El Chile Cafe Y Cantina

1809 Manor RdAustin, TX 78722 • (512) 457-9900 • elchilecafe.com
There is a bit of a Floridian vibe going on here if you ask me, with its pastel, aqua green walls and the sizeable patio out front. But the menu is full on TEX-MEX from the puffy tacos to the margaritas, which make a long day all worth it.Speaking of puffy tacos, if you’ve never had them, they are essentially fried taco shells that puff up around varying ingredients. Of the three we had though, I only found the veggie to be great, made with portobellos as the star. So skip the chicken and the pork.

The guac is also good, but the salsa is just friggin’ weird. It’s NOT salsa. I don’t care what local custom this is supposed to be, but that is the poorest excuse for salsa I have ever had.

I also didn’t love the habanero carrot sauce, mostly because it’s extremely lacking in heat considering that it’s supposedly made with habaneros.

For dessert, I thought the tres leche was pretty good, but it is simply outmatched by the chocolate pecan pie, which just might be one of the best I’ve ever had. So dense and rich with dark chocolate that you will contemplate ordering a second slice to take home.

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Torchy’s Tacos

1311 S 1st StAustin, TX 78704 • 512) 366-0537 • torchystacos.com

Can 1458 Yelpers be wrong? Yes. Yes they can. Granted this local legend has multiple locations around Austin, so this is only an indictment of the one in the trailer, located at the address above. That said I have a hard time believing the food varies drastically from spot to spot based on the consistent, glowing reviews, so take this as you will…

Sadly, beyond the queso I can’t really say I was impressed. So let’s start there, since it was the only highlight of the meal. Thick and creamy and spicy, it blows away that watery qurap they serve over at Kerby Lane. This is stick-to-ribs perfection.

But in terms of the breakfast tacos, which was the whole reason we came, I was nonplussed. I can make better at home. Shit, my eight year old son can make better. No, seriously! Both the Migas and the Wrangler left me scratching my head, and not just because of the dandruff. They weren’t super spicy, or super flavorful or well-balanced or anything even remotely worth mentioning, despite decent attempts to load them up with interesting ingredients like pico de gallo, green chiles, smoked brisket and huevos, naturally. But try as they may, I still walked away muy disappointed.

Thunder Grill

Union Station • 50 Massachusetts Ave. Washington, DC 20002 • (202) 898-0051 • arkrestaurants.com

Located in a corner near the front of Union Station, Thunder Grill is the go-to bar before hopping on a train. And by “go-to” I don’t mean reliable, but rather your only option unless you want to go a few blocks away.

As for the drinks, the Bloody Mary is more like a contusion, but they do make up for it with a half-decent spicy margarita. Their Stella on tap is also solid, but it’s pretty hard to screw that one up.

In terms of food stuffs, the salmon burger is just okay, crab cakes taste like mush- turning that “b” upside down. In other words “crap” for those who are reading this before their morning coffee. In all fairness though, it is a restaurant in a train station so I have to give it a little slack I suppose. Granted Agren in New York is also in a train station, so perhaps I don’t.

For better food head to Shake Shack or Le Pain Quotedien, but keep in mind you’ll be sacrificing the hooch if you do.

Exit 4

153 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 241-1200exit4foodhall.com

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The concept of this place is interesting to say the least. Sort of like a mini food court that’s not located in a mall and not made up of your usual chains like Panda Express and Sbarro’s. It’s actually all locally sourced, serving up a jack-of-all-trades menu from all over the map (or more specifically all over Northern Westchseter), yet somehow they manage to let you put it all on one bill (that you kinda have to carry around with you from pavilion to pavilion- it’s complicated).

It’s also a dynamic than can easily become a recipe for disaster should you arrive and not know what you want. Especially with young kids who will quickly become more overwhelmed with the choices than Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson.

On the upside, most everything is surprisingly good, so it’s kinda hard to go too, too wrong, unless you have wildly high expectations. When I say “surprising,” however, I want to temper that by stating that I mean it only in the context of lowered expectations. Nothing will have you swinging from a star, but if you’d rather eat a pig, a fish or a mule, they pretty much have you covered (that was for all you Sinatra fans).

So here’s how I recommend playing it:

Step 1: Grab a table. Put your stuff down and have a member of your party stand guard. The last thing you want to do is get caught with seven trays of grub and nowhere to sit.

Step 2: Order the stuff that takes longer to make first. This would be your pastas, your pizzas, your burger and your bahn mi that are all cooked to order. Whereas the tacos, and barbecue offerings are much more prepped and take about two minutes or less to hit your table. So, assuming you like your family or friends, and want to actually eat “together,” then I recommend doing these options near the end of the batting order.

Step 3: Order stuff that doesn’t need to be ice cold or nice and hot dead last. This would be your sushi and glasses of red wine.

Step 4: Bon apetit!

So now that you’ve circumnavigated one of the more complex dining matrixes in the tri-state, here are my thoughts on the offerings themselves.

First up, let’s start with the sushi, sourced from Mt. Kisco Seafood down the street, so you know it’s pretty darn fresh. But more than just fresh, the sashimi bowls and the maki are really quite inventive and a step up from a lot of other places in the immediate vicinity. Yes, that goes for you Hito and Spoon.

Next up, let’s go Italian. Or more specifically the pizza, because the only pasta I’ve had there was my daughter’s kidsy butter and shells. So not really fair to judge them on that. My daughter, on the other hand, has a ways to go in terms of expanding the ole horizons. As for the pies, I liked both the fig, prosciutto and caramelized onion pie and the one with Brussels sprouts, smoked pancetta and gruyere. Neither compare to the likes of The Parlor in Dobbs or Zero Otto Nove in Armonk, but they hold their own handily against Old Stone and Village Social, which I actually think has one of the best pies in town. Nonetheless, the pizza is good enough to make you forget all about the fact that this place used to be Belizzi (RIP).

And now let’s take things down a notch. As in down South. As in TexMex and barbecue. Starting at the top, I’d go with the brisket sammy. It’s quite solid, topped with a bourbon sauce, slaw and cornichon. After that I’d go with the pulled pork. The sauce has a nice kick to it and it also comes with slaw on it as well. It’s not what I would call a runaway smash hit, but unless you’re willing to roll your bones all the way over to Portchester for Q, then it’ll do the trick. That said, little known secret- Dinosaur BBQ is available via Fresh direct. As is some seriously spicy slaw and brioche sliders. So if you don’t feel like venturing out for your barb-e-fix, then call in the reinforcements. Oh, and skip the tacos if you ask me. Truck and Hacienda are both miles better.

And most importantly… the booze. They have a nice selection of beer and wine by the glass so no complaints there either. Nor do I have many complaints on the whole. Exit 4 is a nice addition to the hood and the only other “something-for-everyone” deal in town apart from Village Social. So, if you’re like me and you’re saddled with two kids who don’t agree on anything when if comes to food, this “good enough” fare quickly becomes good on ya!

3 teeth

The Ultimate Burrito

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Tres Carnes – New York, NY

It’s hard to imagine that a burrito can be complex, but I assure you the legend is true. And while most wind up tasting like varying degrees of mush all mushed together in different configurations, Tres Carnes manages to create a separation between its painstakingly layered flavors, while also preserving that same mushy harmony you’ve come to know and love in a burrito. So how do they do it, well, for starters, their quac is smoked. So, you get that typical avocado creaminess, but as an added bonus, a hit of smokiness too, which, when paired up with the pork shoulder or brisket only complements the meat. Or instead of just rice, it’s poblano rice, packing a little heat. Yes, nothing is just filler in this puppy. From the chipotle squash to the street cart corn. It’s like mariachi in your mouth, assuming you like mariachi. But don’t discount this as a hoity-toity burrito for city folk, because it ain’t. I’ve eaten in some seriously authentic (aka down and dirty) Mexican haunts in my day and they can kiss Tres Carnes’ delicious buttocks.

Truck

391 Old Post Rd. Bedford, NY 10506 • (914) 234-8900truckrestaurant.com

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They had me at Negra Modelo on tap. And they’ve held on ever since. It’s literally one of my favorite places in Westchester and tied for the best Tex-Mex in the area. Bar Taco is the other place, but they’re twice as far from my house, so on convenience alone Truck wins by a nose.

But Truck is so much more than Negra Modelo. Even within the drink department. For example their smooth and strong, margaritas (AKA The Power Wagon), which has a special version as well, that changes seasonally. Three of the best being the cranberry, grapefruit and blood orange. They are dangerously good. As in careful driving home.

As for the food, it’s also great. A few misses, but the hits far out-weigh them. My recos of awesome: Pork Taco, the Market Veggie Taco, Oyster Taco. All three are so good it’s hard to choose, so I don’t. I get all three. Skip the Chicken and Beef. They are both bland by comparison. They specials as well, like brisket and fish, but nothing has ever risen to the prowess of my previously stated taco trifecta.

The salads are also quite good, mainly because it’s all farm to table. So everything is fresh and local, and you can really taste it in every dish. Even down to the salsa, served with warm house-made chips. So good! The guac is also good, but a touch blah for my tastes. I tend to like my guac to be more eventful. Herbs, hot peppers, grilled, smoked, etc…

Another starter to consider are the corn dogs. Served with a VERY spicy mustard that I love almost as much as wasabi. Oh, and speaking of spicy, if you likey the heaty, be sure to ask for their homemade hot sauce. It’s muy caliente!

And last but not least, for dessert, I recommend the carrot cake twinkie, the chocolate dipped macaroons or the homemade mallomar/s’more things.  Skip the Devil’s Food Cake.

Also worthy of note is the decor and vibe. It’s rustic cool. With a great energy about it. And as far as the crowd goes, it’s a bit of a chameleon. Early on, from 5 to 7, it’s great for kids. But as the night goes on, it morphs into much more of a mature scene. We’ve come for both and almost enjoy it equally as if it were two different restaurants.

Thank you Truck. You are an AWESOME addition to the area.

5 teeth

Choza Taqueria

66 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10016(212) 213-0708 chozataqueria.com

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I have nada idea why this place had a line in front. I had three different anemicly filled tacos ranging from good to blah to blech!

The carnitas was the “good.” The chicken was “bad” and the veggie “ugly.” The latter two being dry, overcooked and underwhelming. And while the pork was okay, I’d happily take Chipotle over this place any day of the week.

I find it shocking that it’s still open after all these years of serving what are essentially tiny turds. That said, I am giving it one knife because at least they have Grapefruit Jarritos.

1 tooth

The Ultimate Taco

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Bar Taco – Westport, CT & Port Chester, NY 

Not only is their duck taco one of the best tacos ever to grace my lips with its presence, but it’s probably among the best duck dishes I’ve ever had as well. Albeit small, so you’ll need to order two or three or seven.

Truck – Bedford, NY

There is literally only one other place on Earth that has made me love fried oysters. Normally I am much more partial to the raw variety. But Truck nails it. Mostly because the batter doesn’t overwhelm the mollusk, which is truly the vital component and yet so many others fail at this. Nonetheless, Truck sticks the landing. Accompanied with farm fresh toppings and a homemade Tex-Mex tartar that sings. A close second is also their market veggie, but it depends on the season. When butternut squash is available, it’s a must.

 Pera – New York, NY

What? A Turkish Taco? Well, if the Koreans and the Japanese can muscle in on Mexico’s culinary turf, why not the Turks? And wow do they bring the muscle. And one of the most delicious preparations of lamb I’ve ever had. Granted let’s give a huge nod to the saucier because that’s the true belle of the ball.