Monday, October 27, 2008

Anamia's, Mexican, Southlake-TX

Last visit: November 2014 

Rating: Strong Buy

Other locations: Coppell (original), Flower Mound, Plano

January 2014 update: One year later, and nothing has changed as far as we're concerned. Anamia's is our favorite Mexican restaurant in NE Tarrant for the 3rd straight year, and maybe as high as #2 for all of DFW (with Richardson's Casa Milagro coming in at #1).  On our last visit, we had 6 including Mrs. RJG, Official RJG Mother-in-law, 2 nieces (ages 21 and 14), and a nephew (12). I continue to go with Rickey's Tacos, though Pollo Cancun has become a favorite as well, especially when I'm looking for lighter fare. Mrs. RJG craves their shrimp enchiladas. Anamia's can consistently be counted on for great margaritas, chips, salsas, house specialties, soups, rice, and beans. If they have a weakness, it's in their basic Tex-Mex combo plates. I would avoid them, and go straight for the Mexican specialties. We frequent Anamia's at least once a month, if not more.
March 2013 update: Anamia's remains our top Mexican restaurant for NE Tarrant. Even though Anamia's calls themselves "Tex-Mex", it's really their traditional Mexican dishes that separate them from the competition. And since our last update, they've added a 4th location in Plano.

October 2011 update: At one point, the RJG recommended Antonio's as perhaps the best Mexican restaurant in NE Tarrant. It seemed from the moment we did that, Antonio's went slightly downhill followed by Anamia's kicking it into high gear. As it stands today, Anamia's is now our #1 pick for Mexican food in NE Tarrant. There's a lot of competition out there in this space, but Anamia's is up to the challenge. We'll see if they can maintain the RJG trophy! I would also like to mention that the service has been uniformally excellent. That wasn't always the case, but in the last two years we've noticed a distinct uptrend in the quality of the personnel.

Original review

Surprised we've gone this far into the blog without a feature of Anamia's. Mrs. RJG and I have been frequenting the Anamia's in Southlake somewhat regularly ever since we moved back to Texas at the beginning of 2003.

Like many of the Mexican restaurants in the northern sections of Tarrant County (El Paseo, Cristina's, Mi Pueblo), Anamia's is a long way from a hole in the wall, and is in fact a very nice place to dine. And if you go during primetime (Friday night dinner especially), be prepared for Mr. RJG's personal nightmare: The long wait and the black ashtray buzzer. However, most nights you can get in with no wait, and lunches are generally safe any day (and we tend to sit in the bar area anyway). The popularity is driven by location, setting and - most importantly - quality of food. Anamia's does not skimp on quality anywhere. Whether it's the enchiladas, tableside guacamole, margaritas, or fajitas - the ingredients are all top notch, the meals well prepared, and the food is - almost without exception - very tasty. As well, the service is extremely conscientious. Chips and salsa are never more than a minute away, and they stop by frequently to ensure your dining experience is as expected.

Mr. RJG personally recommends Rickey's Tacos - charbroiled white meat chicken in a homemade soft corn tortilla, heavily seasoned, that is served with rice and many condiments - perhaps most satisfying is the unique, and fiery, chipotle sauce. It's the rare kind of Mexican dish that is not only delicious but also relatively less fattening than the usual Mexican plate of goo. While Mr. RJG is currently avoiding margaritas for diet reasons (Edit: And now that I'm fully back in shape - I down one of these pleasurable drinks each visit - reason enough to run 4 miles a day!), Anamia's was one of my favorite concoctions - they aren't afraid to actually add some tequila in there!

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. Doesn't work.

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.

Anamia's started in Coppell in 1996 and has since branched out to Flower Mound and Southlake. The perfect local chain. Slow growth, very popular, and always delicious. The Southlake location is very easy to get to - take the Southlake Blvd exit from TX-114. Go west a couple of minutes - and it'll be on your right. It fronts a large strip mall area. Look for the Old Navy if you get lost.


Anamia's Tex-Mex on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 24, 2008

***CLOSED*** Mezza Luna, Italian, Keller-TX

Closed: October 2010

Last Visit: March 2010

About once a year, Mrs. RJG and I will drift over to Rufe Snow and Keller-Smithfield Rd in Keller and enjoy a weekday lunch at Mezza Luna. We first tried this "ristorante" for a dinner in 2003, and decided it was a bit too dear for what it is, and that lunch would be a better alternative. And since then, we've been there about 5 times - yep, once a year. I can count with my toes too...

Remember terms like ristorante, zuppa and insalate mean $5 more per dish. Mezza Luna holds up this deep rooted tradition. Lunch, however, is very reasonable. Two entrees which include salad or soup won't set you back more than $20 including tip.

Like almost all of the Northeast Tarrant County Italian restaurants, Mezza Luna possesses a Balkan heritage and is tied in with the Moni empire. They even have a dish called Cappellini alla Moni, for which I mentioned that my wife should get it for free. They didn't get it.

There are some breaks with the traditional Moni styled restaurants. One is that it's considerably more fancy than the usual hole in the wall (and not something you would expect from the rather mundane strip mall it sits in). Another is the house dressing which is a honey balsamic rather than the usual red wine. And third, their red sauces have a creamy texture, which I enjoyed for a change of pace.

On this visit I went with the Rigatoni Bolognese, while Mrs. RJG enjoyed the aforementioned Cappellini alla Moni - a dish filled with broccoli and chicken in an olive oil and garlic sauce. As always, the food was excellent.

The restaurant sits in a strip mall area that has undergone quite a bit of changes in the 6 years that we've been coming here. Apparently the anchor was a Winn-Dixie grocery store, that went out of business in 2002. Unfortunately they didn't let go of their lease and the area remained dormant for years. In fact, if it weren't for Mezza Luna, the Snooty Pig cafe that sits next door, and a nearby free standing Taco Bueno, the area would've been completely abandoned. Once the center could be leased, many other retail outlets have opened up, most in the last two years. This can only be a good thing for Mezza Luna, the archduke of the center.

Mezza Luna on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 20, 2008

Update: Jersey Mike's, Version 2.0, Southlake, TX


So Mrs. RJG and I went this past Sunday to check out the new Southlake location. And it looks like we have a winner on our hands! I was very impressed with the service and the care that went into making the sandwich. Everything tasted right. This is not unusual for an opening week, but is an auspicious beginning. Jersey Mike's continues to impress me as a corporate chain rarely does.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Prince Lebanese Grill, Middle Eastern, Arlington-TX

A major event has happened since we last wrote about Prince Lebanese Grill - the appearance of one Guy Fiori from Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. It should come as no surprise to my readers that I love that show. He basically has the same attitude and concept I use here but taken to the highest level. Of course, he's a chef himself, and is very much qualified to review what each kitchen is up to. He reminds me of my very good friend Mr. Music, in his attitude, gregariousness and even his physical shape. Sometimes on a slow Saturday, especially during the summer, Mrs. RJG and I will watch a few hours of his show on the Food Channel consecutively. And get really hungry. You know, come to think of it, he also went to another RJG recommendation: Avila's in Dallas. Could Fiori be a fan of the RJG?

Because of Fiori's visit, Prince became wildly popular (though it already had a loyal local following). On Urbanspoon, it is rated as the 84th most popular restaurant in all of DFW (and 3rd overall for Middle Eastern restaurants). The former Sonic continues to be made over, and there's more seating than ever. An awesome example of urban renewal. Prince is a real American success story.

I would also add to the below review that I really love their Gyros plate. The meat is delicious, as is the rice and Greek salad (as mentioned in the review).

While on the topic are there any good Middle Eastern restaurants in NE Tarrant? I've been to one "Mediterranean" place in North Richland Hills, which was more Greek/European. I haven't done my homework here, but if you know of a place, please don't hesitate to write a comment. Thanks!

Last visit: October 2011

A few years ago, Mrs. RJG and I discovered a place in Arlington called Rama's Mediterranean Grill (based on a Star Telegram weekend review), in a renovated old Sonic drive in. As mentioned in the Hatam Persian restaurant blurb, we our both big fans of the spices of the Middle East, combined with the sumptuous grilled meats and bed of rice. But since it's in Arlington, it's a bit out of our routine range, and we only managed to go once. One of the partners of Rama bought the other out, and renamed the place Prince Lebanese Grill, and we noticed no downturn in quality. In fact, it was even better as the current owner was clearly the driving force of the older establishment.

And another year has passed. We had dropped Mrs. RJG's Mom at the airport one late morning and decided to head south instead of north, and revisit a place for lunch that we always love to go to, but just never think about it. And time has been even better to Prince. The place is now crowded with people. In fact, this is the first time there we didn't eat alone. It's also changed to a sitdown place, rather than an order up / serve combo. And... the prices have gone up - way up. But there's a reason for it, and it's legitimate. See, Prince has upgraded the quality of all their products, as well as upped their portions. While it used to feel like a fast food place, it now feels appropriately enough like a restaurant. And it should.

I had the kofta kabob (two large patties of seasoned ground beef), with rice and a Greek Salad. Mrs. RJG had the beef shawarma (a variation of what Greeks call gyros or, um, Californians call wraps) and a Greek Salad as well. We both adore the salad, as the dressing is absolutely delicious. The kofta is heavily seasoned, the way Mr. RJG likes it. And the rice? Oh, the rice. Long grain rice pilaf with just the right ingredients.

Looking for excellent Middle Eastern food in Tarrant county and not sure where to go? Or at least a place you can go without 1960s era belly dancers? Prince is the place. You've never had Lebanese food, but always wanted to try? Prince is the place. You will feel most comfortable in this casual establishment - the menu will explain it all for you.

You'll find Prince on Randol Mill Rd, just east of Cooper.

Prince Lebanese Grill on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 3, 2008

Clown Hamburgers, Hamburgers, Haltom City-TX

*** Updated: 11/24/2009 ***

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce to you the finest Regular Joe's Guide hamburger for Northeast Tarrant County. If you asked me to draw up the perfect Regular Joe's Guide restaurant, I still couldn't produce the masterpiece that is Clown Burger. Just look at those photos. My oh my. I would travel all day just to see a place like this. Careful on that last point, as they have some quirky hours. Check their website (below) before heading over.

From what I can gather, Clown Burger is a surviving institution, and the interior was pretty much moved piece by piece over to its current location. Originally it was on the old US Highway 377 (Belknap) and like just about every other such place, eventually closed down. Only to be resurrected later. We spoke about Haltom City in the Bangkok Thai entry, and it's the suburb that provides the most Regular Joe thrills per square mile. Populated by working class and newly arrived immigrants, it's the perfect blend for allowing old institutions to survive while at the same time creating new ones. Other than maybe Bud Kennedy, the journalists have steered well clear of the area. And the foodies think it's a no-go 'hood. Fine with me - keep out.

I've been going to Clown Burger for about 4 years now. Not too often, as it's a haul for me and the Mrs. RJG has little desire to eat there. The burger recipe is probably part of some Secret Order, buried with the Holy Ark somewhere in Scotland. Or Ft. Worth. Combine that with a grill that's seen more burgers than a congressman pork dollar total, and you have the formula for happiness. Right there, Mr. RJG has provided you the key to happiness. Did you gloss over that sentence? I wouldn't. I should also mention that the burgers on the small side, so I recommend a double.

I remember traveling with my Dad in West Texas in the early 1970s. It seemed to me that all places that had hamburgers were great. I get that kind of flavor here. All these years, and I still haven't been to Herd's in Jacksboro (how did I miss it on all those college drives from Dallas to Lubbock?). But I'm guessing it's that flavor. I smell a road trip this weekend.

Clown Burger is not easy to find. It's in the kind of shopping area that stopped existing since the 1940s - one that depended more on pedestrian traffic than automobile. I remember them fondly on trips to my Grandma's house in Long Island. It doesn't even seem possible that it can exist in a modern metropolis.

To get there, take Denton Highway and turn west on Stanley Keller. On the next corner will be Haltom Rd. Look for it on the SW corner. You won't believe your eyes. It's like a time tunnel. Once in the restaurant, there is nothing to remind you that this is 2008. It's 1958. For real.

Oh, It's officially known as Clown Hamburgers Too.

Clown Burger Too on Urbanspoon