Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Whataburger ~ Keller, Texas

I know, I know. "Gee RJG, where do you find these obscure restaurants anyway?" To Texans, Whataburger is family. They're the little brother we pick on. We call them gross, stinky, dumb, and goober. But we don't mean it. Now that In-N-Out Burger is here, suddenly we become all protective, and yell back that Californians don't know what a good burger is. Hell, if they could only eat a Whataburger then they'd know!! But it's really two entirely different burger experiences. Whataburger's are Texan BIG. In-N-Out's are Californian fresh.

When I was kid in the 1970s, it was always a treat when my Mom would take me over to the closest one to our house, which was on Walnut Hill in NW Dallas (an old A-Frame building of course) near the UPS depot. They were also there in Lubbock when I attended Texas Tech in the mid 1980s. I loved them then, and I still do. Though they suffer from the same problems that most large franchises do - inconsistency. But if I'm looking for a quick burger at lunch while working, I tend to wander over to my local Whataburger (which is definitely one of their more consistent franchises) and get a double meat with cheese. It's quick, relatively cheap, and usually very good. We didn't have them in Colorado, a good reminder for me at least that we take them for granted. They're far better than the publicly traded companies in this space like McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy's, Carl's Jr/Hardees, etc...

When I first started going to Whataburger 35-40 years ago, they weren't much more than a small Texas chain from Corpus Christi. Today they are ubiquitous throughout the south region. For Urbanspoon purposes, I've included the Keller location, which is the one we frequent the most.

Stop by your local branch if you haven't been in awhile!


Whataburger on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 28, 2011

Italianni's ~ Hurst, Texas

Italianni's started life as a chain concept from Carlson Restaurants (most known for TGI Fridays). Carlson no doubt wanted a piece of the Italian chain dollar and went head to head with Brinker's Romano's Macaroni Grill and Darden's very popular Olive Garden. But the market was already saturated, and they eventually decided to shut down the concept here in the US. The Hurst store however still had a loyal following, and was purchased locally, and has been run independently for close to 10 years now. Interesting to note that the chain is still operating in Mexico, Korea, Colombia and The Philippines - so there's been some discussion about Italianni's needing to change their name. Bud Kennedy on Eats Beat recently reported that was actually going to happen imminently. But on our last visit, they told me that wasn't a concern anymore - and so the name lives on.

Italianni's is one of the few Italian restaurants in the area not owned by families from the former Yugoslavia or Albania. As such, the recipes are all unique, and is in fact a chef driven place. We've tried a variety of dishes, primarily the southern/central Italian classics along the lines of chicken parm, angel hair bolognese, spaghetti and Italian sausage, farfalle rustica, etc... Excellent salad and bread starts the meal off right. And the wine and beer selection is quite robust, and I like that they typically feature one microbrew from Ft. Worth's own Rahr & Sons brewery. Probably the closest restaurant in terms of overall ambiance and menu choices would be I Fratelli in Las Colinas.

Italianni's is a place we go far too infrequently, and surprisingly I have yet to feature it on our blog. It's consistently good - and a great choice for lunch. We've gone probably once or twice a year for about the last 5 year or so. Not sure why that's been the case, but we have every intention of visiting Italianni's more in the future.


Italianni's on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Red Barn Bar-B-Que ~ Colleyville, Texas

Nestled in a quiet corner of the very busy Hwy 26 and Glade Rd, Red Barn is a throwback to the rural country barn styled Texas barbecue place. No doubt 35 years ago, this stretch of Hwy 26 was just that - rural country. Once in, you'll notice the all wood interior decorated with signs from the past, and country music blaring from the radio. You order up fast food style and off you go to your wood bench or chairs to savor your meal. The folks working here are consistently nice and will throw in an "extra" if they feel that rib you ordered is a little slight.

We've only been a few times over the years, and to be honest, Red Barn has never wowed us much. I've tried various meats over time, because unfortunately they don't offer a meat sampler platter. The flavors just aren't very bold here, but that's just the RJG's preference. Some folks like their barbecue straight down the middle. No question though, the meats are cooked properly with the right amount of tenderness. The sides are traditional (corn, beans, salads, etc...), but uniformly good. The spicy sauce (I just can't do sweet) is a nice recipe, and doesn't overpower the flavor. Bottom line for the RJG: It's good, and we vote it "Likes it" on Urbanspoon. But it's not a favorite for us, even in the NE Tarrant vicinity.

In reading various reviews from folks more qualified than us, it appears Red Barn has a very loyal following - though there are plenty of detractors as well. Metroplex BBQ, gives it a 5 out of 5 (and linked so you can see a really positive experience), while Full Custom gave it only a 2 out of 5. Based on their scales, we'd be probably 3.5 out of 5.

Red Barn Bar-B-Que on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 25, 2011

Malli's Mexican ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

Malli's is a pleasant little Mexican restaurant situated on a busy stretch of Rufe Snow, north of I-820. It's colorfully decorated, and as you may have noted already, their focus is on authentic Mexican food. Based on the menu alone, it would appear they have Tex-Mex offerings, but we didn't try them (though I will next time). They have a lunch and dinner menu, and we didn't ask if they serve them at all hours.

However, they do serve breakfast all day, and Mrs. RJG decided to go hardcore Mexican today (after all, that is where she's from) and ordered the Huevos con Nopalitos. That is to say, eggs with cactus. Seems like that would hurt don't it? I mean, pulling the needles out of your mouth and what not. No silly, says the wife, it's actually quite delicious and she went on about the process on to which you "harvest" cactus. Whatever you say, dear. Well anyway they were a hit with the wife, cooked with onions and tomatoes and served with either homemade flour tortillas or "out of the bag" corn tortillas.

Now Mr. RJG did something he never does in a Mexican restaurant: Ordered a hamburger. Malli's has a small reputation for making a great Dr. Pepper glazed hamburger, so why not? It ended up being a great choice, though at first I was a bit unsure. See, instead of a bun it comes out between two pieces of toasted white bread. I'd rather see a unique bun of some kind, but we'll let that pass. Otherwise the burger came out well-done (it would be unusual to need to mention this in a Mexican restaurant - they almost always cook ground beef well done) and it was flavorful and juicy due to the seasoning and DP marinade. Best of all is that it comes with two kinds of melted cheese and super crispy bacon. It sort of melts in your mouth. Very, very good.

There are a number of burger bloggers in the DFW area, and I'd be curious what their take on it would be. I'm no expert, but I sure did enjoy it!

Perhaps best of all, is how the meal starts. And that of course would be the chips and salsa. The chips are homemade and crispy. They reminded us of the Mexican restaurants we have in Colorado - especially that they use red corn sometimes. But the salsa was the true highlight. A wonderful roasted chile taste permeates, and it had enough fire in it for me not to ask for a hotter one. It's not overwhelmingly hot though, so I think most everyone can handle it. It's flat out delicious and we finished a rather large bowl of it and a second bowl was delivered without asking.

We'll be back to try their more traditional enchiladas and tacos next time. So far, so great.

Malli's Authentic Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

*** CLOSED *** Yucatan Taco Stand Tequila Bar & Grill ~ Southlake, Texas

In the early days of the RJG blog, Yucatan was the most requested place for us to visit. This place was all the rage in 2008. A quick check over to the excellent Fort Worth Hole in the Wall blog shows that no less than 38 comments were left for his post. I don't think the RJG has seen 38 comments combined. We never did make it over to the Ft. Worth location on Magnolia, and dallied around long enough for one to show up right here in NE Tarrant. Typical RJG - always a day late and a dollar short. We're sooooooooooo not hip.

This trip represents our second visit, the first was earlier this year. Yucatan is a relatively new "Taco Stand" concept along the lines of Fuzzy's Taco Shop and the various "Baja" designated places. These are gussied up taco trucks, and when you get the final tally, you realize that this isn't your typical Tio Juan's Taco Hut. But it's an easy out to say this place is just for yuppies, and if you want real tacos, you need to hit the bricks in the barrio. There's room for both kinds, and for what Yucatan does, they do it very well.

So high end tacos are the order of the day (they also have burritos and specialty Mexican platters). I think their Tempura fish is outstanding. A large crispy crusted slab of delicious fried batter lay in the layered flour tortillas with cabbage, onions, and a few other goodies. The Tequila Lime chicken is also quite good - all white meat chicken shredded very finely. We had the ground beef on our first visit, but it was kind of bland to be honest. Their tacos are quite large, especially compared to a place like Fuzzy's, so two is plenty if you also get chips and salsa. The chips are lightly dusted with chili powder, and the roasted salsa is delicious with a mild kick. Of course, the RJG insisted on having the "stupid sauce" (habanero) on the side for his tacos. I like that it comes out heated (temperature) - though it's debatable how spicy it really is. It's hot, but hardly "stupid" hot. Believe me, no one knows stupid like the RJG... both figuratively and literally. I also had a frozen margarita to wash it down with. A very potent mixture, and a good deal at $6 (on this front, they destroy Taco Diner).

The downside is this: Yucatan isn't cheap. For the meal I described above (wife had the same two kind of tacos but with a water), it was $25. That's without tip. I mean seriously, it's only a fast food place. A QSR in restaurant speak. I feel funny paying $25 for two at the cash register. I guess I spent a wasted youth at Taco Bell, pulling dollar bills out of my front pocket to cover the $3.50 it cost for 6 tacos and a soft drink. I know, it's hardly the same, but it has a surreal effect when the lady says "That'll be $25". Really? Now to be fair, it's more expensive than Fuzzy's because the tacos are much larger. Are they double the size, like they are in price? No. But they are very good, and dare I say, worth the money.

Maybe Yucatan is not the kind of place we'd go on a regular basis, but it's worth stopping by a few times a year.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Anna's Chicken ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

As promised in the Raising Cane's blurb, the RJG is going to make a solid effort at trying the variety of fried chicken houses in NE Tarrant. Today's visit takes us to Anna's Chicken on Rufe Snow Rd. in North Richland Hills, not far from another RJG haunt - Lina's Mexican Cocina.

Anna's is a classic old convenience store that has been converted into a very bright, fluorescent lighted fast food chicken and seafood joint - where they emphasize that they are a super clean place. Good to know!

Anna's is Asian owned and operated, and they allowed us to try a sample of their butterfly shrimp, which reminded us both quite a bit of the appetizers we've had in some Thai restaurants. For lunch, I chose the 3 piece chicken special with corn and fries while the Mrs. settled on the 2 piece with corn and green beans. Each came with a roll, a pickled jalapeno and a small drink that they dispense for you.

The chicken batter recipe is standard, but they execute it to perfection. Each piece was crispy, hot and the meat juicy throughout. No dryness anywhere nor was it super greasy. The batter was quite light actually, and didn't require an immediate visit to the clinic afterward. The small corn cob was absolutely delicious - clean, crisp and tasty. The fries, beans and roll were standard fare but good all the same. Mrs. RJG really enjoyed the pepper (I didn't try it).

Anna's is a step up from your standard country owned place like Chicken Express, and I presume far more consistent than Church's. But that's the type of fried chicken we're talking about here. No mysterious 11 herbs and spices for Anna's.

Anna's is a good choice if you're hankering for some good old fashioned fried chicken. Stop on by if in the area.


Anna's Chicken on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chef Point Cafe ~ Watauga, Texas

So here we sit in DFW's most highly rated restaurant (according to Urbanspoon). Chef Point Cafe has been featured by both Guy Fiori (DDD) and Paula Deen, as well as numerous DFW area foodie magazines, guides and blogs. The location itself couldn't be more unassuming - a new roadside gas station placed anonymously on a near empty suburban stretch of Watauga Rd. (aka Mid Cities Blvd). A wide expanse of Texas nothingness. A place even Hank Hill would consider dull. And there's no sign to let you know you've arrived. Only a delivery truck sits outside with the name Chef Point. It's an oft told story nowadays: The founders of Chef Point weren't able to secure a loan for a new restaurant, but they could get financing for a new gas station. So up goes a multi-pump / convenience store Conoco with the sole purpose of adding a chef driven restaurant inside. The American can-do spirit thrives once again! The decor could be most politely described as "industrial minimalist" with its bare gray cinder block walls encompassing the red & black interior. Honestly it feels like we're eating at a Firestone Auto Care store. Perhaps that's the point of it all - the surroundings themselves aren't what matters - it's solely about the food.

The menu is a strange bedfellow mix of Southern cooking, Cajun and Italian - along with traditional favorites like hamburgers, sandwiches and pizza. Some folks like their chef driven places to be plat du jour, but not the RJG. We prefer the menu, as this way if we do like a dish, we know we can get it over and over again. Mrs. RJG went for one of Fiori's choices - the Blackened Stuffed Chicken which they describe as "hand stuffed with pepper jack cheese & fresh crab meat, smothered in asiago sauce served over angel hair pasta. " The cheese sauce is sublime and the fillings recall some of New England's finest stuffed fish dishes. The cajun element only adds points to an already great idea.

I've seen many reviews that state Chef Point's fried chicken is the best they ever had. So I figured I'd go Italian and try their chicken parmesan, which would most likely have an excellent crispy breading. I was more than pleased when the round dish came out with a crispy chicken breast sandwiched between bubbling cheese on top and al dente angel hair on the bottom. A very good interpretation of a classic dish, and proved to me they could operate solely as an Italian restaurant if they had wished.

The portions were quite large, and we ended up taking at least half of each home for dinner that night. And the lunch price of my chicken parm was $9, so very competitive I think. I also had a glass of the house chardonnay, reasonably priced at $5.

Since we've only been once, and the menu is quite extensive, we cannot comment much beyond our one meal to date. But we look forward to multiple visits over time. And given its popularity, it appears Chef Point is going to be with us for a long while. They've already expanded the restaurant through the back of the gas station. On our weekday visit, we arrived before 11:30 and the main dining room was half full. It was entirely full when we left, but the new extension hadn't yet seen any diners.

Chef Point Cafe is an excellent place that deserves its recognition. Not surprisingly, a lot of naysayers are coming out of the woodwork to claim "it's not all that great... overrated, only clueless people think this good, bla bla bla". This resistance is to be expected when you're at the top. Like the impetus it took to get the restaurant off the ground, it's the American way.


Chef Point Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 18, 2011

Taco Diner ~ Southlake, Texas

It feels kind of funny to label Taco Diner as a "taqueria", as this is about as far away as possible to the classic little humble street vendor as you can get. But essentially Taco Diner is in fact a taqueria. A high end, upscale taco truck. With chairs... and frozen margaritas. The diners' themselves are laid out in the classic 60's googie architecture style mixed with a tres hip late 90s ambiance. So if you feel so compelled, wander in alone with a newspaper tucked under your arm and instead of waffles, order up a taco la parilla... and a frozen margarita. Speaking of which, actually don't order a frozen margarita. They're average at best, and at $8 for a small glass, a ripoff to boot. And there ends my complaints about Taco Diner.

Because the food is quite good, and perhaps a bit surprising given the relative blandness of their flagship Mi Cocina tex-mex franchise. Taco Diner is yet another wing of the "M Crowd" (to me this sounds like a late 90s electronica group - which definitely fits their persona). The chips are homemade tortillas, hand broken, and comes with two mild salsas (one green, one red). If you ask for more a spicy alternative, you will be brought a creamy green serrano and an orange-ish chile de arbol sauce. The latter is pretty hot, but lacks flavor. The former is the winner of the group, with the same level of spice, and a fantastic pepper flavor. I tried 4 tacos on this visit: chicken and pork al pastor, bistec and fish. Funny enough I had trouble discerning between the pork and the chicken, but the pastor is very good - though not as yummy as Tres Casas in Keller. The carne had a fine grilled meat flavor. And the tilapia featured the most seasoning, though the achiote citrus marinade was a bit too sweet for my liking. All and all a fine selection - and priced well at $10 for the 4 (you'll pay more at Yucatan). Mrs. RJG settled on the Tacos Cancun, and I think her tacos were even better than mine. Excellent shrimp and spices.

Our first experience with Taco Diner was at the Las Colinas location (~2006), but shortly thereafter they opened the one in Southlake Town Square. Along with Five Guys and Snuffers, this is your best bet for lunch if shopping in the area.


Taco Diner on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 17, 2011

*** CLOSED *** Ted E's Burgers & More ~ Fort Worth, Texas

Mrs. RJG told me that I was on my own this day, so that usually means pizza or burgers for moi (as the Mrs. doesn't go in much for those choices). The original plan was to visit CJ's Burgers in Keller. But unbeknownst to me, or Urbanspoon for that matter, it is closed and is now an Asian restaurant (incidentally right next to a Thai restaurant - no imagination I tell ya...). So I decided to revisit Ted E's which was only a couple of miles south from where I was. The RJG has been to Ted E's only once prior to this visit, sometime in early 2010. I thought it was good, worth coming back, but not sure if it was going to be Top 10 crave kind of place. After this visit, I will say that it's good, worth coming back, but not sure if I need to anytime soon.

I've never been a big fan of the "& More" moniker, as it loudly proclaims that this particular establishment doesn't really specialize in something. I prefer the In-N-Out model - basically we serve hamburgers, fries, hamburgers, shakes and hamburgers. Don't like it, go somewhere else. What they call in the business world, in fancy consulting speak, "focusing on your core competency." So with that in mind, Ted E's has a dizzying array of choices for what is essentially a fast food burger joint. As to compare apples to apples, I decided on getting a simple Ted E's Original cheeseburger. Maybe the dish they do best is the fish taco wrap or perhaps the teriyake glaze chicken sandwich? I don't know, and I'm not sure I'll ever find out. As you know, the RJG likes his spice, so I may opt next time for their Mike T's Hot & Spicy Burger, though the only ingredient I can see that has a chance to make an impact is the chipotle mayo. Sliced jalapeno's are fine to add, but they are what they are - nothing homemade about them.

So how is the burger then? Good. Yep, good about covers it. The bun is like an oversized Johnny B's, and in similar fashion, slightly sweet. It's more fluffy than toasty. The meat has a nice favor, a bit unique, but it didn't wow me. Kind of a chewy burger I guess. The "signature sauce" is another variation of the thousand island dressing theme, which is fine. I don't usually get the fries, but the lunch special is a great deal for $5.49 including fries and a drink. So why not? They were hand cut and chewy (there's that word again). I like my fries thin and crispy, but these were... well, ya know... good.

The decor is fast food like, with an overt sports theme and a few flat screens to watch whatever game is on. There's no alky-haul, so not much reason to stay really. It's all pleasant enough*. *Southern speak for dull.

So if you live in the area, Ted E's is worth a regular visit. But I'm not sure it's worth going too far out of your way for. There are definitely better burgers in NE Tarrant. Maybe it's their Monterrey Club that brings down the house. Who knows? & More?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mexican Inn Cafe ~ Bedford, Texas

"Full menu" locations: Bedford, Burleson, Mansfield
"Limited menu" locations: Ft. Worth (4), Lake Worth

January 2014 update: The good news is that Mexican Inn is back in Northeast Tarrant! They built a new structure only a few hundred feet from their old one that had to be demolished due to the construction. The 121/183 road expansion continues, so it's still a bit of a challenge to get here, so I recommend for local travelers anyway, to take back roads to Bedford Rd. It's nice to see that this  Mexican Inn is continuing with the full menu, and as such, I replicated the meal that I had below, since it's been well over two years since I last had it. The trademark greasy fritos styled chips, house salsa, frozen margarita, and chicken/shrimp dish were excellent, as last time. The rice was very disappointing this time, and was slightly mushy in texture. The beans lacked the sharp bacon flavor, and seemed a bit murky. Mrs. RJG tried the chile relleno and it was a big miss. As such, her rating is Sell, but I'm maintaining the Buy, as the basics here are good. We'll see on our next visit if this was an anomaly or the new normal. 

January 2012 update (Ft. Worth - Lancaster Avenue location): OK, moving this one forward as we have some updates to share. First, I regret to inform you all that the Bedford location is now closed. It appears it may have been a victim of eminent domain, with concern to all the construction in the area. Or it may just have lost its customer base - folks who didn't want to deal with the 121/183 mess.

So we decided to try the next closest location which technically is on Lancaster Avenue just east of Beach. Though honestly, the one on Henderson or Camp Bowie is probably just as quick to drive to. None of these are around the corner, that's for sure.

And what did we learn, that most of you already know? The 4 Ft. Worth locations and one Lake Worth site have much smaller menus than the Bedford one did! If we want Chicken and Shrimp Ole, we're going to have to haul much further south to Burleson or Mansfield. We were told that the old Bedford location may open in the Precinct Line / 183 area in Hurst near the NE mall (probably close to the new In-N-Out Burger I would presume). All speculation at this point.

Anyway, the small menu is not a huge deal, as the chips (fried fritos), salsa, and margaritas are the same. So I tried the arroz con pollo, which is chicken and Mexican rice covered with a chili cheese sauce and a few slices of jalapenos thrown on top. Mrs. RJG and I still enjoyed our respective meal immensely. Mexican Inn is just flat out a good old fashioned Tex Mex place. And this location was very nice and clean on our visit.

Original review

It's been 6 years since our last visit to the Mexican Inn Cafe, a place that originally didn't make an impression one way or the other. And thus it continued to fall further down the stack in the database, and eventually was forgotten. But the RJG is trying to revisit places that were promising at one time and we just haven't bothered to go back. Such is the case with the Mexican Inn.

And in this case the promise was fulfilled. My original notes said something like "great chips, excellent margaritas, so-so tacos and enchiladas." And you know what? I'd still say something like that. BUT... there's more to the story this time. The RJG is no different than most of you I presume - it's all about finding the right dish. My greatest hesitation about writing off a restaurant is that I may have just missed the meal they do get right. And on this visit, already knowing that their Tex-Mex offerings are decent, but not great, I went for the Chicken and Shrimp Olé. Olé indeed! Now this is worth driving many miles for. The shrimp was buttery and delicious, while the tender white chicken breast is covered in a sublime chipotle barbecue sauce. The rice soaked up the shrimp butter, and was perfectly cooked. And the charro beans had a strong bacon flavor. Really.... wow, it was absolutely great. The kind of dish I could see craving. I have no idea if its consistent time in and time out, but I'm certain to find out. The Mrs. went for a more traditional Tex-Mex of a ranchero covered beef enchilada (she ordered chicken and got beef - eh, it happens - we didn't make a fuss) and a beef taco. The ranchero sauce had a nice kick, and she really enjoyed the dried ground beef. For me, the only drawback is the ground beef itself, which seems to be a bit bland to be honest. Which probably explains my original notes from 2005. And speaking of those notes: The frozen margarita (and the Mrs. had one on the rocks) was still excellent. And perhaps best of all - the chips themselves, which are entirely unique. They're fried corn strips that look like fritos basically - and taste delicious on their own even without sauce. I'll be honest here, the chips are seriously greasy. Crispy, but oily. I know plenty of folks that wouldn't eat these. But not the RJG! We don't run 4 miles a day for fun you know. Rather it's so we can enjoy food like this. And live to tell the tale. Oh, and finally the hot sauce is very good - a pureed tomato blend with a medium kick. Only downside is they don't have a "hotter one" for the RJG - oh, pobrecito :-(

Mexican Inn is a storied Ft. Worth legend that traces its roots to 1936. Like many places from the Depression era, the restaurant was founded by a colorful character, who also ran a gambling den upstairs - ensuring profits one way or the other. The original location was torn down only a few years ago. We've only been to the NE Tarrant representative in Bedford, but I suspect they're all well run. The closer you get to the heart of Ft. Worth, the more authentic it will get. The vibe that is. The Bedford location is Disneyland styled Old Mexico. I mean, what else could it be right?



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Al Wadi Cafe ~ Bedford, Texas

On the Prince Lebanese Grill post, I asked if there were any good Middle Eastern restaurants in NE Tarrant? I basically fed that question into Urbanspoon, and out came Al Wadi Cafe - a place that seems to be immensely popular judging by the high rating and number of raters, which as of this writing makes it the #90 most popular restaurant in all of DFW (again, according to Urbanspoon). In fact, the only other restaurant labeled middle eastern in the area is Cafe Medi in Hurst, a place we visited many years ago and need to try again (read: it didn't wow us the first time).

Al Wadi is a classic Regular Joe's hole-in-the-wall. On Brown Trail, just south of Harwood in a shopping center that time forgot, or perhaps it never was remembered - Al Wadi sits patiently awaiting its expected crowd. Next door sits a chocolatier and a middle eastern grocery store. They did everything they could do to spiffy the place up, including adding a charming front patio area for outside dining. Inside is clean and pleasant - not ostentatious as middle eastern places are sometimes wont to do.

The menu features dishes of the middle east and, as is common for places such as this, Greek fare is offered as well. I usually like to try Lebanese dishes first. For a first visit, the results were hit and miss - but definitely good enough to warrant a second try and earn our recommendation. I had the beef and chicken shwarma combo dish. The beef was a bit tough, and there was an ingredient standing out that I just didn't care for. I cannot put my finger on it - almost like when food is cooked in red wine. Obviously that's not the case here, but I cannot describe the flavor any better. The chicken, however, was delicious and perfectly tender. Despite being the same dish with separate meats, the results were completely different. The rice had a great taste, but was unfortunately a bit mushy. This can be the death knell for the RJG, but the flavors were too good to ignore. We'll just give them the benefit of the doubt that it was an off-day. The salad was perfect, with an excellent homemade Greek dressing - exactly as expected. Mrs. RJH opted for the kofta kabob, and it was a definite home run. The perfectly spiced balls of ground beef were some of the best we'd tried. She also tried the hummus, which she said was great. Oh, and she wanted you all to know the vegetables on the kebab were excellent as was the pita bread (I agree). Otherwise her comments echo mine in regards to the salad and rice. So not perfect, but the potential is obviously there. We'll be back.


Al Wadi Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 14, 2011

Cuco's Sandwich Shop ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

For over 20 years, Cuco's has been serving Cuban food to the citizens of NE Tarrant county. The RJG has always liked the Cuban sandwich: Roasted pork, ham, salami, cheese and mustard - then hot pressed. It's basically the same as a classic panini from Italy, though there are some minor differences which I won't get into here. I think the key to a great Cuban is the bread itself, so that it remains crispy, hot and tasty throughout the life of the meal. And Cuco's Cuban is outstanding, maybe one of the best I've ever had. Now to be fair, I've spent zero time in South Florida sampling Cuban sandwiches - but of the few I've had around the US, Cuco's scores well. Mrs. RJG had the same dish but with sweet plantain's on the side, which she said were delicious.

Cuco's is a quaint little deli, painted bright pink, with a few tables and serves breakfast (starting at 10) and lunch only (closed Sunday). They also sell specialized Latin American grocery products, so it operates on two levels. According to my database, we'd only been to Cuco's once - back in January of 2005. So nearly seven years later, we make our grand return. Obviously Cuco's is surviving without us and will continue to do so. Even though we live close to the northern reaches of North Richland Hills, Cuco's is on the southern side very close to Haltom City. It really underscores just how large the land mass is for NRH. It's quite a haul for us to just get a sandwich for lunch, which is the primary reason we haven't been back sooner. But that Cuban sandwich is great and we both would like to try some of their other pressed selections. We're going to make an effort to come back more often. If you live nearby, consider yourself lucky, and be sure to stop on by!

Cuco's Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tres Casas Mexican Grill ~ Keller, Texas

In a small white house, nestled away in old town Keller, you can find the flavors of Old Mexico. About 3 years ago, Tres Casas took over the old Enriques place, spiffed it up just a little bit, and brought some recipes back from home. Tres Casas is not another Tex-Mex joint, but rather the cuisine of central and western Mexico, as you might find in Sonora or Jalisco. Mrs. RJG, who is from Sonora herself, noticed the similarities with the rice, beans, and shredded beef flautas - all highly recommended from her. For me, Tres Casas has the best al Pastor tacos I've had since my last visit to Puerto Vallarta (interesting to note that Al Pastor itself was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants). And it would appear the restaurant knows they have something special here as they named the dish Tres Casas. Now I'll admit that I didn't see the spit (though it may be in the back), but however they make it, it's a very good facsimile.

We've been a few times, but only for lunch, and the plates are relatively small - which is fine by us. The chips are clearly homemade, and excellent tasting on their own. The salsa they bring out is of a chunky tomato variety, and is decent - but not great. Ask for the hotter one and out comes a delicious thick orange habanero sauce. The only other place I've had a salsa like this is at Fresco's in Watauga.

Despite the awesome hole-in-the-wall setting, Enriques was always disappointing to us, and I wasn't surprised to see them go. Tres Casas, on the other hand, is well worth the stop. It's one of the better homespun Mexican cafe's in NE Tarrant. And it's BYOB if you're so inclined.

You'll find Tres Casas on Hwy 377, just north of 1709 (Keller Parkway), on the east side of the road.


Tres Casas Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pappasito's Cantina ~ Dallas, Texas

Pappasito's, as many of you probably know, is part of the much larger Houston-based Pappas group of restaurants, and most known for its flagship Cajun-styled Pappadeaux's. Beyond those two, they also own Pappas Burger, Pappas Bar-B-Q, Pappas Bros Steakhouse, Pappas Seafood House, Dot Coffee Shop, and Yia Yia Mary's Pappas Greek Kitchen. Many times you will see these restaurants clumped together, as is the case with the Pappasito's we visited on Lombardy and Northwest Hwy in Dallas. A few of these concepts are only found in Houston.

This particular Pappasito's is inside an ample "restaurant row" area, situated between Loop 12 and I-35E, and serves the Stemmons Freeway business sector. Plenty of hotels and office buildings are nearby guaranteeing a non-stop lunch and dinner crowd. And to the west of Loop 12 is the seedier side of the entertainment industry with plenty of strip clubs, massage parlors, pool halls and liquor stores. Makes for a colorful drive if coming from NE Tarrant along Northwest Hwy (exiting from TX-114).

So why are we here anyway? Well, the RJG mentioned that I Fratelli's is where we tend to meet our business partners and vendors. Those get-togethers tend to be more intimate settings with rarely more than 4 at a table. But what about when we have our employees in town (they're consultants) visiting clients? Sometimes we'll have over 10 folks. Well, for that, we've begun to settle on Pappasito's. It's still half-way for us logistically and it's roomier, more festive, and they serve a mean margarita. Works for me!

There aren't too many surprises at Pappasito's. But it's definitely a cut above "big chain" food. They're mainly a Tex-Mex shop, and for that they're reliable, if not necessarily newsworthy. I've tried a couple of other "upscale Mexican" dishes here, and once again they were good. But it didn't make me forget about Oscar's (Haltom City - review coming one of these days) either.

The one area where Pappasito's really does shine, however, is where you might least expect it. And that's in the hot sauce for the chips. The chips themselves are typical, pretty similar to what you'd get at Chili's. And the sauce they serve you is also standard - a chipotle based recipe that is delicious, but somewhat typical. You know the RJG right? You guys have a hotter one? I honestly thought the answer would be no. I mean, you don't come to Pappasito's looking for a hole-in-the-wall experience. You're there for good times, drinks, sports and laughter - and some bar food to go with it. But he said "yes". But I figured they'd cut up a couple of jalapeno's and throw it on top or something (we've all witnessed this before). Wrong again. Out came this blended sauce with habanero's mixed in! It was outstanding. Brilliant in fact. I don't know if that's standard at Pappasito's or I just got lucky - but that sauce is a MUST! Of course I was the only one of our party (this time we had 6) who could eat it - so maybe not for everyone. But I was happy anyway...

Good Mexican place to go for a group.


Pappasito's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 5, 2011

La Scala ~ Westlake, Texas

The evening plan was to head towards Westlake and go to Diego's Tex-Mex, a place we first started going to earlier this year. But the bar scene there was definitely happenin', and you know what that means right? Cigarette smoke. Heavy. And it carried to the next door restaurant - and even though the bar is sequestered behind closed doors, it didn't matter. Now Mr. RJG grew up with that unfortunate smell from his parents, so I tend to ignore it, though even I admit it gets harder as the years go by. But Mrs. RJG would have none of it. Plans scrapped - now what? Well, I said, there's an Italian restaurant right around the corner by foot, so let's just go there. And here we are at La Scala.

La Scala is adjoined by a Joe's [Pizza][Pasta][Subs] fast food place. I put that in brackets because Joe's is a loose franchise (with various combination of the names provided) somewhat like Ray's in New York City (and famously sent up in a Seinfeld episode). So La Scala shares the same kitchen with Joe's, and despite the fancy surroundings of the restaurant, just know it's window dressing to the same place. As folks in DFW know, if you've been to one Joe's, you most certainly have not been to all the Joe's. I think they start out with a standard recipe book, but each franchiser can do what they want after that. There is no denying this is one of the many Albanian owned Italian restaurants in the area. At least they don't hide from that fact - their website is proud of it. And good for them, they should be. I'm not Italian either, but that shouldn't stop me from enjoying the food.

The meal started off with a delicious toasted bread roll, combined with a decently priced glass of house Cabernet (most NE Tarrant Italian restaurants offer BYOB, but not here in alcohol / business friendly Westlake). The salad was a fresh, crisp lettuce and tomatoes with the familiar tomato based vinaigrette - though this was definitely lighter and more pleasant than usual. I ordered the Penne Arrabiata with Italian sausage. It's amazing how many restaurants get this simple dish wrong. Arrabiata means angry, and it's meant to be a spicy marinara sauce. I've been to places that cook it with anchovies and all other sorts of ingredients that don't belong. I mention this because La Scala gets it exactly right. I only wish it was a bit more spicy, but I'm pretty hard to please in that category. The sausage was definitely not homemade, but I do like they served it sliced and spread throughout the dish. Mrs. RJG went with another test dish - chicken parmigiana. Unfortunately it wasn't very crispy, though the flavor was quite good. The side of spaghettini, however, was a disaster. It was overcooked and mushy! (my penne however was fine). That's a bozo no-no in the RJG world. They should have thrown it away and started with a new batch. I'm sure they had a pile sitting on the counter waiting for the hot water. But overcooked spaghetti is like serving a raw hamburger. Gross. Sooo... it was the only real misstep of the meal, so I'm cautiously giving it a "likes it" on Urbanspoon, but it's not a place that we plan on going to much in the future. Hopefully next time Diego's bar will be empty. But that's for another time in the RJG future...

If you're out of town on business and staying at the nearby Marriott, this is a good place to walk over to and enjoy a nice Italian meal.


La Scala Italian on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 4, 2011

*** CLOSED *** Aleda's Pizza ~ Southlake, Texas

This visit represented only my second time to Aleda's, the first being right after Christmas last year, not long after they opened. Or "reopened" as it were. See, Aleda's has a built-in cult following since they previously owned a place in Arlington called Barry's Pizza Pub, which closed in 2004 after the family relocated to Southlake. Apparently fans of the place begged them to reopen, and in 2010 they gave it another whirl.

I would say that Aleda's style of pizza is definitely unique, and that's a good thing in the RJG's book. The crust is ample on the side and very thin and crispy on the bottom - somewhat like a classic dessert pie. The ingredients are stacked up from there, almost giving it a deep dish like appearance. It's heavy pizza to be sure - this is miles away from the Napolitana wood fired oven pizza craze (which the RJG is a big fan of). I like the sauce taste and the cheese they use is classic for pizza. I went for a 7 inch "carnivore" which was loaded with Italian meats. This is the perfect size for one individual. They have a decent beer selection, so I went with a Sierra Nevada to wash it down. Overall, not my favorite style of pizza, but certainly wouldn't hesitate to go back. Thumbs up from the RJG. (The Mrs., generally speaking, doesn't care for pizza - so I go to these places when she tells me "you're on your own").

Aleda's is a nice little place, with flat screen TVs, a few alcoholic beverages, and even a pizza buffet for lunch (I usually pass on buffets). I suspect a big portion of their business is take-out. Aleda's is just south of Bicentennial Park on FM 1709 (Southlake Blvd).

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Raising Cane's ~ Hurst, Texas

So this represents the first entry of a chicken place into the RJG. Mr. and Mrs. RJG definitely enjoy fried chicken, but it's something we pretty much eliminated from our diet over the last few years. But we're slowly adding it back, and we hope to add a few similar entries in the next year.

A buddy of mine who used to own a franchise of 14 Taco Bells, once declared to me "the real money is in chicken!" Of course he had a front row seat to that general ledger, as Taco Bell is part of the Yum Brands, which also happens to own Kentucky Fried Chicken. And this might explain why there's a proliferation of chicken chains throughout the country. Not to mention it's incredibly tasty food, though hardly on any dietitians recommended consumption list.

Raising Cane's started in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1996, and is the latest success story in fast food. The website has a full story behind the restaurant chain, and it's yet another inspiration tale of a "if there's a will, there's a way".

As for the chicken itself, we've had better, but it's definitely good. Their gimmick is all white meat chicken fingers - so no bones to get in the way. The chicken came out hot and juicy, but I didn't detect any unique flavors beyond the usual. They make a big fuss out of their dipping sauce, but honestly it wasn't an earth mover. It's a mayonnaise based concoction with mild spices mixed in. So mild in fact, you can barely taste it with the chicken. So I dipped the out-of-the-bag Ore-Ida fries into it instead to try to discern the flavor. The Mrs. said the cole slaw was disappointing - too saucy and sweet. The soda selection is lame with only Diet Coke on offer for those who avoid the sugary drinks. Prices were reasonable, considering how expensive chicken can get.

Have a hankering for some white meat chicken fingers? Definitely give Raising Cane's a try. I doubt, however, that it will be a regular stop for the RJG. We rate it "Likes it" on Urbanspoon.


Raising Cane's on Urbanspoon