Category Archives: The Spice

Nutshell and the topsy-turvy world that’s in it

A priest, a rabbi, and a monk walk into a bar. The priest orders a a beer and a burger (it’s Friday), the rabbi orders a pickled sausage, and the monk gets a non-Belgian beer. Maybe I’ll come up with a punchline later, but that’s a good illustration of just how bizarre this post gets. We (three omnivores) went to Nutshell, a completely vegan restaurant. They were fairly busy. We could’ve sat at a table, but opted to wait on the couches in the back gallery section for a booth. More cozy. While we waited, the nice lady brought us some wine and bread (non gratis). You get a selection of breads to pick from, we went with one sampler and one 400-million grain naan. Add to that selections of olive oil and salt(?!) and there’s a pretty fun taste experience to kickoff the meal.

So we got our seat after a bit, and N happened to know one of the vegans in the booth next to us, so they chatted through the cage-like bars for a bit, while we hammered out our meal selections…there were many things I couldn’t quite identify. Burdock and various vegan cheeses mostly. We settled on a spinach turnover sorta thing for appetize, Ryan got the sandwich, N had the living lasagna, and I got charred kale and potatoes gratin.

The lasagna was amazing. By living, I think they meant no pasta noodles. It was a stack of tomato, avocado, vegan ricotta, pesto, and other stuff pressed and cut to serve like lasagna. And it was great. Ryan’s sandwich was also fabulous. Fresh ingredients, ample avocado, and served on a vegan sticky bun…it had great texture and great flavor. My items were really good as well. A light char to the kale gave it a really well-rounded flavor. The potatoes gratin was a bit less exciting, but it was good. It’d been described with a bit more of a chile twist, and I had expected a bit more of that. Finally, I go to the beginning for the spinach turnover. It was probably the least impressive part of the meal. Still pretty good, but it really could’ve been packed with more spinach filling…it came out more as a fried bread than a stuffed doodad.

We were too full for dessert. And I totally spaced ordering a smoothie like I’d intended. But we will be back. And soon. Because Nutshell was really friggin good. Pricewise, it’s affordable and well worth the cost, but only the WW would call Nutshell’s prices cheap eats.

Find Nutshell at 3808 N Williams Ave. If it’s too crowded and you’re starved, cruise up the street a bit further to Dalo’s. Check other reviews all over, but quickly: Stumptown Vegans and VeganFabulous.

So the Priest and the Rabbi forgot their wallets, but luckily the monk had a thousand bucks. Now you know the sound of one grand flapping. cheers. Maybe you can do better…

Trebol

Mississippi is sporting a shiny new Mexican restaurant, with Oaxacan regional cuisine. Actually, I think it’s up where the street is actually Albina, just south of N Alberta. Trebol has a decent little patio, it’s painted a nice shade of green, and overall looks tastefully done. Though, I actually never set foot inside the actual restaurant.

We sat outside, it was a gorgeous day. We drank margaritas and mojitos. They were pretty tasty, and somewhat reasonably priced, though the well tequila is pancho. They brought us some homemade tortillas with salsa. These were quite tasty, and I appreciated the spice of the verde. We asked the waiter for recommendations throughout the meal, and invariably they were the most expensive item of its kind on the menu.

For an appetizer, we ordered the clams. They were not particularly inspiring. Acceptable, but a bit bland, and the clams themselves varied broadly in size and quality.

For dinner, we didn’t follow recommendations because we didn’t feel like $17+ plates for a casual dinner. So, Dave and Ryan got the beef tacos, and I got the beef tamales. They seemed to enjoy their tacos, but were not particularly excited about them. My tamales were very mediocre, they were more like porridge in a banana leaf. The beef and the red sauce were both very good, but the tamale itself was so watery as to drown out the flavor.

We also got a flight of tequila. The waiter recommended Corzo. Again, a top coster. The flight turned out to be three 2/3oz shots, so 2oz total. It was served with some sort of tomato-lime juice for pallet clearing. The Corzo was quite yummy though. As a group we preferred the reposado for its smoothness. The anejo was nice, actually, all three were good.

The service was fine, maybe a bit inconsistent. They brought us the extra stuff we asked for (more tortillas, bread). It took us forever to get out of there, and the waiter had the affect of an owner on a day with bad numbers, trying to play up but not masking too well. I don’t know if he is or not.

As a new addition to the high-end Mexican food market, Trebol has a lot of space to cover if they’d like to compete with D.F., Autentica, and Taqueria Nueve (and the hybrid joint over in St. Johns). Their location is good, the patio is nice, but the food is a stretch for the price. I’d like to emphasize that I really liked the sauces. Good luck, I’ll try again sometime.

If somebody is more familiar with the Oaxacan style, please chime in…or if you’ve had a better experience in general.

Cafe Be Van

Just wanted to callout this tasty little Vietnamese deli located at 6846 NE Sandy.  Their menu is pretty small, mostly serving up a varety of meat sandwiches, but there is a vegetarian option as well.  Their sandwiches are $2.75-3.00, and the perfect size for a light meal.  Just think, even if you ordered four sandwiches, a hum bao (sp?), and a drink, your meal would still still be a Cheap Eat by WW’s standard (what a disappointment that issue was!  Usually a year-long staple, this year’s Cheap Eats was recycled in under a week).  The sandwiches (we tried ham, the special, and the bao) were good, with fun twists on our American standards, cilantro, carrots, othr veggies, and something tangy.

Sourdough Pizza/BBQ Pizza

Two recent projects of mine came together recently, with pretty nice results! I’ve been making sourdough bread for a couple months now, and it has been working well. In addition, I visited New York recently. As we all know, bread+NY=pizza. Except in alternate axiom sets where bread+NY=bagels, but we’re in my reality. Plus, while bagels were all over New York, most of them were nothing special. Not that I didn’t find some grub ones, it’s just that most were delivered from somewhere, and really not that great.

So, pizza. I first made a couple of standard pizzas at home. I made the dough (an overnight process), made up some sauce, and preheated the oven to 550F with the pizza stone in it. With this whole bread thing, preheat refers to more than just letting the oven come to temperature, it needs to become the temperature, which involves getting it to that temperature and letting it sit for ahwhile. In addition, for bread I increased the humidity by placing a pan of water on the bottom rack. Due to the significantly shorter bake time for pizza, I didn’t do this. Maybe next time.

So we’re talking my oven on max, sourdough rolled as thin as it’ll go, a thin layer of sweetened pizza sauce, and some mozarella. Flour the stone, set the pizza, and into the oven for 5-10 minutes. As you can see, the crust came out pretty pale. I’m thinking it’s due to my using all-purpose flour, but that’s one thing to investigate in the future.

Then this weekend we went to Cannon Beach with some friends. Anners and I have been talking sourdough for some time, so I prepped some starter to take. Make some pizzas, hang out, drink beer. But….a twist. Let’s do it on the BBQ! This was at a beach house, so we had limited cooking supplies, didn’t want to make a mess, and all that, so a BBQ is perfect. Of course, devices to help prep sauce/grate/chop were in short supply, but you do what you can with what you’ve got, eh?

I used two methods. Here is a quick rundown of my techniques for BBQ pizza. First, crack open a beer and set up a space to keep toppings, dough, sauce, and oil. You’ll want some paper towels available for oiling the grate and the crust. Get your coals burning using whatever method is available. I used a direct cooking method, and it seemed most effective with a double layer of coals. I needed to consolidate the coals partway through to increase the direct heat. After the coals are ready, spread them out and cover the BBQ to let it come to temperature.
Clean and oil the grate. Really. Stuck dough is ruined dough. Well, I’ll eat it, but you know what I mean. You will want everything to be on hand, you won’t have much time once things start rolling.

Prep the dough. Prepare the dough however you like. I pulled out my sourdough starter the day before, added some water and bread flour, and let it do its thing overnight. In the morning, I added some flour and (less) water and kneaded it to a proper consistency with a little snap. Then add the salt and knead some more, cover with plastic in a large bowl and let it sit while you do something else for a few hours. It should have risen a bunch. Push it down and let it rise again, or not, depending on when you want to make the pizzas.

Create the crust. I rolled out a bunch of rounds ranging from around 8-12″ diameter. Some were rounder than others. Get it as thin as you can…like 1/8″. While this is going on the coals should be heating. I just made a bunch, there didn’t seem to be a problem with them drying out, but the ones that sat the longest stuck together a bit (peeled apart easily).

Take everything outside. Your flame should be fairly hot, but not scorching. Oil the grate. The first method I tried was as follows. Oil one side of the dough, place oil-side down. It’ll likely puff up. You can press down with the edge of the spatula to puncture and release the gas. Check the botton, you want it crisp and a little golden. Flip the dough, lightly spoon on your sauce, place the cheese and toppings, cover, and let it grill for a couple minutes. Keep an eye on the pizza, it won’t take long. Take the pizza off, put it on a plate, and serve immediately. you don’t want these treasures sitting around getting cold.

Saucing the flipped pizza.

Some cheese!

Spinach, onion, garlic, more chees…yum!

Crispy crackery crust. Yeah!

Alright, I mentioned a different method, and I think it was better. Don’t flip. Just oil the dough, stick it on the grill, add your sauce and toppings, cover and let it cook. It won’t take long, and I found that the outer crust cam out better this way. Next time, this is the way I’m going the whole time.

Bend

Went with some friends to Bend this weekend for some sweet skiing and casual times. We stayed at the Holiday Inn (express?) Thursday night, checked into our place at the 7th Mountain Friday morning, and hit the slopes for an absolutely gorgeous day. The snow was pleasant but well-worn. The day was gorgeous, I started off with a sweatshirt, T-shirt, and windbreaker, but dumped the sweatshirt after sweating down two runs. After lunch, I lost the windbreaker also. Felt great, skied hard, had fun. Sadly, that night I aggravated my badly pulled calf jumping into the freakin’ swimming pool, so no skiing Saturday. But N and I cruised around Bend and had a good’ole time.

I need to call out three fabulous places for food down there. First, we returned the The Grove Friday night. We’d eaten there last year, and had a great experience. Friendly, pleasant, and really good, reasonably priced food. It seemed that the prices had shot up somewhat since a year ago, but it was still not too bad. Last year I got a steak with chimmichurri sauce and loved it. This time around I got the fish tacos and a caesar salad. The caeser was excellent. The fish tacos were good, but not great. I tried the mongolian beef also, and that was really nice. So check out The Grove.

Second, I got to eat at Pizza Mondo since I couldn’t ski on Saturday. They have really great pizza. It’s billed as New York-style, and having never been to the big apple, I’m not really one to dispute that claim. It seems like New York with a bit of West Coast gourmet to me, but who am I to say? Except that it’s really stinking good pizza.

And lastly, the gang went to La Rosa for some green St. Paddy’s Margaritas (tequila infused with apple and grape). They were really good…maybe a bit sweet, but not like some crappy margarita you find at My Father’s Place (they’re good for other things…). And the food was really good too. Anners was happy with her vegetarian option, my chile verde was good, and everyone else liked theirs a lot. Except N, but she just
got a taco salad and if you just get a taco salad, you’re not really getting your hands dirty.

All of the places I mentioned are very vegetarian friendly.
Thank you Bend, Oregon! Oh, and I drank some beer.

Los Baez

There’s a new Mexican restaurant in town, and it’s pretty much what I’ve been waiting for.  While there’s not really a shortage of decent taquerias in Portland, there is a dearth of what I call chips and salsa sit-down restaurants.  Los Baez is the Portland location of a classic Salem restaurant located just above SE 24th on Burnside.
Walking in, the first thing you’ll notice is that this place is huge.  There’s a nice bar and some tables for smaller parties in the front, while the back half has seating for larger parties.  The staff is very friendly.  As far as ambiance, it’s not the greatest, jumping on the post-industrial bandwagon a bit, but that’s not what we came here for, is it?
The chips are pretty good, not a standout, but the salsa is excellent.  Fresh tasting and flavorful.  The two times I’ve been, I requested a picante version, which the waiter prepared for me by chopping or grinding peppers specifically for me.  And they were different each time, once using fresh jalapeno, and the other grinding chiles de arbol.

I’m a pork fan.  I ordered the carnitas on the waiter’s recommendation, and I was not disappointed.  They were excellent and unique.  There was a bit of a sweetness to them that was pleasantly surprising.  The rice and refried beans are very good as well.
On my second visit, I decided to try one of the combination plates, with the intention of taking it home for another meal.  A chicken taco, chile verde, chile colorado, a chile relleno, and an enchilada were married on the same plate, along with the usual accompanyments.  There was a ton of food, and it lasted me for two additional meals.  And it was all excellent.

The homemade flour tortillas deserve special mention.  They are delicious.  Warm, fresh, and hearty, they really take the cuisine of Los Baez to the next level.

The margaritas are pretty good as well.  They have them fresh or made from mix.  The fresh is nice and limey, but the ones from mix work fine as well, and are reasonably priced.

The prices at Los Baez are good.  Dinners range from $8 for some entress to $15 for fajitas and combo plates.  You will not leave hungry.

Overall, I highly recommend Los Baez.  They’re open until 10pm seven days a week.  Go there immediately.

Por Que No? Porque.

I didn’t discover Por Que No. I read the review in the Mercury, and as it is my duty to check out all new taquerias, I made it down today. Located on burgeoning N Mississippi, it is across from the rebuilding center, a bit north of Fremont. Good spot. Well, good news first. They are friendly, they care about the food, the location rocks for rockers, and they cater to beer drinkers. Mexican beer, one tap consisting of Full Sail. Also, lime water and some sorta red juicy goodness. Not really any bad news, except that there’s mediocre news. The mediocre news: it’s just not that great. The homemade tortillas are nice. The chips lack salt. Easily added, but come on…do I have to do everything? The red salsa has good smoky flavor, the green is pretty plain, but neither shine. The meats were fine, and prepared with care, but nothing was inspired or better than fine. Which is a little better than acceptable. Because of the care and quality, everything is a bit expensive, $2.50 for meat or veggie, or $3.50 for fish. The fish was the winner I’d say. But you need three, and that’s $10.50, which is a bit much for taqueria lunch…throw in some lime water or a beer, and that’s a vendor lunch. After my three tacos (carnitas, asada, and pollo verde), I stopped at another taqueria for two more…admittedly, I had skipped breakfast. I definitely didn’t hate it, I was just a bit underwhelmed. I know that I’ll be back, because it’s a short crawl from the Amnesia Brewery.

Fire on the Mountain

I totally dig Fire on the Mountain. It’s a smallish hotwings joint down on Interstate just south of Skidmore (and a bit north of the Alibi on the other side of the street) that serves up some honest friggin food. Honest because it’s good. Honest because it’s fried. And honest because it’s hot. Sara and Jordan deliver some 12 plus flavors of wings, ranging for sweet BBQ to jerk to El Jefe, with spicy peanut, mild and medium, and raspberry habanero in between. In addition, they offer some fun fried twists…twinkies, bananas, fantastic friest, and more. If you travel with the vegetarian crowd, they’ve got some Portland wings, but I’m not going there. Just so you know. There’re also some great salads (did I just say that?).

But, back on a more serious note, whether you’re slammin down a dozen wings or twenty (personal best: 22. I think I can do better) you’re gonna need to grease the wheels with a yummy barley soda, and they’ve done a great job at selecting good, local brews to compliment they’re food. Sip on a Caldera, Sierra Nevada, Roots, or Amnesia brew to the lush sounds of Widespread Panic (methinks somebody’s a fan) while trying to determine what flavor hotwing Jimi Hendrix is eating in your Jefe high…and believe me, the Jefe does elevate…tearing the succulent flesh off of a jerk chicken wing is satisfying unlike anything else on Interstate (under $20).

So, if you’re into hot food, beer, Panic, or chicken, get your ass down to FotM cuz it rocks hardcore. Ricks recommended flavors: jerk, x-hot, and raspberry habanero with a side of jefe, and a satisfying pale ale or IPA to send it skyward. cheers!

Tortilleria Y Tienda De Leon’s

My buddy Mark brought this fantastic taqueria experience to my attention. Nestled in the back of the Tortilleria Y Tienda De Leon’s are a few tables and a lunch counter displaying a wonderful selection of Mexican specialties. I stopped by there (not the first time by any means) the other day after hitting some balls at the driving range with my German buddy and his small child. One of the things that he wanted to do while visiting was hit up some good Mexican food, and the Taco Del Mar experience from the day before simply didn’t cut it in my book.

In the display counter are a number of unlabeled pots with meaty stews in them. These seem to change some, but tend to include carne con nopalitos, chile verde, carnitas (not a stew…duh), pork ribs in chile sauce, some beefy things, some chicken things, some porky things, black and pinto beans, and rice. The carnitas there are absolutely out of this world.

The nice older hispanic lady will likely offer up some samples for you of the other items…I recommend that on your first go round you get the carnitas if you’re into that sorta thing. They are lightly spiced, tender as all get-out, and just work perfectly. I’ve also enjoyed the beefy nopalitos and the pork ribs a lot as well. The meat is amazingly tender, but still textured, flavorful and well-spiced, while enhancing the meaty character. Food served in this manner often seems to be heavily salted, but at De Leon’s I do not find myself parched an hour later…perhaps that’s related to the 2 gallons of horchata that I pull down with my combination meal, but they seem to go light on the spices, and heavy on the flavors inherent in the meats and vegetables in the stews.

Try the combo meal. De Leon’s is not the most inexpensive taqueria in town…it’s two bucks for a taco, and the combo runs about $6.50. However, the rich culinary experience is well worth the high price…get the combo if you’re hungry enough, or share it. You’ll find De Leon’s at 16225 NE Glisan St in Portland, so it’s a ways out there. Grab some buddies and make a road trip of it.

A fine experience

The lady and I went to Taqueria Nueve last night. It was excellent. We had maybe a bit more food than necessary, but the variety was fantastic. We opened it up with the ceviche and a salad with buffalo, avacado, stuff, and not too much lettuce. Both were fantastic, especially the ceviche. The they brought us out some tacos. I had the pork and chicken tacos, while the lady had a fish taco, both again were fantastic. Finally, we had enchiladas verdes con pollo. Also very good, but if we eliminated one thing it would’ve been that. In addition to the fine food, I had an absolutely magnificent beer. Hale’s Extra Special Bitter on nitro. It was like butter. Drinking air, with a light hoppiness. I’m not going to analyze it, but get over to Taqueria Nueve and order one. When mine was delivered, I took my first sip, and exclaimed a ‘holy crap!’ startling the lady at the table next to us. I followed with a ‘that’s amazing’ and a smile, but she didn’t seem too amused. There’s no accounting for taste, I suppose.

Today, I’m going to go for a second run on brewing my ipa. Gonna make a few changes. I’ve changed the bittering hops from cascade to crystal for a little extra bitterness (aroma and flavor are the same). Also, I’m not going to skimp on the sugar in the bottling process (last time it came out a bit flat cuz I ran out of corn sugar and didn’t have the full amount). Then I’m also brewing with assistant Dan Dalessio instead of the Ojingo fella…just because the latter is out of town today. cheers.

Maria’s

This little restaurant at 3226 N Lombard is easy to miss, but worth a stop. I’d noticed it before one night driving home from the St. Johns area, but it was closed and eventually slipped my mind until we stumbled upon it this afternoon looking for a lunch spot. Always looking for a new place for tacos and burritos, there was no hesitation about changing from our previous destination. And our spontaneity was well-served. I ordered the chile verde burrito ($5) and a water, travis got a vegie burrito ($4.xx) and chicken taco (not sure). Chile verde is one of my gauges for a good Mexican restaurant because it has a huge range of flavors, spices, consistencies, and qualities, and is generally good. Maria’s chile verde was quite tasty, with a satisfying tomatillo sweetness that most verdes in Portland lack. In fact, for this one I’m going to separate the burrito from itself because while the burrito itself was decent, the chile verde inside of it was quite good. The burrito lacked a bit on size, and just felt unspectacular to me, probably because this is in the face of a pretty good salsa (they had a picante too, which was heated up with habanero) and one of Portland’s best chile verdes. I think next time I go for the chile verde there it’ll be in the dinner plate. Travis reported satisfaction with both of his entrees as well. Overall, my instinct after visit #1 is to give Maria’s a thumb’s up, so check it out.

Super Torta

A new taqueria opened recently near 56th and SE Woodstock, Super Torta. I stopped there after coaching the kiddies the other evening and had a red chile burrito. I must say that it was dissapointing. The shredded beef was not shredded enough, lending a toughness inappropriate for this burrito, and the red chile, which looked to be added only as an afterthought was lacking in flavor, quantity, and spice. The salsas served with the burrito were alright, but still lacking in any true depth of flavor. I’ll likely give them another go, either wednesday or another after coaching, at which point I’ll try the Torta with carne milanesa. If there’s an upgrade in the review I’ll post that, but for the time being my recommendation is to head somewhere else (Aruapan?) if convenient…while not bad, it’s not good. The prices were decent (maybe leaning slightly high for a taqueria).

La Cruda

La Cruda is located in SE Portland, near the hipster node 26th and Clinton. It does hold up the credo of the neighborhood with its tasty margaritas (not as cheap as they seem like they are) and late night menu. They serve food till midnite on Thurs-Sat (and maybe the others too). The food is pretty tasty. Good quality ingredients, marinated and grilled meats, and a salsa bar with a decent range of salsas but far too small of cups (the kind that a friggin chip doesn’t fit into) to carry it in, make this a marginal recommendation. The food is Mexican in nature, but it won’t qualm the craving of a die-hard. I find myself there infrequently for a late-night meal. I am rarely disappointed though. The portions are good sized, the prices a little high for the genre. I do far prefer La Cruda to the grease-laden Dots across the street…and I’m not one known for judging food by its health value.

So, overall, it’s a worthwhile spot that meets a variety of needs, and when those needs come together, La Cruda can be a great option. Those needs are: an empty belly turned full, margaritas, late dining, and a good spice factor.

(Brothers) Chavez Taco Truck

Located out on deep Killingsworth, near where it runs into Lombard or Portland Blvd, this taco truck is one of the finest. The tacos are fantastic, and that is what I most highly recommend. These succulent morsels of meat-stuffed corn tortilla are superb, served classically with lime and radish. In particular, I enjoy the pastor, but I am a bit of a pastor freak. The chicken is great too. I’ve enjoyed the asada and lengua as well.

They are fast, cheap, and to all appearances of decent quality. The salsa is fantastic, the red being smoky and on the spicy side, the green thicker with a nice subtle tang. The red is fairly far on the spicy side, so beware.

Don’t get me wrong, the burritos are well worth the effort (that it takes to eat them), they are quite tasty, and actually have some vegetables in them. More salad than fajita. And they are huge. While not as heavy on meat as the burritos at many taquerias, they also are lighter on rice and beans (we’re talking proportionally, by the way), yet do not sacrifice flavor or texture. Quite fantastic.

This taqueria is somehow related to the Taqueria Chavez which had been located on Woodstock, and moved to N Lombard. The Chavez on N Lombard has since changed names, but I’m not sure why, whether it is under new ownership or if they just wanted to change it because Lupita sounds nicer. While the truck format loses a bit of the charm of the taqueria, as well as limiting the options (no verde or colorado on the menu, and the mariscos may be limited…not sure on that last as its not my bag) and the salsa varieties, not too much has been sacrificed. Another quality lost in the truck is the handmade tortillas made on the spot. Fantastic stuff, but I’ll cover the transition to Lupita in another review.

Overall, I believe that the Chavez family runs one of the foremost taqueria businesses in Portland, and recommend their establishments to anyone who enjoys spicy, flavorful, well-textured Mexican food.

Cool Runnings Cafe

Nestled in at the edge of the shopping distrinct of upper NE Fremont is the quaint Cool Runnings Cafe, owned and operated by Cal Ferris and his wife. The character and food of the place, while inspired by the Islands, is varied and lends itself nicely to flavors from many regions, particularly those of the American South.

Cool Runnings Cafe has been open since August of 2002, but has been serving dinner only since early 2003, which I feel is their true calling. They have a limited but suitable wine and beer list, as well as some non-alcoholic beverages.
I was impressed with the food from the very start. Cal brought out some of their homemade bread with some spiced butter, which was fantastic. Somewhat nutty and peppery, the bread was very good. For the main course, I had the Gumbo, which was packed with chicken, andouille sausage and a bit of okra, as well as a full rich flavor. A little spicy, I kicked it up a fair amount with their homemade pineapple-habanero sauce. Very nice, I found myself wanting to take some of the sauce home…but instead I’ll try to make something that tastes half as good. Nedra had the jerked chicken, which was also quite flavorful. I pilfered a fair share of her garlic mashed potatoes as well, which had a nice rustic texture…the potato hadn’t been butter and milked out of them, offering up a rich, well-textured side.

The service was excellent, and while I can’t say that they were particularly challenged during our visit, both were very friendly. After thoroughly stuffing myself on Gumbo and corn bread, Nedra needed a taste of dessert. Hearing the list, I nearly had to order my own…raspberry cheesecake topped my list, but we order the mixed berry cobbler instead, which was just fine and dandy. It was a deep dish of warm sweet and sour berry goodness, with a bit of biscuit and orange mixed in for some pizazz.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the Cool Runnings Cafe, and will be returning. They had nice options for spicy and mild tastes. The atmosphere was pleasant. Portions were ample, and prices were reasonabIe ($8-12 entrees). My main critique is probably their Starters menu, which struck me more as a list of sides, primarily salads and greens. I don’t think it will take them too long to outgrow the small space they are in now.

Cha! Cha! Cha! Review

The Pearl District is finally coming into its own. It has gotten a fantastic Mexican Restaurant. The environment is casual, nicer than a taqueria, but hardly larger. The colors are a subdued fall. You order at the counter when you come in, which is fine.

The menu, which is no longer a large board hanging aboce the front counter is succinct. Most of the standards are there, pastor, pollo, asada, lengua, burritos, tortas, tacos and so on. These are delicious. I particularly love the pastor tacos. There are specialty ingredients as well, from the spicy, tangy Cha, to the spicy cochinita, these are fabulous.

For those who are more cautious about spicy food, stay away from the red sauce. It is cookin, smoky and a rich fresh taste. The green is a nice mild, flavorful and refreshing.

I fear only that they will grow overcrowded. The only problems with the place are limited seating for medium-sized parties, and they dont’ sport limed fried jalapenos. The vegetarian menu leaves a bit to be desired. I found my burrito to be closer to a meatless fajita than the fresh pico de gallo style that I was looking for. The vegi taco was pretty much just a mini-burrito.

Overall, I’ll give Cha!Cha!Cha! an 8.5. The prices are reasonable, the service is good, the food is super.