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Grilled Cheese That’s Sure to Please

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Hello everyone, and welcome to another addition to Mastication Monologues!  The time has been flying by as of late which I blame on the advancement of Christmas advertisements and the Daylight Savings Time.  However, last night I managed to slow down and enjoy a great meal at a new establishment that serves a childhood favorite with a twist.  I am talking about The Big Cheese which is located at 4229 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago, IL 60618.

I had actually saw in the Redeye (a local free newspaper in Chicago) that a new restaurant that specialized in grilled cheese sandwiches had opened up.  The Redeye’s restaurant reviewer had mostly good things to say about it aside from one of his/her sandwiches not being completely melted.  The same was said about the lack of melted cheese on Yelp. Nevertheless, I had to go and see what all of the fuss was about since it combines two of my favorite food groups, bread and cheese.  When my friend and I got there around 6:50 p.m., the interior was dark and the staff was just sitting there.  It turns out that their hours of operation on the internet and their sign were incorrect.  They had just closed.  However, they still let us in even though we felt bad for imposing.  To make up for our troubles, the very hospitable owner, Mike, hooked us up with a free plate of fried pickles.  They were pretty good for a little something to nibble on before the main event.  The actual breading was a bit flaky, but its buttery taste complimented the sour crunch of the pickle quite nicely.  Plus, it was served with a small cup of Ranch dressing to provide a cool tang for the palate.

Don’t judge a pickle by its breading

For my actual sandwich, I chose the Diablo Rojo (Red Devil for those who don’t habla espanol).  This was a muy picante twist on the grilled cheese.  The actual sandwich contained Toluca style chorizo, grilled jalapenos, and Chihuahua cheese, and it was all served on a Ciabatta bun.  When I bit into it, it was like a fiesta in my mouth y toda la familia was invited.  The chorizo was plentiful and was bursting with cumin and chili notes which provided an exquisite compliment to the smoky jalapeno flavor.  Unfortunately, the cheese was overshadowed by the two aforementioned elements, but it provided a glue to hold all of the contents together within the sandwich.  As for the Ciabatta roll, that was an improvisation by the cooks since they were out of regular bread, but I would recommend that they serve it on this type of bun.  It was fresh and crusty but sturdy enough to handle all of those contents without crumbling under the pressure.  With every sandwich, you can also order either soup or fries.  I ordered the fries, but they also gave me a bowl of their tomato basil soup.

A sandwich sandwiched between two killer sides

The fries were golden straws of deliciousness that were lightly powdered with Parmesan cheese, a welcomed variation that really popped with cheesy goodness when eaten with ketchup.  As for the soup, I’m not a huge crouton fan, but the actual soup was delectable.  It was a creamy sunset orange that tasted like a rich marinara sauce which also doubly served as a dipping sauce for my sandwich (a move I highly recommend).

Overall, the ambiance of the place was quite laid back, and the service provided by the server, staff, and owner was very warm like one of their signature creations.  So head on out to the Big Cheese for a little slice of paradise!

The Big Cheese On Lincoln on Urbanspoon

Multum In Parvo

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Hello to all old and new readers of Mastication Monologues!  I have decided to write this blog entry before the overwhelming nature of graduate school manages to kick in and prevents me from even contemplating writing about a restaurant.  This past week has been quite busy gearing up for another semester, but along the way, I had a mini moving adventure with my friend David in downtown Chicago.  After a lot of heavy lifting and a frustrating episode with a U-Haul location on the northside, we finally decided we deserved a bite to eat.  We ended up going to an Italian restaurant called Quartino’s Ristorante and Wine Bar located at 626 North State Street,  Chicago, IL 60654.

My friend David said that I’d like the food since they serve Italian tapas.  Now, after living in Spain and being to Italy numerous times, I didn’t believe that they actually served tapas at an Italian restaurant.  Especially when all of the Italian food I’ve had throughout my life was more about abbondanza and someone telling you to “Mangia Mangia!”  instead of tiny/light portions.  I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the establishment.  We got there at 9 pm, and it was a madhouse with every table filled on the main floor and upstairs.  Obviously, this was a good sign.  So, we quickly got down to business and ordered our entrees:  polenta fries, quattro stagioni pizza, calamari, Tuscan sausage risotto, beef filets, and the organic veal skirt steak.

Fries that will cross your eyes

The polenta fries came out first in a small tin cup wrapped in wax paper that had print on it like newspaper.  This presentation gave it a more street food feel, but the taste was straight from nonna’s kitchen.  The outside breading was crisp and the inside was perfectly seasoned with a pinch of salt.  Thankfully it wasn’t polenta that was too goopy or too dry, but the red pepper sauce on the side was mediocre.  Next came the quattro stagioni pizza.

4 seasons of deliciousness.  Vivaldi would be proud.

It was a moderately sized pizza that had paper-thin, New York style crust that you have to fold in order to keep the toppings from falling all over your shirt.  On top was a thin layer of tomato sauce along with artichokes, roasted peppers, grilled zucchini, Portobello mushrooms, & Grana cheese.  This was probably one of the top dishes of the night (though pizza is one of my favorite foods) since all of the vegetables were fresh, especially the artichokes, and the Grana cheese was thinly sliced over the entirety of the pie which provided a salty kick to the smooth Mozzarella.  The only downside was the integrity of the crust.  The actual bread was delicious and the crunchy crust had a light layer of flour on it, but with every slice that we took, half of the toppings ended up on the pan.  Sorry NY, but I’m just drinking a lot of haterade when it comes to making pizza the right way.  Moving on from regional culinary conflicts, the calamari came out the same time as the pizza, and I wasn’t expecting much out of this dish since I’m not much of a seafood fan.

True fruits of the sea

Thankfully, these calamari rings were partially breaded which allowed the slightly firm squid to shine above the lemon zest, salt, crushed pepper, and buttery breading.  Next came the Tuscan sausage risotto and the beef filets.  With the former, it came out in a little Mount Vesuvius style mound of creamy rice, tomatoes, and peas.  The risotto was extremely rich and dotted with tomatoes that effortlessly blended in with the sauce, and the sausage was portioned out in mini-chunks and was doing a fennel based Tarantella  in my mouth with each bite.  As for the beef filets, they were small medallions of prime meat accompanied by broccoli rabe, red chilis, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil.  The red chilis and garlic mingled with the rabe on top of each slice of the meat like some type of verdant toupee but without any of the awkwardness.  The last plate, the veal skirt steak, was actually a replacement for the pork belly we  originally ordered since they had run out.  It was similar to the beef filets with being grilled to order but was then served with a side of wild Arugala, roasted grape tomatoes, and balsamic syrup.   The salad on the side with the tomatoes and syrup was an interesting mix because the bitterness of the Arugala was wonderfully complimented by dulcet/light undertones of the syrup.

By the end of the meal, I thought that this three-ring food circus was completely over, but my friend’s brother decided to order these Italian donuts called Zeppone.  When they came out, I was overwhelmed at the amount that they gave you for the price and awestruck at how delicious they looked.  They weren’t like the typical doughnuts with the hole in the middle but rather more like mini-Beignets which are served at the world-famous Cafe du Monde in New Orleans.  In addition to these tiny fried pillows of dough sleeping under a thick coating of powdered sugar, we got a dipping bowl of honey and one of chocolate.  These pastries were light, airy, and the chocolate went much better with the buttery dough than the thick and sultry honey.

Che bello!

So if you’re looking for a higher end Italian eatery with a twist on some traditional recipes and serving styles, check out Quartino’s Ristorante and Wine Bar!

Quartino on Urbanspoon

Quartino on Foodio54

There’s Nopal Like Home

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Good day or night depending on where you are in the world!  Welcome to another chapter in the Mastication Monologues saga where I managed to visit a very small but good Mexican restaurant.  Luckily I was invited to my friend Roberta’s bday party (muito obrigado!) to try the food at Los Nopales located at 4544 North Western Avenue  Chicago, IL 60625.  It is a bit of a ways away from La Villita or Pilsen, but I still recommend that you make the drive up.

First, I found out that it is a BYOB restaurant which is very nice since they’re not like other restaurants trying to push their kiddie-pool sized margarita specials onto your table with all of their marketing might.  However, there is a 3 dollar corkage fee for wine bottles and six packs and four dollars for margarita bottles, just fyi.  When I finally arrived after Google Maps gave me wrong directions, I walked in and noticed how small the establishment really is.  It is on the cramped side at times if really crowded, but the food/ambiance/staff more than make up for it.  The tortilla chips on the table were on the thinner side and perfectly fried without leaving that nasty, greazy residue that some Mexican restaurant chips leave on your fingers.  These munchies were accompanied by two different types of salsas:  one tomatillo blend which was a bit spicier than the tomato based mild salsa.  My fellow party-goers had also already ordered the chicken taquitos which were drizzled with sour cream and placed around a molehill of guacamole.  The sour cream did not do much to enhance the taste of the taquitos which were muy deliciosos.  The chicken was all white meat, and its flauta blanket was crispy and golden brown.  This appetizer was amped up by the guacamole which was really zesty with hints of lime and a nice consistency that wasn’t like caulk but not too soupy.

As for the main course, I ended up indulging in some chorizo tostadas.  The plate that came to me was an interesting land of contrasts.  A majority of the area was covered with two well-portioned tostadas topped with minced chorizo, diced tomatoes, crisp lettuce, and sour cream.  The meat was crumbly but highly seasoned with cumin and spices that really made each crispy tortilla mouthful pop.  That was another part of the tostada that really grabbed me was the fact that these tostadas were very sturdy and did not break when I was holding and eating them.  Then came a swath of yellow Mexican rice that was surprisingly different from the run of the mill orange Mexican rice that often contains peas, corn, and carrots.  Nevertheless, it was very delicious and was had a very slight buttery taste.  The only downside (although I’m negatively biased towards refried beans) was the large pool of what was supposed to be refried beans.  Whereas I have had some legitimately good frijoles, these were just sub par as the individual beans were destroyed into a muddled brown blob.  It definitely received the bronze olympic medal on this all around eating event.  At the end of the meal, we got some fried ice cream, but I only had one spoonful.  I know I can’t formulate an accurate judgement based off of this one spoonful, but the batter was pedestrian and was overshadowed by the ice cream.

Ain’t she a beaut?

So if you’re looking for that south of the border taste without having to book a flight to Oaxaca, head up north to Los Nopales in the Lincoln Square neighborhood.

Los Nopales on Urbanspoon

Los Nopales Mexican Restaurant on Foodio54

The Delicious Bay of Pigs

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Hello to all of my fellow gourmands and gastronomes out there!  Welcome to another article of Mastication Monologues.  Today I am going to be reviewing a little place in Chicago that is considered to have the best Cuban food in the entire city.  I’m talking about 90 Miles Cafe at 2540 W. Armitage.  There is another location located at 3101 North Clybourn Avenue, but I don’t know if it’s any different from the one I went to on Armitage.  Anyway, I was surprised that we even had Cuban restaurants in Chicago given that our Mexican population is much larger than any other Hispanic group, and obviously we’re a lot farther away from Cuba than Florida.  Last time I checked, we weren’t Miami with classic 1920’s art deco hotels, white sand beaches, and a more recent scourge of the sports world *CoMiamiHeatLebronJamesugh*.  Even though my expectations were not that high coming into this establishment, I was pleasantly surprised.

First, the outside was brightly colored and even had the signature buoy one could find in Key West that proclaims its status as the southernmost point in the contiguous United States on the roof.  I loved this decoration since it brought me back to when I actually went to Key West and got my picture taken with said tourist site.  Once inside, it was a very cramped area near the entrance, but when you move towards the larger dining area, it is actually quite cozy.  It’s also byob, so we ended up bringing Casillero del Diablo which was a Cabernet Sauvignon and had hints of black cherries which elegantly complimented my meal:  puerco rostizado.

La estrella de mi cena (The star of my dinner)

When it came out, I was very excited because it definitely looked like something that you’d get in an abuelita’s kitchen in Havana.  It wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world, but I started with the roasted pork that apparently was infused with guayaba and mixed with pan-fried onions (yum!).  I’m as crazy for pan-fried onions as Tony Montana was in Scarface for da money, da power, and da women.  The pork itself was flavorful, tender, and had a slight sweet aftertaste which surprised me because I thought that the onions would overpower the guayaba.  Moving on from the main part of the entrée, I then attacked the rice and black beans like Castro’s forces against Bautista’s armies.  The rice was an average white long grain rice, but the beans were submerged in a black, pork based broth.  I wasn’t a huge fan of them being served like this, but they still were quite flavorful.  Anyway, I poured them into the rice, and it made for an interesting little goulash of sorts that I mixed with the pork on occasion.  The last item on my plate I saved till the end of the meal because I had never tried them before:  fried plantains or more commonly known as maduros (lit. “matures” or “ripes”).  I don’t know why I had never tried them before, but I was so glad that I did at 90 Miles Cafe because they were excellent.  The breading was even and slightly sweet and buttery which went along with the firm and ever so creamy texture of the plantains.

You don’t have to be a promoter of Marxism, smoke cigars, or rock a sweet beard to enjoy this cafe

So if you’re looking for an authentic slice of the forbidden island of Cuba, end your culinary embargo and head on over to 90 Miles Cafe in Chicago.

“The only things that the United States has given to the world are skyscrapers, jazz, and cocktails. That is all. And in Cuba, in our America, they make much better cocktails.”
Federico Garcia Lorca

90 Miles Cuban Cafe on Urbanspoon

90 Miles Cuban Cafe on Foodio54

The Italian Job (in Sevilla)

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Bienvenidos or Welcome to part two of my Sevilla trip.  This post is a bit on the shorter end since it only involves a treat suitable after eating some of the delicious tapas described in my previous post.  I would like to tell you about my favorite gelato place in Sevilla and the locals swear by it having the best ice cream in the entire city.  They weren’t kidding.  It is called Heladería Rayas and is located at Calle Almirante Apodaca 1.  It is right before the Plaza de Encarnación which houses a spectacular sculpture that is called Las Setas (The Mushrooms) which you can also take an elevator to the top for spectacular views of the city.  Plus, it is outside of the touristy city center which allows you to spend time with the local populace.

The scene of the crime

I had passed by this heladería (ice cream shop) many times to and from the bus station, and it always seemed to be packed with people in the afternoon and night.  Finally, one day, while seeing the city with my friend Brittney, I decided to see what all of the hubbub was about and try some.   My first taste was a cup of the Sachertorte gelato.  For those who are unaware of what a Sachertorte is, it is the signature cake of the Hotel Sacher in Vienna, Austria.  I had a slice during a day trip to Vienna in 2009, and I was hooked.  Strangely enough, the gelato managed to capture the delicate chocolately goodness that I had originally tasted one humid summer’s day in Austria.  Not only was the typically rich but not overwhelming dark chocolate flavor there, but they managed to have the apricot jelly as well.  Plus, this flavor came with its own Rayas twist as they put in some raisins to add to the overall texture of the gelato.  Not only did Las Rayas nail the quality of the traditional of the Sachertorte, but they are very generous in terms of portions.  So I assure you that you will be getting your money’s worth.

The second time around, I ended up getting another cup of gelato, but I decided to be more daring and take advantage of their three flavor option that you can do when you buy a cone or cup.  I ended up getting the beso de mujer (woman’s kiss) and the quemesabe (roughly translated as the “whatever”).  With the former, I was expecting maybe just a peck on the cheek, but the flavor was more like a French kiss: intense, enjoyable, and left me all slobbery (great visual, I know).  It was a mix of milk chocolate and hazelnut cream and pieces of actual hazelnut.  If you love Nutella, this is the flavor for you.  As for the quemesabe, it was like a potpourri of different flavors with milk chocolate, cinnamon, and lemon cake pieces all jammed together in some sort of satisfying yet chaotic gelato paradise.  It was strange though how all of the elements seemed to maintain their own individual characters, especially the lemon cake pieces since they were light and airy instead of being crumbly or soggy.

Looks so messy but tastes so good

So if you’re ever in Sevilla and looking for a satisfying end to a meal or a tasty way to cool off while taking in the city, make your way down to Las Rayas Heladería.

Buen viaje!

Take a Look at These Patatas

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Hola a todos!  Welcome to another addition of Mastication Monologues, and I hope you are ready for an international recommendation.  This past Spring Break, I wanted to go on vacation somewhere overseas.  So I ended up planning a trip to southwestern Spain with my home base in Sevilla.  I had previously travelled to Andalucia when I was living in Barcelona, but this region called me back with its charm and all things people normally associate with Spain, i.e. flamenco, bull fighting, and soccer.  It was definitely different culturally and linguistically from Catalunya.  Today, I would like to talk about my experience at Cafe de Sevilla located on the corner of Paseo de Catalina de Ribera right next to the Jardines de Murillo (Murillo Gardens).

As I was exploring the city’s many different tourist stops like the Catedral de Sevilla and the Plaza de Toros, I was also on a hunt for my favorite tapa:  patatas bravas.  If you’ve never had them, they are kind of like the Spanish version of French fries.  They are diced and fried potatoes that are served often times with a mayonnaise-based sauce with some type of tomato element and black pepper.  However, here stateside I have yet to find a tapas restaurant able to recreate this seemingly simple dish.  I don’t know if they are trying to make it fancier for American diners, but I have seen some interesting variations.  Anyway, while I visited many different restaurants and cafes in Sevilla, I found that it was nearly impossible to find my patatas bravas on the menu when in Barcelona they were quite popular.  This all changed on a walk back to my hostel when I decided to go to a restaurant right by the Murillo Gardens.

Patatas on the left and the fried cheese from a previous meal (it’s delicious as well)

It has both al fresco and indoor dining.  For my last meal in Sevilla, I dined outside on the patio, and it has a classy ambiance with their wooden tables and canvas umbrellas.  It was a perfect night for a refreshing Cruzcampo (Sevillanos are more known for their beer than wine consumption strangely enough), a plate of patatas bravas, and bull tail.  I even had a funny interaction with the waitress because apparently I used the Spanish word for tail, “rabo”, that only old people in the country use instead of the more modern “cola”.  Once I established myself as being an old country bumpkin, I was excited for my last Sevillian meal.

The patatas and the bull tail came out at the same time with the bravas having a much more exquisite presentation than the no-nonsense approach to the bull tail.   The potatoes were perfectly fried with a slightly crunchy outside and soft, white interiors.  They were drizzled with the classic, only-in-Spain patata sauce which was a bit spicier than the other varieties I have tried in other cities in Spain.  However, these were special since they also came with blue cheese sauce that was not too overwhelming with the cheese chunks floating in it, and a spicy tomato sauce that may have had saffron in it as well.  As for the bull tail, it did not look like they just took a tail from a freshly killed bull in the plaza de toros and slapped it on a plate, but rather there were three moderately-sized hunks of meat served in a beef based gravy along with a side of potato wedges.

Un”bull”ievable (I just went there)

The meat itself was very tender, almost like brisket, and I didn’t even need a knife to cut any of it off the bones.  As for the gravy, it went very well with the meat since it seemed to have some spicy undertones to prevent this dish from being mediocre.  As for the potato wedges, they were thrown in with the gravy which I didn’t really care for since they ended up just disintegrating into the rest of the meal.  Nevertheless, it was quite filling, and I was thoroughly satisfied with my meal.

So the next time you are in Sevilla and want to try the best of something traditional or be a little more adventurous, the Cafe de Sevilla has a dish for everyone’s’ personal preferences.  However, this city has many great establishments to dine at in its tiny, winding streets, so follow the advice of a popular Spanish saying, “El perro que anda, hueso encuentra” (The dog that walks, finds the bone). This is only part one of two on places to go to eat in Sevilla.  Part two involves gelato, so get excited!

Looks Like Hell Can Freeze Over…Sort Of

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Hello all.  Welcome to another installation to Mastication Monologues.  I was looking over my blog as of late, and I was seriously slacking the past couple of months in terms of keeping up with my culinary adventures around the world.  Therefore, I am backtracking a bit, so bear with me.  Today I would like to tell you about an interesting restaurant called Chino Latino located at 2916 Hennepin Avenue South  Minneapolis, MN 55408.  It is located in a very nice part of the city, and there is ample street parking.

The fancy exterior of the restaurant

My girlfriend told me about this place awhile ago, so when I came up to visit we went there for dinner.  The decor is eclectic with different types of Latino and Asian artwork covering the walls of the entrance, i.e. papel picado from Dia de los Muertos and Thai shadow puppets .  Some of the pictures were borderline creepy, but I was here for the food, so I was ready to get down to business.  The interior of the actual dining room is two levels, but I did not care for the lighting.  It was too dark which made reading the menu a bit of a chore.  There’s a difference between mood lighting and trying to save on the electric bill.  Either that or I’m getting too old as I approach my quarter-life crisis.  Yet I digress once more, back to the food.

The interior of the restaurant

Even before I saw the menu, I knew that I was in for a treat as I saw that they had my favorite hot sauce on the table:  Yucateco Habanero salsa verde (Warning:  this sauce doesn’t mess around with people who think Pepper Jack cheese is spicy).  Our waitress was very helpful in explaining to me some of the different menu items, and the overall concept of their establishment which aims to deliver street food from countries which the Equator runs through.  As I looked over the different entrees, I was torn in many different directions by the different curries, satays, tacos, and noodles.  However, I was won over by a seemingly simple, borderline appetizer, dinner:  Habanero Hell Poppers.

One of the reasons why I chose this option from all of the others was the fact that there were three mini sticks of dynamite on the menu around the poppers.  Now, normally I take these “heat measurements” with a grain of salt and a good-natured chuckle since they are geared towards people who are not used to eating really spicy food.  However, since we were in an Equatorial restaurant I knew they’d be bringing the heat like their geographical location namesake, and I have a bit of a daredevil streak in me when it comes to food.  So when I ordered them, the waitress looked at me like I was a madman.  Always a good sign that you’re ordering a meal with some real cojones.  They came out on a medium-sized platter with four large poppers, a slice of lime, and a strange cup filled with an orange substance.  Upon closer inspection, there was a paper that came along with the food that in so many words states that if you complain about how spicy the poppers are, you’re going to be made fun of by the staff at Chino Latino and your friends.  Challenge accepted!

Great Balls of Fire!

I tucked into the poppers with gusto, and I finally found a spicy meal that lived up to all of the fanfare.  First off, it was hot temperature-wise.  The breading was light and airy and not greasy.  The Habanero peppers on the inside were fresh, and the Habanero infused cream cheese was hotter than napalm.  So, I would definitely let them cool off before you start wolfing them down.  The first one really started with a bang of spice along with a slightly acrid taste that comes along naturally with the skin of the Habanero.  By the time I finished the fourth and final popper, I definitely had the spicy food sweats; they’re not as scary as meat sweats but are definitely more painful.  However, I then tried the orange substance in the small ceramic cup, and it turned out to be blood orange sorbet.  It was like a plane dropping water on a moderate forest fire.  The embers were still smoldering, but the blaze was extinguished.  The actual sorbet was delicious with a light, even texture and a rich blood orange flavor.

So if you’re a fan of various types of Latino, Southeast, or Caribbean foods, check out Chino Latino in Minneapolis.  However, if you’re looking for a memorable dinner, try the Habanero Hell Poppers because as Kurt Cobain said, “It’s better to burn out than fade away”.

Chino Latino on Urbanspoon

Chino Latino on Foodio54

Livin’ La Vida Salsa

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Once again in my quest for exotic and authentic cuisine from all around the world, I arrived at Taco Grill which is located at 111 West Ogden Avenue, Westmont, IL.  I’ve been going there for years now, and it truly is one of the hidden gems of the Western suburbs for authentic Mexican food and beverages.  At first sight, it may seem to just be a Latino version of a greasy spoon diner:

Ground Zero for Comida Buena (Good Food)

However, when you get inside it is quaintly decorated with Mexican pottery on the walls and various painting from Mexican artists.  It has the warmth of a family owned restaurant and not the cold, plastic feeling that you just walked into a corporate  Mc-taco chain restaurant.  The staff is always cheerful and willing to explain anything on the menu if the description doesn’t do the dish justice.  There is plenty of variety in terms of selection such as:  tacos, tortas, huaraches, enchiladas, and tamales.  All of these dishes can also be made vegetarian for anyone who has specific dietary restrictions.  I normally order either the enchiladas verdes with cheese or the tacos al pastor (tacos with a type of pork roasted on a spit with pineapple mixed into the meaty melange).  However, one day was certainly different in terms of the taco filling I chose.

My inner culinary daredevil was scanning the menu when I saw that they had tacos de lengua (roughly $7 for three)…or for those who don’t habla the espanol, lengua=beef tongue.  I was pretty nervous when ordering the tongue tacos because I was wondering whether or not they would chop up the tongue to make it a bit more palatable or would I end up having to French kiss my taco in order to eat it?  During the waiting time, I paid a visit to the most comprehensive salsa bar I have ever seen in a Mexican restaurant.  There are over 20 different types of toppings ranging from the mildest pico de gallo to some sauces/relishes that would call for a colostomy bag for those uninitiated to spicy foods.  Personally, I always go for the XXX.5 or the XXXX (the spiciest) salsas, a salsa verde (green sauce) and queso fundido (melted cheese), respectively.

Upon sitting down at my table, like clockwork, the staff brought the complementary, bottomless tortilla chips that are warm from the oven and are a great bargain/compliment to the freshly made salsas.  I must emphasize that the amount of food that you get at this establishment is definitely inversely proportional to the price as I soon found out when I was face to face with my tacos de lengua.

Who knew tongue tacos would be finger licking good?

Thankfully they diced up the beef tongue into small cubes, but at the same time it was quite a shock to still see the taste buds on the individual pieces of meat (quite a surreal experience).  As shown in the picture, the tacos also had chopped onions and a good amount of cilantro with a slice of lime to provide a nice zesty aftertaste.  The actual flavor of the tongue was quite savory which I would liken to a rich hamburger, but I think eating such a meal is more of a test of mind over matter due to the texture of the meat.  I have found that many American consumers are turned off by the mere texture of a dish, i.e. the chewiness of the tongue in this case, which may not be the same problem in other cultures.  It was aptly summed up by Travel Channel host Anthony Bourdain, “If the typical American eater has to chew the food more than three times, then it will be labeled as being gross”.  To compliment the tacos, I got a jarritos tamarindo (tamarind is a common flavoring in Latin America which I can only liken to a variant of iced tea flavor) which is soft drink commonly found  in Mexico.  By the time I finished, I was stuffed, satisfied, and thinking about my next adventure as a gourmand.

So many flavors…so little time

So if you’re tired of getting the typical bland burrito bowls from Chipotle or the guilty pleasures from Taco Bell’s late-night drive through (though you can never go wrong with the cinnamon twists), hurry on over to Taco Grill in Westmont for simple, authentic, but delicious food at pedestrian prices.  This establishment truly is a testament that you should not judge a restaurant solely on its paint job.

In Mexico we have a word for sushi:  bait.”  ~José Simons

Taco Grill & Salsa Bar on Urbanspoon

Taco Grill & Salsa Bar on Foodio54

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