Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Taqueria Maravatio, 1100 Chicago Ave SW

Today we drove on a whim down Grandville/Chicago Avenue to see if we could find a small, unknown, local restaurant ~ because we love doing that. We happened on this place straddling a corner at Chicago Drive and Godfrey, across from Holy Name of Jesus Parish on Godfrey and a McDonalds on Chicago Drive.
Aztec or Mayan art decorates portions of the six-sided building but around back it's plain with the parking lot and two entrances.
When we walked in it looked like it was counter service and we did the awkward looking-around-trying-to-figure-out-the-place-thing with the locals staring at us. But we spotted a woman waiting on a table so we grabbed two menus off the very large counter and took a seat.

The place holds about 11 tables/booths wrapped along the exterior wall which is lined with windows so everyone has an outside view, except for this table for two. And there's a big booth down at the end.

The kitchen is open from the counter view and we spotted two men working there. The one and only server was continually cleaning when not waiting on customers. And the place is spotless. When I later walked into the Ladies' Room I saw washing your hands instructions in Spanish and English, along with the old washed-the-floor water. Well, at least it was washed.
We were quickly served chips and salsas, green and red, and both with a nice kick.
Water took a bit longer to come by and unfortunately arrived in large styrofoam, lidded cups. But the food did not disappoint. We selected from a simple two-page menu, complete with a hamburger with yellow cheese :-)
We each picked two tacos and a gordita. Steak, Chorizo, and Barbacoa tacos, and steak Gorditas. There was absolutely nothing to complain about. Fresh cilantro, plenty of limes, and other vegetables accompanied our food.
And most importantly, the tortillas are made in-house and that was obvious. This place rivals San Jose Taqueria and should definitely be visited. We needed to go back to the counter to pay, and that took a while on the old cash register. While I was waiting, the cook put a huge bowl of soup/stew on the counter and I asked our cashier/server if that was for her. She said it was and it was a concoction of meat and vegetables and soup, and she hadn't eaten all day. It was steaming hot and looked delicious! Hey, that wasn't on the menu...

There are two TVs back to back but nothing was playing, just a low-key music soundtrack. Decor consisted of a picture of John Paul II and a painting of a pope with Mary. But with all those windows, there isn't room for much more.
The tables are numbered by a taped up paper number. Not so classy but whatever works.
There were crazy locks on the way out, modified during the day by tape.
There's not much internet information available about this place but it looks like it used to be the El Kiosco Tapatio Restaurante. What is was before that we have no idea. It looks like it was some sort of fast food chain. But this is a lovely reincarnation of a unique building and an obvious local favorite from what we observed. Freshly prepared food in a clean, local restaurant with house-made tortillas - what more could you ask?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Raad's Mediterranean Grill, 962 Cherry St SE ~ 8/11/15

We've been hearing about this place and finally made it there today for lunch. It's been in business for two years and when we walked in today, it was empty. That can't be good.
There are about nine tables set in a pleasant atmosphere and six chairs lined up against a street-facing window.
We walked in and were greeted with "to go or here?" Not the most welcoming greeting by our server. We seated ourselves and perused the 6-page menu. Appetizers & salads, two pages of entrees, beverages-smoothies-desserts, an ala carte and kids page, and a lunch menu. We had to start with a few appetizers ~ Samosas and Falafel. Our server, "is that all?"
The samosas were served with delicious tzatziki sauce and the falafel arrived draped in tahini and parsley. This was all made to order and we waited for it, but it was worth the wait. We next ordered from the entree menu, Gyro and Kafta. Each entree comes promised with salad, rice, hummus, fresh pita bread, and optionally served as a wrap or plated. We took plated. And we need to talk about the salad first.
We'd like to eat this everyday, seriously. There's a lemony dressing (house recipe) that tops off radishes, parsley, tomatoes, onions, lentils, pita chips made on the premises, and pomegranate seeds. The salad is alive with flavor and texture and is altogether amazing. The Gyro then arrived.
Hummus, rice and gyro were beautifully presented. As we are waiting for the Kafta, the owner and/or chef stepped out to ask whether I'd like tzatziki or garlic sauce (he whispers 'garlic'). How could we not take the garlic :-). He then notices our notes and camera. "Are you food critics?" Well, we do have a blog. "Why didn't you tell me? I would have taken good care of you." No. That's not how we like to review restaurants. And when the Kafta finally came out he accompanied it, chatting up the food, and due to his hovering we neglected to get a food photo, until the leftovers arrived at home :-)
There are 16 spices in the rice, according to our chef, and the garlic sauce and the rest of the food was well prepared and fresh. The garlic sauce was a great recommendation so don't miss it. We asked about the lack of customers and our guy said it's always like this because no one knows about them, which is sad because the food is wonderful. It's made as it is ordered, table for table. Pita bread is brought in from Detroit and was promised with the Kafta entree but never arrived so we can't comment on that other than we didn't get it.

Ideas for improvement? Train your servers to be more welcoming and customer savvy. Add building signage and update the tacky sandwich board sign. Clean the one bathroom customers use. Avoid loud conversations between the server and chef while customers are waiting for food, and don't make customers listen to your phones ring as well as to your subsequent conversations. And maybe change the soundtrack to a consistent mideastern vibe rather than a random jazz/pop thing.

Online reviews complain about the prices but there is a lunch menu available with reduced costs. We hope he stays in business and maybe he does well enough with take-outs and catering to stay alive.
The smoothies were recommended to us by the chef as being all natural with no added sugars, etc., so we took two to go. Delicious! Check out this place, at least for the falafel, hummus, garlic sauce, and the salad! They have local delivery service and you can find them on facebook and at www.raadsgr.com
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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sushi Kuni, 2901 Breton ~ 3/26/15

They call themselves a Japanese Fusion restaurant and five years ago moved into the space that used to be Shogun.
Enter this establishment and you are immediately struck by the lovely ambiance. The lighting is dim and the decor subtle and tasteful. The place is divided into two areas, this row of booths and small tables upon entry,
and another dining area with a few larger tables, a few booths, and the sushi bar.
The menu features Korean dishes, sushi, and Asian Fusion, so there are choices galore. Sometimes this style of restaurant tries to be too many things to too many people but we think it works here overall. And we started with tempura and dumplings.
The shrimp tempura was a little bland but the dumplings (beef gyoza) were great. The sauce enhanced the flavor of these perfectly prepared and not overly fried dumplings. So on to the entrees.

Two of us are huge fans of Udon, those thick, chewy Japanese noodles, so two dishes soon arrived ~ Vegetable Udon and Spicy Seafood Udon.
The mildly flavored broth in the vegetable dish was excellent and the spiciness of the seafood dish broth slowly built up while eating. Both are classic dishes well prepared, and the noodles had the perfect, chewy texture we hoped for.

Chef's Choice Sushi was our third dish, and it was fine although not as fresh or well-cut as that found at Maru.
The soundtrack playing was really interesting and we couldn't quite figure it out. It was completely instrumental and each of us recognized different tunes ranging from "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka, a theme song from Lord of the Rings, a praise chorus worship tune, and a Metallica hit. It was a unique and strange soundtrack for our lunchtime dining :-) But our major complaint was that the overhead light at our booth was disconcertingly bright and not centered over the table so it only bothered the person it shone upon.

Find them on facebook but they haven't posted since November of 2014. And their website at sushikuni.net is halfway functional and doesn't reflect their current menu. In order to read the menu pages that are there, at least three clicks are required to get it to a readable size.

So check them out in person. The atmosphere is great and we'd like to go back to try some of our favorite Korean dishes. And be aware, you have to walk through the Suma wrestler's curtain legs to find the restrooms (and notice the aforementioned blinding booth lights in this photo!).
Sushi Kuni on Urbanspoon

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!
CabaƱa Tres Amigos on Urbanspoon