Saturday, October 29, 2011

Miguelito's, Mexican, Hurst-TX

Last visit: October 2011

First time entry into the RJG

Miguelito's is another restaurant that the RJG discovered via a coupon book I bought in 2003, which helped us discover many of the restaurants in the area (we had just moved back from Colorado). I would say that from 2004 to 2005, Miguelito's was perhaps our favorite Mexican restaurant in NE Tarrant. But then Mrs. RJG soured on the place, and according to my database, we last visited in the summer of 2006. And finally we have returned after a 5+ year exodus, after a complete fall from grace.

The restaurant is a pleasant place, a combination of 60's Tiki and Mexican beach resort. A welcome retreat on this tired segment of Bedford Euless Rd. For the food, the chips are very good, warm to the touch and served in small metal bowls. A server is never too far away to ensure a new bowl is ready when you are. The salsa is stored in a jug on the table, and they provide little serving bowls to pour into. The RJG has always liked this concept, since he tends to over eat on chips and uses an excessive amount of sauce. This way I don't constantly look around for a server to bring more. Oh, and the sauce is delicious.

While Miguelito's does a fine job with combo Tex-Mex platters, I think they do a better job with more upscale dishes. On this visit I tried the chicken diablo, which are cubes of white meat chicken marinated in a very spicy sauce on a bed of Mexican rice. I only wish the chicken itself was charbroiled rather than just boiled. Now Mr. RJG loves to seek out places that have dishes with the word "diablo" (or diavolo in Italian). That always infers extra spicy and that's what I want to hear (and taste and smell...) Years ago, when Mr. RJG was with coworkers in California, we dined at a Mexican restaurant where I made a beeline for the Diablo dish. One of the guys started calling me "Doctor Diablo". The name stuck. Anyway... Mrs. RJG did go for a Tex-Mex plate, and it was lukewarm temperature. Ugh! Now it looks it will be another 5 years before we come back.

As an aside, the frozen margarita I had was weak and watered down. That was unfortunate. Not a dealbreaker, but I need reasons to go back. Maybe the diablo will make that happen. We'll see. Thumbs up from Mr. RJG, thumbs down from the Mrs.

Miguelito's also features a full bar and has flat screen televisions all around.

Website

Miguelito's Mexican on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 24, 2011

Agave Azul Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Sanctuary, Mexican, Carrollton-TX

First visit: October 2011

Other location: Flower Mound

Interesting that we were just in this area during the week, and here I am again. As mentioned in the Kenny's Wood Fired Grill post, the RJG lived in Addison from 1988-1991. That same summer of 1991 I moved about 4 miles north to Carrollton and lived there until the end of 1993, before shuffling off to Colorado. Since I rarely visit the area anymore, I always return with a sense of nostalgia. Mrs. RJG is attending a wedding in Carrollton next week, and she wanted to know how to get there (we have do a reconnaissance with Mrs. RJG so she doesn't get lost). And that's the perfect excuse to add a new restaurant to the Regular Joe's Guide!

Of course the Carrollton I left in 1993, is not the same one that exists in 2011. Incredible improvements have been made, especially to the Old Town. In line with other such renovations, like NE Tarrant's own Grapevine, the Old Town has been gussied up, with new lofts, boutique stores, and nice restaurants. There's now a light rail stop here, which gives the place a European meets Texas feel. And the old grain elevator that once touted the Word of Faith megachurch, now more politely invites you to visit old Carrollton. You can read all about Word of Faith and the crackpot Robert Tilton here. It boggles my mind how people can use the name of God to make a quick buck. There has to be a special place in hell for folks like that. Even if you weren't a believer, I wouldn't want to tempt fate like that. Anwway, after lunch we wandered around the stores, and visited the fantastic and fully stocked antique mall - where Mrs. RJG found a few new decorative things to take home.

There aren't any of my old haunts remaining from Carrollton to revisit (except Herrera's), so it was time to try a new place. So off to Urbanspoon I went - and we settled on Agave Azul. Mr. RJG likes a good frozen margarita, and since it was highly rated, I figured it was a worth a shot. And, as it turned out, it was an excellent recommendation. Agave Azul is amongst the new style of Mexican restaurants - upscale decor with a mix of Mexico City styled creations and old school Tex-Mex. Generally when I go to places such as this, I try one of the Mexican Interior dishes. So I had the beef tenderloin tacos, which featured a wonderful spiced marinate. The rice and charro beans were delicious as well. The Mrs. went for the chicken flautas, which were deliciously crunchy with a nice ingredient mix for the meat. She also enjoyed the rice and the refried beans. The opening chips were crisp and flavorful. The chipotle salsa comes out steaming hot (temperature), always a plus for me. I asked if they had a spicier salsa, and they came back with the same concoction but with finely diced serrano's mixed in. Works for me, as that definitely tripled the heat component. Somebody forgot to turn on the margarita machine I think, as I had to wait a few more minutes to get mine. And while slightly frozen, it probably could have used another 10 minutes or so cycling through. Mrs. RJG goes for on the rocks, and she stated hers was great. As it should be, given that the place features multiple tequilas. The RJG knows squat about tequila, preferring to deep dive with beer and wine. However I asked Mr. Music, a tequila connoisseur, if he's been here. And indeed he had, and said the tequila selection is "awesome". And he's spent some time sampling various ones. So there you go.

Website

Agave Azul Mexican Kitchen & Tequila Bar on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Abuelo's, Mexican, Hurst-TX

Last visit: February 2014

Rating: Buy

Other DFW locations: Arlington; Lewisville; Plano (2); Fort Worth (Hulen)

Other Texas locations: Abilene; Amarillo; Austin; College Station; Lubbock; Midland

Also in 14 other states

February 2014 update: Over the years, Abuelo's has added more and more New Mexican flavored dishes, all to their benefit I might add. Abuelo's is Mrs. RJG's favorite Mexican in NE Tarrant, or at least tied with Anamia's.

Original review

We first visited Abuelo's in the summer of 2004, but for whatever reason Mrs. RJG didn't care for it, and we didn't return for a half-dozen years. Then one day last year we were talking with our neighbors about Mexican food, and they said their favorite place was Abuelo's. I figured that may be because they're hardcore West Texas folks and the chain is based in Lubbock. But we gave it one more try shortly thereafter... and we've been going back ever since. In fact, I'd say the consensus at the RJG household is that Abuelo's has moved into the #2 spot behind Anamia's for the Mexican restaurant crown in NE Tarrant. Pretty amazing for a national chain!

The first thing you notice about Abuelo's is how stunning the restaurant looks - on the inside and out. It's like a Mexican vacation resort. Generally that's a red flag for the RJG. When the money is put into the decor, we fear that's at the expense of the food budget. But that's definitely not the case at Abuelo's. And in fact, Abuelo's offers some pretty unique items that one may only find in a dive. For one they may have the best habanero salsa I've ever had. It's a blazer, but extremely tasty, with that fire roasted chile taste (I just got that feeling in my tongue - I feel like going there right now!). They also have a chipotle medium hot and a tomato based mild. Both are very good, but do not compare to the habanero. Funny that they serve it in a tiny little tin with the other two other salsas in larger bowls. But I'm sure most folks would rather only have a taste. But not the RJG - he asks for a BUCKET of it. And the chips are tasty enough without salsa. The Tex-Mex dishes here are a mix of staples and more authentic Mexican (for example, you can get fried eggs on the enchiladas, that sort of thing). I liked their baked overstuffed burritos, loaded with melted cheese, tasty con carne and whatever meat filling I'd like. Mrs. RJG says their crunchy tacos are the best! Oddly enough, I haven't got that far down the menu yet... Rice and beans are delicious and beyond the norm.

Abuelo's has a full bar, and their margaritas (frozen & au natural) pack a punch.

This is a good place to take guests, or business associates. Though for the many times we've been, it's just been the wife and I. Overall a great Mexican restaurant.

Website

Urbanspoon lists the restaurant as Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy, but it doesn't appear they still use that tag.

Abuelo's Mexican Food Embassy on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kenny's Wood Fired Grill, Steakhouse/Seafood, Addison-TX

First visit: October 2011

Just as soon as I mention that I Fratelli's has become our go to spot for business, here I am at Kenny's for just that reason. One of our partners was in town, and since he was already in Addison visiting the mothership, we just agreed to meet him there. The RJG once lived in Addison from 1988 to 1991, and later I had an office nearby from 2003-2004. So I'm always glad to drive over to my old stompin' grounds. Nowadays I doubt I get there more than 3 times a year. It's always been a hotbed of activity, primarily because they were the only suburb in the area to have modern alcohol laws. The others are finally catching up.

We started the evening with beers and appetizers over at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium , one of the RJG's favorite watering holes. I've been debating this for some time, but I think I'll have a end of month roundup on the beers I try. For the last 5 years, I've been on a mission to try as many beers as possible. Anyway, after downing a couple of draughts and a yummy soft pretzel with sausage, we got back on Beltline across the Dallas North Tollway to Kenny's Wood Fired Grill. If you are going that same route, Kenny's is on your left (south side) in a newer strip mall.

According to their website, Kenny's describes themselves as a "1940’s Chicago style chophouse with a classy, relaxed and warm atmosphere featuring the finest wood grilled seafood and meats." That sold me on the place, and it is indeed true. A perfect spot for a business dinner. There's no detail on the web page, but based on what I read in the newspaper review clippings that were hanging on the walls, I get the impression Kenny was heavily involved with the Rockfish Seafood restaurant (A Brinker owned chain - and very good in its own right).

Typically when I go to a "Steak and Seafood" place, I tend to opt for the latter. I'll be honest here, but rarely have I gone to a steakhouse where the steak was any better than what I grill at home. And you haven't lived until you've had an RJG habanero steak! Don't get me wrong, I do like the steaks they have at these high end places - but if they do also specialize in seafood - then that's what I'm going for. And given the Rockfish pedigree, I felt it necessary to go that route. I had the New England Style Baked Stuffed Fish which they describe as "Ritz cracker, crab, shrimp, scallops, tilapia, lemon butter". It was indeed excellent, just as it sounds - a mix of various fishes with the cracker mix. The RJG and wife just returned a month ago from a vacation to New England, and had plenty of meals very similar (Legal Seafood anybody?). My business associate had the meatloaf, made with filet mignon. And our business partner went for the Chilean Sea Bass - which is his staple dish for places like this. For starters they have a wonderful flaky and puffy pastry - hot out of the oven and tastes great with butter (as is usually the case right?). We all left Kenny's fat and happy...

Typically there is a wait, so you may want to call ahead with a reservation. We didn't, arrived at around 7:00 and waited only 15 minutes.

Apparently he also runs an Italian place as well as a burger joint. We'll need to try those someday too!

Website

Kenny's Wood Fired Grill on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Austin Taco House, Taqueria, Southlake-TX

Last visit: October 2011

First time entry into the RJG

And while on the topic of tacos, how about this little out of the way place in Southlake? We spoke of the 3 kinds of tacos in the Funky Baja's post: Crunchy fast food (Del Taco for example); Higher end grilled meat tacos (like Funky Baja's or Fuzzy Taco Shop - which I refer to as "Fresh Mex"); and finally the street taco or taqueria. And it's this latter category that Austin Taco House fits in. It's pretty hardcore, right down to the television being tuned into Univision, and Spanish being the lingua franca. Mrs. RJG, who grew up in Mexico, said it reminded her of home.

Grilled meats are the order of the day, with plenty of pork and steak choices. Breakfast burritos, tortas, chorizos, etc... round it out. I usually try a variety of tacos, and on this visit I went for the carnitas, al pastor and ground beef. They have flour and corn tortillas, as well as wonderful homemade crunchy corn tortillas. They have a variety of salsas, including two hot ones - red and green. They were out of the green on this visit, but the red is fiery and delicious.

The Austin Taco House first started inside of a Fina station on the NW corner of Randol Mill and Southlake Blvd. They have since bulldozed that area to put in a strip mall anchored by a Sprouts grocery store. So they moved catty corner to the Albertson's shopping center (the namesake store now gone). We've been a few times, and Austin Taco House remains in the regular circuit of places we visit for lunch.

There aren't that many taquerias and/or standing taco trucks in this part of NE Tarrant. So if you have a craving for some street tacos, stop on by!

Austin Taco House on Urbanspoon

News: NE Tarrant to get a Del Taco

As I was driving down Precinct Line in Hurst today, I noticed a new fast food place going up. And no, it wasn't In-N-Out Burger, but rather a Del Taco. And that's welcome news for the RJG. Del Taco is reemerging in the area. For those of you who lived in the DFW area in the early 80s, you may recall Del Taco was here before. But like many chains, they grew too fast and eventually shuttered all across the state. It would be nearly a dozen years before I ate at a Del Taco again - on Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles! Fast food tacos are a guilty pleasure for me, so I try to sneak a couple in everywhere I travel - and I would run into Del Taco's in various California locales. Until they finally ended up in Denver while we still lived there. And now they're here at our main home in NE Tarrant!

Welcome back.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Funky Baja's Cantina, Tacos y Margaritas, Sports Bar, Beer Tavern, Keller-TX

Last visit: February 2013

Rating: Buy

January 2013 update: There's been one significant change since we last wrote about Funky Baja's: They have joined the craft beer revolution, and are the first "chain" here in Northeast Tarrant to really focus on our DFW beer culture. I say chain, only in that Funky Baja's is owned by the same folks who own the various Baja Grill's, Peace Burger, and now Mo'Fish - which we are certain to cover very soon. I'm not sure all of the outlets are participating in this, but at least Funky Baja's, Mo'Fish and Peace Burger are. I consider this an exciting development!

Original Review

Funky Baja's Cantina opened in May just as we were heading to Denver for the summer. The RJG's Mom has an apartment nearby, and I was very intrigued on what the place was going to be about. My guess was it would be another Fuzzy's Taco Shop type establishment that are (fortunately) popping up everywhere. And, as it turns out, I was exactly right.

Now it's interesting to note that Funky Baja's took over the old Novrozsky's place, that we wrote about well over 3 years ago. The reason it is interesting is I felt one of the reasons Novrozsky's closed was it didn't understand the space it was in. While that is also true for Funky Baja's, I will throw out a couple of addendum's. One is that Keller is growing up, as is all of Northeast Tarrant county. For example, Keller is about to add a couple of taverns to the Old Town area. Texas has always struggled with its Baptist/temperance/prohibition past, but as time has gone on more and more laws are going down in favor of those who enjoy a nice, legal alcoholic beverage in a public setting. These newer places are not the stinky dive taverns my Uncle loved to frequent - an unwelcome place filled with ne're-do-wells eyeing everyone with distrust and a cigarette dangling from their mouth. Far from it - in fact, these newer places are filled with women and children. The day we were there, it was ladies' day out apparently and the restaurant was packed - and 90% of the patrons were women. Second is that Funky Baja's took the half-baked sports bar attempt by Novrozsky's, and finished the job. It's darker, with more TV screens, and a real sitting bar. Though I would recommend that Funky Baja's get serious about their bar, and add more than one microbrew (Real Ale's Fireman #4). Offer up a couple of domestics and common Mexican beers - and fill the rest with cool imports and micros! (which they did!!) They do have a margarita machine as well.

OK, so we have a sports bar so far. Big deal - they're pretty much a dime a dozen these days. So what's going to be the differentiator? The food of course. And here is where Funky Baja's really scores points with the RJG. To me there are three kinds of taco shops: 1) Fast food ground beef crunchy style; 2) Street tacos / taquerias; and 3) The high end, high quality ingredient taco. 3) is really an extension of 2). Honestly, I love all 3 types. So in that third category, we have a very fast growing cottage industry - especially here in DFW. Fuzzy's has become the big name, while Yucatan established themselves as a higher end alternative. I'd say Funky Baja's has the higher quality taco of Yucatan (though slightly less priced), with more of a Fuzzy's atmosphere mixed with a traditional bar. To date I've tried the Fishman taco (beer battered), the El Santo (chipotle chicken) and the Blue Demon (spicy pork adobada). Both the fish and especially the chicken were outstanding, whereas the pork was a bit fatty and tough (sigh). It wasn't perfect, but most restaurants have specialties I fall for. I can't wait to try the many others they have to offer to go with the fish and chicken above. While the tacos don't really need the extra flavor, I do wish they provided a really hot habanero sauce like Fuzzy's and Yucatan have.

Overall, we're delighted Funky Baja's is here. I can tell it's going to be a regular stop for Mr. & Mrs. RJG!

Website

Funky Baja's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 10, 2011

*** CLOSED *** Up-N-Smoke, Barbecue, Keller-TX

Last visit: December 2012

February 2014 update: Officially closed on January 31, 2014.  That's too bad, as we enjoyed their barbecue and went on an occasional basis. Though we did for certain miss all of 2013. They didn't close because of a lack of business, but rather the owner retired.

Original review

I was first introduced to Up-N-Smoke by my former neighbor Mr. SS (who is now a full-time resident of Manhattan and enjoying the culinary delights offered there - lucky guy) in April of 2008, right at the time I started this blog actually. But for whatever reason, I didn't get back to the place until 2010, and have been a few times since. This is our initial post for Up-N-Smoke.

For Mr. and Mrs. RJG, Up-N-Smoke has become our favorite barbecue restaurant in NE Tarrant. We haven't tried them all (though we intend to), but we've done some sampling in the area (Cousins, Red Barn, Big Barn, Feedstore, Spring Creek, Red Hot and Blue, and a few others) and we prefer Up-N-Smoke so far. When it comes to barbecue, I'm not really a "sides" guy, so I tend to weight the ratings all towards the flavor and tenderness of the meat, as well as any sauces on offer. So keep that in mind when evaluating this review. I certainly enjoy the sides - especially if a place offers something unique like dirty rice, but if its the usual heavy stomach items like potato salad and mashed potatoes, then I can easily eschew them for something else. Like extra meat.

With that in mind, I appreciate that Up-N-Smoke has a hearty "meat sampler" (technically it's an appetizer, but big enough for one full meal), something not all 'cue establishments offer up (though I think they should). Up-N-Smoke's variety pack includes sliced brisket, smoked turkey, sausage, pulled pork, and St. Louis ribs. I'm a big fan of pulled pork, and theirs stacks up well with the competition. Tender and flavorful. The dry rub ribs have a wonderful blend of seasonings. The brisket can be cut with a fork. Perhaps most surprising is the turkey. Turkey is usually a somewhat generic throw-in, without much deviation from place to place. But at Up-N-Smoke, the turkey is truly delicious. As for sauces, they do provide a standard mild smoky concoction, as well as a spicy pepper sauce made by Ol' Gringo (Cousins uses the same one).

Worth noting that Up-N-Smoke has a very fine beer selection, including micros and imports.

Not that it's mandatory to gripe about something, but if I did have a beef (yuk, yuk), it's that the place could use a little makeover. But c'mon RJG, you say, it's a barbecue place! It should be a little dilapidated, right? Agreed, but this one might be a bit much. Half the restaurant is smoking - in the bar area, and it very much has that stale cigarette smell. The other half is much easier on the olfactory (and much smaller in space), but the last time we went they had the water buckets out for the leaky roof - and half the tables were closed off. Yea.... I think they could reinvest some of the profits into spiffying the place up. If they did, I think it would be cool to have a view of the railroad which runs along its western edge. Seems no restaurant in the area has ever taken advantage of the antiquated industrial landscape surrounding it. The railroad seems to run non-stop in this area, so it makes an interesting side-show.

Up-N-Smoke is located in Old Town Keller, which is getting nicer and more active by the moment with more restaurants / taverns coming. It's still dominated by antique and car repair shops, but it's slowly becoming a bit more interesting. The issue will always be that the town is divided by the much used US 377, which is a main north/south artery, and until they either build a pedestrian bridge, or provide a by-pass - the area may always struggle to gain the critical mass you need to be successful in the retail world.

Website

Nice review from the Full Custom Gospel blog, who is certainly more quaified to evaluate than the RJG.

Up-N-Smoke BBQ on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Back in the saddle

We returned to DFW two weeks ago, and the regular routine is settling in nice. And in the RJG's world, that usually means at least one meal a day at a local restaurant.

I've really neglected this blog over the last couple of years. I'm going to see if I can get back into some sort of regular posting, including updates of old favorites.