Monday, January 30, 2012

Saviano's Italian ~ Euless, Texas

I tend to forget about Saviano's when thinking of Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant. I had just mentioned a few days ago about restaurants that we frequent the most, and that we're struggling to settle on a great Italian joint in the area. I don't think Saviano's necessarily solves that dilemma, but they're definitely part of the equation. One potential reason we don't think of them is their location at the far southeastern edge of our primary coverage area. By being situated on Euless Main and 183, Saviano's is further for us than many places in Ft. Worth proper or Arlington even. No matter, as Saviano's has proven to be very popular with the locals and was again packed to the rafters on this particular evening. Incidentally, it was on our way here that we first discovered the Mexican Inn in Bedford had shut down.

Saviano's has recently opened a second location in downtown Ft. Worth, that has also proven to be very popular. And why not really, as Saviano's is truly old school Italian, something that isn't as common in DFW as you might think. St. Louis, Chicago and Philadelphia we are not. And speaking of which, Saviano's originally came to DFW with a 20 year resume of cooking in Long Island, New York where food like this can be found on every corner - or so it seems.

All the meals come with garlic knots and salads. The latter is a simple mix of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, celery and a delicious red wine vinaigrette dressing. The garlic knots are very chewy, buttery, garlicky and subsequently very tasty. The dishes here have a focus on the southern Italian regions, but they also have a wide variety of other entrees to choose from including Cacciatore, Alfredo, Marsala, etc... I appreciate their baked dishes, as the meals come out in those heavy duty "blackened" dishes (I love those), with bubbling cheese holding down the sizzling red sauce (and their sauce is delicious). Bury a homemade meatball or sausage in there for extra enjoyment. On this visit, the ziti was a little overcooked, so that's a bozo no-no. I'll let it slide, as everything else was well executed. These places need to learn how to cook al dente pasta earlier in the day. We passed on dessert as is our custom.

Saviano's is not BYOB, so we bought a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon for a little under $20.

We've been coming to Saviano's since about 2005 or so, but it's been a few years since we last visited. Since that time, they've made the place more welcoming with dimmer lights throughout, as well as adding a full bar with a large flat screen to enjoy some sports. Parking is hard to come by up front, so you may need to pull around to the back. Dinner is traditional dining and served by a wait staff. It used to be that lunch was counter service. It appears that might still be the case, but I'm not certain. On our last visit in 2008, it was. But that was a long time ago.

Have a hankering for some Old School Italian? Try Saviano's


Saviano's on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

RJG's most frequented NE Tarrant restaurants

As we have a break in the action, I thought it would be a good time to recap some of our most frequented places (not the same thing as listing our favorites). But first a few comments on how we got here.

If you follow this blog on a regular basis, you could come away with the impression that we only go out for our meals. We actually eat at home more, especially for dinner. Still, we do manage to get out on most days, usually for lunch. The main reason for this is that I work from home. In fact, I've been doing this for close to 13 years now. When I first started with this arrangement, I did what I think most folks would do in my shoes - eat at home for lunch. I'd give myself 15 minutes to gobble down a sandwich, and back to work I went. That's not a healthy way to live. And Mrs. RJG was working back then too (on location), so even if I did go out, it would be a lonely pursuit. In the last few years, I finally got smart and started scheduling lunch, and made sure no one plopped a meeting on top of it. That's one thing you learn when you have the privilege of working out of your house - everyone thinks they have access to you 24/7. So it's really up to you to put the boundaries up - just like going to an office. And now that Mrs. RJG is home with me - it's a great opportunity to sample the many restaurants in the area. We need to eat anyway, and lunch portions are more suitable to our diet. And usually the prices are more reasonable than at dinner. So we're taking advantage of the situation as much as possible. But since I am still working, I can't take too long for lunch, and so we try to focus solely on the NE Tarrant area.

As such, I definitely try to plan for a mix of places we love and restaurants we have only tried a couple of times, or are new to us. Just about everything is up for consideration with the exception of sushi (sorry folks, that's just not appealing to either of us).

So I thought I would list places we frequent at least once a month in NE Tarrant. There aren't that many, and even some of the restaurants we really like do not see us on a monthly basis. For example, I love Clown Burger, but only get there a couple of times a year.

This "routine", as it were, changes frequently. For example, if I put out a similar list back in October, you would have seen Fuzzy's Taco Shop and My New York Pizza. Now that's stopped. No particular reason - we still like them! Some, like Sea Siam , Anamia's and Bangkok, have remained on the list for 5 years and going!

The current list of most frequented (all are in the blog):

Sea Siam (Thai)
Bangkok Cuisine (Thai)
Everything German (German) NEW!
Anamia's (Mexican)
Abuelo's (Mexican)
Fresco's (Mexican) ehh - maybe once every 2 months. Love it though.
Funky Baja's (Taqueria/Fresh Mex)
Panchita's (Mexican) NEW!
Chapps Cafe (Hamburgers)
Yu's Gold-In (Chinese)

Some of the chains like Jersey Mike's and Whataburger will usually see us at least once in a two month period. Del Taco is a current favorite because it just opened locally. Palio's Pizza Cafe is starting to see us more and more, so maybe I'll add that in next time.

The one major food category that we just cannot settle on in NE Tarrant is Italian. We really like Oliva's and Italianni's and the many Eastern European run establishments we've posted about here (Cafe Italia, Cafe Sicilia, Oggi Italian, Niki's, etc...). But none are a clear favorite like Pietro's in Dallas (which we sadly only get to about once or twice a year).

And then there's the hypothetical's - as in the "What if such and such were here, I'd go all the time" debate. I think the big name for me would be Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. Certainly the Southlake Town Square would look better with one right?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

*** CLOSED *** Chencho's ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

Chencho's sits in a former Italian restaurant location that was a 3 time loser. (now a 4 time loser apparently, as Chencho's is now closed. A home cooking restaurant will be the 5th to make a go at this spot!) This location originally housed a Ferrari's, a place that had more notoriety via the news than it did amongst diners (never a good sign). We never sampled the place ourselves. This was followed by the Bella Cafe. Mrs. RJG and I dined there a couple of times. It was decent, but very typical of the Italian food found in NE Tarrant. And finally Mia Cafe went up and was well on its way to closure, when the final owner wised up and said "You know what? Maybe this isn't a good location for an Italian restaurant." Ya think? So he wisely found another partner, from nearby Alvarado's in fact, and launched a Mexican restaurant. I'm usually hesitant to be "first" to try a restaurant, but we were in the area, and said why not? We added it to Urbanspoon, and it still hasn't garned much attention to date. But it should - it's definitely worth a try. Looks like someone matched our positive with a negative. Who's right? You tell us.

Chencho's is not just a typical Tex-Mex place with warmed over enchiladas and soggy tacos. It's really somewhere between a taqueria, Tex-Mex and a New Mexican place. And I'm not going to tell you this is a Santa Fe styled restaurant - because it is absolutely not - but they do have delicacies typically only found on our Western frontier. They offer adobada as well as green chile sauces, which are more associated with New Mexico or Colorado. And they have rolled tacos, which of course are more southern Californian. Chencho's has a wide range of dishes to choose from, and we actually ventured only to Tex-Mex just to ensure a certain standard, before trying any of the New Mexican or tacqueria options. And they did a great job on the tacos y enchiladas - both in the texture and taste of the meat, as well as the spicy salsa they poured on top. I opted for grilled chicken, and it was delicious - and not something many places are willing to stuff your enchilada with - for the same prices as shredded chicken. Rice and beans were good as well.

The chips were standard but the salsas were not. BOTH salsas that came out were on the spicy side, which endeared Chencho's to us right away, and did not require me to ask for a hotter option. And they tasted like no other sauce I've ever had. Unique chile salsas with a kick are going to score points with the RJG.

As of last week, they stated to us they were going to start serving free beer and margaritas. For those that know the Texas law, if you don't have a liquor license, then you can't sell alcohol, but there's nothing to stop them from giving it away. I don't know if they implemented that yet or not, so don't hold me to it. I suspect they are working on a license in the meantime.

Caution here: We've only been once and we liked it. There aren't any reviews to corroborate ours, so you'll be pioneering like we did. But based on our one visit - I think it's worth a shot. The decor is very humble, so this isn't exactly a night on the town kind of place. But for local grub, it's very good and we're likely to try it a few more times in the near future.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Cool River Cafe ~ Irving, Texas

The RJG first visited Cool River in Denver (on business) sometime around 2001 or so. After that, all the visits have been at their Las Colinas location, starting in 2005. We had an office nearby, and this was a popular place to take clients, vendors, partners, etc...

Cool River is clearly geared towards the male business traveler. And on this business visit last week, the four of us dudes fell in lockstep. We started at the bar for cocktails, frozen margaritas, beer (nice selection of micros) and wine. Then we headed over to the billiards room and shot a few games of stick. Then off to dine where we feasted on large mounds of red meat. And finally a trip to the cigar bar to puff on some stogies, while being served drinks by cute girls in slinky cocktail dresses. Now on this later point, the RJG doesn't smoke, but having grown up with it, I have no objection to sitting in the room and polishing off a Chimay (Rouge) while they smoke away.

Personally I think their steaks are some of the finest in the area. And the sides are excellent as well (I tried the basmati rice this time). As you can see from the Urbanspoon box below, 69% is a pretty low score. Most of the gripes seem to stem from the high prices, but it's not near as expensive as some of Dallas' finest steakhouses as you will find on the North Tollway. And it's somewhat a given that you come here on an expense account - and it's location on MacArthur in Las Colinas only underscores that point. Definitely not a fun-for-the-whole-family kinda place!

Simply put: A great place to meet or host clients.


Cool River Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cafe Italia ~ Grapevine, Texas

Cafe Italia is probably the epitome of the type of Italian food you're likely to run across in NE Tarrant. And one can argue that it may be the best of the Eastern European owned Italian eateries in the area. We've been going to Cafe Italia almost since we moved to the area in 2003, though not on any kind of regular basis. All the same, it's surprising that we're just now getting around to posting about it. In the early days, because of its popularity, there was usually a line out the door. So they further opened a second "overflow" location a few miles south near the Grapevine ISD football stadium. This overflow site eventually became a full-blown restaurant unto itself, and now they enjoy full crowds (with lines) at both locations - especially on weekend nights.

Cafe Italia is a hybrid of northern and southern Italian cooking with white, red, pink, and sherry wine sauces to choose from. They have some ambitious specials, so if you're looking for something beyond the tried and true, definitely consider a visit here. I've talked about other such Italian restaurants in the area previously, so not a whole lot of other things to discuss here. It's BYOB as is the (fortunate) norm, and the service is generally impeccable. Their pizzas look good but we haven't tried them. Both locations are well decorated, and offer a warm welcome. Cafe Italia can be a destination as a date restaurant or a good place to bring friends.

To the best of my knowledge, the Grapevine Cafe Italia's are not related to any other restaurant with that name in the DFW area.

Website (for Hwy 26 location) Though the menu is the same for both locations.

Cafe Italia on Urbanspoon

Cafe Italia on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 8, 2012

*** CLOSED *** Oscar's Mexican ~ Haltom City, Texas

For our money, Oscar's is the best Mexican "interior" styled restaurant in NE Tarrant. Oh sure, they have tacos y enchiladas, but that's not what they excel at. Sample some of their specialty dishes, and I think you'll agree that Oscar's has some very unique recipes and flavors, which distinguishes them from other restaurants in the area. My favorite dish is the chicken breast smothered in a creamy ancho chile wash (Pollo Cozumel). Has a slight kick and is delicious. The rice and beans are well prepared and it also comes with a small salad. Mrs. RJG has a similar dish except she prefers the green poblano sauce. Chips and salsa are fairly standard, but they do have an excellent creamy jalapeno sauce if you ask for a spicier option.

Oscar's is a "destination" Mexican restaurant, with a full bar and beautiful surroundings. Give it a try if you want an alternative to the standard Tex-Mex.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Oliva Italian Eatery ~ Fort Worth, Texas

I think I just heard someone yell "Well it's about time!". I know, I know - we're way late in writing about Oliva. Strange that we haven't discussed it before, only in that we've been a few times since they opened. But it was right at the time I stopped writing for the RJG. But we're back, and it's time to give Oliva their proper due.

Also please note the restaurant is technically in Ft. Worth. As you can see in the comments, someone felt very passionate about that - so I figured I should mention it.

You've heard the RJG grouse about the fact that almost all the Italian restaurants in NE Tarrant are the same. The antidote? Oliva. The menu is a mix of old school red sauce Italian and newer, more trendy options. Though the balance is definitely tilted towards the traditional. Oliva does the basics right like cooking the pasta al dente, while providing a good (not great) tomato based sauce. They also have a fantastic meatball, that Mrs. RJG really has a taste for. I had the chicken parm on my last visit, and the chicken was a little bit tough - the first real complaint I've had in multiple visits. So they're human - it happens. We're working our way through the menu, though we haven't attempted anything adventurous here yet. The house salad is of the "backyard" variety with a tasty vinaigrette and plenty of field greens, olives, tomatoes, etc... I need to try their Caesar. And the warm seasoned soft bread is most welcome. Despite the nice surroundings, and overall popularity of the restaurant, the prices here are very reasonable.

The owner of the restaurant has a long history in the business, and is also an accomplished sommelier. As such, she offers a variety of high quality wines at very good prices. I admire her willingness to not take an enormous profit on alcohol, as so many places tend to do. As well, they have a nice beer selection including at least two Texas micros on tap.

Is Oliva the best Italian food we've ever had? Oh no - not even close. Is it the best in NE Tarrant county? Probably. A little better than Italianni's for our money, which would be in second place I guess. Now while I said most of the restaurants are similar in the area, I will also add most are very good. We've written about many of them here: Cafe Sicilia, Oggi Italia, Niki's, Italian Bistro and a few others. It's not hard to find good Italian food in NE Tarrant. However, it has proven to be difficult to find great Italian food as I find in other parts of the country. But there's always Pietro's or Prego's in Dallas if I'm determined to have the best.

Oliva is justifiably very popular (#26 on Urbanspoon), so be aware of that on weekend nights. Given its setting in an all residential area, Oliva is nearly empty for lunch, so if you have any flexibility on your schedule, definitely try to go then.


Oliva Italian Eatery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Taco Bueno ~ Keller, Texas

You just knew I was going to cover Taco Bueno didn't ya? I feel somewhat obligated to, even though it may seem to folks here in DFW that the chain is as ubiquitous as McDonalds. In reality, it's actually a localized regional chain that continues to outwardly expand. In that way, it's somewhat like Whataburger - a place you might take for granted because it's always there. Leave the Southwest part of the United States however, and they are absent. According to their website, Taco Bueno was founded in Abilene in 1967. I can remember them as far back as the mid 1970s in the DFW area.

Taco Bueno was the original RJG late night taco place with buddies. We had one near my high school in the early 1980s (W. T. White for the three people who might care), and we'd wander over in the late evenings (8/9 o'clock?) and grab a handful of crunchy tacos. Hey, we were growing teenagers with enormous appetites! Taco Bueno has always been a "mild" option in the fast food taco market. They have one salsa, and it's tasty but not spicy. They used to serve the sauce in syrup bottles on each table (right from the fridge!), but nowadays you'll find it in the "salsa bar" that has become the standard in the last 20 years or so. As far as I know, they've never opted for a "volcano", "fire" or "inferno" sauce. The meat has a nice flavor, and their tacos have traditionally been small - where you need many to fill you up. As such, I moved to their ground beef burritos later on just so I could get a full meal out of the visit.

Today, I'm very much an infrequent visitor to Taco Bueno, with a rare stop to my local store - and generally then only with a free taco coupon from the Rangers or Mavericks game. With Taco Casa, and now Del Taco, in the area - there's less reason for me to go to Taco Bueno. Obviously I don't eat as much fast food as I once did, so my fast food dollar is more focused. For me to reconsider, I think the chain needs to add a little more zest to their sauces and offerings. But to date, they have chosen to play it straight down the middle.

OK, this concludes our taco run. Don't worry, the RJG sees no reason to cover Taco Bell. But I do hope at one point to cover some favorites around the country. And Taco Mayo isn't far over in Bridgeport, so we may cover them soon.


I'll add the Keller store as our representative for Urbanspoon.

Taco Bueno on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Del Taco ~

All NE Tarrant locations have closed. We'll need to find a reliable location to report on. They are still in DFW.

January 2014 update: The larger and nicer Watauga location has now closed. We never went to that one, since the Hurst location was much more convenient. It doesn't seem to me that Del Taco is very popular here in DFW. We still really like their tacos, and they have delicious tacos sauces and even homemade salsas. And they have some heat on each if you desire. The Hurst location isn't exactly packed when we go. I wonder how much longer it will be around? It is now NE Tarrant's only location. We're still regulars, going about 6 to 8 times a year.

Original review

Though I have them listed as a National chain, their presence is almost entirely in the Western half of the US (especially California where they are based). Texas is limited to DFW for now, and they've just recently expanded to a 3 state area in the Midwest and 3 state area in the Southeast. It's clear they are getting ready to compete on a national level with Taco Bell (who have pretty much dominated this space for three decades).

We announced back in October that Del Taco was going to be opening in the area. And I'll quote what I said there: "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." And since we occasionally live in Denver, we no longer felt the need to have a quick snack at Del Taco while traveling. And now, we have one in our home base of NE Tarrant County.

For such a large chain, it's truly remarkable how well managed their stores tend to be - at least the ones I've been too (I'm sure there are exceptions - no need to write in and tell me). It seems they learned their lesson back in the early 1980s, and now they are growing very slowly while not giving up on quality for profit's sake. And perhaps best of all - they're willing to push the envelope a little bit. You want a spicy salsa? OK, they'll give you one. We both love their tacos and at 59 cents a piece, they're a bargain. The hot sauce is dispensed in metal containers similar to how the burger chains now offer up ketchup, mustard, etc... It's a great idea, and very sanitary. As well, Del Taco has just introduced two more traditional salsas - including a truly spicy variety. The latter reminding me quite a bit of Baja Fresh's most fiery option. I love the flavor of their meat, and you can get that in a number of their menu offerings.

I can only offer up superlatives here. It is what it is: A fast food crunchy taco place. But in that category, Del Taco is one of the finest.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

*** CLOSED *** FasTaco ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

January 2013 update: A few folks have asked me to reconsider my vote on FasTaco, per my initial request. And since the place seems to be doing a decent business, and they're locally owned, why not give it one more shot? My quick observations are this: The restaurant is very clean, and the owners are incredibly friendly. I thought the taco meat tasted better than prior, and the shells were crispy - and this time they didn't skimp on the cheese! I tried the beefy burrito per recommendation, and though the meat of course was good, I didn't care much for the soft chewy tortilla. The salsas are still a big problem for me. The red is way too plain, and the green - while having enormous potential - is too mild and sour to be to my liking. It's a tomatillo rather than a spicy green. I really wish they'd offer a 3rd sauce, preferably one with more of a kick. End result? I changed my grade from "Didn't Like it" to "Likes it" on Urbanspoon. So that's the good news. The bad news is that it just barely crosses that threshold, meaning that I didn't get the feeling there was anything I would crave here. And, make no mistake, the RJG loves him some crunchy fast food tacos. Not sure I'll be back again unless I hear of changes. I wouldn't complain, though, if it was suggested.

Original review

In light of Del Taco opening in the NE Tarrant area, the RJG thought we'd do a quick taco run around the area. We've already covered Taco Casa, and I think it's worth following that link so you can see where the RJG comes from regarding crunchy fast food tacos. We first noticed FasTaco going up on our visit to Malli's and after some quick research, knew it was a place we'd want to try as soon as possible. And that day arrived early in the new year.

For the RJG, a taco place is only as good as its core product: The crunchy ground beef taco (and accompanying hot sauce). So it doesn't matter to me that they might have a killer quesadilla or a chicken burrito if the taco is not up to snuff. If it does make the grade, only then will we dive further into the menu. And so, did it pass? No.

I doubt anyone is more disappointed than we are at drawing this conclusion. I love old fashioned crispy tacos that I can take away in a greasy bag. Especially from a small local chain. But the fact remains that the ground beef at FasTaco has way too little seasoning. It's not a mush-meat classic nor is it finely spiced. They also skimped on the cheese and lettuce. I understand why this happens at Taco Bell - a public company where workers are not incented to do anymore than the bare minimum. But this is a local place - show some pride! The tacos are very small, and at 99 cents a piece, they are a poor value. The salsa bar has two homemade sauces: a tomato based red that tasted a lot like the salsa served at Taco Bueno, and a spicier green which was good, though I wish it had more kick. They also offered up a package sauce that was made by.... Heinz. Euwwww really? C'monnnn.

Conclusion? Worse than Taco Bell. Oh it pains me to say that. I truly wanted this place to rule and to compete with the best of the Kansas taco stands. It's not terrible, and only a borderline thumbs down on Urbanspoon. But all the same, it didn't make the grade for us. Any other taco heads (fast food, not taqueria OK?) out there care to contradict? We'll reconsider if you think we're off base.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Thai Thipp (fka Thai Thippawan) ~ Hurst, Texas

We've received a few comments at the RJG to consider Thai Thippawan. And for us, it's actually a reconsider position. We did try Thai Thippawan not long after they first opened in early 2008, and we were not overly impressed. So we were reticent to return, especially considering we're more than happy with Sea Siam, Sweet Basil and Bangkok Cuisine - all featured prominently on this blog. But the RJG feels it only fair to try (or retry) all the restaurants that fit our tastes. And Thai food is at, or near, the very top food group for the RJG. And the fact that the restaurant is still open with a whopping 92% approval rating on Urbanspoon tells us that Thai Thippawan must be doing something right.

And indeed they are. What a difference 4 years makes. We went for lunch, and the specials come with a house soup, an egg roll and a small-ish entree. The soup is delicious, a simple recipe of chicken broth with rice, garlic and pieces of chicken. The egg roll is also very good - fried crispy with a bit of meat in it, which the RJG appreciates. And perhaps best of all is the RJG Thai sample dish: Basil Chicken. And they do it Thai style - that is with ground (minced) chicken, basil leaves, and bell peppers. I asked for it "Thai hot" and that's what I received - no blue-eyed treatment for the RJG, even though I would probably prefer one more notch higher (apparently 3x Hot in the Thai Thippawan vernacular). The sauce is delicious and the small dollop of rice was perfectly cooked. Mrs. RJG had the same dish, though she only went medium and stated it was spiced correctly. She usually prefers regular chicken to the ground variety but was pleasantly surprised by the flavor.

So for the good folks of NE Tarrant county, the RJG now claims we have FOUR really great Thai restaurants. And if you also include Thai Riverside, Magic Springroll and Nipa Thai, then we have no choice but to conclude that we live in a Thai food mecca. Especially considering we haven't really found one great Thai restaurant in all of Denver (some good ones, but nothing great)


Thai Thippawan on Urbanspoon