinction. I'm a firm believer that sauce is unnecessary at a great barbecue joint, though it can be a great enhancer if they so choose. To my tastes, it seems an afterthought at Riscky's. Overall, a place I look forward to trying over and over, each with a different meat and side(s).

Drinks/Desserts: Soda fountain, teas, etc... No alcohol. Desserts is limited to Banana Pudding.

Location: On the south side of Hwy 26 between Harwood and Davis. Despite being in the middle of suburbia, the location feels like you're in small town Texas, with the standalone wood building and painted specials on the windows. It's counter service and plenty of booths and tables to sit and enjoy the 'cue. The building has been fortunate in that no development has taken place around it. A throwback to an earlier era, and an oasis amongst the chaos.

Notes: Riscky's is a legendary name in Fort Worth barbecue, and they started in the Stockyards all the way back to 1927, serving out of a grocery store. Today they have multiple locations in the Fort Worth area including Trailboss Burgers and Riscky's Steakhouse.

Rating: 3.5

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Hours: Mon-Sat: 10:30-8:30; Closed Sunday

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Urbanspoon, Zomato, Facebook and new beginnings

In the first year of this blog, I tied the fortunes (figuratively speaking) of the RJG to Urbanspoon. I liked Urbanspoon because it was blogger friendly. The content was solely mine but it was linked to Urbanspoon. I quickly became a Prime member, and I personally added an extraordinary amount of content to the website, including many restaurant fixes. It was a mutually beneficial relationship. I had access to the folks who ran the site, and could make suggestions that were actually listened to. Over time, the RJG became the #1 blog for DFW on Urbanspoon, which is a badge I displayed prominently. I was kind of proud of it actually. A small reward for hard work. Nothing financial of course, just pride of ownership.

While I took the last year off, I still frequented Urbanspoon to see what was new in the NE Tarrant area. And I noticed that they were purchased by a company called Zomato. Some of the features I liked started to disappear, but I figured they were tweaking the site to ultimately make it better. Oh they tweaked it alright. Yesterday they unveiled the new look and feel. What a complete and utter disaster. It's appalling. I couldn't figure out anything on my own (and as stated in the link above, I'm technical by trade), and all my correction privileges were taken away (though I'm still technically a Prime). It's a terrible interface. Now if you want to look for a restaurant, you have to go to the actual town first - not the area! So if you're a tourist in DFW and you want to find the name of a restaurant you heard about, then you better know exactly the suburb it's in. Say you want to go to that restaurant everyone's raving about Chef Point Cafe. I seriously doubt anyone will know it's in Watauga instinctively. But they know it's somewhere in the Dallas area. You'll have to use Google now. They took away all the cool features like "most popular" restaurants. Or if it's still there, I couldn't find it.

I don't like the new look and I don't feel a part of it. So I'm ending the relationship of Zomato with this blog going forward. I'll leave the links, and I'm sure I'll be the most popular blog in DFW forever there (but no one will ever know, because you can't find that either). It's no longer a blogger friendly site. I plan to stick with the site itself and continue to rate as the RegularJoesGuide. One thing I do appreciate about Zomato is the 10 point system (0.5 to 5 stars). That's far preferable to me then Like/Don't Like. If only I can find the restaurant I want to rate...

Zomato has done what a lot of websites try to do: Emulate Facebook. Social media. Ebay even did this! Whatever happened to the concept of "core competency"? Ebay is an auction site, not a social media endeavor. I don't want to "share" which dealers I buy from, what I buy, nor my personally built search engines. Those are my trade secrets and gives me an edge on my fellow collectors. Just like brewers don't publish their beer recipes, and major corporations don't share their inventions. It's called competitive advantage. I'm all for sharing knowledge. It's ideal for many things - and Facebook fills that void admirably. But it's not for everything in life. Urbanspoon was a restaurant rating site with reviews from users. That's sharing enough for me! But nope, Zomato has that familiar post-it note look. The as-it-happens-real-time feel. No sense of history - and no perspective whatsoever of who's posting and rating (background, biases, etc...). I go to Urbanspoon to read the reliable reviewers and I ignore the others. I'm not interested in "We're here now and umm... yummy... it's like soooo ama-zing right now. Carter is so cute when he sticks the carrot in his ear". As my friends in the deep south are fond of saying: Wellllll.... good.

So now what? Yelp isn't blogger friendly at all, and never has been. There are other, smaller sites, but their database of restaurants are so insufficient, it's not worth the hassle.

Well, that leaves Facebook. I've resisted Facebook all these years. Both personally and on this anonymous blog. I could go standalone, and just hope people see my blog via a Google search (and the few people who actually follow it on their own accord). There was a time when Google gave search advantages to blogspot, since it was their own invention. But probably some judge ruled against that, or as a proactive measure, Google stepped in front of it and changed the algorithm. I just hate the idea of featuring a restaurant, and have no one see it. My goal here is actually one of altruism: I want to see good restaurants succeed. I don't benefit personally at all, except the place in question might stay open so we can eat there. Hence, I'm completely anonymous. Believe me, I get offers all the time for a free meal via the e-mail for this blog. As they say, there is no such thing as a free meal. They want placement and advertising. I don't blame them, that's how business works. But we're not for sale. This is strictly a hobby for me and my wife (and Mr. Music!). Actually eating out is the hobby, the RJG just documents it.

So with all that said, I went ahead and created a Facebook account for the RJG.

The RJG Facebook page

The way I built this blog was based on the way Urbanspoon linked their application to it. In effect, I turned the blog into a website with links, etc... I'll probably continue that to some extent, but will also get back to it being more of a blog. So without Urbanspoon, I'm going to do things different. There will be all new reviews (with some recycled language of course - hey, I'm lazy too!) going up for each place we visit. And perhaps a new style to the reviews (still working that in my mind). I'll work from the last month's visits onward. I will link the old posts to the new ones. Of course, many restaurants on this blog will never see an update as we probably won't go back.

Don't worry, we also plan on featuring many new places never covered in the RJG prior.

We begin anew.

Summary of updates from past postings in the RJG

Starting from the oldest restaurant post to the most recent. A quick status only on the DFW restaurants that we've frequented since January 2014 - or had recent closings/relocations/expansions in that time frame. I won't link to them, as that will be too admin intensive. You can easily find quick notes on each entry by searching by the name in the Google box. I've added Facebook links to each entry where appropriate.

Bellisimo - Italian - Colleyville. Last visit: Dec 2014. It was the first restaurant post in the RJG! Though we are infrequent visitors. Bellisimo is good, not great, and very similar to other Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant.

Palio's - Pizza/Italian - Keller. Oct 2014. Good for what they do. Fast food Neapolitan pizza basically.

Sea Siam - Thai - Keller. May 2015. A restaurant we still go on an almost weekly basis, ever since they first opened!

Taco Casa - Keller. May 2015. A twice a month lunch spot for me. Best fast food crunchy tacos around.

Johnny B's - Hamburgers - Southlake. Feb 2014. We need to get back over there soon!

Mi Pueblo - Mexican - NRH. May 2015. And who doesn't want a frozen margarita for lunch? A Mexican standby for us ever since they first opened in 2004.

Chapps - Hamburgers - Keller. Nov 2014. Solid burger option.

Jersey Mike's - Sandwiches - Keller. June 2015. Brand new location and the closest to us by about 3 minutes from the Centennial Park Southlake locale (lol). New regular lunch spot!

Feedstore BBQ - Keller. Dec 2014. Yep - the old Up 'n Smoke place. All remodeled! Excellent, though we'll probably go back to the original in Southlake, with its beautiful ranch setting.

Love and War in Texas - Texana - Plano. Jan 2015. Haven't been to the Grapevine location in many years. Plano has proven convenient for work related events. Remains an excellent option, especially for out-of-towners.

Tolbert's - Texana - Grapevine. Apr 2015. Still one of our absolute favorites! And their beer selection continues to improve.

Grapevine Subs - Grapevine. Feb 2014. Not as good as the old Cero's Heros. Starting to fall off the RJG map.

El Paseo - Mexican - Keller. May 2015. A reliable Tex-Mex standby ever since we moved to the area in 2003. Good frozen margaritas too.

Bangkok Cuisine - Thai - Haltom City. May 2015. Another regular rotation restaurant. Been going here for over 10 years and it's still great!

Niki's Italian Bistro - Keller. Oct 2014. This location no longer related to the NRH store by the same name. Only decent food and no BYOB, makes it for a very infrequent visit.

Cafe Sicilia - Italian - Watauga. Mar 2015. New location was a big step down from the original in Bedford, at least on our one visit. Too bad, as it's a more convenient locale to the RJG homestead. Not sure we'll return even to the Bedford store at this point.

Billadelphia's Authentic Philly Foods - NRH. Jan. 2014. Oh my, it's been too long since we ate the the "shack". Need to remedy that.

Anamia's - Mexican - Southlake. Apr 2015. Anamia's remains our favorite Mexican in all of Tarrant County. We usually go at least once a month.

Peace Burger & Dive Bar - Grapevine. Apr 2014. Definitely living up to its name. A decent option, but there's better. Falling off our radar.

Fresco's Cocina Mexicana - Watauga. Feb 2015. Still a favorite, but we don't go that often. Love their selection of salsas! Great margaritas too.

Kirby's - Steakhouse - Southlake. Oct 2014.  I only go here for business dinners anymore. Really good food, and certainly one of the best steakhouses around. But too expensive for normal dining.

Kincaid's - Hamburgers - Southlake. Nov 2014. Still a favorite in the RJG household, though we go infrequently.

Freddy's Steakburgers - Keller. Jan 2015. New location and much closer to us than Euless. I would like to go more often, but it's so tough to resist those frozen custards!

Texadelphia - Irving (Las Colinas). Jun 2014. This was a regular rotation spot for me in 2005-06 when I had an office nearby, so this one-off visit was a bit of reminiscence. It's not what it once was and the novelty appears to be yesterday's news. Might not go back.

Sweet Basil - Thai - Hurst. May 2015. Along with Sea Siam and Bangkok Cuisine, Sweet Basil is a regular dining spot for us. Outstanding in every way!

Italian Bistro - Roanoke. May 2015. A solid Italian option, very similar to others in the area. But perhaps in a nicer setting. We only go a few times a year.

Thai Riverside - Grapevine. Aug 2014. While not in the top tier of Thai restaurants in NE Tarrant, it's still a decent option. They keep changing owners though, making it seem like a public domain company. We go once a year to try the new owner's recipes....

Great Outdoors - Subs - Carrollton. Mar 2015. I used to go to this location on a weekly basis from 1988-1993 when I worked and lived nearby. Now I have a new excuse to go again somewhat regularly, as one of my favorite craft beer stores (Lone Star Beverage) is not far in Carrollton! I think Great Outdoors makes one of the best old fashioned subs. My dad used to love this place when he was alive. When we first moved to NE Tarrant in 2003, there was a location in NRH, but of course they closed right after (argh!).

Yu's Gold-In - Chinese - Keller. Mar 2015. Still our favorite Chinese take out joint!

Tex's Star Grill - Watauga. Aug 2014. If you're looking for the Chicago food experience, the misnamed Tex's will satisfy.

Mooyah - Hamburgers - Southlake. Jan 2015. A good local option for me, and a place I go often when in the mood for burgers. BTW, if you're ever in the oil kingdoms of the Middle East, you can actually eat at Mooyah now!

Schlotzsky's - Southlake. Apr 2015. Another local option that is convenient for lunch since I work from home. I really enjoy their sandwiches - especially after taking it home and re-toasting!

Pietro's - Italian - Dallas (Lower Greenville). Apr 2015. Still the RJG's all-time favorite restaurant. And it likely will always be as long as Pietro is still alive. If you like old school Sicilian style red sauce Italian food, then do not waste any more time. Get over there before it's too late. We try to go about 4 times a year. It's worth the 45 minute drive.

My New York Pizza - Keller. Apr 2014. I used to like this place a lot for a good old fashioned sloppy slice of New York pizza. But the last few times weren't the same. Maybe I'll try it one more time to see if there's been improvement. Seems the reviews are uniformly positive, so that's a good sign.

Fuzzy's - Tacos y Margaritas - Southlake. Aug 2014. I know they're now a national chain and all, but I still think they're great. I love their tacos, habanero taco sauce, and frozen margaritas. Sometimes we go almost weekly, and other times it can be months between visits, as evidenced by the fact we haven't been there now for 10 months. But Fuzzy's is exactly the type of place we cut out when eating more at home.

Funky Baja's - Tacos y Margaritas - Keller. Apr 2014. We used to rave about this place, but it really started to go downhill fast. They charged the same for tacos but reduced their size by about half. That's just crazy. It's been a full year, so we may give it one more chance. Maybe it's improved again.

Abuelo's - Mexican - Hurst. May 2015. An excellent choice for Tex-Mex in a nice setting. It's a chain, but this location has always been managed well. They have new digs right across the street from their old spot.

Esparza's - Mexican - Grapevine. Mar 2014. I would have told you this was our favorite Mexican spot in 2003-2004 not long after we moved here, and its quality hasn't changed one bit. Perhaps even improved with the much needed remodel. We just don't get over here as much as we used to. We should remedy that soon.

Mexican Inn - Bedford. Jan 2014. New location. Probably need to visit more often, but so many good places to choose from. Love their greasy fritos styled chips though!

Taco Diner - Southlake.  Aug 2014. With the arrival of places like Torchy's, Taco Diner seems only a good option if shopping in the Town Square. And since I don't do that....

Malli's - Mexican - NRH. May 2015. This one was a sleeper. But Mrs. RJG and her mom, both natives of Mexico, love this place for breakfast. So I've been tagging along once in awhile too. It's the real deal!

Whataburger - Keller. Feb 2015. Well, every once in awhile the RJG likes to slip over to the drive thru for lunch and get a double meat with cheese...

Taco Bueno - Keller. Jun 2014. Been going to Taco Bueno since the early 1980s, but now they blow suddenly. What happened to their old recipes? I'll give it one more try, but this could be it.

Cool River - Steakhouse - Irving (Las Colinas). Jun 2014. Another business expense account restaurant. Not a place we would go on our own.

Bottlecap Alley - Hamburgers / Sports Bar - Keller. Feb 2014. Good, not great. Falling off our radar.

Tacos y Mas - Keller. May 2015. We just started going back here after a long absence. About as good a taqueria as we'll get in these parts, without having to head much further south.

Il Calabrese - Italian - Southlake. Dec 2014. Changed name from Patrizio Osteria and is no longer associated with the Dallas chain. Generally I go here for business lunches. A bit too fancy for Mrs. RJG and I to dine on our own - or at least with any regularity.

Don Mario's - Mexican - Arlington. Apr 2015. Wanted to try the new location since they moved from Fort Worth. OK, we did that. May not again....

Cavalli's - Artisan pizza - Irving (Las Colinas). Jul 2014. There's better out there these days, so not worth the drive. They never improved on their flaws. Besides, Burrito Jimmy's is next door and who can resist....

In-N-Out Burgers - Hurst. Jul 2014. Actually we really like In-N-Out (don't care what anyone says). We just stopped eating burgers for the most part. We need to get over there again.

Taco Villa - Fort Worth. Apr 2015. Still one of my favorite crunchy fast food tacos. Worth the drive every once in awhile. And beats having to go to Amarillo! Benbrook is now closed, so I hope this isn't the end of Taco Villa in DFW.

Lee's Grilled Cheese - Fort Worth. Jan 2014. Still the best grilled cheese sandwich I've ever had. We just rarely think of eating grilled cheese sandwiches... Need to get over there for an update.

Baker Bros Deli - Fort Worth. Jan 2014. Seems we don't get over to the Alliance area much, but this is a great option for lunch if we do.

Jet's Pizza - NRH. Nov 2014. Probably our favorite pizza takeout chain. Love their sauce and Jet Boats! I see our healthy eating habits stopped us from going here. Oh dear, need to have it again!

The Burger & Philly Shack - Watauga. Feb 2014. Arguably the best burger in NE Tarrant. Again, burgers fell off the menu for awhile.

Los Molcajetes - Fort Worth. Mar 2015. We were in the area, so we stopped in. But since it is essentially the same as Mi Pueblo, there really isn't much reason to drive over for us. Certainly an excellent choice, though, for classic Tex-Mex.

Silver Fox - Steakhouse - Grapevine. Apr 2015. Like Kirby's and Cool River, this is just a place I meet with my business partners. Though I have to say that my experience here was far improved from an earlier visit back in 2006 or so.

Campisi's - Italian - Fort Worth. Sep 2014. We love Campisi's, so it was great to see they opened one in Fort Worth - and a real restaurant too. We should try to get over there at least every quarter or so.

Grimaldi's - Pizza - Grapevine. May 2015. Still my favorite coal oven pizza place in the area. There's a lot of new competition that I'm looking forward to trying.

Banana Leaf - Thai - Dallas. Apr 2015. We still meet with the India Mafia about twice a year here and have a "summit". Excellent Thai option if in far North Dallas near Plano.

Back Forty - BBQ - NRH. Jul 2014. Like with burgers, BBQ fell off our menu. But Back Forty was our local favorite. And I'm itching to go back!

Torchy's - Tacos y Margaritas - Southlake. May 2015. We don't go here much because it's always very crowded. We went for the first time in 15 months last week, and sure enough there was a line almost out the door with very little seating options. On a Sunday morning! Despite that - it was excellent as always. If there was ever a place that should consider expanding in the area, it's Torchy's. We can't be the only ones who avoid those lines.

Expansions (NE Tarrant only)
Taco Casa - Grapevine, Hurst (both coming soon)
Jersey Mike's - everywhere it seems.
Feedstore BBQ - Keller
Cafe Sicilia - Watauga
Freddy's Steakburgers - Keller
Jet's - Bedford

Closings
Fernandez Cafe - Mexican - Fort Worth. At one time the best Tex-Mex enchiladas in all of DFW (at least that we'd tried). Never seemed to get their footing once they closed the first time. Even though the second incarnation was good, but not great. Looks like there's a burger joint there now.

Tirelli's Deli - East Coast Deli - Keller. We followed them from Roanoke, but it looks like the competition was too stiff in Keller. There's now a Thai restaurant in that spot.

Antonio's - Mexican - Hurst. There was a time when Antonio's was the finest Mexican restaurant in NE Tarrant. And then it went downhill fast, and the smell from the cigar bar next door finally put them under. Tragic really.

Up-N-Smoke - Barbecue - Keller. As stated above in the Feedstore entry. It was dilapidated and smelled of stale smoke. So it was either remodel or retire. The owner chose retirement. A fine BBQ joint until the very end. It went out gracefully.

Ted E's Burgers and More - Fort Worth. Too many items on the menu, and not enough focus on their core.

FasTaco - NRH. Honestly for old fashioned crunchy fast food tacos, they were pretty average. If you can't be great at that, well it was only a matter of time before they shuttered.

Del Taco - Hurst and Watauga. Not a good time for fast food tacos in the area. Del Taco ate their own competition, managing to put both their NE Tarrant locations out of business at the same time. They're still open in DFW, but nowhere near where the RJG resides. Sigh. I like them too!

Oscar's - Haltom City, then Sanger. They moved to Sanger and then managed to close again. Amazing. They should have stayed in the old building in Haltom City instead of going upscale there. They never recovered.

Yourway / Sharx Pub - Hamburgers / Pub - Keller. They never could figure out what they wanted to be when they grew up. So... closed. Now it houses Maria Cuca's, a fine Mexican place we plan on telling you all about.

Taco Mayo - Justin. Darnit! This was the only location of the Oklahoma based taco chain that was even remotely close. Bridgeport is next. Ugh. Oh well, back to stopping in locations off of I-35 when in OK.

Taco Villa - Benbrook. This came as a surprise to me. Not that we would go this far to eat here, since we have one 20 minutes away in Fort Worth. But it always seemed crowded when we did, and Benbrook is the perfect locale for such a chain. Maybe the novelty wore off.