Nonna Cucina Rustica Serves Food My Grandmother (Nonna) Would Be Proud Of!


Nonna Cucina Italiana
Calle San Jorge
San Juan, Puerto Rico
(787) 998-6555


$$$$$


San Juan: Nonna Cucina Rustica Italiana is very nice, somewhat small, slightly upscale classic Italian restaurant near downtown and not far from Miramar where we were staying. We found her on Yelp* and the reviews were very positive. We had difficulty finding a restaurant open on Christmas Eve when we arrived in San Juan, so I figured that Christmas day would be even worse. To our surprise, Nonna was open (as were several restaurants we saw – everything else was closed as they should be) and had a table available … “we’ll be right there!”

Waze, our eMap, was a bit off, so we called the restaurant and the manager guided us in (a couple blocks ahead of where Waze took us), sticking her head out the door until she spotted us pulling up. They have Valet Service, but we decided to go through the next signal and found plenty of street parking in the next block.

It is nearly impossible to find a traditional Italian kitchen in the US and we were expecting as much in Puerto Rico … WE WERE VERY PLEASANTLY SURPRISED!

Homemade Mozzarella Caprese ($9) and Vido di Alicante
Carmen, our server, was extremely pleasant even though, still being on “non-island time” and expecting things to move rapidly like they do on the continent, we were hungry and a little impatient to start. I ordered a Spanish Alicante red, a simple yet robust dark red wine ($27), to accompany our meal.

For antipasti, we had the veal polpette (meatballs) and homemade mozzarella, and both were excellent. The polpette (3 for $9 – polpettone, by the way, is Italian meatloaf) came atop a bed of mashed potatoes (polenta would have been a more traditional and excellent choice) and covered with a light tomato sauce. We had to ask for bread and it took a while to arrive, a very small basket of what looked like foccacia sliced into small pieces, and the only disappointment of the night. Local bread on the table is standard in all Italian restaurants, even in Italy, so when I did not see bread on a single table and had to ask for it, I was a bit surprised. It was decent, but too little to accompany the wonderful appetizers, both of which cried out for bread, good bread!

Polpette with Mashed Potatoes and Tomato Sauce – $9
The homemade mozzarella was also delicious. Atop the four rather small, thin slices ($9) of mozzarella were three large cherry tomatoes, a few pieces of arugula, and a hefty dose of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chopped, toasted hazelnuts. A kind of insalata Caprese, you would never see balsamic vinegar on mozzarella in Italy, but it was very tasty if not filling.

The Casoncelli alla Bergamasca ($17), a light yet complex dish of pasta shells (the size of perogi) was stuffed with sausage and quickly sautéed in a mild butter and sage sauce. They were sublime, the only fault being that the obviously homemade pasta shells were a bit too “al dente” and could have been boiled another minute or two. Otherwise, we were quite pleased.

Casoncelli alla Bergamasca – $17
I ordered the lasagna ($18), which came in its own 7″ x 7″ baking dish with a crispy layer of cheese and béchamel sauce and it was exquisite! More than I needed to eat, it was layered with a hefty portion of minced lamb, lasagna noodles, spinach, and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. The lamb tasted very much like lamb, so if you are not into lamb, DO NOT order this dish. I like lamb on occasion, not daily, and was very happy with my choice.

Lamb Lasagna – $18
For dessert, offered by the very sweet, young pastry chef with a huge smile, we had the tiramisu. Untraditional in every way, I had seen it on other tables throughout the night and thought it was an ice cream sunday, but it was not! All of the usual ingredients were there, cookies, mascarpone cheese, and cocoa (accompanied by a shot of espresso to pour over the top), but a scoop of ice cream was also included along with chocolate syrup. It did not taste like any tiramisu I have ever eaten (and at $12 it was the most expensive tiramisu I have eaten), but it was extravagant.

Not cheap by any stretch, Nonna was a delight and extremely good value … BUONISSIMO!

CombatCritic Gives Nonna Cucina Italiana 9 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!






Key Words: Nonna, cucina, rustica, Italiana, Italian, restaurant, food, San Juan, Puerto Rico, eat, dinner, delicious, pasta, wine, mozzarella, cheese, tiramisu, CombatCritic
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Mexquisito is Exquisito According to CombatCritico!


Mexquisito

712 Massachusetts Street
LawrenceKS 66044

Phone: (785) 856-8226
Web: Mexquisito

Prices: $$$$$


I recently reviewed Tortas Jalisco, one of my few favorite Mexican restaurants in Lawrence, a sister-establishment of Mexquisito in downtown Lawrence.  Like its sister, Mexquisito is bare-bones in terms of decor and ambiance, but the food more than makes up for the lackluster environment.

Being a Mexican food junkie from SoCal (LA-LA LAND) and used to some of the best Mexican food north of the border, I have high standards. I read about Mexquisito on Yelp where the restaurant seemed to get mostly very positive reviews.  I heard, like several Lawrence Mexican restaurants, that they charge for chips and salsa, something I have never seen in over 50 years of eating at hundreds of Mexican restaurants north and south of the border.  Not a good business practice from my perspective and a fact that may account for the reports of empty tables even on Friday and Saturday nights. When we arrived on Sunday night at 6PM, there were in-fact only two tables occupied by customers compared to 95 to 100 percent occupancy every Sunday night at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Kansas City or at Lawrence’s own El Potro (which serves not only free chips and salsa, but a free bowl of queso blanco as well).

Guacamole, Chips, and Salsas – $5.99

We ordered the guacamole ($5.99 compared to $4.99 at Tortas Jalisco) which came with a basket of chips and salsa (green/spicy and red/mild), bringing the price of the guacamole down to just over $3 after deducting the price of chips and salsa.   The “green” salsa I had heard so much in Yelp reviews was excellent with just enough heat and the “red” was also very good, being more mild than the verde (green) version. 

The guacamole was good, but a little too spicy for my wife’s taste and with too many tomatoes (and corn?) for mine. Tomatoes, much cheaper than avocados, are used by many restaurants as a filler even though traditional guacamole is not normally prepared using tomato (see my recipe below). There could have been much less tomato (no corn) and more guacamole for the price, but it was well seasoned and tasty although the price seems very high at $5.99 for a small cup.

I ordered the house margarita (frozen with salt – SPECIAL – $3.00), coming in a 12 ounce beer mug, a tasty concoction with a tangy lime base and enough tequila to stand out from other Lawrence Mexican restaurants that seem to serve more diluted drinks.  Twelve ounces did not last long so I ordered another margarita with dinner, getting two margaritas for the price of one at other restaurants.  After all, having a teetotaling wife and built-in designated driver is wonderful for a guy who enjoys a little booze with his dinner!



Tacos de Papa with Rice and Beans – $8.99

My wife is Italian, not a big fan of Mexican cuisine, and usually orders a quesadilla, but surprised me when she decided on the Tacos de Papa ($8.99 – mashed potato crispy tacos). An Italian that hates tomatoes, does not cook (thankfully, I am quite a good cook) and does not drink, as I mentioned earlier, she makes a great designated driver. However, trying to find Mexican food WITHOUT TOMATOES is like trying to find a tree in Greenland … good luck! My wife liked the Tacos de Papa even though they were rather bland because she does not like the sour cream that accompanied the dish. Containing mashed potato and white cheese in a crispy corn tortilla, the Tacos de Papa are an excellent choice for those who enjoy a vegetarian option. My wife asked for the tomatoes “on the side”, but the dish came without tomatoes. A small portion of sour cream accompanied the dish, but guacamole or pico de gallo would be have been a nice addition to the rather bland potato tacos.

I normally order the staples, tacos and enchiladas, when trying a new Mexican restaurant because if they cannot get those dishes right, there is little chance the rest of the food will be worth trying. Store-bought chips and pre-fab tacos shells are always a dead give away for mediocre food and Mexquisito came trough with flying colors!  

Tacos ala Carte – $1.79 each

The tacos ($1.79 each ala carte) are excellent, with the shells fried in-house, they were tasty, the shells thick, and the tacos withstood several bites without falling apart, beating out most Lawrence Mexican restaurants so far in my culinary journey (Fuzzy’s Tacos and El Potro being the only exceptions). 

Enchiladas Poblanos with Rice, and Beans – $9.99

Cheese and onion enchiladas in red sauce are not on the menu (available upon request), but the Enchiladas Poblanos ($9.99) with shredded beef were scrummy with just the right amount of filling covered with a homemade white Poblano sauce that was one of the best I have tasted. A small scoop of guacamole and some rather nondescript rice and beans accompanied the meal, adding little value or flavor.


Mexquisito’s interior is quite basic, yet clean, and the service excellent with Jose (our server and the owner) being very friendly, helpful, and attentive even though he appeared to be doing everything himself (we saw no other workers in the hour we were there). The chips, thick, crunchy, and also made in-house, were excellent with just the right amount of salt.  I would recommend that the owners consider providing free chips and salsa like the vast majority of Mexican restaurants, silencing their few critics.  As far as I can see, having to pay for chips is the only flaw Mexquisito has, but as I said, ordering an appetizer solves that dilemma quite easily.


CombatCritic gives Mexquisito 7 out of 10 Bombs … Bombs are good!



CombatCritic’s “Gnarly Guacamole” Recipe:



4 Ripe (dark and soft, not too soft, to the touch) Avocados

1 Tablespoon Diced Garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lime Juice
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/8 Cup Fresh Chopped Cilantro (or 1 tablespoon dried cilantro)


Remove the avocados from their skin by cutting them in half, removing the seed, and scraping the contents into a large bowl with a tablespoon.  Smash the avocados with a mashed potato masher until all large chunks are well smooshed.  Add the garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cilantro to the bowl and stir well, ensuring all ingredients are thoroughly distributed (the lime will keep the avocado from turning black too quickly from oxidation – lemon juice can be substituted depending on your taste).



Serve with fresh baked chips (cut corn tortillas in half, distribute evenly across a baking sheet, spray with Pam or other cooking spray, coat with salt, and bake at 325 for 20 to 15 minutes – until brown and crispy) and salsa or pico de gallo.


Mexquisito on Urbanspoon


Key Words: Mexquisito, Mexican, food, restaurant, taco, tacos, enchilada, enchiladas, rice, beans, guacamole, salsa, eat, tasty, delicious, CombatCritic, recipe, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044

Finally … Delicious Mexican Food in Lawrence and Reasonable Prices Too!


Tortas Jalisco
534 Frontier Rd
LawrenceKS 66049
(785) 865-1515
Prices: $$$$$

Being a Mexican food junkie from SoCal (LA-LA LAND) and used to some of the best Mexican food north of the border, I have high standards. I read about Tortas Jalisco on Yelp where the restaurant seemed to get mostly very positive reviews.  I hesitated going there only because I heard they charge $2.69 for chips and salsa, something I have never seen in over 50 years of eating at hundreds of Mexican restaurants north and south of the border.  Not a good business practice from my perspective and a fact that may account for the reports of empty tables even on Friday and Saturday nights.  When we arrived on Sunday night at 6PM, there were in-fact only two tables occupied by customers compared to 95 to 100 percent occupancy every Sunday night at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Kansas City.

We ordered the queso blanco (white cheese dip – $4.99) and guacamole (also $4.99), both coming with a basket of chips and salsa (green/spicy and red/mild), bringing the price of each appetizer down to $2.30 each after deducting the price of chips and salsa.  The queso blanco was not very thick and barely attached itself to the chips when dipped, but very tasty nonetheless.  The guacamole was also good, but too spicy for my wife’s taste and with too many tomatoes for mine.  Tomatoes are much cheaper than avocados, so many restaurants use them as a filler even though traditional guacamole is not normally prepared using tomato (see my recipe below).  Their could have been less tomato and more guacamole for the price, but it was well seasoned and delicious from my vantage point.

I ordered the house margarita (frozen with salt – $4.50), coming in a 12 ounce beer mug, a tasty concoction with a tangy lime base and enough tequila to stand out from other Lawrence Mexican restaurants that seem to serve more diluted drinks.  Twelve ounces did not last long so I ordered the “signature” margarita with dinner, coming in a pint size glass on-the-rocks with premium tequila and a splash of Grand Marnie liquor (with salt – $6), well worth the additional $1.50 compared to the house variety and quite delicious.

My wife is Italian and not a big fan of Mexican cuisine, so she usually orders a quesadilla and did not surprise me here. An Italian that hates tomatoes, does not cook (thankfully, I am quite a good cook) and does not drink wine, she makes a great designated driver. Trying to find Mexican food WITHOUT TOMATOES is like trying to find a beach in Greenland … good luck! The quesadilla was stuffed with tasty cheese and came with a side of guacamole nearly the size of the $4.99 appetizer ($.99 on the menu). After all, the name “quesadilla” comes from the word “queso”, meaning cheese, and my wife liked it even though it was bland because she does not like the sour cream that accompanied the dish or the accompanying guacamole (which was too spicy for her taste).

Torta Cuban

The name “Tortas Jalisco” literally means “London cakes”, but Mexican tortas are actually Mexican sandwiches. The torta Cuban, one of nine sandwich selections (right – $6.00 – see menu below), comes with a pork cutlet, ham. cheese, adobo sauce, lettuce and tomato, and is served with a small side of guacamole. The bread was fresh and lightly toasted and the torta was good, but not even close to some of the best Cuban sandwiches I have had (arguably at Cuban restaurants), lacking a bread with the flavor and consistency of a true Cuban sandwich. A side of French fries would be a welcome addition to help round-out the dish.


Crispy Beef Tacos ala Carte ($1.79 each)

I always order the staples, tacos and enchiladas, when trying a new Mexican restaurant because if they cannot get those dishes right, there is little chance the rest of the food will be worth trying. Store-bought chips and pre-fab tacos shells are always a dead give away for mediocre food and Tortas Jalisco came trough with flying colors!  The taco shells are fried in-house, were very tasty, and the shells thick, the tacos withstanding several bites without falling apart and beating out any Mexican restaurant in Lawrence so far in my culinary journey (Fuzzy’s Tacos being the only possible exception). The cheese and onion enchiladas were scrummy with just the right amount of filling covered with a homemade red sauce that was one of the best I have tasted in recent memory.  Finally, the “green” salsa I had heard so much in Yelp reviews was excellent with just enough heat and the “red” was also very good, being more mild than the verde (green) version. 


Cheese and Onion Enchiladas Dinner

In all, the interior is quite basic, yet clean, and the service was a bit slow as I had heard from several Yelp reviewers, but Carlos (our server) was very friendly and helpful, and attentive even though he appeared to be doing everything himself (we saw no other workers in the hour we were there). The chips, thick, crunchy, and also made in-house, were excellent with just the right amount of salt.  I would recommend that the owners consider providing free chips and salsa like the vast majority of Mexican restaurants, silencing their primary critics, and raise the price of their relatively inexpensive dishes by thirty to forty cents each to make up the difference.  As far as I can see, having to pay for chips is the only flaw Tortas Jalisco has, but as I said, ordering an appetizer solves that dilemma quite easily.


CombatCritic gives Tortas Jalisco 7 out of 10 Bombs … Bombs are good!






CombatCritic’s “Gnarly Guacamole” Recipe:


4 Ripe (dark and soft, not too soft, to the touch) Avocados
1 Tablespoon Diced Garlic (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
1 Tablespoon Fresh Lime Juice
1 Teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/8 Cup Fresh Chopped Cilantro (or 1 tablespoon dried cilantro)

Remove the avocados from their skin by cutting them in half, removing the seed, and scraping the contents into a large bowl with a tablespoon.  Smash the avocados with a mashed potato masher until all large chunks are well smooshed.  Add the garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper, and cilantro to the bowl and stir well, ensuring all ingredients are thoroughly distributed (the lime will keep the avocado from turning black too quickly from oxidation – lemon juice can be substituted depending on your taste).

Serve with fresh baked chips (cut corn tortillas in half, distribute evenly across a baking sheet, spray with Pam or other cooking spray, coat with salt, and bake at 325 for 20 to 15 minutes – until brown and crispy) and salsa or pico de gallo.


Asta la vista baby!

Tortas Jalisco on Urbanspoon




Key Words: Tortas, Jalisco, Mexican, food, restaurant, taco, tacos, enchilada, enchiladas, rice, beans, guacamole, salsa, eat, tasty, delicious, CombatCritic, recipe, gnarly, bombs, Lawrence, Kansas