Ray’s Hell Burger – Arlington [Update]

24 08 2011

The other week I went out to dinner with Spikes. Neither of us were in the mood for anything fancy, so when the possibility of burgers was brought up I immediately suggested Ray’s. Seeing as how it was a Saturday night at 8:30, Ray’s was obviously crowded. I got my usual order of the Big Punisher cooked medium, which was as excellent as I remembered. We also got an order of fries to split, making it the first time I got a side at Ray’s.

Ray's Hellburger
Why did we order the fries?

The fries were fairly standard for thick cut fries. They weren’t on the level of Thrasher’s fries or even on that of Five Guys. They were solid, but they were not at the same level of quality as the burger. Also on top of the burger they were really just too much food. I probably wouldn’t order fries again, I’d like to avoid the uncomfortable fullness we felt in the future (although I could be swayed by some onion rings). 

Apparently the fries served are frozen, due to the lack of space in the kitchen available to facilitate fresh cut fries. Given the scope of business they conduct and how packed in the dine-in area is, I believe it. Apparently Ray’s is opening another location, Ray’s Hell burger III, which will have the kitchen space to serve fresh cut fries. But until Ray’s III opens up I would suggest saving your money and stomach space.

Note: The picture pictured above is not my own. It is a picture of an order of fries and a Big Punisher. Clicking on it will take you to the original site.





Thai Square – Arlington

25 07 2011

 “Marge, this is Thai food.  From now on, I want it morning, noon, and night. ” – Homer Simpsons

Thai Square

Do not let the plain exterior fool you

Thai restaurants are like opinions, everyone’s got one. Some people though are willing to change their opinions, when presented with a better argument while others are stuck in their ways. Thai Square is the latest and greatest restaurant in Gchat’s rotation, so we figured it had to be worth our time. Thai Square is tucked into a small strip on Columbia Pike and driving by it, you could miss it a thousand times (I’ve only driven by it once a week for 4 months).

TS Interior

In the words of Outkast, "So Fresh and So Clean"

Unlike Tiananmen, Thai Square can best be described as cozy. When we entered there was only one available table of four. Another quick I noted upon entering the restaurant was how many Asian patrons there were (always a good sign). After perusing their beer selection I ordered a Singha Lager for my meal. Being the copy cats that they are, Spikes and Gchat followed suit. I forgot how good pale lagers are until a weeks ago when I had a can of Sapporo. The crispness offered by these beers is just perfect during the heat of summer (it was 102 that day). The waitress brought the beers with what appeared to be midget pilsner glasses which vaguely resembled egg cups. The Singha was a pretty typical Asian-produced lager, but that’s okay as I generally enjoy them. If I did have my choice though, I would probably take a Sapporo over the Singha though.

SB

Good enough for the King of Thailand, good enough for me

For dinner I ordered the Roasted Duck in Red Curry Sauce. My several most recent Thai orders have consisted of some form of curry, so when I saw the duck, it was a no-brainer. Spikes had ordered the Pad Thai Jae (vegetarian) and Gchat the Yellow Curry, both of which looked delicious.

Duck

Yes Sir, Mr. Ducksworth.

I generally enjoy curry’s with a sweet component as it adds an extra depth of flavor and helps smooth out the heat of the dish. The coconut milk often found in Thai curries usually accomplishes this goal, adding an overall sweetness that was contrasted by the burst of sweetness caused when you ate one of the pineapple chunks. The depth and diversity of the sweet flavors of this dish was great, but at times it overpowered the heat of the curry causing the dish to not be as hot as I desired. I didn’t specify how spicy I wanted the curry to be as I assumed it would be spicy enough for me, however next time I’ll probably ask that they don’t dull the heat down to American levels. The duck, where do I start with the duck? Oh yeah, succulent. It just fell apart in your mouth and achieved the perfect tenderness before starting to fall apart and be stringy. Duck is one of those foods where every time I eat it I think to myself, “Why don’t I eat this more often?”, but then never really act on it. I would definitely think about ordering this again, but if I did I would definitely ask them to make it spicier to even out the heat versus the sweet.

While I’ll probably still use my neighborhood Thai restaurant for carry out due to the convenience factor, I’d rather go to Thai Square for a sit-in meal. The food was excellent and priced reasonably well, the decor was clean and simple, and the service was satisfactory; all important components in an enjoyable dining experience. I would rate the service higher but it took a while for us to get the bill which was odd considering how fast the food arrived at our table.

Note: The only image used in this review that is my own is the Singha Beer. Clicking on the other images will take you to the original source.

Thai Square Website

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Maine Avenue Fish Market (DC Fish Wharf)

5 04 2011

“One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish” – Theodor Seuss Geisel

Maine Ave

You can actually park there?

One sunny Sunday afternoon I tagged along with LGF who was making a trip to the DC Fish wharf. I hadn’t been there in a while and needed some fresh air so off I went. Coming from Virginia, you see the marker over the side of I-395 crossing into DC, down below you like some brightly covered carnival. When you finally make your way down there, you then get to compete with a bunch of SUV’s for parking spaces (seems far more reasonable on a week day).

At first you’re almost overwhelmed with the plethora of food (cooked and raw) available for you to purchase. Your best bet is to walk a mandatory lap around the market to scout out everything before you dive in.  After LGF bought some fish and raw shrimp for dinner, we decided to hit up some of the cooked food.

DC Shrimp 2

Got Old Bay?

The shrimp was cooked to perfection with liberal amounts of Old Bay dumped on top (per LGF’s request). It was like eating an entire bag of Utz’s Crab Chips in one or two shrimp. You can buy shrimp in a variety of sizes from medium all the way up to jumbo. The ones featured above might have been Large? The also have fried shrimp (which take longer than the cooked shrimp to prepare) as the shrimp are freshly battered and fried to order. I personally preferred the fried shrimp, they were fried to a perfect golden brown, while still being moist and juicy on the inside.

The fries were reminiscent of freshly made McDonald’s fries and paired up really well with the fried shrimp. The secret to ordering fries here is to ask for them without salt so they will made to order  rather than sitting out under a heat lamp. We also picked up some baked mac ‘n’ cheese from the fried chicken stand. Cheesy decadence is the only way I can truly describe it, but what can I say? I’m a big fan of mac ‘n’ cheese.

If you’ve got a sunny weekend afternoon to burn and are in the mood for seafood I highly suggest the trip to SW DC and sample the sights and smells of the fish wharf.

Note: The first image is not my own. Clicking on it will take you to the source.





District Taco – Arlington

30 03 2011

“You had me at taco.” – Taco Bell Sauce Packet

District Taco Exterior

Where did the Little Caesars go?

District Taco began life as a simple taco truck roaming the streets of Arlington. They mainly cater to lunchtime business customers in high density commercial areas (Crystal City, Rosslyn, etc.) But this past fall they opened up a brick and mortar establishment on Lee Highway (near Joe’s Pizza and Pasta). I knew about the taco truck and how good it was, as well as the opening of the Lee Highway location, but like many things in life I just kept putting it off. I don’t know the reason for my aversion, I like tacos, I like federal districts, what’s the problem? Anyways I finally went to District Taco with LGF and Brewdib and immediately regretted not going sooner.  This place is awesome.

DT Interior
Where’s the HFCS?

The interior set up at District Taco is pretty standard for a casual dining/semi-fast food restaurant. One notable exception though is the Boylan’s fountain soda machine. Boylan’s is a New Jersey based soda company, that unlike the larger soda conglomerates still uses cane sugar as its primary sweetener rather than the ubiquitous High Fructose Corn Syrup. There’s also a rather awesome salsa and condiments bar.

Tacos

Not my tacos, but I wish they were

I ordered two chicken tacos with black beans, jalapenos, and cheese. In the time it took me to find a seat and place my jacket and drink down the tacos were ready. I then went to the salsa bar, loaded them up with chopped onions and various salsas and was good to go. The quality of the chicken used was surprisingly good and you could really taste the fact that it was grilled (unlike Chipotle). I was also surprised at how much two tacos filled me up, but as you can see in the picture above you can stuff a lot into a taco. One of my friends got the habanero salsa (not available at the salsa bar, must be requested at the counter) and I poured a bunch on my second taco. This salsa is no joke, if you love spicy food I highly suggest it. (Note: Habanero salsa is excellent for giving to unsuspecting people that don’t like spicy things).

I highly suggest you go to District Taco and give them your business. Good food, good prices ($5 will get you two tacos and a water cup), and you’re supporting an independent establishment. The following day I went to Chipotle for lunch and honestly after District Taco I was disappointed by the subpar quality of the food and was wishing I had gone to District instead. Also District Taco will be doing sidewalk vending at Nationals games, as well as continuing to run the original taco truck.

Note: The images used in this review are not my own. Clicking on them will take you to the original source.

District Taco Website

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Cafe Tirolo – Arlington

11 03 2011

“And I don’t cook, either. Not as long as they still deliver pizza.” – Tiger Woods

Cafe Tirolo

Ballston's Greatest Secret?

One cold Thursday back in January we needed somewhere to eat dinner quick. Several usual suspects were named: Chipotle, Super Pollo, Italian Store, etc. Then a new challenger entered the melee, Cafe Tirolo. Apparently it had everything we could ever want (cheap pizza at a good price) so off we went. The reason I had never heard of Cafe Tirolo is that it is hidden, as in tucked behind the back of an apartment building across the street from Central Library hidden. You would never know this little place existed, and thankfully it does.

I was extremely famished that evening so I ordered a medium Pizza Bianca for $5.95 as soon as I saw it on the menu. The order system was standard for small pizza places; place your order and pay at the counter, sit down and your pie is brought to you. As soon as the pizza hit the table I sprinkled on some red pepper flakes and then did not stop eating until it was done. The medium was the perfect amount of a truly famished individual.

The pizza had a nice, thin dough and crust with an excellent consistency and chew to it. You could taste the olive oil used to make it, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly greasy. Tirolo’s had achieved that sometimes hard to reach middle point between dry and too greasy. The cheese and the garlic based white sauce worked together perfectly to just bring the pizza together. I’m a big fan of white pizza so I could not have been more satisfied. My friends had split a large and they too seemed to be enjoying it just as much as I was. They also ordered desserts, which looked great and according to them tasted amazing.

I highly recommend Cafe Tirolo to anyone that wants good cheap pizza without a huge wait or fancy atmosphere. The other items on their menu also looked extremely appetizing so it seems you can’t go wrong with whatever you order. Cafe Tirolo is the out of the way pizza place/deli that only you and your friends knew about in college and took full advantage of.

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(Note: The image used above is not my own. Clicking on it will take you to the original source)





Caribbean Grill – Arlington

30 01 2011

“I now work for a finance company in Luxembourg with projects in South America and the Caribbean.”- Mathias Rust

Caribbean Grill Exterior

Plantain City, U.S.A.

I don’t know why it has taken us so long to write a review of the Caribbean Grill. We’ve eaten here before, some of us rather frequently (Heathcliff) due to proximity to our residence. The first thing we should have reviewed at Caribbean Grill probably should have been their rotisserie chicken (because there aren’t enough chicken places in Arlington). Their chicken is rather good but this isn’t a review of their chicken, it’s a review of their Cuban sandwich.

Cuban Sandwich
Fidel would be proud

The Cuban sandwich was somewhat of a let down. It looks fantastic and incredibly appetizing if you’re as hungry as I was, but it’s lacking in the flavor department. I was surprised how something that looked so good could be so bland. The bread they used was fantastic, perfectly toasted and crispy. The ham and pork that made up the sandwich was of fine quality as well. It just seemed as if it hadn’t been spiced at all. I also expected more robust flavor out of the mustard, which was also a let down. I even used the available yellow and green sauces on the table, but they appear to be watered down in comparison to their peers at El Pollo Rico or Crisp & Juicy. To sum up the Cuban: great sandwich in every aspect but flavor.

The fried plantains seemed to contain all the flavor that the Cuban Sandwich lacked. Perfectly fried and caramelized, these were the highlight of my meal. On a cold night, these plantains warmed me up and were a great compliment to the sandwich. They made a great “dessert”; sweet but not too sweet. The one thing I really wish I had was a bowl of vanilla ice cream to add them to. These are a must have at Caribbean Grill–just make sure you order the chicken as an entree.

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Note: The image of the exterior of the restaurant is not my own. Clicking on it will take you to the source.





Tapa Tapa Tapas – Spain [Franklin Smith]

8 01 2011

Tapas.  I am sure that everyone has heard this word.  And then after hearing it, they turn away in disgust — mostly because in America, tapas signifies some foodie-gourmand-‘my taste buds are better than yours’-type of eating that leaves normal folks hungry and poor at the end of the meal.

But with some very limited experience here, my attitude has changed.  Tapas in Spain are amazing.  It is like having a multiple course meal for the price of a hamburger.  Here is what you do: walk in fearlessly to any of the number of tapas bars in the city you are patronizing.  Do not be intimidated by the old men or the black tie/white shirt waiters.  They only add to the atmosphere.  You can see a menu if you want, or you can just point to whatever looks good behind the bar.  There is a ton of food back there, and most of it costs around 2 euros.  Granted, there is usually only enough for 4-5 bites, but there is so much variety to choose from.  Jamon, cheese, Spanish tortilla, anchovies, croquettes, fried cod, spinach with chickpeas, shrimp, octopus, meatballs, chicken wings, chorizo, white esparagus, etc etc etc.  So, you just keep ordering tapa after tapa after tapa.  Then after the 4th or 5th plate, you realize, “wow, I’m pretty full”, and you walk out of the place with an amazing and strange mixture of food in your stomach.

Tapas (Madrid)

Apparently these tapas are from Madrid

Tapas are different in every region of Spain, partly because most of the ingredients are fresh and local.  So, if you are by the sea, you are going to be eating a lot of seafood tapas.  But tapas are also different because one region is so distinct from another.  Your experience in the south in Granada is going to be worlds apart from your experience in the north in San Sebastian.  The surrounding culture influences a tapa experience just as much as the ingredients themselves do.

My favorite so far has been Granada.  Here, you don’t even order anything specific — you just resign yourself to fate, because tapas come free with any drink.  Ordering a glass of beer or wine gives you free food.  The waiter looks at you and then decides what you need, no questions or preferences asked.  They frequently give out massive bagel sandwiches, with ham and cheese in the middle.    I never even dare to request a specific tapa, in fear that I might throw off an unspoken bond of understanding established with the waiter.  In some ways it is easier — all you have to do is sit back, drink your beer, and eat whatever they put in front of you.  The best part is, at the end of the night, you have gotten free beers out of the deal (or free tapas, depending on how you look at it).

Granada Sandwiches

How to libate in Granada

On the other end of the tapa spectrum is San Sebastian.  There is a different language up there in Basque Country, and instead of tapas, they call them pintxos (peeeeenchos).  In all of the bars in this city, there are platters upon platters filled up with different bite-sized portions of picturesque, saliva-inducing food.  And everything is impaled with a toothpick, for easy access.  The technique here is almost like a buffet; grab an empty plate, and then work your way down the bar, filling it up with whatever strikes your fancy.  The barman keeps track of how many you have eaten, and you pay at the end of the meal.  Each toothpick-skewered portion costs 1-2 euro.  If you aren’t careful, you can end up like that fat kid in Willy Wonka, eating everything in sight, and then getting kicked out because you can’t pay the 100 euro bar bill that you have somehow accumulated in only 15 minutes.

My goal now is this: weirdly alluding back to Pokemon (pokedex, categorization of diversity), I want to make a ‘tapadex’, an encyclopedia of tastiness that can be shared and bettered by tapas-eaters all over the world.  Hopefully it won’t ever have an end.

Note: The images above are not originally Franklin’s. Clicking on the image will take you to the original site.








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