Sunday, September 27, 2015

Benito's ~ Fort Worth, Texas

Benito's is a legendary Mexican restaurant in Fort Worth, having come around before such establishments were commonplace. We'd never actually been, until very recently. I see places such as this as a good barometer to see where the RJG fits in the local dining culture. Because of its institution status, much ink has been spilled over the years on the pluses - and minuses - of the food and ambiance. Some say it's the ultimate late night dive to cure a hangover (or conversely to tie one on), while others say they have the best breakfast around. One aspect you will constantly read about Benito's is that it's not Tex-Mex, but rather more authentic south of the border fare. Mrs. RJG, born and raised in Sonora, agrees that it certainly feels like a place from the homeland. The food, on the hand, isn't quite as convincing, but it's definitely not Tex-Mex, this she agrees with. This foreshadows our entire experience I'm afraid. They can't all be good right? I don't always publish mediocre or negative reviews, as we don't wish to hurt struggling establishments. But our review won't put a dent in this steel juggernaut, I can assure you of that. Nor do we want to. But I think it's good for you, our readers, to see where we stand on such places of notoriety. On occasion anyway.

Food: The first area of much dispute you will read about Benito's is the topic of chips and salsa. Apparently they resisted serving them at all for many years, and now they do so - but at a price. This doesn't sit well with current diners who are used to them being complimentary, and excellent at that. When they sit you down, they bring pico de gallo to the table - for no apparent reason. Then they ask if you want chips. Regulars know the routine of course, but it's an odd regimen for outsiders. When we first saw the salsa, we thought it would be great. But it barely had any flavor at all. And I fear to say, the entire dining experience could only be described as bland. Not terrible by any means - certainly good enough - but bland never left my mind as we continued through the meal. The pico for its part is good, with a nice spicy kick. So I spent more time dipping the chips (also ordinary - likely from a local distributor) in that bowl rather than the salsa. I ordered a trio of chicken items, and Mrs. RJG went with Huevos Mexicana. My meal came with a complimentary soup, which in reality was a consomme with strips of raw tortilla. And again, no flavor. Then this big plate of goo came out, and here were the results: The Mexican rice was good, nothing special though. The refried beans were excellent, with a nice smoky taste. It was the best part of the meal. You don't want the refried beans to be the best part of the meal. The chicken taco is a waste of time - nothing more than boiled chicken inside of a raw flour tortilla. The chicken enchilada had the same boring chicken smothered with an odd sour cream green and heavy cheese sauce. By the looks of it, I thought it would be flavorful at least. No such luck. The chicken flauta, on the other hand, was much better. Crispy and with a better cut of white meat chicken. My only gripe is they smothered it in sour cream, which I don't personally enjoy (and it wasn't mentioned on the menu as such, which is annoying). So I had to rub that off. Mrs. RJG had the exact same reaction regarding the rice and beans. The eggs were well done per her request, but still a bit oily (in her words). Not bad she said. The corn tortillas were from the bag as well.

Drink: They are known for their frozen margaritas, and it's easy to see why. We ended up with large ones (though had intended on ordering regular). Oh well, had to take one for the team right? Out came this globe of lime green goodness, overflowing the rim. No matter what my reservations on Benito's is, one cannot deny they give you all they can for your money (chips aside). At first I thought the margarita to be too sweet, but ultimately grew to love it. Of course, it helped that they tilted the tequila bottle in the right direction. The margarita on the rocks was met with a similar response from the spousal unit.

Location: In a wonderful standalone building off of the lovely street of restaurants known as Magnolia (Benito's is between Fairmount and 7th Steet - north side). Technically in the Near Southside neighborhood, and across the street from the Fairmount neighborhood. The restaurant itself is brightly decorated with the local flavor of real Mexico. It reminded me of the restaurants on Maple in Dallas when I first started getting into Mexican food in the 1980s.

Notes: Benito's first opened in 1981, and has been gathering local awards ever since.

Rating: 2.5. 'fraid so. Can't go above average on this one, sorry folks. Not sure if you agree or disagree? This is where Mr. and Mrs. RJG stand at the current time (always willing to be convinced otherwise). It seems to me that Benito's is a restaurant of a past era's palate, where spicy food (not necessarily meaning fiery hot either) was still a rarity and not expected. It also appears to be more about quantity over quality.

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Hours: Mon-Thu: 11-9; Fri: 11-2a; Sat: 10-2a; Sun; 10-9

Benito's Restaurante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Bangkok Cuisine ~ Haltom City, Texas

First published July 6, 2008 and updated/rewritten with a recent visit

Food: We've been visiting Bangkok Cuisine since 2004, and it remains one of our favorite Thai restaurants in DFW, along with Sea Siam and Sweet Basil. It's just simply exquisite. The owner, Manit (who is always there), will make it as spicy as you want (actually the chefs are usually his wife or daughter), and all the dishes we've tried here are excellent. They cook with more of a syrupy (but not sweet) texture than most Thai places, so the dishes tend to be sauce heavy. Mrs. RJG and I both don't typically go for that, but Bangkok Cuisine is an exception. It's that good. I have to say that Bangkok Cuisine tastes like no other Thai place I've experienced in the country. It's very unique, and yet another reason why we venture here often. Personally I love their basil chicken, which they custom make for me, and often times cooked with a few Thai chiles added in (super hot). Mrs. RJG likes their chicken with vegetables or their cashew chicken. In addition, their version of chicken satay makes for an excellent appetizer, though we've generally gone straight to the meal in recent years.

Drink: Good news here as it's BYOB, so a great way to save, and enjoy a bottle of your favorite wine (or beer). Manit (or your server) will open the wine bottle and provide chilled wine glasses for you as well! No one does that for you, except those who charge a corkage fee. They also have, of course, sodas, Thai coffees, teas, etc...

Location: In a strip mall, next to the Hoffbrau steakhouse on US 377, not far south from I-820 and just north of Glenview (west side of 377). The setting is very simple, with about 15 tables, and recently repainted in a light blue color. It's a fairly bright place (though the new paint helps with this), with a TV near the kitchen if you're dining alone. It feels like a casual lunch cafeteria, but we almost exclusively go for dinner, and always enjoy the experience. The parking lot is always crowded, but 95% of the people are at the Hoffbrau. And that's a good place too (we've been a few times), but it's a shame more folks don't venture in to Bangkok Cuisine and give it a try. Note that they are closed on Monday.

Notes: The reviews on the wall point to a heritage that goes back to 1986, when they first occupied a place further south on Belknap (US 377), where there there are dozens of restaurants today (primarily Vietnamese). I believe Bangkok Cuisine is the oldest Thai restaurant in Tarrant County, or at least NE Tarrant.

Rating: 5.0 A time tested place that we continue to rave about.

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Bangkok Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fresco's Cocina ~ Watauga, Texas

First published December 27, 2008 and updated with a recent visit

We've been going to Fresco's for many years, and it consistently rates for us among the best of the Mexican restaurants in NE Tarrant.

Food: There are a few things that make Fresco's special, and worth the journey to Watauga. Foremost is their trio of sauces that you can request to supplement the regular salsa that comes out with the chips. Actually, even if you didn't know about the trio, the primary sauce is a medium heat level chipotle concoction that is unique and quite excellent. Amongst the trio, they offer a fiery chile de arbol, a honey jalapeno, and a blazing hot habanero. They added the latter in the last few years, and it replaced their tomato based mild sauce. Apparently everyone liked the hotter alternative. Just like the RJG! And while the chile de arbol made us happy enough, the habanero clinches the deal. This may be the hottest salsa I've ever had at a Mexican restaurant - at least of those that weren't custom designed for me by a sadistic, angry chef. The flavors for everything I tasted later on were flying everywhere - and my senses were alive. As for the chips that we are using to dip into these sauces, I would prefer a more hearty and homemade corn chip. These are of the thin "Chili's" variety, and appear to be bought off the food truck. The sauces are thick (especially the honey jalapeno), and tend to break easily, so I think this would be an easy improvement for them. Another aspect of Fresco's that we both enjoy is the high quality of the enchiladas. Their sauces are uniquely flavored, and aren't run of the mill tasting. And while I have no delusions that each enchilada platter is homemade, I will say that they are exquisitely prepared each time, and they're always ready for the large crowds they seem to get. The fajita meat enchiladas, in particular are quite good, with tender beef and chicken layered on top of the delicious cheese and onion enchilada. The rice and beans are both superb as well, and expertly prepared. And nothing better than that first forkful of hot beans while your mouth is still on fire from the habanero... We've tried many things on the Fresco's menu over the years, and they are all uniformly great, but the enchiladas remain our favorite.

Drink: This used to be their signature line, but they really do have great margaritas. Perhaps a bit sweeter than I typically prefer, but still flavorful and they consistently pack a punch. As I've said many times before, us citizens of DFW are spoiled when it comes to frozen margaritas. Travel anywhere else in the US, and the adult slurpee is almost always a disappointment. We just experienced that disappointment again while in Santa Fe, as you all may have read.

Location: Fresco's sits comfortably on US 377, just south of Starnes, next to the Krispy Kreme. It's a large spacious restaurant, that gets especially crowded on weekend nights. We typically go here for lunch.

Notes: If you didn't know any better, you could be forgiven for thinking Fresco's is a national chain. They have the corporate signage, a rather large restaurant in a prime location, with consistently huge crowds on the weekends. But it's a locally owned small chain (by an industry veteran), and this location is the flagship. They later opened in Burleson, and even more recently in Highland Village. When we first visited Fresco's, sometime after we first moved here in 2003, they were some sort of a hybrid between a quick service restaurant and a full service establishment. To say it was a confusing concept would be an understatement. We never knew what we were supposed to do. Order up front, but they would bring you the food. You were on your own for the chips and salsa, but they got you the drink. In a nutshell, it was a mess. Fortunately they changed their strategy, and we've been regulars ever since! Note that they are closed on Monday.

Rating: 4.5. Consistently outstanding for over 10 years!

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Hours: Mon: CLOSED; Tue - Thu: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm; Fri - Sat: 11:00 am - 10:00 pm; Sun: 11:30 am - 8:30 pm

Fresco's Cocina Mexicana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gloria's ~ Colleyville, Texas

You may recall recently that the RJG's official boss was in town from New Jersey and we went to Trulucks in Uptown. Well that same week my former boss, and now good friend, from Phoenix was also in downtown Dallas (I sense a conference here). He's been in these pages before, but I'll rename him Danny Huston since he's a spitting image of the actor. And my friend and peer The Garland Troublemaker (who is also in a few of these posts) was on hand as well. We decided to meet at the Gloria's in Dallas (on Lemmon near Oak Lawn). I had intended on writing about that experience, when I recalled that we have a Gloria's here in Northeast Tarrant as well. The RJG's Official Mom was wanting to take me out someplace nice for my belated birthday dinner, so I suggested Gloria's. We haven't been to this location since 2006, and quite frankly, I just forgot about it. So off the 3 of us went for a recent dinner....

Food: Gloria's is in reality a Salvadoran restaurant, but serves up Tex-Mex as well, for those who would prefer something a bit more familiar. Veterans of the Maple Avenue/Little Mexico (Dallas) area of the 70s and 80s will recall when Mexican food was still somewhat "cutting edge" for most Americans. There was one restaurant in that area called El Gallo de Oro that pioneered the food of El Salvador. This is the environment Gloria's started with back in 1986 (in Oak Cliff). Today, you would think Gloria's was a corporate creation, rather than one with a humble beginning. I bring this up, because it explains the menu and its backdrop. So while you can get that "same old enchilada", I highly recommend trying something a bit more upscale. I've taken a shine to the Pollo Asado Salvatex, which hedges the bet a little bit I guess. The charbroiled chicken breast is very tender, and wonderfully seasoned and charbroiled. The enchilada (chicken again) allows an opportunity to try their two sauces - the Ranchero and the Tomatillo. Can you tell we just got back from Santa Fe? I think I ordered it Christmas to a confused look... In any case, the Ranchero is a more thick saucy red than the usual thin-and-chunky and is delicious. And the Tomatillo has a tangy rather than tart flavor and is better than most I've had. The rice is very good as are their refried black beans. The Official Mom followed my lead and had the same thing and she lapped up every bite. Mrs. RJG had the salmon which was divine. She claimed it was the best salmon she's ever had. A nice big thick slab of grilled salmon (Salmon Costeno) and it comes with veggies and Gallo Beans - which is a mix of black beans and rice. Going backwards (here I go again) the chips are homemade and flavorful. Each comes with two dipping sauces. One is a traditional tomato and cilantro based red sauce, that has more kick than usual. And they also bring out a black bean dip, which is very similar to the beans that came with our meal. Overall, an excellent dinner for all of us!

Drink: Now this is a frozen margarita! So smooth with plenty of tequila and a great flavor. Were I not driving, I would have had two. Mrs. RJG had a margarita on the rocks, and she was very happy with hers too. The Official Mom had a Shiner Bock, since she can't drink margarita's anymore. They also have wine and a full bar.

Location: Gloria's is in the rather large shopping center on Hwy 26 that houses a movie theater and a Market Street grocery. The restaurant is cool, hip, and elegant. This is a good place for business and special occasions.

Notes: As mentioned in the Food section, Gloria's traces their roots to Oak Cliff in the 1980s. Currently they operate 15 restaurants, primarily in the DFW area, with two in Austin and one in Houston. Our first experience with Gloria's goes back to 2004 and the Addison location, nearby to where the RJG used to office.

Rating: 4.0

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Hours: Sunday & Monday: 11:00am to 9:00pm; Tuesday to Thursday: 11:00am to 10:00pm; Friday & Saturday: 11:00am to 10:30pm

Gloria's Latin Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, September 21, 2015

Freebirds World Burrito ~ XXXXXX

First published September 29, 2013 and updated with a recent visit

The Fort Worth location is closed!! Need to update this entry with another location.

Food:  BIG is a good word to describe Freebirds' burritos. From our experience, Freebirds was the first burrito chain to offer up more than just a flour tortilla. You can choose between spinach, cayenne, flour, or whole wheat.  And they offer a tremendous amount of toppings to get stuffed in those massive tortillas. It's basically Chipotle x10 - which can be a good thing if you want more than just a few items. The rice and beans are delicious (again, they offer more than cilantro lime rice and pinto/black beans), and the chicken & steak have an excellent charbroiled flavor. I also like that they have ground beef, something I always appreciated from Qdoba, since the meat allows for the salsas to penetrate. I love that their signature habanero sauce is on every table. And dousing some of that habanero all over those massive burritos, will result in a truly sublime experience. They sometimes feature different salsas, for example they have a mango chili as I write this. Mrs. RJG speaks favorably of their version of the Burrito Bowl (sans tortilla that is).

Drink: Sodas, bottled drinks, etc... No alcohol

Location: Freebirds is on North Tarrant, a couple of blocks west of US 377, on the south side. It's a spacious restaurant - we remember the days when Freebirds always had a line out the door. They finally have met the demand it seems and is now a comfortable dining experience. The biker theme is prevalent.

Notes: Freebird's growth strategy in Northeast Tarrant has been interesting to watch. They continue to circle around the RJG pasture like vultures awaiting a cow tipping. Our first visit goes back to when the (at the time) College Station based chain first broke into the DFW market with the Greenville Ave. location all the way over in that other galaxy known as Dallas (2003). Then they opened up a store in Addison, just as the RJG was packing up his satellite office in Far North Dallas and heading to Las Colinas (late 2004). Years later, while patiently waiting for them to go through our rusty gates in Northeast Tarrant, they finally made an appearance, but at the far end of the ranch in Alliance. Dutifully I went again. Each location received precisely one visit. And then they opened in Grapevine, then Hurst, and now finally in Ft. Worth just west of US 377. Each location almost precisely 6 feet closer to us than the last. And they're still not close. Close - as in 5 to 10 minute drive and take it back home close. It's just funny. C'mon guys - get it over with and come to Southlake/NRH/Keller would ya? There's not even any competition beyond Chipotle (maybe Costa Vida), and even they aren't less than 10 minutes away. In the meantime, this Fort Worth location is likely to be our home store until then. Freebirds actually has its roots in California, but relocated to College Station when a store manager from Texas A&M bought out the rights.Things have come full circle now, as the chain has gone corporate and is now located in the East Bay region of California. As such, they are rapidly growing. Texas and California remain their base customer areas, but they've expanded to Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Utah since - and no doubt will eventually cover the map.

Rating: 4.0 Consistently excellent!

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Tacusa ~ Fort Worth, Texas

We're always on the lookout for high quality street tacos at the RJG, and the Mrs. is a fan of the Salvadoran favorite papusas, so Tacusa came across our radar for a try. And off west we journeyed.

Food: While the front of the menu clearly portrays a Mexican taqueria, it becomes obvious quickly this is truly an El Salvadoran eatery. All the same, I stuck with street tacos and tried their carne asada, pollo, and al pastor. Priced attractively at $1.25 and listening to a sizzling kitchen, I felt I could do no wrong. Tacusa features a salsa bar with 3 different sauces, an onion/cilantro mix, lettuce, and other items. So we gathered up a sample of each, sat down, and a few minutes later out came my tacos. Well these are kind of dinky, aren't they? Explains the cost. Double corn tortillas, but extremely small, and packed with the meat of my choice. From there you add the onions, etc... The beef was slightly tough (I have to say this is where most taquerias struggle the most), the al pastor had a very nice marinate, and the chicken was delicious with delicious spices. The salsas were somewhat disappointing. Both the molcajete and the verde were thin and runny - and lacked spice. The spicy chile de arbol was by far the best, but even at that, it was a bit mild for the style. Mrs. RJG had two papusas, one with pork and the other shredded chicken. She didn't enjoy the pork much, but said the chicken was very good. She did like the cheese quite a bit, and the corn tortilla was cooked right. They also serve breakfast.

Drink: Mrs. RJG had the horchata, which was creamy, rich, with a nice cinnamon flavor. I sampled a couple of sips. Not something I would drink a lot of, but certainly can appreciate the beverage. They also have homemade lemonade, otherwise it's bottled drinks.

Location: On the northeast corner of Beach and Basswood. This used to house Ted E's Burgers & More that we wrote about many years ago. You order up at the counter, and there's plenty of seating. Comfortable surroundings.

Rating: 3.0. Definitely a good place, but we didn't feel it transcended the genre much. We might give it another try in a couple of years, unless we're convinced to go back sooner.

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Hours: Sunday: 8:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m; Monday-Thursday: 9:00 a.m.-10:00 p.m.; Friday: 9:00 a.m.-Midnight; Saturday: 8:00 a.m.-Midnight

Tacusa Tacos n Pupusas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Chapps Cafe ~ Keller, Texas

First published May 27, 2008 and updated/rewritten with a recent visit

Chapps is another place we probably take for granted. We've been coming here since we first moved to NE Tarrant in early 2003. I suspect they had opened not long before us arriving. In any case, we still love their hamburgers!

Food: We feel that Chapps has the perfect recipe for burgers. Excellent seasoning, on the salty side, with plenty of fresh ingredients as toppings (which you can choose from). I tend to break from the norm, and ask for raw onions over grilled, but otherwise I stick to the usual cheese, lettuce, pickles, and mustard. The fresh baked buns are also quite good. A single cheeseburger is more than enough, and I don't even think they offer a double (believe me, that would be way too much). They have a smaller burger called a Baby Chapps, and naturally Mrs. RJG goes for that, plus the Baby Chapps comes with fries as part of the price (otherwise it's extra). I usually eschew fries in general, and eat a handful from the spouse's plate - and they are hand cut, fried to perfection, and very tasty. They also have very good hot dogs and chicken sandwiches that we've tried in the past. They keep the menu simple, always a plus as far as we're concerned.

Drink: Soft drinks, tea, juice.

Location: You'll find Chapps in a strip center fronting the Keller Town Center, at the southeast corner of Keller Parkway and Rufe Snow (next to the Starbucks and Pizza Hut). The restaurant itself is a throwback to the 1960s diners, with vinyl booths and checkered floors, and is quite pleasant. It's quick service, so order up, grab a drink, take a seat, and they'll bring it out usually in about 5 minutes. You can hear them grilling your burgers!

Notes: Chapps first opened in downtown Arlington in 1984 (back when the RJG was still a college lad!). They currently operate 7 locations, mostly in Tarrant County. Us denizens of the northeast portion can choose between Keller and NRH. The Keller locale is more convenient for the RJG.

Rating: 4.0. As noted, we've been coming here now for almost 13 years, and it has yet to let us down. Easy recommendation.

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Hours: 11a - 9p Daily

Chapps Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Jet's Pizza ~ North Richland Hills, Texas


First published February 20, 2013 and updated with a recent visit

Well it's football season again (hooray!). After returning from Santa Fe last week, what better way to relax than to spend a lazy afternoon watching NFL Red Zone, and enjoying a Jet's Pizza!

Food: We love their Jet Boats, which is basically an inverted pizza. Not a calzone, only in that they use mozzarella rather than ricotta cheese, which is more preferable for our tastes anyway. You get two of those bad boys with every order, and one alone makes a full meal. And their meatballs are fantastic (which are made in Detroit and flown in - inquire first as they don't always have them in stock). But so are all the other ingredients, and I absolutely love the sweet tomato sauce they use. And the outer bread is garlic and parmesan encrusted, and is baked to perfection. Jet's is the latest to utilize the "conveyor belt" style of baking a pizza - similar to how Schlotzsky's and Quizno's toast their sandwiches (except the oven is much larger of course). We also really enjoy their thin crust, which remains crispy even after taking it home. As stated above, the key ingredient to Jet's pizza is their tasty sauce, which is slightly sweet, and penetrates the flavor no matter what the topping. As well, while the Mrs. was out, I had the deep dish (not her favorite style), and was impressed that the pizza was more about the toppings and less about the doughy crust. That's the secret to a high quality Chicago styled pizza. Seems many lose focus on that point. They also have wings and subs which we have yet to try.

Drink: Whatever libation you have at home. They do sell liter bottles of soft drinks if needed.

Location: On Davis between Precinct Line and North Tarrant Parkway, on the west side inside of a newish strip mall (across Davis from the Super Target and Super Wal-Mart basically). There's an enormous amount of construction going up in the area, but when they opened a few years ago, it was a relatively isolated strip center. It's a take-out only spot, and of course they deliver, but we always pick it up to ensure we obtain the pizza as hot as possible. It's pretty close to our graze land.

Notes: If you want to start a burrito chain, then you might consider beginning in Denver. And if you want to launch a new pizza chain, may I perhaps suggest you do so in Detroit? Both Dominos and Little Caesar's trace their roots to the Motor City. And now they have a third major player: Jet's Pizza. Their first expansion into the DFW area was the location on North Tarrant in far North Fort Worth, and that was our first exposure as well. Since that time, they've exploded in the area, with at least 8 DFW locations if not more.

Rating: 4.0 (well, it's true, we like to eat Jet's pizza often - primarily during football season)

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Jet's Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Second Street Brewery ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

And we have arrived at our final destination for our 2015 week long visit to Santa Fe, which as I write this, was over a week ago itself. This is our third trip to Second Street in as many years, and it appears I may have ordered the wrong thing this time, but we're still bullish on the brewpub.

Food: On our first visit back in 2013, Mrs. RJG and I just stopped by to try one of their handcrafted beers before dining elsewhere. While there, we noticed they had a special on green chile chicken noodle soup. I can honestly say it was the best chicken noodle soup we've ever had! And very spicy! It's too bad it's not a menu item. They offer a similar green chile chicken stew, but it's a bit different (still very good though). In any case, we vowed to come back for a full meal on our next visit to Santa Fe (we were wrapping up our trip at that point). In 2014, we decided to have a mid-week lunch here. I tried their grinder, which was outstanding. And I want to say they had the chicken noodle soup again, which I had along with the sandwich. Their version of the classic grinder, is very much like an "Italian sub" or "hero". I remember loving the bread and the seasonings, and of course you can't go wrong with mortadella and capicola. And the homemade potato chips were excellent as well. So it was with much anticipation that we returned for our final meal in Santa Fe for 2015. This time we ventured for dinner. It occurred to me that we had yet to try their New Mexican food, beyond the soup. So along with the green chile stew (as mentioned above), I tried their New Mexican Style enchiladas. Ummm.... yea, this isn't Casa Chimayo or La Choza that's for sure. They were OK, and the red/green chiles were decent recipes, but to be brutally honest, this isn't Second Street's forte. I suspect they have it on the menu out of obligation more than passion. I think pub fare is where their heart is. The whole black beans were good, but the rice was a BIG MISS. They weren't cooked - like waaaay undercooked. Crunchy and down right annoying as I kept eating it by accident since it was sprinkled into my chile sauce. We were fortunate (or unfortunate depending on one's perspective) to be seated at a table next to the kitchen. And the wife and I noticed that about 75% of the dishes coming out of the kitchen were Fish and Chips. Big blobs of brown food. And we were salivating just looking at it. I'm sure each meal comes with a co-pay card to the nearest clinic, but you only live once, and you might as well go down happy. Mrs. RJG for her part, was wise and stuck more to traditional brewpub offerings. She had the Patty Melt made with buffalo meat. She let me have a couple of bites, and I have to say it was absolutely delicious. And the fries were great as expected. This is exactly what Second Street is good at. I really love this place, so now I know better on what to get. Rule: Avoid New Mexican food at Second Street. Get Pub food instead.

Drink: Like we said about Blue Corn, I'm sure they have other things to drink, but unless you are alcohol intolerant or the designated driver, one really should sample their crafted beers. We've tried about 5 each now over the last 3 years, and every one of them was delicious. This time we stuck to the APA/IPA tradition, as that was their specials brews at this time.

Location: No prizes for guessing they are on Second Street. The restaurant comes up suddenly, but you'll know you're there once you hit the railroad crossing. In the grand tradition of Santa Fe restaurants, parking is limited. Basically the street east of the railroad, and the dirt road along the rail tracks are your next option. Don't be fooled by the lot across the street, which says in somewhat small letters "Parking for Second Street Studios only". Keyword: Studios. We made that mistake, fortunately realizing it prior to leaving the lot, and getting towed away no doubt. The restaurant itself is very spacious, and gets crowded in the evening. It's very popular. Also worth noting is that on the evening we were there, they had live music, which featured a very fine jazz trio and was perfect for the setting.

Notes: Second Street first opened in 1996. Second Street has another location at the Railyard/train depot, which isn't far from here, and I suspect represents an overflow option.

Rating: 4.0 (I ordered the wrong thing. I have faith this is a place we'd go often to)

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Hours: HOURS: MON - THUR 11AM-10PM; FRI & SAT 11AM-11PM; SUN NOON-9PM

Second Street Brewery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shake Foundation ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

If you spend enough time in Santa Fe, you'll learn that another local favorite meal is a green chile cheeseburger. Shake Foundation has a good rep in town, and it was lunch, so let's check it out!

Food: It's burgers and fries, and all made with strictly fresh ingredients. They also have burgers beyond the usual beef, including lamb, turkey, and portobello mushroom.We each went with the traditional "Junior Foundation" which is a simple cheeseburger (and good size for lunch) and jack cheese with... green chile. The chile is added similar to a condiment, so it's not overly sloppy. The buns are buttered (a Midwest tradition) and lightly toasted which is another differentiator. Just a superb tasting burger, and the chile is very hot (spicier than the norm for Santa Fe). Which works for the RJG! And that spiciness continues to penetrate, and thus opens up the flavor of the burger that much more. Also, special mention goes to the fries, which are of the super thin shoestring variety, crispy, and delicious.

Drink: Given the name, it should come as no surprise that handmade shakes are also a specialty here. Mrs. RJG and I were very tempted to share one, but since it was near the end of our trip, and we were not feeling svelte by this point (witness the prior reviews), we decided to pass. Next time we will most certainly indulge. The reviews are very positive, and their shakes have a variety of flavors.

Location: On Cerrillos between Guadalupe and Paseo del Peralta (east side of the road). Apparently this location housed a gas station for many years. As such the lot is large, with plenty of parking (finally!). Order up at the window and sit on any of the picnic tables, under the big trees. Very pleasant outdoor dining.

Notes: The owner/chef of Shake Foundation has a long history in Santa Fe. Like our own Tim Love, he wanted to create a high quality alternative to what is usually considered "fast food". Shake Foundation opened in January 2014.

Rating: 4.0 (only one visit so far. We have high hopes for repeatability)

Website (with menu)

Facebook (unofficial)

Hours: MONDAY-THURSDAY 11-7; FRIDAY AND SATURDAY 11-8; SUNDAY 11-6

Shake Foundation Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, September 18, 2015

Casa Chimayo ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

OK, time for another new-to-us restaurant. Casa Chimayo has a solid reputation in dining circles and we were ready for some more New Mexican food. Did it live up to the "hype" as they say? Oh yes, and even more so! We'll be back.

Food: Casa Chimayo's fare is solidly in the New Mexican camp. Perhaps a bit more upscale than the usual New Mexican breakfast/lunch hybrid house. Casa Chimayo offers complimentary chips and salsa, which isn't always a given in New Mexico. The chips were very thick and crisp, clearly homemade, and taste fantastic on their own. The salsa is a thick and smooth red, with garlic and chiles, and very satisfying. For entrees, we both settled in on the Blue Corn Enchiladas, which they proudly state were featured on Fiori's DDD. We weren't feeling diverse this evening, so we both went with the chicken and Christmas chile and it comes with whole beans and rice. WINNER! Without a doubt, Casa Chimayo holds its own against the formidable local competition. Both the green and the red were excellent, and definitely a bit spicier than the norm in Santa Fe (though not like Horseman's Haven by any stretch). I use the word "velvety" often when describing the red chile, and I struggle to find another adjective, and so once again I'll use it here. The beans and rice came out piping hot and were delicious in their own right. Oh, and they even served us a couple of their famous bizcochitos (cookies) for dessert. They were excellent too.

Drink: Nice selection of beer, wine, and margaritas. We had the latter, which were tasty, though perhaps a bit more tequila would have been nice. I regretted not trying a glass of the New Mexican Chardonnay they had on the menu.

Location: Yet another restaurant in the artsy district on North Guadalupe. And once again, parking is a challenge. There are two pay lots surrounding the restaurant, and metered parking was a breeze on this one mid-week evening. And it would have been free, if we had arrived after 6, but we went earlier per our custom. The restaurant itself is very pleasant, as if eating at someone's spacious villa. Plenty of both outdoor and indoor seating. We were surprised to see the restaurant nearly empty for the course of our dinner. Folks, if you don't feel like standing in line at one of the more established restaurants, can I recommend a quick pop over here? One other point I'd like to make. We don't usually fuss about service, bad or good. That can change with a single visit. But I have to say everyone from the bus boys to the hostess to the servers were incredibly friendly. That points more to quality management. And friendly service is not always a given in Santa Fe, where often times the staff seems more bothered than pleased to see you. So kudos go to Casa Chimayo! Oh, and one other thing. We loved the background music of Spanish guitar as well. How many restaurants fail on this front? Soothing and sophisticated is how you'll feel while dining here.

Notes: The name of the restaurant comes from the name of the small town north of Santa Fe, and halfway to Taos. This is where the family originates from. I believe the restaurant first opened in 2011.

Rating: 4.0 (I expect this to go higher on repeat visits)

Website

Menu (Dinner)

Facebook

Hours: Lunch: Monday, Wednesday - Saturday, 11:00am - 2:00pm, closed Tues.
Dinner: Served Daily: 5:00pm - 9:00pm
Sunday Brunch: 10:00am - 3:00pm

Casa ChimayĆ³ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Pantry ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

We've driven many times past The Pantry as we go up and down Cerrillos, and it is a rare time of the day when there isn't a line around the building. The Pantry is one of the big names for breakfast and lunch in Santa Fe (they also serve dinner until 8:30). It's time for the RJG to venture in. We took a chance on a mid-week brunch hour of 10:30 and got seated immediately. Woohoo! Planning wins again.

Food: Traditional American and New Mexican breakfast is the primary draw at The Pantry. They also have a full menu of burgers, sandwiches, Mexican entrees, and comfort foods. There was no question at all what the RJG was going to have: A smothered breakfast burrito with Christmas chile. And it comes with "pantry fries" (potatoes in the vernacular). Out comes this wonderful and large skillet, with a steaming fat burrito and incredible looking cheese and chile staring me in the face. I always start with the green chile side first (rarely do I mix the two). First bite into the fluffy egg burrito ...oh... mmmm... wow.... next bite... oh....mmmm...wow. Yes, the lines out the door do indeed signify there is "a somethin' a happenin' here" For as great as the green chile was, I even enjoyed the red more. Certainly in the same league as La Choza on that front. I also devoured the potatoes as they helped me ensure not a drop of chile was left on the plate. Mrs. RJG beelined in on the Chile Relleno Omelette. I heard similar sounds of happiness on her side of the table. By the time I looked up her plate was as clean as mine. Yes, the RJG household is actually made up of two vultures in human clothes... Doubt I need to state the obvious about coming back here again, etc....

Drink: No alcohol. Diner styled drinks, with coffee well in the lead position.

Location: On Cerrillos northeast of St. Michaels. And they actually have a parking lot! Wow, what a concept. The restaurant is very much an old school diner, with stool seating and a dining room. Places like this (the atmosphere, not the food) were dime a dozen 40 years ago, but rare to find anymore. As indicated above, The Pantry is "known" and as such, coming here for Sunday brunch will have the same result as waiting to buy tickets to a Madonna concert. Plan wisely or prepare to starve for a bit.

Notes: This is worth pasting in from their website: "The Pantry was founded in 1948 by George Myers, he set the standard of quality and excellence that has been associated with the Pantry for over sixty years now. With such storied roots in Santa Fe, it is impossible to say how many business deals, political decisions, and relationships have been started in the dining rooms at the Pantry. Since its inception there have been seven different owner operators or stewards of the Pantry, who have nurtured it and brought it to where it is today, including its current owner the Singley Family who plans to continue the Pantry tradition for many years to come." Love the reference to politics, business, and relationships. These type of eating establishments are the centerpiece to a society.

Rating: 4.0 (I suspect this will go up on repeat visits)

Website

Menu

Facebook

Hours: Monday thru Saturday: 6:30am - 8:30pm; Sunday: 7:00am - 8:30pm

Pantry Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Cowgirl BBQ ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

Here's another new restaurant for the RJG. And our first experience was a thumbs up!

Food: Though BBQ is in the name, barbeque is only one portion of their rather large menu. They also have steaks, burgers, seafood, and yes, New Mexican cuisine. We went here to add a bit of diversity to our diet, and so I settled on the Pulled Pork BBQ sandwich. Apparently the smothered in Salsa Diablo was featured on the "Heat Seekers" show. They brought mine on the side, and it's definitely a sizzling red chile blend. But nothing overwhelming. In fact we thought it was quite tasty, and I dipped my wonderfully cooked fries into it throughout the meal. Couldn't really tell you if the Pulled Pork was any good on its own, because it was completely drenched in the chipotle barbeque sauce - just as advertised. The brioche bun is perfect for handling the moist sandwich, and managed to stay firm. Overall, an excellent barbeque sandwich. Mrs. RJG, despite the premise of why we were there, ended up ordering the chile relleno with the Christmas chile. She reports that the cheese was fantastic (asadero she suspects), and both the red and green had splendid flavors and a nice kick. Our first meal here was clearly a success!

Drink: We were there before 6, and took advantage of the excellent Happy Hour specials, and each ordered two margaritas. They were small, but flavorful, with a nice punch (not overly - to be expected though). They also have 24 taps, with a nice selection of craft beers, though surprisingly a bit light in the New Mexico department. Which was the primary reason I indulged in margaritas instead.

Location: Very close to Fire & Hops that we just reported on. On Guadalupe, except south of Alameda this time. And once again, parking is a challenge. We found street parking with meters. Since we were there before 6, the cost was only about 50 cents. So bring a little change with you if you go early, otherwise it's free after 6. The restaurant itself is pretty spacious with a large courtyard for those who like to dine outdoors. The interior is decorated with Cowgirl memorabilia (vintage posters, signed autographs, that sort of thing). It's really quite cool. Oh, and they have live music (country/roots/folk/bluegrass, etc...) every night usually starting at 8/8:30.

Notes: You may be surprised to find out that the Cowgirl BBQ heritage comes from New York City ("get a rope"). It was a purposeful concept restaurant, but working closely with the Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Hereford, Texas. They opened the flagship restaurant in 1989 (or 1988 depending on which website you wish to believe) in the West Village and it's still active.  It was approximately 5 years later that one of the partners decided to open up in the "real west", and they've been in Santa Fe ever since.

Rating: 4.0 (only one visit, so it's tentative)

Website

Menus

Facebook

Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:30 am – 11:30 pm; Friday-Saturday 11:30 am – 12:30 am; Sunday 11:00 am – 11:00 pm

Cowgirl BBQ Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, September 10, 2015

La Choza ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

Unlike the other restaurants we've reported on so far in Santa Fe, La Choza is consistently rated as one of the top dining spots in the area, and is very well known. Is it tourist hype and group think? Not at all. In fact, the RJG is close to rating La Choza as our favorite restaurant in Santa Fe as well. We've only been 4 times in a three year period, but we're almost at the point of awarding it 5 stars.

Food: La Choza has to be considered one of the gold standards for New Mexican cooking. We've smothered a few items in their famous chile's, and never have we left without huge smiles of happiness. In general, regarding the chile, I've stuck with the Christmas standard. Their green is slightly spicy and I would consider it good to very good in flavor. Their red chile is quite simply the best I've ever had - and one of the best food items I've ever had. It's so velvety in texture with flavors that continue to explode as time goes on. It's not particularly spicy either (though hotter than the green on average - it's seasonal). Remember my comment on the Horseman's Haven review about "It's not about the heat, it's about the flavor"? I think they can't get La Choza out of their head. And, yea, I can understand that too. Chips and salsa are an extra purchase, which we've done in the past (recall being excellent but too long ago), but eschewed this time around. All meals come with a sopaipilla (or garlic bread or a tortilla - c'mon get the sopaipilla), that they deliver steaming hot at the end of the meal. I darn near burned my face opening it up this time! Can't really recommend anything beyond this: You must order something that is buried in the red chile. I'm salivating as I write this.

Drink: Tequila, margaritas, wine, and even craft beer on tap. Like a total dope, I ordered the frozen margarita. When will I ever learn that no one does frozen margs better than what we have in Texas? Of course, it was watered down. My fault. I knew better. Mrs. RJG, on the other hand, being the smart one in the marriage, ordered a house margarita on the rocks. I had one sip and was envious all night. Delicious, and plenty of tequila in there too!

Location: As mentioned at the top, La Choza's reputation is well earned, is featured in every magazine imaginable, and as such, it fills up quickly. Reservations are recommended, or you can do what the RJG does and show up not long after opening (we always go for dinner). As well, it seems that all great New Mexican restaurants in Santa Fe come with difficult-at-first parking. The restaurant is hidden behind the Santa Fe Railyard at the mobbed intersection of St. Francis and Cerrillos. Get your trusty Google Map App out, and wind your way to the back roads. There is a parking lot behind the restaurant and through the fenced area. Like the restaurant, it fills up quick.  If you go early, easy breezy. Otherwise, it's street parking. The restaurant itself is the old headquarters of a former ranch. It has many rooms, and outside seating as well. And a bar area, which you can dine in as well. Very comfortable surroundings.

Notes: La Choza opened in 1983, and has been gathering awards ever since.

Rating: 4.5 (ready to christen it a 5 soon!)

Website

Menus

Facebook

Hours: Mon-Sat: 11:00 - 2:30 & dinner 5:00 - 9:00; Closed Sunday

La Choza Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

New York Deli Southside ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

One doesn't normally associate Jewish deli's with Santa Fe, New Mexico, and yet the New York Deli is one of the finest the RJG has been to outside of New York City itself. This is our 3rd year in a row to go, and sometimes we visit twice on the same trip. Especially since it's right around the corner from our chosen hotel (the Doubletree - which we highly recommend primarily because they have balconies to enjoy the beautiful cool weather. And maybe with a beer or three...)

Food: New York Deli is an old fashioned Jewish delicatessen, with a strong Italian slant. Well that just about covers the Mob of the 1940's eh? Whether it's fat kosher deli meat sandwiches, Italian hot subs, or a traditional breakfast with the best homemade bagels you've ever had, New York Deli is the elixir to the New Mexican food hangover. And since we overindulge on the local cuisine, we welcome the diversion. As I presume the locals do as well. Their portions are hearty, at a fair price. and very good. The hot pastrami on NY Rye with brown mustard and a kosher pickle is the best I've had outside the 5 boroughs. Mrs. RJG loves their omelettes, and is always one of the highlights of her trip. This is a place where you schmear your butter on your bagel!

Drink: You have to ask? What? You don't know?

Location: This particular New York Deli is in a strip center on the NE corner of Rodeo and Cerrillos - across the same parking lot as the Blue Corn that we covered recently. The interior is bright and cheerful. And how refreshing to hear the quaint instrumental muzak tones of the 1960s. Everything here is a throwback. How we tire of pop music in a restaurant!

Notes: Though the sign says "since 1931", that refers to their heritage in New York City and Long Island. They also once had a Bagelmania in Florida in the 1970s. Ultimately they ended up in Santa Fe in the early 90s. The New York Deli Upper East Side is the other location and apparently was a Baglemania originally.

Rating: 4.0

Website

Menus

Facebook

Hours: 7a - 3p daily

New York Deli Southside Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Fire & Hops ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

Each time we visit Santa Fe, we like to try a few new places (for us) as well as our favorites. This was the first one on this particular visit. And the conclusion? We will be back again next time!

Food: Fire & Hops is a classic Craft Tavern (fka Gastropub), with focus on locally grown ingredients, small and large plates, and of course, craft beer. Seems as if these places were designed specifically with the RJG in mind! The definition of "small plate" wildly varies from place to place. In San Francisco, it means a small appetizer, whereas at Fire & Hops it means a full meal. And a large plate means we couldn't finish it. And what was my massive dinner? A Cubano sandwich. It was giant! I was expected a regular size sandwich with a handful of homemade potatoes. Well I got a bushel full of those as well. And they were delicious! The sandwich was almost perfect, especially the bread, but the pork was unfortunately a bit tough for a sandwich, and I ultimately pulled it out and cut it with a knife. But the flavor was fantastic. Mrs. RJG went with the Ground Burger, which received a huge thumbs up and the hand cut fries were out of this world. She did comment "I'm eating and drinking like a guy" as we both waddled out. Somehow I sense we're dining on salad all next week... There are many other mouth watering items on the menu that we're hoping to try in the future.

Drink: New Mexico doesn't have the most robust craft beer culture, but it's rise has been slow and steady. As such, many of their beers are brought in from Colorado and California. But we were defiantly going all New Mexico, and I had my first beers from a brewery in Albuquerque called Bosque Brewing. Both the Scaletipper IPA and the Riverbank Brown were superb for their respective styles. In addition to beer, Fire & Hops has a fine selection of wines and ciders.

Location: Fire & Hops is in a trendy area of central Santa Fe on Guadalupe, north of Alameda and south of Paseo del Peralta. Not far from the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. As usual with places such as this, finding parking is a pain in the butt. Just drive around until you find something that isn't prohibited. The earlier you go, the better your chances. The restaurant itself is in an old house and is very comfy and charming. Patio seating is also available.

Notes: More about Fire and Hops can be found here on their website.

Rating: 4.0. We've only been once, so this is as high as we can go. As well, we have no idea how consistent it is.

Website

Menu

Facebook

Hours: Monday through Friday: 5pm - 11pm; Saturday and Sunday: 2pm - 11pm

Fire & Hops Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Horseman's Haven Cafe ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

We first visited Horseman's Haven Cafe back in 2006, as we were on the lookout for the spiciest chile in town. And we found it. We've been regular visitors ever since. And this trip was no exception.

Food: One aspect of New Mexican cuisine you will discover if spending much time in Santa Fe, is an almost apologetic approach to spicy chile heat. You cannot read more than one page of any local restaurant guide without running into the familiar words "it's not about the heat, it's about the flavor". And while the RJG wholeheartedly agrees with that sentiment, what if we really do want the heat and the flavor? Answer: Horseman's Haven. This unassuming diner on the way out of town was once a local secret. Today it's found its way onto one of the many food TV shows that proliferate. And yet you would never know that by walking in. It still seems a secret, even with the notoriety. The menu is a mix of breakfast and lunch/dinner entrees. The recipes have more of a Mexican slant than what is normally associated with del norte cuisine. And whatever you decide to get, you will want to smother it in green chile. If you do not have any heat tolerance, my recommendation would be to steer clear of this place. If you crave spice, this is your nirvana. The waitstaff will not warn you. They presume you know what you're doing. Even the basic green is very - very - hot. And honestly, its just about perfect, and the flavors do peak nicely. They also have what is called a "Level 2". That's it. No other explanation is offered. If you ask about it, you will learn it is their "very spicy" green chile - and at that point receive a warning about it. We did try it on our first visit. Whoa. I was defeated. According to our waiter that day, they actually go up as high as Level 5 (?!?!). Not sure how that is even possible. In any event, the green chile is Horseman's Haven Cafe's raison d'etre. Nothing else of distinction I can offer. Whether it's eggs, or a chicken burrito, everything is good here - and made better with the green chile smothering it.

Drink: No alcohol. Strictly diner offerings. They also state no free refills on sodas. But then again the glass they give you is huge, so hard to imagine needing another. We always get water. As a reminder, when eating hot food, don't try to quell the heat with water or soda. That only makes it worse. Get a milk instead. We just tough it out ourselves, and lightly sip on water.

Location: As mentioned above, Horseman's Haven is an unassuming spot far south of town on Cerrillos, and shares a parking lot with a gas station (Giant). You can expect a large crowd for a Sunday breakfast, but otherwise, the restaurant is usually semi-full and comfortable. It's a classic western diner, with dark woods and counter seating if preferred.

Notes: Here's a much better review than mine. Somehow I ran into it immediately after he published it, and added a comment as well (apparently Texans are wimpy now. I beg to differ...). Horseman's Haven opened in 1981 and is still run by the original owners.

Rating: 4.5

Facebook (unofficial)

Hours: Mon-Sat: 8a-8p; Sun: 8a-2p

Horseman's Haven Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Pho Kim ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

As much as we'd like to eat New Mexican food the entire time we're in Santa Fe, sometimes we need a break. And for something relatively light and tasty, we've added Pho Kim to our regular routine of restaurants. This is our 3rd visit in the row, and we always leave happy.

Food: No surprises here, but Pho Kim features Vietnamese cuisine. In general, we've gravitated to their famous soups, and I generally like the meat ball and Mrs. RJG enjoys the chicken. The broth and noodles are cooked to perfection, and the side jalapeno slices are extra hot. While most Vietnamese restaurants provide an admirable pho, we do think Pho Kim is a cut above the rest. However, on this visit, I decided to venture into their chicken and rice dish, which used to be my staple, having been spoiled by the all-time great Kim Ba in Denver. And I'm glad I did, as this was a unique slant on a traditional dish. At least to me it was - as I've not encountered the type of marinate applied. When I first saw it, I could swear it was pork, as it had the familiar purple and red "flank" styled marinate. But no, it was definitely chicken, and very tender. And tasty. And each bite got better and better, as I continued to douse my rice with the Sriracha, while the flavors were bouncing wildly on my tongue. In conclusion, Pho Kim continues to move up as one of the better Vietnamese places we've had in the country.

Drink: No alcohol. Usual assortment of common drinks and Vietnamese fruit laced specialties. As tempting as the iced coffee was, we stuck with water (beer drinking session was ahead!).

Location: On West Alameda, west of St. Francis (US 84). On the north side of the street. As you can see from the fine photo I stole above, they have a unique store front in an otherwise drab strip mall. Inside it's brightly lit, with some attempts at mood spotlights. It's better than the usual convenience store lighting most Vietnamese places have, but not by much. It's a full service restaurant, so just find a seat when you arrive.

Notes: Pho Kim is one of many Vietnamese restaurants that seem to enjoy a sophomoric play on words (though admittedly hilarious). Once you realize that Pho is not pronounced "foe" but rather "fu", then you're in on the joke (read it again more quickly). Keller's own Pho King Way pulled a similar stunt, before ultimately closing down a few years ago.

Rating: 4.0

Facebook  (Unofficial page)

Hours: 11-9 Mon-Sat; 11-8 Sun (only to-go orders if you show up last minute - they advise on the door)

Pho Kim Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery ~ Santa Fe, New Mexico

We first went to the Blue Corn Cafe in downtown Santa Fe in 1997 (not long after they first opened), only about 6 months after Mrs. RJG and I were first married. And we've been regular visitors ever since. Regular in the sense of when we visit Santa Fe of course. Though in recent years we moved to the south location off of Cerrillos near the Santa Fe Place Mall. It remains one of our favorite places to eat when we go to Santa Fe, which lately has been an annual event (but that's not always been the case).

Food: Blue Corn is at first a New Mexican restaurant, followed by traditional brewpub fare (burgers, sandwiches) and Mexican (fajitas, etc...). Of course, we come for the New Mexican food, and while Blue Corn's reputation isn't the highest in Santa Fe (regarding their food that is), we've always thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, it's one of the RJG's favorite restaurants ever. From 1997 to 2014, I dutifully ordered the Carne Adovada, which was heavily marinated in a wonderfully seasoned and spicy red chile sauce, with tender cubes of pork. This came with rice and beans and was one of my all-time favorite dishes. In fact, Blue Corn gets credit for introducing the wonderful dish to the RJG all those years ago. But the knuckleheads took it off the menu! I guess the chef (new? not sure) swears it tastes better as a shank (bone-in) with potatoes, etc... No it doesn't! LOL. OK, I didn't try it, because that's not what I wanted. So maybe this was the excuse I needed to try other items on the menu (though I have had the Blue Corn ground beef tacos and they are excellent as well). Anyway - guys put Carne Adovada on the menu again. And don't argue with me! So what did I try this time? Ah yes, the RJG staple of the smothered burrito. And of course, it had to be Christmas (red and green chile). The chile for both was more spicy than most (a plus), and the red was velvety in texture. I was very pleased. On the flip, the chicken is shredded and lacks distinction. I'm not a fan of refried beans in burritos, and my request for whole beans was denied. As predicted, it was too gooey, and the tortilla was too heavy for the dish. So I had to leave some of the mush behind, but not a drop of chile! So I can't recommend this dish - and of course the next time we come back they'll have the Carne Adovada back, so it won't matter right? RIGHT? Mrs. RJG went fancy with the "Blue Corn Crusted Wild Alaskan Salmon" which she devoured with much happiness. I tried a bite, and it was indeed excellent. For starters (I like to work backwards apparently) we ordered the chips and salsa. For Texans, ordering chips and salsa can be an offensive topic altogether, but it's more common in New Mexico. But doggone if we didn't get our money's worth! These are some of the best chips I've ever had. Homemade blue and yellow corn chips, that I could eat all day without any salsa. But the fresh roasted chile salsa is also quite good, thickly textured and heavily spiced (garlic being one obvious ingredient - similar to Del's that we just wrote about).

Drink: I think they have other things to drink, but why anyone would come here and not at least try their handcrafted beers is anyone's guess (or at least try the homemade root beer if not wanting alcohol). Like most brewpubs, crowd-sourced web sites like Ratebeer have little good to say about their beers, but honestly that's the downside of "group think". It also shows a weakness in rating systems when dealing with the general public who do not necessarily have the same standards as others. Whatever the case, over the course of 18 years that we've been going here, I've tried all their year-round beers, and many of the seasonals. They seem to get only better, and I've always thought their beer to be great. On this visit, I went with the HALT! Bier, which is their version of an Alt, a German style not often seen. I find it very refreshing myself and exceptionally tasty. And of course I had to try their new IPA - Alpha Reaper 2.0, which follows the trend of more grapefruit tasting IPA's. Mrs. RJG had the same beers (in reverse order) and loved them both as well.

Location: You'll find Blue Corn right across the street from the Santa Fe Place Mall, on the NE corner of Cerrillos and Rodeo. It's a spacious building with a full bar that gets quite raucous during football season. A very comfortable place to eat and drink.

Notes: There are two Blue Corn locations. The other is downtown in the Plaza area, and where we visited originally.

Rating: 5.0 (they get to keep the 5 contingent on them returning the Carne Adovada dish....)

Website

Menu

Facebook

Hours: 11a - 10p everyday

Blue Corn Cafe & Brewery Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Del's Restaurant ~ Tucumcari, New Mexico

Del's has become our go-to dinner stop when on the drive from DFW to Santa Fe. This is our 3rd year in a row to visit, and it never disappoints. Well worth stopping in town if you're on I-40 and hungry. There's not much else around between Albuquerque and Amarillo, other than Tucumcari (or Santa Rosa), so it's a wise move to go into town and try them out! Word on the street says the Santa Rosa restaurants aren't up to snuff, though we haven't tried them (yet).

Food: Del's menu is a mix of roadside Americana (chicken, fish, steak) and New Mexican specialties. Given that the primary purpose for us being in New Mexico in the first place is to eat the local cuisine, we haven't ventured beyond the native offerings. It would be tempting to declare there's no way a place such as Del's can compete with Santa Fe's finest (which we will cover shortly on the RJG), but that's not really the case at all. When talking New Mexican food, chile is going to be an early topic of discussion, and I can honestly say I really enjoy both their red and green. As always while in New Mexico, we order our dishes "Christmas" (which is an official state designation for serving chile BTW), and this way we can try them both. If looking for recommendations, I've really taken to their Chicken Crispitos, which are in effect, flautas on steroids. And the chicken is charbroiled and very flavorful on their own. Mrs. RJG stays traditional with rolled enchiladas. The Spanish rice is superb, and the whole beans are truly sublime. The dishes arrive flaming hot, so each bite accentuates the spice already in your mouth from the... wonderful chips and salsa. Actually the salsa isn't so much spicy as it is flavorful. It's very tomato-y, with lots of garlic and cut up green chiles.  While we haven't tried their American offerings, it appears folks rave about their burgers and steaks. And they even have a salad bar, another relic from the past.

Drinks: Beer and wine only. Their house wine is an excellent buy. A $6 globe like glass filled close to the top, that is far more than the usual chintzy glass you get elsewhere. It may not be the finest wine in the land, but after a long day of driving, a cold Chardonnay hits the spot quite nicely. And no need to order more than one.

Location: Del's can be found along the old US 66 strip that rides along Tucumcari, a town that time has forgot (and subsequently has seen a major drop in population since 1950). These roads are always interesting as some of the old motels still thrive while others have gone to seed. The towns exploits the "Mother Road" as much as possible, and who can blame them? The restaurant itself seems a hodgepodge of various construction eras, but is quite nice overall. And, of course, it has a gift shop. I mean where else can you buy Route 66 gear? :-P

Notes: Del's first opened in 1956, and has been more or less in the hands of two families ever since.

Rating: 4.0 (Won't appear in the Labels section since its outside of DFW)

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Hours: Mon-Sat 11:00a - 9:00p; Closed Sunday

Del's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, September 7, 2015

Memo's Tacos ~ Roanoke, Texas

Mrs. RJG and I are always on the lookout for good street tacos, and we thought it would be a good time to try Memo's up in Roanoke, as we were on our way out of town (more on that soon!).

Food: The sign says "Authentic Mexican Food", and that's what you get here. You see places like this more in the barrios than in the suburbs, though that trend is fortunately changing. While they have a full menu of Mexican staples (tortas, gorditas, quesadillas, burritos, breakfast items, etc...), we went right for the street tacos ($1.99 each). And, as if to prove we've been married 18 years, we each ordered the same thing: (1) pollo asado, (1) carne asada, and (1) al pastor. So we have the same test dishes it appears. Immediately after ordering, out came some homemade chips and two squirt bottles of hot sauce. That's a nice touch, and not always something you can count on from taqueria's (unlike a restaurant where it is expected). The chips were excellent, with a good flavor, and they provide two bowls to squeeze the salsas into. The red is pretty thin, ideal for splashing into tacos, but not so much for staying on the chips. The flavor is awesome, packs a punch, and we think it's a chile de arbol. The green is thicker and more ideal for chips, but is also excellent for tacos. Great flavor and also contains some heat, so no mild options it appears (not that we care about that...). The tacos came out so hot (temperature) I couldn't hold them in my hands (that's a good thing). The double layered corn tortillas were superb, with an oil glaze. Our favorite was the chicken, which is wonderfully charbroiled. The al pastor comes in second, and had hints of pineapple, which is not as common as you would think. The steak was very good, though not as charbroiled or as tender as we usually like. We'll probably substitute something else next time.

Drinks: Well it says BYOB on the door, though for some reason we don't associate authentic taquerias with alcohol. But for those of you who do - that's a great savings right there!

Location: Memo's is right off US 377 along the strip that fronts the historic downtown. You'll find the store between Denton and Houston streets in an 80s era strip mall. It's a full service restaurant, though it looks like a typical counter serve taqueria inside. Just sit down and Memo will come by with a menu.

Notes: Memo's is in the same spot that once housed El Comalito Cafe, a place we tried back in 2005, was disappointed, and never returned. Memo's Tacos is far better!

Rating: 3.5 Second visit wasn't quite as good as the first, so we'll stick with a more conservative 3.5 rating

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Memo's Tacos Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sweet Basil Thai ~ Hurst, Texas

First published on March 2, 2009 and updated with a recent visit

Along with Sea Siam in Keller, we go to Sweet Basil often. These two restaurants are probably the only routine restaurants we have currently going, especially as I try to refocus on this blog. But we're not giving up these two places for it!

Food: Not long after the RJG relocated from Denver to NE Tarrant in 2003, we discovered a place in North Richland Hills called Top Thai. It quickly became our favorite, and remained so until they closed sometime in 2005. To set the stage, my first exposure to Thai food was while in San Francisco on business sometime in the mid 1990s. It was love at first taste, and most of the Thai restaurants I tried on the left coast were of a similar style. Unfortunately Denver seemed a wasteland for Thai food. Oh sure, we had Thai restaurants, but none reminded me of the flavors of Northern California. Then we found Top Thai and that was it! The taste I had remembered so fondly.

--Of all the Thai restaurants in the area, Sweet Basil reminds me most of Top Thai. That is, what I would consider more traditional Thai cooking. Thai style means ground chicken, not cut up chicken breast. Spicy means spicy, not "are you sure?". Thai style means simple ingredients, not stir fried with whatever you can find in the garden. Sure, Sweet Basil has those kind of dishes as well, but you have the authentic option here. And the spice levels here are serious. They say 4 stars is "super spicy" and indeed it really is! I've gone hotter than that in the past, but 4 stars is enough for even the most adamant of fire seekers (which includes me). Though lately I discovered I've been getting it at "6 level", and it's very hot my friends. VERY hot. Oh - what dish am I referring to? That would be Pad Graphow (Thai Style). That's all I ever get. I couldn't even imagine having anything else. It's heaven on a plate.

--Mrs. RJG is far more adventurous than I, and has dug deeper into the menu. She really enjoys their soups, especially the Tom Yum soup with shrimp. Cashew Chicken is another one of her favorite go-to dishes at Sweet Basil. Speaking of shrimp, do not miss their divine Butterfly Shrimp appetizer. They do it better than any of the Southern cooking places. This is my fried food allowance for the entire week, and it's worth it! Reminds me of the old Southern Kitchen in Dallas (who remembers them?)

Drink: At one time, Sweet Basil had beer and wine, but fortunately now it's BYOB. And no corkage fee - so it's savings city! They provide the glasses (and a wine opener if you need it), and you do the rest. How many great bottles of Chardonnay have we devoured here? Who knows, but we've saved a bundle being able to buy them at Goody-Goody rather than here at the restaurant.

Location: Sweet Basil is one of the nicer Thai restaurants in the area. Mood lighting and sleek furniture add a sophisticated ambiance, rather than the usual divey fast food feel. That is, a good place to take a date and have a romantic dinner - or simply a place to take dear friends. Just don't forget to bring your own wine! Sweet Basil is on Melbourne, near Pipeline, tucked into a small strip mall, next to Northeast Mall.

Notes: Sweet Basil has had at least 3 owners since we first visited back in 2005. But the current owner is not only the longest lasting, but by far the best!

Rating: 5.0. Oh yea, this is the REAL DEAL.We've been going here for 10 years now!

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Sweet Basil Thai Cuisine Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

*** CLOSED *** Billadelphia's Authentic Philly Foods ~ North Richland Hills, Texas

First published September 20, 2008 and updated with a recent visit.

May 16, 2016 update: Billadelphia's is now closed. It's a Mexican take out. I mean, where else can you find one of those? Meanwhile, authentic Philly Steaks are an endangered species in these parts.


Here's a place I probably should go to more often than I do. it's just a little far off for a quick lunch, but certainly close enough for a weekend visit. Lately I've been allocating Friday's for places like this. Let's see how long that lasts.

Food: What it says on the sign above, "Authentic Philly Foods". Billadelphia's is all about the food of Philadelphia, including their signature cheesesteaks. My first visit to Billadelphia's was in 2006 (while still in Bedford), and my interchange with owner Bill went something along the lines of: "I'll have a wiz wit", and he immediately struck up a conversation along the lines of "You from Philly?". Nope, but been there a few times for business I said. He then went on to explain that he imports almost everything from Philadelphia including the Amoroso rolls, Taskykakes, Herr's Chips and anything else that he could to make it feel like "Philadelphia in Texas". Now Tastykakes is no longer a big deal, as they are sold in local grocery stores (after the original implosion of Hostess). But at the time, Billadelphia's was the only place to obtain the yummy Twinkie-like treat. While the menu looks like something you will see many a time walking the streets of Philly, I never seem to get past the cheesesteak. And perhaps there's little reason to, as the meat is wonderfully grilled, and the rolls have the perfect chewy texture. These days I prefer their provolone offering to cheese-wiz, but honestly authentic is not always best.

Drink: I meant to look while there, but I believe Billadelphia's still serves birch beer, yet another Pennsylvania favorite. If you haven't had it, it's a bit like root beer (though as you will read in the link provided, thems fightin' words). You can read more about birch beer here.

Location: The current location, and the most stable by far, is the little shack found on Davis (east side of the road). It's south of Mid Cities and north of 820. This used to be a Kountry Burger. Easiest thing to do is park, walk up, and order at the front. And then patiently sit on one of the benches while they prepare your food. But they do have a drive-through window as well.

Notes: Billadelphia's started in Bedford in a bright yellow and red shack, most likely an old hot dog stand, but it was a serious pain to get to (especially considering the construction zone of 183/121). At one point, Billadelphia's operated a restaurant outside the new Dallas Cowboys stadium, and filled it with Eagles gear and memorabilia (now that takes guts), as well as a gas station location off of Mid Cities in NRH. Predictably the Arlington location closed and they finally settled here on Davis.

Rating: 4.0. I would eat here more often if time allowed.


Hours: Mon-Thu 11:00a-7:00p; Fri-Sat 11:00a-8:00p

Truluck's ~ Dallas, Texas

The RJG recently had his official boss in town from New Jersey and he wanted to meet for dinner. Since he was staying in downtown Dallas sans a car, I recommended we meet just north of there at Truluck's, which has in recent years become my go-to place for business meetings when they (yea, they) are staying downtown without wheels. It's only a $5 Uber ride according to The Boss. And the RJG has a place to park (valet though), so that's always a plus.

And speaking of which, I was completely disoriented when I arrived. This isn't where the restaurant used to be is it? And the answer is no - there's a new structure they built at the other end of the parking lot, and the old building along McKinney has since been torn down. I thought I was having a Mr. Robot moment there (yea, that's right, the RJG is hip, mannn).

Food: High end steak and seafood. I recommended we both start with the Lobster Bisque, one of Truluck's signature items, and it once again was delicious (rich and creamy). For an entree, I decided to slum it this evening and ordered the cheapest item on the menu: The "Hot 'n' Crunchy Idaho Trout" ($27) with rice pilaf and a mango chili sauce. It was a nicely breaded trout and the rice was very good. All the same, I begin to regret not ordering the Chilean Sea Bass, which has become my favorite at Truluck's over the years. Not sure what I as expecting - perhaps something with a bit of fire and spice - but that's not what this dish about. It is good, though maybe a bit dull in the end. OK, well I tried it anyway (folks, get the Sea Bass). The Boss wanted steak (mmm... he-man want steak) and he told me that he prefers a ribeye to a filet. So he went for the 16 oz All Natural Rib Eye ($48) which he subsequently devoured with much glee. And the potatoes were gone before I noticed as well. Boss man happy. Better be in my next performance evaluation too....

Drink: For a swanky restaurant in the center of Dallas, I would expect Trulucks to offer high quality local craft beers. No such luck. Shiner Bock is their idea of a local beer. No thanks. Of course, the markups are in wine, and they are more than happy to oblige. We both settled on single classes of Cabernet, and they are pretty chintzy for $10. When it comes to drinks, Truluck's is running a shakedown operation. Maybe next time, I'll get water.

Location: Truluck's sits on the NW corner of McKinney and Maple. I find it easier to head east (southeast) on Maple and enter that way. As mentioned above, the new building is now in the back of the lot, and thus even more easy to get from the Maple side. The new structure is, as you might imagine, somewhat opulent especially compared to the diner-like neon lit building of the past. There's a full bar area, and two stories of seating. It is definitely befitting of the term "high end dining".

Notes: In addition to the two DFW locations (note link below), Truluck's operates two restaurants in Austin, one in Houston, 4 in Florida, and one in the San Diego area. Oh, one other need I need to mention. I used Open Table to make a reservation, which of course meant I left my phone number. The manager actually called me the next day to see if our meal was satisfactory. I thought that was a nice touch!

Rating: 4.0. The food here is delicious, and the ambiance is top notch. The drinks are a rip, but if corporate is buying, perhaps I won't notice?

RJG notes on the Southlake location

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Hours: Lunch: 11am-2pm (Mon-Fri) Dinner: 5-10pm (Sun-Thurs) 5-11pm (Fri-Sat)

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