Friday, October 15, 2010

Paco’s Tacos and Tequila

Last week I went to Paco’s Tacos and Tequila for lunch with a friend. This place is nestled in the back corner of by Williams Sonoma in SouthPark. It's owned by the same group who runs Cantina 1511, Big Daddy's and Mama Ricotta's. These places are all pretty good so I was expecting something comparable...

Upon entering, we were seated quickly and brought water and menus. I looked around and it had a bar/Tex-Mex feel with old gas station signs and cowboy decor. We were sitting for about 5-7 minutes still waiting to see our waiter (and noticed that the table near us who were seated after us had chips and salsa already!). I shouldn't have been that excited about chips and salsa but it was lunch time and I was hungry. Finally... our server arrived with the chips and salsa and to take our order. Again, another table near us was told about lunch specials - us, nope - not really.

We ordered the following:

Me: Enchiladas - a full order (3) for $12. I ordered the cheese (with the chile con carne), chicken (with queso) and the beef (which had another 'chili' type sauce)
Friend: Tacos (2) for $10. One beef brisket and one chicken.

Now... to the chips and salsa. Very disappointing. Chips tasted like Tostitos and the salsa was watery and bland. There was no spice or flavor and pretty much tasted like they took a can of tomatoes and pureed them to make a salsa. Where's the spice??

The food came out about 15 minutes later and was warm (not hot...). Both dishes were served with Spanish rice and charro beans. My beans were still smoking but my friend commented that the beans were cold. The Spanish rice was not too good either - very tomato pastey....

Now - on to the main dish:

Beef enchilada: I did not like the sauce. It was overly smokey and was overpowering to the dish. The beef was pretty good but again, I couldn't get a good taste of it due to the sauce.

Chicken enchilada: Not too bad - the second 'best' of the three. The queso I could have made at home with some cheese and Rotel tomatoes. The disappointing part was the chicken. It was just grilled chicken thrown into a corn tortilla. Come on guys... I expect more flavor from you! Especially since you can achieve it at Cantina. I would have expected some spice, flare, flavor, something in the chicken... but no. What about shredding it even and simmering it for a bit??

Cheese enchilada: Surprisingly the best of the three. Yes - the simple cheese enchilada. The chile con carne sauce did it. It was quite tasty and played well with the crunch of the fresh onion.
My friend commented that the beef brisket taco was outstanding but had the same idea about the chicken taco as I did the enchilada.

The server came by once to refill our water and then afterwards we had to waive down servers to get another refill.

Paco's Tacos and Tequila did not meet my expectations - especially when it's in the same group as Cantina, Big Daddy's and Mama's... I give this place two ghosts. Come on, you can do better.

6401 Morrison Blvd
Suite 8A,
Charlotte, NC 28211
(704) 716-8226

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Township Grille

My friends suggested we try Township Grille last Saturday after our annual garage sale. This suggestion due to that none of us have been (we try places we haven't been... last year being Kaskav - RIP) and heard of the great wings there. So hungry and sun-tired, we headed on over.

We went in and found a table (seat yourself) and the waitress came up and took our drink orders right away. I ended up ordering jalepeno poppers as a starter. The poppers came out about 5 minutes and came out hot. There were 4 in the basket and served with salsa. They were pretty good but definately were the poppers from the frozen food aisle.

Our main order was:
Friend 1: 15 wings and fries
Friend 2: Chicken pita and fries
Spouse: Appetizer platter (wings, chicken finger, potato skins, mozz sticks, poppers)
Me: French dip and fries

Our food arrived about 10 minutes later and again - hot (you know me and my love for hot food). My french dip was served on a hoagie roll, topped with melted provolone cheese and served with a side of au jus. The flavor of the beef and au jus was average. I was expecting some salty/pepper taste or some other seasoning but nope. The fries were good - you can't go wrong with crispy, crinkle cut fries with season salt.

The spouse's plate looked bland and boring. Yes, it was a mess of fried food. The chicken fingers looked like tiny, burnt pieces of leather and didn't have much chicken and the potato skins lacked appearance and flavor (and does not compared to the best ones in town - Kristopher's). Again, the items on this dish all looked as if I could get them from the frozen food aisle. I guess it's the spouse's fault to order the appetizer sampler but usually you get better looking - and tasting items. I also snagged a couple of wings and YES - they were good. Nice and crispy and the sauce very flavorful with a slight hint of bite.

As for the friends' dishes, Friend 1 couldn't get over the wings. I thought that he was going to jump out of the chair and dance on the table as to how much he loved them. For Friend 2, I noticed that she did not eat all the pita but took a few bites then ate the items inside. She said it tasted good but usually if it's good - you eat the whole thing.

Leaving stuffed (and with heartburn), I didn't have to eat dinner that night.

I give Township Grille 3 ghosts. Mainly due to the frozen food aisle food and unseasoned french dip... but redeemed by the taste of the wings and fries.

10400 East Independence Boulevard
Matthews, NC 28105-4612
(704) 847-2480

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Maria's Mexican Restaurant

My friend and I went to Maria’s the other day for the first time. A bright, colored place on the corner of Tyvola and South…

Upon entering we were seated quickly and given a basket of hot tortilla chips (nice!) and a small bowl of salsa (ahhh man). The chips were great and had a good crunch – nothing better than fresh chips. The salsa – however – was a little watery but did have a nice ‘bite’ to it. I only wish the bowl was bigger and the salsa had more veggie chunk (I had several refills since the bowls were tiny).

For my meal, I went with the lunch special – beef burrito, beef taco and cheese enchilada. My friend ordered the rojo burrito. Our food came out rather quickly (within 5 minutes of ordering) and plates were hot. I dove into the burrito first. A nice size for a combo lunch plate special. The beef was good and had flavor and there was a good layer of cheese on top. The red sauce on top of the burrito was also tasty and did not over power the beef. Next, the taco. I have been eating tacos like crazy lately and this ranks in the top 3 – nothing like a taco loaded with beef and cheese. Finally, the enchilada. Sometimes when I order enchiladas, they are not too hot and the cheese is not fully melted in the middle. This enchilada had enough melted cheese it was oozing out of the ends (leaving even more melted cheese to sop up with tortilla chips). The enchilada was good but the sauce on top was ok. I rather would have had the red sauce from the burrito on the enchilada as well.

My friend enjoyed their rojo burrito. This was a regular burrito with the rojo peppers – a good little kick.

I would go back again when I am on that side of town. Plus, it’s a quick drive from work to get a good, cheap lunch. I give Maria’s 3 ghosts… mainly due to the watery salsa. And I believe it is a step below my El Valle (which is four ghosts).

Go give it a try – don’t let the bright colors outside distract you away…

5234 South Boulevard
Charlotte, NC
(704) 525-5075

Monday, June 21, 2010

South 21

I have been quite busy so here is a long-awaited review.... South 21.

I went here after driving by it several times and seeing it on the Food Network. I know Guy (from Diner's Drive-ins and Dives) raved about it on his show - especially the onion rings. Well, here's my review of the place.

Upon entering, the place seemed clean and service was friendly. I ordered the Jumbo Cheeseburger (a Super Boy with Cheese) and onion rings. I waited about 5 minutes and bingo - my meal was ready. The burger on first glance looked pretty good as it was topped with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions. I did notice that the burger patty itself was thin - like a McDonald's hamburger patty. So - having the two patties seemed more like a 'normal sized' burger. I took a bite and the cheese was melted nicely and oozed out. The bun was nicely toasted but the taste of the burger confirmed my initial glance of the thin patties. I was able to eat the burger pretty quickly.

Next, the onion rings. They were thin thin thin - just like the burger patty. I bit into them hoping for a gush of flavor - but nothing, nada, zeltch. No flavor in the batter and barely an onion inside the fried ring. I was very disappointed due to all the hype placed upon this onion ring. The onion rings were also very dry. No moisture+no flavor makes CLT Food Ghost a dull ghost. I had to use ketchup to choke a few more down.

Maybe it was an off day, but overall I was not impressed. And concluded that either Guy's tastebuds are wacked or he's a very good liar.

The service was great but the food... well... I give South 21 2.5 ghosts (with service saving them).
I can get a better burger elsewhere - one place being my own grill. Sorry South 21.

South 21 has a Matthews location which is more sit-down and the drive-in location up on Independence on the way to Uptown.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


has closed. Didn't survive the year due mainly to location. I was really craving some Lahmajoon and Blinchiks.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Arooji’s Wine Room

My spouse and I decided to go to Arooji’s Wine Room last week for a little celebration. We ended up going around 6PM on a Friday night to the South Charlotte location and it was pretty empty (maybe 4 other tables filled). We were glad there was no wait so we gladly accepted a booth. The waiter was friendly and attentive but also laid back. He took our drink orders and gave us time to review the menu.

The menu has several different pasta options and entrees as well as the regular ‘Italian’ type appetizers. The wine menu was a nice size and you could clearly see why it is a ‘wine room’. We settled on the calamari and I ordered the Lasagna all' Emiliana – which is lasagna with bolognaise sauce, parmesan, and provolone cheese and the spouse ordered the Ravioli Miramonti – which is lobster ravioli served in a light wild mushroom cream sauce. As we waited for our appetizer, we were brought some fresh bread and olive oil/balsamic vinegar with some white limas and tomatoes.

The calamari came out shortly after receiving the bread and it was plentiful and hot. The calamari was served with two dipping sauces – the traditional marinara and a roasted pepper aioli. The calamari looked pretty bland and when I tasted them, I knew I wasn’t going blind. There was really no flavor and I had to rely on the salt and pepper and the two sauces to eat them. The sauces were good though and was very glad I had them.

Once the appetizer was finished, our main dishes arrived. My lasagna was huge and hot. It had several layers of pasta and sauce and a nice serving of cheese. This is what I came here for – a good, hearty portion of comfort food. The bolognaise sauce had nice pieces of meat and was full of flavor and was more of a creamy tomato/vodka type sauce which was real good. The spouse’s lobster ravioli were also tasty. They were plump and had a nice amount of lobster. The wild mushroom sauce was also good and added a nice balance to the lobster ravioli.

The waiter was very good. He kept our glasses filled and was prompt and friendly. The restaurant started to get more crowded as we were leaving (~7PM). If I had to base it on the calamari alone, it would be 1 ghost but since the meal was delicious and service was good, I will give Arooji’s 3 ghosts.

Arooji's has two locations - one in South Charlotte at 485/Providence Rd and in South Park.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

She-Crabs in Charleston!

Well this past weekend I had a 3-day vacation in Charleston, SC... mostly due to the Good Neighbor promotion (you know - the creepy old guy in the street asking if you want to go see the harbour?)... anyways.

I have been to Charleston before and graded these items in my mind - but now - I am putting them on 'paper.' For those who don't know, She-Crab soup is the big thing in Charleston. You can find it EVERYWHERE. There is not really a crab that's a 'she-crab' but it's a female blue crab that is found off the coast of SC. I ended up trying the She-Crab soup at three places (and with my summary):

1) Amen Street -
The soup arrived hot and was served in a good sized bowl. The consistency of the soup was thick and taste had a good balance between the 'chowder' feel and the 'kick' of the low country spice. I was happy to find large lumps of crab within the soup - which made it seem more fresh. The soup did not need any additional seasoning and was very filling. A great lunchtime meal.

2) Poogan's Porch
I ordered a cup of this soup before my dinner. I was surprised that the soup arrived already with the sherry added on top. Disappointingly, this gave the soup a warm and watery substance. The overall flavor was ok and it definitely was more soupy than chowdery. There were no true crab lumps as they seemed to be blended into the heavy cream.

3) 82 Queen
Last but not least, 82 Queen. I hear all the raves about this place (and have been several times) and it has won the best She-Crab soup in the city. The soup arrived with the sherry on the side (a plus). This soup was also hot and had a nice, chowdery consistency. There were pieces of noticeable crab but not as many 'lumps' as the Amen soup had. I will mention that I ate this soup prior to my main meal (in which I got food poisoning - be careful of pork, folks!). It was a nice beginning to a sad and painful night.

Here's my rank:
3) Poogan's Porch
2) 82 Queen
1) Amen Street (and yes, can I get an AMEN!)

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Liberty

The Liberty is a new restaurant in the South End. Opened by Tom Condron (the chef behind Harpers), The Liberty fashions itself as Charlotte’s first Gastropub and is located in the old McIntosh's. Upon entering The Liberty, the décor is cozy in a pub-feel way. I enjoyed the keg pillars, wood-cracked walls and the beer foamed lighted pictures. I went at lunch so unfortunately I could not get a beer (but will next time!). The beer menu has 20 beers on tap and many bottled-beers. The menu has the typical pub fare – pretzels, homemade pickles, fish and chips, burgers and bangers as well as salads and sandwiches. I did notice that some of the lunch main courses were also on the dinner menu but at a difference of $5-$7 (the moral of this story – go for lunch anywhere to taste the main dishes at a lower price).

I ended up meeting the spouse since it was a good central location during working hours and we both decided to order a cup of soup – the Creamy Fall Tomato Soup with White Cheddar Popcorn – it was a blistery, windy day outside. For my entrée, I ordered The Liberty’s Chicken and Dumplings and the spouse settled on the Shrimp and Grits.

The soup quickly arrived. It was a creamy tomato soup topped with about 5 popcorn pieces. The soup was hot and warmed me up. The popcorn gave a nice contrast to the soup with a slight cheesy taste and some slight texture. I did notice that the soup was pretty salty – however, I did finish. Shortly thereafter, the entrees arrived. My chicken and dumplings – to my surprise - was lightly fried chicken on the bone served with ricotta dumplings, spinach, carrots and mushrooms. I guess that’s why the Chicken and Dumplings is presented as “Chicken and Dumplings” on the menu. The dish was similar to the M5’s chicken dish I ordered (see M5 review). The chicken seemed a little dry – especially for the dark meat portion. I ended up tasting more the the lightly fried part than the chicken flavor itself. The ricotta dumplings were actually ricotta gnocchi. They were nice and plump and had a nice, crisp flavor and was the redeeming quality of this dish. The sauce served with the dish was more like a beef broth + butter concoction and was ok – I have had better. The sauce seemed more like an afterthought. Comparing this dish with the chicken/gnocchi dish at M5 – I would choose the M5 dish 100 times over. The spouse’s shrimp and grits dish was pretty large and was topped with pepper relish and gravy. I tasted the dish and the grits were well cooked however the gravy seemed very soupy – almost watery – and covered just about the entire dish to where you couldn’t tell if there were grits in the bowl. It wasn’t the typical ‘gravy’ I have had with shrimp and grits… but all and all… the spouse ate it up. I compared this with the shrimp and grits at the New South – and again, I would choose the New South’s shrimp and grits.

The service was ok. It wasn’t overly busy but the waitress seemed preoccupied and rushed. Our meal for lunch was pretty expensive ~$45 with tax and tip. I think I was expecting more from all the hype I have heard from it. May be the freshman jitters but I give The Liberty 2 ghosts. I plan to visit again in the future once it’s settled some.
1812 South Boulevard
Charlotte, NC 28203-4730
(704) 332-8830

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thai Taste

Thai Taste is just that... a taste of Thai cuisine. I have been a couple of times and have had good experiences each time I have been. Warmly greeted, I was seated quickly and was brought ice water. Hot tea was also offered - and I accepted - since it was a balmy 30 degrees outside.

The menu has many options in which you select a 'base' then add chicken, duck, pork, beef or seafood. There are also several vegetarian options. For a starter, I ordered the Poh Peah Tod, which are spring rolls stuffed with vegetables and served with Thai sweet and spicy sauce. The spring rolls arrived quickly and were fried hot. The rolls were not greasy and had a good flavor of the vegetables and the sweet and spicy sauce. There are four rolls per serving so it's an easy split between a party of two.

For my meal, I ordered the Pud Gra Pow with chicken (chili and basil leaves, stir-fried with mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, and carrots). You have the option to order from mild to super hot as to the spiciness of the dish... and I went for medium. It's always to add more spice than take it away in my opinion. The dish arrived overflowing with veggies and meat. It was paired with a bowl of steamed white rice. I did ask if there was an option for brown rice but there is not (which I would enjoy more than the white rice but oh well). Back to the food - yes, it was brimming over with not only veggies and meat but with spice and flavor. I was glad I ordered medium as it was pretty hot... but that did not stop me from adding some more chili sauce. The veggies were nice and crisp and were plentiful and the chicken was tender. The portion of the dish is quite large and can make 2-3 servings depending on how hungry you are.

I give Thai Taste 3.5 ghosts. The service is top-notch and the staff was very friendly and courteous. Several refills were provided for both water and hot tea. Due to this, it bumps up from a 3 to the 3.5 score. The food was good but I have had a little better Thai food in the area. Overall, I was happy with my dish and plan to return for a nice spice kick in the pants.

Thai Taste has three locations - Matthews, East Blvd and University.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Loco Lime

Loco Lime is a brand new restaurant in the Plaza-Midwood area. Since I had Monday off (thank you Mr. Presidents…) I decided to stop in and give it a try. We were greeted by a friendly staff who took our drink order and brought us some chips and salsa. The salsa was a homemade red tomato salsa – you could see and taste the fresh cilantro and peppers. When the waitress returned, she asked if we wanted some hot sauce and I quickly said yes! We were quickly brought two bowls of additional sauce – a green tomatillo sauce and a red chipotle sauce. The tomatillo sauce was a little creamier than a regular tomatillo sauce in that it had some avocados mixed in and it was complimented by lime and cilantro. My first taste of this sauce was something I have yet to taste at a Charlotte area Mexican restaurant – it was bliss. The tomatillo’s small ‘bite’ was cooled by the lime. The avocado gave the sauce a nice thickness to coat the tortilla chip. I then tasted the red chipotle sauce. This sauce was the thinnest, hottest and smokiest. The taste of the chipotle was strong and had the smoky undertone of a roasted pepper. I then combined the red tomato salsa and green tomatillo salsa (thanks to an extra bowl brought for just that) and was proud of my combination. The chips were also nice and hot and had a trace of some paprika.

The waitress was real friendly and gave an overview of the restaurant and its menu. She was able to provide several good suggestions – in which we took her up on them. My friend ordered the vegetarian burrito. This burrito was stuffed with refried beans, mushrooms, corn, zucchini and plantains (which at first my friend thought it sounded weird) and topped it with a citrus chili sauce. There are several options of sauce for your burrito topping – the citrus chili, queso, green tomatillo or red sauce. I settled upon the chicken enchilada (topped with green tomatillo sauce) and a cheese relleno. I substituted the refried beans for black beans.

I continued to drink the green tomatillo sauce until our food arrived. Our plates were hot, hot ,hot. My friend’s burrito was a perfect portion. The friend commented that the plantains were actually tasty in the burrito and complimented the citrus chili sauce nicely. As far as my dish, I jumped on the enchilada first. The chicken was very very tender and flavorful. It tasted as if it was simmering for hours. The green tomatillo salsa on the enchilada was a more traditional tomatillo salsa (thinner but still full of flavor). The cheese relenno was a huge poblano pepper that was lightly battered and filled with a lot of queso fresco (cheese is my secret lover). The queso fresco was hot and oozed out of the pepper. It was a nice mild cheese that mixed well with the ranchero sauce – neither overpowering the other. The pepper itself was nicely battered and not greasy. I am glad I ordered the black beans as they tasted fresh and was flavorful with a lime aftertaste.

We were both too stuffed (like a poblano) to order dessert… maybe next time. But it was all muy bueno. I give this new little place 4 ghosts – yes, equal to my beloved El Valle. My lunch was ~ $9 with tax and tip. Loco Lime also has a Huntersville location.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

CLT Food Ghost Hits Atlanta: South City Kitchen and Woodfire Grill

Well... I made a trip to Atlanta for work and will highlight two restaurants: South City Kitchen and Woodfire Grill. Since Atlanta is not too far away, I figured it was time to do a 'highlight' special... South City Kitchen. This restaurant was recommended by a friend due to reviews that was heard. I was there with a group of ~10 people and we decided to head out and give it a try.

Tucked away in a historic home in Midtown, it appeared to be a nice, homey place plucked out of our own Elizabeth district. We were seated promptly (we had reservations) and were greeted by a friendly waiter. He told us about the restaurant and specials (Pork Chop Stuffed with Pimento Cheese) and suggested some wine. First glance of the menu was of course - southern food and a similar twist to our own New South Kitchen (see review). I settled for the She-Crab Soup for the starter and the Special. Mostly everyone ordered something different and another patron ordered the Special as well.

Our courses surprisingly came quickly - even with our party of 10. She-Crab Soup arrived and at first glance was a pale white with a thin consistency. I did not see much she-crab as I do in my Charleston area soups... but hey - I gave it a try. My first bite was warm and the taste confirmed my first look at the soup... pale, thin and lacking flavor. There was two pieces of she-crab that I could tell but not much else. I could not taste sherry or spices or even salt - clearly, a disappointment. Other patrons at the table ordered fried green tomatoes and fried okra. Again - they confirmed that it was pretty good but could have used some seasoning (I concurred).

The main courses arrived. I was pumped about the Special - who doesn't love a homemade pimento cheese....stuffed in pork?! Actually - it was two hammered out pork chops with pimento cheese spread in the middle. I took a bite and it was subwarm temp. The pimento cheese tasted store bought and not nearly as good as the Penguin's pimento cheese (yes - I compared a burger joint with an 'upscale' restaurant). The pork was so thin, you basically got a mouth full of the cheese. The 'stuffed pork' was served with brussel sprouts (the only redeeming item of the meal) and mashed potatoes (again - room temp). I did not order dessert.
Some patrons said that their meals were good but not rememberable. Ouch.
The service was good and prompt and I can't complain - but with the bland, sub-warm food with no adventure -
I give South City Kitchen 2 ghosts.

Woodfire Grill

Woodfire Grill is Top Chef Kevin's restaurant near Buckhead (Top Chef Vegas). I had the impression that since it was a 'Top Chef' restaurant that it would be over popularized based on that alone and Kevin would not even be cooking... I will be proved wrong. I went with a group of 4 and reservations are heavily recommended. We could only get a 5:30 PM reservation made a week before. Once entering the dining area (there is a lounge in the entry), there is a small grill area opened to the dining room.... and guess who was there actually working - Top Chef Kevin! Amazing. I will also noted that the decor is hip and music is the alternative/coffee house flair.

Our waitress arrived and was laid back and was knowledgeable about the menu. The menu is always changing and based upon what products are available at that time. Also, they have a 3-course and 5-course 'blind tasting' which I would have loved to do but the entire table has to select that option.

Before our appetizer and meal, we were served an Amuse-Bouche. An Amuse-Bouche is a French term for ‘outside of work’ and is a one-bite appetizer that the chef makes to highlight different flavors. Our Amuse-Bouche was grapefruit, fennel and yogurt - a simple tarty/sweet bite.

I ordered the risotto for my appetizer (or formally called creamy sunchoke carnaroli risotto). The risotto was layered with roasted apples and celery salsa, risotto and topped with toasted walnuts and fried sunchokes. This was presented very nicely and smoking hot. My first taste was spectacular... the three layers of flavor was a tap dance on my taste buds. The apples and celery provided a nice plate for the creamy risotto and the crunchiness of the walnuts and sunchokes complemented the others perfectly. I enjoyed every bite.

For my meal I ordered the Duck Breast. This was served with black eye peas (smashed) and sautéed endives. duck cracklins. pickled squash. spicy duck vinaigrette. The duck was ordered medium and was perfect. A nice balance of flavor and salt - added with the crunchy duck cracklins and endives gave made this dish unforgettable. Every bite of this dish was remarkable.

Lastly, for dessert, I ordered the cocoa nib doughnuts (served with passion fruit caramel and coconut ice cream). The serving was a good size with 3 small crispy doughnuts drizzled with the caramel. The coconut ice cream was a cool break to the sweet serving.

For a "Top Chef" restaurant I was impressed.... very impressed. All portions was great and full of flavor. I will definitely go back and I wished it was closer. This is the second restaurant in CLT Food Ghost history that will have 5 ghosts. Kevin - you cook one hell of a meal.