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

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.

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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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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Asian Palace

Finally! (Part 3)

Sticky Rice
Sticky Rice
If there was ever a reason for using the "Finally!" theme, it is for one of my favorite Memphis restaurants that I've taken too long to write about. Asian Palace is one of the best and most genuine Chinese restaurants in the city, something that most of my friends agree with. In fact, a former "temping" cohort inspired my first visit by eloquently exclaiming "Yo! 'Dem spring rolls is fresh!" (yep, true story). One of the reasons for Asian Palace's accolades is for its Dim Sum, which is (according to Wikipedia) "a style of Cantonese food prepared as small bite-sized or individual portions of food traditionally served in small steamer baskets or on small plates." In short, it's tapas Chinese-style that is traditionally served during the weekend, although Asian Palace offers a limited menu during the week. As one of the few restaurants in the city to offer it, I try to advantage of it whenever I'm in Memphis' Shelby Oaks neighborhood.

 Clockwise from the top - Chicken Feet, Steamed Pan Fried Buns and Steamed Pork Buns
Clockwise from the top: Chicken Feet, Steamed Pan Fried Buns, Steamed Pork Buns
During a recent weekend "temping" assignment, I got the full array of Asian Palace's Dim Sum menu. I started it off with plates of Chicken Feet, Steamed Pork Buns and Steamed Pan Fried Buns (somehow, that last one doesn't make any sense). The "chicken feet" were actually dumplings stuffed with meat (presumably chicken feet) that had the mushy texture of seafood while retaining some poultry flavor. Asian Palace's version of the poultry staple wasn't what I expected (I wanted "feet") but it was good nonetheless. The Steamed Pork Buns were doughy and a bit sweet, with a good amount of tasty pork in the center. A unique variation of a pulled pork sandwich, I'm surprised that I didn't see something like this at last year's Cochon Heritage BBQ competition at Beale Street Landing. The Steamed Pan Fried Buns (steamed and fried? How is this prepared?) were nothing more than sweet pastries that work better as a dessert than as either a main course dish or an appetizer.

Steamed Shanghai Dumplings

When the Dim Sum cart came to my table a second time, I got the Steamed Shanghai Dumplings. Stuffed with shrimp and immersed in what I believe was soy sauce, this Dim Sum dish was the best of my lunch. The shrimp was tender and flavorful, and I wanted to get another plate. Unfortunately, time and budget constraints prevented me from indulging further.


For my third and final go-around, I got something that I was familiar with. In getting the quail, I was curious about how I would like it as a Chinese dish. I have had it two other times in my life: as a roasted gourmet entrée at the former Lolo's Table (served by the lovely Alyssa, who is currently working day shift at Chiwawa) and a breaded and fried plate at Old Timers Restaurant in Millington. Asian Palace's version was fried (sans breading) and topped with lettuce, jalapeños and a lot of minced green onions. With me not being into raw onions, I separated them from the quail and ate the birds by themselves. In hindsight, I should have given it a try, for the quail didn't have the Asian pizzazz that I expected. I'm not saying the quail was bad, but I hoped for something more in line with the other wonderful dishes that I had at Asian Palace. If I was eating it as part of a blind taste test, I would've guessed it came from a Soul Food joint as opposed to a Chinese restaurant. Despite that minor disappointment, I was satisfied with the Dim Sum and I look forward to returning to Asian Palace for more of it.

SIDE NOTE: The next time I go for Dim Sum at Asian Palace, I might take my friend John D. In addition to being a good dining companion, he's also fluent in Cantonese and possibly Mandarin (he taught English in China for a few years). With many of the restaurant's servers not knowing much English, having a translator could make things go a lot smoother with regards to understanding the menu.

Kung Pao Chicken

In addition to Dim Sum, Asian Palace offers many other wonderful dishes. One of my favorites is the Kung Pao Chicken with fried rice and an egg roll. Loaded with tender chicken and lots of vegetables such as red and yellow peppers, the entrée is very spicy yet delightfully delicious. It's even better with the fried rice that has bits of scrambled eggs and onions that make it very good on its own. Throw in a good egg roll into the mix and you have an extremely scrumptious meal that will have you coming back for more.

Website: www.AsianPalaceMemphis.com

Asian Palace on Urbanspoon

Labels: Asian, Chinese, Shelby Oaks, Summer Avenue, Tapas



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