Friday, January 2, 2009

Quick Bites

Hoang Banh Mi, 3509 Elgin @ Scott

I was tooling down Elgin and spotted the sign and thought to myself ‘Wasn’t that the name of the great banh mi shop inside the decrepit Hoa Binh mall on Milam?’ (also known as the Original Givrals). I pulled in for a quick banh mi thinking I might have made a big discovery. The Thit Nuong ($2.35) was smaller than I remembered but with more of the tasty grilled pork, or maybe it was just a relative thing. The baguette was very well toasted, a little over-done, but very good. I was in a hurry and got it to go but wish I’d gotten a little sriracha. The sign says Hoang Banh Mi, the business card says University Café with ‘Hoang Sandwich’ stamped on the back. On b4-u-eat it’s listed as Givral’s Vietnamese Bistro. Aha! So it is the same place and it turns out they’ve been open there for a couple of years - I just never knew it. I’ve had some great banh mi and beef noodle soup at the old place in the past and I’m glad to know where they are.

The Nickel Sandwich Shop, 5601 Lyons, just east of Lockwood

I’ve been intrigued by the Nickel, the old nickname for 5th ward where Burt's Cajun Meat Market is located, one of my favorite eateries. The old neighborhood is long past it’s prime and has been passed by (mercifully) by the chains except for a few of the fast food places. I’ve wondered if there are some more gastronic finds to be made amongst all the small, locally owned eateries, so when I saw the signs for fried chicken in the parking lot of this sandwich shop, I pulled in. It turned out they only do wings and breast strips and I’m not interested in them in my ongoing Chicken Fried Odyssey so I opted for a catfish po’boy.

It was on a store-bought multi-grain roll that was unremarkable but the sandwich was pretty good otherwise, so hot out of the fryer it burned the roof of my mouth. The fries were over-cooked and grease-sodden. Another customer told me the Trout Sandwich is good, too, and they also have flounder, plus barbecue (smelled good but I didn’t see any) and the special of the day was a Cajun Smoked Burger which I just may have to go back to try.

El Penjamo, 6110 Lyons, near Kress

I’ve developed an interest in exploring the regional variations in Mexican cuisine and when I found out the name of this restaurant seems to refer to a municipality in Guanajato I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve noticed the crowded parking lot during the lunch hour before when I’ve been to Burt’s just down the street. The restaurant is quite small and I saw no regional specialities of Guanajato on the menu that I recognized so I decided to try the Carnitas al Penjamo (they also have Carnitas Rancheras). The chips were fresh and oily with a fiery salsa verde and a very creamy one. The dish was delivered looking like a pile of fajitas and so sizzling hot the refritos were still bubbling but it was nothing like any carnitas I’ve ever had before and would have been more appropriately named Smothered Pork Chops al Penjamo style. Maybe that’s the way they do carnitas in Guanajato? It was good, just not what I was looking for. The sides - refritos, rice, guacamole, pico - were all good but were very small portions compared to the entree.

I did see Machacado (al la Mexicana, con Huevo and a Burrito) on the breakfast menu and the waitress said breakfast was available all day so I may go back to try that. Machacado (dried beef) is originally from Nuevo Leon, I think. Both waitresses spoke Spanish as a first language but both were very fluent in English.

Taqueria Mi Lindo Huetamo, taco truck on Hillcroft, 2 blocks south of Bellaire

Robb Walsh wrote this up on his taco truck blog last year and I’ve stopped by a couple of times. They were open New Year’s Day and I got an al pastor torta with their unusual marinated radish and onion salad. It was very good; the bolillo was soft and a bit spongy and only minimally toasted, the meat was melt-in-your-mouth tender and tasty, and there was close to a cup of creamy avocado in there. I prefer the bread crustier but this place is a real winner.

Taqueria Oaxaca - taco trailer squeezed into an already cramped parking lot in front of Variedades Puebla at 1833 Richmond, near Woodhead

In line with my interest in regional Mexican fared I checked this out. On the first visit I had a taste for a burrito.

It was huge, with rice, pork (tough), refritos, lettuce, tomato, avocado, queso, crema and a very good salsa verde and a lime wedge. A whole meal for $4, but burritos are probably not a regional specialty of Oaxaca. The menu on the side of the trailer lists enchiladas, huaraches, gorditas - I couldn’t wait to go back and try an enchilada and visions of a choice of moles danced in my head but, alas, they don’t do enchiladas, or huaraches, so I settled for a gordita with beef. It was very good, the best gordita I’ve had in a long time, but, again, not a regional specialty. I think the name on the trailer must have been from a previous owner. Almost no English was spoken by the senorita. The food was okay both times (the beef on the gordito was better than the pork in the burrito) but parking is a real drawback.

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