Category Archives: Restaurant Reviews

Restaurant Review – Margarita Ranch – Irving/Las Colinas, TX

I have eaten my fair share of Mexican food and Tex-Mex in my lifetime.  I also have a rule that when I am travelling, I do not eat at places that I can eat at back home (chains, etc.)  I like to try new places.

Margarita Ranch was a place that I found when I “checked in” at my hotel on Foursquare.  It was listed as a nearby restaurant.  I looked it up on the Internet and found out that they used to be in Dallas but had recently moved to the Irving/Las Colinas area. They are located in a new strip mall that is still under construction and they are tucked in the back of the mall.

I went there on a Monday evening.  There was no host station or someone there to greet diners, but I was eventually seated.  They have a lot of seating and there were quite a few people there.

I started with the customary chips and salsa.  The chips are okay, not like the chips at El Fenix, but they are good.  The salsa however, is quite unique. It has a distinctively smoky flavor and is served warm unlike most restaurants that serve salsa either slightly chilled or room temperature.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup

The picture here is the chicken tortilla soup.  If any restaurant has this item, I will always try it.  I have had so many different variations of this soup.  This particular soup was especially good with the lime in the soup.  It was a generous portion and I enjoyed it!

I ordered the cowboy tacos with chicken as you can see from the picture.  They provided a generous portion of tacos (I had chicken) along with cilantro, onions, and lime.  I used the salsa from the table to garnish the tacos.

IMG_0674

The food was excellent but the service however needs some improvement.  I was waiting on by no less than three different people and that was very confusing.  One person took my drink order, another one took my soup/dinner order, etc.  My suggestion is to have one person wait/serve the table.  I had ordered some beans but they never came with the food.  The server never checked on my drink  for a refill either (I was drinking ice tea because it was warm outside).  It also took a long time to get my check and to pay it and be on my way.

I will go back when I am in the area, and hopefully they will have made some improvements in the service.  I think when I go back I will try the screaming tacos, which I heard are quite spicy!

Have you been to Margarita Ranch in Irving, TX or the old location in Dallas? If so, please share your experiences.

Can a place like this recover if enough people love the food, but the service levels are lacking?  Share your comments below.

Photos are mine, but I did use Evernote Food to take and catalog my review data!

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Destination – Dallas, TX -June 2012

Back in June, I had the opportunity to travel to one of the neatest places in the country, Dallas, TX.  I had not been here in over ten years and it has changed a lot in ten years.

Travel

I had not flown in about six months and not much has changed during that time either. Security is still the same, long lines.  I read and hear about all of the horror stories about going through airport security, but I have not experienced them.  I thought I was going to avoid the new backscatter machines, but had to go through one leaving Minneapolis.  I had checked a website that supposedly told you where those machines were not deployed and they were wrong.  On the way back from Dallas, I did manage to avoid the backscatter machine and went through the metal detector only because there was an issue with the backscatter machine.  I flew American Airlines and it was a great experience in spite of a flight delay on the way back due to weather, but I have learned that when travelling, expect anything and everything to go wrong and when it doesn’t, you have had a good day.  I arrived in Dallas on a warm sunny, Sunday afternoon and went to the Car Rental Facility to pick up my car from Hertz.  I had signed up for text message notification from Hertz and when we landed, they texted me that I had a Ford Escape waiting for me.  Figuring it was a mistake because the company does not allow us to rent anything above an intermediate car, I checked inside before going to the car to double-check.  The clerk confirmed that the Ford Escape was correct and that I received an upgrade because it was my first rental under my Hertz Club Gold membership.  The travel experience was okay, no major disasters.  I enjoyed it and had a great time.

Hotel

I stayed at the Doubletree Hotel in Farmers Branch, TX.  The hotel was close to the office and this was nice and easy each morning rather than having to fight the traffic that exists in the DFW area.  

Another view looking North.

 

If you are ever in the DFW area, I would highly recommend the Doubletree Hotel in Farmers Branch, TX.  The rooms are nice and the hotel is very clean and neat.  The staff is very friendly and will address any issues that you may have during your stay.

Dining

I have a rule when I am traveling, that I will not eat at a restaurant that is located in my home city.  I love trying new places.  What I did before this trip was make a list of all the places that I wanted to try while I was in town and I did fairly well.

The first place that I ate at was the Sweet Tomatoes in Addison.  Did you know that Addison, TX has more restaurants than most cities in the US?  They have over 150 restaurants in 4 sq miles.  I met a friend from High School who I hadn’t seen in over 20 years and it was good to see him and catch up with what is going on in our respective lives and families.  I had been waiting to eat here for about six years.  We do not have a location in MN, I keep telling them if they built one here that they would do well.  I guess they don’t believe me.  I also ate here with a work colleague on Wednesday (my last night in town).

BBQ is a TX staple so I went to a great BBQ place in Addison as well.  On my list was Spring Creek BBQ.  I had heard so much about this place in the intervening years between my visits that I was determined to visit when I was in town and I was not disappointed.  I had a great meal, a turkey and brisket combination.  They hand carve the meat right in front of you while you are in line (served cafeteria style) and then you are able to choose as many of the sides that you can fit on your plate.  Dinner at Spring Creek BBQI had a great dinner and was so full I did not eat any dessert..  If you are in the area, you must try Spring Creek BBQ, you won’t be disappointed!

Spring Creek BBQ - Addison, TX

Spring Creek BBQ – Addison TX

Being from CA, I also grew up enjoying Jack in the Box and I enjoyed their Breakfast Jack sandwiches.  I think they are better than the Egg McMuffin, but that is merely my opinion.  There was a Jack in the Box just a few blocks from my hotel, so I had to get a couple Breakfast Jacks one morning for breakfast and they were just as good as I remembered.  The other mornings I ate breakfast at a great place that I discovered while exploring when I first arrived in town.  The Corner Bakery and Cafe in Irving was the neatest place.  Free Wi-Fi, relatively quiet and great food.  I ate breakfast here the remainder of my days while in town.  I told someone if I lived here, this would probably be my hangout!  They serve one large bowl of oatmeal!

Oatmeal from The Corner Bakery

Corner Bakery & Cafe Irving, TX

For a while on Twitter I had seen Albert Mohler recommend a Tex-Mex place in Dallas called El Fenix.  I decided that I might want to try this place since it came with a high recommendation.  The location I went to was in… Addison!  right on restaurant row (Beltline Rd).  I went on a Monday evening and it was not very busy. I always have to try soups, especially ones that sound good.  This occasion was no exception.  They had a chicken tortilla soup and I wanted to try it.  They served it in a unique way.  They brought a bowl out with all the chicken, tortillas, avocados and other things that are in the soup and then they had a small teapot with the broth and the server poured the broth over the mixture in the bowl.  Different, yes, but very good!

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup – El Fenix – Addison, TX

Dinner was a treat as well.  The chips and salsa they had were outstanding.  I also tried some guacamole also.  The chips that they serve are tostada chips and they are very unique.  They are quite crunchy and have a great flavor.  I would have purchased some chips to take back home, but I do not think they would have made the trip intact, but I found out that I can order them online!

Dallas is an unusual place because they also have another one of my CA favorites (drum roll please) In-N-Out Burger and again nearby my hotel (no, not in Addison this time!)  Again another great meal, while I was eating, it brought back a lot of good memories of Southern CA.

One day for lunch, my colleagues from work took me to a local favorite in Carrollton called Babes Chicken Dinner House.  This is the most unusual place I have ever been to in my life.  The food is outstanding and there is a lot of it.  You order a meat and then they bring the sides and serve it family style.  The salad was unusual because it was salad with no croutons, or other additions, just salad and dressing and it was great.  I love my croutons, but I was okay with not having them.  This is definitely an experience.

You probably think that all I did was eat.  I did eat like anyone else would, but the good thing was having the gym at the hotel to work out in the mornings which probably made me really hungry!

Overall, the Dallas area has a plethora of good restaurants, you will find the usual national chains, but experiment and try some local and regional favorites as well.

Other

While exploring I went into a Kroger supermarker to pick up a few items to have at the hotel.  I was amazed at how much cheaper things were in TX compared to MN.  Also how much nicer the market was in general compared to our two anchor markets here: Cub Foods and Rainbow Foods, neither of which I like very much.  I wish we had a Kroger here, to put the other two out of their misery!

I also went up to Plano one evening.  I had been in Plano ten years ago while doing some training for a software product we were going to install at the non-profit that I worked for at the time.  The area where we were has changed tremendously, lots of development and growth in the area in the last ten years.  Funny thing, I almost went to work for the company that we had purchased the software from, but we were too far apart on salary and then the door opened for me to leave the non-profit and move to MN to attend seminary.

I did work while I was there, but not much to report on there…

What are some of the other things that I might have missed while I was in Dallas?

Thanks for your patience.  I think sometimes I am my own worst enemy when it comes to writing.  I make a list but the perfectionistic tendency comes out and then I delay posting when I know I should.

Pictures are all taken with my iPad2 and courtesy of Evernote Food App (a great app for organizing food pictures)

 

 

 

Rodizio Grill – The Real Deal

You may have read my earlier post on the “dry-run” at Rodizio Grill on Tuesday April 17th.  Well, we had the opportunity to dine again at Rodizio Grill in Maple Grove on Friday April 20th to celebrate my birthday and my son’s 6th birthday. This time they were open for business and we were impressed again with the high quality of service and the great food.  It was also quite neat to have most of the staff and management recognize us from Tuesday!

We had a great dinner and were impressed with the amount of food for the price.  This is a place where you will get a good amount of food for a reasonable price.  I was impressed with the number of side dishes that were on the salad bar.  There was rice and black beans, collard greens (which were excellent), mashed potatoes, beef stroganoff.

We had some of the same things that we had tried on Tuesday (sweet and spicy chicken, marinated chicken, tri-tip, sirloin, pork loin, etc)  We also had the turkey wrapped in bacon and the garlic beef.  Those two items were the last meat items that we had and they were well worth waiting for!  The garlic beef was cooked perfectly and well-flavored.

They also brought out a free dessert and sang Happy Birthday to us in Portuguese.  The whole staff gets involved.  My son was a bit embarrassed with all the attention.

The service was great and the price was right!

If you are looking for a place to dine out which will be a break from the normal fare, Rodizio Grill is the place to go.  Not only do they serve dinner, they are also open for lunch.

We are looking forward to dining at Rodizio Maple Grove in the future!

Thanks to Rodizio Maple Grove for a great dining experience!

Dry run at Rodizio Grill – Maple Grove

Sometimes it pays to be curious and be in the right place at the right time!

Tonight, we went over to Trader Joe’s to go shopping for a few items and we walked over to see the progress on Rodizio Grill and as we were walking around the outside, we saw a bunch of people inside and thought it might have been a private pre-open party.  As we were coming back around to go to Trader Joe’s, a gentleman came out and said that he needed a few hungry people and wanted to know if we had the time.  I said that I needed to check with my wife and he said to meet him at the door.  My wife declined, so Joseph and I went inside and she went shopping.

Our server came over and explained that this was a “dry run” for the staff and she brought us some appetizers and beverages.  She also explained the green and red disk that controlled the flow of the meat and other items.  We went and tried the salad bar.  I appreciated that everything was marked.  I have been to so many places that have a multiplicity of items and they are unmarked.  This was great because there were so many choices and everything was clearly marked.

After we finished the salad and appetizers, we turned the disc over to the green side and the meat started to appear.  Gauchos started appearing from the kitchen with all sorts of offerings.  We tried almost everything from beef sirloin, tri-tip, turkey wrapped in bacon, marinated chicken, sweet and spicy chicken, and Joseph had some grilled pineapple.  We both passed on the chicken hearts…even our server said that she was not brave enough to try them.  The food was outstanding and everything was wonderful!

When we had tried everything, we watched as the staff came out and sang Happy Birthday in Portuguese to one of the patrons.  We talked briefly with the training manager and the gentleman who invited us in (I presume he was one of the owners or a manager of some sort, a very friendly gentlemen), I gave them a couple of suggestions and told them that we would be back on Friday to celebrate my belated birthday (13th) and Joseph’s sixth birthday.  I thanked them again for allowing to us to do something that most people never get to do — eat at a restaurant before they open.  I told Joseph that this was a once in a lifetime event.

I am thankful that the NW Suburbs have a decent place to eat!  We have enjoyed Fogo de Chao in the past, but they are expensive and they are downtown.  Now we have a great place very close by and we do not have to go downtown.  Rodizio has a great selection and the prices are cheaper, but the quality is definitely present.  The staff takes great pride in their work!   Even the restroom was nice!

My wife has always said that I should become a food critic.  Not sure how I would get into that line of work?  For now, I will stick with writing my reviews as I have been here on this blog!

Thanks again Rodizio Maple Grove!  We look forward to dining again on Friday the 20th!

 

Shrimp Basket -Pensacola, FL

Some of the best places to eat in a community are the ones that are locally owned and operated.  Like I have said in an earlier post, we try to never eat at places that we can eat at home (chain restaurants, etc.)

Last year, when our flight was delayed, we had the opportunity to go to a place that is relatively close to where my in-laws stay when they are in Florida.  The Shrimp Basket  is a great place to eat if you are looking for some great seafood.  We ate here in 2010 and enjoyed it so much, that I told my son that we would go back when we were in Florida again.  I found out that they have some All-You-Can-Eat Specials.

So my son and I walked down to the Shrimp Basket on a Wednesday afternoon in between rain showers to have some shrimp.  As soon as we arrive and are seated, it begins to pour down rain.  My son was a bit disturbed, but I knew that in Florida, the rain comes and goes and that we would be fine when we left.  We ordered our shrimp (he had the kids portion and I had the All You Can Eat.

I enjoyed having lunch with my son because we were on vacation and we were not on any time schedule.  We talked and laughed and had a great time.  Our food arrived and we enjoyed it to the fullest extent!  The AYCE shrimp comes with a generous portion of shrimp, fries or new potatoes (red skinned potatoes) and shrimp slaw.  I am not a big fan of coleslaw because most of the time it is prepared with too much dressing where it is almost like soup than slaw.  The slaw at the Shrimp Basket is just right, not too much dressing and it even has shrimp in it!  Another thing that I almost forgot about, is that the Shrimp Basket has their own hot sauce!  Yes, their own hot sauce.  If you are a hot sauce junkie, like I am, this sauce is a worth a taste.  I cannot begin to describe the flavor, but it is the most unique blend of hot sauce that I have ever had.  It even goes great if you mix it with their cocktail sauce.  I only wish that I had bought a bottle to bring home! For some reason, it is unavailable online in their store.

The Shrimp Basket has 11 locations in the FL/AL area.  It is a place to definitely make time to visit if you are nearby one of their 11 locations! The food is out of this world and the friendly service with a smile and Southern hospitality!

 

Bonefish Grill – Pensacola, FL

While on vacation in December, my wife and I had the opportunity to have dinner with her sisters and their husbands (without kids!) at the Bonefish Grill in Pensacola, FL.  I had heard so many good things about this place that I was eager to dine there.  We had a great time together.  The six of us had not been together since our wedding in 2004, so this vacation was a family reunion of sorts.

When on vacation, one of the “rules” that we have is that we cannot eat at a restaurant that we have back home.  If we choose to eat out, then we want to experience some of the local food rather than a big chain restaurant that we can eat at in MN.

Bonefish Grill is definitely a go-to place.  We got there a bit after 5:00 and the parking lot was starting to fill up.  We tried some of the Bang-Bang Shrimp.  They were wonderful. A bit spicy with a kick, but I have never been known to shy away from the spicy food items!  For my main entree I had the Jumbo Sea Scallops and Shrimp.  They were more than likely fresh because of the proximity to the Gulf.  Something unique is that they offer signature sauces with each of their entrees:  Warm Mango Salsa, Chimichurri Sauce (which is more Italian), Lemon Butter and Pan Asian.  I tried the Chimichurri Sauce which was outstanding.  My wife was undecided when it came to the signature sauce for her entree, so our server brought her out a sample of each!  This was great because I got to try the Mango Salsa, but the Pan Asian was the best sauce by far.  I enjoyed my choice, but when I go back, the Pan Asian sauce is for me.

If you are looking for a nice place to enjoy great company and great food and service.  Bonefish Grill is definitely a place worth trying!

Crave – A Review

That is the name of the restaurant that we had the opportunity to visit on Mother’s Day for brunch.  We visited the location in St Louis Park in The West End shopping complex.  I follow Crave on Twitter and Facebook and enjoy reading some of the different things that they do (Burger Night on Mondays, AYCE Prime Rib on Sundays, and I also had read about their Sunday Brunch).

Seeing that Mother’s Day is like Black Friday and Christmas all wrapped into one for the restaurant industry, I was wondering about the wisdom of visiting a new place on the busiest day of the year for the restaurant industry.

We arrived earlier than our scheduled reservation and even though the restaurant was very busy, we were seated right away.  We were greeted immediately by our server who let us know that the brunch was served until 3:00 PM.  He took our drink orders and we decided to stick with the breakfast brunch which was comprised of scrambled eggs with Tillamook cheese, ham, bacon, sausage links, hash browns, fresh fruit, and one of their huge cinnamon rolls.  The brunch also included a carving station with prime rib and a french toast bar.  This was all served family style with the fruit and cinnamon roll first. Then they brought out a plate for Joseph which was a smaller version of what we had with the items listed above.

Our server was very conscientious and even brought us additional eggs when the original eggs had been sitting a while.  Joseph and my wife tried the French toast bar which had all sorts of fresh fruit toppings, along with two kinds of syrup and whipped cream.  The prime rib was pretty good, I had a couple of pieces of it and enjoyed it.

The price is a bit steep ($22.95 per person – $9.95 per child) but since we had a gift card, we decided that it was a good splurge for us on a special occasion.  We received excellent service and the food was outstanding.  We look forward to trying Crave again for lunch or dinner when we get a windfall or something like that.