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San Diego (Day 1): I’m Going Back, Back To Cali (Yankee Pier, Lemonade)

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Time is fleeting.  Summer 2016 is flying by in the Chi per usual as kids are going back to school, and parents are happy the little monsters are out of their hair.  The last of the street festivals are attempting to be crammed into the few days of nice weather we have left before winter comes to our metropolis a la Game of Thrones (hopefully sans the army of the dead).  Luckily, I have another wonderful travelogue to bring a bit of sunshine to your day through the magic of our trip this summer to San Diego, California.

Janice had originally informed me of one of her child hood friends, Sabrina, was going to get married about a year ago, and when I finally found out where the wedding was going to be, I couldn’t be more excited.  It turned out it was going to be in San Diego, specifically Coronado Island.  The reason for my excitement was that I hadn’t been back to California in ages, and I was aching for some of that humidity-free fresh air and West coast sunshine, a definite change from this Chicago summer known more for humidity, heat, and destructive lighting storms. 21dbbc4ca53ea93620d40f5ea967b488c7fe99ae6f2b79b50d8f7ca5ab123e9d No wonder we Midwesterners are so tough.  Janice and I had an ungodly early flight, so by the time we reached our layover in San Francisco, another fun place to visit in California, we needed something to eat for breakfast beside the miniscule treats they handed out to placate us in the coach section.  As we strolled to our gate, we found a restaurant that seemed to be quite popular with our fellow travelers:  Yankee Pier.  They are a chain that has a stand alone location and another one in the San Francisco aiport, so they had a menu and service to compliment the need for people on the run.  However, this focus on culinary efficiency didn’t sacrifice the quality of the food.  I got some sort of Mexican omelet that was liberally garnished with cilantro and filled with peppers, chiles, potatoes, tomatoes, and avocado which was a major game changer.IMG_9601  With a couple splashes of Tabasco hot sauce, I turned this fiesta in my mouth from mas o menos to un bombazo!  There was plenty of flavor to savor in this omelet, and I’d recommend it if you like Mexican flavors in general.  It was so good I even caught Janice in the act of sneaking a bite or three from my plate. IMG_9603 Also, I really enjoyed their sourdough toast because it wasn’t very crispy and more on the chewy end.  Sourdough is actually part of San Francisco’s identity since it was brought to the state by French bakers in the 1840s during the famous gold rush, and Yankee Pier’s version of the iconic bread did not disappoint.  Overall, if you’re looking for a delicious meal that is also mindful of your travel time restrictions, I’d highly recommend Yankee Pier.  Once we downed our food, we were on a plane further south to San Diego.

Life is terrible

Life is terrible

Upon landing we were picked up by Janice’s friend Amber and another little companion I was not expecting.  I got in the back seat and was face to face with Ellie the Schnauzer.  She was such a good lil’ poochy, but she was ready to show us around the town with her owner.IMG_9774  Eventually, we found a place to park and walk around.IMG_9623 IMG_9610  Eventually, we had worked up a bit of an appetite, so Amber took us to one of her favorite local eateries:  Lemonade.  Apparently, it has locations all over the Golden State due to its popularity as a purveyor of healthy salads, sandwiches, and (not so healthy) sweets.  Oh yeah, and they do have their own homemade lemonades, of course! (Sorry, Beyonce fans).  IMG_9622 IMG_9621We didn’t know what to get because there was so much to choose from, IMG_9611 IMG_9612 IMG_9613IMG_9614 IMG_9615but we went with two of the cold salads:  the blt panzanella ($2.75) and the edamame salad ($2.50).  It was cafeteria style, so they scooped a generous helping of each on our plate as we slid down the line.  We also wanted to try one of the sandwiches and purchased the tomato and mozzarella ($6.95).   IMG_9616They also have a plethora of sinfully decadent looking desserts, but we did not give into them.  IMG_9617 IMG_9618 It was time to pay for our goods, and we had fun with the employees having samples of their lemonades behind the counter.  It’s not just your mother’s lemon and sugar based summer drink.  We tried the carrot ginger, hibiscus limeade, and blood orange lemonades.  The best part was that you could mix and match as many flavors as your thirsty heart desired at no extra charge.  In the end, we made a mix of the blood orange and the hibiscus tea.  IMG_9619 IMG_9776It resulted in a deep burgundy hued drink with a slightly tangy and almost cherry-esque tinged flavor profile that would cool us off after running around with Ellie the tour guide and Amber. IMG_9777 We took a seat on the patio in the front, and while the ladies were catching up, poochy was enjoying her time on my lap/losing her cool over my drink.

So calm

So calm

Maybe not

Maybe not

Eventually, we got to eating our salad and our freshly made sandwich.  The salads were fresh and light since we didn’t want to fill up before the rehearsal dinner for Sabrina’s wedding.  IMG_9620The edamame salad was seasoned with a vinaigrette and pepped up with pickled radishes, sesame seeds, and carrots.  I particularly enjoyed each firm bean imparting an earthy note to each forkful.  The panzanella was my choice (on the left), and is an antiquated recipe.  This Italian salad has been referenced in literature as early as the 16th century as a “salad of onions served with toast”.  While it has shifted in focus from onions as a base to tomatoes, it doesn’t take anything away from this hearty side dish.  This savory salad consisted of basically a BLT sandwich with arugula vinaigrette soaked pieces of bread, turkey bacon, avocado, and tomatoes.  It’s definitely a salad for those who don’t love traditional salads, i.e. healthy ones.  As for the sandwich, it wasn’t anything of note.  Yes, it was fresh and handmade, but I’ve had a caprese sandwich before. IMG_9781 I’d like to try one of their other more noteworthy creations the next time we’re in town.  Once we downed our amazing meal, we bade Amber and Ellie farewell (but not forever) and made our way to our airBnB.  We donned our finest duds and Uber-ed over to the picturesque Coronado golf club for the bride and groom’s rehearsal dinner. IMG_9782 While we were wasting time before everyone showed up, we played some Pokemon Go, and I got caught in the act. IMG_9783 Eventually, both families and their friends arrived, and we had to stop being antisocial.  It was a great night meeting Janice’s friends from long ago, the bride’s giant family, and eventually bonding with a good number of the younger folks of the wedding party going around catching Pokemon.  Also, the food and drink was phenomenal.  We went to the restaurant that catered the event on our last day, so I’ll save my review for that post.  It was such a great time overall, in fact, we stayed until the staff kicked us out of the clubhouse.  If this first day was any indication of how the rest of our visit in San Diego was going to transpire, I couldn’t wait for the big day tomorrow!  IMG_9784Stay tuned for part 2…

Yankee Pier Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lemonade Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Un-Ba-Le-Vable Flavors

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Welcome one and all to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Things on my blog have been picking up as of late since I’ve survived my first semester teaching in upper academia, so these posts are keeping me sane in the flurry of bureaucracy and final exam writing.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I like writing them!  Today’s post once again brings me to Chicago’s Uptown Little Vietnam neighborhood.  It’s a diverse enclave of Chicago’s ethnic rainbow which boasts a plethora of eateries serving a wide variety of foods from Far East and Southeast Asia.  However, the Vietnamese community is the largest; ergo, I’ve sampled just the tip of the pho iceberg when it comes to fully exploring their culinary representatives.  Ba Le Sandwich shop is one of the best and most popular eateries in the area, and my first visit there was fantastic.

Ba Le’s storefront is at the heart of Little Vietnam at the intersection of Argyle and Broadway and opposite the iconic Tank Noodle where you can get some hot pho soup to chase this newly arrived cold weather away.IMG_4846  Walking into the establishment, past the small Buddhist shrine at the entrance, I was greeted with a sleek and modern interior that boasted a full wall of treats like freshly cut coconuts, Vietnamese head cheese or giò thủ , and a large vareity of chè or sweet pudding/jello treats.  IMG_4217IMG_4212 IMG_4214 IMG_4213On the right hand side of the shop, there were sushi roll packs next to a mini French bakery that was bursting at the seams with macaron mini-mountains.  IMG_4216Delectable remnants of the French colonization of Indochina as they were, I was interested in something more substantial and what Ba Le is known for:  banh mi.  If you want a historical explanation of the sandwich, hit up my Portland food truck adventure here.  Looking over the menu, they also offered side dishes like the famous gỏi cuốn translucent shrimp rolls, noodle salads, fried rice, and egg rolls.  As for the banh mi sandwiches, I went for the Chinese Pork or xá xíu ($4.95), and they do cater to vegetarians with banh mi, btw!   The sandwich was quite big for the price as I took it to one of Ba Le’s window counters you can eat at while watching the locals go about their daily business.  I wasn’t doing much people watching because I was severely distracted and gobsmacked at how delicious this sandwich was.IMG_4218  It was the culinary equivalent of Saul, future St. Paul, being knocked off his horse and converting to Christianity after hearing the voice of God. Oh_Lawd___by_deadprez132001 I don’t know what it was that made this sandwich stand out from the thousands of other sandwiches I tried.  Perhaps it was the extremely fresh French baguette that was just the right ratio of crispness to softness.  IMG_4220Maybe my weakness for mayonnaise combined with the fresh-from-the-garden cilantro, jalapeno peppers, daikon radish, onions, and carrots.  I think the pork helped as well since it was served in the char siu (叉燒) style which originates in China.  It is basically barbecued pork that is roasted while being coated with honey, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and five spice powder.  What you get is a tender cut of pork that is both sweet and slightly salty, a perfect fauna compliment to the unspoiled flora of my unwrapped Garden of Eden.  Long story short, it was ecstasy in my mouth, and it wasn’t very heavy compared to many Western sub sandwiches.

So if you want a heavenly bite of Vietnamese culture for hellishly low prices, check out Ba Le Sandwich Shop in Chicago!
Ba Le Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

All Hail Cesar!

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Que tal, amigos?  If you couldn’t get enough of my food adventures on Mastication Monologues, today I’m bringing you a review of a Mexican restaurant that is well known for their murderous margaritas:  Cesar’s Killer Margaritas.  I’ve passed by it many times while gallivanting about Chicago on the Northside, but I’ve never set foot in the establishment.  Thankfully, I got an opportunity to visit for dinner recently, and it was quite an enjoyable experience.IMG_3744

When Janice and I walked in the door, there were a bunch of people waiting for a table sitting along the wall, and that immediately elicited my response of, “Great…a wait”. IMG_3747 I’ve worked as a host at a restaurant, and I know that giving an estimated table time is a very loose interpretation of how long it’s actually going to be since there are so many variables to take into account.  The hostess quoted us at 10 to 15 for a free table which is the fallback answer since it doesn’t give the customer unreasonable expectations yet doesn’t seem like an insurmountable wait.  Surprisingly, the wait was shorter than estimated, so we were hustled up and down two staircases to get to our table.  Once seated, we immediately looked over the signature margarita menu since we wanted to see if they could live up to the hype.  While they had the usual flavors like raspberry and strawberry, they had nods to Latin flavors with tamarindo and guava.  I got a frozen guava margarita ($11) while Janice got the chilled raspberry margarita ($11).  While waiting, I was systematically destroying the chips in front of me along with the watery but cilantro filled salsa roja that come complimentary with the meal.  Eventually, they were brought out to us, and they looked like any other margaritas.  However, it was a pleasant surprise that they were not too syrupy, and we could taste the liquor as well which let us know we were getting our money’s worth.IMG_3749  I found Janice’s margarita to be more interesting than mine because it contained something I’ve never seen in a margarita:  fresh fruit. IMG_3751 I don’t know if they do this with all of their flavors, but her raspberry margarita literally had whole raspberries floating amongst the ice floes of the red sea of tequila.  It was a masterstroke of tex-mex bartending.  While we were enjoying our frozen beverages, we looked over the dinner menu.  They had plenty of entrees, lighter options, appetizers, starters, and soups.  While they didn’t stray much from the tried and true tex-mex favorites, I decided to go for the steak mini burritos ($10) while Janice got the vegetarian fajitas with steak ($14).  While waiting for our plates to come out, I thought back to another Mexican dinner that I had in London which resulted in me carrying a pair of twin food babies around for the majority of the night.  Thankfully, these burritos wouldn’t destroy me like that chimichanga in Old Blighty.  Before our entrees arrived, we were hooked up with a free cup of what seemed to be tomato soup with noodles. IMG_3753 It was flavorful but nothing noteworthy since we could only taste tomatoes.    When they came out, I immediately pounced on them since these plump little buggers looked quite scrumptious under their cheese and salsa verde blanket.  IMG_3755I sliced into them, and the juicy pieces of steak, beans, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes came tumbling out.  I poured the sour cream all over them while spackling guacamole on each forkful.  Madre de dios, estos burritos fueron de la puta madre! (“These burritos were the bees knees!” in so many words).  The tortillas were flavorful and bursting with gooey cheese and fresh vegetables.  I think the combo of the cool sour cream and the cilantro filled guacamole gave the savory steak a herbal tinge that made my tastebuds scream “Más  Más Más!”.  The Mexican rice was average, but I didn’t even touch the beans.  As for Janice’s vegetable fajitas, they were served piping hot at our table and contained plenty of veggies one typically doesn’t find in Mexican cuisine like cauliflower, broccoli, and mushrooms. IMG_3756 She offered to make me a taco out of the ingredients in her fajita, so I got a mouthful of peppers and onions along with the same succulent steak in my mini burritos.IMG_3757  I would have helped her more with the monstrously-sized meal, but I would have needed a second stomach.  I was feeling full by that point in the meal but not to the point of sickness.  It wasn’t the most mind blowing meal in the world since Chicagoland has a ton of great Mexican eateries, but I was a happy customer with the service and food.

So if you’re looking for a fun establishment with well made dishes and unique margaritas, check out Cesar’s!

Cesar's on Urbanspoon

Goooooooood Afternoon, Vietnam! (Portland, Part 5)

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So today’s post is going to be short and savory like the meal I will be entailing.  While I decided to have one of my spooky baked treats from Voodoo Doughnuts for breakfast on Friday morning, I decided that lunch would take place at one of the many food cart villages that can be found throughout Portland.  The concierge told me when I checked in to check out Alberta Street’s food carts, but it was a bit too far out of the way for my liking.  So, I remembered that I passed by a large pod of carts when going down SW 5th Ave. to the Pioneer Square stop in the heart of downtown Portland.  Even though it was raining, it didn’t put a damper on my experience.

As I made my way down the block long and deep hamlet of food hawkers, there was so much affordable food diversity it made me want to fall to my knees and praise the sustenance gods.  After living in a monoculture for a year like Korea, you really appreciate the diversity of the USA. IMG_2655 However, Korea was represented with two carts that seemed to push both fusion and traditional Korean cuisine.IMG_2659IMG_2658  Along with noms from the Land of the Morning Calm, they had Indian, Mexican, Greek, Iraqi, Italian, Chinese, American, Thai, and Vietnamese eateries.IMG_2589 IMG_2588 The last option would end up being my lunch for the day as I finally chalked off a basic foodie necessity in the great book of “Food You Must Try”:  banh mi.  For those who are new to Vietnamese cuisine, a banh mi is essentially a Vietnamese sandwich, but it is much more than a sliced piece of bread stuffed with a plethora of mouth-watering ingredients.  It was born out of Vietnamese subjugation by the French during the Age of Colonialism.  When two very different cultures come in contact, you can be certain if anything will be exchanged, it will be different types of food and drink.  While the Vietnamese introduced the French to indigenous specialties like pho, the French brought their wizardry with baked goods to the people of Vietnam.  The ubiquitous French baguette quickly became integrated into the Vietnamese food landscape in the form of banh mi.  The locals took the baguette recipe, compliments of their European overlords, and tweaked it to have a slightly lighter consistency than the ones found back in La Patrie (France).  After that, the Vietnamese people filled these baguettes with Vietnamese ingredients to give birth to one of the most famous examples of fusion food before it became a buzzword coined by Mr. Puck.  I had never tried it before much to the dismay of some of my friends, so when I saw the very unassuming Vietnamese cart that didn’t even have a sign up, I knew I had to try it.IMG_2661  If they didn’t have to advertise, they must be good.  The head cook beckoned me over with a hello and a smile, and after looking over the large list of banh mi, spring rolls, and pho, I got the grilled pork banh mi ($3).  As soon as I finished my transaction, I turned around to see a crowd behind me, so perhaps I either beat the lunch rush or led the charge to try something new.  It eventually was handed to me, and it looked absolutely beautiful. IMG_2664 It tasted just as sublime as well.  First, I crunched my way through the crispy crust of the baguette to the chewy white interior which really did taste airier than a French baguette.  I then reached the promised land of juicy grilled pork, onions, verdant peppers, pickled carrots, and plenty of cilantro for an herbal punch right in the taste buds. All of this, combined with the sweet and spicy Sriracha sauce, left me greatly satisfied and ready to take on the rest of the day.  I highly recommend banh mi and checking out Portland’s food cart scene.

Beijing (Day 3 and 4)- I Got a Black Magic Chicken

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For those who get the Santana reference in the title, you’re welcome.  To the rest of y’all, get ready for some more funky food that Beijing has to offer along with a couple normal plates for those who are a bit averse to the adventurous eating route I normally take.  First, there are the somewhat odd platters I sampled for a late lunch after returning from North Korea.  I was feeling full of life after a near brush with the North Korean authorities, so I felt like going for the gusto with my food and beverage choices.  First, I noticed that other people were drinking large carafes of a steaming white liquid, so I got one of those on the side to then accompany my black chicken and stuffed lotus root with sweet rice.  The random drink came out first along with a plate of sugar.IMG_1696  I first sampled the libation without the sugar, and it turned out to be very fresh soy milk with no sweetener.  Good think they gave me the sugar because there was no way I was going to drink all of it without a little some-something to boost the old flavor profile.  After a couple lumps, the milk tasted like a soy milk that is commercially sold in the USA with a bit more of a grassy taste to it.  Eventually, my black chicken and lotus root came out.IMG_1698  The biggest surprise for me that came with both of these dishes was the fact that they were both served cold.  Now, I don’t know if that’s how they’re traditionally served or if it was going in line with the Chinese medicinal concept that can be likened to the Western 4 humors concept in early medicine.  It is the same in Korea where many people believe that in order to keep your personal energy in line with the weather, you have to eat hot food when it hot outside and cold food for colder climes.  Doesn’t make sense to Western logic where one would imagine to eat warm food while it’s cold and cold food to cool off in the heat, but I’m not here to discuss medicine.  Food time.  So, first there was the black chicken.  When I say black chicken, I don’t mean it’s just blackened from a seasoning or charring.  The entire chicken, from its skin to its bones, is completely black compliments of selective breeding back in Ancient China.IMG_1699  They’re called Silkies, and Marco Polo even mentions the very same “furry chickens” in his travelogues.  Therefore, it was going back in a culinary time machine where I consumed a piece of the past, and it tasted like a heap of coriander with a hint of Sichuan pepper that numbed my tongue ever so slightly.  The downside of the preparation, as with many places in Asia, it was filled with tiny bones which took away from me actually enjoying what little meat there was on the beast.  However, I did enjoy it a lot more than my lotus root dish which also was served at room temperature.  Now, I love my fried lotus root, but this raw version did not sit well with me because of the limp texture and the odd, sweet ketchup-esque sauce. IMG_1697 It wasn’t a highlight on my visit to Beijing.  However, the following day was great in so many ways.  First, there was my visit to the breathtaking Great Wall of China at the Mutianyu section that was occasionally blighted by hawkers trying to sell you food, drinks, and terrible souvenirs.  This wasn’t even at the most touristy part of the wall!  After hiking for about three hours up and down some knee-crackingly high stairs, I zoomed down the mountain on a self-regulated toboggan which was one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done in my life.  The lunch we had at the foot of the mountain really wasn’t anything of note, but the dinner I had after going to the national circus was noteworthy with how cheap and flavorful it was.  While I was trying to find a place open in my neighborhood by my hostel on a Sunday night, which was proving a bit harder to do than I thought, I stumbled on this 24 hour eatery (or at least that’s what I figured from the 24 on the sign).IMG_1713  I walked in much to the surprise of the staff, but I was quickly seated and supplied with a huge menu.  I’ve noticed all the menus in China have 10 billion things on them which is refreshing compared to Korea, yet so intimidating at the same time.  All I have to say is thank God for picture menus.  I ended up getting the pork stuffed green scallion pancakes along with the cumin seared beef.  For the equivalent of 10 bucks, I got a huge skillet of quality cuts of beef rubbed with a great chili and cumin rub all topped off with a huge mountain of cilantro. IMG_1709 The side of fried pancake was wonderful as well.IMG_1711  It was a bit greasy but not too much, and the minced pork mixed with the tangy green onions and pliable, golden brown dough was a combo made in heaven. IMG_1712 So those are some more notable eats I have sampled during my trip to Beijing, and I will be wrapping it up in the next post with my final day in the Chinese capital.  Until then, readers and eaters!

Everybody Wang Thai Tonight!

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Hello to everyone out there!  Sorry I haven’t been posting recently, but school got quite hectic for awhile with midterms.  Plus, my social calendar has been keeping me quite busy.  Naturally, trying new restaurants falls under that area of my life, so today I’d like to tell you about Wang Thai.  Here is their very informative website.  To get there, you just have to go to the Itaewon station and go out exit 1.  Head straight for about ten minutes, and you’ll see a stairwell going up that has placards indicating Wang Thai is on the third floor along with the famous What the Book bookstore.  sub_contents

Now, I’ve had my fair share of Pad Thai, but I feel like it’s the of Thai equivalent of tacos for Mexican cuisine.  That one ubiquitous dish that can appeal to a wide variety of diners, but really isn’t the be all end all of what the country’s kitchens have to offer. Therefore, I was quite excited to delve deeper underneath the mysterious culinary waters of the land of smiles and sweets.  Looking over the menu, I could see that the Thai people love their chili peppers, both spicy and sweet, so it was pretty tough just trying to pick one meal.  Plus, if you’re a vegetarian, this would be a great place to go out to eat since a lot of Korean food really doesn’t comply with strict vegan guidelines.  However, I eventually settled on the nuea yang nam tok (17,000 W) along with a Thai iced tea on the side.  My friends’ choices came out quite quickly along with the iced teas, so we quickly pounced on the feast that lay before us.

First, there was the Thai iced tea (5,000 W).  I had heard stories from friends who have traveled to Thailand and Vietnam before about how the tea there was amazingly sweet, so I had to try it myself since I have quite a sweet tooth.IMG_1158  It was greatly satisfying as a cool, sweet drink to counter all of the bold flavors we quickly encountered in the dishes we ordered.  The key to the decadent taste was the hefty dose of condensed milk on the top that, when mixed with the deep brown chai, formed a drink that tasted like almost like chocolate milk but with an earthy tea aftertaste with every satisfying sip.  It was a good start to a great meal.  I then moved to try a bit of the som tam (14,000 W) which was a spicy green papaya salad.IMG_1157  It was a semi-bizarre melange of shaved papaya, dried shrimp, cherry tomatoes, peanuts, lime juice, bean sprouts, and chilies.  However, it was very refreshing appetizer since it was light thanks to the papaya and bean sprouts, and there were constantly shifting textures ranging from the taught skin of the tomatoes to the crunchy peanuts and crackling dried shrimp.  It was a mere prelude to the sensual adventure we were about to undertake. My nuea yang nam tok was a northern Thai specialty that consisted of grilled beef, chilies, lime juice, rice powder, and some fresh vegetables on the side.IMG_1159  Lord, I’ll take your name in vain because this dish was sooooo good.  I asked the waiter if they could make it spicier than normal, and the cooks didn’t disappoint me.  I used the fresh lettuce leaves to eat the beef and rice ssam bap (Korean wrap) style.IMG_1161  The crunchy, verdant cocoon gave way to a beautiful gastronomic butterfly.  It spread its wings starting with the pieces of tender, juicy beef that were slightly tangy thanks to the lime marinade and flew away when combined with the angry-looking, little black peppers that came in every bite.  The sprigs of cilantro were great additions to this already superb masterpiece.  I tried a little bit of my friends’ meals as well, and I found some of them to be more satisfying than I was anticipating.  Case and point, the poo pad pong garee (28,000 W) or sauteed crabs in curry sauce.IMG_1163  Although it looked kind of gross initially with my friend Chris likening the curry coated crabs to cooked tarantulas, I found these soft shelled crustaceans went wonderfully with the yellow, slightly sweet curry and chilies.  We also got the panaeng gai (15,000 W) or chicken in spicy red curry.IMG_1162It was swimming in said curry and all gussied up with kaffir lime leaves, red chilies, and green chilies.  What that resulted in was a lovely choice that had about a jalapeno level of spiciness which allowed the savory curry to shine with the succulent pieces of chicken.  By the end of the meal, I felt like I just had a food porn experience.  I was sweating, happy, and ready for a smoke (er, maybe not that last one haha).

So if you’re looking for some great Thai food that is filled with flames, flavor, and is fun to eat, check out Wang Thai in Itaewon.

Heaven’s A Place On Earth

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Hola a todos y bienvenidos a mi blog Mastication Monologues!  Today I finally managed to go to a restaurant that has been three different visits in the making.  Now, living in Korea has made me miss a lot of things back home, but none more than the variety of food that we have back in the USA, especially any type of Latin American/Spanish cuisine.  So, I was determined to try Taco Cielo in Incheon since I heard it had the best Mexican food around.  The first three times I went there (Saturday afternoon, Sunday afternoon, and a Wednesday evening) they were closed which left me absolutely flabbergasted that they would be closed during times that people would want to eat.  However, today was no ordinary day since I managed to survive a huge Korean deluge and a killer workout in the gym.  So I was hoping that my luck would change with this taqueria.  I eventually made my way to Taco Cielo on the Incheon 1 Line all the way to Incheon Bus Terminal.  I then left exit two, crossed the main street in front of the bus terminal, and turned right and then left when I reached the KEB.  I walked about 100 feet, and I was in front of the building where it was nestled on the sixth floor.  Here is their website.

It's up on the sixth floor.

It’s up on the sixth floor.

When I entered the elevator, I was praying that I wasn’t going to be greeted with another, “Sorry, closed” sign on the dark glass door, and it seems that it was open…sort of.  I got there at 4:45 pm on a Tuesday, and they didn’t open until 5 pm.  I have no idea what is up with their operating hours, but they were quite hospitable.  I was able to sit at a table and drink water until their kitchen opened.  Plus, they had plenty of A/C, so that was muy bueno para mi.  It had a good ambiance even though I was the only person in there, and I eventually chose two items that really caught my fancy on the menu.IMG_0613  I plumped for the beef burrito with cheese gravy (9,600 W) since it was discount Burrito Tuesday (I saved 4,000 Won), and then I picked the beef fried Mexican rice (7,000 W) to get a little Korean/Asian flavor up in my meal.  The main cook came back because he was astounded that I would order two things since he insinuated that I ordered enough food for three people.  I’m surprised he never met hungrier waygooks than me.

Anyway, the burrito came out first, and it looked like Mount Popocatepetl just erupted all over a pueblo below its mighty cumbre (summit).IMG_0607  They did not skimp on the queso fundido salsa which made me very excited since real cheese is quite rare in a land that considers quality cheese to come in tube form.  I quickly got up in its guts to find plenty of beef, lettuce, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes beneath a fresh flour tortilla.IMG_0608  It was like everything from back home managed to make the 13 hour plane ride to join me for the meal.  The beef was juicy and seasoned with a bit of cumin while the lettuce and cilantro were both freshly chopped.  The cook also double checked to see if I wanted cilantro in the first place which I found interesting because he was Korean, and most Koreans seem adverse to cilantro in dishes.  Yet I know I definitely don’t look Korean, so perhaps it was just a force of habit for him to ask me if I wanted any.  Portion-wise, the burrito was about six inches long tops, but the savory cheddar sauce definitely stole the show for the first part of my dinner.  The second act of this food telenovela was somewhat odd.

Now back home in Chicago, almost every Mexican restaurant pairs entrees with a side of beans and rice, but I knew I wanted to try the Asian twist on a Mexican classic where they combined Korean fried rice with Mexican ingredients.  What I ended up eating was certainly better than what I was expecting.

That's some funky arroz frito, tio.

That’s some funky arroz frito, tio.

When the waitress brought it out, it was a mini-mound of rice on what seemed like a Nacho Libre sized tortilla along with a square, tostada- looking tortilla.  She then recommended that I keep the fork to cut the crunchy tortilla, but I found that the tortillas were superfluous to the actual meal unless you planned on eating the rice with your hands Indian-style.  I wouldn’t recommend it though.  The actual rice was found underneath the center flaps of the larger tortilla which was drizzled with soy sauce, gochujang, and sour cream.  All of that combined with the fried Mexican rice and cilantro to create a cool, spicy, and tangy creature that can only be likened to a culinary Chupacabra.  I’ve only heard rumors about it in its natural habitat, but I’ll never forget this tortilla to mouth encounter which left me full and muy satisfecho.

So if you’re craving some Mexican food while visiting Incheon, definitely go to Taco Cielo.  It seems to be a better bargain than Vato’s Tacos in Itaewon in Seoul, but I still have to check that establishment out.  While it’s no Taco Grill like back home in my other post or Los Nopales, you definitely will feel like you died and went al cielo!

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