Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Secret Taqueria" - Columbia Heights, DC

UPDATE: 8/7/11 - I'm not sure if they are still in business. They had a Facebook page with their contact info and it is no longer up. Sorry folks, I don't have their number either. If someone knows, please tell the rest of us!

"Hey, do you want to try a secret Mexican place with me?" was all I needed to ask. My fun-loving friends were all excited to try this apartment taqueria in Columbia Heights with me. I am all about food adventures, so after hearing great things from two of my blogger friends (Girl Meets Food, The Unpaid Gourmet), I marked it on my calender.

I made reservations for my group of 7 a month in advance because I didn't know what to expect. It's hard enough to get friends together nowadays, plus the place was small so I wanted to make sure we could fit. In the end, we didn't need to do that, but whatever, haha. I'm just going to show up next time.

Our group met up at Sticky Fingers bakery beforehand so we wouldn't make the experience more difficult because apparently previous diners have had keys thrown down to them from the apartment window in order to enter the building. It would have been a hassle to do that more than once. I called to confirm we were on our way and to get the address. Thankfully enough we followed someone into the building who was actually on their way to eat there too!

We entered the tiny apartment with such a warm welcome. The dining room consisted of a single, shared table with the kitchen right next to it. It felt like we were eating at a friend's home with their parents' cooking for us. The other diners were super friendly and told us what their favorite dishes were. You can also watch all of the prep and cooking being done and food gets served very fast.

A small menu in both English and Spanish rested on the table. There were some items the regulars were eating that were not on the menu too. Certain dishes offered less common ingredients like brain, tongue and head. Below are only the dishes my cousin and I ordered because we shared our portion of the bill and food.

'Champurrado (Mexican chocolate drink)' was one of the many cool drink options. It is a thick drink made of chocolate and corn. It was really delicious and warmed me up.

Tamales are one of my favorite Mexican foods, so I ordered a 'tamale with mole sauce' to start off my meal.

Look at the beautiful presentation! My cousin enjoyed her 'chicken tostada', which had freshly pulled chicken.

Ok, some of y'all might think I'm nuts, but this was THE BEST TACO I'VE EVER HAD IN MY LIFE. I still think about it and crave it. This 'beef tongue taco (onions, cilantro, homemade corn tortilla)' was seasoned so simply and perfectly. The tongue was tender, the homemade tortilla had great texture and the veggies brought a crisp and fresh sensation. When a simple dish with few ingredients can be this memorable then it's something special. I didn't have to use any hot sauce either!

The cousin and I shared a 'beef steak and cactus taco'. The cactus actually tasted much different alone, but really complimented the rest of the dish as a whole.

Hot sauces! There were about 6 homemade sauces in the middle of the table ranging in color and spice level. I enjoyed the green ones a lot.

Doesn't that look spicy? Someone told me it wasn't that bad. So vibrant!
Thank you to the family for their hospitality. My friends and I had an awesome time that day eating delicious, homemade food in someone's home. There aren't any prices listed next to the dishes, however all of the food I pictured plus a soda ended up making 2 of us super full for around $18. You can't beat that! I can't wait to go back and get a trio of crazy tacos (tongue, brain, head).

Usually I post pictures of the exterior and interior of the establishments I eat at, but I don't want to compromise the family's privacy. So, if you're interested in checking out this place, shoot me an email!

Open Saturdays and Sundays from 7am – 7pm

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sticky Fingers - Columbia Heights, DC

On our way to the "Secret Taqueria" (my next post), my friends and I met up at vegan bakery Sticky Fingers so we could all be together before our quest. The area around the bakery is developing and is actually really cute with many new restaurants and stores. There is neighborhood street parking, but your best bet would be the Columbia Heights metro station on the green line.

Isn't it adorable? It is a small place with 2 rooms. The front is for ordering and picking up your food/drinks. The room to the left is the dining area. They offer free wifi, so there was a good number of people chilling on their laptops that Saturday afternoon.

I love looking at delicious food on display! All of the products sold are 100% vegan (no animal derived ingredients), are primarily sweetened with evaporated cane sugar and made with non-hydrogenated oils. These items are not only great for those that don't believe in eating animal or animal derived ingredients, they are also healthier. The lack of dairy and eggs lower the saturated fat content and eliminate cholesterol in the products. Those with nut and gluten allergies can find items there too.

Aside from the items on display, you may also purchase cakes, sandwiches, pre-made entrees, hot food, sides, non-alcoholic drinks, coffee and soft-serve!

I didn't want to ruin my appetite, so I just ordered a 'Caramel Latte' (forgot the price). Plus it was freezing outside, so this cute drink kept me toasty. I enjoyed my drink and actually forgot it was made with soy milk.
I think this place is charming, and if I had more time I would have tried the food because I'm sure it's as good as it looks. The staff was really laid-back, and friendly. I will still be ordering my coffee with milk, but I didn't mind the soy milk. I find that because of the variety of items offered, this would be a great place for someone to try vegan food if they were scared to before.

1370 Park Rd NW
Washington, DC 20010
(202) 299-9700
Sticky Fingers Bakery on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Carbon - Rockville, MD

My family friends and I try to meet up for dinner every other month. It's always someone else's turn to pick the place and this time it was to try the new Peruvian chicken restaurant - Carbon in Rockville Town Square. That night was freezing, so hot food sounded heavenly. There is metered parking, and garage parking for $1 using a parking machine. The closest metro station is Rockville on the red line.

Very casual on the inside but clean and simple. You order food up front, give your name and pick it up when they call it.

Here is the self-seating area, which has a good number of tables actually.

The display case of desserts and drinks at the register. The desserts were around $5.

Their menu includes a few items like their signature Peruvian rotisserie chicken, which is marinated in spices for 24 hours then charbroiled on site. They have items "Off the Grill" (like steak, beef, ribs, pork and tripe), sandwiches and sides.

For economical reasons, we ordered '1 Whole Chicken that comes with 2 sides' for $15.50. This was food for 3 people to share, which ended up being plenty. I had a dark piece of chicken, which was so juicy and flavorful, I loved it! My cousin had white meat and raved on how surprisingly juicy it was too. 3 kinds of dipping sauces (mayo-like, spicy green, and a mix of the two) accompany the chicken, which I believe are free unless you want extra for $.50 each.

Who doesn't love fried plantains? We ordered a side of these for $3.50 because if they are on a menu, we're getting them. They were sweet, firm yet soft with nice caramelization on the outside.

The 'rice and beans' were the two sides we ordered along with our chicken. Individually they would have been $2.50-3.00 each. They were really good together as the rice was fluffy and the beans were smooth and had a good amount of liquid. I was hoping they wouldn't be considered individual sides considering I don't know who would order them independent of one another.

I'm getting hungry while typing up this post!
This is a really a nice, quick and delicious place to grab a simple meal. The menu is very straight-forward and the staff was friendly. I will say the desserts were a bit over priced considering you could get a whole meal for a tiny bit more. We actually bought a 'tres leches' to eat at home, which we found to be ok.

100 F Gibbs St
Rockville, MD 20850
(301) 251-1944
Carbon: Peruvian Chicken & Grille on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 10, 2010

Phoenix for Turkey Day 2010

Thanksgiving is a time for being thankful, and I am thankful for being able to spend it with my family even if it's only for a long weekend.

Day 1: Turkey Day in Phoenix, AZ

The bf and I flew out on Thanksgiving morning so we'd miss the mad house of people traveling the day before. It was brutal waking up so early to catch the 6:40am flight, but so worth it because we arrived at 10am without missing any of the festivities.

My brother had about 40 people over, which means insane amounts of food! That was about half of it.

My sister-in-law made most of the dishes, and I made my 1st honey baked ham! Costco makes it easy with directions on it, haha.

I see my niece and nephew about once a year, and every time I see them they get so much bigger and more mature. They're so cute... I miss them already.

Day 2: Sushi in the Desert

Tomo Japanese Cuisine
1550 N Dysart Rd Ste. A7-9
Goodyear, AZ 85395
(623) 935-2031

The family was tired of eating leftover Thanksgiving food for every meal, so we broke the cycle and went out for sushi. This is my family's favorite place and accommodated our group of 14 for happy hour very well.

It has trendy decor, and a happy hour from 3pm-6pm on weekdays, with drink specials lasting until 7pm. The staff is friendly, the food comes out fast, and the prices are great for the quality.

Imagine how much food everyone ordered for our table of 14 - a lot! Their menu offers a lot of special rolls, many of which are very cheap for happy hour. The kids don't eat sushi, but there were many other items on the HH menu for them like dumplings, chicken, etc.
Tomo Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Day 3: Hiking, Mexican Food and Fine Dining

Papago Park
Priest & W. Park Dr
Phoenix, AZ 85073

We wanted to do something outside and didn't want to travel far. What's nice about Phoenix are the mountains in and around the city. We went to visit the Hole in the Rock next to the Phoenix Zoo. This is the front, which people were climbing...

...but they have stairs in the back! This is the kind of exploring I like.

You can walk through the hole and gaze down at the scenery below. Why do I look so short?

We also visited another "mini-mountain" nearby, which has this nice amphitheater at the bottom.

The rest of the hike was hard for me because I always thought hiking meant "walking on paths", not walking up a 45 degree angled rock using your hands, and slipping on loose pebbles and avoiding cactus. Let's just say my little niece and nephew kicked my butt, and I ended up waiting for my family to come down from the top while I snacked on vanilla wafers.

Carolina's Mexican Food
1202 E Mohave St
Phoenix, AZ 85034
(602) 252-1503

After making it safely down the mountain without cracking my head open, we stopped by the best Mexican joint in all of Phoenix. This has been a family favorite for years, and my sister-in-law used to give me bags of burritos and tamales to freeze in college.

It's a typical hole-in-the-wall kind of place that serves amazing food for so cheap! The tortillas are so fresh and soft, and the sauces are flavorful and everything is so tender. I wish I had taken some on our flight home!

We didn't want to get too full before dinner, so we didn't order as much as we could have. We had burritos, enchiladas, tamales, and sipped on Mexican flavored drinks like manzana soda and horchata. Each item we ordered was less than $4.
Carolina's Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

Orange Sky
9800 E Indian Bend Rd
Scottsdale, AZ 85256
(480) 850-8606

Our family planned a nice dinner on the 15th floor of the Talking Stick Resort & Casino. They claim to have the nicest view of the sunset, so we requested a window table on the west side of the restaurant.

The space is very open with floor to ceiling windows around the whole restaurant, large comfortable tables and amble space between them. Aside from the main dining room, there are enclosed rooms for larger groups and small sectioned off tables separated with curtains lining some windows. There were also windows into the kitchen, which the kids and I enjoyed seeing.

Curtains cover the windows until the sun is at the right part of the sky, then the curtains automatically open displaying the horizon.

Once the sun has completely set, the lights below provide a nice view too.

The cuisine is American, and was SO GOOD. My brother said it was one of the best meals he has had since moving to Phoenix about 6 years ago. The bread platter was pretty, and we ordered a dozen oysters and an antipasti plate, which was amazing as it had a variety of grilled veggies, meats and cheeses.

Everyone at our table ordered meat (beef, lamb and pork), which ranged between low to high $30s. Every dish comes with your choice of 13 sauces. My lamb was insanely good, and everyone raved about their dish.

We went a bit overboard on the sides ($8 each) because we ordered a lot of potatoes. Each side serves 2 people, so we ended up taking leftovers home. The service was so friendly and professional, I would definitely come back.
Orange Sky (Talking Stick Resort) on Urbanspoon

Day 4: Shopping and Chinese Buffet

Four Seasons Chinese buffet
1461 N Dysart Rd
Avondale, AZ 85323
(623) 882-8388

Sorry guys, I have ZERO pics from that day! The food was ok to me, and it might have been because we were eating so much everyday that my body wasn't able to get excited for a buffet. They do offer crabs and sushi, which I liked.

Day 5: Chocolate Factory

Cerreta Candy Company
5345 West Glendale Avenue
Glendale, AZ 85301-2619
(623) 930-9000

Who knew there was a chocolate factory in the city? My mom said she's driven by so many times and never noticed, and my cousin went to school a few blocks away and had no idea. At the end of our meal at Orange Sky, we were given Cerreta's famous French Mint truffles, which are AMAZING. So since we had a late flight, we stopped by on the way to the airport.

They offer free guided tours, however I wouldn't recommend it. The place is small, and you can't get close to the machines. You can just walk in and look for yourself, which is what we did and it took us about 5 minutes.
They sell so many different chocolates, popcorn and nuts. It's $11 a pound for the bulk chocolates, and they sell others in nice gift boxes. They taste like good quality and are not overly sugary. I wish I had bought more, but will be going back next time I'm in town.
Cerreta Candy Co. on Urbanspoon

Hopefully this post showed you guys some places to visit if you'll be in the Phoenix area!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Acadiana - Mt Vernon Sq, DC

I would never describe myself as a morning person, but every once and a while it's nice to get out of my PJ's and grab some brunch in DC. It was my aunt's birthday, and my cousin and I wanted to take her somewhere different (we took her to Perry's Drag Queen brunch once), so this time Bitches Who Brunch recommended Acadiana for their Cajun brunch with live jazz band. There is limited street parking and valet for $7 on K St . The closest metro station is Mt Vernon Sq 7th St - Convention Center on the green line.

The interior feels very spacious with their high ceilings and classy decor. Aside from the main dining room, there's another large room in the back.

For brunch, only the 3-course pre-fixed menu is offered for $29. If you add an extra $9, you can have unlimited access to their raw bar of shrimp and oysters. Instead of bread, we were served biscuits with cream cheese and mild pepper jelly. OMG it was so good, and the name describes itself. It tastes great paired with cream cheese or cheddar cheese too.

For those who like to start off the day with a little alcohol, they offer Cajun Marys and Blood Orange Mimosas for $1. I ordered a 'Blood Orange Mimosa', which was very yummy. It didn't taste like there was much champagne in it, but you get what you pay for.

We had a group of 8, so I'm going to post some of the items we ordered as references.
For our appetizer course, I ordered the 'Fried Green Tomatoes (Zatarain’s spice boiled gulf shrimp rémoulade) (left)', which I thought was delicious.
Other items ordered were the 'Roasted Sweet Corn and Blue Crab Soup (top)' and 'Smoked Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo (bottom)'.

5 of us ordered the 'Eggs Acadiana (two poached eggs, Louisiana crawfish crabcakes, tasso ham hollandaise) (left)', which were really good and light considering I'm not a huge fan of hollandaise sauce. Originally 2 of the 5 ordered the '“Grillades and Grits” (smothered medallions of veal, creamy jalapeno cheese grits) (not pictured)', and sent them back for being too salty.
The bf ordered the 'Blackened Tilapia (sweet corn pudding, collard greens with bacon, crawfish lemon tabasco butter) (right)', and found he cared for the fish more than the sides.

After wanting to burst from our meal, it was time for dessert. I found the best one to be the 'Pecan Tart (praline caramel, milk chocolate ice cream) (left)' because it was the sweetest one and the crust was amazing.
I ordered the 'Warm Vanilla Bread Pudding (bourbon cream, praline crunch ice cream) (top)', which didn't compare to my favorite at Gordon Biersch.
In the spirit of New Orleans, others ordered the 'French Market Beignets (chicory coffee creme anglaise)(bottom)', which were ok.

The birthday girl and her birthday candle! The menus even said "Happy Birthday" on them, which was a nice touch.

Little chocolate treats were given to us with our bill.
I enjoyed the service and thought the whole staff was nice and friendly. Our server did a mini tutorial on napkin folding, they were accommodating when we sent food back and the manager even checked in on our table. Granted some dishes were better than others, overall it was a nice time with the live jazz band and the amount of food for the price.

901 New York Ave NW
Washington, DC 20001
(202) 408-8848
Acadiana on Urbanspoon