Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mooyah Burgers ~ Southlake, Texas

January 2015 update: We've seen Mooyah go from a local DFW chain to one with stores all over the US, Canada, and now the Middle East!

January 2014 update: An interesting development since my last visit in October: They changed their core product. Mooyah had the 2 patty system, similar to 5 Guys, and now they've gone to a larger single patty, perhaps like Kincaids. That's an odd move for a chain that seems to be doing well (if total locations are an indication). But it also signals there's trouble on the horizon (why change what makes you successful? Images of New Coke come flashing by). To be honest, if Mooyah wasn't so close to where we reside, I'd probably list as Hold. But there are days I don't have but 20-25 minutes for lunch, and Mooyah is one of only a few options for me, if there's nothing compelling in the fridge. Oh, I just noticed they shut the Euless location down too. Along with Watauga, that's two from NE Tarrant that didn't make it in the last couple of years.

March 2013 update: I just recently found out they closed the Watauga store. That's a bummer, since that was my first experience with the chain. My guess is the closing was caused due to a combo of two things: Too much saturation of their own brand. Having stores in Euless, Colleyville, NRH, and Southlake most assuredly ate up their customer base. Plus new outside competition including the popular Smashburger. Our nearest store is the Southlake one, which is very close to the RJG's cow pasture, with Colleyville next. Their shakes are from a machine, rather than homemade, but I still like them.

October 2011 update: I first featured Mooyah in a 2009 Burger update, and figured I should give the chain its own page. Even only two years ago, Mooyah was mainly a DFW chain, but they're rapidly expanding - and apparently there are franchisers ready to open stores coast to coast. One has to figure Mooyah is a play of words on the famous Jim Cramer Booyah cheer when he's high on a stock. Looks like they ditched the Vegan Schmegan line as they try to appeal to a larger clientele. I've been to the Watauga, Southlake and Frisco (which Urbanspoon had listed in the Dallas Park Cities area - crazy! It's fixed now) locations.

Original review

I think the founders of Mooyah saw what Five Guys was doing in Washington DC (and their subsequent expansion), and said "Hey, we can do that!". And do that they have. Plano based Mooyah is growing fast, though still sticking to the DFW and Houston areas. I love their slogan: "VEGAN, SCHMEGAN". Followed by: "People ask us, "What's Mooyah?" We answer: Mooyah is Just burgers. Just fries. Just better. That's it. We want to make the best burger you've ever tasted. Period." Hey - that's the In-N-Out Burger way! Then they talk about the Bun to Meat ratio. These folks are great. Love it, love it, love it. And the burger taste? Excellent. Fries? Excellent. We'll be regular visitors for a long time.

Website

Mooyah on Urbanspoon

Mooyah Burgers & Fries on Urbanspoon

***CLOSED *** Fat Daddy's Burger House ~ Southlake, Texas

Recently I tried another Dallas based popular place called Fat Daddy's Burger House in Southlake. Well, it's... pretty good. I mean it would be wholly unfair to say I didn't like it, because it's certainly decent. But when compared with many other burger choices in NE Tarrant, many featured on these very pages, then Fat Daddy's falls short. Better to spend your dough at Johnny B's, Molly's, Five Guys, Freddy's, Chapps, Snuffer's, plus the ones mentioned in this post alone. Fat Daddy's compares closest to Fuddruckers (they cook the burger and you dress it at the fixins bar), and frankly Fuddruckers is better at this racket as well. Free soft serve is a nice touch though. I'm afraid Fat Daddy's gets squeezed out in the highly competitive burger market. They need something to separate themselves - like a better tasting burger to start.

Tex's Star Grill ~ Watauga, Texas


November 2011 update: I had originally posted about Tex's in a longer Burger update, but it really should have its own write-up. And since that time, Tex's has really played up their Chicago roots - adding many more regional delicacies such as beef and sausage sandwiches, Vienna hot dogs and "Polishes". With that has come a "sub-name" as it were: Tex's Chicago Connection. The RJG, along with many others I'm sure, had called out some confusion about the original name. And the owner wrote in to tell me that he knew he missed out on the name game. Tex's is run by a very conscientious owner, and there's a reason why he's ranked # 4 in ALL of DFW. As for my own designations, you'll see I put Chicago Deli and Greek Diner. Well it's not really a diner, since you do order up at the counter and they even have a drive-through. But the food is very much like the Greek diners found throughout the Midwest. And on this visit, I tried the beef and sausage sandwich - definitely the best one I've had since my last visit to Chicago!

Northeast Tarrant has made a few tries for the Chicago tastebud, but other than Weinberger's in Grapevine (and Westlake), none have managed to stay in business. But Tex's is here for the long run, and is one of the most popular places in town. Funny enough, Tex's isn't even the #1 place (according to Urbanspoon) in Watauga - that designation goes to Chef Pointe Cafe (which is #1 overall in DFW - and a place we hope to try soon). For such a small, humble, out of the way suburb like Watauga, it is indeed very odd they have two of the most popular restaurants in DFW. Something I hope their chamber of commerce is all too willing to exploit. "Come to Watauga - DFW's #1 Destination for Foodies". It doesn't even seem possible.

Original review

Perhaps the most misnamed place in DFW. When I first saw the place as we were driving down Rufe Snow some 4+ years ago, I thought it was a new burrito place, or perhaps a fast food Tex-Mex joint. Well it's really none of those, but rather a good old fashioned Greek diner or, in this case, fast food establishment. So why is it in the Burger section you ask? Those who've spent more than 15 minutes in Chicago already know the answer - the Greeks make some of the tastiest hamburgers in America. And you can get a Greek Salad with that too! And gyros. And souvlaki. And Baklava. You get the idea. I personally love the Golden Burger with pastrami on top! Places like this exist in every village, hamlet, burb, or mafia center in Chicago, which is why it's America's greatest eating town. And now we have one in NE Tarrant too!

The owner made a comment on the original post, which I will include here: "RJG,I'm honored that you have added Tex's Star Grill to your long list of restaurants reviewed. You're right, we missed out on the name game. When I moved to this great state from Chicago, my buddies back home gave me the nickname Tex - and it stuck. Oh well...we're just glad that our customers have done a super job of spreading the word on what we are all about."

Website

Tex's Star Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 23, 2009

Yu's Gold-In ~ Keller, Texas

As mentioned in the September entry, it had been my goal to group similar restaurants for a more comprehensive and useful post. But when it comes to Chinese food in NE Tarrant, we've only found one we like to date - and we really like it - and that would be Yu's Gold-In.

While we certainly haven't been to them all, we have tried many Chinese joints in NE Tarrant including: Golden China (Southlake), Hong Kong Express (Keller & North Richland Hills), New China (Watauga), Pearl (Grapevine), Ying Cafe (Watauga), Bo Bo China (Grapevine) and Szechuan (Hurst). Most are pretty good, with the nod going to Bo Bo China as the best of that lot. But none inspire us to make a special trip, nor have I written about any of them in this blog. Yu's is the clear leader to date.

You won't find the name "Yu's" on the outside, just "Gold-In". From what I can gather, Gold-In was once a small hamburger joint, that eventually evolved into a Chinese restaurant. When I first located the restaurant on Urbanspoon, it was listed as Betty's Gold-In and I later made the correction for them. You may recall our reference to this restaurant in the Little Joe's Pizza post (which is now closed), where we stated "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." This is that Chinese restaurant.

Even though Yu's isn't really that close to where we live, we always get the food To-Go. And that's because by the time we get it home, the food is merely blazing hot. Apparently Yu's cooks on the surface of the sun. Most places don't serve the food this hot right out of the kitchen, much less after a long drive home. And what does Mr. RJG like to get? Chicken fried rice. As basic a dish as they come, and yet few do it right. Not only does Yu's nail it, but they may have the best fried rice I've ever had. It's a more seasoned mix, and I believe it's the Szechuan way of making it. And what a bargain - the portion is easily two full dinners PLUS they throw in a skewer of barbecue chicken just because they feel like it. Their wonton soup is of the beef broth variety, with big chunks of pork - and is also outstanding. Mrs. RJG has tried other items on the menu, generally of the vegetable variety, and they've all proven to be worthy.

Absolutely recommended. A classic Regular Joe's Guide kind of place - in both atmosphere and taste!

Website

Yu's Gold-In on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Eight Restaurants that get it right" - Response

On the excellent Food and Fort Worth, Texas blog, Francis calls out a US News and World Report business article that praises eight publicly traded companies (or otherwise large corporations) for their growth, sales and profit. I've already worn all of you out with my thoughts about Wall Street and food quality. So I'll put that soapbox away for now. Rather, I thought I'd comment on each of the 8 restaurants listed.

In the order Francis listed them:

Buffalo Wild Wings- I know people who feel that you shouldn't have to pay for wings - that they're a free appetizer to go with your adult beverage of choice. Certainly this is how it all started in Buffalo. In this way, they're similar to Spain's tapas. Tapas were originally heated up leftovers from the day before, and served up prior to your meal as appetizers. That was my personal experience touring Spain in 1990 and again in 1996. I've long felt that tapas, in today's current interpretation, is for yuppies who can't spell hors d'oeuvres. But I digress... Wings are a pretty limited food choice, and there's a multitude of fast food chains out there like Wing Stop, that satisfy the need for late night munchies (and terribly expensive for what you get - give me a taco anyday!) Where I give points to Buffalo Wild Wings is that they are basically a sports bar that focuses on wings. Sports bars are not cheap to run, and require some investment - so for this concept, I can see the need for a place like BWW. And for what they do, we feel they do it right. So thumbs up from the RJG!

BJ's Restaurants - BJ's is really a brewpub, and this is one area where the RJG can completely understand the need for public investment. You know, it really doesn't take much to get rolling with an Italian restaurant. A few good pots and pans, a reliable stove / oven and a boxful of closely guarded family recipes is all you need (theoretically of course - I know there's much more than that - but at its core, this is it). But running a little private brewery is not something your 70 year old grandmother is likely to sign up for. And it costs a fortune - which is why the brewpubs tend to be fine establishments rather than little hole in the walls. Besides there aren't that many brewpubs, especially here in Texas. In our other home in Colorado, there are many more, but they too are well funded (Rockbottom Brewery and Wynkoop Brewery are corporations with many outlets). I've only been to BJ's once, and it was a long time ago - but since we're back here in Texas, it is for certain we'll go a couple of times. Besides, the RJG loves brewpubs!

Chipotle - We remember when Chipotle was a small independent in Denver. They really were ahead of the curve on the whole burrito as fast food concept. So I'll say something here that should astonish you if you've read more than two posts from the RJG: When McDonald bought them, they actually IMPROVED the quality and added more bold options. And I know very few people in Denver who disagree with me on this point. Qdoba was right behind them (and in this case Jack in the Box picked them up). Since then, McDonald's spun them off to their own corporation. Chipotle suffers from the same fate that almost all national chains do: Inconsistency. This is a not a family owned business where the owners are constantly around to ensure the best quality (or working there themselves). No - most of these are owned by Business School executives who pick third tier first-line managers to run the show. Sometimes these third tier managers are awesome and could easily run far more than a fast food restaurant. Others are not up to the task at all. So sometimes you get an awesome chicken burrito that's blazing hot and fresh - and other times you get undercooked chicken with bitchy service. There's enough alternatives nowadays, that there's no reason to go to Chipotle. But back in the day, one would drive a long way to check them out!

Olive Garden - I'm in full agreement with Francis here. Though I don't necessarily think Olive Garden is bad, it's just that I can't understand why people go here. I don't know anyone who thinks Olive Garden is better than other Italian restaurants in the area. When the RJG had a long term contract up in Racine, Wisconsin back in the 1990s, I was in paradise. There are Italian restaurants on every corner, many of them literally in old homes in old neighborhoods with Pabst Blue Ribbon signs on the window. Some of my co-workers, also traveling from other parts of the country, would still go to Olive Garden. I said "WHY ON EARTH?". The answer? "Because it's a marquee name". There it is folks. Like voting for the same dirty scumball congressman year after year - because you know his name.

Panera Bread - I think the artisan bread schtick has already played itself out. And Panera Bread is pretty generic in that category, even when compared to other yawner places like On the Corner Bakery or Atlanta Bread. Hell, Subway is about on par - for a heck of lot less bread (haha). You want a sandwich? Look for a local place - or for God's sake at least go to Jersey Mike's first.

Peet's Coffee - A friend of mine owns a Peet's franchise in West Texas, and he swears by them - which is why he invested in it. He personally works the store too. Peet was the founder of Starbucks, so he definitely was one step ahead of the others. His second venture won't be as successful, only because the idea is known. For my money, the best coffee chain is Tully's, but hard to find them outside of the Pacific Northwest. I think coffee is more about convenience than quality. What I mean by that is most folks aren't going to drive 10 miles out of the way to get Peet's if Starbucks is around the corner. But for a good meal, they most likely would.

PF Changs PF Changs is a popular choice amongst my business friends. Reluctantly I will go, but I don't get what the big deal is. I'll give points for taking what already existed - the Chinese restaurant - and bringing it national with a huge marketing campaign. The things they're famous for, like lettuce wraps, are good - but it's not unique nor breathtakingly good. Like with the Olive Garden - is it really that hard to find a locally owned Chinese restaurant that isn't already better? People go here because it's a safe choice, and no one will criticize them for taking them to a place where the Tongs are gambling in the back. I'll go the latter every time.

I haven't been to Texas Roadhouse, so can't comment on the concept or viability.

Friday, August 28, 2009

New Dynasty ~ Parker, Colorado

New Dynasty remains one of our favorite Chinese restaurants. While we wouldn't say it's anything extraordinary, or even unusual, it is rather their consistency that is both its trademark and appeal. Today, Chinese restaurants seem to come in two types: Take out dives and fancy Asian "fusion" restaurants as spearheaded by the success of P.F. Changs. Gone are the old style "Tong hangouts" of dark reds and golds, the places that may have operated a den of iniquity in the back rooms. New Dynasty is none of those, but the food quality reminds me of the old school dark rooms of yesteryear, prettied up for the suburban community in which it sits.

All the basics of Chinese food are prepared here. We both love the fried rice dishes, expertly prepared. It's a staple, sure, but our philosophy at the RJG is: If you can't make the basics, then why should we presume you can make fancier and more complex dishes? We became regulars at New Dynasty since they first opened in 2001. It looks like we'll be regulars again - at least for the summer.

New Dynasty is located near Jordan and Lincoln. Head south on Jordan and the first shopping center on your left is where New Dynasty sits.

Website: http://www.ufeedme.com/newdynasty/index.htm

New Dynasty on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Brewery Bar II / III / IV ~ Denver, Colorado ; Lone Tree, Colorado ; Aurora, Colorado

For any long time resident of Denver, you don't need the Regular Joe's Guide to recommend the Brewery Bar. It was an institution when we first moved here in 1995, and is even more so now - especially given the fact they've opened two more locations in the last 6 years.

The BB II (bee bee eye eye) is everything that the RJG looks for: Local, kind of divey, popular but definitely not hip, unique food, friendly and consistent service, and most importantly, great taste. This is the place where the cops, politicians and mobsters share a meal together - and maybe make a deal on the side. Where local sports celebrities may show up at the bar, and be treated with all the spectacle of a local neighbor. Where the lazy journalists hang out all day and get more scoop over a bowl of green chile, than a whole day of pounding the pavement. Judges and councilman plot the future of the city right here - over a smothered chile relleno. One time we were with a friend who locked his keys in the car. Two minutes later someone was walking by that just "happened to have" his lock pick kit with him. Gee, what luck! Yea-huh.

The original location was in the old Tivoli Brewery near downtown (thus the name), and when they shut it for renovations to add yuppie stores and shops, the exceedingly low budget Brewery Bar needed to move on. The "II" was born. They could not have found a better spot - an old closed down tacky strip joint just west of downtown in a seedy section known today as "Baker", but what locals would have called a "no go area". From the parking lot, you can see a grain elevator, warehouses and the railroad. Hardly the picturesque mountain scenery of your travel brochure. Jack Kerouac would've loved this place. This is the real Denver......man.

So what's all the fuss about anyway? Green Chile. Bowls of it. And hot enough to blow your head off. You will sweat and you will cry. And you love every minute of it, as the flavors become more vibrant with each bite. You can smother your burrito or chile relleno with it. Hell, you can smother anything in it. It's not even really a green chile at all - it just happens to have lots of very hot green peppers buried in there. No one in New Mexico would recognize their state dish. This is the real Denver.....man.

I don't think you can have a bad meal at the Brewery Bar. Even the crunchy ground beef tacos are world class, loaded to the top with tasty meat and cheese. And you get a yummy unique taco sauce to go with it, not just the chips table salsa. And make sure you wash everything down with a Colorado beer. A "big bowl of green, two beef tacos and a tiny Fat Tire" is my idea of heaven. (tiny = 24 oz).

Fussy yuppies complain that it's "dirty", that it's not like Chili's or any other pre-fabricated corporate dining experience. Well so sorry Amber, but the Brewery Bar wasn't designed with you in mind. It was made for Bill and Alice - and they don't give a rats poop what you think. Bill and Alice don't know how to ski either, and you're ruining their Denver.

Over the years, The Brewery Bar became too popular for its own good and getting into the place for lunch was near impossible unless you showed up before 11 or after 2. So they surveyed the folks on where they came from. No surprise that the Denver Tech Center (DTC) was a main source of the crowds. Hell, me and a few friends alone probably contributed to that. Not a week would go by where the blue shirt, tan pants, beeper (pre cell phone days) crowd would make our weekly pilgrimage. The locals even liked us - sort of. So they opened the BB III in the DTC. Only the Brewery Bar could open a new place that looked like a dive. Surrounded by corporate restaurant hell, the Brewery Bar III is a beacon for all that is good with the world.

Finally they opened the BB IV (eye vee) - now how apropos is that? Because indeed one does feel the need to I.V. the chile after awhile. This location is in Aurora near the intersection of Arapahoe and Parker (Hwy 83). And again, the Brewery Bar sits amongst the publicly traded restaurants - and once again it has become the most popular restaurant in the area. This is the location we go to, out of convenience more than anything else. Besides, it still looks and feels like a dive.

Funny enough, they did capitulate a bit on the heat levels for their new restaurants. And they now offer a mild and a half and half. Oh pu-leeze. Just go for it.

Want the real Denver? Go to the BB II, and have a bowl of green, and don't wimp out on the heat. John Elway may be the guy sitting next to you at the bar. And no one cares - he's a regular.

Brewery Bar II on Urbanspoon

Brewery Bar III on Urbanspoon

Brewery Bar IV on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 20, 2009

City Pub ~ Denver, Colorado

Ah, the neighborhood tavern. A relic from a bygone era, when one would stop by after a hard day of work and share a brew or two with old friends before heading to the chaos of home. The tavern's death knell were the sprawling suburbs, where driving distances to and fro work were long and time consuming. Drinking and driving laws became more strict, and the suburbs were rarely served by public transportation. My uncle, who lived in the inner burbs of Seattle, loved taverns. He knew them all within a 5 mile radius, what beers they served, the bar flys, the food, the waitresses, the bartenders and the patrons. It gave him a reason to live. When he died a couple of years ago, they were all gone and bulldozed - had to make room for one more Olive Garden, a Home Depot and a Starbucks.

And with that, City Pub is a welcome sight indeed. It's a throwback to another age. A dark, perhaps unwelcoming place - at least for newcomers. But once in the door, it seems oddly familiar. It's part of the neighborhood. And, maybe best of all, City Pub is a new addition to this southeast Denver area, an extension of the already established City Grille, which resides near downtown - the one area where places like this can still survive. And if you do decide to drown your daily sorrows, it's less than a 15 minute walk to the Dayton Light Rail station. The RJG loves public transportation - it brings the community back together.

All this is fine and dandy, but if the food doesn't hold up, then it's just another dive bar that will see its demise soon. Fortunately City Pub puts a strong emphasis on the quality of their product. They boldly proclaim "Best Burgers in Town" on the sign out front, and you know what, they may have a case here. The steakburgers, with an array of cheese choices, are delicious. Heavily seasoned to penetrate the quality ground beef. Fries are good, if perhaps not exceptional. Maybe best of all is the green chile, an award winning concoction that has exceptional flavor and a little kick to it. City Pub offers many other dishes, of which the RJG is excited to try in the future. Especially appealing is the Wednesday night special of spaghetti and sausage. We'll be there.

Keep the neighborhood concept alive, forgo the national chains, and support your local independent.

City Pub is on Yosemite, just south of Hampden, on the west side of the road.

Website: http://www.citygrille.com/citypub/

Citypub South on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gutierrez Cocina ~ Hays, Kansas

Over at Urbanspoon, I wish they offered a middle grade between "I like it" and "I don't like it". Judging from the relatively low score for Gutierrez, I'm thinking most of the "don't" votes may be more towards the middle. That's where we sit.

This is fairly bland, safe, Mexican food.Gutierrez makes a big deal out of not being a chain. I think they do that because they ACT like a chain. Give us some spicy options! Put tequila in the margarita for crying out loud! But to say we didn't like it isn't fair either, as their basic salsa's are tasty - one containing that smooth texture that the Kansas taco chains are known for. The ground beef was heavily seasoned, though not overly tasty. The chicken is all white meat, and prepared very well.

Hays is a great place to stop on the long journey to and from our other home in Denver on I-70. But I would recommend Taco Grande over Gutierrez. Next time, though, we're trying the brew pub! (11/22/09 note: And we did - it's excellent!)

Gutierrez Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Great Outdoors ~ Addison, Texas

It was our place. The place where father and son would go to enjoy a meal, talk freely, and savor the moment. We'd talk politics, religion, school, his job, etc... He wanted to talk with me about girls, but I was never too comfortable with that. Just enough to let him know, you can relax Dad, I definitely like girls. We first discovered the Great Outdoors near Bachman Lake sometime in the early 1980s while I was still in high school. On sporadic weekend college flights home from Lubbock, he'd meet me at Love Field and we'd beeline over there. My first job out of school was near Addison Airport, so we relocated to the Carrollton store. The wife and I had relocated to Colorado, but on trips home, with the Bachman Lake restaurant now closed, we'd still venture up to Carrollton for each visit. Or on one particular business trip I was working near LBJ and Central, so we'd go to the Forest Ln one (now also closed). Finally, after we relocated back to DFW, I had an office near Belt Line and the Tollway, so we made the Belt Line and Montfort location our new home base for once a week lunches. Today, this is the only one I go to - about once a year when I see my accountant and sit in silence and reminisce. NE Tarrant even had one when we moved back - in North Richland Hills. Obviously I took it for granted, as it closed nearly as quick as we arrived (sometime in mid 2003). The Great Outdoors remains primarily a Dallas area institution, with one lone Ft. Worth location.

The ritual was always the same. I'd get a double #1 (Ham, Salami), or a double #3 (Turkey Pastrami) and he'd get a single #6 or #12 (the ones with the most variety of meats). Always on white. Then it was time for the glorious "Works". As one African American worker said to me with a certain ghetto street tone "THAT'S WHAT MAKES THE SANDWICH!!". Incidentally the workers, over the years, have been uniformly great - many had worked there for over a decade (rare for fast food). So back to the Works. I'd get it without tomatoes. On queue, Dad would automatically say "give me his tomatoes" and snicker-laugh unconsciously. I would dress it with mustard (regular), and he would always say a "big blob of mayonnaise". We'd each get a pickle spear (15 cents!). I'd usually go a chocolate chip cookie. He'd get Diet Pepsi and I'd choose a Mountain Dew.

Then the games would begin. Dad would try to wolf down his sandwich as fast as he possibly could stuff into his mouth. I'm no slow eater either, though I would put down the sandwich and chew the food at least. Why did he do this? So he could smoke, that's why. Back in the days when you could still smoke indoors at restaurants. His goal was to get in as many cancer sticks as possible before I would say "it's cold, let's go". See, since the Great Outdoors is a deli with meats, the place is always kept at a frigid temperature. In the winter, we'd be dressed appropriately, but in the summer... are you kidding me? Plus he'd just assume spend all day there smoking ciggy's and talking about whatever, and I'd rather actually have a life and maybe see a friend, or do something else other than talk about the military ex-officers club. Or his sales figures. Or my low grades.... So while sitting there enjoying my sandwich, he'd already reached into his shirt front pocket and grabbed a cigarette. And he'd puff away on it and instinctively reach for another one. And another. And another... so I had to time it perfectly. Just as he put one out, and began reaching for another, I'd say "let's go, it's cold!". "Already?" he'd plea. "Dad!" "Ok..." he'd acquiesce.

Very sadly, it's not something we can do anymore. Dad passed away near the end of 2003 at the too young age of 68.

This post is dedicated to my father, who I miss dearly. And Dad, I look forward to sharing a double #1 with you in heaven.

Website

Great Outdoor Sub Shop on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 25, 2009

Rohmer's ~ Muenster, Texas

If there's a food type that the RJG thinks should be more popular it's German food. Wandering throughout Central Europe in the late 80's and early 90's, the RJG was constantly gorging on the multitude of sausages from the various street vendors, as well as devouring variations on the wienerschnitzel theme at the restaurants. With beer and fries of course. All within the backpackers budget. Yet here in America, German food seems verboten - perhaps a long lasting ban from the WW II nightmare. Personally I think German food is an untapped market. Same with low cost / Brasserie style French food. Any multi-millionaire restaurant veterans out there that want to help me prove my theory?

Here in the DFW area, German food options are slim. We love Kuby's near SMU, a place we are certain to write about eventually. There are others of course, including the cornball institution Edelweiss in Ft. Worth - the very embodiment of why German probably isn't more popular.

Which leads us to hit the trail in search of German food. Of course the natural thing to do is head south, and visit the beautiful Hill Country and its long established German tradition, especially in places like Fredericksburg. But that would be too easy. How about somewhere north towards Oklahoma? (incidentally Mr. Music recently informed us that there are lots of German settlements in southern Oklahoma). Muenster is the last reminder of a large Catholic German migration in Northern Texas. And the town, despite being just a wide place in the road, has maintained its German character. Especially during festival time in late April. Life revolves around the beautiful Catholic church in the center of town.

It's only a little over an hour drive from NE Tarrant, so the wife and I are making a point to visit more often (we've only been twice). To date, we've only tried Rohmer's, which impressed us enough on our debut visit to try it again. THIS is the way wienerschnitzel is to be made. Crispy and lightly seasoned. If a restaurant is dumping a heavy sweet gravy on top, they are ruining a perfectly good dish. I also like that you can get chicken (hochen) schnitzel as an alternative to pork. Pan fried potatoes - yum. And of course, the sausages are wonderful - guessing they come from the local German grocer. Oh, and a good German Paulaner to wash it down with.

The outside has a German look, but the inside feels more like an American Coffee shop. And if you look around, the place clearly doubles as both a German restaurant and a local gathering spot to get coffee, eggs and bacon. They also have Mexican food. Oh, and we love the ancient 1960s era sign outside.

Muenster is about 10 minutes west of Gainesville on Hwy 82.

On the way back, consider driving the pretty backroads, and making a stop at the Weinhof Winery in Forestburg (FM 455). Go west on Hwy 82 from Muenster to Saint Jo (an interesting little place itself with a winery north of town as well) and take FM 677 south.

Website: http://www.rohmersrestaurant.com/

Rohmer's Restaurant & Catering on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Burger Box ~ Richland Hills, Texas

The Burger Box is one of those local/regional chains that have no web presence, no continuity and seemingly no Raison d'ĂȘtre. They could be a front for illegal arms dealings to Iran for all I know. I suppose I could inquire about a franchise, but would guys in trench coats start following me?

But exist they do - and from what I can gather, they have a multitude of locations on this side of the Great Divide (DFW airport). A non substantiated survey displays four NE Tarrant locations: North Richland Hills, Richland Hills, Bedford and Euless. I've been only to the Richland Hills location, conveniently located near Northeast Mall (on Glenview/Pipeline, other side of the 121/820 bridge). I'm no regular visitor, probably only been a handful of times since we moved here in 2003. My handy database shows my last visit, prior to yesterdays, as January of 2005. But I should go here more often. Because it's a good hamburger. A DARN good hamburger actually.

These are fry cook burgers, nicely seasoned, with fresh lettuce, toasty bun and lots of gooey cheese. It's a fast food hamburger, no doubt. I'm most reminded of Griff's actually, another floating chain without an anchor. I didn't get the fries this go round, the Mrs. is out of town and I prefer to eat only a few of them, and don't remember what they're like. I'm guessing very good. They also serve Blue Bell Ice Cream, and make hand scooped shakes. I also noticed they have crunchy tacos. That's a throwback to another era. I need to try those next time!

Most Burger Box's look like renovated old Dairy Queens, an example of urban renewal done the right way. They're painted in a garish red and white checkered pattern, that I find highly appealing in a retro sort of way. They even have black and white photos of old movie stars lining the walls. None are signed of course, ala the old style Italian restaurants, but someone did their research here.

I just added this location to Urbanspoon, but many of their others were listed already.

Burger Box on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 23, 2009

*** CLOSED *** Nipa's Kitchen ~ Haltom City, Texas

Now this is a hole in the wall. The real deal. A Regular Joe's Guide special if there ever was one. In a dilapidated old strip center, sits the not so quaint Nipa's. Not a romantic date restaurant that's for sure. But certainly one of the best Thai restaurants in the area, second to only Bangkok Cuisine for Haltom City.

That's right, exactly the type of place to grab a quick lunch. With prices to match the ambiance. The savings definitely go into the cooking. Even for folks on hard times, Nipa's Kitchen is about as cheap as making your own food from the grocery store. I doubt I need to mention it's BYOB. And portions are just right, not the massive amounts we've come to expect.

We've tried both the stir fried basil chicken and the spicy fried rice, both utterly delicious. And very spicy, just as we asked for. No going through the "you really want it that spicy?" ritual that grows so tiresome. Fine - you want it hot, go for it they say. Besides, not too many yuppies who don't know any better would find this place on any account.

They also run the Magic Springroll Thai restaurant in Watauga, which matches the ambiance, if not the food quality.

For those that are still with me, presumably most of my regular readers, you'll find Nipa's Kitchen on Broadway, west of Haltom and east of Beach.

Cash only (duh).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Thai Riverside ~ Grapevine, Texas


July 2014 update: Welcome back Thai Riverside! They are now on their 4th owner (including Thai Rice as mentioned below), and dare I say this is the finest yet. It had been 3 years since we last visited Thai Riverside, and we we very impressed. They understand terms like "Thai style", which surprisingly not all, or even most, Thai restaurants seem to get. We'll be adding this back to our "Thai rotation" which also includes Sea Siam (Keller), Bangkok Cuisine (Haltom City), and Sweet Basil (Hurst).

Original review

We first started frequenting Thai Riverside when the place was known as Thai Rice, sometime in the 2003-2004 era. New ownership brought improvements including an interior spruce-up, an upgraded menu and new flavors. On this visit, our first in nearly two years, we learned that Thai Riverside again has changed owners. Not so many alterations this time around, exceptions being a new menu and a handful of new recipes, though the owner assured us that most everything was "the same".

That's unfortunate, since as you may have gathered from the "first visit in two years" comment, Thai Riverside isn't one of NE Tarrant's finest. Nor is it near the bottom either but somewhere in the middle. That is to say, Thai Riverside is a "serviceable" Thai restaurant.

On this visit we sampled the Chicken Satay for an appetizer, and for entrees we had the Cashew Chicken and Chicken Basil. All of it was good, not nothing captured the imagination.

Thai Riverside is in an area that has a dearth of Thai restaurants, and is the best offering for miles around. Much better than the overpriced and overexotic Thai Chili in the nearby Southlake Town Square. If you live in the area, and have the means, I'd suggest driving to Sea Siam in Keller or Sweet Basil in Hurst. But if pressed for time, and craving Thai food, I would more than recommend Thai Riverside for to-go orders. And the interior is pleasantly decorated with mood lighting, to ensure a nice dining experience as well.

Thai Riverside is located on Northwest Highway, just east of TX-114. It's buried in a strip center (on the Park Blvd street side). BTW, the Google Map is wrong, and has Thai Riverside way east closer to the Gaylord. Just take TX-114 to Southlake Blvd/Wall. Go straight through the light, and make a right at the next light (Northwest Highway). Make a left at the first light (Park) and left into the shopping center.

Website

Thai Riverside on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The iPhone & Urbanspoon

At the beginning of the year, my company issued me an iPhone. Truth be told I'm not really a gadget geek, despite possessing a Computer Engineering degree and that the early part of my career was dedicated to developing technology. In fact, a few years ago my former company sent me a Sprint Pocket PC. What a brick that thing was. In the end, all I ever used it for was to make phone calls presuming it didn't run out of batteries before the end of the one call I could squeeze in between recharges. So when I switched jobs, I just accepted the simplest of cell phones. The kind that have teenagers looking down at you with disapproval. I was behind the times and loving it.

But my boss persuaded me that the iPhone was different. It is, in his words, the "killer app". And after 4 months of use, I can only agree. Its web functions alone make it worthwhile for me. And until now, I hadn't really explored the vast array of applications at my disposal. I still haven't really (believe it or not, I actually use the thing 100% for WORK - imagine that?)

Still, in the back of my mind, I wanted to somehow tie my blog to the iPhone. More and more people will use their iPhone to determine what's a cool place to eat while out of town, or even in town. So I figured I'd look at the most popular free application on the iPhone that recommends restaurants. The answer? Urbanspoon.

I'd run into Urbanspoon multiple times when Googling places while doing my own research. I've noticed over time that its place in Search Engines continues to rise. And now I know why. It's the application most folks on iPhone are using. It's not the only one, but I decided to go with the most popular and stick with it. For now at least.

I starting adding Urbanspoon links on Saturday, and I was alerted today that they are now showing up on the site itself. So I plan on gradually adding more links with my revisits and all new(er) entries.

My Urbanspoon profile is here: http://www.urbanspoon.com/u/profile/271155/RJG.html

Anyone who can guess what that picture comes from will certainly surprise me!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Flip's Patio Grill ~ Grapevine, Texas

If you're a weary traveler staying near DFW airport, there's a good chance that you'll find yourself tempted to dine on the TX-114 corridor in Grapevine (may we suggest Tolbert's instead for a more "local" experience?). The Main Street and William B Tate exits are a shrine to corporate eateries, many of them publicly traded on the stock exchanges back in NEW YORK CITY (get a rope). Other than the Dallas based Tex-Mex institution known as El Fenix (and probably its worst location at that), the majority of your choices are places you've seen in Anytown, Anystate.

The only exception to this, at least for restaurants you can actually see from the highway itself, is Flip's Patio Grill, the lone locally owned* restaurant in the area. It wasn't always that way, as Flip's was once a thriving Tony Roma's - a place that seemed to fit perfectly with the locale.

*- Sort of, as it's owned by industry veteran Steve Hartnett, who also founded the Fox & Hound as well as the Cool River Cafe (and the Bob's Steak and Chop House in Grapevine).

Flip's has a pretty good reputation for having one of the best burgers around. But readers of the RJG aren't likely to be impressed if they've ventured to some of our local recommendations including Kincaid's, Johnny B's (both close enough to TX-114 to at least give them a try instead), Molly's, Freddy's, Five Guys, etc... Still, that doesn't mean Flip's isn't worth trying, and for what they attempt to do, they end up being quite adept. Like many sports bars, their menu has as many choices as the screens have games, so it can be a bit daunting on what to get. Locals swear by the blue cheese burger, and to be fair, the RJG has never acquired a taste for this most moldy of all cheeses.

So if I'm stranded at the local Hampton Inn, and I want a cold one and a big juicy burger to go with my game of choice, then Flip's would most certainly meet that need. We've only been a couple of times, and we haven't even begun to dig into the vast array of choices on the menu, so it's a bit unfair to state that Flip's doesn't have anything special or unique to recommend. We like it, but we don't love it, get it?

As of this writing, they are opening a new Flip's in North Ft. Worth at Western Center and I-35W.

Flip's Patio Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tommy's Hamburger Grill ~ Fort Worth-TX

As with Kincaid's, you really don't need the Regular Joe's Guide to direct you to Tommy's, as this is one of Ft. Worth's most respected burger institutions (since 1983). Tommy's frequently makes the Best Of lists in multiple newspapers and guides - anything from the widely circulated Star-Telegram to your local Sub Sandwich Times.

Our first visit was anything but a "Best Of" experience. The problem was not the quality of food, for if it had been, there might not have been a repeat visit. No, rather it was the service. Or lack thereof. For we waited exactly one hour to be served our hamburger AFTER being seated. That's an excruciatingly long time to wait when you're hungry - especially for what is basically fast food. It was quite simply a very poorly handled situation. They were busy, that we could see, but no expectations were set. We were just ignored for the most part. I resisted speaking of that experience alone for this blog, because everyone has bad days. How many times do you see these vicious comments about a restaurant on yelp or insiderpages, all because of one bad experience? In the end, it demonstrates sour grapes, rather than a true examination of how a restaurant operates. For the record, the hamburger was delicious on that visit. But it wasn't worth an hour wait (not much is).

So how did we fare the second time, almost a year later? MUCH better. Even though the place was crowded, service was normal - and the burger again was delicious. They certainly earn their Best Of stripes when it comes to the quality of their prize dish - the cheeseburger. The fries, on the other hand, are a bit greasy for our liking - but some may consider that a plus. We haven't tried their other offerings.

There are three Tommy's locations, all in Ft. Worth, and we've only been to the Camp Bowie locale, nearby the original Kincaid's. They're also located in the Cultural Arts District and near Ridgemar.

Website: http://www.tommyshamburgergrill.com/

Tommy's Hamburger Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 2, 2009

*** CLOSED *** Anthony's Place ~ Fort Worth, Texas


Having lived in Colorado for 10 years, the wife and I became spoiled with the abundance of Mexican food that thrived in the area. But you say "We have plenty of Mexican dining options in DFW too - there's practically one on every corner!" Ah, so true, but how many of them have cooked in the fine art of New Mexican food? You can count them on less than one hand.

When we say New Mexican, we do not mean Nuevo Mexican, but rather the type of food that is worshiped in the great state of New Mexico. Any trip to Santa Fe or Albuquerque is not complete until you've devoured a spicy green enchilada.

New Mexican food is all about the shrine to the Great Green Chile that rules the arid plains. That stimulating and torrid fruit that is grown in great numbers throughout the state. Google green chile (as spelled) and see what you get - go on do it. Keyword: New Mexico. Pilgrimages are made to acquire the best chiles around. And many are spicy, almost ridiculously so. And that alone is enough to have the RJG's tongue wagging. For those of you reading this, that have been fortunate enough to have an enchilada verde in Santa Fe, I bet your mouth has a tingling sensation right about now. Maybe a bead of sweat just formed on the forehead. Right?

And here we are in Texas, a state that makes up NM's Eastern border, and what do we have to show for it in the way of cuisine? Not much. Not even enough in Colorado as far as we were concerned, but perhaps a little better.

Hello Anthony's Place!

So here's your chance to see what all the hullabaloo is about. It's a bit of a haul for us folks in NE Tarrant, but worth the journey. Anthony's is all things New Mexican cooking, but it's not perfect by any means. In fact, it doesn't hold a candle to some of Santa Fe's best, but even middle of the road New Mexican cooking is better than many cuisine's best offerings.

My main gripe with Anthony's is that for a place that lives and dies by the green chile, the spice is way too tame. They seem to be giving into the locals. Those that claim it's too hot so they can't taste it - and all that silliness. I've already given that lecture in the Fernandez Cafe posting, so I won't bore you again with it. Note to Anthony's: Blow their head off with some heat! It's addicting, and you'll have junkies at the door begging for more. And that's good for longevity.

So if you already love New Mexican food, you will be satisfied with Anthony's Place. if you've never had New Mexican food, then Anthony's is a good place to start. Make sure you order something with green chile in it, or you might be missing out on the experience.

We've only been a couple of times, spread over two years. I have to fit them into my work schedule, which can be very difficult normally. They have strange hours of operation, so call ahead to see when they're open (817 - 378-9005‎). Generally they're open during the weekdays for lunch, sometimes dinner. No lunch on Saturday's unfortunately. Anthony's is on Meacham Blvd, just west of I-35W, a few blocks east of Meacham Field.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

*** CLOSED *** Al's Famous Dogz & Burgers ~ Hurst, Texas

It's been a few years since my first visit to Al's. I must say that my debut experience was a bit underwhelming, but I was determined to try it one more time. And that time has now come and gone. And little has changed as far as my perception, except maybe the prices.

A few years back, Al's was one of those "everything is 89 cents" kind of places. And it's true what they say, you get what you pay for. It was forgettable. Wisely, they gave up on that concept and have improved the quality of their product, and the prices are still DARN cheap, but no longer is anything under a $1.

So what's the problem then? Well, it's not that there's anything wrong with Al's per se, but their burgers are kind of... well... bland. The meat doesn't have much seasoning, and the bun seems to be added at the end, right out of the bag. So other than the low cost, there isn't a compelling reason to go here, especially considering the stiff competition in the area, places that are well documented in these pages. The fries, on the other hand, were better than expected. Searing hot, crispy and a very salty seasoning (perhaps too much for some folks).

If you're craving some quick, cheap eats, then give Al's a whirl. Look for the double drive through shack at the NW corner of Precinct Line and Pipeline.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

*** CLOSED *** Molly's Burgers and Ice Cream ~ Keller, Texas

Closed: April 2011

Last visit: January 2011

If you are a burger aficionado, then living in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area certainly has to be a contender for one of the nation's best cities. And NE Tarrant, in particular, does what it can to accommodate. We've covered many in these pages, as the RJG is a fervent devotee of a good cheeseburger.

Add Molly's to the list of great places to devour a succulent hamburger. Molly's started in Arlington and Keller was chosen as their second locale. A wise choice given the relative distance, so as to not take away from their core base. Molly's is located on Golden Triangle (aka Keller Pkwy, aka Southlake Blvd.), west of US-377 and east of I-35W in far NW Keller.

Definitely one of the best gooey cheeseburgers I've had, with a unique salty blend of spices that penetrate all the way through. And the bun is nice and toasty. And I can also vouch for the milkshake, made with real ice cream (for some odd reason, I didn't ask who made the ice cream - I'll find out). I liked it so much on one Saturday lunch visit, that I insisted Mrs. RJG and the RJG's Mom go the next day. Definitely a big hit with the ladies as well. Saturday was empty, but Sunday was jammed packed, so file that away if you plan to drop by.

If you want to die early, may I suggest the "Molly Burger": A 1/3 patty, topped with a grilled hot dog, bacon, and cheddar cheese, grilled onions, lettuce, tomato, and chipotle mayo. Yea, a real cardiologists delight that is. They also have a Veggie Burger and a "Brendan" Burger, which they shamelessly call their "In N Out" Burger (though they spell it "In and Out"). I haven't tried the latter - need to do that!

Oh, and it's BYOB for you lushes out there (like us!).

Molly's is a cool little place, seemingly dropped in from a university campus area. The decor is a nice blend of heavy woods with a distinct industrial design.

Add Molly's to the ever growing group of the burger A-list: Five Guys, Kincaid's, Johnny B's, Clown Burger, Freddy's, Chapps, etc...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ojeda's Mexican ~ Lewisville, Texas ; Dallas, Texas


February 2013 update: Ojeda's is more popular than ever. And at least two family friends, Mr & Mrs. Cowcatcher and Mr. and Mrs. Chic-Coffee consider the Maple Avenue location their favorite DFW Mexican restaurant. And we've met both of them at that location for dinner, including the Chic-Coffee's last night. I've also met up at the Maple location with The Prowler before a Rangers game. Of all the original Mexican restaurants on Maple, I think we have to conclude that Ojeda's is the most successful. For some reason, the website doesn't list the Lewisville location. But I just called and they're still open!

Original review

In the Avila's and Herrera's posts found on this blog, I spoke of the Mexican restaurants on Maple Avenue we used to haunt back in the late 80s and early 90s. The other two were Rosita's (now closed) and, the focus of this post, Ojeda's.

Ojeda's is old school Tex-Mex, which is a nicer way of saying HEAVY Mexican food. These are places you don't just walk out of, but rather waddle out. Expect lots of gooey cheese, beans with lard, mush meat tacos with filler, thick flour and corn tortillas, and as many chips as you can stuff in your face. Top that off with a few cervezas, and you have instant 5 pound weight gain. Is it worth it? HECK YEA!

No point in walking you through the meal, as Ojeda's isn't that much different from Herrera's. Both places feature spicier than normal salsa's (I detect a strong hint of Valentina Salsa Picante in the flavor), great tasting chips, and combo platters that thin the wallet and expand the waistline. No complimentary bean and bacon soup at Ojeda's though.

As with all the Maple Avenue institutions, Ojeda's doesn't have a presence in Tarrant County. But the location in Lewisville isn't too far for us NE Tarrant citizens. I've been to that location a couple of times over the last year, and makes for a convenient meeting place with friends who live "on the other side". Ojeda's have 4 locations total (the other two are in Plano and Desoto). The Lewisville location is on Hwy 121, a few blocks west of I-35E.

Website

Ojeda's Mexican on Urbanspoon

Ojeda's Mexican on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Italian Bistro ~ Roanoke, Texas


One Italian place the RJG hasn't written about, but is quite popular amongst many in NE Tarrant County is Cafe Italia in Grapevine (actually they have two locations in Grapevine). We've been to Italian Bistro in Roanoke twice now, and I could swear this is Cafe Italia's third location. Without having an opportunity to interview the owner, I would be willing to testify there's a connection or shared ownership involved here.

It's been awhile since we wandered up north to Denton County and their little SW outpost of Roanoke. We last mentioned the town in the C&A Italian Family Deli almost a year ago. For the wife and I, it feels like a trip out in the country, and even though the area is truly a bedroom community, Roanoke has gone to great lengths to make it seem like an old, small rural Texas town. Babe's and The Classic Cafe are its most famous daughters, but the other restaurants are well worth visiting too.

Like 90+% of the Italian restaurants in the area, Italian Bistro are Balkan owned and share many similarities with their restaurant brethren. Honestly there's not much about the food I can speak to that I haven't already covered here or here or here and a few others. So it's a matter of location / convenience basically. Even though Italian Bistro might not be the most original of Italian restaurants in our area, for what they do, they do it right. It's a pleasant restaurant, with good service, and consistently good (and hot) meals.

One other observation: On both our recent visits, we noticed at least two separate parties of women (all ages). Italian Bistro seems to be the restaurant of choice for girls-night-out! So ladies, you might want to consider it for your next restaurant venture. Besides, it's nice to get out into the country once in awhile.

You'll find Italian Bistro on Byron Nelson Blvd, east of US 377 (go through old town if coming from NE Tarrant and turn right at the end of the street).

Website

Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Pho Empire ~ Irving, Texas

Perhaps even more surprising than not having recent Thai updates, is the fact that I have yet to write about any Vietnamese restaurants. And the blog is nearly a year old.

Surprising in the fact that when the wife and I were dating, Vietnamese food was the restaurant of choice. Not just any Vietnamese place, but namely Kim Ba, a wonderful little restaurant in eastern Denver near Aurora. This was Mrs. RJG's first food love. It got to the point that she wouldn't eat anywhere else during our courtship. We had to get married just so we could eat Italian food again. After we married, naturally we continued to frequent Kim Ba for the next few years before moving to NE Tarrant. We would still go almost weekly, even after we moved miles away to The Pinery, far southeast of Denver proper.

So is Pho Empire the second coming of Kim Ba? Hardly, but that doesn't mean it's not good, because it is. We've also frequented a handful of other Vietnamese places in Haltom City and Arlington, and none have matched our old Denver favorite. But there are plenty of good places to talk about - and we'll get to them all eventually.

Vietnamese food is almost the perfect Regular Joe's Guide food: It's plentiful, it's flavorful, it's simple and it's cheap. Not necessarily in that order. Vietnamese cuisine is at the meeting place of Asian and European cooking. The French colonization penetrated the local cuisine, and it provided the perfect marriage of taste. If history had taken a different course, Vietnamese would almost certainly be the primary Asian food of choice amongst Americans, rather than Chinese.

There seems to exist three kinds of Vietnamese restaurants: Fast food, soup kitchens (pho = soup) and nice restaurants. Kim Ba was the latter. And so is Pho Empire.

I first frequented Pho Empire with Ms. JW when we both worked at Software Company You've Actually Heard Of in Las Colinas. In those days they were known by the more modest moniker of Pho Republic. Obviously delusions of grandeur have taken over, as they expanded to one other whopping location in Arlington, and now go by Pho Empire. Look out McDonalds - here's your challenger! cough.

So this was my wife's first encounter with Pho Empire, and it had been at least 4 years since my last visit. They have the usual array of soups and rice dishes and we both opted for the latter. The soup bowls are enormous! I tend to go for lemongrass chicken over a bed of rice and subsequently squeeze Sriracha sauce all over it. The Mrs. will mix it up and on this date she also went for a variation of the lemongrass chicken theme. Good thing she did, as Pho Empire broke the cardinal rule as far as I'm concerned: My dish is not what was advertised. It was a stir fry with everything from the backyard. It didn't say that on the menu! It said chicken, spices and chile's - which is what I wanted. Fortunately Mrs. RJG got more of what I wanted and mine was more to her taste. So it worked out. All dishes come with a beef broth pho, which works perfectly as an appetizer. Despite the ambitions of the name change, the food has taken a step back from what I remembered.

Pho Empire is a nice, and quite large, restaurant with no less than three dining areas. If you've never had Vietnamese food, you will feel very comfortable here.

This location of Pho Empire is located at the SW corner of Belt Line and Northgate, just on the "other side" of DFW airport.

Website: http://www.phoempire.com/

Pho Empire on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Aboca's Italian Grill ~ Richardson, Texas

According to my notes, it had been almost exactly 4 years since the RJG dined at Aboca's. In fact, it's probably been 4 years since I did anything in Richardson. Strange to think about that now, considering that I was a summer intern for two years at one of the many hi tech firms that dotted the Richardson landscape at the time (mid 1980s). Today I have little reason to visit this way, except to try the numerous interesting food choices. I hardly recognize the place anymore. But back to 2005, Mr. Music came down from Shady Shores and joined me for a music session at Mr. Unemployed Former DJ's apartment. Naturally, no food was offered, so Mr. Music and I conjured up an excuse to leave, and then figured out later where we would eat. Consider that Mr. Music is one of the only people I know who actually samples more restaurants than the RJG . He suggested that I try a new Italian place he just discovered called Aboca's.

And so here I am again, this time with Mrs. RJG, enjoying a Saturday night dinner. The place is packed, and the majority of the diners are older than we are. The RJG likes this, as it demonstrates quality food for a reasonable price. In general terms, older folks are less impressed by restaurant du jour's and marquee chefs and more interested in a good meal with friends or a loved one. While nothing is 100% iron clad, this proved true once again.

The dish:

It's BYOB, so good news right off the bat. We had our bottle of red in tow and ready to devour. They charge a $1 corkage fee, which is fine with us. The RJG can remember many a business trip to California where corkage fees bordered on imperial taxation.

The complimentary bread is a sliced loaf and complemented with a dipping sauce oil, garlic and pepper.

Salads are delicious (though they add olives, not something I enjoy personally, which I had to pick out and add to the Mrs.' dish), with a nice balsamic vinagraitte dressing. For those of us in NE Tarrant, who are a bit tired of the tomato based dressings, this was a nice treat.

The wife enjoyed a place of Spaghetti Bolognese, a dish that never fails to fill the spot while wandering Europe. She usually goes for a mixed meat and vegetables dish, but she was in the mood for some comfort food. Their variation has lots of spiced meat, which is a huge plus as far as the RJG is concerned. I had the Chicken Parm with two meatballs. The Parm wasn't crispy enough for me, but that's a rare find in any restaurant. But it still tasted great. The meatballs were firm and tasty - the kind I remember from the 1970s.

The desserts were heavy on cakes and pastries, so we passed.

The citizens of Richardson are very fortunate to have a neighborhood joint like Aboca's.

Aboca's sits on the SW corner of Belt Line and Central Distressway (US 75). It's just off the service road, south of Belt Line.

One note on the atmosphere: Christmas lights are strung throughout. All year. You get points for that. Only thing missing is a rollaway sign out front, with flashing bulbs and a billboard stating "Tuesday night is Ladies Night - Two Meatballs for free".

Website: http://www.abocas.com/

Aboca's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Cristina's Mexican ~ Trophy Club, Texas ; Southlake, Texas

Cristina's, a DFW area chain, is part of the second wave of Mexican restaurants: A determined focus on taste, but with an eye for high style. And while their primary audience is the "gringo", those from the old country won't be disappointed either. In that way, Cristina's is similar to other Mexican restaurants in NE Tarrant like Mi Pueblo, Anamia's, and El Paseo.

This is not Cristina's first venture to NE Tarrant, as they first successfully opened in Trophy Club a few years ago, and that's where the RJG first sampled the restaurant. But we wanted to try the Southlake location, if for no other reason to see how they converted the former Baja Fresh (later Buster's) fast food outlet. Unrecognizable. Whoever did the renovation, did a remarkable job with the space. It feels considerably larger, and about the only extra space they added was the enclosure of the former porch. Very nice. Cristina's has 10 locations in the DFW area overall.

The components:

Frozen Margarita: Strong and sweet. Went with the 10 oz. and felt it. Probably the 20 oz is too much. But, hey, I'm willing to sacrifice for the blog!

Chips: Traditional corn chips. Light and crispy. Large chain style. Nothing special and needs salsa, or otherwise too bland.

Hot Sauce: A variation of the tomato, onion, peppers and cilantro sauce. Not like the Colorado styled salsa we had at Kassandra's , but still good.

"The hotter one, please": Ah yes, a habanero salsa! I love the tangy taste and the slo-burn. Beautiful! We could eat this all day.

Entree hits: Carne Asada (yum... hickory grilled meat), beef enchiladas (nicely spiced ground beef).

Entree misses: Cheese enchilada (already hardened - not hot enough); Chicken Soft Taco (naturally not separated from the platter (c'mon - you can afford it!), so the whole thing collapsed into a pile of mush. Didn't care for the seasoning, and would prefer more white meat).

Refried Beans: HUGE PLUS! Both the Mrs. and I agreed, best refried beans we've had. Super smooth and with a taste that reminded the Mrs. of the state of Sonora. Personally, I tend to never finish my beans, but I was looking for more this time!

Rice: Again delicious. Perfectly cooked, fluffy, with a slight buttery taste. Wonderful!

You know, I don't think I've ever had dessert at a Mexican restaurant! Who has the room? Yet they never fail to ask/demand "Want a sopapilla?!?" Uhhh, no.

As for the NE Tarrant restaurants we've compared Cristina's to, I'd say Anamia's is first, with El Paseo and Cristina's neck and neck for second. And Mi Pueblo trails slightly in 4th. All are very good and recommended!

The Southlake location is on Southlake Blvd, about 1/2 mile west of TX-114, on the south side of the road. Currently, Cristina's has 10 DFW locations, 8 of them on the "other side" of DFW - the Dallas suburbs.

Adding the Trophy Club location as well, since we frequent that one just as often. It's located on TX-114 (exit Trophy Club Dr.). In addition to these two locations we also have been to the Frisco location (off of 121) and the Addison one, which is now closed.

Website

Cristina's Southlake on Urbanspoon


Cristina's Fine Mexican Resturant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

*** CLOSED *** Herrera's ~ Carrollton, Texas


In the 1980s, me and my running pack would occasionally head down to Maple Avenue to devour some delicious Tex-Mex. That's where we would find our quartet of favorites, and they're all still operating to this day: Herrera's, Avila's, Rosita's, and Ojeda's. This was the era when Tex-Mex was a burgeoning phenomena, and long lines greeted visitors to all of these places. So much was the rage, that even National Geographic featured the original Herrera's when they inhabited a tiny pueblo hut.

So when the RJG relocated to Carrollton in 1991, I could not believe my luck that Herrera's was going to open their first location outside of Dallas, and their 4th overall, right near where I lived! Situated in a former Mexican restaurant that no one seems to remember, Herrera's became an overnight sensation in the area. Today, some 18 years later, it's a surviving institution in an era where restaurants barely last out more than 2 years. When visiting back to the "old neighborhood" on trips from Colorado, Herrera's was a regular stop. Ironically, now that we are back in DFW, we probably eat less at Herrera's then we did as visitors from another state. But the main reason for that is the Herrera's chain has always stayed east of I-35E / Stemmons Fwy.

Herrera's version of Tex-Mex is from a different time and mindset, and is definitely geared towards the "gringo", though over the years they've added more traditional fare. Which means it's kind of "heavy Mexican", so be prepared to waddle out. But the RJG remains steadfastly old school, and places like Herrera's will always have a special place in my heart (presuming it's not clogged afterwards).

To the routine we go:

Chips - always excellent. Real corn taste and crispy. You can eat them alone, without salsa, and be happy.

Hot sauce: Huge plus, and always has been. Of the quartet of restaurants mentioned above, Herrera's has always been the most reliable in delivering taste and a fiery quotient. I've noticed a tendency for the Carrollton store to wimp out more than the originals on/near Maple, but it still doesn't require the RJG standard "Do you have a hotter one?" I also like that they deliver the sauce in large containers, and they provide separate bowls. This keeps the conversations going, without the RJG constantly eyeing some poor passer-by and yelling frantically "CAN I GET MORE?"

Bean and bacon soup: The one and only. This is complimentary with your meal. A delicious soup made from whole beans and bacon. Many places call this "charro beans" and can be used as a substitute for refried beans. But none is better than Herrera's, and I prefer it as a free appetizer.

Entrees: Stick with the basics. Highly recommended is the soft cheese taco, basically a flour tortilla smothered in a delicious melted yellow cheese. Their ground beef is heavily spiced, and I love their tacos (even though they do use some filler, I like the mushy consistency). And they actually separate the taco from the rest of the platter - hooray!! We do not recommend anything to do with chicken. The RJG's Mom calls it "rooster"; the wife says it's "gross" and I have to agree. I don't know what Herrera's does with the white meat, but can't say I've ever seen it in one of their dishes. Mrs. RJG also recommends their chorizo and eggs.

Beans: Heavy and lardy. Get something else to substitute.

Rice: Decent, but tastes a little too much like "rice" if you know what I mean. Somewhat akin to how chicken can taste "chickeny". Get it? They could stand for some more seasoning.

I think in 1991, Herrera's had to be considered one of the best Tex-Mex restaurants around. In 2009, Herrera's is more in the middle of the pack, but still second quadrant. Does that mean Herrera's has gone downhill? Not at all. They haven't changed, but the competition has, and we're all the victors for that.

You can find the Carrollton location of Herrera's on Josey, not far south from Keller Springs Rd. (north of Belt Line). We've also been to the original on Maple (not technically the original as they moved across the street) and the one on Denton Dr., just off of Maple. They once had one in Addison on Restaurant Row (Belt Line), but couldn't compete with the stiff competition. And I think they also closed the one near Bachman Lake in the old Joy Inn Chinese restaurant spot. We've never been to their South Dallas location off of Illinois.

A nice mini-chain that is a Dallas institution. The RJG still recommends it!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

*** CLOSED *** Campania Pizza ~ Southlake, Texas


June 2016 update: Looks like a fire destroyed their kitchen, and the restaurant decided to call it a day. They had gone downhill for some time in our estimation. They were a pioneer in Northeast Tarrant for this kind of pizza though, and they should be commended for that at the very list.

November 2011 update: Since I wrote the below, it appears Campania have lost their Vera Pizza Napoletana certification. Whether that's due to an authentic lack of consistently meeting standards, or Campania just didn't want to pay the fees, is anyone's guess. The RJG thinks certifications in the business world are nothing more than a racket, so it doesn't matter to me one way or the other. But worth mentioning all the same. On our last visit, I felt the pizza was slightly undercooked, and this is the second disappointing visit in a row for me. I'm concerned it's "not the same as it used to be." Mrs RJG had the penne arrabiata and the sauce was very good - and spicy as it should be.

Original review

Sometime back in the late 1980s, when the RJG first began to backpack through Europe, one of the great pleasures in life was to devour an individual Italian style pizza. Not to mention that it was very affordable for a budget-conscious backpacker, usually costing no more than $5 even in the most expensive places like Sweden or Norway. These were not the big sloppy gooey cheese creations, like at home, but rather a more simplistic, but no less delicious, pizza pie. And like most Americans, I didn't know pizza was meant to be eaten with a knife and fork.

While in the 1980s this kind of pizza might have seemed a novelty, today it is more accepted. Whether it's due to the fact that many Americans have now traveled through Europe, or just the notion that we should be eating things more "authentic", is anybody's guess. No matter, as we're all fortunate to at least have the opportunity.

The Southlake location of Campania's is one of 26 pizzeria's in America to be certified by the Vera Pizza Napoletana, an organization committed to "producing authentic Neapolitan style pizza according to the guidelines of the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association based in Naples, Italy."

We've been to the Southlake location multiple times now, and each time the memories of Europe raced through my mind. The thin crust is durable and slightly chewy but not crispy. The ingredients are all top notch. I still get a kick out of ordering the salami pizza, with the huge round slabs covering the pie.

Also recommended is the salad, once again a simple variety, as you'll find in Europe. Fresh greens with a vinaigrette dressing that I could eat all day.

They also have pasta, which we haven't tried, though I'd expect nothing but the best. Probably a drier version than what we're used to here, if authenticity continues to hold court.

There's a tendency amongst food reviewers to state that places like Campania are "much better" because they are "more authentic". Phooey I say. I'm proud of the "Italian American" style and consider it almost an entirely different food from what you'll typically find in a Tuscan village or a major metropolis like Rome. For me, they're both wonderful, and I'm glad we have the options to eat at both here in America.

The original is was in Dallas in the Uptown/West Village section, though we've only ever been to the Southlake location. To get here, go to the Southlake Town Square and park by the East garage. You'll see it directly across from the garage.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Galligaskin's Submarines ~ Fort Worth, Texas

Thanks to a reminder from Food and Fort Worth, Texas, the Mrs. and I decided to journey over to Ft. Worth and visit Galligaskin's. You may think it's a bit far to go for a sandwich, and it is, but I wanted to revisit a place I haven't to in over 20 years.

Galligaskin's started in Dallas (near SMU) in 1972 by some guys who wanted to recreate the sub sandwiches they could get in Boston while attending college there. According to their website, they are the oldest sub shop in Texas. Really? Well a quick check of two of the most known of Texas sub chains, The Great Outdoors of Dallas (1973) and Thundercloud of Austin (1975) does indicate that Galligaskin's may indeed be the original - at least of those that are still around.

At one point, the chain had grown to quite a few stores throughout DFW, including one near Bachman Lake in NW Dallas. Even though Dad and I were loyalists to the nearby Great Outdoors, we did cheat on them a couple of times and gave Galligaskin's a whirl. In the end, we felt The Great Outdoors was the better of the two. Unfortunately, this location of Galligaskin's bellied up shortly thereafter (the Bachman Lake location of The Great Outdoors, though it held out much longer, has also been closed for some time). That was over 20 years ago. This may be the only place in DFW that I have a 20 year interval between visits.

Today, the Ft. Worth store on Camp Bowie (opened in 1973) is all that remains of the chain. It's independently owned / operated and seems to do quite well. It has attained a cult following, especially those who have nostalgia on the brain.

I had the Italian, generally my test sub for these kind of places. Soft hoagie roll (plus), light on the meat (minus), with flavorful toppings and dressings (plus). It's a good sandwich, but I'd be lying if I said there isn't better out there.

I mentioned to Mrs. RJG, that the Philly is recommended here, and since that's one of her favorites, she made a go of it. It was a hit - and she allowed me a bite (what? half a sandwich isn't a bite?). We both loved the seasoning of the meat - a special salty blend. And the soft roll was perfect for the sandwich. We also went in for an order of tater tots, something that Mr. RJG remembers fondly from his days working in Boise, Idaho. Yep, these are homemade tater tots! Good and greasy, the latter sealing the deal on its authenticity.

Everything about the place recalls a Northeastern sandwich chain, from the lighting to the seating to the lettering of the sandwich board. Definitely brought back memories for me.

A far more colorful review, as expected, can be read at Ft. Worth Hole in the Wall.

Galligaskin's is on Camp Bowie, a couple of minutes SW of I-30.

Website

Galligaskins on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse ~ Fort Worth, Texas

Started in 1958, Sonny Bryan's is a Texas legend for barbecue. Its original location on Inwood Rd. and Harry Hines in Dallas remains a tourist destination. As the menu itself states, the area was then considered "Far North Dallas". Hard to imagine that today.

While I've still never stepped foot in the original location with its DISD school desks (saw enough of those... in DISD schools), I do remember going to the Red Bryan's on Lombardy (Thanks Mr D for the catch!), just west of Webbs Chapel, not far from the "North Dallas" I grew up near. We had gone a couple of times on the way back from bowling at Circle Bowl when I was still a young boy in the mid 1970s. Curious - any of my readers ever bowl at Circle Bowl? Any of my readers ever bowl in a "Bantam League" (generally for kids aged 11-12)? Today, the old Circle Bowl is a dive bar of ill repute (11/4/10 update: it's been torn down to make way for the DART light rail). And the area where the Sonny Bryan's was is now a fully fledged Little Mexico. Actually the RJG recommends a couple of taqueria's in the area, but that's for another post.

NE Tarrant once had a Sonny Bryan's in Grapevine (TX-114 and Wall), but they closed down sometime around 2004. We visited only once, so I guess we didn't do our part to keep it open. The closest location for us is near the Alliance airport in "Far North Ft. Worth". There doesn't exist an Alliance, TX in reality. Despite the local boosterism.

On this visit I tried the brisket, pulled pork and jalapeno sausage. For sides I chose beans and mac & cheese. All were good, though no question I've had better elsewhere. I added their sauce (neatly heated in old Dr. Pepper bottles) as well as a "pork sauce" which I didn't care for. I couldn't find a homemade spicy sauce, though they offered the usual array of cajun sauces.

So yes, there's better barbecue in DFW. But if an out of town guest wanted to visit this legendary chain, then by all means do so - they won't be disappointed.

They currently have 9 locations, the other 8 on the east side of DFW airport.

Website

Sonny Bryan's Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 19, 2009

Mancuso's Italian ~ White Settlement, Texas

In 1987, Cathy Mancuso opened up an Italian restaurant in far west Ft. Worth for the simple reason that there wasn't any Italian eateries out that way. Coming from Utica, NY where her Dad ran a place called Nash's for many years, Cathy comes from the New York tradition of making high quality Italian meals for the public at large. She would have a hard time finding a more incongruous spot than this.

We've had good luck at the RJG recently in finding Old School Italian hole in the wall's: Siciliano's in Garland and I Fratelli in Irving are but two examples. Add Mancuso's to the list. We have others to spring on you, including the RJG's favorite restaurant, and we hope to write about them in the coming months ahead.

As we mentioned before, the Mrs. and I like to use Saturday's for our "road games" as it were, and try places outside of NE Tarrant. We first visited Mancuso's in the summer of 2007, and this is our first return visit. It's quite a haul south and west, but not too bad without traffic on a Saturday evening.

Even though Mancuso's opened in 1987, there's almost nothing about the place that gives you the impression that we live in 2009. If you're looking for a time warp to 1962, then Mancuso's is the place to experience that. That alone gets you major points at the RJG. It's about the food and only about the food. As it should be. This is a place that should be experienced after dark, where you can imagine it's 20 degrees outside and you share the warmth of conversation with friends and family. In an earlier time, it would be filled with cigarette smoke, which I guess we should all be grateful that doesn't exist here now. But I still had that mental image.

Remember when all Italian restaurants had black and white photos signed by the stars and starlets of the day? It was a credibility thing. Mancuso's still does that. And where does Tony Bennett eat when he's in town for a concert? Mancuso's! Good enough for Tony, good enough for the RJG.

At this point I don't need to tell you that they do all the basics well. Pasta's (though we were disappointed that the default isn't al dente), red sauce, chicken parm, sausage, meatballs, meat sauce, salad, etc... it's all done the old way - heavy on good taste, long on quality service and short on gimmicks. The cappuccino pie for dessert was delicious. And house wines are decently priced. Check out their menu from the website I have listed on the bottom. That's all you need to know.

Even though I've listed Mancuso's in White Settlement, technically it's in Ft. Worth. Mancuso's is at the intersection of White Settlement Rd. and I-820, on the west side of I-820. The east side is White Settlement. Close enough for me.

When Cathy Mancuso opened up her restaurant, there was nothing there but cows and land. Today the intersection resembles an Interstate truck stop, with large gas stations, motels and big-chain fast food outlets. Hidden behind this Americana mess is Mancuso's - the perfect roadside find.

Website

Mancuso's Italian Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Texadelphia ~ Irving, Texas


Everything you need to know about Texadelphia can be derived from the name itself. As a base, they put forth the Philly cheesesteak concept, but with a Texas infused twist. They start with the soft hoagie roll and finely chopped and seasoned beef, just as in Philadelphia, but you also get chips and salsa on the side. And a host of toppings like BBQ sauce and Mustard Blend. No cheeze whiz or even provolone, but rather mozzarella is used. The salsa reminds me of Pace, so nothing special, but a nice accompaniment all the same.

So as you can see, it's not "authentic", and that's just the point. That's why they refer to themselves as a "Texas Cheesesteak". And the RJG will always reward a new fast food concept.

We first started going to Texadelphia when the RJG started to work for Software Company You've Actually Heard Of at the beginning of 2005. Nowadays the Mrs. and I visit a couple of times a year, as it's a convenient stopping point on the way to see the RJG's Mom in NW Dallas.

Texadelphia is a regional chain with roots in Austin, and the decor and atmosphere is very much that of a Hill Country bar, with dark lighting, beer signs and TV's tuned to sports. It's still a relatively small chain, consisting of only 18 stores, with 8 in Austin and a handful spread throughout the major metropolis areas of Texas: Houston, DFW and San Antonio - and one location in the arch enemy territory for any Austinite: Norman, Oklahoma.

According to their website, the chain has recently (Sept. 2008) been purchased by a "group of investors" with mucho Publicly Traded Company experience. Nothing good usually comes of this, but we'll keep our fingers crossed here, as the Texadelphia concept is a winning one. Maybe these investors are tired of the Wall Street game too? They've moved their headquarters from Austin to Dallas.

In the mood for a Philly Cheesesteak? Try Texadelphia and compare the difference. The RJG recommends it!

Website

Texadelphia on Urbanspoon