Carlota’s on Lambert

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Carlota’s is a local Mexican place right in the heart of Oro Valley. The location has a long history of Mexican food. Ever since I can remember we would go to the Mexican restuarant -El Burrito Patio- and I would order a hot dog wrapped in tortilla. Very latino, I know. Since then, my tastes have expanded and the restaurant has changed.

The decor is pretty much the same – Mexican turquoise, coral, yellow – and there are pictures of old vaqueros on the walls. It’s cozy and fun. The menu offers all the yummy type meats in burros, enchiladas, tacos, and combo plates! And, like any good Mexican restaurant, complimentary chips and salsa (at least the first bowl and refill.)

I ordered the carne asada tacos lunch special. The meat was tender and flavorful, the toppings – cabbage and cilantro and onion and tomatoes – were fresh and crunchy. Add some of the house salsa and you got perfect tacos. The rice was moist and not bland. And the beans… were your ordinary run of the mill refried beans. Overall a great lunch for about $8.

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Noble Hops

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I hope everyone is having a wonderful December full of holidays or at least friends and family. The New Year is fast approaching, so make sure to live up the last days of 2013 to their utmost enjoyment factor. For me that has meant staying at home in my pjs for days on end with the occasional social outing. Which also, in turn, means that I don’t really have any more holiday-themed posts. So it’s the normal restaurant and recipe reviews!

 

Noble Hops is usually one of my favorite hangouts on the Northwest side of town. It is a fancy trendy gastropub that is all to rare in this ritzy and retiree-inhabited desert city of mine. I could have sworn I already did a post on it, but having checked my archives I must admit it never happened. Here’s to fixing that problem before the end of the year!

They have delicious beers and pretty darn good appetizers (their entree fare is just a little too pricey for me to have tried without a special occasion.) I have a new and delightful beer everytime I go in and I usually order the Cavatappi Pasta (basically a super decadent and fancy mac and cheese served in a little skillet) and the Pretzel Bread served with a tangy beer sauce. The Greek Fries are delicious too, covered in feta and garlic.

As far as the trendy I was talking about, it has a very minimalistic decoration on the inside, one of the alcoves is lined with shelves of bottles – one row red, another green, another blue, and another yellow. At night there are a bunch of lights strung up around the patio area and a GORGEOUS fire pit in the middle in front of the bar. It is also open up quite late which is another unusual find on this side of town.

This visit, however, I have to say I was less than impressed with what I ordered. It was the Grilled Artichokes “small plate.” I love artichoke hearts and have always been curious to try artichoke leaves. What better place than to try it here at my favorite gastropub? I knew it was fate when I saw the table next to us had ordered the same thing. It looked amazing!

I was so excited (and starving to boot) when it came out. But after the joy of having my plate served I was immediately overwhelmed by confusion. How did I even go about eating this thing? I started picking at it and stabbing it with my fork and knife. I managed to get some leaves of and eagerly lifted them to my mouth only to encounter a tough and chewy husk. Where was the delicious and tender artichoke meat?

I was in the middle of expressing my confusion and frustration only to realize my friend who had ordered the same was already half way through her artichoke half, having no problems.

Unacceptable. I attempted to eat this thin any way I could, but it was unsatisfying and a huge tease. Even the little bit of heart at the bottom wasn’t enough to quell my hunger or anger.

Eventually I gave up. I’m not proud of it, but I couldn’t figure the damn artichoke out and the little bit of sustenance I was scraping (literally, with my teeth) off the leaves was not at all what I hoped. In a fit of despair I kindly told the waitress my problems and she amicably took it off my check and offered to get me something else. I was too frustrated and just wanted to focus on the plate of fries we were sharing and my beer (which kind I can’t remember. Our waitress was awesome and brought me three samples to choose from. All I know is that it was a red ale.)

The evening was still enjoyable. My friends and I laughed and chatted and drank. And I stuffed my face as soon as I got back home. This bad experience will by no means keep me from trying the other delicious sounding options on their menu (I WILL be back) but it will temper my adventures in ordering anything other than artichoke hearts in the future.

Elliot’s on Congress and The HUB

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Pictured here are the pulled duck street tacos from Elliot’s on Congress. This is a neat little bar in the downtown area.

My friends and I went for happy hour where they feature great drink prices (though, honestly, their full price specialty drinks are no more than 8 dollars anyway.) It is a SERIOUSLY good deal!

I enjoyed a glass of draft Shock Top for $2 and a plate of the Street Tacos for $7. A filling and fun evening for $10 total.

The tacos were really unique and cool. I’ve never seen of this fusion before and really enjoyed the pulled duck. The tortillas were a mix of corn and flour as well, providing a nice mild flour flavor with the sturdiness of your average corn tortilla.

I will admit it was a smaller portion than I was bargaining for. Especially when compared to the huge plate of burger and fries that my friends both enjoyed.

The fries there, by the way, are truly a unique experience. They are the thinnest shoe string fries I’ve ever come across and drizzled in a light garlic sauce. They are even more addicting than normal fries because you feel like you have to eat three of them to measure up to an average fry. I don’t mean this in a bad way! It’s just different. A true SNACK food.

The decor is very trendy to boot. It’s a neat hip place that you should definitely check out!

And of course, end the evening with a visit to the HUB for some original and amazing ice cream flavours (like brandied cherry goat cheese ice cream or chocolate stout ice cream.) A very gourmet dessert for a decent price!

Bisbee Breakfast Club

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This little breakfast place opened up a few years ago, here in Tucson. As the name suggests to those familiar with the area, the business originates in the old mining town of Bisbee, Arizona. (More on that cute mining town here!)

After somehow migrating up to warmer climes here in Tucson, the business seems to have thrived! The decor is diner inspired, complete with aluminum (or is it chrome or stainless steel?) bar in front of the kitchen. The fare, on the otherhand, is more country and southwest inspired.

The two dishes my dad and I got perfectly exemplify those very themes. I ordered the Chorizo Ranchers (above). The chorizo was nicely spiced (though in all honesty it was probably bought premade), the tortillas were crisp and the sauce was nice and creamy with a hint of spice. I very much enjoyed my meal.

My dad got the Copper Queen Skillet which was ham, bacon, sausage, gravy, eggs and a biscuit. It was actually very well portioned and nothing overpowered the other ingredients. The gravy was a nice touch – not too heavy nor spicy from the peppercorns, but just enough to add a decadent moist element to the skillet.

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This place is always packed on the weekends, and rightly so. It is delicious, quality food that you can count on. Every time I’ve gone there I’ve enjoyed a delicious meal. And next time I go to Bisbee, I’m going to be sure to check out the original restaurant to compare!

Korea House

Guess what guys! ANOTHER KOREAN RESTAURANT REVIEW!!!!

YAAAAY! Now you know MORE places to try (or avoid) when in the search for a most delicious Korean style meal.

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Korea House has consistently been one of the top rated Korean restaurants in the Tucson area and has been on my list for several years now. Somehow I was always able to make it to Seoul Kitchen, but not just a few blocks over to Korea House. Until the other day.

Very last minute plans worked in my favor and my friend joined me for a delicious Korean lunch! Just off of Speedway and Alvernon, the building hides between a coffee shop and a music shop. And by hide I mean it seems more inconspicuous and generic than the colorful building to its left and the quaint peaked roof café to its right.

The inside was rather generic Asian restaurant themed, but it does have a very neat booth section – each table is partitioned into privacy along the left side of the restaurant with wallpaper that features a mixture of Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters on it. Don’t ask me why, I didn’t study Asian linguistics, but it was neat to look at!

My friend and I had actually just arrived after a VERY large party had vacated the premises. There were dirty tables all around and, though we were the only two customers in the restaurant, the poor sole server had to bus us a table for us to sit at. But he was really affable and sweet, joking around with us and recommending we choose the more flavorful-y marinated pork to the quickly sauced beef or chicken. He was also super quick and efficient, without us feeling rushed.

Service: A+

The food was good too! Just very different from what I’ve had before.

Firstly, the menu had all of the traditional items I expect to see at a Korean place. But everything was spelled slightly different. Bibimbap was spelled Beebumbap, most of the words I usually see spelled with a ‘b’ were instead spelled with a ‘p’ and the separation of words/syllables was different as well. Not a bad thing at all, just… different and I am intensely curious as to why they are spelled so different!

I ended up ordering the Kimpo II – the combo plate with beef, chicken or pork bool gogi (bulgogi, as I’ve more often seen it), a bowl of soup, rice, two mandu and chap jae!

Plus unlimited refills of banchan. ❤ ❤ ❤

The soup was similar to kinds I’ve had before – a clear broth with a few vegetables and potatoes cooked in it. I wasn’t terribly thrilled with the flavor balance in this broth, though. It was too peppery, and though I enjoyed the potatoes and onions, it was simply frustrating to have to fish for a measly 3 peas in my soup cup.

Then my main dish and the banchan came out. The plate was full of what it said it was but, like the menu, it was all slightly different from what I had grown accustomed to.

Firstly, the mandu were fried. Every other time I’ve had dumplings they’ve been steamed. It was nice having a crunchy dumpling, and the beef or pork (not sure which) was a slightly spicy and finely ground mixture.  Though I thought it was too salty, but my friend thoroughly enjoyed hers, so perhaps I added too much dipping sauce?

The bulgogi was different too. The waiter had convinced my friend and I to order the pork, instead of the beef, because it sits in the marinade full of flavor. I also tried it medium spicy. It was very good! But even from the picture above you can notice that they are prepared differently from what I’ve blogged before. The marinade is reddish and thick. There was a definitive coating of spices and seasonings on each slice of tender pork. It was a very different bulgogi experience than ever before, though I did immensely enjoy it. Bulgogi meat is always so tender and flavorful!

There was so much slight variation in my dish that it was nice to notice the chap jae was the same. As were the banchan. We were served three dishes – one of cucumbers dressed in vinegar, kimchi, and bean sprouts. Both the chap jae and banchan were very good and EXACTLY how I’ve had them before. It gave a nice point of reference to this off-kilter meal.

Though it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, I did really enjoy the meal and the atmosphere of the place. I’d love to come back when there are other customers, some weekend evening, perhaps, to see how the ambiance truly shines. Also, I just discovered they serve Jjajangmyeon (I really need to just start asking if they serve it because I never find it on the menu!) so I am REQUIRED to go back and try that dish.

Try Korea House! It is good, the portions are filling, and the price is just right!

 

Hotrods Old Vail

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Hotrods is a really neat and eclectic restaurant. It is part American country food and part vintage car garage and restoration biz.

It is on the far south side of town. In fact the only reason I went there is my dad and I were returning from an impromptu camping and wine tour weekend trip and it was on the way back home.

It is honestly in the middle of nowhere right off the highway, but it suits the fixer-upper garage come-here-to-watch-the-races vibe of the place. I’d borrow some pictures from the internet, but I’ll just link you to their website here.

The inside is very race track themed. Racing stripes, black, red, white checks everywhere. Flags and numbers and shiny glossy tiles and metal beams inside the restaurant.

There is a bar on the second floor that seemed pretty swanky. The ground floor is family friendly – very much like a diner. And in the back is a windowed wall where you can look at the restored cars they are working on. Each table has a flip deck of the cars and what they are doing to them. It was all pretty neat and my dad was able to explain what some of the jargon meant. New engines, refurbished hoods and doors, modern tires and shiny new paint jobs.

Now onto the food. They have a bunch of fried American diner food, sandwiches, burgers, pasta, the like. My dad and I split the Buffalo Chicken Calzone. The pastry was flaky, the filling was hot and tasty. And i’m not usually a fan of buffalo sauce, but it wasn’t overwhelming and balanced nicely with the filling.

If it were closer I would definitely drop by again and try out their breakfasts and other diner treats!

Cheng’s Beijing

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(Sorry for posting late! I swear I had this all ready and set for yesterday. It was supposed to post at 10am as always… I just had some technical issues apparently. <.>  Here it is!)

Cheng’s Beijing is one of the many Asian restaurants in the Northwest Tucson area. Lately, it is one of my favorites. The dishes are light unlike many Chinese restaurants where you finish eating and feel like you have drank a whole bottle of sauce and a bag of breading. Not necessarily bad, mind you, it simply gets too much VERY quickly.

Cheng’s however  has a lighter touch with sauces and breadings and a heavier one with it’s vegetables. It is primarily Chinese-American dishes, but on my latest venture there I discovered a delicious expansion into the Thai and Vietnamese dishes!

Feeling something veggie heavy, I opted for the Thai Eggplant with Tofu and my dad for the Thai Bangkok Chicken.

The Eggplant dish was exactly what I was expecting from past Thai eggplant experiences. The eggplant was sweet and soft with a crispy skin. The tofu was fried expertly-not soggy or chewy. The vegetables were equally crisp and refreshing.

The chicken dish was well composed. Oftentimes I find that the peanut sauces on these dishes can be too much, but this dish had enough chili and other flavors to balance out the peanuty flavor. The chicken was cooked well, though I came across more than a couple fatty and inedible bites.

This dining experience, like the few I’ve had before at this restaurant, was pleasant and enjoyable and offered a nice variety of flavors and options.

You should also try the Thai Iced Tea when you go. They do it good. (And now serve boba as well!)