This blog is devoted to highlighting restaurants of Memphis, Tennessee.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Oshi Burger Bar

Faux Gourmet?

Recently, another restaurant has entered the Memphis burger scene. Located on Main Street, Oshi Burger Bar serves hamburgers with an Asian flair. That alone would have been enough to warrant a visit, but the fact it's owned by the same person who also owns Local Gastropub, home of one of my favorite burgers, made it a must-see for me. For those of you who follow this blog, you know that Local Gastropub ranks high on my list of favorite burger joints because of its signature burger that someone on Foursquare... er, Swarm said was "amazing" (I miss my "mayorships"). Given Local's past success, I was confident that I would have a great experience at the Japanese-themed burger bar.


For my first visit, I intended to get Oshi's namesake burger but changed my mind after looking over the menu. Instead, I chose the 50/50 Burger whose name derives from its half ground bacon, half ground beef blended burger patty. Despite its composition, the 50/50 wasn't much different from a typical burger that anyone can make. The burger comes with cheddar cheese, onions (as in "onion jam") mustard and pickles contained in a nice artisan-style bun. Overall, it was a decent cheeseburger with pork belly/bacon flavor that was somewhat impressive. Fortunately, the 50/50 tasted better when I dipped it in Oshi's spicy house ketchup. Although it isn't detailed in the menu, I believe the ketchup has a bit of Sriracha sauce in it (or maybe wasabi). It definitely livened up an otherwise small, mediocre cheeseburger. I hope that I'm not being harsh, but the 50/50 burger didn't bowl me over.
To go with my burger, I got a side of Kimchi, Bacon, Beer Cheese Fries. The fries were spicy, although I couldn't determine if it was from the kimchi or the cheese. The kimchi slaw was tasty because it was sour without the pickled tartness. I didn't taste the bacon until I was halfway through the fries (it was near the bottom). The fries cost $4.50, although menu list it as "+$2" (as in $2.50 for the Skinny Fries plus two dollars for the kimchi, bacon and beer cheese). The Kimchi, Bacon, Beer Cheese Fries are really good with burgers, hot dogs and as a snack. When I paired it with the 50/50 Burger, the fries were its saving grace.


Underwhelmed in my first visit, I wanted to give Oshi another chance at impressing me with its burgers. For the second visit, I got the Oshi Burger featuring Wagyu American Kobe Beef. Until then, my only experience with Kobe beef (or so I thought) was with a burger at the former Stella Restaurant, a Downtown location that's currently occupied by Flight. If the beef in the burger was raised by traditional Kobe standards, then it should have been rich in unsaturated fat that comes from marbling. From what I read about it, the rich content of fat in Kobe beef makes it very tender, to the point that it literally melts in your mouth. I can't remember if the so-called Kobe burger that I had at Stella did that when I ate it, but I'm certain it wasn't the real deal because it only cost fourteen dollars. A genuine Kobe burger (something that very few American restaurants serve) should cost fifty dollars or more. Putting that aside, my faint memory of the Stella burger was memorable because it tasted different from anything that I had before. Unfortunately, I can't say the same about the Oshi Burger, for its "Kobe" ground beef didn't taste any different from a typical burger. Even after taking into consideration that the meat was "American Kobe" as opposed to its Far East counterpart, the beef was indistinguishable from most burgers that I'm familiar with. After paying twelve dollars for the Oshi Burger, I don't believe that I got good value when compared to other places that serve better burgers for less money.

SIDE NOTE: If you noticed in the last paragraph, I correctly spelled "Wagyu" (which translates as "Japanese cow/cattle") when referencing the meat in the Oshi Burger. However, the burger bar spelled it as "Waygu" seven times in the menu that I got from the restaurant (Oshi's website spells it correctly). As someone who a) typesets for a living and b) has gotten clowned in the past for poor spelling, I believe that misspelling the name of one your feature menu items can undercut your credibility. I know this seems like I'm giving the Oshi guys a lot of shit (a word that shouldn't get confused with "Shiitake," another word that the burger bar misspelled), but "Waygu" is a glaring mistake that people who are more knowledgeable than me will notice. Speaking of that, check out this article in Forbes that goes in-depth about Kobe beef and how not to get duped by restaurants that claim to have it.

With Oshi's burgers being a bit of a disappointment, I decided to try some other items on its menu. The Rajun Asian Wings are decent appetizers despite lacking qualities that belie its name. Like the Thai Meatballs that I had at the Silly Goose, the wings (aside from the sprinkling of peanut crumbs) don't have much in terms of Asian-defining seasoning. Ditto for the "Rajun" tag, for the wings don't have anything (Cajun or otherwise) that I could sense as spicy. I was hoping for something similar (but better) to what the Flying Saucer served when it had Asian/Thai wings on the menu. Those wings were more "Rajun Asian" than Oshi's. On the positive, most people won't get messy while eating Oshi's wings that come in a Japanese bento box that separates the drummies and flappers. Like I said earlier, the wings are a nice appetizer/snack to have with beer or (given the restaurant's Japanese theme) sake.
Another non-burger item from Oshi's menu is something that I really like. The Seoul Patrol is a beefy hot dog with kimchi slaw, Korean barbecue short rib, chili aioli and cilantro that really nails it in terms of taste. The best part of it is the hot dog itself (made with Wagyu American Kobe Beef) that is very good and on par with noted hot dog restaurants like Chiwawa and Bardog Tavern (the latter serves a broader menu so it isn't strictly a "dog" place). The tangy kimchi slaw and short rib were good toppings that nicely complemented The Seoul Patrol for a genuine gourmet experience.
After a few visits, I can say that Oshi Burger Bar didn't impress me. Although the hot dog, fries and ketchup were very good, the burgers were a huge disappointment. Even after putting aside the debate about the authenticity of Oshi's Kobe-style beef, the burgers are good but not worth the money. For what I got, I can go to restaurants like the Majestic Grille or Huey's for a bigger and better burger that is somewhat cheaper. In a bit of irony, I can also go to Local (Oshi's sister restaurant) for its signature burger that is far superior to the Oshi Burger for about the same price. While it's not a likely burger destination for me, Oshi's service is very attentive and friendly. For those who like to stay out late on the weekends, Oshi stays open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. I can see myself hanging out there on a late Saturday night, trying one of its non-traditional burgers like the lamb-based Mo-Rockin or one of its burger or hot dog specials. I believe that Oshi Burger Bar has a lot of potential, but it needs to step its game up if it wants to appeal to burger lovers like me.

Website: OshiBurger.com

Oshi Burger Bar on Urbanspoon

Labels: Appetizers/Bar Food, Asian, Burgers, Commentary, Downtown, Hot Dogs, Korean, Wings



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Monday, October 27, 2014

Taqueria Express #5

A New Beginning

Now that I'm working in a new job, I'm getting acquainted with my new dining options. While I will eventually get around to reviewing popular eating spots like Elwood's Shack and Bryant's Breakfast, I first want to talk about a taco truck on the corner of Summer and Perkins. Its location is very convenient for me because it's only a half a block from my job so walking to it is easy. In addition to that, one of my Flying Saucer drinking buddies highly recommended the food truck because of its tacos, so it was hard for me to resist. So, I found time to check out some of the offerings from "#5" that proved to be very tasty, for the most part.

Burrito al Pastor

One of the first things that I got from Taqueria Express #5 was a burrito with pork ("con pastor" in Spanish). Although the menu labeled it as spicy, I didn't get any sense of that but it was good nonetheless. Given the lack of spiciness, I added some of the food truck's salsa verde that made the burrito much better. With onions, lettuce, refried beans, rice and cheese, this turned out to be an excellent burrito that is much better than anything offered by Taco Bell. At $5.45, it's a great value that I hope more people learn about.


The torta (a Mexican sandwich) I got with beef tongue didn't quite measure up. My biggest beef (no pun intended) with it was the amount of mayo in the sandwich. There was so much of it in the torta that I wasn't sure if it had meat in it. Speaking of that, the tongue wasn't as seasoned as I'm accustomed to. I could be wrong about that, for it was difficult to ascertain due to the excessive mayonnaise. Still, it wasn't terrible, especially after putting some of the food truck's delicious salsa verde on it. If I get a torta again, I'll make sure to get it without the mayo.


For those looking for a more formal Mexican meal as opposed to street food, Taqueria Express #5 has that covered. One of my favorites is the carne asada that comes with traditional refried beans, rice and corn tortillas. Despite the skirt steak not being tender, it didn't matter once it was in huge tortilla wraps with the entrée's other components that made aggressive chewing a must. In the end, it was worth it, for it was a very good meal at an affordable price ($7.65). Compared to a Double Whopper that I can get at a nearby Burger King, the carne asada is a superior meal that I look forward to getting often.

SIDE NOTE: I got the carne asada in spite of my original intention of getting the "#5" from the menu (given the food truck's name, I thought about having some fun with it.) The "5" consists of mulitas (a variation of quesadillas) that are cheesy and easy to eat for those on the go. In choosing the meat for the filler, you can't go wrong with chorizo sausage. By the way, whether you're getting mulitas, carne asada or anything else from Taqueria Express #5 (including aguas frescas such as my favorite Mexican beverage, the horchata), you will be wise to phone in your order as opposed to initiating it at the food truck. The carne asada takes twenty minutes to prepare, time I can't afford to waste on a thirty-minute lunch break.


The best product offered by Taqueria Express #5 is its salsa verde. I like it because it is made with fresh jalapeños, cilantro and a wonderful mix of other ingredients. Unlike those from other Mexican restaurants, I can really taste all the elements of a jalapeño in the spicy sauce, including the seeds. The sauce goes well with just about anything, including soups, chili, cheeseburgers and salads. Its only drawback is its short "shelf life" of about a week. I didn't find this out until recently, when a plastic cup of it exploded inside the refrigerator that I use at work. One thing's for sure: it doesn't have preservatives in it. Without that, the natural chemicals (whatever that is) in the sauce produces gases as it spoils. So my advice is use the salsa verde as soon as you get it for an experience that is worth the trouble.

By the way, the tacos are pretty good, too. My favorites are (clockwise from the top) lengua (tongue), chorizo, tripa (tripe) and chicken. "Pollo" (aka chicken) is a word that I usually screw up when I say it in Spanish because the "ll" is used as a "y" (Italians pronounce it the "right" way).

Overall, just about anything (other than tortas) from Taqueria Express #5 is a good bet for delicious eats. It is obvious that the owners of the food truck know how to put together great Mexican food for people on the go. In my limited experience, I will go out on a limb in saying Taqueria Express #5 is one of the better places in Memphis to go for good Mexican food. Of course, given the number of Mexican restaurants in Memphis' Berclair neighborhood (including four within walking distance of my job), any restaurant serving Mexican food has to be on the top of its game if it wants to succeed. That said, I see a lot of success in the food truck's future.

MENU

Taqueria Express #5 on Urbanspoon

LabelsFood Truck, Mexican, Nutbush/Berclair, Sandwiches, Steaks, Summer Avenue, Tacos

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Nikki's Hot Ass Kettle Potato Chips

An Apology

Earlier this year, when I wrote about the places I ate at in Olive Branch, Mississippi (a Memphis suburb), I briefly mentioned Nikki's Hot Ass Kettle Potato Chips at SideStreet Burgers. My initial take was that the potato chips were "mildly spicy" and that "Hot Ass" was "a bit of an exaggeration" (in other words, a marketing gimmick). I formed my opinion after eating a couple of chips, so I didn't experience the full force of the "Hot Ass." Meanwhile, my laborer cohorts said the chips were the hottest they ever had. Them telling me this made me think they were puss... err, girly men who couldn't handle a little heat. In hindsight, those guys knew what they were talking about, for they had the equivalent of a small bag of chips to go with their burgers. They opted for the chips because they were free, setting in a bowl near the restaurant's cash register. Following the "if it's free, I'll take three" philosophy, my cohorts thought they were getting over by not having to pay for potato chips. However, human physiology intervened and kept their indulgence in check. Now, fast forward to the recent Best Memphis Burger Fest that took place at Minglewood Hall where I had my encounter with a bag of Nikki's HOT ASS chips. Unlike eating a couple of them, attempting to eat an entire bad had me whimpering like a baby. It seems that it takes more than a chip or two to get the burn that it's known for.

SIDE NOTE: Seth, the man who established Best Memphis Burger Fest and talks about burgers on his blog, should find time to make the trip to Olive Branch for a burger from SideStreet. I'm very confident that he will like it and give it at least four stars. By the way, I'm not the only one recommending the burger joint, as fellow blogger Memphis Que also suggested it to Seth. Also, he should visit the P & H Cafe that is across the street from Minglewood Hall. Given his love of the "Juicy Lucy" (a burger with stuffed meat, aka "Jucy Lucy"), I believe Seth will like it and even incorporate the grungy dive into future burger fests, provided the venue doesn't change.

When I got the bag of Nikki's chips, I didn't think much of them other than as something spicy to eat with the many burgers I tasted at the festival. Nikki's Hot Ass (why do I feel pervy whenever I type the company's name) was handing out free bags from its booth at the festival. Like my cohorts in Olive Branch, I took advantage of it without giving it a second thought. Like the last time, the first couple of chips didn't hit me that hard, but the pain exponentially worsened as I ate more of them. By the time I got a third of the way down the bag, I was desperate for water. Eventually, I scrambled to Squeal Street BBQ's tent to put out the fire in my mouth with water, beer or anything liquid. After regaining my composure, I turned the bag around to read the chip's ingredients. In a bit of an eye opener (literally), I discovered this:

Ingredients for Nikki's Hot Ass Kettle Potato Chips that includes Ghost Peppers

Discovering that the potato chips had Ghost Peppers as a part of its seasoning was quite a surprise. The peppers are the hottest on Earth, rating at a million Scoville Heat Units (a scale that measures a pepper's spiciness). That's far hotter than jalapeños (2,500-8,000) and Habanero peppers (100,000-350,000) that are also hot to handle. Had I known this beforehand, I would have been more cautious in eating the potato chips. Unfortunately, my arrogance literally burned me (specifically my tongue), forcing a reassessment of the fiery chips. I am now convinced that Nikki's Hot Ass lives up to its name, for its potato chips are the spiciest in Memphis and possibly all of America. That said, I apologize for undercutting the chips in my initial review. This is one mea culpa that I don't mind giving. Respect the "HOT ASS."


Website: www.NikkisHotAssSeasoning.com

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As for the Best Memphis Burger Fest...

Best Memphis Burger Fest entrant - At The Bistro
After gulping bottles of water and beer, I eventually recovered and enjoyed the rest of the burger fest. With my capacity for burgers limited due to my liquid consumption, I only ate a few sliders and missed out on delicious burgers like those from Slider Inn's tent. Of those that I had, my friends at Squeal Street had one the best burgers at the festival. Now, before you call me a biased "homer," I was objective in approaching the burger fest. With that in mind, the best burger I tasted came from At The Bistro, a Soul Food restaurant located on Brooks Road in Whitehaven. It had a lot of seasoning for a peppery burger that might have been a standout at the burger fest. Overall, nearly all the burgers I tasted were great and the competing teams did an excellent job for a noble cause.
Sticky Rice
Sadie
The Best Memphis Burger Fest benefits local animal rescue organizations like Streetdog Foundation, Tunica Humane Society and Fayette County (TN) Animal Rescue with donations that help homeless and abused animals get the help they need. As someone who has a stray cat, I appreciate the efforts of everyone associated with the festival and hope it has much success in the future.

Website: www.BestMemphisBurgerFest.com

Labels: Burgers, Commentary, Snacks



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Friday, September 26, 2014

Al-Rayan

A Change From The Usual

In an effort to focus the blog on overlooked restaurants, I want to talk about a place I visit often. Although it's not on par with personal favorites like The Majestic Grille and Bardog Tavern, Al-Rayan is a neighborhood restaurant that I often go to when I crave for a good, inexpensive meal. Typically, I go there for a pita wrap of shawarma or a gyro for lunch. While a wrap is good enough most of the time, I went all out with a full blown feast about four months ago. To satisfy both my hunger and curiosity, I got the beef shawarma plate with a salad, hummus and naan bread as appetizers.

SIDE NOTE: I'm sorry for not having a more current review. Lately, I haven't eaten out a lot, so I'm relying on experiences from the past. Fortunately, I have enough "reserves" to last me to the end of the year.


To start things off, I got a salad with hummus, naan bread, and chili and garlic sauces. The salad had the typical stuff like lettuce and tomatoes, but it also had a lot of black pepper in it. The spice wasn't something that I am accustomed to in a salad but it made a good impression on me. The salad is better with the garlic sauce, the mayonnaise-looking stuff in the upper right corner of the above picture. Although the salad was good, the best part of the first course was the hummus. Not that I'm an expert, but Al-Rayan's hummus is the best that I've had in my limited experience with the legume-based sauce. It ranks ahead of places like Cooper-Young's Green Cork and Downtown's Silly Goose Lounge in terms of taste. Speaking of that, the hummus sort of tasted like blue cheese despite an assurance from my server that I was sensing the tahini in it. Nevertheless, I really liked it and look forward to having it and the salad again.


As I was finishing my salad and hummus, the beef shawarma arrived. Thoroughly broiled on a vertical spit, the chopped beef was somewhat dry while possessing a hint of vinegar aroma. The accompanying rice tasted similar to many African restaurants where I had it. The beef shawarma and rice were good together, but are better with chili and garlic sauces. Rounding it out with the restaurant's fresh naan bread, my lunch at Al-Rayan was very nice.
Although Al-Rayan isn't in one of Midtown Memphis trendier neighborhoods (i.e. Cooper-Young, Overton Square), it's a cool restaurant that's worth checking out. With the dining room adorned with Middle Eastern furnishings, the restaurant has a cultural vibe that sets the mood for something special. For me, that's good enough for more visits in the future.

Check out Al-Rayan on


Al-Rayan on Urbanspoon

LabelsMiddle Eastern, Midtown, Pita Wraps



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