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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Greenville (NC) Eats: Thai 360

It's tough being a new place in town, even tougher when the competition is heads and shoulders above most of the places in town. It's a little unusual for a town to have three or four Thai restaurants, even more so considering how big the city of Greenville is. Normally, it takes a lot of confidence by an owner to open an ethnic place in town when there are so many sucessful ones around, so when Thai 360 came to town, I knew I had to try and see if they had what it takes to make a mark in the G.

Located in a modest building across from the downtown library (we have a downtown library? since when!?), Thai 360 looks a bit modest from the outside. A glance from the inside, however, reveals a surprisingly decent room with a handful of tables scattered around the dining room. Anyone couple looking for a little privacy may feel a little out in the open with the lack of privacy between tables due to space and size of the relatively small dining area, moreso for bigger parties stuffed in between.

We had a party of six this evening, along with a wide range of orders. I opted for the paradise chicken, a supposedly "crispy chicken dish with a spicy chili sauce". Our party was suddenly offered one of the strangest Thai heat charts ever, a scale of 1-20. A friend and I boldly ordered our dishes at 15, but were disappointed with a pretty weak smattering of red pepper flakes. My paradise chicken was unfortunately soaked in pretty watered-down chili sauce, leaving the chicken soft and soggy, a disappointment all-around.

The Alaskan decided to order a pad thai with tofu, but the dish came out a little empty with only half a handful of tofu and little "stuff" in the traditional filled dish of noodles. A couple of curries also hit the table, including a green and a bamboo curry, both of which also suffered from a drowning amount of liquid. Instead of coconut cream, it seems like the restaurant opted for juice which cut the usual creaminess of Thai curries and disappointingly soaked trays like a flood.

All this was only made more disappointing by the service, which seemed to have trouble keeping orders and questions straight throughout the evening. It's understandable in a new restaurant where kinks are still being worked out, but considering the relatively light amount of customers in the restaurant, it seemed pretty out of bounds what was going on. Expect a long sit if you decide to visit.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Thai 360
Atmosphere: A little tense considering how small the dining room is.
Cost: Slight above average for Thai. 10-12+
Try: Thai Kitchen.
Expect: Long waits.

The Final Verdict
It's totally possible that Thai 360 is still in its youth and working out kinks, but from what we've seen so far, the future doesn't look too promising for the new downtown restaurant. Nothing stood out in particular, and the service was just nowhere on point. I'll consider a second go in the future if it remains, but for now I would leave Thai 360 alone for awhile until they figure out how to make things work. Thai Kitchen and the many established locations around Greenville still remain supreme.

Thai 360 on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Greenville (NC) Eats: Super Mercado El Rancho

Deer on the wall, Christmas decorations in the back, the shouts of foreign languages in the kitchen, Telemundo blasting random Chinese films in the front - El Rancho is the kind of place I live for. Stuffed inside a local Mexican supermarket, El Rancho sets itself apart from most Mexican restaurants by doing something unusual - serving authentic Mexican food (shock!). What the heck is authentic Mexican food you ask? Well yes, you can most definitely expect to find a taco. No, you will not ordering guac, or a cheese dip. Outside of that, I can't say much more unfortunately, because I still have yet to translate three/fourths of their massive menu. What I have translated so far though rings "pretty damn tasty".

Weaving my way in to find a seat on my day out, I took a long gander at what the crowd - mostly local Mexicans, a good sign for any ethnic restaurant - was eating. Tacos filled the tables along with massive burritos, eclectic stews, red hot fried chicken wings, and more. I've been to El Rancho many a times now, and I have to say that each of my taco experiences has been a confusing, hectic, and delicious affair. El Rancho has all the usual suspects from pollo (chicken), asada (beef), and pastor (pork) to some bolder choices including tripe, pigs head, and other delicious parts that I, for one, will be dreaming about on my spare time. On this visit, I decided to start my day off with a chiccarron taco.

There's not much I can do to make this picture look very sexy, it's a pork rind taco afterall, but I will say that this is far and away the most melt in your mouth tender pork along with a delicious smoky-tasting pork skin. For seafood lovers, the camaron, or shrimp, is nicely pan-fried and filling. Most of the tacos in fact, with the possible exception of the chorizo and pastor, has really hit the spot for me, even with the use of corn tortillas which I usually abhor. El Rancho's freshly-made corn tortillas have completely changed my usual contempt for the usually dry and unheroic taco shell (I'm looking at you Cabo Fresh Taco), making me a huge fan even. At around a $1.50 to $2 per taco, you can't really go wrong trying out all the different kinds of tacos they have.

For those who have never eaten at a place like this, you might be puzzled by the empty looking plate of taco you receive on each order, especially when looking at other local's plates, but never fear, the ultimate taco-dressing bar is here. Upon order, grab your plate and make your way to the bar where you can fill your taco with a variety of traditional toppings and salsas, most of which will make you wonder what the heck you were really doing at Moe's or Taco Bell for all these years.

After my taco, I decided to jump off ship and try a little something different from my usual plate of tacos, opting for a huge bowl of pozole. A bright red stew of pork and hominy, its warmth definitely helped make the rainy day a little brighter. There wasn't just pork in this bowl though, but rather a flurry of pork parts from head to toe, perhaps a little bold for the average joe. Fortunately, I'm all about pork from head to toe, so I delightfully clawed my way through this surprising dish. While enjoyable, I have to admit that it was a little on the bland side. Some hot sauce and salt helped brighten an otherwise appetizing meal. Some of the dishes that I've had here in the past, in fact, have been a little bland, but the huge variety of salsas and slaws in the bar definitely went a long way. Definitely dive into the bar whenever you get a chance to get the full experience.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on El Rancho
Atmosphere: Wonderfully local, with mostly native
Mexicans in the Greenville community.
Cost: Amazing. Tacos will keep a wallet happy, more
eclectic affair will only cost upwards of $8-9.
Try: A chiccaron or asada taco with the works. The torta locas,
aka sandwiches, are also fascinating.

The Final Verdict
This is not (hopefully) the best Mexican food you will have in your life. It is one of the best in Greenville though, just for its unique variety alone. Many things are hit and miss here, but the sheer number of traditional style dishes makes the trip well worth it every single time. Worse comes to worse, you can still get some pretty darn appetizing tacos for a cheap price along with a delicious cup of horchata (cinnamon rice milk) and move on with your day. Adventurous eaters can indulge in an assortment of animal parts, and perhaps stop in the grocery store next door and pick up some interesting cuts to take home as well. It can be a bit intimidating when you first walk into a place like this, but if you are open to new things it will quickly become a place you find yourself returning to time and time again.

Super Mercado El Rancho on Urbanspoon