Saturday, May 31, 2008

Michael's Italian Kitchen, Italian, Irving-TX

*** Updated 4/15/2010 ***

I first ran into Michael's while working at Big Software Company You've Actually Heard Of, as it was relatively close, and a few of us decided to try all the restaurants in the area (gee, I wonder who the ringleader of that initiative was?). Today, Michael's is still a place I drop by once in awhile, as it's conveniently located halfway between NE Tarrant and the Northern Dallas suburbs. On this occasion, I met a new business contact coming in from Frisco. Michael's is perfect for that: Small, not overly crowded, relatively quiet to carry a conversation, and nicely decorated.

And, of course, the food is quite good. They focus on the basics, and all of your favorite pastas, veal, chicken and seafood dishes are represented as well as subs and pizza. Their red sauce is light and flavorful. I would also recommend their Italian sausage, which seems to be homemade (I don't know for sure). Another favorite, chicken parmigiana, is also recommended. I've taken Mrs. RJG once, and she enjoyed as well. We intended to visit friends from Dallas for dinner one night, but didn't realize at the time it was BYOB and ended up somewhere else (my prior visits were business lunches that required Mr. RJG to be sober). So file that away, as we're big fans of bringing our own wine! As mentioned in prior posts, most of the Italian restaurants in the area are owned by Albanians / Yugoslavians and I presume Michael's is as well. The menu is similar and the house dressing is a tomato based vinaigrette (though lighter than most). They've been around longer than most, claiming a heritage that goes back to 1981. I don't know where they started, as this location is certainly from the 90s or even later.

Michael's is located north of LBJ (I-635) on MacArthur. There is no town called Valley Ranch, just as there is no official city known as Las Colinas. Both are officially in Irving. However when you're this far north in "Irving", south of I-635 is known as Las Colinas and north as Valley Ranch. And for you out of towners reading this (as if), Valley Ranch is most known as the Dallas Cowboys practice area / headquarters.

Good place - and the best Italian restaurant I've tried in the long barren (and very Corporate) stretch on I-635 from I-35E to DFW airport.

Website: http://www.michaelsitaliankitchen.com/

Michael's Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 30, 2008

*** MOVED *** Cousin's Bar-B-Q, Barbecue, Keller-TX

October 2010 update: The Keller location is now closed.They reopened a much larger location at the Alliance shopping district in far north Ft. Worth. Review here.

We haven't covered any barbecue to date, and that's one type of food where the independents thrive in the DFW area. I'm probably not the world's biggest BBQ fan, mainly due to the inconsistencies in the different types of sauces. See, Mr. RJG is not a fan of sweet food, except for dessert of course. I like my sauces spicy, and as mentioned many times before, the hotter the better.

I saw an interesting special on the Food Channel about the different kinds of barbecue around the nation (or it may have even been the Travel Channel - no couldn't be, they only show poker anymore :-P). It was a contest, as in who has the best, judged by a panel of BBQ connoisseurs. The challengers were Kansas City, Memphis, Texas and North Carolina. Despite my Texan heritage, I have tended to gravitate towards the Memphis style, as they typically feature sauces focused on spice rather than sweet. Of course, I'm talking generalities here - don't want anyone getting all upset now. Honestly, I don't think there is a standard Texan barbecue flavor - we seem to be the most disparate of the bunch. I don't think I've ever had "North Carolinan" barbecue, or at least something with that name, but based on the description in the show, it definitely didn't sound like my cup of pulled pork if you know what I mean. Funny, I don't even remember who won... I want to say Memphis did. For more info on the different variations of BBQ around America, this is a pretty good synopsis: http://www.bbq-sauces.com/

All this just to say: Cousin's is awesome! Their regular barbecue sauce is thick, with a great smoky flavor, not sweet at all. They also offer a very spicy thin sauce, similar to a Cajun concoction. I find mixing the two together creates a sublime experience. As for the meats, they're all slow cooked, and I love every one of them: Beef brisket, chopped brisket, turkey, ham, German sausage, etc... For many folks, the sides are just as important as the BBQ itself. But not for Mr. RJG, who suddenly goes Atkins diet at these places (well, I do partake in breaking bread). Most sides are too heavy in the starch department for me, and seem like a quick way to wider waistline. Still, if they have corn on the cob or dirty rice, I tend to order plates... Cousin's doesn't have the latter, so I tend to stick to sandwiches or meats only. And you know what? Fine with me! And while Mrs. RJG is not a huge fan of meat only dishes, she's OK with it when talking Cousin's. Since Mrs. RJG looks like a fashion model, she won't go near the sides either...

Cousin's is a local chain, with 4 Tarrant county locations plus 2 at DFW Airport. NE Tarrant gets the Keller location, and from what I can tell, it's the only one that is takeout only (maybe the DFW locations are too - funny for all the travel I do, I hadn't seen them - ah, I see now, Terminal B and D are not my usual departure areas). The Keller location is in a little old "shotgun" style building off of Keller Parkway not too far east from US 377. Mr. RJH always likes to see the word "Commissary" when local chains branch out - as it really underscores the notion that local chains tend to be extensions of an independent original.

For me, Cousin's is the best barbecue I've had in DFW. To be fair, I haven't tried a fraction of the places, but of the handful I have, Cousin's is the best.

While on the topic of BBQ, this allows me an opportunity to shine a light on a great blog called Fort Worth Hole in the Wall. I have a link to the side. I came across this site in March, and reading his quick wit and similar outlook towards independents, I decided it was time to get off my butt and start this blog - about 2 years after I intended to... He's done a nice overview of many of the Ft. Worth BBQ places. Read here: http://fortworthholeinthewall.blogspot.com/2008/04/bbbbq-review.html Looks like Cousin's didn't score as well as it did for me. Though I've never been to the Ft. Worth location - but I think it's the original.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Humperdink's, Brewpub, Dallas-TX

Last visit: June 2013

Rating: Buy

Other locations: Addison, Arlington, Dallas (Greenville Ave)

June 2013 update: Since my first review below 5 years ago, we've also been to the Richardson location which has recently closed. Humperdink's continue to be a reliable option for quality beer and food. And a great casual meeting places for friends and business associates alike.

Original review

I first ran into Humperdink's at their Addison location in the early 1990s. They're still in Addison, but they've since moved to the south side of Belt Line. It wasn't far from where I worked in those days, and it became somewhat of a "guys at work hangout". We'd have lunch, or draft players for fantasy football or baseball there - that kind of thing. At that time, Humperdink's called itself a sports bar, and they still very much have that look and feel. But during the time that we lived in Colorado, they made a key switch to calling themselves a brewery as well. Mr. RJG thinks that's a great move, as local breweries appeals to me greatly. Perhaps I got spoiled in Colorado, as brewpubs are far more active there than here in DFW (2013 note - and we're finally starting to catch up!).

Humperdink's is a local chain and they currently have 4 locations, 3 in Dallas county and one in Tarrant (Arlington). The one reviewed here is their NW Highway location. Humperdink's lies in a sea of Publicly Traded and Corporate restaurant chains, known locally as "restaurant row". The original "restaurnt row" was on Walnut Hill and I-35E (Stemmons Fwy), near the old Don Carter's West bowling alley. That area was hopping in the late 1970s and 1980s, but the area was restricted land wise (not to mention the ridiculous Prohibition era "dry laws" that still pervade in Texas. Everything north of Walnut Hill is still "dry" - in 2008! (and 2013!)), thus limiting growth, and most of the corporate tenants moved out to this newer location near where Loop 12 and Stemmons branch apart. Humperdink's is one of the few non-corporate chains in the area. If coming from the west / Las Colinas, you'll encounter quite the colorful drive, with all the strip clubs / bars / adult themed places / liquor stores that once resided on Harry Hines (US 77), but have now been banished to this non-descript section of town. The city of Dallas did this on purpose in the 1990s, since were no residential areas here, and the area could be self-contained.

On this occasion, former employee from down Austin way, Mr. KC, was in town training at Big Software Company You've Actually Heard Of, that Mr. RJG no longer works at. And what better way to reunite with old colleagues than over a few brews while watching the Stars get clobbered by the Red Wings.

While the brewpub/brewery concept is much welcomed, and the beer is definitely good (not great), their menu isn't... that is to say, it's way too big, and there's no specialty of the house. It's what we said in the Novrozky's post, it's never a good idea to try to appeal to everyone. So while their food is uniformly good, none of it is distinctive. They have good burgers, barbecue, chicken sandwiches. They have every appetizer that every chain has. I had their sliders this time, which isn't an everyday menu item. Certainly better than White Castle, for what it is, though I think I'd rather go to a White Castle (strange as that may sound). Mr. KC goes for the ribs typically, and gave a thumbs up. Since Mr. KC has taken a shine to Humperdinks, there's a good chance Mr. RJG will visit more than he normally would. And I'm good with that. And given the nearby competition, Humperdink's is about the only restaurant in the area that can claim DFW as its only home.

Website

Humperdink's Texas on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Jersey Mike's, Sandwiches, Southlake-TX, Irving-TX


Last visit: October 2014 (Southlake)

Rating: Buy

NE Tarrant locations: Southlake (2), Watauga, Hurst, Fort Worth (on the edge of Euless)

Other active locations I've been to: Greenwood Village-CO; Morrisville-NC

January 2014 update: Jersey Mike's continues to be the RJG's #1 go-to place for submarine sandwiches. Inexplicably they opened another location only a couple of miles east, also in Southlake and on Southlake boulevard! They could have opened in Keller, NRH, or Grapevine! It seems they are eating their young this way. Oh well, I hope they know what they're doing. I'm sticking with the location listed at the bottom, as that one was is still closer to Casa RJG.

January 2013 update: Jersey Mike's no longer offer Tasty Kake's. Apparently the owner of Tasty Kake's will only deliver to large concerns (like grocery stores) rather than individual restaurants. That's a bummer! But the good news is you can now get them at Kroger, so it definitely takes away the need to have them at Jersey Mike's.

March 2010 update: I wanted to call out what I said here from the original post, as it was definitely prophetic: "As I said in the C and A Italian Family Deli post, finding a good sandwich in NE Tarrant is pretty tough, so if I was RegularJoeFranchise, I'd give serious thought to opening one in Southlake, Keller, Colleyville or North Richland Hills." And indeed it came to pass that Jersey Mike's opened in Southlake not long after.

Original review

Jersey Mike's is an excellent example of a national / corporate chain that is actually quite good. IMO, Jersey Mike's is considerably better than others in the same corporate category such as Subway and Blimpie's.

The RJG first ran into the name Jersey Mike's from an obscure lonely Dallas location not far from where I grew up in Northwest Dallas, in the Tom Thumb shopping center on Forest Lane near Marsh. It was a favorite place to have lunch with Dad. In those days lunch with Dad meant we had a choice of going to a sub sandwich place - or - going to a sub sandwich place. "I have an idea, Dad - let's go to sub place!", "OK - either Great Outdoors or Jersey Mike's" he'd generously offer as my two choices. And so we did just that on a regular basis. I'm pretty sure it was in the 1987-1989 timeframe, as Mr. RJG was just getting his career started. They closed not long after they opened and I never heard the name again for many years. In fact, I thought they were a little independent at the time. They didn't have locations in Colorado through 2002 (they do now), and I didn't hear the name again until we moved back in 2003 and they had opened their "first ever DFW location" on Greenville Avenue. Apparently the Dallas Warning News also forgot about the NW Dallas location. Am I the only one who remembers it? Maybe it was all a dream - seems to be the thing to do in Dallas (esoteric TV reference).

I'm guessing not long after, they opened the 2nd DFW location in Las Colinas (on MacArthur just north of 114), which was perfect as I had one of 'dem nice offices in one of 'dem big buildings in Las Colinas. So it became a regular once a week routine, reminding me fondly of my much missed Dad. The RJG no longer works for Big Software Company You've Actually Heard Of, and now works for Big Telecom Company Everyone Has Heard Of. Except now I work exclusively from home here in NE Tarrant, so going to Las Colinas is pretty rare anymore.

As an aside, Mrs. RJG says that Jersey Mike's is her favorite sub sandwich place as well (note that down ladies, as Mrs. RJG has decidedly feminine tastes).

The problem with any corporate chain, is that you can't count on one location being as great as another, but I can say the Las Colinas and Southlake locations are uniformly good. The managers are usually there, and they do a great job of cutting the meat at the slicer, and assembling with the usual fresh toppings. One thing the RJG likes about Jersey Mike's is the heavy use of Italian meats (Cappacuolo, Proscuittini along with the usuals like salami and pepperoni) thus separating them from the national competition.

Website

Jersey Mike's Subs on Urbanspoon

Jersey Mike's Subs on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

In-N-Out Burger, Hamburgers, Prescott-AZ

DFW area In-N-Out review here

In both the Editorial Chains thread and the Johnny B's blurb, I mentioned In-N-Out Burger (INOB) as a favorite place to go when traveling to the left coast.

For the Memorial Day weekend, Mrs. RJG and I visited some of her relatives in Arizona. Given that it was a family visit, the majority of our meals were centered around family cookouts, and we were treated royally at that! But we did get away for one afternoon, and settled on INOB for our lunch. Naturally it's always fun to try other places while traveling, but it wasn't in the cards for this trip. This particular visit was to their Prescott store. We also visited one in Anaheim, CA about two months ago (and I still need to get some of the other restaurants up from that visit).

There's not much to add from what I've already stated in the Editorial Chains section. But I'll copy here for convenience: Regional chains are cool. They typically represent an area's culture via a unique food type, or a destination defining place. An example of the latter, and perhaps the best example of a large regional chain, is In-N-Out Burger (INOB). When Mr. RJG goes to California, Arizona or Nevada on business, he makes a sincere attempt to eat at INOB at least once per visit. They are what I wish Wendy's, McDonalds and Burger King would have become. Mr. RJG once worked for a company based in Pleasanton, California. Like many Bay Area suburbs, INOB was well entrenched there for many years. Yet, no matter what time I had arrived, there was a line around the building! This is an area defined by chef-driven, high end restaurants. Where mom and pops struggle to survive, and most homes clear the million dollar mark. And yet INOB has a huge line - always. Taco Bell and Arby's do not, I assure you. Why? Because it's damn good. Only the freshest ingredients are served. The menu is perfect: You can get variations on a hamburger, soft drinks and milkshakes. That's it! The kids that work there at INOB are a blast through a time tunnel some 40 years ago. Always smiling, and fresh faced. Everybody who works there wants to work there - and there's competition for those jobs. Why? Because they pay more and will also contribute to their college education. Think you could pull that off at a public company? I don't think so! I once asked my brother-in-law, who is in the restaurant industry, why he didn't franchise a location in Denver? When they opened the first Krispy Kreme in Denver, they had to get the police out to direct traffic for nearly a month. A Krispy Kreme for crying out loud! Can you imagine an In-N-Out Burger? He'd be rich in a week. His answer came within 2 seconds of my question "They don't franchise". And he added that everyone wants to open an INOB, for all the reasons I just stated. It appears they are perfectly content to grow at a snails pace, while providing an outstanding fast food experience. They are my heroes.

I had my usual Double-Double and a shake. Mrs. RJG had a cheeseburger and fries - and a shake (she's still mad at me for the idea!)

Website
In-N-Out Burger on Urbanspoon

Chapps Cafe, Hamburgers, Keller-TX


Last visit: October 2014

Rating: Buy

Other NE Tarrant location: North Richland Hills

Other locations: Arlington (2), Grand Prairie (2), Cedar Hill

Chapps is a great example of a local chain, that feels like an independent. They have 9 locations, primarily all in Tarrant county with a couple of stragglers in southern Dallas county. There are now two in NE Tarrant: One in North Richland Hills and the one being reviewed here in Keller. As I stated in the Chains section, I tend to list local chains by location rather than as a chain grouping, as they tend to be independently focused as a rule. I can't say that Chapps isn't uniform across the board, as I don't know the owners and haven't had any discussion with them at all. Just going by a general rule of thumb.

The Keller location is on Keller Parkway (aren't they all?), in the "Keller Town Center". This latter designation is a laugh, as it's really just a strip mall with a fancy designation. While Southlake was putting up a real town center, Keller tried to pull the wool over everyone's eyes with a strip center. Only now, with the completion of the Art House condominiums, is it starting to feel like an enclosed community. But there's a long way to go. Having City Hall across the street helps, but it still feels like separate areas. The shopping center is anchored by a Tom Thumb grocery story and there's the usual Starbucks, Quizno's, Pizza Hut, Radio Shack, banks, cleaners and nail salons in the area. There was once an Ice Cream Station, an excellent homemade ice cream palace, with a cool railroad theme. They went out of business, stating publicly that the "town center" concept was a farce. Basically folks would come over, shop at Tom Thumb, and rush home to get their frozen goods in. This didn't allow much time for foot traffic, as there's no reason to meander. Southlake's town center can support two independent ice cream places, and it's easy to understand why. Today there's the mega-chain Carvel in there (actually it took over an independent wine seller, while Quizno's took over the ice cream spot), and it's good, but it's not near as unique or as great as the Ice Cream Station was.

OK, no fair to Chapps here. The RJG gets irked with suburbia shenanigans that's all. In reality, Chapps is the only place that really DOES make it feel like a hometown community.

Chapps has the right recipe for burgers, that's for sure. Good seasoning, on the salty side, with plenty of fresh ingredients as toppings. Mr. RJG breaks from the norm and asks for raw onions over grilled, but other than that, I pretty much get it the way it is. A single cheeseburger is more than enough, and I don't even think they offer a double (that would be too much). They have a smaller version called a Baby Chapps, and naturally Mrs. RJG goes for that, plus the Baby Chapps comes with fries as part of the price. I usually eschew fries in general, and eat a handful from the spouse's plate. They also have good hot dogs and chicken sandwiches. They keep the menu simple, as they should. The only issue we've ever had with Chapps is the service at times can be a bit surly. That's not always the case, and it seems that lately the problem has been addressed. Hopefully it will last.

Website

Chapps Hamburger Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 23, 2008

Avila's, Mexican, Dallas-TX

Favorite son Ricardo Avila has now left to open his own restaurant called, appropriately enough, Ricardo Avila's Mextopia. We'll be sure to try it soon! Avila's has become all the rage since Guy Fiori featured the little place on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives - a favorite show of the RJG as well. This lead to a lot of business for Avila's, and thus they made some changes to the restaurant itself. The good: They opened the fence next door which allows for much more, and easier, parking. They also now have some outdoor patio seating (nothing more than a couple of park benches, but it's still cool). On the down side, they changed the dark red painting to a lighter blue shade. It doesn't feel as intimate as before. And, as with any place that gains notoriety, the neighborhood feel of the place has deteriorated somewhat. There's more of a wannabee yuppie thing going on. "Slumming on Maple with the Wilson's" just ain't for the RJG. I felt the food quality held serve (and on this night the salsa with the chips was really kickin'!), but Mrs. RJG said it was greasier than prior. I sensed our dinner companions, once again Mr. and Mrs. RP as we haven't seen them in about a year, were also slightly disappointed. I think as the DDD effect wears off, things will return to normal. And it will be easier to park in any event....

Last visit: October 2010

Avila's is a long time RJG favorite. I first discovered the restaurant while taking a training course close by at the InfoMart. This was in 1989 (three years after opening), when most of the restaurants in the area catered to the Tex-Mex crowd. And most of the classic restaurants remain: Rosita's, the original Ojeda's, and the original Herrera's (different location though). Today the area is much more hardcore Mexican and many of the newer restaurants appeal more to the taste of the old country. Avila's is located in the old Little Mexico area, on Maple, just north of Wycliff.

On this occasion, Mrs. RJG and I joined some dear and longtime friends Mr. and Mrs. RP. They had surprisingly never been and we decided to make an evening of it. Mrs. RJG has named this her favorite Mexican restaurant in Dallas, and it's a mandatory stop prior to going to any Dallas Mavericks basketball game. Given the distance from where we reside in NE Tarrant, it's always a treat for us to dine here.

Avila's is the perfect setting - situated in an old house, where you can park in back or on the old front lawn. The restaurant is painted dark, and has mood spotlights. Sometimes there's an old man who soothes the sole with some fine acoustic guitar in the Mexican/Spanish style. The opposite of the loud obnoxious Mariachi bands. One could see the temptation for the owner to pipe in techno/electronica, as it has that super cool European / New York City feel. Thankfully he doesn't and the guitar player couldn't be better.

One thing that hasn't changed: The food. It's classic Tex-Mex, but prepared extremely well. Variations of tacos, enchiladas, etc... plus some feature dishes. The hot sauce doesn't pull punches, and you all know by now that Mr. RJG likes that! There are only a few places in the US where Mr. RJG can say the Mexican food is truly better than Avila's. Mr. RP said the mole was the best he's had. And Mr. RP is one of the few people I know who's traveled more than myself.

For you folks, like us, who live in NE Tarrant - make it a destination some evening. It's never overly crowded, but never empty either. Oh, one more thing, after many years of holding out on the margarita trend, they finally applied for a hard liquor license, and will be serving them shortly! This is the only Mexican restaurant where Mr. RJG gets wine. Given the setting, it seems more appropriate than beer for some reason.

Avila's Mexican on Urbanspoon

*** CLOSED *** Novrozsky's, Hamburgers, Keller-TX

Closed: December 2008

Last visit: May 2008

Novrozsky's is a classic example of a Regional chain that feels like a Corporate chain. Based in Beaumont, TX, they have 10 locations. 7 are in southeast Texas and another couple in southwest Louisiana. The odd store out is the one here in NE Tarrant, located in Keller. One look at their website tells me that this Keller location is the beginning of a grander ambition. Many of the original stores look local and regional. So much so, that I feel I should visit one separate to this review.

Though I've designated Novrozsky's as a hamburger place, as does the chain itself, it really fits the "eclectic" category better. And that's one of the problems I have with it: They really don't have a distinctive or specialty menu at all. It tries to be all things to all people, which is never a good idea. They have salads, baked potatoes, fish, chicken, healthy choices, appetizers, and of course burgers. They do not at all play to their home grounds of Beaumont. Sure they pay lip service with a couple of Po-Boy sandwiches, but it seems like a throw in, rather than a feature. They don't appear to have a "signature" dish. They do have a buffalo burger, which I've had at least once (it's good), and that's about the only item one doesn't find in most restaurants of this type.

According to my notes this visit was my 4th, and I hardly remember the last 3 (they opened sometime in 2004/05). I've tried something different each time, and never walked away disappointed. Nor have I walked away completely satisfied. That's exactly how I feel when eating at a national chain. This time I tried their cheeseburger, since it's part of their original namesake. It is a good cheeseburger, but it doesn't stack up against the hearty competition of our area like Johnny B's, Kincaid's or Chapps.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with Novrozsky's is they have no sense of place. The restaurant is quite nice actually, a large, comfortable and clean space with beer signs and old souvenirs decorating the walls - with 4 flat screen TVs going on similar to a sports bar. Perfect for a university setting, or maybe a downtown location, or a nice shopping area. In those type of areas, I could easily see walking in for a couple of brews, grabbing some appetizers or a cheeseburger while catching parts of a game. Except Keller is none of the above. It is Soccer Mom suburbia, where the employment is elsewhere in DFW. There are large open spaces that require auto transportation to get anywhere. There is no university within miles. And it's not an ideal place for families and certainly not the appropriate setting as a high school hangout (though they try anyway with the video games). They should, like we mentioned in the Johnny B's thread, play to the local high school crowd. They can keep selling beer to the adults, but it doesn't have to look like a tavern. Not to say that a sports bar isn't a bad idea - as there are a couple of successful sports bars in Keller alone. But Novrozsky's doesn't look or feel like that either.

Personally I can't see how this place stays in business. I've never seen it close to crowded, and it must cost a fortune to lease in such a nice, newer space. Novrozsky's anchors a newish strip mall off of Keller Parkway, and shares space with many known chains like Popeye's, Sonic and Dickey's. If you are the owner of this store you may want to take my suggestions above to heart.
Website: http://www.novrozskys.com/

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Editorial: Chains

I have hinted in past postings that I tend to avoid the National chains. There are literally volumes of information out there which talks about the sociological, psychological, economical and philosophical meaning of the American dining experience. The RJG has read some of these and they pretty much explain what I know instinctively. While I could probably form my own dissertation on the topic, I'd rather not lose my intended audience with a lengthy diatribe, but instead share a few thoughts on the differences between Publicly Traded Companies, National, Regional and Local chains.

Publicly Traded Company. The restaurants that are openly traded on the NYSE, NASDAQ, OTC and any other exchanges, have one simple, clearly defined goal: Make a profit. And not only make a profit, but a larger one each quarter. And, if that isn't enough, a company is obligated to demonstrate consistent growth quarter over quarter. As mentioned here before, the RJG has held management positions at publicly traded companies. The demands are insane. Yet, for your grandmother who owns mutual funds in her retirement account, if these companies do not meet these financial targets, the stock goes down and everyone is upset (except the actual trader, who makes money up or down). It's important to understand that a Public company has only profit in mind. There is upside to this motivation. A horrible tasting, dirty restaurant is not going to be popular, and thus unprofitable. Which is why the major chains all tend to be uniformly good. Rarely excellent or exceptional, but also not terrible. But somewhere in the middle. Remember the goal is to appeal to the general buying public. This is one place the Regular Joe's Guide and the Chef Groupies see eye to eye. We both are interested in the individual restaurant. There are other benefits to being public, such as a windfall of cash to invest in premium property locations with ample parking. But there are downsides beyond conformity and location. One is labor costs, as in keeping them low. For most folks that work at the major chains, especially the fast food ones, it's a job. Something they must do in order to survive, but not one of choice. The pay is rarely above minimum wage, and requires exceptional managers to motivate the workforce. Except the managers are considerably underpaid as well. High turnover rates lead to inconsistencies, and worse, lack of attention to such details as cleanliness. These issues are not lost on the company, and many demand that their franchisees maintain a high standard, through whatever means necessary. But when the cat's away, the mice come out and play... Another common problem, at least for the regular visitor, is that you may find your favorite chain is suddenly gone. How can that be, especially if there was a line each time? Because the margins weren't there. All restaurants are evaluated for their ability to turn a profit. Sometimes, especially in high rent districts, the leases are too expensive to obtain new growth targets. And, finally, don't you find yourself frustrated when your favorite menu item is suddenly discontinued? Anything from food commodity prices to regional tastes can derail a once popular item. Just today I was reading how the large pizza chains are using a "hybrid" cheese, since the price of mozzarella is too high. Rather than pass on the cost to the consumer, who is likely not to stand for it, they find other less obvious ways to maintain their profitability. All of these reasons, and many more, should be enough to deter folks from frequently patronizing a publicly traded company that operates a restaurant. But the hordes go, name familiarity and easy parking apparently the main drivers. I leave this section with one last story. years ago, the RJG had a long term consulting assignment in Racine, WI. Now Racine is one of those Regular Joe's Guide dream cities. Every corner, seemingly, had an independent mom and pop restaurant, usually Italian. But the folks I worked with were, like me, from other parts of the United States. Instead of the cornucopia of interesting Italian places, they would frequent Olive Garden. "Olive Garden??" I asked in desperation. "I only go to marquee names" said the co-worker. And there you have it.

Corporate / National Chains. In most cases, there's little to distinguish a Corporate Chain from a Publicly Traded Company. Both are generally in it only to make a large profit. Instead of dealing with the public shareholders, corporate chains generally deal with a few well-heeled investors, all of which expect exactly what the shareholders do - profit. Some of you may be surprised to find out that chains like Subway (ever heard of Doctor's Associates? That's who owns the Subway chain!) and Quiznos are not on the stock exchanges, but rather are privately held. But there are some key differences. Wall Street demands a strategy for growth. Profits need to "meet or beat the street". And, perhaps more importantly, "positive guidance" is expected for future quarters. Not stating the words properly can send a companies stock plunging. The RJG once worked for a company that exceeded the "consensus" Wall Street view, only to follow with some cautionary words about the next two quarters, as they (correctly predicted I might add) saw a downturn in the overall economy. Shareholders punished the stock by selling off in hordes and dropping the stock some 40%. It took years for the stock to recover, but only after being bought out by a rival firm. Corporate chains do not have these restrictions tied to them. Now certainly, any group of private investors can be just as brutal, and many are. It's just that they are not "required" to be as profitable. An enlightened board will realize that sometimes taking one step back is necessary to take two steps forward. Strategies are not limited by one quarter alone, but can be put in place with the bigger picture in mind, without the stress of the current quarter's numbers being in line with "expectations". A classic example of a privately held company, who is a national chain and operates like a public company in every way - except one - is Chick-fil-A. But that "one thing" is probably the main driver for keeping it private. See, Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays. Founder Truett Cathy firmly believes that's a day of rest for the family, and a day to go to church. They know the minute the company becomes public, then being open on Sunday will be mandatory. The markets will demand it. A "corporate chain" is defined more by its attitude than by its size. There are chains that are corporate, even though they are regional geographically. Any chain that is national, but only has a few locations, is almost guaranteed to be a "corporate chain". It takes serious cash to expand. There are two ways to get that cash: Public markets and private investors. Both want to see a healthy return on their investment.

The top 2 categories represent what the Regular Joe's Guide tries to avoid. That doesn't mean we do not eat at those places, but we try to be selective. Some notable exceptions are Jersey Mike's and Five Guys Burgers and Fries, places that operate similar to a regional chain, but are on a national scale.

The next two categories are just as exciting as independent restaurants: The Regional Chain and the Local Chain.

Regional Chains. Regional chains are cool. They typically represent an area's culture via a unique food type, or a destination defining place. An example of the latter, and perhaps the best example of a large regional chain, is In-N-Out Burger (INOB). When the RJG goes to California, Arizona or Nevada on business, he makes a sincere attempt to eat at INOB at least once per visit. They are what I wish Wendy's, McDonalds and Burger King would have become. The RJG once worked for a company based in Pleasanton, California. Like many Bay Area suburbs, INOB was well entrenched there for many years. Yet, no matter what time I had arrived, there was a line around the building! This is an area defined by chef-driven, high end restaurants. Where mom and pops struggle to survive, and most homes clear the million dollar mark. And yet INOB has a huge line - always. Taco Bell and Arby's do not, I assure you. Why? Because it's damn good. Only the freshest ingredients are served. The menu is perfect: You can get variations on a hamburger, soft drinks and milkshakes. That's it! The kids that work there at INOB are a blast through a time tunnel some 40 years ago. Always smiling, and fresh faced. Everybody who works there wants to work there - and there's competition for those jobs. Why? Because they pay more and will also contribute to their college education. Think you could pull that off at a public company? I don't think so! I once asked my brother-in-law, who is in the restaurant industry, why he didn't franchise a location in Denver? When they opened the first Krispy Kreme in Denver, they had to get the police out to direct traffic for nearly a month. A Krispy Kreme for crying out loud! Can you imagine an In-N-Out Burger? He'd be rich in a week. His answer came within 2 seconds of my question "They don't franchise". And he added that everyone wants to open an INOB, for all the reasons I just stated. It appears they are perfectly content to grow at a snails pace, while providing an outstanding fast food experience. They are my heroes.

As I mentioned at the preface of this section, the other type is defined by the food and culture of the region. Chili parlors in the Cincinnati/Tri-State region, Greek hot dog stands in and around Detroit, Taco houses in the Plains states of Kansas and Oklahoma and beyond, Poutine in Quebec, and the list goes on. I make sure to stop at a Skyline, Coney Island, Taco Tico or whatever neat regional chain I can find in my journeys. These always prove to be fun, and a unique experience.

Local Chain. The local chain is almost always an outgrowth of a local popular restaurant, generally opening another location to ease the crowds at the parent restaurant while offering a convenient location for many of their patrons. Many times, it can be a familial thing. For example, in Dallas, the Herrera's Mexican chain is each run by a different sibling or cousin. The Brewery Bar in Denver expanded to the DTC, to save many of their customers the long drive over to the unsettling industrial area west of downtown. Yet both locations thrive equally, as the main place was too crowded to get in most days. The Yogi Berra-ism "Nobody goes there because it's too crowded" actually applies in cases like these. The RJG will typically list the exact location of a local chain, since it can be just as unique to the chain as to any other restaurant.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Mi Pueblo, Mexican, North Richland Hills-TX

Last visit: November 2014

Rating: Buy

Other location: North Richland Hills (by the Northeast Mall)

June 2013 update: Happy to say that after a near 3 year break, the service issues seem to have been resolved, and we're starting to go to Mi Pueblo's again. Especially good, since Mi Pueblo is very close to the cow pasture we roam in.

December 2010 update: For whatever reason, we've had some service troubles at this Mi Pueblo location. As you know, the RJG doesn't mention service as a rule. However, if we see a trend, then we'll talk about it. On our last visit, the manager ended up giving us a free meal. That's the last thing we really want, but he was trying to solve the issue the best way he knew how. But the better solution would be to let go of the poor help, and/or the owners should look at the management issues they're experiencing. It can be so damaging to a restaurant. We're not talking small stuff like making a mistake on the order, but rather larger issues where the servers and hostess are purposely rude and act like they'd rather be anywhere else but working there. It doesn't speak well for the management either that they have such a poorly motivated workforce. Again, this isn't one incident, but a series over a period of 2 years. As such, we almost never go here anymore. And that's too bad, as we genuinely like the food and the margaritas.

Original review

Strange that we've gotten this far without a Mexican restaurant entry. As stated in a prior post, our most visited food category is Thai. And even though Italian is probably Mr. RJG's favorite food, I'd say we end up in Mexican restaurants about as often. Both Mrs. RJG and I would probably rank Mexican our 3rd favorite style behind Thai/Italian.

In the Oggi Italia Cafe (now closed) thread we discussed the landscape of North Richland Hills. Going from Oggi Italia Cafe, on the other side of the massive Wal-Mart, you'll find Mi Pueblo, sitting pleasantly in a large space, anchoring one of the handful of strip malls in this vicinity. They have two Mi Pueblo locations, the other also in North Richland Hills, considerably further south, on the north side of I-820, directly over the freeway from the Northeast Mall in Hurst. As we said, NRH covers a lot of land. They also own a 3rd location in far north Ft. Worth (west of US 377 and north of 820) called Los Molcajetes (and also now there is one in Roanoke).

And, also like Oggi Italia Cafe, Mi Pueblo is probably the Mexican restaurant we eat at most, though that is not the same thing as saying it is the best Mexican in DFW. Far from it. But it's consistently good and relatively close to where we live, so it tends to be the Mexican restaurant of choice when we're in the mood.

There are a couple of distinctive characteristics of Mi Pueblo, that make it a recommendation for those that don't live in the area. One is the margaritas. I'm always dubious when someone recommends a restaurant based on their alcoholic drink selection. Mr. RJG has found that the restaurant that serves the most alcohol content per drink, is generally referred to as "the best". At which point the half-in-the-bag claimant will also mention they have "the BEST food". It's a skewed viewpoint. Well, I'm here to say that Mi Pueblo does indeed have a great frozen margarita - something that when Mr. RJG travels, he realizes that many of the DFW restaurants do better than their counterparts across the nation.

More important than the booze, though, is that Mi Pueblo has unique combo platters. Mr. RJG has always wondered why most Mexican restaurants only serve variations on the taco, enchilada, burrito, tamale and tostada when making up their combos. Mi Pueblo will also throw in items like quesadillas and flautas. I mean why do flautas have to be an expensive, one-food-only option on the menu? They also have a pork and rice dish I like quite a bit (Al Pastor Platter). Mrs. RJG goes for the green enchiladas.

Another important aspect of the Mexican dining experience is the salsa (RJG prefers the old school term Hot Sauce himself). They have two - the milder red one is quite tasty. Sometimes they'll bring out a small cup of their hot green sauce. Ask them to bring you a bigger one... it's super - and the heat adds up!

Mi Pueblo has 3 dining areas, and I think they try to the separate families from the others, but sometimes it just gets too crowded. One of the 3 rooms is a sports bar, with multiple screens, and... SMOKE. Mr. RJG doesn't mind smoke while eating having grown up with a father who refused to eat anywhere that didn't allow him to fire up (aka "burn a square"). Mrs. RJG, on the other hand, usually hates it, but for some reason Mi Pueblo's bar doesn't bother her. Go figure. Maybe it's the alcohol content in the drinks?

Website

Mi Pueblo on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 4, 2008

*** CLOSED *** Little Joe's Pizza, Pizza-Pasta, Keller-TX

Closed: May 2009

Last visit: November 2008

5/27/2009 note: You could tell they were starting to struggle. And, according to the Keller Citizen, there were some allegations against them. Looks like the wheels fell off. It's a shame, since the restaurant was the most authentic Chicago place around.

One of Mr. Jose's favorite places to travel on business is Chicago. Especially if I'm able to get into the city or "inner ring" suburbs. I was fortunate to work for a company who had an office in Westchester. Though it was a modern office, most of Westchester is a classic inner ring suburb (in this case, the "ring" is I-294). Not to mention the towns that border it to the east and north like Hillside, Bellwood, Cicero and Broadview. It is not uncommon to drive by places with colorfully painted windows that say "Beef" or "Italian meat sandwiches".

I bring up these small details, because it helps distinguish the pretenders "Chicago style" from the real deal. Just driving up to Little Joe's and you know instantly it's the "real deal". I haven't seen windows painted like, well, since I last was in Chicago. They even have the Vienna Beef posters and banners.

The location is also classic. This part of Keller would be comfortable as an inner ring suburb of any Midwest or Northeast city. Behind an ancient combo gas station/Chinese restaurant (and, yep, the two sure do go together), is another strip mall, that looks like an afterthought of planning. Little Joe's dominates this portion. The prior two tenants were Mexican restaurants, of which Mr. Jose visited the last one - a ghastly place called Garcia's that mercifully went away quick.

Little Joe's moved in roughly 2 years ago, and it appears to be a hit, especially with transplanted Midwesterners. The last time Mrs. Jose and I went, an adjacent table was talking about how wonderful a city Milwaukee is. Now THAT isn't something you hear in everyday Ft. Worth conversation. (and, fwiw, Mr. Jose agrees about Milwaukee.)

And, also no surprise, they really are a Chicago chain - that is to say, they have two Southside suburb locations, one in Tinley Park and the other in New Lenox.

All of this does not matter if the food doesn't deliver. And it absolutely does. Mr. Jose has spent plenty of months in Chicago and southern Wisconsin, and learned that "Chicago pizza" did not necessarily mean "deep dish" - which the chains would have you believe. Little Joe's thin crust is awesome, with just the right amount of sauce, cheese and ingredients, on top of a thin, crispy crust. We've also tried the standard Italian dishes, and they're good, though not great (though Mr. Jose appreciates the "al forno" dish that is indeed very spicy). I wouldn't say that Little Joe's excels at "Beef", and for that, Mr. Jose still hasn't found a place in DFW that makes it right. Weinbergers of Grapevine is an excellent Chicago deli, but they also struggle with it. And Windy City Grill, another Chicago place in Keller, went from bad to worse. Apparently I wasn't alone in that assessment, as Windy City Grill is no more.

In the article I've pasted below, it's nice to see folks making Little Joe's a "destination spot" and are coming from all over the Metroplex to dine there. If you do make the drive, it's a bit tough to find. Once on Keller Pkwy, look for the Gold-In Chinese restaurant in the 1976 era shopping center (and for Keller - probably the oldest outside of the old town center). It's behind there on Navajo. There's another Joe's Pizza further down on Keller, and that is not related at all to Little Joe's.

Food: 11/15 (Chicago Pizza awesome. Italian dishes are good. Italian Beef is suspect - though they just relaunched a Vienna beef campaign, so we'll try again)

Atmosphere: 5/5 (Absolutely perfect. A real Chicago style dive. It's so authentic, you'll think the windchill is below zero outside....)

Website (strangely does not mention Keller location, but is definitely the same place). Also includes a nice history:

http://www.littlejoesfamouspizza.com/

Here's an interesting dialog on the subject of Chicago style pizzerias in the DFW area, that is been going on for some 5 years. From what I could tell in reading it for the first time today, Little Joe's is the clear winner. I would agree, though I haven't been to any of the places listed on the Dallas side of the house.

http://www.handcoding.com/archives/2003/02/20/chicago-style-pizza-in-dallas/

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Johnny B's, Hamburgers, Southlake-TX

Last visit: February 2014

Rating: Buy

February 2013 update: The Hurst location of In-N-Out Burger is now up and running (and we've written about it). However, Johnny B's will be closer to the proposed Grapevine locale, so the Hurst location is not much of a threat. It remains to be seen if the California chain will have any effect on Johnny B's. On my last visit with Mrs. RJG it appears not. Fortunately. In-N-Out is certainly more price conscious, but Johnny B's is distinctive enough to survive on its own I think. The sweet sourdough hamburger buns, the homemade shakes, and the chili are some examples. And besides the restaurants celebrates the Southlake community, and their kids were active in the high school. They've successfully built customer loyalty through the years. Johnny B's will remain a regular stop for the RJG!

October 2011 update: What's interesting about this post is our observation of In-N-Out Burger. Unless you've been living under a rock (and I kind of do, and even I know this), then you're all too aware that the legendary chain is upon us and active (and very popular - for good reason). We're still awaiting our first NE Tarrant location, presumably set for Hurst - though I suspect Grapevine will be in the cards soon as well. All the same, on our last visit to Johnny B's, the place was packed. Awesome.

Original review

For Mr. RJG, one of the treats of traveling to California on business (or even Phoenix or Las Vegas) is he knows he'll have an opportunity to eat at In-N-Out Burger. To me, In-N-Out Burger is one of the finest examples of a Regional Chain. But one thing that INOB does not do is franchise. So what's a future hamburger stand owner to do? Create something similar. And if Johnny B's didn't intentionally set out to do this, then they sure did get pretty close to a wonderful original.

Johnny B's is what you want all small town / suburb fast food places to be like. They place strong emphasis on local culture, and in Southlake, local culture amounts to the Southlake Carroll Dragons. For anyone who lives in Texas, even as far as El Paso, the Southlake Carroll football team has dominated 5A High School football for most of this decade. Johnny B's, because they aren't beholden to shareholders or some corporate office, can decorate and put focus on anything they feel like (which also includes my alma mater Texas Tech). Since Southlake is the center for "high end" shopping in NE Tarrant, being an independent hamburger restaurant must be awfully tough. Chains and other DFW local legends (Kincaids, Snuffers) abound everywhere, and yet Johnny B's keeps on cooking, and was even successful in knocking out one burger chain out just across the street (Cheeburger Cheeburger - now a Qdoba) (April 2013: Now a Duff's Famous Wings). Recently, Johnny B's expanded next door to include a large space designed specifically for large parties.

So what we have here is a rare independent fast food place in Southlake, who serves up a burger in the California In-N-Out style. So what does that mean really? It means smallish patties, grilled to perfection, with only the freshest onions, lettuce and tomatoes. The condiment of choice is Thousand Island dressing (or a variant thereof). The only difference is the bun, where Johnny B's uses a unique biscuit type bread. Unlike INOB, Johnny B's has more than burgers and fries, and in particular, The RJG likes their chili. It's of the meaty type, just the way Mr. RJG likes it, and is what Wendy's probably had when they were an independent in Columbus, OH decades ago.

While the RJG also highly recommends Kincaids, we give the edge to Johnny B's as the best burger place in Southlake. Do not miss this family run establishment, and be sure to stop by. Places like this should not be taken for granted. We are indeed fortunate.

Website

Johnny B's Burgers and Shakes on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 2, 2008

*** CLOSED *** C&A Italian Family Deli, Delicatessen, Roanoke-TX

Closed: February 2010

Last visit: July 2009

It appears they've put their resources entirely to the Tirelli's Deli in Keller, and have closed the Roanoke location.

Occasionally my neighbor, Mr. SS, will join me on a weekday afternoon for a local restaurant lunch jaunt. Last week, we decided to venture on up to Roanoke. Now Roanoke is "jus' 'cross the counny liine", a short ways north of the NE Tarrant area, and into Denton County. It features a quaint old town area , and has a fair share of independent restaurants, most notable and popular being Babe's Chicken Dinner House. Roanoke is barely detached from the DFW Metroplex, and it won't be long before it's just another suburb in the sprawling mass that we call "home".

Though the old town is a slight detour off the main highway, US 377 also has a few enjoyable places to dine. And one of those is C&A Italian Family deli, sitting peacefully in a vintage 1980s depressing strip center, certain to meet a bulldozer when Roanoke becomes the next "big thing".

Finding a good sub sandwich shop, much less an authentic New York style deli, is a real challenge for us folks in NE Tarrant. Mr. SS, a former Chicago and St. Louis resident, was also bemoaning the fact that there's a dearth of good old fashioned delis. The megachains of Subway and Quizno's are in about every shopping center, and while they certainly are decent places to eat (you may not agree), it does lack for variety. Even the better, slightly less corporate chains like Jersey Mike's, don't exist anywhere close (there's one in Las Colinas, which is a bit far to get a sandwich methinks). C&A Italian Family Deli is the gem in the rough. [And no, we haven't forgotten the wonderful Cero's Heroes or Weinbergers, both of Grapevine. Reviews will follow eventually].

So up to Roanoke we went... Mr. SS had the meatball sub, and I had the one that has the most Italian meats on it... I forget what they call it. I've been going to C&A, regrettably not too often, for about 3 years now. The owners are from The Bronx, and what they provide is a simple, but absolutely delicious sandwich. They use only top quality meats, and best of all, the condiments are super. Fresh lettuce, superb oil and vinegar dressing, good peppers and onions, etc... And where else have you seen RC, diet RC, and grape and orange Nehi? At the fountain no less?

Also worth noting that C&A Family Deli now has a branch in Keller known as Tirelli's Deli. Good news for hus here in NE Tarrant!

C & A's Italian Family Deli on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Taco Casa, Tacos, Keller-TX, Watauga-TX, Durant-OK

Last visit: November 2014 (Keller)

Rating: Buy

NE Tarrant locations: Watauga, Colleyville, Keller, Haltom City, Euless + 1 in Roanoke

Total locations: 63 (60 in Texas + 3 in Oklahoma); 3 are opening soon.

January 2014 update: It's the annual update for Taco Casa. There are many days I pop on over for a sack of tacos, and the cars are 10 deep, and the line is moving fast. The Keller location, at least, seems to be habitually popular. For over 20 years, I've been eating at Taco Casa (see review below for the history), and they never fail to disappoint. Apparently the market loves them too, as they opened 8 new locations in the last year. That's pretty impressive for a small, regional chain. And it looks like they have finally arrived in the city of Dallas, after surrounding the city with stores.

January 2013 update: Time to run over to our favorite regional fast food taco chain: Taco Casa. They've experienced considerable growth since I wrote the below nearly 5 years ago. And they continue to grow, with 3 more on the way to make it 55. Their business model seems to stick mainly to smaller rural areas that are close to the city. Even today, they've pretty much have ignored the Dallas market, preferring to stay north, west, and around Ft. Worth. Though recently they've made quite a push in East Texas as well.

Original review

Mr. RJG likes his tacos. We mentioned in an earlier post 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 20 years (though we like those too!). No, I like the good old fashioned American styled, crunchy taco. Taco Bell may be its iconic image, and the only true national chain (and, even worse, publicly traded company). However, it is close to dead last in the taste category. Fortunately most taco chains are of the regional variety. And I've been to many of them in the great States of America.

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 is a classic regional chain. They are based in Gainesville, TX, in far north Texas at the border of Oklahoma. They finally put a website up in the last month, and from that I learned they have 33 locations, 32 of which are in Texas. I suppose it's strange then, that I first discovered Taco Casa in Durant, their solo Oklahoma location. In the early 1990s, my Dad got the bright idea of journeying up to Durant, which is located just over the border from Texas, about once a month, to buy cigarettes from the Indian reservations. Gas was cheaper then, of course, 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 back then). My deal in the bargain? He had to pay for my tacos. One stop at Taco Mayo and one at Taco Casa. So the RJG has always been an eccentric, what can I tell you? I am my father's son that's for sure.

So when we moved to NE Tarrant in 2003, I was thrilled to find out there was one in Watauga (on Watuaga/Mid-Cities), a much shorter drive than Durant at least! Since that time, NE Tarrant grabbed two more: Colleyville (Hwy 26 - where else?) and Keller (Keller Parkway - again, where else?).

Taco Casa isn't the best taco chain I've been to, but I'd put them in the top third. Their store in Keller, in particular, is super clean and the health department usually gives it a perfect score. 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. 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 a show stopper.

So if you're in North Texas, heading towards the Ft. Worth side of things, then have a go at Taco Casa. Good fast food and a nice diversion. And a whole lot better than Taco Bell.

Also a word about their signage: Taco Casa has a retro cornball look, with the big sombrero and handlebar bigote. Awesome.

Website

Categorically, I'm separating Tacos from Mexican, as it's two entirely different experiences. Similar to how Pizza is different from Italian.

For Urbanspoon, I'll add the Watauga, Keller and Durant, Oklahoma locations as I've been to all 3 of these quite a bit. Though we mainly only go to the Keller location anymore. I've been to the Colleyville location only once.

Taco Casa on Urbanspoon
Taco Casa on Urbanspoon
Taco Casa on Urbanspoon