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Katie Davis

@PopCultureCuisine

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Archive for the ‘Mexican’ Category

Monday, January 10, 2011 @ 09:01 AM

Well we are back from a wonderful weekend in Nashville celebrating my lil’ brother’s wedding.  Needless to say due to the business of all of that I apologize that this post is a little bit tardy.

Pop Culture Cuisine is officially a year old and we can hardly believe how fast time has flown!  Adam and I have loved incorporating all these wonderful culinary adventures into our travels, mostly because of the great memories it has made for us.  We have compiled a list of some of our favorite and not so favorite spots to share with you with links so you can read our reviews for yourself.  We love food and hope to continue to share lots of great finds with you all along the way.

SIGNATURE DISH

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1. Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous’ “Ribs” – Memphis, TN

2. Round Rock Donuts’ “Round Rock Donut” – Round Rock, TX

3. Lucky’s Sandwich Co.’s “Stuffed Sandwich” – Chicago, IL

TASTE

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1. The Salt Lick – Driftwood, TX

2. Louie’s – Dallas, TX

3. Twisted Root – Dallas, TX

AMBIANCE

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1. The Silver Palm – Chicago, IL

2. Keller’s Drive-in – Dallas, TX

3. The Salt Lick – Driftwood, TX

SERVICE

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1. Blue Ash ChiliAnna – Blue Ash, OH

2. PinkberryChristine – Orlando, FL

3. Avila’s – Dallas, TX

PRICE

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1. The Salt Lick – Driftwood, TX

2. Keller’s Drive-in – Dallas, TX

3. Blue Ash Chili – Blue Ash, OH

OVERALL TOP 5

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1. The Salt Lick – Driftwood, TX

2. Manny’s Delicatessen – Chicago, IL

3. Keller’s Drive-in – Dallas, TX

4. Blue Ash Chili – Blue Ash, OH

5. Charles Vergos’ Rendezvous – Memphis, TN

TOP 5 BIGGEST LET DOWNS…NOT WORTH THE HYPE!

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1. Jim Neely’s Interstate Bar-B-Q – Memphis, TN

2. Willie Mae’s Scotch House – New Orleans, LA

3. Acme Oyster House – New Orleans, LA

4. Drago’s Seafood – New Orleans, LA

5. Juan in a Million – Austin, TX

BEST OF THE REST…HONORABLE MENTION

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Best Burger – Twisted Root – Dallas, TX

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Best Pizza – Giordano’s – Chicago, IL

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Best Sandwich – Lucky’s Sandwich Co. – Chicago, IL

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Best BBQ – The Salt Lick – Driftwood, TX

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Best Bar Food – J. Gilligan’s “Irish Nachos” – Arlington, TX

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Best Cocktail – Pat O’Brien’s “Hurricane” – New Orleans, LA

Three Little Piggies

Most Outrageous Dish – The Silver Palm’s “Three Little Pigs Sandwich” Chicago, IL

Thursday, September 23, 2010 @ 11:09 AM

033It’s hard to believe it’s Fall already; and as I look at this picture of me in a sundress standing in front of this week’s feature, it’s sometimes weird to think that we don’t live in Dallas anymore…and I’m actually going to get to experience a change in season once again.  It seems poignant, that in a few short months we moved across the country and started the rest of our lives…sort of a change of season for us, and I couldn’t be happier. 

But I’m still thinking about the summer, and nothing takes me there better than good Mexican food; and although there are a lot of Mexican restaurants where we are now (I know I was surprised too), there are not quite as many "authentic" options as there were in Big-D. I mean, come on…it DID USED TO BE Mexico. 😉

On that note, I’m not sure I will ever experience as authentic Mexican cuisine as I did at our next feature spot.  Avila’s Restaurant has been serving up authentic and home-made Mexican meals for 25 years and they don’t seem to be near a stopping point anytime soon; and although they have gone through some modern updates and changes to the decor, their recipes have not changed one bit…recipes passed down through generations since 1985…recipes developed by the matriarch Anita Avila.  Family gatherings were always important to Anita and her husband Octavio, and these same recipes she so lovingly prepared then were the same recipes she began to prepare in their restaurant when it opened in 1986 when the Avila family began "literally" inviting the public into their home to enjoy this freshly prepared food.  Although I said it has had a minor facelift and a portion added on, this is the same home that Anita and her children lived in.  Yes my friends…they turned their home into a restaurant, so if that don’t say “home cooking” I don’t know what does! 

I would have to say that this little gem would have remained hidden to us and we might have moved away without ever experiencing it (it’s one of those local places that is almost as if it is a secret kept under lock and key that only the well deserving locals seem to know about) had it not been for one of our favorite foodies, Guy Fieri. Guy stopped in there one day on Food Network’s "Diner’s, Drive-Ins, and Dives" to sample this hidden treasure.  Check out a clip of what made us realize this place was not the same as all the “other” Mexican joints in town…

 

 

After re-watching this clip, I wish I would have ordered those gorditas on our visit, but I’ll get to that.  Avila’s had been on our list of places to visit for awhile, and when our move became a reality, we knew we would need to make that visit sooner rather than later.  So we invited our friends from church Scott and Ashley to tag along, as well as say goodbye to them as well (they were also moving away to North Carolina…hi guys!).  So the four of us ventured down to just north of downtown Dallas, an area that is pretty run down and I have to say we did not go often; and literally this restaurant is so tucked away (a secret like I said) you could easily miss it if you were not paying attention. I mean…IT’S A HOUSE so you’re not actually looking for it.  But although small in nature, it still welcomes you in as any house might.

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The minute we sat down we were promptly provided with baskets of chips, which it did not take me long to dig into.  In fact, I think our table went through at least 4 or 5 baskets of them before it seemed like we ordered. :)  I may have a small weakness for tortilla chips and these were delish.  Typically, I like thinner and saltier chips, but I must say that these were very authentic, yet still had the crunchiness and saltiness I crave. Also, their salsa was amazing and had a flavor that was extremely unique and kept you wanting more (I think they put pineapple in it).  It took us a little while to peruse the menu (thus the baskets of chips) and decide on what we should all order.  Having already stuffed myself, I settled on the pork tamales. Adam chose the create your own enchiladas so he could sample their famous molé sauce, while Scott and Ashley each got one of their combination plates (and I think there was a brisket taco in there somewhere ;-)).  Although it took us awhile to order, it did not take long to receive our food…which is always appreciated!

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Looks tasty huh?  But after stuffing my face full of chips, I was hardly hungry anymore, although I was still able to chow down on at least one of my tamales.  At the time, I was a bit disappointed with my choice, not because it didn’t taste good, but because it just wasn’t that different of a flavor from the millions of corn chips and salsa I had already mowed down on.  However, thinking about it now, it was a really darn good and fresh tamale. I just think I was oversaturated at that point and all of the flavors were not coming through. 

Adam’s plate on the other hand was a smorgasbord of flavors, particularly in the molé.  I am not sure where he saw it or tried it, but Adam’s world had recently changed with the discovery of molé and I’m not sure he’ll ever be the same. 😉 I have to admit that the nuances in flavor just in the molé alone brought something amazing to that dish, and their sour cream sauce that was on the other enchilada was not half bad either.  According to Adam…it was close to the top for best enchiladas he’d ever had…and he’s had a lot!

After we were all sufficiently stuffed to the gills, I walked around to take in some of the decor, including Guy’s calling card…

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Overall, our trip to Avila’s was a great experience, and it didn’t hurt that it was a great last meal with great friends and in a wonderful atmosphere.  I surely do hope I can make it there again someday, especially because those gorditas look divine!

SIGNATURE DISH: Although they don’t have a particular dish that they call their “signature,” their tamales certainly seem a feature they are proud of; and as seen in the video, a dish they add a little something extra too.  With a menu that only boasts the dishes they love and know they can cook well, it would appear that they are proud to call any of their dishes a signature.  They do not try to cook everything under the sun, just those dishes that have been in the family for years.

TASTE: At the time I was not blown away. However, I’m writing that off to the mistake of stuffing myself with chips…which were delicious by the way.  Thinking back, I did enjoy the extra flavor the masa of my tamale had. It brought a unique element I had never tried before. Also, Adam loved-loved-loved his dish, so much so he could not stop talking about that molé for days!  I think it safe to say we have a molé enthusiast on our hands! 😉

AMBIANCE: I truly loved the idea that this restaurant is literally in a house!  Although not huge, it was spacious enough to feel like you were in a regular restaurant yet it had that charm of a quaint little authentic spot only you have discovered.  And I felt that because this was literally the home Anita developed these dishes, it just felt extremely authentic and made with love. One caveat, however…parking is an issue. They only have 5 or so parking spots, plus a lot they share next door that has about 10 more. Granted, the inside only can seat about that many, but at busy time, it isn’t in the best of neighborhoods to park far away.

PRICE: For lunch, this place is a little pricy. You can expect to pay around $15 per person for whatever you get, which in my opinion is a bit high for Mexican. Sure this is not your ordinary Mexican and perhaps you’re paying for the extra flavor…but it could have been a little less. Still, it was not high enough to keep me away if I still lived close by…so that’s a push.

SERVICE: Our service was wonderful and the wait staff (we had 2) was very patient with us, even though it took us a little while to order.  They had no problem continually bringing us fresh chips and salsa, and once we did order, I mentioned that our food was out to us extremely quick. 

All around we really enjoyed ourselves, and I would go back in a heartbeat. Plus it is always good to share a meal with friends…especially when it is a good meal.  So I think that Scott and Ashley would agree with me in giving Avila’s Restaurant 4 ‘Little Piggies.’

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Thursday, June 10, 2010 @ 09:06 AM

frontofrestuarant Well it’s official…we are Midwesterners again; and after one very long day of packing a truck and two vehicles, 17 plus hours of driving with two cats over two days, and unpacking the truck at our new home, we have arrived back home in Indiana!  That being said, we still have our work cut out for us as far as unpacking, home renovations, and the other unforeseen things that come with owning a home arise.  Still, even with all we have left to do, we are getting settled, and just in time for another installment of PCC. 

Although we are thrilled to be back up north and are loving the surroundings and the friendliness of everyone, there are certain things we are going to miss about the south.  One thing that I know was both a blessing (and curse) when living in Dallas was when deciding on a place to eat there was a never ending amount of options when it comes to restaurants…especially Mexican cuisine.  To be honest, most of the time we would just fly by the seat of our pants and give a new place a try or if we were just in the mood for chips & salsa and margaritas, we had a few local favorites we frequented.  However, a lot of the best hole in the wall places we ended up finding were discovered due to our love of all things Food Network, Travel Channel, and pop culture cuisine.  In Fact, I have already featured two lovely locales we found, Mariano’s and Hula Hut.  Both of those locations were definite hits in my book and I was so glad we were able to learn of their existence.  This next spot was visited the same weekend as Hula Hut during our whirlwind culinary tour of Austin…an extremely popular local breakfast spot called Juan in a Million.   

Opened in 1981, they have been widely known around town as serving authentic Mexican food and is still family owned and operated; and we first heard of this famed breakfast diner on an episode of Travel Channel’s “Man vs. Food” and later saw it featured as number 53 on Travel Channel’s “Chowdown Countdown (100 Tastiest Places to Chowdown).”  What caught our eye about this place was the seriousness of their now infamous “Don Juan” – El Taco Grande.  Although it seems like your basic breakfast taco with potato, egg, bacon, and cheese on a tortilla, what sets it apart is its sheer size!  This thing is massive and when we first saw it, Adam Richman was attempting to put down 7 of them!  Here is the video clip to prove it…

 

I guess it’s needless to say that they look pretty insane, huh?  I mean I could hardly imagine putting down 1, much less 7!  However, although I would never think of entering the challenge, from watching that episode they looked pretty darn tasty.  So when we knew we were planning a trip to Austin, we asked our friends Dario and Jaclyn if we might add Juan in a Million to the “must visit” list.  They were totally happy to oblige and warned us that especially on the weekends their will be a wait, due to its local popularity.  So we all ventured out that Saturday morning to wait in line to take on these behemoth tacos…which at the time sounded like the perfect remedy for the late night out before. 😉

047 Lucky for us the wait was not outrageous and it was a beautiful day outside, so I was happy to take in some of the sunshine.  Being fairly late morning when we got there, I was definitely one “starvin’ marvin,” so I was happy when after we were seated they presented us with a heaping basket of chips and salsa.  That first basket definitely did not last long, as we all had a bit of a need for some food.  They were not my most favorite chips ever, but I was hungry so they did the trick. 

049The inside is fairly small and they really pack ‘em in for sure…so much so that it would be easy enough to have a conversation with the table next to you, if you catch my drift.  But it’s cool…Juan’s is the type of place that has that authentic charm, which I enjoyed; and oddly enough, after looking at that video clip again, we were seated at that exact same table as Adam Richman from “Man v. Food”…so that’s cool! 

When it came time to order (menu), none of us really needed to think twice…we all knew we were headed in the direction of the “Don Juan.”  Also, the Carne Guisada taco caught my eye, largely due to it being an item I had never tried, so I went ahead an ordered both. ;)  However, I must have eaten my weight in chips before they even showed up, largely due to their salsa that, although super spicy, still had a very nice flavor I couldn’t seem to get enough of.  But, luckily before I could eat 45 baskets of chips by myself, this was placed before me…

050053 Yep, that crazy pile of meat, potato and cheese is one taco!  Honestly, it is pretty humorous once they set it down too…to think that THIS is only ONE taco.  Now I was not about to try and pick this whole thing up and take a bite, and luckily they provide you with extra fresh tortillas so you can portion out multiple tacos if you wish.  I chose just to tackle it with a fork and eat the innards by them self.  Again, when they set this down in front of me my mouth was definitely watering.  I thought this combination not only sounded great, but look at it…it’s going to taste wonderful, right?  Unfortunately, I was sort of disappointed.  While I would not describe it as “I can’t eat this” awful or anything, I could not really describe it as anything, because it tasted like just that…NOTHING!  And as mouth watering as this dish looks, it had zero flavor in my opinion, and was a really dry (my guess is from all the potato).  My husband (Adam) unfortunately felt the same way, which I know he was disappointed about because he as so looking forward to this place in particular.  I suppose I could have ladled on the salsa, but I want my taco to have a describable flavor all on its own, and this just didn’t; and the Carne Guisada was really just beef stew on a tortilla.  Although tasty, it was nothing terribly unique.  So in all honesty, I did not leave all that full, because I really am not one to stuff myself with something that I don’t enjoy. :(  (I figure if I’m going to indulge, it better be worth it!) 

Still, I was able to enjoy looking around following our meal and was able to find some mementos from “Man v. Food’s” visit…

059 060 This wall represents all the record holders in several different categories for the “Don Juan” challenge.  I’m pretty sure the current record holder overall is 8 1/2 tacos…wow!

061 Although I was disappointed with the meal, I still enjoyed the experience.  It is always fun to be in a buzzing atmosphere; and when you have great company with you it makes it even better.  Still, at the end of the day, I have to give an honest review.

SIGNATURE DISH: Yes…I would say they are pretty widely known for their breakfast tacos, most specifically the “Don Juan.”  This major taco seems to be the most popular dish to order, and with it being featured so often on television, it has become even more widely known.  Also, their taco eating competitions have become ever more popular among celebrities and locals alike.  In the end, it appears that the popularity of this one item alone will keep growing.

TASTE: As I said, I was not overly impressed with the taste at all.  In fact, I (and Adam) was quite disappointed. :(  This would be one of those cases when the dish was completely deceiving; and I will continue to be baffled by how delicious this taco looked and how little flavor it had.  I mean…I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was just so bland that I would have given anything for a little flavor, which is hard to believe given it’s ingredients.  So, sorry Juan…your famous taco is definitely NOT One in a Million!

AMBIANCE: This is one area that I enjoyed.  I’ll admit it was nothing out of the ordinary, but it had the charm of a family owned place.  It was small and quaint, yet buzzing with people that made it fun and energetic. 

PRICE: The price was great.  That big ass taco only cost a whopping $3.60, so even though I did not enjoy the taste, I did not feel overly upset that we spent to much on it.  The only thing to consider is if you want a soft drink there, you do have to pay each time as they only have cans, so that can add up.

SERVICE:  I was impressed that although they get really packed, were seated within about 15 minutes.  However, past getting seated, I was not overly impressed.  Our waitress was not very friendly and got a bit impatient when it took us a minute to order.  She also did not seem to like that we were ordering more than one beverage.  I mean…the nerve of us. ;)  Anyway, our food was delivered pretty quick, which I was thankful for, but outside of that I did not think we were treated with the utmost southern hospitality. 

Although I’m glad to say I have tried the infamous “Don Juan”, I’m sorry to say that I have to give Juan in a Million 2 1/2 ‘Little Piggies.’

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