Sunday, April 29, 2012

El Pollo Rey

El Pollo Rey has two items on the menu: whole chicken and half chicken. They know what they do and they do it right! The chickens are cooked whole, on a wood fire grill, then quartered upon order. Your half/whole chicken comes with tortillas, rice, beans, grilled onions, and salsa. The general idea is to separate the chicken from the bone and make wonderful grilled chicken tacos with it.

The chicken is out of this world! The chicken is flavored with an understated delicious rub. It is the second best chicken I have had in my life, second only to my dad's BBQ grilled chicken with his homemade sauce. The tortillas are good, but not great. They are fresh, but the tortillas are not the reason you're going there to begin with. The rice is solid, pretty much your standard Mexican rice. The salsa has the look and consistency of applesauce, and is delicious! Which is saying a lot, coming from a salsa snob like myself. The beans had little slices of Mexican hot dog in it. I was not a huge fan of the chunk of chicken fat in my beans, I am not a fan of places that put pork fat in beans either, but the flavor of the beans was incredible. Its hard to argue with results.

When you drive by El Pollo Rey, you can smell the wood smoke coming from the stack. They used to be located in an old hole in the wall store front, but have recently upgraded to an old Dairy Queen building. More capacity = more delicious chicken. I recommend this place to anyone looking for some great chicken or anything slightly outside the box. Plus you can't beat all of that food for just $6.50 per half chicken order.
El Pollo Rey on Urbanspoon

Reyna's Mexican Bakery

If you are jonesing for some authentic Mexican pastries, Reyna's is your place! Reyna's has all sorts of wonderful and delicious baked goods, most of which I have no idea what they actually are or what they are called. This trip I got a conical shaped pastry filled with pineapple paste (pictured to the right), a Mexican sugar cookie, a cookie (for lack of a better description) looked like the sun (it had a yellow center and lines pointing out radially, as rays of sun would), and some of their famous salsa.
For anyone who is a rookie to Mexican pastries, be prepared for them to be harder than American pastries. This is just the style, they are not old and stale. Most other countries have harder pastries that have less preservatives than American pastries.

Be sure that you have a napkin handy when you dive into one of their cookies, as the sugar is on it so thick that you will get it all over your face, plate, table, and floor. That's also how the cookie crumbles. Pun intended.

Next time I am going to stop by on a Saturday and pick up a tamale or two to go with this awesome salsa!
Reyna's Mexican Bakery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Most Awesome Tacos Ever!

One of the most awesome and one of the least awesome parts about my job, at the same time, is the travel. Spending time away from my wife sucks, but it allows me to try smaller regional restaurants when I travel and it also allows me to gain airline and hotel points to take my wife awesome places so that we can try awesome new restaurants together. This story is one of those business travel adventures.

When most people think of Dallas, they think of nice warm weather. It seems like almost every time I go to Dallas, I run into some form of crazy weather event. I was snowed (or rather iced) in during the week that the super bowl was in Dallas. Then the next time I was in Dallas, I ran into this:

 Yes, that is hail that is nearly the size of a softball. That was not the largest piece, that was just a piece that was easy to grab outside the door of the rental car place (where I was waiting out the tornado warning). I had placed my things in my rental car before the sirens began to sound. I went back inside until the warning had cleared. Upon returning to my rental car in the lot, I saw that the back window had been smashed by the hail and shattered glass all over my things. I was given 2 other rental cars, each of them had windows shattered when I went out to them, before I was told to "go out there, find one with a good window and we will give you that one". It was quite an awesome experience!
I had already caught the last flight out and waited for a tornado warning to clear, so it was already late before I began my 2 hour drive to my hotel. I had to find a gas station to go get a Rockstar (my favorite energy drink). As fate would have it, I missed my turn onto the highway, which took me on a frontage road straight to a gas station that not only had Rockstars, but also has a 24 hr window that sold street tacos.

The window sign advertised the different tacos in Spanish (with the English names in parenthasis). They had all of the regular suspects: carne asada, carnitas, chorizo, and pollo. They also had other great options like spicy beef and beef tongue along with breakfast favorites like huevos rancheros and egg tacos. My favorites are the spicy beef fajita (that comes with sauted onions and peppers) and pollo (that comes with the traditional cilantro and onions). All orders come with limes, red salsa, green salsa, and a grilled jalapeno. The salsa verde is my favorite (but to be fair, I am quite partial to salsa verde). The grilled jalapenso is the perfect finisher for the tacos, but make sure you have something to cool your mouth after finishing it, as the grilling just intensifies the kick. You can also get them with avacado for an extra 50 cents or so, and the avacado is perfectly fresh and ripe (which is the dead give away that you are not in Kansas anymore).

As all great taco places, this place is cash only, but tacos are only $1.50 (so it won't break the bank). You can pay at the front of the gas station with a card and then show them the reciept at the window, but that is about as close as you can get to paying with a card. This place is incredible! They have the best tacos I have ever had in my life! The corn tortillas are perfect, the meat is good, and the salsa verde is great! I now make a point to take the wrong turn that took me to this gas station every time I am in Dallas. Sometimes multiple times per trip. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, make sure to check it out!
Fuel Town Tacos on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 23, 2012

Los Alamos Market y Cocina

I ride my bike by Los Alamos Market y Cocina all the time and see the interesting metal sculptures outside. They have little metal men in sorbreros, metal flowers, chimineas, and usually pinatas too. They have a board out with the daily specials on it (It's usually tamales). I have always wanted to stop in and try it, but they close a little early, so by the time I am ready for dinner they are closed. I was finally able to give it a try one weekend that I had a slow saturday and it was everything that I had hoped for.

Just looking at the outside of the market and restaurant, you can tell that they served authentic Mexican food inside. Upon entering, you see the glass door to the beer cooler straight ahead, 2 or 3 aisles of Mexican specialty food items to your left, and a counter to your right. I asked the man behind the counter where I placed my order, he pointed me to the back. When I got to the back, I saw 6 hispanic women cooking, laughing, and just enjoying making good food. The woman that took my order was very helpful, it took me a minute to decide, but she was very patient. I finally decided on the Tamales El Jefe. That is beef tamales covered in more beef chunks and some kind of Mexican gravy (for lack of a better comparison). It came with beans and rice and the lady told me that I could go get whatever I wanted to drink out of the cooler. I chose a grapfruit Jarritos (which is my favorite flavor of Jarritos) and it went perfectly with the tamales el jefe (it really goes perfectly with everything). Sitting at the tables with the Mexican themed tables cloths, the pinatas hanging from the ceiling, and watching the cooks work thier magic had the perfect ambiance to accompany my Mexican meal. As I was finishing my meal, all of the lights went out because they had overloaded the breaker, it was just like Mexico! When the lights went out, one of the regulars at an adjacent table yelled out "Everything's free!", everyone had a good laugh. They even poked fun at the young man who went downstairs to flip the breaker, making sure to ask him if he was scared before he went down. I had a great time and will definately be going back!
Los Alamos Market y Cocina on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 20, 2012

Street tacos in KC

After many failed attempts to find street tacos in a town that is dominated by tacos that more closely resemble deep fried crap covered in cheddar cheese than they do tacos. I came across Ricos Tacos Lupe. It is marvelous! It is a little slice of Mexico here in Kansas City. The tacos (and other food) are actually made on a cart that is behind a fence looking structure in the front of the restaurant. The TV in the back is always tuned into Univision (that is when a soccer match is not on), there is a giant Chivas Guadalajara flag on the wall, and the menu is in both Spanish and English. This is one of the most unassuming places that I have ever eaten in my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way. There it is, off to the right in the Google street view image shown below, the orange store front with bars on the window.

More important than the atmosphere is the food. They bring you chips and a traditional tomato based salsa when you sit down. There are also two other varieties of salsa on the table in diner style condiment containers, a salsa verde (my favorite) and a chipotle pepper based salsa (my wife's favorite), I recommend eating your chips with these salsas over the salsa provided in the bowl. That being said, the bowl salsa has improved quite a bit in the time that we have been going to Ricos. Their big hits are the street tacos, burritos, and tortas (a traditional Mexican sandwich). The taco/burrito meat options are: carne asada (pictured to the right), pollo (chicken), carnitas, cabeza, chorizo, al pastor, and tripas. The carne is always my go to option, if you cant make up your mind, just go with the carne. The chicken is solid. The carnitas (Mexican shredded pork) are always very juicy and flavorful, they are my wife's favorite. The cabeza (which translated literally means "head", but is beef cheek meat) is my personal favorite meat when prepared correctly. Sometimes the cabeza meat is a little fatty but if you get a good cut, it is amazing. The chorizo has great flavor, but a little greasy for my taste, its spiced just perfectly and not TOO spicy. The al pastor is sort of like a Mexican gyro that is made of pork, to those that have never tried it. Every time I try to order the tripas and relive my trip to Mexico, they are out, but I will keep ordering it until I get it. The tacos are perfectly sized (not too small and not too large) and come on corn tortillas with cilantro and onions, just like they would on the street in Mexico. The tortillas are made in house and taste great, however sometimes the tortillas beneath the tacos can get a little soggy if you don't eat them fast enough. The burritos are nearly the size of a Chipotle burrito and come in a flour tortilla. I recommend squeezing that lime slice that comes with your tacos and adding some salsa verde, then chowing down.

You can find me at Ricos on most Tuesdays and even a good number of Thursdays with a group of friends and a 12 pack of Modelo. That is right, nothing goes with the 1$ Taco Tuesday special or the 2$ Burrito Thursday special than the Mexican beer of your choice that you can pick up across the street at Royal Liquors and bring in with you. It should also be noted that Ricos is a cash only establishment, so make sure to bring a whole 10$ bill to pay for you and your date after cash and tip (you may even have enough left over to buy a losing lottery ticket if you take a skinny date). Ricos Tacos Lupe on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Best Mistake Ever!

As a fat adolescent, lets just say I was no stranger to food. I was not picky, I just wanted something that did not move faster than I did. My brother and I would regularly fight over food and who would be eating the most of it.

As an adult, I have lost the extra pounds and pride myself in being fit. Most of my friends that I have met in my adult life do not believe that I was ever fat. I would post a neighborhood swim team picture of myself in a Speedo with a spare tire to prove it, if I hadn't purposely thrown it away out of pure embarrassment. I lost the extra weight by working out 6-7 days a week and eating only chicken breast, brown rice, vegetables, and protein shakes. 

This is the story about how I developed an understanding of moderation:

It all began with the honeymoon. I had a wonderful honeymoon planned for my wife and I, we were going to spend a week in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I wanted to maximize our time in Mexico, our plane was to leave Kansas City at 6:10 AM the morning after our wedding. Well... the plane actually did end up leaving at 6:10AM, we just did not happen to be on it. We had made a terrible mistake of trying to take a 2 hour nap before catching the shuttle from the hotel to the airport. In hindsight, it was the BEST MISTAKE EVER! 

We finally made it to the airport after oversleeping 2 wake up calls and they graciously agree to put us on a 1:30 PM flight, thus our journey began. During our final approach into Puerto Vallarta, Mallory noticed that there was lightning on the horizon. I assured her that we were on our final approach and they would not have told us that if we were not going to be able to land. I was wrong. The pilot then came over the PA system and told us that we were going to be diverted to Guadalajara, as visibility was too low to land in Puerto Vallarta. After sitting on the runway for an hour and a half, being shuffled through customs, promised numerous modes of transportation to get us to our resort (only to have each mode recanted minutes later), and being told we would need to share a hotel room with 2 other strangers on the first night of our honeymoon, we decided to hire a non-English speaking van driver in a van with no A/C to drive us and 6 other strangers through the mountains and jungle of a foreign country to Puerto Vallarta at 1AM. Before we knew of the rain, mudslides,  and downed trees that awaited us on the trip everyone was pumped for the road trip. The one gentleman in our van that was fluent in Spanish asked our driver if we could stop and get some street tacos and cervezas. Our driver kindly obliged and took us to his favorite local taco stand where tacos were 5 pesos each (roughly $.40 US).

These tacos were unlike any taco I had ever had, soft corn tortillas with only meat, cilantro and onions. After ordering 4 Carne Asada tacos I was warned by a van mate not to try the substance that was frying and popping in the lard over to the right. I asked him what it was, he told me it was Tripe (cow intestines). I thought to myself "When is the next time I will be at a street taco stand in Guadalajara at 1AM with a chance to eat some cow intestines? Probably never. I must try them". They were actually quite good, the closest thing I could compare it to would be a pork rind taco. We ate our tacos and got some Pacifico for the road (Pacifico is great in the US but tastes way better in Mexico, its much like Coors at a bar vs Coors at the brewery). 

7 hours later we finally made it to our resort, showered, ate breakfast, and then went to bed to rest up for a week of food that would change my life forever.  The breakfast buffet consisted of the freshest fruit I have ever had in my life: mangoes, pineapple, papaya, and bananas. The guacamole was better that I could have ever imagined. The seafood paella that is pictured in the blog title (although technically a Spanish dish and not a Mexican dish) contained mahi, prawns, scallops, muscles, and green lobster (all but the scallops were caught in the Bay) was indescribably good. The green lobster tail was black with green spots and could best be described as a combination of red lobster and crab meat, it had the taste of lobster and the texture of crab meat. Mallory's personal favorite, the shrimp burrito, was worth going to the same restaurant twice a day some days. All week we dined on authentic Mexican dishes and drank tequila that transformed the way that I would look at Mexican food forever. Never again would deep fried, cheddar cheese covered Tex-Mex be suitable.

After that chance encounter with street food and subsequent culinary revelation, I came back to the United States on a mission. That mission was to find the best street tacos in America. My search has led me to gas stations, food trucks, and dive restaurants galore. In the process of searching for the best street taco, I have gained a new appreciation for all forms of street food and other exotic cuisine. This blog will journal my travels and review the eating of awesomeness that is my life.

Final Note: All of the best things in life come from missing your flight.