Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bangkok Cuisine ~ Haltom City, Texas

(photo courtesy of Thai Food Network TV)

Before Jam and Eddie moved in from California and opened up Sea Siam in Keller, our previous favorite had been Bangkok Cuisine in Haltom City. And we still make a point to visit on occasion, as no one prepares Thai food quite like Bangkok Cuisine. From what I can gather, Bangkok Cuisine is the granddaddy of Thai restaurants in the Ft. Worth area, and most certainly for NE Tarrant. Reviews on the wall point to a heritage that goes back to 1986, when they first occupied a place further south on Belknap.

We haven't really talked much about Haltom City, but it's a favorite destination of the Regular Joe's Guide and there are quite a few places that dot the area that have become RJG favorites. It's the classic "inner ring" suburban community that we've mentioned before and will continue to do so; the town or village that represents the first migrations out of the big city immediately after World War II. Haltom City is a textbook example. Most of the homes are vintage 1940s and 50s, small in size, and are simple wood frame places with some brick accents. Prior to the development of the Interstate system, the US Highways were the "main drag" for motels, restaurants and all other forms of entertainment and shopping. Haltom City's main drag is US HWY 377, known as Denton Highway and further south (where it meets State Highway 183) as Belknap. As folks began to move to the newer suburbs, and traffic was diverted to the limited access interstates, the area would begin a slow decline. But unlike at the city core, where "Great Society" housing projects breeded an all-out ghetto, the inner ring suburbs became a destination for newly arrived immigrant families, who couldn't afford the newer housing, but were hard working folks willing to sacrifice everything for their children's future. And fortunately for us, many brought their home cooking with them. Today, Haltom City is a thriving community made up of Asians (primarily Vietnamese), Hispanics and old time residents who refused to give up on their hometown. This makes for a great stew of Vietnamese, Thai, Mexican, and long established Southern restaurants and hamburger joints still going since the 1950s. A living museum of post WW II Americana. Today, gentrification is just beginning in this area, as the old motels and used car dealerships still exist, but are slowly being removed from the landscape. Fortunately the restaurants continue to be a destination for many from all over the Ft. Worth area.

Bangkok Cuisine graduated from the crowded Belknap area and moved up to Denton Hwy, and shares a strip mall with the Hofbrau Steakhouse, just south of I-820 (the "ring" loop).

As for the food, it's just simply exquisite. The owner, Manit (who is always there), will make it as spicy as you want, and all the dishes we've tried are excellent. He cooks with more of a syrupy (but not sweet) texture than most Thai places, so the dishes tend to be sauce heavy. Mrs. RJG and I both don't typically go for that, but Bangkok Cuisine is an exception. It's that good. Oh, and it's BYOB, so another savings there (and he'll open the bottle and provide chilled wine glasses for you). There are few people as nice as Manit, and you will enjoy the experience.

The setting is very simple, with about 15 tables. It's a pretty bright place, with a TV in the corner. It feels like a casual lunch cafeteria, but we typically go for dinner, and always enjoy the experience. The parking lot is always crowded, but 95% of the people are at the Hofbrau next door. And that's a good place too (we've been), but it's a shame more folks don't venture in to Bangkok Cuisine and give it a try.


Bangkok Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Saturday, July 5, 2008

El Paseo ~ Keller, Texas

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

Like many such nice Mexican restaurants, El Paseo possesses a heritage that is far more modest. In fact, the Keller location seems to be the pinnacle of achievement for the local chain, that also has locations in west Ft. Worth, Azle and Mineral Wells. With multiple large rooms, a Spanish courtyard, a full bar area, and windows overlooking a city pond with views to Keller City Hall, it would seem that El Paseo will be an anchor of the community of Keller for some time. I haven't been to any of the other locales, but have driven by the Ft. Worth one on Jacksboro Highway, and the outside appearance seems night and day.

As mentioned in prior posts, one can usually get a read on a Mexican restaurant based on the quality of their chips and salsa. Here the chips are excellent, very crisp, with a strong taste of corn while the salsa had more of a kick than expected. It's a tomato based sauce with garlic and chiles, reminding me most of the Herrera's chain in Dallas, though not quite as fiery. El Paseo seem to excel in the basics, and we here at the Regular Joe's Guide always admire that. Tacos, enchiladas, tamales and fajitas are all excellent, though not exceptional. They claim a wide variety of spicy dishes, but none so far have proven to be that hot, though still good. As for drinks, the frozen margaritas are very good, typical of the area.

With Mi Pueblo, Anamia's, Cristina's and El Paseo all within a few miles of each other, the northern sectors of NE Tarrant have little to complain about when it comes to Mexican food for the whole family.



El Paseo on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 4, 2008

Grapevine Subs and More (fka Cero's Heros) ~ Grapevine, Texas

July 2013 update: They've now torn down the dilapidated strip center behind Grapevine Subs, but fortunately left the 1950s era structure as a standalone. I'm sure Grapevine will build something much more appropriate in the empty lot.

February 2012 update:  These photos are from the old Cero's Heroes, but as noted below, the quality has remained the same. On my last visit, I had the Italian with the spicy mixture. Grapevine Subs exclusively uses Boars Head meats. Now to me, a sandwich is only as good as the toppings and the bread. Anyone can put Boars Head meat between two slices of bread. And here's where Grapevine Subs exceeds. The soft chewy French Roll and the spicy mixture are very good, adding the right amount of tartness to the sandwich.

April 2011 update: Cero's Heros is now called Grapevine Subs and More. It's the RJG's opinion that the sandwich is pretty similar to before, though not quite as large and messy. One reviewer on Urbanspoon has already expressed their disappointment (though they hadn't tried the original to be fair). We still give it a thumbs up!

Original review

Since we're on a roll (so to speak) with Grapevine destinations, I thought this would be a good time to slip in Cero's Heros, a Regular Joe's Guide mecca if I ever saw one.

You may recall that Mr. SS and I were bemoaning the dearth of quality submarine places in NE Tarrant, which gave us the perfect justification to head up to Roanoke and go to the wonderful C&A Italian Family Deli (now closed). In that post I mentioned Weinberger's and Cero's Heros.

Cero's Heros sits at the entrance to old town Grapevine at the corner of Northwest Hwy and Main St. The place is over 40 years old, and looks every bit of it (see photos). The building is nothing more than an aluminum siding circumference, with a window in the middle. A rickety awning sits over it to protect customers from the oppressive heat and other weather, and there are a smattering of old Grapevine Independent School District desks to sit in. You of course could take it to your car, but that will require an extra trip to the carwash afterwards. Yep, the sandwiches are that big, and that messy. They only offer a handful of sandwiches, all piled high with meats, lettuce, tomatoes, dressings and condiments. I usually end up with the spicy Italian, which lives up its name. And ensures garlic breath the rest of the day. The bread is thick and chewy, the ingredients all top notch, and the flavor is distinctly Cero's Heros. This place is a must for you followers of the Regular Joe lifestyle. I try to journey here at least once a month during the work week, but usually fall short. This is not a Mrs. RJG kind of place, so while in this part of town, Tolbert's gets more of our attention during weekends and evenings.


Ceros Heros on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Tolbert's ~ Grapevine, Texas

August 2013 update: Nice to see that Tolbert's has a great selection of Texas craft beers (and Texas made wines and hard liquor as well). They've added 32 micros on tap - including 16 Texas ones! None are real obscure, but it's just cool they have a good selection of beers on tap from Real Ale, Saint Arnold, Franconia, Rahr, Revolver, and Spoetzl. And their selection of out-of-state micros is also well researched. In fact they give full descriptions of everything they serve.

Original review

The Love and War in Texas post had me thinking about Tolbert's, and as timing would have it, my neighbor Mr. SS and I agreed to meet there for lunch soon after.

Simply put, Tolbert's is my favorite place to bring out of town guests who are looking for something uniquely "Texan". Originally started by Frank X. Tolbert, the legendary journalist who co-founded the Terlingua Chili Cookoff. In 1976, Tolbert opened a chili-themed restaurant in Dallas that eventually closed down. Fast forward a few years later, and his daughter and her husband reopened the place, but in a far more appropriate locale: Downtown old Grapevine.

The setting simply could not be more perfect. The restaurant is set as the cornerstone of one of the many old buildings lining the old town, this one from 1911. Tolbert's is a large space, with a fireplace, full bar, multiple open rooms, and now a concert stage (though I personally preferred the old closed room, which presumably was for rehearsal dinners, conference gatherings, and the like - guessing business for this wasn't brisk). One can just imagine riding in on horseback, roping it to the post out front, slamming through the saloon doors, ceiling fans whirling above... and demanding some chili and a beer.

The food, naturally enough, has a traditional Texas focus with chili, Tex-Mex, chicken fried steak, beef steak and hamburgers dominating the menu. I always get a bowl of red, and ask for it 5 alarm. Sometimes it really is spicy and other times it's medium. Today's chili was a bit mild for me, but it's always delicious. As well, I'll get a Henderson County burger. Mrs. RJG will tell you that Tolbert's has the best burgers in town, and while I might not go that far, it does underscore how good they are. Mr. SS went for a bowl of 5 alarm red and a chicken fried steak. We both enjoyed a couple of rounds of Shiner Bock, the perfect Texas beer complement. Though for a time they used to have $1 Lone Star's, and while it's a yucky industrial beer, there was something highly appealing about it considering the setting. But those days are gone I'm afraid...

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



Tolbert's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Love and War in Texas ~ Grapevine, Texas ; Plano, Texas

Restaurants that sound like 19th century novels is a dicey proposition at best. When I first heard that our team dinner meeting was at Love and War in Texas (LWT) , my first reaction was "what the hell is that?". I had visions of a touristo trappo, with slide shows, dancers, costumes and other annoying gimmicks. But much to my surprise, the only gimmick here is that LWT focuses on the various culinary traditions of the diverse regions of Texas. And not only that, but everything is grown or made here, including the wine. And my response quickly went to "what a great idea!"

The five regions LWT define are: The Border, Texas Gulf Coast, Hill Country, The West Texas Plains and East Texas Piney Woods. And that's a pretty good designation, especially considering that the Texas state constitution has a provision to break into 5 different states. Each one naturally has a culinary theme: The Border focuses on Tex-Mex; West Texas is steak; Hill Country mixes wild game with German food; East Texas gets the BBQ, burgers, catfish and the like; And finally the Gulf Coast has a seafood focus - of course. I went with the Border menu and tried the Spicy Chicken and Shrimp Platter, which was served fajita styled on a bed of sizzling onions. Everyone at our table had something different including what looked to be some fascinating habanero tacos. Mine was excellent, and I heard similar sentiments around the table.

LWT is located near the Grapevine Mills outlet mall (Gravepoint Wills) and housed in the former Trail Dust Steakhouse. And according to the bartender, they've been there for 3 years. I'm always looking for places to take out of town guests, including business associates, and I'd rank this along with Texana in Arlington (now sadly closed) and Tolberts in Grapevine as a truly Texan experience.



I'll add both locations for Urbanspoon since we've been to both and there are slight deviations between them.

Love & War in Texas on Urbanspoon

Love & War in Texas on Urbanspoon