Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Cowboy Chef

(c) 2013 Colette Copeland

Starring Randy Burt
Music by The Ducks--Rumble & Tumble (c) 1995
Sound Engineering by Steve Dupuis
When I moved to Texas, I didn't expect to meet real cowboys much less learn that there is such a thing as cowboy cuisine. Here's a short glimpse into one cowboy chef's life.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

#44 Papa Lopez--another ordinary culinary experience

Papa Lopez Mexican Cantina
Allen, TX

After my 7 week road trip with NO Mexican food, I was having serious cravings. First stop was Papa Lopez in Allen. My son and I went at an off hour--3:30pm. The place wasn't crowded, but still had 6 or so tables of late lunchers.

The low-down:
*Yellow corn chips too heavy for my taste.
*Salsa had tang, but not much complexity. It would have benefited from a bit more cilantro.
*Fresh guac! Simple and without spice. Just lime juice.

*Fish tacos with a white wine sauce. Perfectly grilled tilapia. Since tilapia tends to be rather bland, the sauce is crucial. The white wine sauce lacked UMPH. Some chillies and lime would have livened it up.  I ditched the sauce and poured salsa on mine.

*Build your own 12" burrito. My son chose fajita beef, refried beans and cheese with queso on the side. We left our measuring tape at home, so we can't verify this, but it looked to be a couple of inches shy of 1 foot. Meat had good flavor, but was a bit greasy. Smart move to get the queso on the side. It resembled Velveeta in texture, appearance and taste.

*Friendly, attentive service
*Fun ambience
*Fresh ingredients with generous portions
*Kudos on the build-your-own concept

funny drawing on el bano


Sunday, May 26, 2013

#43 Javier's--a special occasion indulgence

Javier's Gourmet Mexicano

Dallas, TX

Quite possibly Javier's has ruined me for any other Mexican food experience. Although it is a large restaurant, there are many small dining rooms scattered throughout, so that each diner has an intimate experience. The decor is a mixture of Mexican elegance with some big game trophies on the wall.  A strange combination, but it works. The lights are low which adds to the romantic ambience. Serving the Dallas area for over 30 years, Javier's is a city tradition. I can't believe it took me almost two years to go there.
The full-sized bear is the restaurant's mascot.

My entire meal was decadent starting with the chips and salsa, which were served with whipped butter. I don't typically dip my chips in butter, but my friend convinced me that it was quite a sensory sensation. The waiter told me that it was just butter, but I'm convinced it was a special butter. Land O'Lakes never tasted as good. My favorite salsa was the green tomatillo. The waiter gave up the secret ingredients after a bit of prodding--cilantro, worchestershire, and cinnamon.

Although I'm not a big meat eater, my friend insisted that I try the Filete Pimenta--a steak served with pepper sauce. I ordered it rare and it melted in my mouth. It was so rich that I only ate half. I had some served cold this morning for breakfast and it was just as delicious cold. The steak was served with creamed spinach--again I swear there was a special ingredient. Maybe a dash of cinnamon. Not too heavy on the cream.

outdoor patio
My friend ordered the Red Snapper Mojo De Ajo, which was served in a lemon garlic sauce. It was tender and perfectly flavored. One bite was not enough, so I begged for another.

I forgot to mention that the top-shelf margaritas were very tasty--still not as good as Cantina Laredo's, but they packed a punch. The only disappointment was the guac--no tableside and it lacked any real panche.

Javier's is pricey, but worth it for a special splurge or indulgence. The restaurant was filled to capacity on Saturday night and judging by Javier's $300,000 McLaren sports car parked out front, his business is flourishing.

Humidor. Javier's is known for the cigar bar.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

#42 Amigos--An Adventure in Mediocrity

May 16, 2013
Amigos Restaurant Comida Casera
Richardson, Texas

The best part about my Amigos experience was celebrating the end of the semester with my digital video students. Amigos gave us a private table near the bar, so we didn't have to worry about disturbing other guests. I had high hopes for this restaurant, since the online reviews raved about the food. Overall it was disappointing. I gave each student a chance to be a food critic for the day and voice their opinion.  Below are their responses.

Max--The meat in the brisket quesadilla was dry and the cheese overpowered the taste.

Manny--I ordered migas and got scrambled eggs. No tortillas.

Ron--Veggie enchiladas were heavy on the sour cream sauce, which overpowered the taste.
(Vic & his wife also ordered this entree. Vic subscribes to the tenet that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. He ate his meal in silence.)

Holly--Chicken fajitas were tender and well-seasoned, but skimpy on the amount of chicken.

My cheese mole enchiladas were average. Satisfied my craving for mole.

The class voted and gave a lazy thumbs-up. All agreed that the price was right. Very affordable lunch and our server was attentive. She even volunteered to give us separate checks, lying and saying that was easier for her.

I will give a disclaimer that quite possibly our senses were dulled from our damaged/burned taste buds. Ron ordered the hot sauce and it was deceptive in its slow burn. First taste is flavorful and then the burn begins and intensifies until your mouth is ON FIRE. So it's best to go back and re-taste, just in case.

#41 Petra's, A Fresh Surprise

May 14, 2013
McKinney, TX

Like many Mexican restaurants in Collin County, Petra's is located in a non-descript strip center. It is is not a full-service Mexican restaurant, but is a step up in terms of menu diversity and quantity found at the loco taco joints that are sprouting up everywhere.  I had a groupon for the place and 

 decided to celebrate the end of the semester with a colleague. She had been here a number of times with other professors and said the food was consistently good and fresh.


chips--thin and salty, just the way I like them.

salsas--one had a smoky flavor (delish) and one was the standard tomato version (bland)

guac--at $7, it's hands down the best value for tableside guac.

drinks--wine, beer, sangria and margaritas

My friend ordered a hibiscus margarita. Kudos for inventiveness, but it was a bit of a disappointment. Hibiscus-flavored syrup swirled in a standard frozen marg.

Main course lowdown:

veggie tacos--spinach, mushrooms, peppers, onions and squash. nothing out of the ordinary but tasty.

chicken flautas--again nothing out of the ordinary, but my friend cleaned her platee.

Each entree comes with a choice of two sides. The tortilla soup is different from standard fare. It had a creamy tomato-based stock with a cheesy finish. Definitely a highlight of the meal.

We passed on dessert. Highlights include fresh ingredients, which was evident in the food quality and not just a marketing ploy. Also the service was friendly and the atmosphere was light and airy with nice  ambience. Again a step up from the quirky taco joints. Price is moderate, but quantity of food made it an excellent value.

Monday, April 15, 2013


this is a google image. my IPhone refused to take
a pic of the internally illuminated sign at night

Pepe & Mitos
2911 Elm Street
Dallas, TX

Woohoo, I made it to #40. I'm off my game, but haven't gotten a refried bean lard-ass yet. 

Located in two storefronts on Elm (one being an old garage), this restaurant embraces the seedy funk that is characteristic of Deep Ellum. We sat outdoors on the patio, replete with black iron fencing, which I guess is just as much for protection as it is for d├ęcor. 

My friend ordered us top shelf margaritas. Although some might argue that top shelf just equates to big bucks, I find that high-end tequila is smoother and does not result in a pounding headache the next am. Sadly this margarita was disappointing. Instead of fresh-squeezed lime juice, it was made with sweet and sour mix and bottled lime. No evidence of Cointreau or Grand Marnier.

Our table disagreed about the salsa. One friend thought it was really fresh with tomatoes and cilantro. My other friend and I disagreed; we thought it was too bland and wished for a roasted or smoky flavor.

Queso was your typical processed cheese dip, but that didn’t stop us from devouring it. Guac was fresh—nothing fancy, but made with perfectly ripened avocados. If I had to live on one food, it would definitely be guac.

For entrees, our table split chicken and cheese mole enchiladas and beef/chicken fajitas. The tortillas were exceptional. I typically don’t like flour tortillas, but these did not have the “floury” taste. The steak and chicken were tender and well seasoned.

The meal’s highlight (besides my company of course) was the mole. Mole is tricky. It is complicated and time consuming to make. Many restaurants don’t offer it on their menu. Pepe & Mitos’s mole was spicy with a pronounced chocolate flavor. I’m picky about my mole and don’t like it if it’s too chocolatey or too tomatoey or relies too much on spice, rather than letting the complexity of the flavors merge and slowly unfold on my tongue.
This mole was well balanced and rich, without overpowering the palette.  

Pepe & Mitos website is missing some crucial info like their hours of operation. On their “About Us” page, it says that they have been open for ?? years since 19??  Either the webmaster imbibed in too many bad margaritas or accidentally ate the worm. To ensure they are open, call ahead. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

#39 Lalos on Preston

January 10, 2012

Lalos Fine Mexican Cuisine (not to be confused with Lalos not-so fine Mexican in Illinois) is hidden in a strip mall on the border of Plano/Richardson. Easy to miss on a drive by. The exterior is unassuming,  but the interior is lovely--comfortable, but not pretentious or trying too hard to be trendy. I enjoyed the sounds of Spanish classical guitar music, which added to the ambiance. One of our friends who has traveled extensively in Mexico said that he recognized all of the artists and songs.

Besides the traditional chips and salsa, Lalos served a complimentary warm black bean dip, which was delicious. The salsa had a nice spicy kick to it and the guac was fresh. Sadly no tableside guac--I know, I'm spoiled.

I ordered the fish tacos. The chef was happy to grill the tilapia instead of the standard fried fare. The red & green cabbage with carrots and cilantro slaw was a healthy, flavorful accompaniment. The creamy lime and cilantro sauce spiced with chilis made the dish a stand-out winner.

My mother (a native Texan who has lived in Pittsburgh for the past 40 years) is always up for eating Mexican food. Pittsburgh is not known for its Mexican cuisine.  She ordered a combination meal which included tortilla soup, a guac tostada and a chicken enchilada with queso. I'm usually wary of queso, since it tends to be made with fake processed cheese. However the queso sauce was made with REAL cheese. It was way too cheesy and heavy for my tastes, but my one bite was decadent. Kind of like cheese fondue over chicken.

The tortilla soup was flavorful. I really should have ordered my own, because I wasn't able to eat enough of it to discern what made it special. The chef didn't overpower it with cheese or tortilla strips, so the broth's flavor came through.

Our friends had meat tacos and said they were excellent as well.

The dining room was close to empty at 1pm on a Thursday. The food and service are great. I hope their business increases.