Cibo Sano: Great Potential And Good Value With A Little Room To Grow


Cibo Sano
4821 W 6th Street, Suite K
Lawrence, KS 66049
Phone: (785) 856-2414

Website: cibosanoitaliangrille.com
Prices: $$$$$

My friend Doug P checked-in at Cibo Sano on Facebook while I was in India and raved about the place, so I had to give it a try when I recently returned to the States after four months abroad.

 

The signs in front of Cibo Sano indicating that parking is strictly for “10 minutes” and “carry out” customers only was a bit off-putting because we had to park 50 feet away and the temperature was in the teens … brrrrrrrrr!  I asked why 10-15 spots were reserved for carry out customers when the place was empty (when we arrived) and we were told that the signs were from businesses now closed and that they were not sure why they were still there. Paint ’em, tear ’em out, but do not leave them there because they makes no sense, not that many, three spots max.

 
pasta and proteins

The interior is modern and clean, but cold and uninviting. There is little decor and the place could use some ambiance (color, carpet, art, tablecloths). The menu is a bit overwhelming and confusing at first and the prices ($7.99 for pasta/wrap/salad) did not match those on the web ($5.99 on Yelp, $6.99 on their website), a significant difference and false advertising if you want to get technical. 

 
veggies

It would be very helpful to have a small menu sheet and a pencil available to check off which ingredients customers want on our pastas, wraps, or salads rather than having to memorize the numerous choices (pasta or orzo, 5 different sauces and proteins, 4 of 15 available toppings, 3 different cheeses … ouch, my head hurt!). Once we got to the counter it made a little more sense, but the labels on the window between me and the ingredients did not match up with what was in the containers … more confusion.

 

The employees were very friendly and helpful and our pastas were quickly assembled, coming to a little under $20 for two of us, including a “cheesy flat bread” ($2.99). I had the penne with arrabbiata (spicy tomato) sauce, spicy Italian sausage, grilled diced white onion, sautéed diced peppers, sautéed mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese. My wife also had the penne, but with alfredo sauce, sautéed mushrooms, black olives, artichoke hearts, and mozzarella cheese.

 

The cheesy flat bread was good, coming with a ranch dressing and Parmesan sauce for dipping. The pastas were also tasty and a decent value even at $7.99 (extra for protein), coming in a large bowl and a good size portion. My only complaint was that both pasta dishes were lukewarm at best, not piping hot as they should be. My wife, a native Italian, said hers was good, but tasted like a pasta salad. The manager came over and asked how our meals were, so I told him they were good, but not hot enough, giving him a couple of improvement suggestions.

 
penne with alfredo sauce, mushrooms, olives, artichokes

The pasta and ingredients are pre-cooked and placed in a warming table, uncovered and not keeping them quite warm enough, a potential health hazard (e.g. sausage). I recommended that the pasta be pre-cooked al dente and dipped in boiling water for a minute prior to adding the ingredients or, better yet, adding the pasta and all of the ingredients to a frying pan, heating it for 30-60 seconds on the grill prior to serving. The manager, a very nice and open-minded young man, indicated that they had tried my second option, but that it took too long and customers ended up leaving. Microwaving should not be an option, not being optimal for texture or professionalism. Personally, I would prefer to wait a few additional minutes for hot pasta, but I am not as anal retentive as many these days … hurry, hurry, hurry … rush, rush, rush … calm down and relax for cryin’ out loud!

 
I may sound overly critical, but as I explained to the manager, I want new businesses such as Cibo Sano to succeed and my criticisms are constructive, not complaints. To summarize:
  • Get rid of the “carry out” signs in front
  • Warm the place up a bit with some fitting decor
  • Make it easier for people to order
  • Keep the website (prices, options) current
  • Serve hot pasta … figure it out


penne arrabbiata with sausage, grilled onion, peppers, and mushrooms

In all, we enjoyed our meals and will return to see if things change for the better, making Cibo Sano (“healthy food” in Italian) a contender for “best pasta value” in Lawrence, a town with a dearth of decent, reasonably priced Italian food. Another plus, you can now bring your own wine for a reasonable $2 corking fee, a nice option, so bring your favorite vino along and … buon appetito!

 
CombatCritic Gives Cibo Sano An Initial 6 Bombs Out Of 10 With Room To Grow … Bombs Are Good
 
 
 
 
 
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Title: Cibo Sano: Great Potential And Good Value With A Little Room To Grow

Key Words: Cibo Sano, cibo, sano, healthy. food, Italian, restaurant, menu, pasta, salad, wrap, food, eat, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Yelp, TripAdvisor

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Gerda’s … Gut Food, Gut Value, Guten Appetit!


Gerda’s German Restaurant & Bakery
5180 Leavenworth St Omaha, NE 

A small, unassuming building on the outskirts west of downtown, with few parking options by the way, Gerda’s did not disappoint as was the case at the Bohemian Cafe the night before.

You enter through the bakery, which is bigger than it needs to be, and into the smaller dining room. The decor is dated, with the flags of Germany (Bavaria, etc) lining one wall, but the place is clean and functional. 

For $19.95 you get a three course meal … a beer of your choice, the Jägerschnitzel (complete with soup or salad, bread, and potato/spätzel), and your choice of dessert. The schnitzel alone is $16, a beer $6, and dessert around $4, so it is quite a value.

The salad was unassuming, a traditional German salad with dressed lettuce, potato salad, and sliced cucumbers, but the soup, a thick, meaty goulash, was superb!

The Jägerschnitzel was abundant and flavorful, a large pork cutlet battered and fried to golden perfection, then doused with brown Jâgermeister and mushroom gravy … YUM! I had the fried potatoes, crispy and well seasoned with salt and paprika, and my wife tried the käse spâtzel, the more traditional cheese covered potato dumplings, both of which were excellent.

The dessert options were extensive, being a bakery after all, but we are so full we got them to go. My wife ordered the Black Forest cake and I had the cherry tart. The cake was creamy and fresh and the tart crisp and yummy, the perfect accompaniment to a well done German meal although consumed several hours after the fact.

The service was friendly and attentive. My only complaints being the lack of a German brün bier or dünkel (dark beer), so I was forced to have an amber(?) Oktobefest that was not bad, not great, and the fact that the menu does not have all that many options (a wiener schnitzel cordon blu would be also be a welcome addition).


CombatCritic Gives Gerda’s 7 Bombs Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GUT!




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Jill’s Kitchen: Not Cheap, Fair Breakfast Fare


Biscuits and Gravy – $4

Jill’s Kitchen
2416 E Boulder StreetColorado Springs, CO 

(719) 475-2621

A bit of a hole-in-the-wall, the place needs some updating, but appeared clean. The staff are friendly and attentive.

Kitchen Scramble – $8.29

We shared the biscuits and gravy (full order – $4; half – $2), a large portion on 4 biscuit halves smothered with white (country) gravy with chunks of sausage. The biscuits were fresh and the gravy was decent, lacking flavor and needing some added salt and pepper. My mom also ordered a rash (side) of bacon ($3.79), seeming a bit overpriced for just four pieces of bacon.


Side of Bacon – $3.79

I ordered the Kitchen Scramble (full order – $8.29), scrambled eggs, onion, home fried potatoes, and cheese topped with two pieces of bacon. There was plenty of food, but it was mostly potato chunks (home fries) that had an earthy (root vegetable) taste. The potatoes could have used some seasoning. I have had scrambles at many breakfast restaurants and this one was subpar when compared to some of the better eateries.


The menu is not as “cheap” as other reviewers indicated, but the food was decent, hot, and served quickly. Not one of the greatest or least expensive breakfasts I have ever had, but a fair value.

CombatCritic Gives Jill’s Kitchen 5 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!




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Key Words: Jill’s Kitchen, Jill’s, kitchen, Jill, breakfast, lunch, eggs, bacon, food, eat, menu, restaurant, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Boulder, CombatCritic, TravelValue

The Pita Pit Is THE PITS When It Comes To Value


Pita Pit
1011 Massachusetts St
Lawrence, KS 66044


Prices: $$$$$

The place was empty on a Wednesday night as I entered, a bad sign, and I almost turned around to go to Fuzzy’s for some tacos. Instead I decided to give it a go and walked to the counter.

The staff was friendly and helpful, the place clean, the veggies fresh, and being Wednesday I was told that “double meat’s only an extra buck” ($1 – normally $2.50), so I ordered a Philly Steak with grilled onion, peppers, and mushrooms for $6.59 ($7.59 + tax with double meat, bringing the total to $8 and change – normally $9.09 + tax).


With more meat than Subway, I thought the sandwich would be more filling than it was. They offer white and whole wheat pita, but being so thin the bread offers little satiation. I was still hungry. The extras (veggies, cheeses, sauces) are included and are liberally added, but the pita bread can only hold so much before bursting. In fact, the pita fell apart halfway through my sandwich as the juices attacked the bread less than 20  minutes after ordering.


For $8+ I was not pleased with the value of the sandwich. They offer chips on the side to accompany sandwiches, but french fries would be more appropriate and filling. Overall, I found my experience and the value of my meal disappointing.

CombatCritic Gives Pita Pit 4 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!





Pita Pit on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Pita Pit, pita, pit, sandwich, shop, restaurant, eat, food, delivery, menu, bread, gyro, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Burrito King … Monarch of Mediocre Mexican Meals



  • Burrito King
    900 Illinois St
    LawrenceKS 66044

  • Phone numb

  • (785) 832-2844


  • Prices: $$$$$

I love Mexican food and I like reasonably priced Mexican food even better. Enter Burrito King.
I have tried pretty much every Mexican restaurant in Lawrence and have been sadly disappointed by the mediocrity … and Burrito King did not let me down in that context. Just a few blocks from our home, I drive by the drive-in restaurant daily yet had not given them a try until yesterday.
You walk or drive up to a window to order and I was quickly greeted by a friendly young man eager to take my order, almost too eager in that I did not have a chance to read the menu posted outside before being prompted to order. I was surprised to find numerous other options beside burritos on the menu … tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas … all at fairly reasonable prices. I ordered the enchilada plate (3 enchiladas, rice, and beans for $6.95), a “steak” and bean burrito ($4.98), and chips and salsa ($2) in order to sample just a few options.
I prefer cheese and onion enchiladas and would think at the same price as meat (steak, chicken, pork) that there would be an abundance of fillings, but I was again disappointed. The red sauce covering the tubes of corn was bland and sparse, barely providing any flavor to the tortillas which were void of any significant fillings. I tasted no onions and the small amount of cheese inside did not quite make it it to the ends, leaving just tortilla and a little tasteless sauce for the first and last bite of each enchilada. The rice and beans were equally tasteless.
The burrito tasted “OK”, but there was very little “steak”, mostly beans, with a little cheese, and some some lettuce. At $5, I would expect a bit more beef and cheese, maybe some guacamole. The chips were crisp and tasty and the salsa well done, appearing homemade (not out of a can or jar) with hints of poblano pepper and cilantro.
Students probably love the quantities and prices offered at Burrito King, but for those of us who prefer quality over quantity, Burrito King falls short, at least on this visit.

CombatCritic Gives Burrito King 5 Out Of 10 Bombs … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!






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Key Words: Burrito King, burrito, king, Lawrence, Kansas, Illinois, burritos, Mexican, food, eat, taco, enchilada, guacamole, cheese, beans, rice, CombatCritic, travel, value, TravelValue

Cielito Lindo ("lovely, sweet one") … Mediocre Mexican Is The Norm In Lawrence


Patio

We ate here for the first time in August 2013 while in the midst of moving, so I did not have time to write a review. I recently returned for some follow-up visits and now provide my candid opinions.


The restaurant is large and the service pretty good. It reminds me of a real Mexican cantina inside with colorful decor and an open feel with a balcony on the second floor overlooking the dining room. The patio in front is large and inviting on a mildl day or evening and Cielito Lindo has been named the 2014 BEST OF LAWRENCE “Best Outdoor Dining” spot, a great place to have a drink, appetizer, and/or meal with friends and family.

The margaritas are decent, both on-the-rocks and blended, but compared to most places in town they are overpriced unless you can catch a special as we did recently ($12.99 for a pitcher on a Sunday night). 

The chips are abundant and appear homemade and the salsa one of the best I have fond in Lawrence. The guacamole ($3.99 for a “regular”) is reasonably sized and not bad, containing tomatoes as is the norm in many restaurants and a faux pas in my eyes. The regular queso blanco (white cheese dip – $3.99) comes in a similar size bowl, but was lukewarm and runny, not thick enough to cling to a chip and making quite a mess on the table and my clothes as I attempted to get it from bowl to mouth.

The tacos and enchiladas are adequate, yet boring. Tacos are tasty enough, coming in small, prefab shells and the small cheese and onion enchiladas are bland with little melted cheese. The chili relleno’s are well done, coming with plenty of cheese in a large chili surrounded by fluffy egg, but again the sauce was lacking flavor. Tostadas, which are hard to mess up, are OK, nothing special. Combinations are reasonably priced ($7.99) and ala carte items can be mixed and matched for a cost effective meal.

Carnitas
The carnitas appeared underwhelming at first look after arrival, but were crispy, well seasoned, and delicious pork tips that when pulled apart (as most restaurants serve them) filled the four corn tortillas that accompanied the meal ($10.49). I asked the waiter if the dish came with guacamole and pico di gallo before ordering, and he assured me it did, but when the plate arrived there was barely enough guac for one taco and zero pico di gallo. The rice and beans were flavorful and good. Some canned jalapeños topped the dish for some unknown reason with little value added. 

If you do not mind paying $10 for a plate full of grilled onion and a little meat, then the Cielito Lindo’s carne asada is the plate for you! Carne asada is routinely sliced and/or pounded very thin (in this case less than 1/8 of an inch), so it appears much larger than it actually is. In this case, my steak did not even appear that large. The abundance of perfectly grilled onion obscured the small, thin steak … weighing in at a maximum of four (4) ounces. At the equivalent of $40 per pound for a very inexpensive cut of meat, I would expect a top quality piece of beef, which was obviously not the case here.


Side Order of Quesadilla (2) – $14.98?

In conclusion, Cielito Lindo is comparable to the other mediocre Mexican restaurants in Lawrence, all of which fail in comparison to some of my favorite spots in Mexico, California, and Texas. Make sure to check your bill as we have had rather large errors, in their favor of course, on at least 50% of our checks. On our most recent visit, we were charged $7.49 (twice – totaling $14.98) for two small flour tortillas baked with a little cheese (aka quesadilla), accompanied by some lettuce, tomato (half a slice), and some sour cream. So before you leave, check your check and make sure you get what you paid for (or pay for what you got).

CombatCritic Gives Cielito Lindo 5 Bombs Out of 10 … MORE BOMBS ARE GOOD!











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Key Words: Cielito Lindo, cielito, lindo, Mexican, restaurant, Lawrence, Kansas, menu, food, eat, taco, patio, outdoor, dining, Best of Lawrence. Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

Chez Yasu (Topeka, Kansas): Good, Overpriced French Cuisine With A Japanese Flare


Chez Yasu (Topeka, Kansas): Good, Overpriced French Cuisine With A Japanese Flare

Chez Yasu

2701 SW 17th St
Topeka, KS 66604
785-357-1003

Prices: $$$$$

A French restaurant in Topeka, Kansas with a Japanese chef? Seems a bit odd, but hey, it works!

We arrived exactly on time for our 7:30pm reservation, but had to wait 15 minutes for our table … STRIKE 1! While we waited, we had a view of the prep area where a server was taking cherry tarts out of a box that looked like something from Sam’s Club … STRIKE 2! The prices on the menu were significantly higher than the menu on their website … STRIKE 3! Normally an “out”, I have to admit that we enjoyed our dinner and may very well return to try Chez Yasu again … MAYBE.

Escargots
I love escargots (snails – $7.95 online, $8.95 in reality) and their buttery, garlicly goodness, rarely having the opportunity to order them in culturally challenged eastern Kansas, so I did (as an antipasto). Sans shells, they came six on a plate accompanied by a couple sliced mushrooms and doused with a savory garlic, parsley, and butter sauce. They were good, but nowhere near the best I have had and definitely some of the priciest at $1.50 a pop.

My wife had the potato and leek soup (potage – $3.95/$4.95) which apparently comes either hot or cold because when it arrived, it was ice-cold! We asked the server to please bring her the warm version. The soup was decent, moderately flavorful, but a little too watery for my taste. It could have been thicker with a bit more seasoning, but the bread made up for it. The server brought more freshly baked bread as needed and was actually one of the highlights of the night 

Poulet Saute

The Poulet Sauté, thinly sliced chicken breast served with a light teriyaki sauce ($16.95/$19.95 – also available with an herb or peppercorn sauce), was moist, light, and succulent with just enough teriyaki to flavor the dish without overpowering the poultry. I would have preferred the herb or peppercorn sauce in a French restaurant, but my wife does not appreciate pepper as much as I do and because she was eating it, I happily succumbed to her decision. The potatoes, not plentiful enough to last as long as the chicken, were light, good, and creamy and the green beans crisp with just enough butter and seasoning. In my opinion, $16.95 for a basic chicken dish is probably at the top of the scale, but $20 is excessive. Not a great value.


Boeuf Borguignon
Boeuf Borguignon ($21.95/$24.95), braised boneless beef short ribs, onions, and mushrooms in a red (burgundy, hence the name) wine reduction. Accompanied by the same mashed potatoes and fresh green beans, the plate was pleasing to the eye and very good. The burgundy sauce was perfect, but for such a small and inexpensive cut of meat, a couple mushrooms, potatoes, and beans, the price we paid was easily six times the food cost and again not a great value in my eyes. I believe the advertised $21.95 would be more appropriate and $19.95 would be a much better value, earning an extra bomb, maybe two in my book (or blog in this case).

The house wine (Root: 1), a deep red, full bodies Chilean cabernet with intense fruity tones was the perfect accompaniment to the boeuf borguignon, but at $28 it was the least expensive option on a small wine menu with most bottles coming in at $40 or more.

House Wine – Root 1 (Chile – $28)

Now do not get me wrong, I have no trouble paying top dollar (or Euro) for a top-shelf meal worthy of a Michelin Star or two, but Chez Yasu will not be getting that star any time soon. I have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world … Brussels, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Tokyo, Seoul, Budapest, you name it … and although decent, this small French restaurant in Topeka, Kansas is overpriced in my opinion. By comparison, one of my favorite French restaurants, Le Central in Denver (Colorado) has a much more extensive and affordable wine list, a menu offering a comparable number of options (plus an elaborate offering of mussel dishes, with unlimited French fries by the way, for under $10) all under or close to $20, and superb cuisine prepared by real French chefs. In that comparison, Chez Yasu does not even come close, hence my rating of “value” ….



CombatCritic Gives Chez Yasu 6 Bombs Out of 10 … Les Bombes Sont Bon!


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Potato-Leek Soup
Fresh, French Bread Baguette
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Big Pizza Plus Little Pints Equal Mild Disappointment at Johnny’s Tavern West


  • Johnny’s Tavern West
  • 721 Wakarusa, Ste 100
    Lawrence, Kansas 66047

  • (785) 843-0704
  • johnnystavern.com


Price: $$$$$

A tentative review, I was invited to Johnny’s last night by some new friends and did more talking than eating and drinking.


I was warmly welcomed by the lovely bartender who attempted to help me find my party. Once found, I imbibed in a couple pieces of sausage and pepperoni pizza and a glass of draft IPA.

The pizza was the right thickness and consistency for NY style pizza, standing up well to the sauce and remaining firm enough to eat by hand. Cheese to sauce ratio was right on although the sauce had an odd taste that was slightly off-putting. The toppings were abundant and delicious.

The IPA, oddly enough, came in an unusual glass, maybe 12 ounces instead of the “pint” I was expecting. IPA is uniquely English and should come in a pint glass, preferably AN ENGLISH PINT which is a little over 19 ounces as compared to the whimpy US pints (16 ounces) we colonials have somehow become accustomed to. It was tasty enough, but another 4 to 7 ounces would have quenched my thirst much better.

Our young blonde server was very sweet and attentive, a former swimmer with an engaging personality and a keen eye for empty glasses. She hovered around just enough to keep everyone happy, removing waste as she came and went. The service was excellent!

CombatCritic Gives Johnny’s Tavern West a Tentative 5 Out of 10 Bombs with room to grow … MORE BOMBS ARE GREAT!

Johnny's on Urbanspoon



Key Words: Johnny’s Tavern West, Johnny’s, tavern, west, Lawrence, Kansas, Wakarusa, 6th, street, pizza, beer, ale, IPA, food, eat, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

"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!

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

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

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 $$$$$
FREE CHIPS AND SALSA!
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.

Quesadilla

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

Eat At Joe’s


I haven’t been to Joe’s for years, but some of my fondest memories are of French dip sandwiches and French fries … I LOVE FRENCH FOOD … with my family and friends during regular visits to Santa Barbara from LA.

Joe’s has been in the same location on State Street since 1928 and, although redecorated, retains the bones and charm of a 1920’s California diner, counter (now bar) and all.

Looking at the recent photos, the French dips have not changed with chunks of prime rib piled high on a French roll (did I tell you I LOVE FRENCH FOOD?) accompanied by crispy French fries, au jus, and a side salad. I can taste the sandwich even though I am 1,500 miles away … YUM!

I have been to 39 countries since the first time I went to Joe’s, INCLUDING FRANCE SEVERAL TIMES, and enjoyed some of the best cuisine the World has to offer, but sometimes it is the simple things in life that stand out as the finest moments. I have never eaten anything EXCEPT the FRENCH DIP at Joe’s Cafe and even though I will likely return several more tines before I die, I will go with a smile on my face, having eaten nothing else at this Santa Barbara institution. GO TO JOE’S … have a French dip and tell them CombatCritic sent you!

CombatCritic Gives Joe’s Cafe 10 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD! 

Absence From Amanda’s Fonda Does Not Make The Heart Grow Fonda


An old haunt, had to try it again after. 6 years in the Midwest … Tacos, enchiladas, you know the drill. 
It was only 4:30pm, but no hostess and just one server? We waited 10 minutes until she arrived, then she had 5-6 other tables to wait on, made the margaritas, and probably cooked the food. Hardly ever saw her.

The shredded beef tacos were OK, little meat or cheese. The cheese and onion enchilada was decent, but the sauce rather bland. Chips thin and tasty, salsa very good, the guacamole was a bit pricey for the size so we steered away.

Remembered the food being better … Absence does not necessarily make the heart fonder! Ever been back to your high school? Disappointing, but you still have fond memories.

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

Amanda's Fonda on Urbanspoon

Don’t Trust Me … Check out Amanda’s Fonda On yelp!

Key Words: Amanda’s Fonda, Amanda, Fonda, fonder, taco, taco, enchilada, burrito, eat, food, restaurant, lunch, dinner, CombatCritic, Yelp, Foursquare, combat, critic, TravelValue, travel

Drifter’s Is No IN AND OUT … And That’s OK!


When compared to California’s In and Out Burger, a staple since my childhood growing up in L.A., you are bound to come-up short. My son, an In and Out novice, insisted on getting dinner from Drifter’s on Super Bowl Eve, saying “they have the best burgers in The Springs, similar to In and Out” and boy I was glad he did!

With such a basic menu it is easy to see how they excel with simple, fresh ingredients, quality ground beef, and reasonable prices. Where they diverge from In and Out is in their consistency and presentation. Every In and Out hamburger looks identical to the last with fresh lettuce and thick, red tomato on a fresh, toasted bun wrapped in their classic white, red, and yellow sandwich paper. Each of the three burgers we ordered at Drifter’s looked completely different than the others even though the ingredients were roughly the same. The makings were fresh and the food tasty, but they just do not have the process down as their California cousin has done so well for over 50 years.

The French fries were good and hot with just a little too much salt and just a bit too thin for my taste. The hamburgers were good and greasy as they should be with sautéed onions, melted American cheese, lettuce, and tomato. The only thing missing was pickle and bacon, which I understand is not an option at Drifter’s (bacon that is) … TOO BAD!

My recommendation is to FORGET IN AND OUT and focus on what Drifter’s does well and that is producing a quality burger and fries at a reasonable price. You are not In and Out, you never will be, so create and embrace your own identity … DRIFTER”S HAMBURGERS!

CombatCritic Gives Drifter’s Hamburgers 8 Bombs Out of 10 for BURGER VALUE … Bombs Are Good!

Drifter's Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Key Words: Drifter’s Hamburgers, Drifter’s, hamburger, burger, fries, cheese, lettuce, tomato, milk, shake, eat, food, 80907, Colorado Springs, CO, Colorado, CombatCritic, TravelValue, value, travel, combat

Which Wich? SandWich!


Which Wich Superior Sandwiches


5102 N. Nevada Ave., Ste. 130
Colorado Springs, CO 80918
(719) 599-WICH
(719) 598-4329 (fax)
universityvillage@whichwich.net

Hours:
Mon-Sat, 10 am – 9pm
Sun, 10 am – 7pm
Order Online

My computer was STILL ON CENTRAL TIME, but I was in Colorado and arrived an hour early to pick-up my online order.


You get to put your sandwich together using a shopping list of ingredients in several categories: bread, meat, cheese, sauces, veggies, hot/cold among others. You can order a half for about $6 (more filling than a foot long Subway) or a whole (about 14″) for just under $12. Sounds like a lot for a sandwich, but we made two meals out of the wholes for a meal at under $6 per person.


We had the grinders one cold, one hot and a toasted meatball. The grinders were identical with salami, pepperoni, and cappiccolo, balsamic vinaigrette, banana peppers, red onion, tomato, and spices. One hot with spinach added after toasting and one cold with lettuce. With significantly more meat than YOU KNOW WHO they were very good and filling. My only suggestion wood be swapping out the pepperoni with mortadella, the more traditional “Italian” grinder choice, but it was scrummy nonetheless.


The meatball sandwich was also good, but MAKE SURE TO SPECIFY “marinara” when you choose sauces or else you will NOT receive a traditional Italian meatball sandwich. This place is great for people who know what they like and how to put a sandwich together, but people like my wife who DO NOT HAVE A CLUE how to cook a meal may have difficulty constructing an appetizing meal.

CombatCritic Gives Which Wich 6 Out of 10 Bombs for SANDWICH VALUE … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Which Wich on Urbanspoon


Key Words: Which Wich, which, wich, sandwich, grinder, Italian, meatball, fast food, food, eat, shop, Colorado Springs, Colorado, marijuana, CombatCritic, TravelValue, combat, travel

Deliciously Greasy Burgers, Cold Beer … And Air … Yummy Truffle Fries – Must Be Dempsey’s!




Dempsey’s Burger Pub
623 Vermont Avenue
Lawrence, KS 66044
(785) 856-5460
DempseysBurgerPub.com
Price: $$$$$

I was a bit reluctant to try Dempsey’s after reading recent reviews by my Elite ’14 brothers and sisters in Lawrence, Kansas saying that “things have gone downhill” and that the burgers are “greasy”, but heck … don’t burgers and grease go hand-in-hand? I am sure glad we gave ’em a shot!

Don’t want to gross you out, but in preparation for two scopes being inserted into my body, one in each end so to speak, two days later and the inevitable PREPeration (H), I knew I would not have a decent meal for at least 36 hours, so a big greasy burger and basket of truffle fries sounded pretty darn good!

The place is a local haunt for KU (college basketball powerhouse University of Kansas) students and this particular Tuesday night in Lawrence was no exception. With about half of their burgers being offered at half-price ($4-$5 a pop) to students, I know why they were busy. But a pub with just 5 or 6 draughts available on-tap was a bit unusual.  I ordered an O’Dell (not O’Doules) IPA and at $4.50 for a British-size pint it was a good value with a strong, rich, hoppy flavor as all good IPAs do.

Mushroom, Bacon, Swiss Burger
We decided on a Mushroom, Bacon, and Swiss burger ($9), a House Burger with Bacon and Cheddar ($8.50), and a basket of Truffle Fries ($4).

The fries were plentiful and awesome! Lightly salted, the hand cut fries were sprinkled with Parmesan (parmigiana in the old country) cheese, parsley, and accompanied by no less than 6 different sauces (catsup, spicy mustard, old bay and tomato coulis aioli, sweet chili aioli, truffle cream, and roasted garlic aioli … all made from scratch). We barely made a notch in the basket, taking half home for my wife to eat the next night while I fasted in prep for the next morning’s procedure under the influence of “Milk of Amnesia”.

House Burger with Bacon
As usual, on my first visit to this and many other restaurants, I ordered the simplest burger on the menu, the “House” cheeseburger ($7.50) medium-well with cheddar cheese, a big piece of butter lettuce, two thick slices of tomato, homemade dill pickle, and both grilled white (as I had asked) and raw red onion. I added bacon for an extra buck, well cooked but not too crispy. The bun was nicely toasted, looking like a “pretzel” bun even though that was not the way it was described on the menu. The burger was in-fact greasy, but perfectly so, thick, and cooked just as I had ordered it. The bun was in a bit of disarray by the time I finished, but held together until the last bite, keeping my hands relatively clean although I did go through about 20 of the rather thin napkins supplied on the table.

The Bacon Mushroom Swiss Burger ($9) comes with sauteed shitake and portabello mushrooms, Gruyere and Swiss cheeses, and Applewood bacon on a toasted pretzel bun. Unfortunately, on this particular night at least, the bun was not toasted and, in-fact, was slightly cold to the touch. The burger was delicious nonetheless, an 8 ounce patty cooked to perfection with melted cheese oozing out of the side of the bun.

Basket O’ Truffle Fries  ($4)
The service was very good, especially considering the large, energetic crown consuming burgers along with mass quantities of beer. The place is a bit of a dive, plain with lots of rough wood and glass, making the room rather chilly, particularly next to the window on a cold winter night where we needed to keep our coats on during our meal. Who knows, maybe KU research indicates that beer consumption is inversely proportionate to the temperature of the room?

CombatCritic Gives Dempsey’s Burger Pub A Solid 7 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Dempsey's Burger Pub on Urbanspoon


Title: Deliciously Greasy Burgers, Cold Beer … And Air … Yummy Truffle Fries – Must Be Dempsey’s!

Key Words: Dempsey’s Burger Pub, Dempsey’s, burger, hamburger, pub, bar, fries, truffle, French, food, eat, beer, drink, Vermont, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value, Lawrence, Kansas

El Tapatio; Good, Cheap Mexican Food … and Potent Margaritas … Near Rincón, Puerto Rico


El Tapatio – Comida Mexicana
PR-115, KM 20
Aguada, Puerto Rico
$$$$$

Margarita – $6.25
Unassuming from the outside, we decided to give El Tapatio a try after some so-so dining experiences in the Rincón area. It lies on the East side of PR-115 just a mile or two South of downtown Aguada in an area that is mostly residential with the odd kiosk Criollo here and there. The food was very good, the prices fair, and the margaritas very strong … they sure don’t skimp on the tequila!

We started with the carne y queso (meat and cheese) nachos  ($3.50), a 4 ounce guacamole ($2), and a large pico di gallo ($2). The nachos were not huge, but tasty, coming in a cardboard serving tray with homemade chips, generous portions of ground beef, and smothered in melted cheese. The guacamole not too bad and that is coming from the GUACAMOLE KING and the pico de gallo fresh and spicy. All three starters were a very good value.

Tacos Duros – $1.60 Each
For dinner we shared a cheese and beef quesadilla ($4.50), two tacos duros (hard tacos – $1.60 each), and a beef and cheese enchilada ($4.75). The tacos were good, especially with some guacamole and pico added. The quesadilla hot and decent, and the enchilada (which came with a small portion of refried beans) substantial and delicious.

Beef and Cheese Enchilada – $4.75
A surprisingly good dinner for $32, including two margaritas ($6.25), that were some of the most potent I have had in recent memory.

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

Key Words: El Tapatio, el, tapatio, Mexican, food, restaurant, eat, taco, enchilada, burrito, quesadilla, nacho, margarita, CombatCritic, Aguada, Puerto Rico, TravelValue

Waterfront Cantina (Naguabo): Mexican Fare, Fresh Fish, Cheap Drinks … What More Can You Ask For?


Waterfront Cantina
Playa Naguabo, Puerto Rico
$$$$$


Waterfront Cantina is a small indoor and outdoor restaurant and bar across the street from the beach in Playa Naguabo with a reasonable Mexican and fish menu and drinks from $2.50-$6.00. 

Starters run from $5.95 to $13.95, dinners are $8.49 to $14.95, and drinks are $2.50 to $6.50. Cold beer, affordable prices, and friendly service make Waterfront Cantina a great place for a cool drink or a hot meal.


We stopped in several times during our week in Punta Santiago for drinks and on our final night for the nightly SPECIAL … Two entrees (one fish/one meat), two glasses of Sangria, and dessert for two, all for just $25. 

We ordered the beef fajitas for two, about 8 ounces of marinated skirt steak each with plenty of guacamole, shredded cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, and tortillas for three decent size tacos. Everything was fresh and delicious although the garlic was a little excessive even for my taste. The sangria was good and dessert well done with a slice of cheesecake drizzled with chocolate sauce and topped with four small, crispy mini-churros.

With a sea view, flat-screen TV (football on Sunday), and an owner who speaks English, it is a very tourist friendly option in an area where most locals have limited English speaking skills.


CombatCritic Gives Waterfront Cantina 7 Bombs Out Of 10 … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!


Menu

Key Words: Waterfront Cantina, waterfront, cantina, Naguabo, Puerto Rico, Mexican, food, eat, lunch, dinner, TV, English, fajitas, beach, sea, view, indoor, outdoor, patio, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value

A Friendly, Vibrant Vibe Awaits You at Mercado del Rio Piedras!


A Friendly, Vibrant Vibe Awaits You at Mercado del Rio Piedras!

Leaving the Rio Piedras train station, go straight one block to De Diego street, turn left, and go about 10 blocks. Mercado del Rio Piedras will be in your left. 


Occupying a full block, the market has fruit, vegetables, food stalls, clothing and sundry shops. Mostly locals, it’s a good place to escape tourists and get a cheap lunch!

Strictly locals, this market has a little of everything either inside the large mercado or in the surrounding shopping zone. Inexpensive food stalls, fruit and vegetables, clothing, toys, souvenirs, and a friendly, vibrant vibe await you in Mercado del Rio Piedras! If you want to escape tourists and find some great bargains, THIS IS A MUST SEE in San Juan!


CombatCritic Gives Mercado del Rio Piedras 9 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBAS ARE BUENAS!

Key Words: Mercado del Rio Piedras, mercado, market, rio, piedras, river, stones, shopping, food, eat, clothing, shops, shoes, fruit, vegetables, San Juan, Puerto Rico, CombatCritic, TravelValue

The Leaning Tower of San Juan … El Hamburguer


El Hamurguer
298 Ave Muñoz Rivera
San JuanPuerto Rico 00901

(787) 721-4269









$$$$$

San Juan, Puerto Rico: Feeling burger deprived all day after our horrible experience at El Patio de Sam last night, we walked 2 km (uphill in the snow … both ways!) for a real burger at El Hamburger!


My wife says she saw Anthony Bordain … “I eat, I travel, I drink too much” … eating there on one of his episodes in Puerto Rico and Yelp reviews were mostly 5 stars, so we had to try it. We almost literally ran into the place on Christmas day coming home from El Escambrón beach, so I knew where it was.


The place looks like it’s on fire with smoke billowing out the top and across the busy street from the dozens of small, very thick burgers being prepared for inhalation by their many ravenous patrons. It is rather small with one dining area seating about 40, a small counter, and another small room that we did not see well because of the crowd around the front door. The place was packed!


Counter and Cash Register

They had two servers, as far as we could tell, doing a remarkably fine job considering the number of people crammed inside. We ordered the bacon cheddar burgers ($3.60 each), a side of French fries, onion rings, a root beer, and a Medalla beer.


Leaning Tower of San Juan – $3.60

The burger patty, like El Patio de Sam, were smallish but thick, probably 5 ounces or so (but also $7 less than Sam) and smothered with cheddar cheese. There were several pieces of bacon wrapped in a heap on one bun and our server brought a container with plenty of lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. By the time I built my burger, it looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.


The onion rings were good and plentiful for $1.90, but a little too well done for my taste. The fries were abundant for the $1.90 price, the shoestring variety, hot and crispy just the way I like them. Root beer is root beer ($1.49) and the local Medalla Light thirst quenchingly cold and at $3.60 a reasonable price.


Dining Area – Couples and Families

The servers are nice and the crowd mostly couples and families, so the noise level is moderate. They only take cash, so bring enough with or use the convenient ATM they parked right outside the door and you must pay the quiet, burly man behind the cash register before you leave.


El Hamburger serves a great, reasonably priced burger and all of the usual accompaniments, so if you are hungry for the all American meal, by all means … give them a try!


CombatCritic Gives El Hamburger 8 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!


 




Key Words: El Hamburger, hamburger, burger, French, fries, onion, rings, beer, soda, pop, Coke, Medalla, bacon, cheese, eat, food, lunch, dinner, CombatCritic, combat

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

Wheatfields: A Field of Dreams for Bread Lovers


WheatFields Bakery Café
904 Vermont Street
Lawrence, KS  66044

Phone: 785.841.5553
Web: www.WheatfieldsBakery.com
Hours:
Monday through Friday – 6:30am to 8:00pm
Saturday 6:30am to 6:30pm
Sunday – 7:30am to 4:00pm

I have been meaning to review Wheatfields, a bakery and restaurant one block West of Mass Street in downtown Lawrence, for quite some time, but this morning was the first time we actually had a meal there. I love a good, hearty breakfast, but because bacon, eggs, hash browns, biscuits and gravy are not as healthy as they are tasty, we normally only indulge on special occasions. With today being my birthday, we went for broke!

Wheatfields makes the most wonderful breads and my wife has been buying them since she started working at KU nearly three years ago. Our favorite is the raisin and pecan sourdough ($, a robust torpedo-shaped loaf with a thick crust outside and plenty of raisins and pecan pieces inside. It toasts marvelously and is delicious alone, with butter, or coated in my favorite delicacy in the world … peanut butter … YUUUUUM!

They have many other varieties, including sourdough, semolina with sesame and poppy seeds, and many others:
Baguette: The French standard. A crisp crust and an open, irregular crumb with lots of yeast fermentation flavor make ours a true classic. Great for sandwiches, crostini, or on its own. 

Ciabatta: As Italian as the baguette is French. Somewhat flat, somewhat rectangular, ciabatta has a wildly open crumb and a complex fermentation flavor. We add a touch of extra virgin olive oil. 

Country French: Our flagship Pain au Levain is naturally leavened and made with organic unbleached flour with stone ground wheat and rye. 

Kalamata Olive: WheatFields Sourdough, loaded with ripe Kalamata olives. Maggie Glezer (Artisan Baking Across America) calls ours “by far the best.” Available as either a regular boule or a “mini”: too big to be called a roll, too small for a loaf. 

Pain de Campagne is, literally, Country Bread, and is the traditional bread of the villagers and farmers of the French countryside. Historically, pain de Campagne had as much as 10% rye flour, was risen with levain and baked in a wood-fired oven. Ours is all of that, plus, we add some spelt (l’epautre) flour and season with sun-and-wind-dried Breton sea salt. 100% organic flour. 

Rustic Italian Round: Choose from our plain or rosemary loaves every day. Rustics are made of very wet dough that gets lots of fermentation time. The results are round crusty loaves rich in flavor with an irregular open crumb. Risen with bakers’ yeast and an overnight starter. 

Walnut Raisin: Thompson raisins and California walnuts in our naturally leavened Pain de Campagne dough. Toast it at breakfast, of course, but also try a soft goat cheese spread atop. 100% organic flour. 

Walnut Sage: Country French with walnuts and fresh sage. We serve our immensely popular “No. 9” sandwich on this bread. The sage and walnuts complement the turkey-cranberry pairing –our “everyday is Thanksgiving” bread. 

100% Whole Wheat: The heartiest in our Pain au Levain series, this loaf is about as fundamental as bread can be: 100% organic wheat ground between natural granite millstones and baked on the hearth of a wood-fired oven. Made with a natural wheat levain 100% organic flour.

Classic Breakfast ($5.99)

Breads range in price from $4 to nearly $9 for their holiday specials, including chocolate cherry ($8) and anise and grape ($4) which are only made during the month of December.

When dining at Wheatfields, you order at the counter immediately in front of you as you enter through the lefthand door (the bakery counter sits in front of the right), pay, and are given a small sign to place on your table so the servers can bring your order to the correct table. Drinks are help-yourself with three varieties of coffee (two regular and one decaf) and a small selection of fountain drinks.

Always keeping it simple on a first visit, I decided on the Classic Breakfast (#1 – Two eggs, freshly grated hash browns and toast – $3.95, with sausage links or bacon – $5.95) and a full order of the biscuits and gravy (#5 – Buttermilk biscuits, spicy sausage gravy – Full order $5.75, half order $3.75) to share with my wife. Not a big meat eater, she had the French toast (#3 – Three slices dipped in egg, Irish Cream, and cinnamon, grilled, served with pure maple syrup – $6.95). Some other breakfast choices include:
Biscuits and Gravy (Full Order – $5.75)

#2 – Frittata Sandwich ~ Potato, mushroom, green olive and spinach egg pie served on Country French with scallion cream cheese. $5.95 

#4 – Primavera Omelet ~ Roasted zucchini, caramelized onions, spinach, mushrooms, and herb chevre with freshly grated hash browns and toast. $7.25 

#6 – Locarno Omelet ~ Bacon, ham, roasted garlic, and Swiss with freshly grated hash browns and toast. $7.25 

#7 – Ciabattina Sandwich ~ Two scrambled eggs on grilled Ciabattina – $4.25, with Swiss cheese – $4.75, with bacon – $4.95 with Swiss & bacon – $5.45 

#8 – Breakfast Taco ~ Flour Tortilla, scrambled eggs, hash browns, bacon, herb cream cheese and feta. Served with chipotle salsa. $6.25

Our meals arrived rather quickly, even before I was done pouring our coffee and toasting the sourdough bread which accompanied my breakfast. My Classic Breakfast was good with the eggs cooked perfectly over-medium, the bacon crispy but not burnt, and the hash browns also crunchy, just the way I like them. The order of biscuits and gravy was HUGE with two very large biscuits smothered in a thick country gravy with loads of sausage. I was surprised that my breakfast and the biscuits were luke-warm considering the fact that they arrived so quickly, leading me to believe that they are not cooked to order, but are prepared in advance, kept semi-warm, and served buffet-style from the kitchen. The taste was good, but my meal would have been better had it been served piping-hot.

The coffee was hot, obviously fresh, and delicious! My wife’s French toast consisted of three large slices of sourdough dipped in egg and fried with an overgenerous amount of cinnamon. At $6.95 for three slices of bread, a little egg, a dash of cinnamon, and a little (maybe Maple) syrup, this dish is overpriced by at least $1. Again, this dish could have also been warmer and it would have been nice if the accompanying cup of syrup had also been warm, but it seemed to be straight out of the jar (bottle or can). The cinnamon was overbearing, but otherwise the dish was good, not great.

French Toast ($6.95)

As breakfast goes, I have had better, much better, but we enjoyed our meal and may return for lunch or dinner to see how they do. Lawrence does not have an abundance of good restaurants, but being a fairly small town of around 90,000, I guess that is to be expected. Wheatfields is a very popular meeting place with great (not cheap) bread, excellent coffees, and “very average” breakfast fare. They seem to be doing well because the place was nearly full at 10:30AM on a Sunday, but I believe they would be bursting at the seams, as most GREAT breakfast restaurants do, if the food was cooked to order and hot. I would also suggest having the servers, who are already there to serve the food, take orders rather than creating a choke-point by having customers order at the counter and fiddle about with coffee, cream, sugar, drinks, silverware and napkins. The servers would likely also appreciate it, instead being tipped 15-20% instead of the loose change they receive in the jar by the register. A few smiles and an occasional “thank you” from staff would also be much appreciated.


WheatFields Bakery on Urbanspoon

CombatCritic Gives Wheatfields Bakery Cafe 6 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: Wheatfields, wheat, field, bread, bakery, eggs, bacon, biscuit, gravy, food, eat, breakfast, lunch, dinner, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, TravelValue, travel, value,

Come with me to the Casbah, we’ll make beautiful music together!


Come with me to the Casbah, we’ll make beautiful music together!

The Burger Stand at The Casbah
803 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044

Phone: (785) 856-0543
Web: http://thecasbahburgerstand.com/THE_BURGER_STAND.html

Hours: Mon-Sat 11AM to 10PM; Sun 11AM to 9PM

We walked into the Casbah during FINAL FRIDAYS in October because I had heard good things about their food, but there was a line a mile long and a strange smell in the air, not food-borne and not in a good way. We were again in the area the other night, a Thursday, and decided to drop-in and give them a smell and a try. The aroma this time was more conducive to our appetite, so we continued in to place our order.

Orders are taken at the end of the bar furthest from the door, a location backed by a large chalkboard with menu items packed in so tightly it is a bit difficult to read. The bar is a bit of a dive, but that is a good thing because I am NOT a metro-sexual, feeling homey and full of locals with long hair, jeans, and t-shirts. The decor is eclectic to say the least, a smattering of nondescript accouterments, booths, tables, and bar stools in a semi-dark room.

Being our first visit I decided to go with the CLASSIC BURGER ($7.50), a 1/2 pound of beef on a brioche bun with Vermont white cheddar cheese and assorted locally grown greens. Thinking it strange that a so-called “classic” burger did not come with tomato, onion, or pickle, I chose to add bacon ($1.50 extra) and tomato (no charge). Ordered medium-well, when I picked-up our order at the kitchen window in the rear of the building (not an intuitive location, it took me a few seconds to figure out where to go), my burger was almost perfectly cooked. For a 1/2 pound ground beef patty, it seemed small to me (more like 1/3 of a pound) and the cheese appeared almost non-existent. The “greens” consisted of 7-8 small pieces of arugula, not nearly enough, and the tomato, although fresh and tasty, was cut too small and was difficult to keep from falling out and onto my plate. Even still, the burger was very tasty!

Offering a variety of “fries”, you have a choice of “regular” (side – $1.50/basket – $4), fried in “duck fat” ($2.50/$6), “truffle” ($3/$7), “sweet potato” ($3/$6), “Cajun” ($3/$5), and “bourbon-bacon cheddar” ($4/$8). Again, being my first visit I wanted to keep things as simple and traditional as possible to see if they get the basics right, so we ordered a basket of regular fries. They came out of the kitchen piping-hot, crispy, not burnt, and salted to perfection. I have heard good things about the truffle and duck fat fries, so I will give them a try on future visits … and there will be future visits!

My wife, who prefers vegetarian options when available, went with the “Romesco”, a lentil patty with feta cheese, toasted almonds, green beans, and roasted red pepper sauce on a brioche bun (made in-house I believe). The lentil burger was delicious and flavorful, but a bit too dry and falling apart as teeth were sunk. Green beans on a burger you ask? I asked myself the same thing and thought it a bit strange with little value added from my standpoint. I like feta, but such a dry cheese on such a dry burger probably is not the best combination and the burger could have been enhanced by a softer, more flavorful variety, gouda perhaps.

The Burger Stand at The Casbah was an enjoyable experience and a reasonable value, coming in at a bit over $25 for two of us, including two draft beers ($3 each on special). The menu could have a few more options with only 6 burger options along with a Catfish Po Boy and 4 vegetarian options. They also offer onion rings ($4/$7), root beer floats ($4), malts ($5), and shakes ($5). Not a daily staple, a good burger and fries are always a welcome combination and The Burger Stand does an excellent job on both!

CombatCritic Gives The Burger Stand at The Casbah 7 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Key Words: burger, stand, Casbah, hamburger, French, fries, shake, malt, root beer, food, eat, bar, saloon, dive, Massachusetts, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044, CombatCritic, TravelValue, eZine


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

Little Saigon Cafe Left Me Hungry for More … MEAT!


Little Saigon Cafe Left Me Hungry for More … MEAT!

Little Saigon Cafe
1524B W 23rd Street
Lawrence, KS 66046


Open 10AM to 8PM daily 
Closed Sundays

Our friends told us about Little Saigon Cafe, a small, unassuming diner on 23rd Street, claiming that it is a terrific value.  I love Vietnamese food, particularly deep fried Vietnamese egg rolls with fresh mint, wrapped in lettuce leaves, and accompanied by a mild sweet and spicy dipping sauce.  Unfortunately, the fried egg rolls ($3.25 for two) only come with dipping sauce, so I asked if I could get some lettuce and mint and the lovely young lady that took our order was happy to comply.

Kitchen and Counter
You enter through what looks like a (black) service door next to what is supposed to be the main service entrance and give your order to the hostess at the cash register.  There is a large menu on the counter for reference, but it was slightly uncomfortable arriving for the first time, being unfamiliar with the menu and having to make a quick decision while trying not to hold-up the line behind us. The restaurant is small, four four-top tables and a counter that seats six, so after submitting our order, we were lucky enough to have one table still available.

I did not see a curry on the menu, for a Vietnamese restaurant an unusual experience, so I asked if they made any curries.  The man whom I assumed was the owner and knew was the chef (the kitchen is right there in front of you behind the counter) overheard me and said “we can make a curry with beef, chicken, tofu”, telling me the “Saigon Beef ($8.99) is not on the menu”.  Sold!  My wife, who is predominantly vegetarian, ordered the Vegetable and Tofu Pho ($6.99).  We also ordered the fried egg rolls, one order of pork and one vegetable (also $3.25) for my wife.

Fried Egg Roll with Lettuce and Mint
The hostess, who doubled as a server after taking our order at the counter, quickly arrived with the lettuce and mint, followed shortly thereafter with the egg rolls.  Unfortunately, both of our orders were overcooked, dark and crispy, and even though I like my egg rolls crispy, they were burnt and not golden brown as they should be.  The flavor was still good and the filling mostly pork in my case, a nice surprise for a carnivore such as myself.  The lettuce and mint helped mask the flavor of the overcooked egg rolls. I have had better Vietnamese egg rolls, with all of the accompaniments, elsewhere, but they filled the void in any event.

Saigon Beef – $8.99
The entrees arrived a little too quickly as we had only just received our appetizers, but it worked out well because the entrees had time to cool off enough to be able to eat.  My Saigon beef was massive, but mostly (egg) noodles and very little beef for the price.  There were six or seven very small pieces of sliced beef at the most, less than two ounces I would guess and not nearly enough to satiate my hunger for meat. Mostly noodles, the curry sauce was tasty at first bite and the dish was infused with stir-fried green onion and what appeared to be egg, a strange new addition in my experience. The combination of curry and egg was not something I have had before and after the first bite, it became a bit off-putting and with the small amount of beef rapidly depleted, I did not finish my dish.

Vegetable and Tofu Pho – $6.99

My lovely wife’s Vegetable Tofu Pho came in a massive bowl and was quite pleasing to the eye.  A savory blend of snap peas, tofu, bean sprouts, carrot, kale, peppers, green onions and egg noodles, the broth was light but flavorful and a nice choice for a cold winter’s night.

Little Saigon Cafe was decent, but not the best Vietnamese food I have eaten by far.  The entree prices seem a bit high for a few vegetables, broth, and noodles. With the Pho’s ingredients in the neighborhood of $2 to $3 max, $4.99 to $5.99 would be more reasonable than the current $6.99 price tag.  Many University of Kansas (KU) student reviews on Yelp and elsewhere indicated that the prices are in-fact a bit high and in a college town such as Lawrence, restaurants must cater to the needs of cash strapped students or face the music.  Little Saigon’s staff are very friendly and helpful, and that is a rarity these days, particularly in Lawrence where the food scene is not well known for excellence or customer service based on my experience.  The food is prepared to order and the ingredients fresh, so give Little Saigon Cafe a try … maybe the food will be more to your liking than mine, but then again, I am a bit finicky when it comes to Asian cuisine where lots of meat and thick, flavorful curries are more tantalizing to my tastebuds than broth, veggies, and noodles.

CombatCritic Gives Little Saigon Cafe 6 Bombs Out of 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD!








Key Words: little, Saigon, cafe, Vietnam, Vietnamese, cuisine, food, eat, restaurant, diner, pho, curry, broth, vegetables, noodles, Asian, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic

Nothing Is Free at Free State Brew Pub Where a Terrible $6 Burger Costs $9!


Nothing Is Free at Free State Brew Pub Where a Terrible $6 Burger Costs $9!

Free State Brew Pub
636 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
(785) 843-4555
Mon-Sat: 11am-Midnight
Sun: Noon-11pm

Small Bar with Beer Barrels Behind
Free State Brewery … Free State Brewery … that is all I have heard since moving to Lawrence in August … “Free State Brewery”.  I have tasted some of their micro brews and they are excellent, but every time we wanted to try the food, the place was jam-packed.  Now I know why while at the same time wondering … WHY?

The reason WHY people are always outside the door on Mass (Massachusetts Street – Downtown Lawrence, Kansas), I now know, is because there is so little room inside.  The massive aluminum brewing barrels occupy a large percentage of the interior space, leaving room for a small bar and maybe 10-15 tables.  There appear to be more tables upstairs, but the rather large space is dominated by the massive beer making equipment, leaving much less room for patrons.

The reason WHY I wonder what makes this establishment attractive to their many customers is because our recent dining experience was UNDERwhelming!

We were walking down Mass last Saturday night looking at the Christmas lights and considering stopping for a bite to eat.  As we made our way north to the 700 block, I noticed that there was an absence of humans outside of Free State Brew Pub, so we went in.  We were quickly seated at a small table next to the bar and a four-top occupied by two attractive young lovebirds.  Let me digress for a moment …

What I am about to say is a generalization, but it is an observation that has become more and more frequent of late.  This lovely couple was sitting next to each other, he with his legs propped up on the chair across from him as if he were lounging in his apartment, not a restaurant full of people.  When they did not have their tongues in each other’s ears, they were both simultaneously buried in their cell phones, eagerly texting away, probably to each other!  I call it “social dystrophy”, the inability of many people, particularly the younger generation, but not exclusively, to communicate effectively with fellow human beings.  If interested, you can read more in my article “Social Dystrophy: Are Technology or Values to Blame”.

Brewery Burger with Cheddar and Fries – $8.80
Back to Free State Brew Pub.  The place was full, but not packed, yet the noise-level was high.  After 20 years in the Air Force working around very loud jet engines, my hearing is not great and I had a hard time hearing my wife from across the small table.  Wood and glass dominate the large open room, the lighting not too bright and not dim, making the setting comfortable except for the decibel-level.

Our server, a nice young man who never mentioned his name, arrived promptly to take our drink order.  I decided to go with one of two stouts ($4 for an American pint) on the menu, I tried the other later, a flavorful thick, rich chocolaty concoction that was complex, yet smooth.  The second, an oatmeal stout, was also very tasty and smooth with less complexity than the first, but it was delicious.

I ordered the Brewery Burger medium-well with cheddar cheese, figuring a brew pub would have a top-notch burger, especially at $8.25 “without cheese”.  The menu states that it is a “1/3-pound patty of Kansas pride, Creekstone Farms seasoned premium charbroiled ground beef on an onion bun, slice of onion, leaf of lettuce and a pickle spear. Hot fries stand ready to complete the feast.” Adding Provolone, Blue, Swiss, Jack or Cheddar cheese is an extra 55¢, bringing the price to nearly $9. 

When our order arrived, I was shocked by the size of the hamburger and not in a good way.  The plate was dominated by overcooked French fries that sat upon a single flaccid piece of wilted lettuce, NO ONION, and a small dill pickle spear hidden under the fries, leaving the small onion roll containing the meat and cheese.  That was it, a beef patty the size of a McDonalds ¼-pounder and cheese, no mayo, no catsup, no tomato, NO TASTE!  First of all, the beef patty was medium or medium-rare, pink throughout and NOT medium-well as I had ordered.  I added some catsup out of the bottle and rather than ask for some tomato or onion, deciding to eat it as is and thinking that maybe they knew something I did not … that it should be eaten this way, it should not!

Based on value, this was one o
f the worst hamburgers I have ever eaten … and people wait outside in the rain and cold for this?  Five Guy’s burgers, at less than $6, are eons better than this sad excuse for a hamburger and even (dare I say it?) Burger King’s Whopper is tastier, cheaper, and COMES WITH ONION AND TOMATO!

Gorgonzola and Mushrrom Gnocchi – $9.99
My wife had the Gorgonzola and Mushroom Gnocchi – $9.95 – consisting of Shiitake and button mushrooms sautéed with julienne red onions, then simmered in a creamy Gorgonzola white wine sauce with fresh made potato gnocchi and finished with sliced black mission figs, local micro greens and toasted rosemary focaccia.  Her dish was attractive and flavorful enough, except for the fact that the red onions had not only been caramelized, they had been burnt.  The burnt onion flavor overwhelmed the otherwise tasty, creamy Gorgonzola and white wine sauce which had just the right amount of the strong cheese which can be overpowering if not done correctly.  The gnocchi were cooked perfectly, not too soft and not too firm, making the dish a decent value except for the fact that the burnt onions ruined it.  For $10, a side salad would be nice considering the fact that sandwiches come with a choice of potato or salad, but that is not the case.

I honestly have no idea why this place is so popular other than the fact that it may have become “the place to be seen” by the local college crowd, the same folks that give Chipotle 4 out of 5 stars on Yelp.  The beer was very good, the food extremely disappointing.  Based on our experience and the few available options on the menu, I doubt if we will be back except to have a beer, but based on the size of the bar and the usual crowds, I also doubt if it will be worth the wait.

CombatCritic Gives Free State Brew Pub 5 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Free State Brewing Co on Urbanspoon


Key Words: free, state, brew, pub, brewery, beer, food, hamburger, stout, pasta, gnocchi, cheese, French, fries, eat, drink, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, downtown, CombatCritic

Rub Your Lamp and Wish for MORE FOOD at Aladdin Cafe (Mass Street – Downtown Lawrence)


Rub Your Lamp and Wish for MORE FOOD at Aladdin Cafe (Mass Street – Downtown Lawrence)

Aladdin Café
1021 Massachusetts Street
Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Phone: 785-832-1100

My wife had heard good things about Aladdin Café in downtown Lawrence (Mass Street), so we figured we would give it a try while a friend was visiting from Colorado.  She had never had middle-Eastern food before and was enticed by the unfamiliar smells emanating from the kitchen.  As we entered there were two parties seated out of probably 20 tables throughout the restaurant which is sparsely decorated with a small store containing a few middle-Eastern products in the rear next to the kitchen.  We stood there for close to five minutes while the only server in the place yukked it up with a table of three men whom apparently could not make up their minds and could obviously care less that we were standing there like bumps on a log.  She finally ended her conversation and came over tho seat us.

With no bar or alcohol on the menu, you are able to bring your own wine or beer (no corkage fee), so I had done my research on Yelp and brought a nice bottle of wine, a $10 Syrah that would easily cost $30 in most restaurants.  This is a nice option and it was the first time I had the opportunity to partake of such a custom, definitely keeping the bill from getting out of hand.  The server brought two glasses along with our water and a corkscrew.  It would have been nice if she had offered to open and pour the wine for us, and she would have been tipped accordingly, but that was not the case.  I opened the wine, poured, and waited for our server to take our order.


Being our first visit, we decided to try the Agrabah Appetizer Combo, a combination of hummus (blend of chickpeas, tahini, lemon, and garlic garnished with sumac, parsley, and hot sauce), baba ghanouj (roasted eggplant blended with

Appetizer Combo – $8.99

tahini sauce, lemon juice, and garlic), genie dip (roasted red pepper mixed with chickpeas, garlic, and tahini), falafel (deep fried patties of fava bean, chickpea, cilantro,

garlic, and onion blend), dolmati (VERY small rolled grape-leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes, and herbs, simmered in tomato and lemon juice), feta cheese, and Kalamata olives ($7.99) served with a small plate of pita bread.  After 20 minutes and no appetizer, I thought our server, who disappeared much of the time we were there, had forgotten, so we tracked her down to ensure our combo platter arrived well before our meals.  The hummus, genie dip, and baba ghanouj were plopped on the oval plate alongside two small falafels and two small dolmati.  Considering the price and that were were three, I would expect a bit more, considering the fact that the dolmati and falafels were so small you could pop one in your mouth and still have room for an entire White Castle burger.  

Falafel Sandwich with French Fries – $8.99
My wife had the Falafel and Baba Ghanouj Sandwich (Vegan – roasted eggplant spread and falafel served with tahini sauce on pita bread – $7.99) which came with rice.  My wife wanted French fries instead of rice, so the server told us it would be a $1.00 up-charge, not unreasonable, but when the plate arrived there were hardly any fries, maybe six or seven medium size pieces and not nearly enough to satisfy her hunger or justify an extra dollar.  The sandwich had much more lettuce than fillings, a couple small falafels in a medium size pita and at $8.99 including fries, no bargain.  My wife is not a big eater and was still hungry after finishing her food, not a good sign.

Beef and Lamb Gyro w/ Fries – $8.99
I decided to try Aladdin’s Gyro, a combination of grilled lamb and beef ($7.99 – chicken also available) with lettuce and tomato and topped with tzatziki, a creamy Greek cucumber sauce.  I also ordered the fries and after tasting our friend’s rice and was happy to pay an extra dollar for a few measly French fries.  Her rice was bland and white with a dollup of canned mystery tomato sauce on top, a tasteless side and nothing like the wonderful saffron rice I had eaten in the middle-East in the early 2000’s.  The few small slices of gyro meat inside were overwhelmed by the massive amounts of cheap lettuce and a few pieces of tomato.  I have had gyros with three times the meat in Greece and the U.S. that were less than half the price, so do not expect good value when visiting Aladdin Café.

I am not a huge fan of middle-Eastern cuisine, but the offerings at Aladdin were enough to allow some variety.  The service was inadequate, the food mediocre and NOT plentiful, and the ambience non existent.  It is unfortunate because we live just a few blocks away from Aladdin and it would be nice to have a few exotic options in the neighborhood.  Unfortunately, the only thing exotic about Aladdin Café on Mass Street are the prices and that is not a good thing.

CombatCritic gives Aladdin Café 4 Out of 10 Bombs … BOMBS ARE GOOD!





Aladdin Cafe on Urbanspoon


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Key Words: Aladdin, Cafe, middle, eastern, falafel, gyro, food, eat, Lawrence, Kansas, Massachusetts, downtown, service, hummus, baba, ghanouj, pita, bread, tzatziki, CombatCritic

"Namaste" … India Palace is a "WELCOME", but Expensive, Delight!


Lawrence, Kansas

India Palace
129 E 10th Street,
Lawrence, KS 66044

Telephone:  785-331-4300

“Namaste … India Palace is a WELCOME”, but Expensive, Delight!


Chutnies Accompany the Meat Samosas (not shown … Oops!
“Namaste” is a term used in India and Nepal as well as many other places around the world.  A customary greeting when individuals meet and a valediction upon their parting, Namaste is the most common form of such a salutation and is considered a non-contact form of salutation.  Namaste actually is formed from two Sanskrit words, “namah”, meaning  “salutation” or “ adoration” and “te”, meaning “you”. When spoken to another person, it is commonly accompanied by a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards, in front of the chest. This gesture, called Añjali Mudrā or Pranamasanacan also be performed wordlessly, carrying the same meaning. We were made to feel very welcome on our visit to India Palace.


Sitting a half a block off of Massachusetts Avenue, the hub of activity and the centerpiece of downtown Lawrence, Kansas, India Palace is walking distance from our home and convenient for those shopping downtown.  The décor is basic and the staff friendly and welcoming.  We were greeted immediately as we walked-in, having a reservation for a Friday night which was apparently not necessary as would be the case in most downtown restaurants on a weekend.  Based on our experience, there is only one possible reason for not being busier, a fact I will get to in a bit.  But first, let me talk about the cuisine …

Lamb Rogan Josh with Basmati Rice

I ordered a Fat Tire ($3.00 – 12 ounce mug), one of two draft

beers available on the menu, the other being Boulevard Wheat (also $3.00) and Coke products are available in addition to an assortment of bottled beer and wines.  I started with the meat samosas ($4.95 for two), a blend of ground beef and lamb, lightly seasoned with Indian spices and containing less vegetables than other samosas I have eaten at chow halls around the world.  They were moderate in size, crispy dough outside and hot, flavorful meat inside, accompanied by three sauces, two of them chutneys.  It was one of the better samosas I have had, having eaten in dozens of Indian restaurants stateside and in the United Kingdom where Indian food is a weekly staple.



We ordered the Lamb Rogan Josh ($14.95): tender morsels of lamb cooked in an onion sauce with yogurt, nuts, and a unique blend of spices and coriander; Sag Paneer ($11.95): simmered with fresh spinach cooked with homemade cheese and spices; and Beef Curry ($12.95); succulent pieces of beef cooked in thick curry sauce with herbs, all accompanied by large servings of bismati (white) rice.  I asked the server if they had pilau rice, my favorite, a kind of Indian fried rice with peas, onions, and other vegetables and spices, much more flavorful than the bismati rice we received, but unnecessary because the rice is quickly covered with the entrees when consumed.


Beef Curry with Onion Nan
All entrees and the bismati rice are served in small copper pots, piping hot from the kitchen and easily shared amongst our table.  The lamb rogan josh came with medium size chunks of tender lamb in a medium-thick, creamy and mildly spicy red sauce which was delicious.  At $14.95 for entrée with rice, I would expect more food, but would recommend lowering the price instead because the serving is more than enough for one person.  I have seen entrees that size and quality in the $8-$12 range at other restaurants, so maybe that explains why India Palace was not busier on a Friday night.  It is a shame because so many restaurants, including India Palace, try to generate profits by raising prices instead of providing quality food at a reasonable price or through competitive marketing (e.g. Social media, coupons – Groupon).  In a college town like Lawrence, you are not going to generate much business by charging $10–$15 for entrees (ala carte) and that seems to be the case at India Palace.

The sag paneer is a thick, spicy, creamed spinach concoction with chunks of Indian cheese and was mild enough for my Italian wife who cannot handle spicy dishes.  Slightly sweet, yet spicy, it was one of the better sag paneers we have tried in recent memory, but again, at $10.95, slightly overpriced based on the inexpensive ingredients.  The majority of India is vegetarian and I am a carnivore, but Indian chefs use exotic spices such as curry and coriander so well that I do not even miss the meat!  The beef curry was also a bit pricey at $12.95, yet rich and delicious.  As a comparison, I recently had a wonderful beef Massaman curry at Zen Zero, a Thai restaurant down the street from India Palace on Massachusetts, including jasmine rice for just $7.69 … $5.26 less than my curry at India Palace!

Sag Paneer with Nan

The lunch buffet may be a better value, but unsure of the price, I will have to get back to you on that one.  I absolutely love butter chicken, rich, creamy boneless chicken chunks cooked with fresh garlic, ginger, and a touch of tomato in a light creamy sauce and spices, also served with rice and the server indicated that it is sometimes on the buffet (it is on the menu).  Delightful staff, we felt very welcome during our entire meal, and the food was some of the best Indian I have had, and that is “a lot”.  Unfortunately, our bill totaled $75 including tip, $25 per head and not an inexpensive proposition.  Considring the fact that there are two fast-food Indian restaurants within a few blocks either way on Mass, India Palace should seriously condor lowering their prices and focusing on “value” by utilizing coupons and Groupons to drawn 30,000 hungry students.


CombatCritic Gives India Palace 6 Bombs Out of 10 … Bombs Are GOOD!
India Palace on Urbanspoon

Key Words: India, Palace, Indian, food, cuisine, eat, curry, samosa, nan, rice, rogan, josh, vindaloo, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic, combat, critic, twitter, Facebook

El Potro (The Colt): Free Cheese Dip and More Scrummy Surprises


LAWRENCE, KANSAS

Lawrence, Kansas

EL POTRO
2351 W 31st St Lawrence, KS 66047

(785) 331-2500

Website

Cheese Quesadilla with Guacamole and Pico di Gallo

I found El Potro on Yelp and with such good reviews, we decided to give it a try … AND ARE WE GLAD WE DID!

Sunday is our weekly DINNER OUT night and boy were we surprised when we pulled into the parking lot to find a sea of cars … and a restaurant full of people. Sunday night dinner out in Lawrence is normally so quiet, you could be heard whispering three tables away. Not at El Potro! The restaurant used to be a fast food stop of some sort, so the atmosphere is as to be expected, nothing special and a little brighter (in lumen) than I would like.

We were quickly greeted and seated with the waiter dropping by to take drink orders and the busboy dropping off chips, salsa … AND FREE WHITE CHEESE DIP? That is correct, free chili con queso blanco for everyone! Many Lawrence Mexican restaurants charge for chips and salsa, a practice unheard of in nearly six decades and hundreds of Mexican restaurants all over the United States, so free chips and cheese dip was a welcome sight. Not only do they give you free cheese dip, it is a decent size bowl, not a cup.
Cheese and Onion Enchilada ala Carte
My wife ordered orchata, a sweet rice-based drink from Mexico that tastes like rice pudding with hints of cinnamon. I decided to go with the 22 ounce margarita (frozen with salt) special, at $6 not a bad deal, but the same price as the menu option. Not much of a special, but it was quite delicious and with more alcohol than most Lawrence restaurants so far. As usual, I have a built-in designated driver in my tea-toting wife, so I was able to enjoy my drink without concern. We also decided to try the guacamole, a good predictor of quality Mexican food. At close to $6.00, it had better be good and it was. Not as good as mine or the best restaurant guac I have had, but plentiful and tasty with just a few chopped tomatoes on top to add color to the appetizer. It was a nice accompaniment to the cheese dip, chips, and salsa.
Deep-Fried Shredded Beef Tacos, Rice, & Boracho Beans
I decided to go with the usual first visit tacos and enchiladas, so I ordered the deep fried shredded beef tacos ($8.99 – you can also get ground beef or chicken) and a cheese and onion enchilada ala carte. The tacos were crispy, the beef was well seasoned, and there was plenty of lettuce and cheese in addition to the standard rice and beans. The shells were pliable enough to add some excess guacamole, pico di gallo (from my wife’s order – she hates tomatoes), and some salsa without falling apart when I bit in. I chose the borracho (“drunk” in Spanish) beans instead of the refried beans and it was a good choice. They were soupy and well seasoned, a nice change to the usual smashed, refried variety. Off to a good start! The enchilada, came on a separate plate, was quite big, and pleasing to the eye with a colorful accompaniment of sauce, cheese, lettuce and tomato. The enchilada sauce was spicy, but not overly so and the ratio of cheese to onion to sauce was perfect. I have had better tasting enchilada sauces over the years, but it was good nonetheless.
Beef Fajita Burrito with Rice and Pico do Gallo
Our friend had the beef fajita burrito which was not huge, but enough to fill her with the accompanying rice and beans. My wife ordered the cheese quesadilla which came with more guacamole and the pico di gallo mentioned earlier. Quesadillas are pretty boring to begin with and hers were no exception. Flour tortilla and melted cheese … YAAAAAAAAWN … need I say more.
El Potro was a pleasant experience because I thought I had found the only good Mexican restaurant in Lawrence in Tortas Jalisco. Now we have two options for our weekly MEXICAN NIGHT and El Potro is a welcome delight. Reasonable prices, excellent, service, quality food, decent drinks, and FREE CHEESE DIP, CHIPS, AND SALSA … HOOAH!

CombatCritic Gives El Potro 7 out of 10 Bombs … Bombs Are Good!




El Potro Mexican Cafe on Urbanspoon


Key Words: El Potro, Mexican, restaurant, eat, food, taco, enchilada, burrito, chimichanga, rice, beans, cheese, pico di gallo, tortilla, chips, salsa, CombatCritic, Lawrence, Kansas

The Mad Greek … Good Greek Cuisine, Moderate Prices


The Mad Greek … Good Greek Cuisine, Moderate Prices


Mad Greek Restaurant
907 Massachusetts
Lawrence, KS 66044



Phone: 785-843-2441

If you like arsenic, you will love the Mad Greek in downtown Lawrence! Seriously, this restaurant is actually pretty good and reasonably priced. The reason I made that comment is because they seem to serve rice and green beans with EVERY dish and rice has been linked to high arsenic content with recommendations, according to OneGreenPlanet.org and others, to limit rice consumption to once a week among other precautions.

Greek “Side” Salad

On our first visit to The Mad Greek, my wife ordered the spinach pie ($7.99), spinach and feta cheese with herbs baked in a light phyllo dough with tzatziki (a creamy cucumber sauce used extensively in Grecian cooking) and fresh pita bread. The spinach pies were light and flaky with a perfect ratio of filling to crust. For the price, I would think a salad would be included, but you must pay $1.99 to add a Greek salad ($1.59 for “house” salad) to any entrée. My wife and I both ordered a Greek salad with our meals and at $1.99 extra, not a bad deal considering the quality. Fresh romaine lettuce, tomato, Greek Calamata olives, and crumbled feta cheese in a Greek olive oil and vinegar dressing. I would prefer chunks of feta over the fine crumbles, but the taste is the same either way…very good.


Moussaka with Pita Bread and Fries
I ordered the gyros platter, a reasonable ($9.99 – not abundant) amount of sliced gyro meat (a combination of seasoned beef and lamb), pita bread, tzatziki, green beans, and rice (of course). The gyro meat was fresh and tasty, and the tzatziki delicious, but the pita bread was a little too soft for my taste. The green beans were simmered in a tomato sauce and were “OK” and the rice was similarly boring, but I am not a huge rice lover. I ordered a side of french fries ($2.99), which were hot and crunchy just the way I like them, but I will probably ask to substitute fries for the rice and green beans on our next visit.

On our second visit it was my wife’s birthday, so I ordered the “flaming” saganaki, a slab of fresh Greek goat cheese soaked in batter, deep fried, and served in a flaming extravaganza table side. The “oohs” and “aahs” of fellow customers followed the lighting of the cheese, but at $7.99 the dish was overpriced by AT LEAST $2.00 in my opinion, coming with one slice of pita bread (cut into six pieces). The birthday girl ordered the moussaka, one of her staples (along with Greek salad) during our month-long visit to Greece in 2005. The moussaka – eggplant, ground beef and other ingredients covered with a béchamel sauce and baked – looked as though it had been sitting for a while and the serving was small, a cube no more than two and a half inches in diameter and at $9.99, about one quarter of the size of servings we received in Greece. The moussaka came with pita bread, rice and green beans, so my wife substituted french fries at no additional charge. She did not like it and I thought it was very “average”, being overpriced for the serving size.

Cannelloni Florentine

I decided to try one of the Italian offerings, so I ordered the cannelloni Florentine, pasta tubes stuffed with veal, spinach and seasonings then baked after being covered with alfredo (white) and red sauce. The cannelloni was actually pretty good, but the sauces were both rather boring, most likely coming from a can or jar, not homemade. Again, we had to pay $1.99 each to add a Greek salad and mine came with two small pieces of garlic bread ($9.99 for pasta and bread, $11.98 including the salad, not bad, but NOT A GREAT VALUE).


Wine is reasonable at $3.50 per glass for the house wine, a tasty, inexpensive burgundy that went well with both meals. They have a full bar and prices seem fairly reasonable with a decent selection of drafts at $3.99 to $4.59 (stout). Water is served wit a lemon slice, but I had to ask for refills, something that should not have happened considering the small number of customers that night.

The Mad Greek has original Greek recipes and decent food, but the value for the price is questionable. Ordering “ala carte” should be reserved for restaurants with cloth napkins and severs who take your payment rather than making customers stand in line to pay our bills (as is the case at The Mad Greek). I would recommend including a Greek salad with entrees and maybe increasing the price by fifty cents to a dollar to offset the cost and having servers handle payments as is done in even the cheapest sit-down restaurants these days. People should feel as if they are receiving a “good value” for their money and NOT feel like we are eating at McDonalds after having spent $25 each for dinner.

CombatCritic gives The Mad Greek 6 Bombs Out of 10 … Bombs Are Good!
 
Mad Greek Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Key Words: mad, Greek, Greece, restaurant, gyros, moussaka, mousaka, phyllo, pita, bread, souvlaki, tzatziki, hummus, food, eat, wine, beer, CombatCritic, Lawrence, Kansas

La Familia … Mediocre Mexican Food and Watered Down Margaritas


La Familia … Mediocre Mexican Food and Watered Down Margaritas

La Familia Cafe and Cantina
733 New Hampshire St
LawrenceKS 66044
(785) 749-0105

Prices: $$$$$

La Familia is a small restaurant with friendly service and decent food. Being a Mexican food junkie from SoCal and used to some of the best Mexican food north of the border, I have high standards. La Familia failed to meet those standards, at least on our first visit.

I ordered the large guacamole, trusting the server when she said it would be “just right” for two … it was enough for four and at $7+ not a total bargain. It was tasty even though we ended uo taking half of it home.  I also tried the margaritas, an impressive 16 ounces for $5 but lacking ANY noticeable alcohol content (isn’t that the whole idea?). 

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 sauteed mushrooms, but little, if any, cheese. The name “quesadilla” comes.from the word “queso”, meaning cheese, so you would expect cheese. There was none that we could find, but my wife liked it nonetheless. 

I always order the staples, tacos and enchiladas, when trying a new Mexican restaurant because if they cannot get those right, there is little chance the rest of the food will be with trying. Store-bought chips and pre-fab tacos shells are another dead give away and La Familia did again disappoint, although the tacos were tasty and the shells the large variety, beating out any Mexican restaurant in Lawrence so far (Fuzzy’s Tacos being the exception), but that is not saying much. The cheese and onion enchilada was nothing special. Finally, the “sweet” salsa I had heard so much about was awful, but thankfully they have two other savory and spicy options. 

In all, when a bunch of gringos run a Mexican restaurant, you cannot expect authentic recipes and that was the case at La Familia. We will return and give them another chance only because they are so convenient and my wife liked the chesseless quesadilla. Asta la vista baby!

La Familia gets 5 Out of 10 Bombs … Bombs Are Good!



la Familia Cafe And Cantina on Urbanspoon

Key Words: La, Familia, Mexican, restaurant, food, eat, taco, enchilada, burrito, salsa, sweet, guacamole, mediocre, margarita, Lawrence, Kansas, CombatCritic

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

Rancho Grande Cantina – Parkville, Missouri … UPDATE


Rancho Grande Cantina – June 2013 UPDATE


Price: $$$$$ – All entrees below $15

(816) 505-9097
11015 NW Hwy 45
Parkville,MO 64152

Rancho Grande in Parkville is a weekly staple in our house. Yes, of course it is Americanized Mexican, but we are in America after all. If you have a craving for inexpensive, quality food, this USED TO BE THE PLACE. I have been a customer for five years and have continued to go back week after week, but that could soon change!

You would think that customers who come back week after week after week, particularly ones who have a restaurant and food blog, would be known by name, perhaps greeted with more than indifference, but that is not the case at Rancho Grande Cantina.

The food is good, normally consistent, but that has changed recently.  For example, on their “Fajita Special” night a few months back, I sat in the bar and had some of the worst service in recent memory. On the back of many employee’s shirts is the phrase “I know Joe”, referring to the alleged owner, a guy named “Joe” apparently. Well, Joe was sitting in the bar with several of his cronies and my waiter seemed more focused on making Joe happy than any of his customers.  Joe and his pals were knocking back the beers while I sat, and sat, and sat, and waited for my appetizer, then dinner, when my waiter was more interested in making sure Joe and his pals were supplied with cold beer than taking care of his customers.  

The fajitas, although discounted $3.oo, were more than 30% less than their normal portion AND BURNT. I could not get my waiters attention long enough to convey my displeasure because of his infatuation with Joe, so I went home and conveyed my displeasure via Yelp and Foursquare.  I was being lazy.

Cinco de Mayo, to my displeasure, was an extremely busy night on a normally quiet Sunday, our normal Rancho Grande evening.  The hostess told us our wait would be 30  minutes, but we ended up waiting over an hour. When I saw that we were next on the list for a table, we went to the front and waited next to the hostess, thinking we would have a table in a few minutes.  A party of eight was seated before us even though they fell after us on the list, but that is not irregular.  What was irregular was the party of two, plus a child, that got our table because they were “friends’ of the hostess.  I saw the man conversing with employees earlier, so I knew that he was either an employee or a friend of staff.  So when he and his family were seated, at our table, without being on “the list”, I was unhappy, but because of the mass confusion, I kept my mouth shut.

Our server did not greet us for close to ten minutes after being seated and when we ordered, we let her know that my wife’s quesadilla was cold last time she ordered it, asking her to please ensure that it was properly heated this evening. When it arrived, 30 minutes later, it was luke-warm. The young woman that dropped-off the plates ignored our pleas for assistance, pretending that she did not hear us as we attempted to point out the chill on the quesadilla.  Taking several minutes to get the attention of our server, we finally let her know that the meal was cold and finally received our complete meals ten minutes later.

All the while, Joe, whom we still do not know after five years of weekly visits, was sucking down a beer by the bar, ignoring his customers and the horrible service we were receiving.

We have spent literally thousands of dollars at Rancho Grande in the five years we have lived in Kansas City.  I enjoy the food and some of the servers recognize us although none even have any idea what our names are.  I would expect a little more of a business whose business is customer service, but customer service seems to be a thing of the past, so why should I be disappointed?


As I said, even though we eat there very week, most of the staff barely recognize us and hardly anybody has any idea what our names are.  Temira, a native-American server with a Hebrew name (meaning “tall”), is one of the few servers that bothers to give us the time of day.  She is very pretty and kind, giving personalized service where most of her peers fail.  A personality … what a concept … thank you Temira!  I would like to personally tell Temira how much I appreciate her personalized attention, but the restaurant is not amenable to such conversations.  Fell free to send me a message Temira … SEND ME A MESSAGE

Having been dedicated and consistent customers for five years, I would expect more from a restaurant where we literally spend thousands of dollars a year.  There are a few servers , like Temira, that stop to say hello, but the busboys know us better than any of them, making sure to bring the “hot” salsa when we arrive.  If the rest of the staff were as attentive as they are, we would feel like royalty, a not so terrible thing considering our loyalty to the establishment.

Joe, whom I still do not know, even though I have been eating at his restaurant every week for five years, should be ashamed for his apathy toward guests and his propensity to suck down beers rather than  ensure his customers get the service and quality we deserve. I do not expect, nor would I accept, special treatment because I am a food critic.  But I am a paying customer and would expect that our loyalty to his business would at least be appreciated, something we have not felt in five years of eating at Rancho Grande. The manager, a nice woman who knows us by face and that I have a food and travel blog, does not even know our names … after five years … every Sunday for five years … can you believe that?  Maybe it is time to find a proprietor and restaurant that appreciates our hard earned money and loyalty.


In all, Rancho Grande in Parkville WAS an excellent choice for quality American-Mexican food with large portions at a reasonable price, but if you want to be appreciated … go elsewhere!  Jalisco is a new Mexican restaurant is the Parkville area, see my Jalisco Mexican Restaurant Review, and while the food is not quite as good as Rancho Grande, you feel welcome when you walk through the door.


CombatCritic gives Rancho Grande Cantina in Parkville 6 (used to be 7) Out of 10 BOMBS … Bombs are good!


11015 NW Mo-45
Kansas CityMO 64152 

Map

Rancho Grande Cantina on Urbanspoon

Key Words: 64152, CombatCritic, critic, eat, eating, kansas city, mexican food, missouri, MO, Parkville, rancho grande cantina, restaurant, Restaurants, Review, Review Kansas City Restaurants, reviews, Temira, Mexican, food

On the Border … Surprisingly Good for a Chain!


On The Border – Barry Rd.

8340 NW Roanridge Rd.
Kansas City, MO 64151

Website: OnTheBorder.com
Phone: 816-759-2270
Price: $$$$$

I usually do not review chain restaurants, but I was pleasantly surprised on a recent visit to On The Border, a Mexican restaurant chain found many places across the country.

I decided to go because I was havin’ a hankerin’ for tacos that evening and recalled hearing the TV commercial about their “Endless Tacos”.  I am not usually a fan of “all you can eat” restaurants and promotions because I tend to to just that … eat all I can…AND MORE!

It was a Saturday night and the place was packed, but only had to wait ten minutes for a table.  I was greeted by Kelsie, a lovely and personable young lady who just graduated from Northwest Missouri State and is planning on becoming a registered nurse…BRAVO Kelsie!

I ordered a house margarita, the Guacamole Viva!, and Endless Tacos, but being rather busy it took ten minutes or so to get my margarita.  It was tasty enough, but a little “light” on alcohol for the price.

Kelsie arrived shortly thereafter with my Guacamole Viva! which she prepared tableside with two ripe avocados, a little salt, fresh cilantro, diced red onion (I would have used white onion), a splash of lime juice, and chopped tomato.  I am “The Guacamole King” and famous for my delicious guacamole.  A guacamole purist at heart,  I normally ditch the tomatoes (usually a filler in restaurants to make it look like you are getting more, but paying mostly for the much cheaper tomatoes), use finely chopped white onion, and added a clove of garlic or two.  Guacamole Viva! was good nonetheless, but the chips (and salsa) that came with my meal were too thin and broke half the time I dipped…very unnerving!

The Endless Tacos come with spanish rice and beans, black or refried.  You get three (your first go-around) and get to choose from three meats, ground beef, shredded chicken, or pulled pork (carnitas for you non-gringos).  You also get your choice of tortilla, corn or flour, soft or deep fried.  I chose two ground beef tacos in fried corn tortillas and one pork in a soft flour tortilla.  I also dispensed with the rice, knowing that I was not going to waste a bit of room on the cheap “filler” and go for the gusto with the tacos … AND I DID!

The beef tacos were excellent, coming with plenty of meat, some shredded cheddar cheese, and a small amount of lettuce and tomato on the plate (for all three tacos – more tomatoes required!).  I added some refried beans, guacamole, and salsa to the beef tacos and they were excellent!  Unlike Jalisco, which I reviewed a week or so back, the taco shells remained firmly in one piece, a sign of an expert taco maker and the way I prefer them. 

The pork (carnitas) tacos were also very good.  The meat was bountiful and cooked just right, there was a little cheese (I would have liked a bit more), and the tortilla much larger than the corn and toasted just enough to remain pliable, but soft enough to contain the beans, guacamole, and salsa I added.

In all, the meal was very good and I ended-up getting seven tacos.  You should know that after the initial “three” tacos, subsequent “endless tacos” come only in pairs of two, so my second order was a replica of the first, but I only ended-up getting two beef tacos.  I had to order the other pork taco later, but when it arrived there were two, so I took home the seventh taco along with the extra guacamole fro lunch the next day.

I must say that the highlight of my meal was Kelsie. She was sweet and attentive, following up just enough and not too much to make my meal enjoyable and stress free.  Best of luck to you Kelsie in your nursing career!  If you are as good a nurse as you are a server, your patients will be in very good hands!






CombatCritic gives On The Border 6 BOMBS OUT OF 10 … BOMBS ARE GOOD! 

Key Words: on the border, on, border, Kansas City, northland, barry, road, mexican, food, restaurant, eat, taco, enchilada, margarita, burrito, flauta, bar, combatcritic, combat, critic

Jalisco: Sports Bar or Mexican Restaurant … Maybe Both?


Jalisco Mexican Restaurant (CLOSED)

Category: Mexican
7749 NW Prairie View Rd
Kansas CityMO 64152

(816) 587-0899

Jalisco is more like a sports bar than a Mexican restaurant with TVs everywhere you look.  The decor is new, plain, and cheap, but the colors are pleasant and, most important, the restaurant is clean!


The food is good in general, starting with the guacamole which is fresh and tasty at $4.00 for a medium size serving. The cheese dip, also $4.00 is also tasty and same size as the guacamole.  Margarites are also $4.00, not bad, but on the small side and with NOT MUCH PUNCH if you know what I mean


The first time I visited, shortly after their opening a few months back, I had the carnitas (slow cooked chunks of pork) and the was tender and plentiful.  Served with tortillas, pico di gallo, rice, and beans, a serving of guacamole would have been nice and is always a welcome accompaniment to the tender pork delights.


My wife had the cheese quesadilla, also very good although a bit pricey at $7.50 for a couple flour tortillas and some cheese.  I went for the taco special yesterday, having three beef tacos with rice and beans for $6.99.  I was disappointed in the taco shells, looking like the prefab variety you get at the supermarket.  The tacos only came with white cheese and lettuce, no tomato or pico di gallo, a necessity when eating tacos as far as I am concerned.  All three of the tacos broke in half upon first bite, so I had quite a mess on my hands … literally!


The service is good, the salsa fresh, and tortilla chips warm.  Do not forget to ask for the “HOT” sauce, a tomatillo variety with more kick than the standard, but not extremely hot.







CombatCritic gives Jalisco 6 BOMBS out of 10 with room to grow as they mature and we try new, hopefully more impressive, dishes … BOMBS ARE GOOD!

Jalisco Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Title:  Sports Bar or Mexican Restaurant … Maybe Both?


Key Words: chips, salsa, Kansas, City, combat, CombatCritic, critic, eat, enchilida, food, Jalisco, Kansas, Mexican, Northland, Platte, restaurant, salsa, taco, urbanspoon, Woods, Yelp