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Monday, May 30, 2011

Columbia Eats: Taqueria Guadalajara

Taqueria Guadalajara is about as well tucked away as can be, just down the street from the Korean block of restaurants and groceries on Decker Blvd. Outside, there's not much to see besides the words taco and sopes plastered on the window, and well, inside there's not much either, apart from a few rooster sketches on the wall and a few tables spread evenly through the modest dining room.

You won't find anything major here: tacos, sopes (tortillas lightly fried and topped with taco fillings), burritos, and tortas. Simple, traditional, Mexican street food ready to go. I sat down and ordered one of the two torta (sandwich) options, the torta milanese, along with a lengua (beef tongue. some people may perish the thought, but once you get past the name beef tongue, it's actually a pretty wonderful cut of meat!) taco. The milanese had a pounded cut of beef lightly fried and topped with lettuce, tomato, avocado, a grilled jalapeno, and some mayo on traditional torta bread. Not the best torta I've ever had, but still filling and satisfying. I would have loved a little more though if there was a fried egg or additional slab of meat to really push it over the top. The taco came with little fanfare - a nicely grilled corn tortilla with the lengua, cilantro, and a wedge of lime. My partner in crime also picked up an al pastor which came the same way. Both were fresh, filling, and authentic; everything we had come to expect from Guadalajara. In retrospect, I probably would have been pretty happy with a trio of tacos, especially for the cost of the torta at around $5-6.

No Reservations, The Lowdown on Guadalajara
Atmosphere: Casual. They even had wifi
for those who wanted to lounge.
Cost: The torta and taco with a water came out to be
around $8, surprisingly high for a taqueria.
Try: The tacos or sopes. Keep it simple.
The Final Verdict
Anyone looking for fast, authentic tacos will be satisfied with Guadalajara. It may not be the most inviting of places at first glance, but the friendly staff and quality tacos are worth the stop, especially in a town with far too many Tex-Mex options. There are some specials floating around the restaurant, such as a carne asada plate or enchiladas with mole sauce, but from my experiences the simple stuff tended to be the most rewarding. If you are in the Decker area and want some cheap, quick, midday tacos, look no further.

Taqueria Guadalajara on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Columbia Eats: Bone-In Artisan Barbeque on Wheels

Bone-In Artisan Barbeque on Wheels may be the one reason for locals to frantically activate a twitter account. Cilantro-lime slaw, pulled pork on homemade focaccia, and fresh handcut chips? St. Louis Style Ribs with a spicy cornbread and smoky beans? Mac and Greek, stuffed with feta, artichoke hearts, and more? Yes please!

Gourmet food became mobile in the midlands earlier this year when chef Scott Hall hit the streets of Columbia with the Bone-In Artisan Barbeque food truck. An executive chef who's spent over a decade in NY, Hall brings not only Carolina barbeque to the streets, but a variety of styles that he's picked up from his time away from the South, providing a varied menu to suit everyone's tastes.

Wednesday's special menu featured St. Louis Style Ribs, a fall-off-the-bone rib slathered in a sweet, smoky orange-hoisin sauce with a side of cornbread and beans. The beans were fresh and covered with bits of bacon for smokiness, but a little hit-and-miss as some of the beans were not fully-cooked. The sweet and meaty ribs more then made up for it though.

Bone-In always seems to carry two staples in the menu, the vinegar based pulled pork sandwich and shredded hickory hoisin beef brisket sandwiches on focaccia bread, both served with fresh cut chips or salad and cilantro lime slaw. I opted for the pulled pork which didn't disappoint, coming in heaping amounts on the buttery focaccia bread. You can definitely taste the bright vinegar flavors coming out of the pulled pork, and the focaccia bread helped keep it in check, making for a nice tandem. The fresh cut chips were well-seasoned, but a little on the buttery side - a slight turnoff after the already buttery focaccia. Even with the cilantro lime slaw, I somewhat wish I'd went with the micro green salad instead of chips to cut through some of the richness of the meal. The cilantro lime slaw was light and refreshing though, a welcome change of pace between the chips and sandwich.

No Reservations, a Shakedown of Bone-In
Cost: Bone-In Chips with brisket, pimento cheese, and
more is the budget meal at $6. Most meals average $9.
Try: Beef brisket or pulled pork sandwiches.
Opt for a salad to keep things light!
Trying to find Bone-In? Find out where they're at and what's new on the menu at

The Final Verdict
With a constantly rotating menu of specials and barbeque fit for anyone's tastes, Bone-In Artisan Barbeque offers a refreshing new face in the Columbia scene. The portions are generous, the food is inviting, and the daily buzz around the scene about the truck shows that the midlands have already more then welcomed the food truck invasion with open arms. If Bone-In Artisan and 2 Fat 2 Fly are any indication, it looks like Cola's food scene has many great surprises to come as it continues to mature.

Bone-In Artisan Barbecue on Wheels on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Columbia Eats: 2 Fat 2 Fly

"They're stuffed with what!?!?", my friends exclaimed when I told them about Columbia's newest food truck, 2 Fat 2 Fly. Columbia's quickly grown into a culinary hot spot in the last several months with the emergence of the local food truck invasion. 2 Fat 2 Fly may seem a bit small on the surface, but with their recent victory for "best wings in Columbia" and daily praise from the local papers, they've quickly established themselves as a major player in the Columbia area.

So what puts 2 Fat 2 Fly light years ahead of Columbia's wing competitors? Two words: stuffed wings. The brainchild of locals Ramone and Corey, 2 Fat 2 Fly features mad experiments such as the mac and cheese, Thanksgiving, and smokehouse which takes wings to new heights with the explosions of flavor packed into succulent deep-fried delights. Describing the wings is as much a challenge as thinking about how they are made. Take the mac-and-cheese stuffed wings: packed with creamy mac-and-cheese, deep fried, and covered in cheese sauce, these decadent wings will make you swoon in cheesy heaven. The Thanksgiving wings come packed with stuffing and topped with a creamy gravy. The star of the show, however, was the jambalaya wings which recently won best in Columbia. Stuffed with rice and sausage, and crusted with a devastatingly awesome mix of Cajun spices, the jambalaya stuffed wings are easily borderline life-changing for those who experience it. All wings can be paired with sweet and spicy french fries or a spicy, almost meaty fried okra. I'd recommend the 50/50 to get the best of both worlds (including the wings!).

No Reservations, the Shakedown on 2 Fat 2 Fly
Costs: $7 for a four wing combo with sides.
Varying costs for just wings.
Try: The jambalaya stuffed wings. Columbia's official best for good reason.
How to find them:

Though 2 Fat 2 Fly is constantly on the move around Columbia, they are constantly updating their twitter accounts with their next location to make sure you don't miss out on the action. Come hungry, leave devastatingly happy - and puzzled at how anyone could make such sinfully delicious concoctions.

2 Fat 2 Fly (Mobile Food Truck) on Urbanspoon

Latta Eats: Jr's Restaurant

For most, Latta, South Carolina is just a town down I-95. A five-to-ten minute drive off the highway in between Florence, SC and Fayetteville, NC, there's likely no reason for most to stop by. Jr's Restaurant, however, may be reason enough to drop into this small town in Dillion county.

A family run restaurant, Jr's serves familiar Southern dishes with a Cuban flair. While there are a ton of great sounding dishes in their main menu of soup, sandwiches, and more, the main reason to check out this dive is easily for their daily specials. Whether it's fried pork chops with rice and gravy, a tangy Cuban soup, homemade bread, and yuca or the classic Sunday dinner of fried chicken with brown rice and a spicy fried okra, Jr's likes to do local favorites with a touch of Latin. The fried pork chop may be some of the best I've ever had, with its absolutely succulent bites of well-seasoned crispy pork. The beautiful collard and tomato soup and yuca provide nice, clean flavors on the side while the warm and buttery homemade bread brings it all together. Sunday dinner is about as traditional as it gets with a side of creamy mac and cheese, crispy, spicy fried okra, bisquit, and sweet, juicy fried chicken. If that wasn't enough, it only gets better considering the fact that these amazing meals, easily over ten dollars in a larger city, only cost $5.75.

The owners are always around to meet and greet you in this friendly local establishment and eager to talk about their business. Jr's also continues to expand daily with it's ever-growing gameroom in the back. Quickly becoming the new local place-to-be for citizens of Latta, Jr's Restaurant may also be one of the best reasons to take a lunch break while driving down what would normally be a pretty dreary ride up I-95.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Greenville (NC) Eats: Thai Kitchen

It's gotta be tough being a Thai restaurant when the best is usually found in something like a 7-Eleven. I'm sure there's a statistic somewhere out there that shows how bad Thai gets in relation to the quality of dining facility. Case in point: Thai Kitchen is located in a wonderfully obscure part of town in a strip mall. Like all frighteningly ominous but good Thai places, Thai Kitchen hits all the right notes where it counts - in the food. Those who take a chance and walk in will even find a surprisingly warm atmosphere in the modest dining room despite the less-than-stellar appearance outside.

While all the usual suspects are on the list, Thai Kitchen features a brief, but satisfying specials menu armed with what may be one of the best bites in town - pla chu chee. A crispy tempura fish served hot off the stove with a spicy, creamy chu chee curry, it's a wonderfully savory bite that never ceases to impress. A similar dish, the pla sam rod, takes a similar approach with crispy fish covered in tamarind sauce. Unlike the pla chu chee's savory bite, the pla sam rod features a bold sweet, spicy, and sour kick that offers more depth then the pla chu chee, but it's got a lot of sweetness to it that makes it a bit of a harder dish to finish. Mixed vegetables help cut through the sweetness, but this is definitely a dish best left shared.

Most of Thai Kitchen's menu is extremely friendly to new members, offering flavors that everyone can comfortably dig into and enjoy. For those a bit unfamiliar with the various colored curries, red tends to be a bit sweeter then the average - a safe bet for newcomers. Green curry features a fresh chili paste that cranks up the heat, while panang and mussaman tends to lean toward the savory. For those a bit less adventurous, the special's menu features some interesting choices like general Thai chicken, a slight twist on the classic Chinese fast food staple, and rama chicken, a peanuty-dish full of rich flavor. Anyone looking to cut the spice a bit may want to try the sweet and creamy Thai ice tea to cool things down.

No Reservations, The Shakedown on Thai Kitchen
Atmosphere: Surprisingly comfortable for a couple or group.
Cost: Diverse range, but slightly on the pricey side for most. 9+
Try: The pla chu chee.

The Final Verdict
Thai Kitchen also offers sushi, but its namesake is easily the highlight. Those on a budget may want to check out lunch time when the prices take a friendly cut. The restaurant is by no means in the most convenient of places to eat in relation to East Carolina University, but is certainly worth the time and effort for quality that Thai Kitchen produces. One of Greenville's best.

Thai Kitchen & Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon