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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Chino Bandido

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Confused by the meal pictured above? You have every right to be. It’s a mix of Chinese and Mexican food! There are a couple locations throughout the “Greater Phoenix Area” (put in quotations because everyone not born in Phoenix knows that Chandler, Scottsdale, Tempe, etc don’t really matter. It’s all Phoenix to us!) and it is quite an interesting experience.

Chino Bandido’s most popular plate option is the combo: you get two meats (burrito or quesadilla style), rice, and beans for about $7. On top of that you can choose refried beans, spicy black beans (what I had, try them. They are delicious), rice, or a variety of fried rices.

What I ordered was suggested by the delightful and knowledgable waitress Fizz (at the Tempe location. GO VISIT AND SAY HI!). She recommended the Emerald Chicken quesadilla with the Jade Red Chicken, white rice (because fried was a dollar extra and I’m cheap) and the spicy black beans. It was delicious. The Emerald chicken is a ginger and scallion seasoned chicken and it was delicious covered in cheese and sandwiched in between crispy quesadillas. I also suggest you spread some black beans on with every bite, it gives it a lovely kick. The Jade Red Chicken is sort of a Sweet and Sour style chicken and it was tender and reminiscent of classic American style Chinese food. All in all I enjoyed the meal, and I had leftovers, too!

The best part, however, may be the fresh daily baked Snickerdoodle cookie that comes with the meal. It’s soft and chewy and honestly one of the best snickerdoodles I have tried. Doesn’t happen often at quick service restaurants, but here it is amazing. They make the dough and bake the cookies on site so it’s fresh and tasty!

If you need more reason to go check out this unusual food combo here is a picture of their mascot. He is adorable (if a bit racist):

 

Now go! Enjoy and marvel at the taste sensation! And again, if you go to the Tempe location say Hi to Fizz!

Ethnic-ly Confused Chicken, Rice and Salsa

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This was a meal I made with my good friend who is now living in L.A. pursuing her dreams of writing for TV and films. Before her trip we were hanging out a bunch and cooking – one of our many common interests. This Mediterranean/Hispanic/Asian inspired is really hard to describe, so I’ll just give you the basic recipes. But trust me, the flavors go perfectly together!

Salsa Chicken – Though cooked in salsa this dish turned sweet and rich in flavors. We were using Pace so there wasn’t much spice, another brand might make it less sweet. The chicken was tender and the cinnamon gave a nice warm background to the tangy tomatoes.

Chop up some raw chicken breast and pour in enough salsa to cover the poultry completely. Add cinnamon/nutmeg and some chili powder and stew/simmer on medium until cooked through. About 20 minutes.

Coconut Lime Rice – If you simply substitute half the amount of water you would normally use with coconut milk or water, it creates a slightly sweet and tropical tasting rice. We added further dimension by squeezing some lime juice in the rice while it cooked as well. Once it was done in the rice cooker, we mixed in some chopped parsley to give it a fresh zing to further counterbalance the sweetness of the coconut.

Avocado, Blackbean and Corn Salsa – depending on the ripeness of the avocados this will either be more creamy or more like a salad side dish. But it’s such a vibrant mix of veggies, legumes and flavors that it works either way. It’s also really good spread on a sandwich with turkey (or leftover chicken!)

Mix 2 avocados, diced, with a can of black beans (drained), a can of corn (drained), half a diced onion, a bunch of chopped parsley, and some lime juice to taste.

La Olla Mexican Café

Up to this point I have had only positive reviews for restaurants. That’s because they are either old favorites and I’ve been really lucky. Unfortunately, that luck has run out because this is not going to be a rave review.

But it wasn’t BAD. Just not… Good. I guess mediocre is the term I’m looking for. But maybe it was just the circumstances that hung over my dining experience, and I should give it another shot sometime.

You see, my dad decided that he’d buy a coupon for this place. $25 for $10 deal. Not bad at all. Until, that is, you read the fine print saying you have to spend at least $45 during your visit.

That’s a big problem for only two people! Luckily one of my friends from college was coming down soon to visit, so we were going to take advantage of the extra mouth to feed.

We are driving the 20ish minutes it takes to get to the restaurant from my place of residence. I’m expecting a somewhat elegant restaurant – simply because of the deal. It must be pricey food if you need to spend 45 dollars to get half off! Lo and behold when we walk in… it feels like a Mexican place in the Midwest or Europe (as in it doesn’t feel authentic at all).

I was so disappointed. I don’t know how they think they can get by with such horrible themeing and decoration. There are COUNTLESS Mexican cafés all over Tucson. They range from the cheap to the posh and trendy. Each and every one feels authentic though. It’s easy when you live only a few hours from the border.

The owners must have TRIED to look fake. The decor is terribly sparse and the little they have is stereotypical. The dining area is too open and feels like a quick serve restaurant but with a bar in the back. I simply don’t understand how they managed this disaster.

Enough of the ambience criticism. Time for the food review:

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Chips and salsa are always a hit or miss. This was a miss. Thin easily broken tastes-from-a-bag chips accompanied spicy but bland salsa.

Then we ordered a queso fundido for an appetizer. This actually wasn’t too bad. Not mind blowing, but it was a nice combo of cheeses, beans and chorizo. Pleasantly spiced and surprisingly filling for the small dish it was served in.

Our main meals were:

The green enchiladas – a nice sauce, a fun variety of vegetables inside with the chicken, the calabacitas were decent if a bit overcooked. However it was a specialty item, so it’s not always available.

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The carnitas dish – really good carnitas, actually, they were tender and flavorful, the “tamale pie” was decent too with a good texture and decent corn flavor.

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And finally, a harvest salad with chipotle chicken. It was a good salad and the chicken was nice. Not much to be said otherwise.

After this satisfactory though not entirely pleasant meal, we had to order dessert to go to reach the bill minimum. Ugh. We got a cobbler with ice cream. It had a nice crumble, the filling was nothing special though.

Overall, I don’t really want to go back. It just doesn’t seem worth it. The only thing I enjoyed were the plates. As you can see from the pictures they were colorful and fun and actually felt hispanic.

But if you are in the Silverbell area and want to give it a try, the food wasn’t terrible. Let me know if you have a more pleasant – or worse – experience than I did!

Chorizo and Zucchini Taco


Can you believe the cheesy zucchini just landed, perfectly, right there? It’s the perfect accent!

I was really craving meat and crunchy tacos. So I combined them into this quick and scrumptious meal!

I cooked a single serving of pork chorizo up until almost all the way done. I scooted it off to the side of the pan and threw in some yellow and green zucchini to cook in the natural fats from the meat.

Once that was sautéed, I threw in some corn and mixed it all together.

Then I just poured it into my self-standing taco shell (so clever!!) and topped with cheddar and salsa.

It tasted like chorizo and calabacitas. All the flavors melded nicely and the taco was exactly the crunch I had been craving. This would be super easy for a large group or party, as well!

The B Line

I was in Tucson for the weekend catching up with my family and eating at all my favorite restaurants in the area. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera for most of them… Sorry! Never fear, I’ll be sure to post about them in the future.

But I DID remember to take pictures at a new restaurant (well, I have tried the desserts before, but never the savory fare). The B-Line is located on the North end of 4th Ave. This is a cute little street full of bars, restaurants, and artsy Southwestern kitch stores. Super full of character (and hippies and hobos) and a much beloved hangout for Tucsonians. I’ve recently made it my goal to try out all the restaurants on the 4 block street, so look forward to those posts in the future!

Now that you have an idea of the area, I’ll move on to the restaurant itself. I don’t know why it’s named The B Line, perhaps a rail road or the old Street Trolley that used to (and soon will again!) run up and down the street. But I do know that it offers a fun and delicious little haven in the sweltering heat. The interior is modern and simple and they make the most out of their limited space with a bar along the front windows – perfect for people watching – and tables situated in a corner nook.

The food is Mexican/Baja California fare – that means burritos, tacos, enchildas, quesadillas, and sopas – that they offer with a variety of wines and beers. And in the corner of your eye you will find one of the most tantalizing revolving dessert displays around. If you don’t come for a meal, come for dessert because they have pies, cheesecakes, mousses, and cookies to sin for.

For lunch with my cousin I decided to try the Carne Asada burrito. This little beauty was full of tender and flavorful carne asada, grilled zucchinni and bell peppers, achiote rice (which is basically Spanish rice) and pico de gallo. I’ll admit I thought it was on the small side, but I was full by the time I took the last bite.

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The burrito also came with a side of tortilla chips and salsa, which unfortunately weren’t that impressive.

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My cousin tried the tortilla soup and it looked amazing (if you squint just right you can see it blurred in the background of the picture above). A light white broth covered with a layer of tortilla chips and cheese. She looked like she enjoyed it, and she must have because she didn’t even offer me a bite! XP

Though neither of us tried dessert tonight, as I said earlier, I have enjoyed a slice of a sugary creation with a glass of wine before, and it was delicious. So the next time you are in the area, be sure to check this place out!