4 Great New Places For Mexican Food

One of my goals for the year I’m 40 is to eat at 40 new places. I’ve done six so far, and the last four have all been Mexican places, because I love me some Mexican food.

1. Taqueria El Buen Pastor

I pass this truck on the commute to work all the time, but never stopped by until recently. I grabbed a couple of cheap tacos–two for under five bucks–and loved them! Service was fast and friendly, place was clean, and the tacos were excellent! They even have a full condiment bar on the side. Highly recommended!

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2. Rivas Mexican Grill

I went to the one on Aliante and 215–great place! I tried a fish taco here for the first time, and was surprised at how much I liked it. Plenty more of these in my future. Highly recommended!

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3. Frijoles and Frescas

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Fast Food Reviewed: The Habit Burger Grill

img_20170113_175732513_hdrMy wife and I tried out the new Habit Burger Grill on Decatur and 215 a couple of weeks ago. They had just opened and were having a fundraiser that night, so it was super busy, but I was super pumped, because I’ve heard such great things.

Sadly, it was fairly underwhelming.

The most important thing is the burger itself. It was good. It was decent. Not especially disappointed here at all–it was a solid entry in the market. Definitely worth the price, and enjoyable.

But not great. Not special. I found myself thinking, why would I come here for this when I could be at Five Guys or Fatburger and get something that’s even better?

My wife pointed out that the big burgers weren’t heavy, though–you don’t feel stuffed afterwards. That’s a big plus.

But besides the very-good-but-really-just-so-so quality of the main course, there were some other things holding back the Habit: they had a small drink machine with only a handful of choices. Doesn’t every new place now have one of those awesome machines wth 100 options?

Next to that, though, was some fantastic flavored lemonade.

But the fries sucked. Just terrible. Onion rings were only OK.

I suppose all this might be because the cooks were still being trained and the busy night made them work at a really high volume. I suspect if I went back after things have both settled down and settled in, it would all be much better.

Still, even on a super busy night, the staff was remarkably friendly. Great atmosphere there. They must have had one heck of a rah-rah meeting before opening that day.

It’s not bad, and I still have high hopes for it, but for now the Habit Burger Grill only gets a B-.

 

Fast Food Reviewed: Flippin’ Good Burgers & Shakes

Here they are on Yelp. This place is on the southeast corner of Fremont and Las Vegas Blvd, right off the Strip. Great spot: big screen TV shows sports in a clean space, and the basic menu is somewhere between Five Guys and In-N-Out, both in price and quality. Closer to Five Guys, though.

My wife and I loved their stuff, but the sizes ran a bit small–order a bigger burger; you won’t be sorry. The fries were solid, and there are some great jalapeños you can add. Fry sauce is available! We didn’t try the shakes, because it’s cold, but we look forward to it another time. Definitely worth trying this place out if you happen to be around.

 

Restaurant Reviews: Divine Eatery and Lumberjacks

A few weeks ago, we had one of those generic gift certificates that apply to lots of places, so we picked a new place at random to try.

Jackpot.

The little Divine Eatery cafe in Northwest Las Vegas is, just as its name suggests, a miracle.

Run by Chef Esther, this hole in the wall of a strip mall in a residential neighborhood makes the absolute freshest food we’ve ever eaten.  When my wife and I had our first bite of the appetizers, we went wide-eyed and shared a look that said, this is something special.

Talking to the waitress revealed some things you want to know:

  • They don’t even have a freezer on the premises–the food must be that fresh
  • Esther has worked at some big Strip hotels, and was offered an executive position, but decided to try for fame and fortune with her own place.
  • The menu is very flexible–request to modify what’s on the folded sheet of paper they give you, and Esther will impress you.
  • Prices are very reasonable–and you definitely get your money’s worth.
  • Esther runs the place almost single-handedly.  She’s trying to train others to cook her way, but it isn’t easy.  She’s unique.
  • We had garlic fries and potato wedges at first, then a pulled pork sandwich and adobo chicken, finished with some deep fried stuff for dessert. All highly recommended.
  • They’re almost at the point where they need to take reservations.  By the time you read this, they might be there.  They’ve only been in business for about five months.

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Hofbrauhaus For Teetotalers

And now to answer one of the great burning questions of mankind: no, not where do we come from or why are we here?  Rather, can Hofbräuhaus, the world’s premiere establishment for beer lovers, be enjoyed by those who do not drink alcohol? 

The Las Vegas Hofbräuhaus offers a few sweet reasons for the non-imbiber of fermented drinks to bask in its German ambiance. 

The main dining hall is a typical Vegas hoot–a warm-hearted reproduction of another time and place, this one with a huge, open space whose high ceiling is painted in an authentic Bavarian style–or at least what we might all imagine an authentic Bavarian style looks like. 

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Racine Cuisine

My mom is from Racine, Wisconsin.  I have two very fond memories of edible delights from visiting my grandparents out there when I was a kid. 

The first is Kringle.  This Danish pastry treat looks like a pizza, but with a large hole in the center, only making it about four inches wide.  Unlike the cheese of a pizza, a Kringle is frosted on top and filled on the inside with your choice of things like apple, cherry, or pecan.  According to the Wikipedia entry for Kringle, they’re especially important to Racine, one of the few places in the country that even makes Kringle, because of their large Danish immigrant population.  Denmark’s loss is our gain!

Even though my grandparents have both passed on, my parents occasionally go out to visit other friends and family, and when they do they always bring back some Kringle.  In fact, when finances permit (which they haven’t for some time now, alas), I’ll order one through the mail myself. 

I can’t recommend highly enough that you visit the website of Racine’s O&H Danish Bakery and order some Kringle.  Especially at this hot time of the year, we could all enjoy a cool, light, sweet treat like this. 

The second is a hamburger and homemade root beer from Kewpee.  I remember my grandfather taking my brother and me there whenever we visited, and it was the highlight of every trip.  Kewpee is an old fashioned place, with only a few locations left open in that part of the country, but somehow they make the absolutely best food in the world. 

Check out the pictures and menu on their web site.  It almost makes one want to go out to Racine just for a trip to Kewpee, doesn’t it?  I realize now that I haven’t been there for…twenty years?  Wow.  I really do need to go to Racine to eat at Kewpee. 

By the way, on the off chance that anybody from Racine ends up reading this, my grandfather was Frank Cooper, who was a high school principal out there until about thirty years ago.  Not only do we share a penchant for long, solitary walks, but I had completely forgotten about his career in education until after I decided to become a teacher myself.  But if I think about him too long now, I’ll start to remember him taking me to Thrifty’s for ice cream, and this post has already made me hungry enough…

Dear Giant Super Club Sandwich (Menu Item #8 at Jersey Mike’s):

Ah, hello, my dear, sweet deli confection.  Yes, you, giant Super Club sandwich (menu item #8 at Jersey Mike’s), you are my love, my match, my soul mate.  I’m glad you’re here; I’ve been dying to see you.

Why do I need you so, you ask?  Oh, I suppose I was first attracted by your ripe tomatoes and, I confess, I have a tendency to drool when I see so much meat.  But now that we’ve gotten to know each other, it’s the subtler things that get me going: your tangy vinaigrette kisses, the way your crisp shredded lettuce dances on my tongue as we embrace. 

But I’m afraid I have to break it off.  No, honey (mmmm, honey), it’s not you, it’s me.  Our relationship is turning me into an animal.  I can’t control myself when you’re around.  When we’re apart, you’re all I think about.  It isn’t healthy.  Well, yes, technically, you are healthy, what with your ample spread of vegetables and sensibly low calorie total…how can something that tastes so good be so bad?…the exotic yet somehow familiar spices hidden deep within your heart are just too irresistible; now that I’ve had a taste, I’m addicted…

No!  This has to stop!  Look, I can’t afford to carry on this affair.  The cost is just too high.  What?  No, I’m not talking about damaging my marriage, I mean the literal price of being with you.  At $9.95 a pop, you’re hardly a cheap date.  Don’t you know what gas costs these days? 

NOTE: To any who found this bit of culinary silliness tasteless (get it?), please accept a thousand of my very most humble apologies. 

Recommended Eating: The Cracked Egg

I first heard of the Cracked Egg the school year before last, when I had the daughter of the owner in one of my classes.  Always a big fan of breakfast (it’s one of my four favorite meals of the day), as soon as she told me about it I decided to go and give it a try.  And then I went back.  And then I went back again.  Etc. 

Where do I start?  Should I start with the comfortable but simple-enough-to-never-seem-pretentious decor?  With the sign that says, “Unattended children will be given an espresso and a puppy”?  With the locations, the patio seating with huge umbrellas, the prices that are slightly higher than, say, IHOP, but reasonable and undeniably worth it?

The answer is no.  I’ll start with the food and I’ll end with the food.  The Cracked Egg serves the best breakfast anywhere. 

If you go (when you go), you’ll be exhausted by all the fun your taste buds will have, but it won’t be enough.  Oh no.  You’ll need to go back.  You might be tempted to instantly claim the first thing you try as your favorite, but that would be a mistake.  Like dating, you’ll never really know the variety of joys out there until you play the field a little. 

So try the Denver Omelet on your first foray into this early morning Shangri La.  You can have a Mexican Skillet the next time, and the Californian Omelet the time after that.  But, *sigh* that’s still just skimming the surface.  Have you ever met someone and known after that first conversation that you could be best friends, even soul mates, for life?  Eating at the Cracked Egg is like that.  Only better. 

But also like dating, as many dishes as you let entertain your palette, you’ll never forget your first.  So be sure to observe the pretty details on your first visit. 

A few weeks ago, as the school year was winding down, I realized I hadn’t treated myself to a nice breakfast before work anytime yet this year, so I pulled up to the Cracked Egg that I pass on the way to work every morning and this time I didn’t turn the corner.  I was the first one in the door when they opened.

I got to enjoy the easy early morning atmosphere as I sipped at my orange juice and hot cocoa and tried to narrow down what I’d eat this time.  Something new, or an old friend?  I watched the sun rise and ended up getting a longtime favorite.  I slowly got to know each bite and left as refreshed as one might expect to be after a weekend at a spa. 

http://www.thecrackedegglv.com/

Recommended Eating: Chicago Hot Dogs

Is it strange that in my last post I panned a fabulous, swanky eatery at an upscale location on the famous Las Vegas Strip, and now I’m singing the praises of a dumpy shack in the middle of a run-down neighborhood?

Here’s a hint: the answer is yes.  But so what?  It’s the food that counts.

Rancho and Washington is indeed in an older, less savory part of Las Vegas these days.  But I grew up around there.  When my parents moved here in the mid-70’s, it was practically the edge of town. 

Just north of that intersection, you’ll find a decrepit hovel with a barely-visible sign that simply says Chicago Hot Dogs.  I drove by it a few years ago and stopped for a bite.  It was, simply put, the best dog I’ve ever had.  Our family drove by again last night and I had another perfect hot dog.  My wife got some onion rings and when I tried those–no surprise–they were the best onion rings I’d ever had. 

The guys I’ve seen working there are so laid back and friendly, you’d think you were at a Phish concert.  Perhaps they enjoy the satisfaction of knowing their backward little corner of the world is secretly home to some of the best cuisine around, a haven of exquisite Americana.  I say secret because I’ve never seen anyone else there.  How do they stay in business?

It’s probably out of your way to get there, but it’s worth it.  For more motivation, check out their web site, which is just as much fun as eating there itself: http://www.chicagodogs.com/articles.htm

Whatever size dog you get, remember, it’s Chicago Hot Dogs–be sure to get relish and onions. 

Final Grade: A

Dining Review: Samba’s at the Mirage

Courtesy of my in-laws, my wife and I got to enjoy dinner at Samba’s Brazilian Steakhouse a few days ago. 

First, the atmosphere.  I can’t understand why anybody would place a fine dining establishment next to the floor of a Vegas casino.  We couldn’t even hear each other over the roar of the crowds, machines, and piped-in rock music.  The restaurant is laid out to offer every seat a view of…the gaming tables….oh boy! 

The service was acceptable, but hardly impressive.  The most important thing, the food, of course, was very good, but also far short of breathtaking.  For the prices you pay and the expectations raised by the hype (it’s in the Mirage, after all), you’re not getting a meal any better than what you might expect in any average steakhouse.  Yes, there was plenty of great meats, but I got their signature dish–the Rodizio–and they bring you so much meat so quickly, you simply can’t linger on the different tastes, much less appreciate them all. 

If there’s any kind of meat you like, they’ll have it, but you’ll also be served a kabob full of something you probably don’t like.  Of course, you can turn it down when it’s offered, but I found that inconvenient.  The side dishes they serve on a lazy susan–fried bananas, beans and rice, steamed spinach, a small variety of breads–are a fine complement to the meal; I only wish I could have focused less on the pounds of flesh I was served and more on them. 

Visiting Samba’s is worthwhile, especially if you saw something here that appealed to you, but I doubt you’ll like everything about it, or that it will become anybody’s favorite.

Ironically, when I got to work Monday morning, a coupon  for another Brazilian steakhouse was in my mailbox, this time courtesy of the school district.  I’ll go try that one out soon, and I have a hunch I’ll enjoy it more than Samba’s. 

http://www.mirage.com/dining/fine_dining_samba.aspx

Final Grade: B-

Here’s a wonderful dining establishment which I heartily recommend, without reservations (ha!): https://gentlyhewstone.wordpress.com/2008/04/19/recommended-dining-yassou-greek-grill-cafe/

 

Recommended dining: Yassou Greek Grill Cafe

Yassou Greek Grill 7871 W. Charleston (at Buffalo next to McDonalds) • 702-798-8989

My wife and I have eaten here twice now, and liked it even more the second time.  The depth of choices on the menu is complemented by reasonable prices, and the atmosphere is a sweet icing on this Mediterranean cake.  (Last time we were there, we sat outside, where soft regional music was piped in and an artist was displaying her paintings of Aegean landscapes, and I remarked how well they recreated a relaxed Greek ambiance on the side of a busy six-lane street!)

You know you’re eating authentic European food because you can fill up and still feel light–there’s none of the bloated, heavy dullness that follows an American meal.  The interior is well arranged with interesting items around the perimeter of a small yet open, airy space (Hemingway would have loved it!).

Here’s a picture of a typically mouth-watering plate:

Click here for a menu and more pictures of this pleasant little slice of Greece: http://www.usmenuguide.com/yassougreekgrill.htm

Recommended dining for:

  • date night
  • feeling like you’re not in Las Vegas
  • charming a companion with how sophisticated you are
  • enjoying the perfect marriage of taste and atmosphere
  • lower blood pressure
  • eating delicious Greek food…duh!