Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cabana Tres Amigos, 1409 60th St ~ 3/10/15

We've heard good things about this restaurant so drove out to Kentwood to check it out. It's housed in a big building that must have been something else in a previous life. There's not much else around it but residences, and nothing to draw you to the area. But being family-owned, we were in.
We walked in and found a large entry way with a weird decor mix of Aztec-ish paintings and a blow-up beer can. A large dining room to the left was empty but for one couple. We were seated in an aisle of booths running along the kitchen, the width of the building. Everyone else was seated there too, except for that one lucky couple in the dining room.
Straight ahead from the entry was the bar, containing a few booths along the back, mirrored wall and fairly large u-shaped bar seating. A patio was also visible, which would be lovely on a summer night. Our server immediately announced that they had coke products and a full bar. Good to know.
So we were seated in the 7-booth alley and while we were waiting, we were treated to the sound of jack hammers going off in the bar (probably just a drill but it was jackhammer loud). We asked our server what was going on and she informed us, in a necessarily loud voice, that Keno was being installed in the bar. Well-timed construction, not. Fortunately, the work ceased after about 15 minutes, just minutes before we were headed for the door.

Perusing the pretty typical, large Mexican restaurant menu, we looked through five full-sized pages that contained an additional insert for features. And we started with Chorizo con Queso. The homemade Mexican sausage and cheese sauce made for a mighty fine dish. The cheese was mouth-watering delicious and not too rich as to be overwhelming but rich enough to make us want more. The Chorizo was mildly spicy and could have been hotter but that was fixable at the table.
We asked our server if she had a favorite and she promptly recommended Carnitas ~ pork marinated in a secret family recipe, which was listed as one of their specialties. It had to be tried. The pork was tender and the secret family recipe marinade brought a lot of flavor to it. Accompanying the pork were peppers, pico de gallo, refried beans, rice, and corn (or flour) tortillas.
Being greedy to taste more food than two people could/would normally eat, we ordered two additional dishes, Tacos al Pastorale, and Shrimp Empanada (Empanda on the menu). (Our server asked us why we were ordering so much food - why would she care? :-)
The tacos were fine but we were taken by surprise by the empanada because we expected the traditional concoction ~ pastry stuffed with good things. Because we didn't pay enough attention to the menu description (even with all that time), we discovered that instead of pastry, a filet of tilapia was the vessel for the shrimp. And it kind of worked. All would have been good but the promised orange and limes were nowhere to be found, and their citrus, acidic presence was missed. Avocado, tomatoes, cucumbers, and pico de gallo were fresh but didn't make up for it.
The menu categories range as follows: starters, salads, nachos, vegetarian selections, features, house specialties, from the gulf, fresh taste of old mexico, fajitas and burritos, combinations, tacos enchiladas burritos, lunch specials, gringo grub (consisting of a chicken sandwich, and burger and fries), desserts, and beverages. We mention these only because you can't find them on their website.

And if you're checking out their website, be sure your speakers are turned down or off. Because immediately Cielito Lindo will begin blaring. Search as you might for the full menu, you won't find it. You can try clicking on price options, which will provide a specific dish, but there are no food categories from which to search. Their facebook account is also under-utilized. Other than one posting in 2015, the others go back to 2011. And if it's your first time looking for this place, this is the street signage to look for. The restaurant has none.
Obviously, this restaurant is relying on its loyal, local customers and we imagine they are many. If we lived nearby, we would return as well. But we can't recommend driving out there from Grand Rapids when we have Maggie's Kitchen, El Granjero, and La Taqueria San Jose right here. There's no reason to drive Kentwood for good Mexican food, but maybe for the summer patio and full bar!
Sidenote on the women's bathroom ~ you can look right over the top of the stalls ~ very poor design feature so be forewarned!
www.cabanatresamigos.net
Cabaña Tres Amigos on Urbanspoon
  

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pupuseria El Salvador La Original, 4639 S Division Ave ~ 1/20/15

Driving south on Division Avenue is always an interesting ride and we've discovered some unique little restaurants doing that. But someone mentioned this place to us (thanks, Sarah Scott!) so today we drove down Division with a specific destination in mind. And we missed it the first time. One our way back north, we spotted the sign and turned in to find the small, set-back restaurant.
We weren't sure at first if it was counter-service only so stood about for a minute or two trying to figure it out. A friendly man soon greeted us and told us to sit wherever we would like and he warned against sitting by the windows. Good advice as we froze anyway away from the windows but it was a bitterly cold day.
The restaurant felt small at first with booths crammed everywhere but when we did some calculating, it appears the space could hold upwards of 50 people. Ten booths are back to back with each other and there are five smaller tables and chairs along the side wall. Today we shared the place with one lone soul.
A large menu is posted on the wall but our server also brought us the huge 9-page menus to peruse. Some items are described in Spanish & English, others just in Spanish but there are pictures galore. It was difficult to make a decision with so many choices. And for those of you looking for breakfast choices, if you can wait until 10 or 11am to eat, there is a full page of breakfast selections whose descriptions were very tempting. Other than the menus, there was very little wall art, this being one exception.
Our server was patient as our indecision was obvious and he suggested we start with guacamole. He asked if we liked it hot but he didn't trust our "yes" because we had to make it hotter when it arrived. But fresh & flavorful it was, complete with the avocado pit and a wedge of lime.
We were surprised with the complimentary lentil soup which we happily consumed. And after further conversation with our server, we started with two pupusas & fried plantains. One pupusa was steak and cheese and the other was jalapeno pepper and cheese. These were divided amongst us and were such a treat! The pupusa is a thick tortilla, but with twice the flavor, and stuffed before cooking, which can be opened like pita bread and filled with additional items, like the fermented cabbage slaw that accompanied it. Or the cabbage can just be placed on top of the pupusa and eaten like a taco. Our server assured us that both methods were acceptable :-)
The fried plantains were exceptional, particularly due to the crema y frijoles that came along with them. We were advised to mix the sauces together before dipping the plantains. And we can assure you that you have not tasted anything like those sauces in any other Mexican/Spanish restaurant here in Grand Rapids.

We could have stopped there but were so thrilled with this new-to-us food that we ordered more, knowing we'd take the bulk of it home with us. Pork tamales, steak tacos, and taquitos rounded out our meal here (well, there were three of us :-) ).
We were all happy with our choices, and again, this is so much better than the stuff served up in your average Mexican restaurants, but the stars of this place are the pupusas and the plantains with the sour cream and bean sauce. The ingredients are fresh and the food is prepared after you order it. Here's our server in the kitchen doing just that.
There was one other person working in the kitchen and when we asked about the history of the place the information was a little spotty but apparently it's been open about 10 years with ownership changing hands among family members.

The restaurant is book-ended by a car wash and a laundromat that explained the "no change" signs on the door.
And although the neighborhood might seem a little dilapidated with 24/7 security cameras necessary, don't be dissuaded from checking out this place. We have 29 more pupusas to try in this Rincon Magico (as they call themselves).
They are on Facebook, and their current hours, per our server Joseph are as follows:
Monday-Thursday ~ 11:00am - 8:30 or 9:00pm
Friday & Saturday ~ 10:00am - 10:00pm
Sunday ~10:00am - 8:30pm
We are so happy to share another local gem with you and regret that it took us 10 years to find it!
Pupuseria El Salvador La Original on Urbanspoon 
  

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Taqueria Garcia, 3536 S Division ~ 12/19/14

Ten days ago we lunched at Pho Soc Trang, located in the Asian Shopping Center at 4242 S Division, and on our way back north, we spotted several small hole-in-the-wall restaurants that we noted for another time. And today was one of those times. Located just north of 36th Street, the place will be missed if you blink.
The sidewalk sign alerts drivers to the existence of this restaurant, which takes up the right half of the building pictured above.
Parking is available in the back of the building and we walked around to the entrance, curious to find out what the restaurant was like. We were greeted by a small space containing eight tables for four and four booths. Three other customers were there and two of them gave us a look somewhere between appraising and disapproving. But the young man standing behind the counter gave us a brilliant, friendly smile as we walked up to figure out what to order. Menus are on white boards on the wall and we eventually made our choices while he patiently waited. There are ten taco choices, five gorditos, and one sope.
He disappeared into the kitchen and we took a booth along the windows. Matt then had some fun with the mirrors (there are three of them hanging on various walls). There were three large pencil drawings hanging above us, two of large breasted women and the other maybe a Mexican Clint Eastwood? Viva mi Raza was written on a couple of them ~ "Long live my People," certainly a worthy sentiment. The Virgin Mary under a garland also joined the decor. And Pirates of the Caribbean was being shown on the T.V.
Another customer walked in, sat down at a table, and received table service. So it is available but you have to know what you want unless you can read the whiteboards from your seat. Our counter man soon brought us our tacos, the first dish being one pork and one steak, nicely smothered in cilantro and onions.
Matt ordered three ~ pork, steak, and beef tongue.
Three unmarked sauces were brought out for us, spicy, hot, and hotter. After a few taste tests we each picked one suitable to our taste buds. We had no complaints and the tacos are definitely recommended. We didn't like them as well as those at Taqueria San Jose but this place is certainly worthy of a visit. Tortillas weren't doubled or slightly fried like at San Jose but everything tasted fresh and there was no lack of flavor.

For the price conscious among you, these tacos are $2.00 each. That's right. And the restaurant is a small family business. The cook is the father of our server and usually his daughter is there helping as well but our server had enlisted the help of a friend today.

They are on Facebook and here is their December 17 posting:  "Correccion va aber Barbacoa, Pansita, y Consume el 27 De Diciembre. Abrimos a las 9 de la mañana gracias. Correction there will be Barbacoa, panista, and consume made out of goat on December 27. We will be open at 9am thank you." What's not to love about this unique little place on South Division? We'll be back to try the gorditos and sope!

Hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday ~ 9:00 am - 8:30 pm
Friday, Saturday ~ 9:00 am - 10:00 pm
Monday ~ Closed

Support another of Grand Rapids' many local restaurants, ignore the national chains, and reviews of the same, that make every neighborhood just a little less interesting, put locals out of business, and cause all cities to look like Any City, U.S.A. This family is doing their part.

 Taqueria Garcia on Urbanspoon
 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wine, Beer & Food Festival ~ 11/22/14 (Copied over from All Things Grand Rapids: http://bit.ly/1qOwGNy)