"El Sol" Is Not A New "Shining Star" In The Lawrence Restaurant Scene

    El Sol Mexican Restaurant

    1520 Wakarusa
    Lawrence, KS 66047

    (785) 331-2663

    Price: $$$$$

    Another closed El Mezcal location in a shopping center on the corner of Wakarusa and Bob Billings Parkway (now called “El Sol”), I had read in El Sol’s inaugural review that they were a “Tex-Mex” restaurant. My fellow Elite ’14 member had high praise for their food, service, and ambience, so we had to give them a try. Our experience was once again very average in a town not well town for outstanding cuisine and I found not a single Tex-Mex item on the menu. In fact, when I asked the waiter if they were a Tex-Mex restaurant, he stated “definitely not”.
    As mentioned in recent reviews, I am a Mexican food snob, having grown up in LA where Mexican restaurants outnumber Bentleys and spending three years in San Antonio, Texas during my first Air Force assignment. Not changing my modus operandi,  I stuck with the basics, tacos and enchiladas, during my first visit to see if they can get them right before moving on to more complex dishes.
    Taco and Enchilada Combination Plate

    The restaurant’s decor is very colorful with natural wood tables, bright tones, and reminiscent of  a traditional Mexican cantina. The service was very attentive, friendly, and fast. Our server, Rafael, was extremely polite and amenable to answering my many questions. We ordered the guacamole ($3.99) and the white cheese dip (queso blanco – medium – $2.99). The guacamole was small, made with avocado and SMALL PIECES OF TOMATO, but tasty. The queso blanco was warm and well seasoned, adhering to the pre-fab chips, another disappointment and a dead giveaway of a sub-par restaurant in my experience. I had the 27 ounce margarita (on the rocks – $6.99) which was decent, not very strong, and priced $2 more than El Mezcal. My wife had the horchata, a Mexican rice-based drink which was better than El Mezcal’s various versions.

    Cheese Quesadilla with Guacamole and Pico di Gallo

    My wife ordered the cheese quesadilla, coming with a small dab of guacamole and pico di gallo ($4.99) and a cheese and onion enchilada with queso blanco instead of red sauce (ala carte – $1.99), coming with refried beans. It is difficult to mess-up a quesadilla and El Sol was again no exception. She liked the enchilada, but queso blanco was a bit too spicy for her Itialan tastebuds (the spiciest dish in Italy is penne arribiatta).

    Cheese and Onion Enchilada with Queso Blanco

    I decided to forego the rice and get down to brass tacks, ordering two shredded beef tacos and a cheese and onion enchilada ($8.49) combo plate (all beans). The tacos came in pre-fab corn tortillas and the beef, although skimpy, was well seasoned and topped with a little lettuce, white cheese, and chopped tomato. I saved some of the guacamole for my tacos, borrowed my wife’s pico de gallo, and added their salsa, which was not bad. The tacos were not great. The enchilada sauce was a bit too watery and lacked taste, the enchilada cool, not even lukewarm, another disappointment. True Tex-Mex enchiladas are smothered in chili con carne and topped with cheese, but this bore no resemblance to any Tex-Mex I have eaten and was one of the worst enchiladas I have had.

    Pre-Fab Taco Shells

    Again, not my favorite Mexican restaurant in Lawrence by any stretch and we will likely not return given the distance from our home and the fact that there are at least four better Mexican eateries in closer proximity.

    CombatCritic Gives El Sol 5 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

    El Sol Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon


    Key Words: 66044, burrito, CombatCritic, eat, el, El Sol, el, sol, enchilada, food, guacamole, Kansas, Lawrence, margarita, Mexican, mezcal, restaurant, taco, travel, TravelValue, value

Alvamar Golf and Country Club … Mostly Friendly Faces, Fair Prices, Decent Facilities

Alvamar Golf and Country Club
    1809 Crossgate Drive
    Lawrence, KS 66047
    (785) 842-1907

    Having been unable to play much golf in recent years due to bad knees, now that arthroscopic surgery has given me the ability to walk long distances with less pain (note that I did not say “painlessly”) it was time to join a club.

    View of 18th Hole (Member’s Course) from Clubhouse

    We moved to Lawrence, Kansas last August and I gathered information on local golf and country clubs in order to make an informed decision. After visiting the top-3 last Autumn, I narrowed down the field to two after I received an unwelcoming introduction to Lawrence’s city course, Eagle Bend:

    It was a blustery day in October when I dropped by Eagle Bend to inquire about annual memberships. I was hoping to play the course as a “single”, never having had ANY DIFFICULTY getting on even the most popular courses in the world last minute, including St. Andrews and Carnoustie (Scotland), Cog Hill (Chicago), Torrey Pines (San Diego), and Princeville (Kauai) to name just a few.

    The two men behind the counter acted as if I were an alien, grudgingly taking the time to answer my questions about spending close to $1500 per year to play golf on their course. When I asked about getting out as a single that day, the course was busy but not overwhelmed, I was told it would be “impossible”. “Really” I said, thinking they were joking, but they were as serious as heart attacks. I asked if it was always so difficult getting on as a single and they confirmed that it was, something I had not heard in 50 years of playing golf as a single, so I left, never to return.

    I stopped by Alvamar Golf and Country Club on my way home and was impressed by their friendly, easygoing nature and welcoming attitude. The Head Pro, Paul Hooser, answered all of my questions and told me that getting on as a single at Alvamar is NEVER A PROBLEM. Their pricing was better than Eagle Bend and practice facilities as good as I have seen anywhere, so I waited for Spring to finalize my decision.

    I contacted Alvamar and Lawrence Country Club ($220 per month – golf/social/pool/tennis membership) via email in mid-March, inquiring about a possible tour and opportunity to play the courses. Alvamar’s Ryan Spencer (Director of Golf Membership) was quick to get back to me, Lawrence Country Club never did.

    Enjoying Sunday Brunch

    Brian Minnis, Director of Operations and one of the owners, met me when I arrived and personally gave me a tour of the facilities and introduced me to the staff. I was very impressed with the facilities and staff, but even more so with the University of Kansas (KU) Affiliate Membership. Normally $240 per month ($2,880 per year) plus a $300 initiation fee, Brian told me that KU Staff and their families get a golf/dining/social membership for just $150 per month ($1,800 per year, a savings of over $1000) with no initiation fee and access to all of the facilities for my wife included … SOLD!

    I joined Alvamar on March 13, 2014 and played my first round that day, 10/18ths of a round anyway. As I putted-out on the 10th green of the Member’s Course, a tight, tree-lined  layout that meanders through large custom homes and gently rolling hills, I turned to return to my golf cart … BUT IT WAS GONE! While just 30 yards away putting, it turned out that three teenagers drove off with my electric cart along with my new iPhone and golf clubs valued at over $1700. I recovered my iPhone, which they tossed from the cart as they drove down the 13th fairway, using Find My iPhone in the Pro Shop. I also found two of my golf clubs in the bushes across the street from the 13th green where witnesses had seen the boys fleeing the scene but everything else was lost.

    Alvamar staff reacted immediately and superbly, doing everything they could to help me, including wading through knee deep sludge in a drainage ditch and combing the woods for any sign of my possessions. They was absolutely nothing they could have done to prevent this bazaar theft and went above and beyond after, a testament to the commitment to outstanding customer service I have witnessed so far.

    Eggs Benedict, Quiche Lorraine, Hash Browns, Biscuit and Gravy

    I have since had a chance to play both courses and have been impressed with the layouts and conditions even though the grass is still dormant. With the exception of a few holes, the courses are both very walkable. The Member’s Course is much tighter than the Championship (public) Course, a 7,000+ yard test which reminds me of the Robert Trent Jones designed “Blue” Course at the U.S. Air Force Academy where I was a member while on the faculty from 1988 to 1993.

    Brunch: We attended the Sunday Brunch last week early on and enjoyed our meal. At $16.50 per person (coffee $1.50 extra), the brunch was a decent value. Along with the expected breakfast fare (eggs, a great omelet station, bacon, potatoes, biscuits, gravy, waffles, and pancakes), you can choose from Prime Rib (which looked more like roast beef to me), a fish casserole, assorted vegetables, Au Gratin potatoes, and an assortment of fruit and store-bought muffins and pastries.

    Pete’s Omelet and Bacon

    Pete, the chef at the omelet bar, does an excellent job and the omelet was superb. Beside fresh eggs, you can choose from bacon, ham, cheddar cheese, onions, peppers, and mushrooms. Everything else was fresh and flavorful with a few exceptions. The English muffins in the eggs Benedict had obviously been there all morning and were so difficult to cut with my butter knife that I finally gave up. The “Prime Rib” was actually pre-sliced roast beef (no carving station) in a Bordelaise sauce, tender and flavorful, but not Prime Rib. My only other suggestion would be a dew more dessert options other than slides fruit and store-bought muffins and breakfast pastries, possibly homemade cheesecake, chocolate cake, or pie/cobbler ala mode.


    19th Hole: The Alvabar and Grill is a large, well-appointed, cozy environment with wood paneling and numerous TVs for viewing sports while enjoying a post-round beverage. A nice selection of draught beers, including Guinness and local craft beers, daily specials, full menu, and reasonable prices make the Alvabar a great place to wind down after a round of golf.

    Food: The menu is eclectic and so far I have tried the Reuben sandwich (corned beef, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and thousand island dressing on marbled rye with choice of side – seasoned French fries, cottage fries, mashed potatoes, etc – $9), the original mel’t (4 cheese grilled cheese sandwich with melted cheese on top, accompanied by choice of side – $8), the chicken fried steak (flaky, breaded, grilled beef with mashed potatoes and veggie 0 $12.50), the blackened burger ($9), and the taco special (Thursdays – 2 tacos for $3).

    Taco Special – 2 for $3

    The Reuben was good, but not any better than any I have had at a coffee shop for $6-$8 and nowhere near a true Kosher deli sandwich piled high with corned beef. The french and cottage fries are good, but likely frozen. The original mel’t is super cheesy, but in a good way and if you love cheese, this is the sandwich for you. The chicken fried steak has been the highlight so far, a crunchy, flaky, perfectly grilled piece of breaded meat about the size and shape of a Kansas City strip, but half the thickness.

    The blackened burger was “OK”, nothing special. And the tacos were a huge disappointment, even at a buck-fifty a piece. On prefab, store bought corn taco shells, a smattering of overly greasy, seasoned beef, very little (melted) cheese, and a wisp of lettuce barely filled the shells (not the large variety) halfway. The salsa appeared to be Pace or some other commercial variety, not homemade and the big cup of sour cream was wasted on a taco aficionado who would never think of putting sour cream on anything, well maybe a baked potato, much less a taco. I can walk to Fuzzy’s Tacos on Massachusetts Street and get a top-notch taco with shredded beef (ground beed, pork, and chicken available), abundant cheese, lettuce, and fresh tomato on a crispy handmade corn shell for only $2, so these were very disappointing.

    I was talked in to trying the baked Ziti ($14) by Pauly, who as a Bostonian should know good Italian food. I have to say that the dish was not bad, probably a bit overpriced (it should come with garlic bread or a salad for that price). The mozzarella cheese on top was baked to perfection (see photo). The store bought pasta was al dente as it should be and the accompanying peppers, onions, and sausage were tasty although there was a bit too much sauce. Overall, the dish was decent, not great.

    A new veal dish, Veal Scaloppini Francesca ($22.00),  parmesan battered veal with gnocchi dressed in boursin cream and served with a vegetable medley recently caught my attention. Being a lover of all things veal, I had to try it. The photo is deceiving, but there were more vegetables than either veal or gnocchi on the plate. Maybe 3-4 ounces of veal max, it was lightly battered. tender, but appeared and tasted frozen. The gnocchi, all seven of them, were hidden under the sauce and mushy, overcooked. The sauce was tasty enough, but drenched the plate and obscured what little veal and gnocchi were on the plate. At $22, the dish was disappointing. A price in the $14 range or a few more ounces of veal and gnocchi would make the dish more palatable.

    Golf: The golf courses are challenging although not as well maintained as I would expect from a “country club”. The fairways are mowed too tightly, offering poor lies in many places where a fairway shot should be rewarded. The local “muni” also has zoysia fairways, but they are much more plush and forgiving than Alvamar’s at this point in the season. Alvamar’s greens are challenging and in good shape except for the dozens of ball marks on each green from the (too) many tournaments held weekly and self-centered people whom obviously care less about anybody but themselves.  

    The member’s driving range is an utter disappointment. Very large with plenty of room to move the tees around, the grass is so poorly maintained that it is difficult to find a decent lie to practice from. On the other hand, the “public” range is well kept and plush, having recently been verticut and reseeded, telling me that members are not as appreciated or respected as well as non-members. 

    Original Mel’t – $8

    Staff: Management, who are mostly indifferent to me as a whole and cater to the more affluent and influential members, aside, staff at Alvamar are wonderful. Valerie in the front office is very nice and helpful anytime it comes to sorting out the discrepancies on my bill. Travis, the Alvabar Manager, and his staff, including Hillary, Libby, Lizzie, Carena, Troy, Tatania, and Pauly are all friendly and customer oriented, making spending my money there almost a pleasure. Sammy, Cody, Eric (Clemson), Larry, and many of the other golf course staff are also very customer service oriented and helpful. THANK YOU ALVAMAR STAFF!

    Conclusion: Early on in our membership, I can say that Alvamar Golf and Country Club is a pretty good value, providing good customer service and individualized attention from most employees. The food is adequate, fairly reasonable in price, but for what you would expect from a “country club” … a bit “below par”. 

    Having joined Alvamar to meet people in a new town, I have to say that management does not practice what they preached during my initial tour, catering mostly to the more affluent, socially connected, better golfers at the club. They rarely have a word to say to me, talking at length to those sitting beside me while ignoring me for the most part. The Alvamar Ambassadors, those key members tasked with making new members feel welcome, dropped the ball after our first Bounty Night (Friday night cash and prize drawings), virtually ignoring my wife and I ever since. Members, while mostly pleasant on the surface, are cliquish and isolationists, avoiding talking, much less asking new members to join them for golf, or otherwise interacting with those they deem cool enough for their attention. A few key members, one who staff and members refer to as “Lord” SoAndSo, are apparently so impressed with their golf acumen and/or social status that they have refuse to even acknowledge my existence after several attempts to interact with them by simply saying “hello”. It would have been nice to feel included for the hundreds of dollars a month we have been sacrificing to try to meet people in a new town, but after six months we have no more friends than when we joined in March. We will be taking that into consideration when our membership is up for renewal next March.

    CombatCritic Gives Alvamar Country Club 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

    Key Words: Alvamar Golf and Country Club, Alvamar, Golf, Country, Club, Lawrence, Kansas, 66047, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

    Genesis Health Clubs (Lawrence, Kansas – North/South) DID NOT DO THE RIGHT THING

    I joined Genesis after a miserable, humiliating experience at The Summit, which is just a couple blocks from our home in Old East Lawrence, yet eons away in terms of values and how they treat their customers. I was hoping Genesis would be focused more on compassion, integrity, dignity, and respect, but I am starting to have my doubts.
    I was lured into signing a one-year contract, an obsolete practice in the fitness industry for decades, by a young salesman who told me that my “wife can join for just $10 extra per month”. Considering that my monthly payment is close to $50 per month, that information sealed the deal and I joined that day.

    When I finally talked my wife into joining after years of begging, we went to sign her up ONLY TO BE TOLD BY LISA THAT IT NOW WOULD COST $20 per month … NOT the $10 I was quoted before enrollment. Lisa, the young, female manager, did not offer to honor the price we were originally quoted, but instead offered a two-week trial membership available to the public at-large. 

    I informed Lisa about the poor public perception of Genesis’s practices, particularly on Yelp where I am an Elite ’14 member, but she did not seem in the least bit concerned, a potentially fatal flaw for a business in a college town like Lawrence where students use Yelp (and other social media apps), making or breaking most small, local businesses.

    I am considering canceling my membership due to false advertising and breach of (oral) contract, but will wait to see if my wife wants to join and if GENESIS HAS THE INTEGRITY to honor the price quoted prior to enrollment.


    1) Even though $50 per month is the most expensive gym membership in Lawrence by far, Genesis offers fair value due to the fact that the other fitness centers in town do not compare in terms of facilities, equipment, amenities, and classes offered. The equipment, while somewhat dated and dirty, is sufficient in number to accommodate patrons without having to wait and the classes (yoga, spin, Pilates, cross fit) offered are abundant and varied enough to fit anybody’s schedule.

    2) With only one drinking fountain at the Lawrence – South facility, with a prostate problem at that, BRING YOUR OWN WATER … filling your bottle in the bathroom with the smell of poop lingering in the air is disgusting! A couple of Culligan water dispensers in one of the back exercise rooms would cost $100 a month at most, increasing sanitation and hydration for customers.

    3) The men’s locker layout in the Lawrence – South location is sub-optimal in that there are only two benches and they are situated by the entrance so that traffic to the shower and toilets must pass between the benches and lockers, a logistical nightmare for the few people lucky enough to have a seat and one of the sparse number of lockers available.

    4) The Lawrence – South facility has only two showers and no sauna, steam room, or whirlpool, so exercise is all you are going to get there. The North facility has all three, but the steam room is never hot enough, the sauna is broken more times than not, and the whirlpool, beside being a little too hot, is so chlorinated that it burns the eyes and lungs.

    Beside the concerns addressed above, I was pleased with my membership even though both facilities are somewhat dirty, until I found out I was lied to during the registration process. As a retired military officer, honor and integrity are paramount in my life and I do not frequent businesses which fail to practice those core values. We will see if Genesis holds the same values and whether or not they choose to DO THE RIGHT THING, honoring the price I was quoted prior to enrollment. 

    UPDATE  – April, 2 2014:

    Sad … not for me, but for the shortsighted owner of Genesis- Lawrence. Not only will Lawrence South Manager Lisa NOT HONOR THE PRICE I was quoted before signing-up, she had the nerve to insinuate that I, a retired military officer, Veteran, and customer, was trying to game the system! Extremely be ad decision on her part. 

    I will pay the additional $10 per month over what I was quoted before signing the contract because $10 is not going to break the bank and I do not want to go through the hassle of suing Genesis for Breach of Contract. Genesis, on the other hand, now has a very unhappy customer, one who has provided them with FREE AND MOSTLY POSITIVE check-ins, tips, and reviews up until now. As I told Lisa, I cannot in good conscience continue to support a business that neither treats customers with dignity and respect NOR DOES THE RIGHT THING … IT IS CALLED INTEGRITY FOLKS!

    CombatCritic Gives Genesis Health Clubs (Lawrence, Kansas) 2 OUT OF 10 BOMBS (based on the lack of truthfulness prior to enrollment and poor customer service) AND THAT IS GENEROUS … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

    Follow CombatCritic On Yelp (An Elite ’14/’15 Member) And  TripAdvisor (“Top Contributor”) Where You Can Read His Latest Reviews, Try His Favorite Recipes, And More!

    Key Words: Genesis Fitness, Genesis, gym, center, exercise, workout, yoga, integrity, honor, truth, lies, membership, CombatCritic, TravelValue

    Travel Tech: IOGEAR High Capacity Portable Battery (GMP6600P) Is "THE BOMB"

    IOGEAR High Capacity Portable Battery (GMP6600P)

    If you love to travel like I do and hate it when your smartphone dies in the middle of the day, the IOGEAR High Capacity Portable Battery (GMP6600P) is a excellent choice for the price! For $40.00, it charges smartphones, tablets, and notebooks on the go and has incredible capacity. 

    I can recharge my smartphone 4-5 times off one charge! I have not tried to power or charge my notebook computer yet, so I cannot tell you how that works, but for smartphones it is well worth the price. 

    I have an app for my phone called GolfLogix that gives me GPS data for golf, including ball position, distance to pin, etc. for whatever course I am playing. Before I bought the IOGEAR battery, my battery would die after less than 9 holes and that was using power sparingly. Now i can play a whole round with JUICE to spare…I can even make phone calls on the way home or make a reservation for dinner on Open Table!

    Great little battery PACKS A POWERFUL PUNCH! 

    CombatCritic gives the IOGEAR GearPower High Capacity Portable Battery (GMP6600P/7000AMH  9 BOMBS OUT OF 10 (BOMBS ARE GOOD!)

    Read more travel, restaurant, hotel, destination reviews … AND MORE … on my blog: 


    Key Words: Iogear High Capacity Portable Battery, GMP660P, 7000mAH, Iogear, GearPower, portable, battery, charger, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

    Zen Zero Update … Quality, Reasonable Thai and Nepalese Cuisine in Downtown Lawrence

    Zen Zero

    811 Massachusetts St
    Lawrence, KS 66044
    Phone: 785-832-0001
    Fax: 785-841-8759
    Sun-Mon  11AM – 9PM
    Tue-Sat     11AM – 10PM

    Email: zenzerolaw@sbcglobal.net
    Crunchy Thai Chip Basket

    Restaurants in downtown Lawrence are not necessarily well known for their value. Rents are high on and around Massachusetts Street, so most food is overpriced, particularly based on the quality of said, which in this case is not necessarily a positive thing. We have tried several, including The Mad Greek, Teller’s (now closed), Rudy’s Pizza, La Parrilla, Cielito Lindo, La Familia, Fuzzy’s Tacos, India Palace, The Casbah, and Curry in a Hurry to name a few, and with the exception of the last four, have yet to find great food and true value … UNTIL NOW!

    Fried Pork Momos with Two Sauces

    My wife had heard that Zen Zero was good and had I known it was a Thai restaurant, I would heave tried it sooner. I love Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean cuisine thanks to their abundant use of exotic and flavorful spices, particularly curry, so when I heard Zen Zero was a Thai restaurant, I eagerly agreed to give it a try.

    The decor is modern, yet cozy with hints of zen influence in select pieces of art on the walls and construction with warm Earth-tone colors and an open kitchen emitting sounds, smells, and flames as chefs prepare meals in view of customers.  The server arrived with a complimentary basket of Asian rice chips, light and crunchy, likely a rice-based starter, which are tasty but an accompanying sauce to dip in would be nice.  There are soy sauce and an Asian-style chili sauce on the table, so you can easily make your own dipping condiment, but a creative and inexpensive accompaniment would be an added bonus.

    Sunday night is Zen Zero night in our house and draught beer is on special for $3.00 a (American) pint. Not a huge selection, a pale ale, a wheat, and a seasonal (Oktoberfest, Irish Red), I ordered the Oktoberfest (normally $4.00), but the server quickly told me they were out, so I went for the pale ale (normally $3.75).

    Chicken Spring Rolls

    The App (appetizer) Sampler ($7.29) which came with two steamed veggie momos (a tasty Tibetan dumpling), two chicken satay (grilled chicken on a stick accompanied by peanut sauce) and two fried tofu triangles. It took quite a while for our appetizer to arrive considering the restaurant was only about half full, but I enjoyed a pint of pale ale ($2.50 – normally $3.75) while waiting. The appetizer was relatively small, arriving on a plate smaller than our dinner plates at home, and left me hungry for more. It would have been enough for one person, but there were two of us, so we each had one momo, one satay, and one tofu each. The momo (Himalayan dumplings with charred tomato and spicy sesame chutneys served steamed) would have been better fried, an option when ordering the momo appetizer, but not on our sampler platter, and was delicious, but it was consumed in just two bites (I could have easily handled it in just one). A steamed dumpling the size of a fortune cookie filled with veggies and served with sweet and sour sauce, momos are likely better deep fried.  

    The Fried Pork Momos ($4.79) are much tastier and less healthy than the steamed variety, coming with four dumplings and two sauces, a mildly spicy red tomato chutney and an almost white sauce that reminded me of very well-blended hummus.  The Fried Chicken Spring Rolls ($4.29) come with a sweet and spicy sauce infused with chili peppers, but for the price I would expect more than two, both of which were consumed post haste.  They were savory and crunchy, containing cabbage, bean sprouts, and a few other unknown vegetables, and, beside the small portion, they were also excellent. The chicken satay ($4.99) is also good with four skewers of grilled chicken accompanied by a decadent peanut sauce and zesty onion and cucumber relish.

    Phad Phak Ruam Mitr

    My wife ordered a vegetarian dish, Phad Phak Ruam Mitr ($7.29), a mixed vegetable stir-fry with broccoli, onions, garlic, carrots, bell peppers, snow peas, Napa cabbage, scallions, baby corn and tofu and served with Jasmine rice. It was light and delicious, not too spicy for an Italian not used to eating hot and spicy foods (penne arribiatta is as hot as it gets in Italian cuisine). The vegetables were fresh and crisp, and the sauce light yet complex enough to satiate the palate.

    Massaman Curry
    I absolutely love curry and Zen Zero’s Massaman curry ($7.69), a coconut curry from Southern Thailand with potatoes peanuts (Sorry NO Pork Option with this Curry), was THE BOMB! Having ordered mine with the customary beef, the curry was scrumptiously rich and perfectly seasoned. A thick red curry, Massaman comes with tofu or meat (other than pork) and potatoes and peanuts in a huge bowl served with Jasmine rice. Not abundant in the beef department, I was not disappointed because the thick curry sauce was probably the second best I have ever eaten (the best was at a small Vietnamese restaurant in Palos Verdes, California back in the late 1970s) … SUPERB!

    Green Curry ($7.69) with Beef ($2.69)

    On our next visit I wanted to try the Green Thai Curry ($7.69 – green curry with bell peppers, eggplant, and bamboo shoots), but I hate bamboo shoots because they have the consistency of Styrofoam and zero taste, so I asked the server (Zana) if I could substitute potatoes.  Yellow and green Thai curries are excellent and normally are served with chicken, pork, or beef (chicken is the norm) with potato and peas, so I was dismayed when I saw bamboo shoots as an ingredient. Bamboo shoots and water chestnuts, another dreaded ingredient, are usually found in Chinese cuisine, not Thai, so I thought potatoes would be a rather benign request. 

    I was told that there would be a $1.00 up-charge for substituting potato for bamboo shoots!  Considering the fact that potatoes are one of the cheapest staples in the produce department and much more pricey than an equal weight in potatoes, I declined and simply asked for the dish minus the water chestnuts and plus beef ($2.69 extra).  The green curry was delicious, spicy enough for the pallet but not too much for my acid reflux.  The bell peppers (red and green) were a bit too crunchy (raw) for my taste, but the dish was excellent. The “Jasmine” rice, which accompanies most dishes, seems to be merely white rice because I could neither taste nor see any hints of Jasmine.  The beef, which I paid nearly $3.00 extra for, consisted of 3 or 4 pieces of thinly sliced beef and 1-2 inches in length, nearly non-existent.  If there had been MORE MEAT, the dish would have been perfect, beside the fact that a couple of chunks of potato would have also been nice!

    Phad Thai

    The Phad Thai ($7.29), a classic Thai stir-fry with rice noodles, eggs, bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro and peanuts in a mild red curry sauce, was robust and delicious.  Looking much like an Italian pasta dish, it had nothing else in common with Italian cuisine other than the noodles, and was perfectly seasoned.  The vegetables were well cooked and not raw, the dish was sprinkled with small chunks of peanuts and stir-fried in a mild red curry sauce, for a vegetarian dish it was scrump-diddly-umptious!

    The Dry Chicken Curry Thakali-style ($8.99) is a traditional Nepalese curry made with onions, ginger, garlic, garam masala and tomato, served with jasmine rice, rahar ko dal (yellow lentils) and potato achar. The achar sat atop the dish and was oddly cold, so I asked the server if that was the intention and it was, looking and tasting like Nepalese potato salad. With quite a few chicken chunks throughout, the dish was my least favorite of all my meals so far, somewhat boring with a bit of bite and too much jasmine rice for the amount of sauce.

    Zen Zero has become a staple in our house and we will be returning frequently in the future, so expect updates to this review as I try the red, yellow, and “dry” curries, among other dishes, in upcoming months. Good restaurants are not abundant in Lawrence, particularly downtown, but Zen Zero is a welcome addition!

    CombatCritic gives Zen Zero 9 OUT OF 10 BOMBS … Bombs are good!

    Key Words: zen zero, zen, zero, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, street, Thai, Nepalese, Japanese, curry, noodles, stir-fry, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue

    Pueblo … New Name, Same Boring Food

    • Pueblo Mexican Restaurant
    • 804 Lowa St
      Lawrence, KS 66044
    • Phone number(785) 331-2710
    • Business websitepueblomxrestaurant.com

    •  Prices: $$$$$
      Queso Blanco, Guacamole, Chips and Salsa
      We tried the El Mezcal on Iowa Street (now closed and called “Pueblo”) shortly after moving to Lawrence last summer and were not impressed. So when I read the yelp* reviews for the new restaurant, I was a bit surprised that they were so good. In fact, a fellow Elite ’14 member had high praise for their food, service, and margaritas, so I had to give them a try. Our experience was very average, even disappointing. Based on the menu, it looks like El Mezcal simply changed the name to Pueblo, hoping to get more business, but they should have copied the 23rd Street location’s recipes because the food is not as good.

      As mentioned in previous reviews, I am a bit of a Mexican food snob, if there is such a thing, having grown up in LA where Mexican restaurants far outnumber McDonalds. As usual, I stick with the basics the first time I visit a restaurant to see if they can get them right before moving on to more complex dishes.

      Steak Tacos ala Carte – $2.40 each
      We ordered the small guacamole ($3.49) and the highly touted white cheese dip (queso blanco – small – $3.49). The guacamole was small and too dark, made with avocado and SMALL PIECES OF TOMATO. The queso blanco was warm and well seasoned, but way too runny, barely adhering to the store bought chips, another disappointment. I had the 27 ounce margarita (on the rocks – $4.99) which was good, strong, and very reasonably priced, and my wife had the horchata, a Mexican rice-base drink which was better than El Mezcal’s watery version.

      My wife ordered the vegetarian special #1, a cheese quesadilla and cheese and onion enchilada (with queso blanco instead of red sauce – she hates tomatoes – $7.49), coming with refried beans. It is difficult to screw-up a quesadilla and Pueblo was no exception. The enchilada was good, but the beans rather bland, missing that fatty taste traditional refried beans emanate hence the name “refried”.

      Beef Enchiladas ala Carte – $5.49 (3)

      I decided to forego the rice and beans and get down to brass tacks, ordering the  steak tacos ($2.40 each) and beef enchiladas ($5.49) ala carte. The tacos came in flour tortillas and the steak was well seasoned with a little lettuce and plenty of white cheese. I saved some of the guacamole for my tacos, ordered some pico de gallo, and added their salsa, which was pretty good, making up for the lack of tomatoes.

      The beef enchiladas were OK, but the sauce was lacking flavor and a bit too sweet for my taste. I recommend that they flash fry the tortillas before filling them, adding the sauce and some white cheese on top before putting them under the broiler to melt.

      Pueblo was no surprise after the ho-hum experience we had at this Iowa Street location when it was called El Mezcal. The decor is colorful and reminiscent of old Mexico and the service attentive, friendly, and fast. Not my favorite Mexican restaurant in Lawrence by any stretch and we will probably not return.

      CombatCritic Gives Pueblo 5 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

      Pueblo on Urbanspoon
      Key Words: 66044, burrito, CombatCritic, eat, el, Pueblo, enchilada, food, guacamole, Kansas, Lawrence, margarita, Mexican, mezcal, restaurant, taco, travel, TravelValue, value

    U.R.U. Has A Little Bit Of Everything … For Everyone

    A very nice antique and collectible shop in an old building on Mass Street between 11th and 12th Streets in downtown Lawrence.

    As an avid collector and American and English antique auction veteran, I know quality and value when I see them. U.R.U. has a plethora of items, from vintage jewelry, books, and comics to Murano glass and antique furniture at reasonable prices.

    Service with a big smile and convenient hours make browsing or shopping a delight. I will be back regularly as inventory is turned frequently. Grab a $2 taco at Fuzzy’s next door or take a walk in South Park just across the street while you are in the neighborhood .

    CombatCritic Gives U.R.U. 9 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

    Key Words: U.R.U., URU, home, decor, antique, collectible, furniture, knickknacks, jewelry, vintage, clothing, glass, porcelain, CombatCritic, TravelValue, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044

    El Mezcal: Good Mexican Food, Strong Margaritas, Fair Prices

    El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant
    1819 W 23rd St 

    Lawrence, KS 66046
    (785) 832-8775

    El Mezcal Website

    Prices $$$$$
    We tried the El Mezcal on Iowa Street (now closed) shortly after moving to Lawrence last summer and were not impressed. So when I read the yelp* reviews for the 23rd Street location, e is such a thingI was a bit surprised that they were consistently so good. In fact, a fellow Elite ’14 member, Alicia “Lush” R, had high praise for their food, service, and margaritas, so I had to give them a try.
    Small Guacamole

    I am admittedly a Mexican food snob, if there is such a thing, having grown up in LA where hispanics seem to outnumber us gringos (PC???) and Mexican restaurants outnumber McDonalds. As usual, I stick with the basics the first time I visit a restaurant to see if they can get them right before moving on to more complex dishes.

    Queso Blanco

    We ordered the small guacamole ($3.79) and the highly touted white cheese dip (queso blanco – small – $3.79). The guacamole was very good, made with fresh avocado and NO TOMATO, well seasoned and a fair portion for the prices. The queso blanco was also scrummy as advertised, warm and well seasoned, but not too hot as my wife does not like her food too spicy. I had the 27 ounce margarita (on the rocks – $4.99) which was good, strong, and very reasonably priced, and my wife had the horchata, a Mexican rice-base drink which was a bit watery for our taste.


    My wife ordered the vegetarian special #1, a cheese quesadilla and cheese and onion enchilada (with queso blanco instead of red sauce – she hates tomatoes – $7.49), coming with retired beans. It is difficult to screw-up a quesadilla and El Mezcal was no exception. The enchilada was good, but the beans rather bland, missing that fatty taste traditional refried beans emanate hence the name “refried”.

    Beef Tacos ala Carte

    I decided to forego the rice and beans and get down to brass tacks, ordering the beef tacos ($3.99) and cheese and onion enchiladas ($5.79) ala carte. The tacos came in prefab shells, normally a dead giveaway for bad food, but they were actually pretty good. The ground beef was well seasoned, the shells not too soft, not too crispy, holding up well to the punishment my teeth inflicted, with a little lettuce and plenty of white cheese. Their menu mentions “juicy tomato”, but there were none in my tacos, my only complaint other than the prefab shells. I saved some guacamole for my tacos and added their salsa which was pretty good, making up for the lack of tomatoes.

    Cheese and Onion Enchiladas ala Carte

    The cheese and onion enchiladas were tasty, but so tough (yes, tough) that I could not cut them with a fork and my knife even had difficulty at times. I like burnt, crispy cookies and brownies, so I actually enjoyed the crunchiness. It was obvious that they had been either broiled or microwaved too long BEFORE adding the enchilada sauce, which was actually very good. My only other recommendations would be to flash fry the tortillas before filling them, adding the sauce and some white cheese on top before putting them under the broiler to melt. There was also about 50% too much sauce, a waste of money considering the fact that I left much of it on my plate.

    El Mezcal was a nice surprise after the ho-hum experience we had at the Iowa Street location. The decor is colorful and reminiscent of old Mexico complete with a small fountain and the service attentive, friendly, and fast. Not my favorite Mexican restaurant in Lawrence, but we will return from time to time for the cheap, abundant margaritas if nothing else.

    CombatCritic Gives El Mezcal 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

    El Mezcal Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

    Key Words: El Mezcal. el, mezcal, Mexican, restaurant, food, eat, taco, enchilada, guacamole, margarita, burrito, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

    Absence Does Not Necessarily Make The Heart Grow Fonda

    Amanda’s Fonda
    3625 W. Colorado Ave 
    Colorado SpringsCO80904

    An old haunt, I had to try it again after 6 years in the Midwest … Tacos, enchiladas, you know the drill. 

    The shredded beef tacos were OK, little meat or cheese, but what was there tasted good. The cheese and onion enchilada was decent, but the sauce was rather bland. The chips were decent, the salsa very good, but the guacamole was a bit pricey for the size so we steered away from an appetizer.

    I remembered the food being better … I guess absence does not necessarily make the heart grow fonder. Ever been back to your high school? Disappointing, small, but you still have fond memories.

    CombatCritic Gives Amanda’s Fonda 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

    UPDATE: After my check-in, the manager contacted me and offered a gift card and an invitation to return and give Amanda’s Fonda another try. I will return next time I am in Colorado Springs and will update my review based on that experience. “6 BOMBS” is not a “bad” review, but leaves room for some improvement … SPERIAMO (let’s hope so)!

    Amanda's Fonda on Urbanspoon

    Key Words: Amanda’s Fonda, Amanda, fonda, Colorado Springs, Colorado, springs, 80904, Mexican, food, taco, enchilada, chips, salsa, guacamole, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue

    Great Harvest Bread Company: Great Bread, High Prices Equal Moderate Value

    Lawrence, Kansas: I had seen Great Harvest while driving up Vermont, but being a regular at Wheatfield’s (less than two blocks away), I had not bothered to stop in. My wife and I had to park across the street from Great Harvest during a recent visit to Massachusetts Street for some shopping, so we decided to go in.

    As we entered, the aroma of freshly baked bread and pies consumed me as the baker and ovens are directly behind the counter and he was removing piping-hot pie from the oven. Flavors vary by season.

    Unlike Wheatfield’s, bread is self-service in plastic wrap on shelving next to the counter. There were samples of five different breads and a bowl full of butter next to the register and when I inquired about the offerings, the young lady sliced a piece of multigrain bread as wide and thick as the palm of my hand. The bread was moist and crunchy with chunks of wholegrain throughout, the crust being a bit too soft for my taste, but delicious nonetheless. At nearly $6 a loaf, the bread is more than I have ever paid for a loaf and $1-$2 more than their competitor down the street.

    The pies were gorgeous, a plump golden brown, but at $16 a pop, a bit pricey for my taste. Their products are obviously high in quality and flavor, so the only thing limiting my rating to four stars and not five was the prices. The service was excellent, the bread delicious, the prices a bit high … 

    CombatCritic Gives Great Harvest Bread Company 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

    Key Words: Great Harvest Bread Company, great, harvest, bread, company, Lawrence, Kansas, Vermont, 66044, pie, multigrain, bakery, baker, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue

    Don’s Auto Center: An Honest Business In A World Plagued By A Lack Of Integrity

    Lawrence, Kansas: I took our 2000 VW Beetle TDI to Don’s Auto Center to see if the “problems” another mechanic (Das Autohaus – see review at http://www.combatcritic.com/2013/12/if-you-want-to-spend-lots-of-money-take.html) told me needed repairing were indeed concerns. On my recent Das Autohaus invoice, the owner had stated that the vehicle needed “new struts” ($400-$600 on RepairPal) and removal of “excess carbon buildup on intake manifold” (which I had done less than two years and 20,000 miles ago at a cost of $700), for a total of $1,100 to $1,300 in repairs.

    I had recently taken the vehicle on a 500+ mile trip to Colorado to visit my mother and noticed that the fuel economy was six to seven miles per gallon less than last summer (intake manifold?) and the ride somewhat rough (struts?), so I decided to take the vehicle to Don’s when I returned to see if the Das Autohaus “recommendations” were accurate.

    I explained to Mike, the owner of Don’s, what the symptoms were and what I thought could possibly be causing them (based on the Das Autohaus diagnoses – struts and carbon in manifold). Mike called me later that day and told me that he had checked the suspension thoroughly and found “no issues”, no concerns and certainly no need for new struts. He told me the cause of the rough ride was likely caused by the tires being overinflated and simply let some air out of the tires. As for the poor gas mileage and possible carbon buildup on the intake manifold, Mike said that the winter additives in the diesel fuel cause lower gas mileage and because the manifold was cleaned less than 20,000 miles ago, there was no need to have it done again. He told me that the air filter was a bit dirty, so I had him replace it and do an oil change ($30 for an air filter, $50/gallon for synthetic motor oil) for a total of LESS THAN $200 and OVER $1,000 LESS THAN THE DAS AUTOHAUS “NEEDED REPAIRS”.

    I thanked Mike for his honesty and integrity, values I as a retired military officer hold dear, and will return to have him service our
    vehicles from now on. You can come to your own conclusions regarding Das Autohaus. All I know is that by taking our vehicle literally a couple blocks down the street to an honest mechanic, we saved over $1,000. Enough said … THANKS MIKE!

    Key Words: Don’s Auto Center, Don’s, auto, center, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, honest, mechanic, integrity, honor, price, fair, manifold, tire, strut, repair, CombatCritic, combat, critic, TravelValue