Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shang Hai Garden

3118 South 24th Street (in the shopping center just north of Vinton)
(402) 342-2244
Shang-Hai Gardens on Urbanspoon

A Chipotle, a Tomatillo, and a Tomato Salsa,
Paired with Corn Chip Strips

Shrimp Egg Rolls--
More like big spring rolls, with sweet and sour sauce

I dipped my egg roll into the spicy tomatillo salsa. Just because I could.

This isn't fusion, this is a fight: Chinese vs. Mexican, happening now, in a South O strip mall next to No Frills. Tablecloths with Chinese characters. Wall posters exclusively in Spanish. Kikkoman, Sriracha, AND Tapatio on the tables. To be clear, if I wanted either one of these cuisines on its own, I wouldn't come here, but there's something about the wacky combo you should experience at least once. Sure, the tables were sticky, and I preferred not to think about the grime that must be living in the kitchen. Just sweep the dirt under the carpet in your mind and you'll be fine. The highlights were the salsa trio, house-made and hotter than Helen's house, and the shrimp egg roll, which was ready to take any unlikely dip you could throw at it. The meat in the tacos had a hint of Chinese spice, like what would happen if you stored your al Pastor with your Kung Pao in the same tupperware for a few days, and the tortillas were no bueno. Our entree, Snow Pea Chicken, was so-so, but a few heaping spoonfuls of delicious chili sauce made things more interesting.

I can't vouch for Shang Hai in terms of culinary mastery, but it is a novel idea carried out by folks who aren't aware of their "concept;" they're just eatin' what they like to eat.

Pork Tacos

Snow Pea Chicken

Chili Sauce

Thursday, September 22, 2011

King Kong

4409 Dodge Street
Omaha, NE 68131
(402) 553-3326
Plus other locations in Omaha and Lincoln, open late

While cruising around looking for a munch at 10pm and trying to avoid places with a dollar menu, I stopped at KK hoping to see a fight or robbery or some other disturbance. But no. The cops were just pigging out.

I went in already knowing my order from checking the menu online. My Chicken Philly with onions almost became a regular Philly with peppers until I caught the slab of beef being thrown on the grill. At that point I felt compelled to confirm my entire order with the glassy-eyed lad behind the counter. He cockily assured me. What I found when I uncovered the styrofoam at home I can only attribute to a straight up language barrier. My "small Greek salad" somehow became a "kids Gyro with fries," and my requested side of mayo was absent. The Chicken Philly was excessively salty to the point where the cheese was completely drowned out, but I have to hand it to them, the way they chop it up is the closest thing to what you'd find in the City of Brotherly Shove. The fries seem like they're dredged in flour; they're tasty, but hefty and over-processed. At $15 for the above meal, this place will keep me out of late night local businesses and in the drive thru lane, unfortunately.

Sorry, no pics. My hand was too shaky with anger over my messed up order to hold a camera. If you've had a better experience there, tell us about it!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Fat in Arizona

Mr. G, Father of the Bean and Cheese Burrito, Yuma, Arizona

Omaha's Eppely Airfield isn't your state-of-the-art facility. No Wolfgang Puck Express, or even Chili's Too. Since you probably strategically show up thirty minutes before your flight in order to cruise through security and into your seat, there's no need for fancy schmance. This time, though, we made time for a little A&W chili cheese fries.
Soggy, salty, and smelly: Because sometimes peanut packets just aren't enough.

Post-flight, a liquid dinner was enjoyed at the Yucca Tap Room, with a slice of pepperoni 'zza for dessert. For fourth meal, we hit up Rivas Mexican Food for burritos. Fatty didn't want to hold up the fun with incessant food documentation, but just know that:

  • Yucca is thee night spot in Tempe, with an admirable microbrew menu, tolerable live music, and good to great bar food. My favorite was Tempe's own Hop Knot IPA from Four Peaks Brewery.
  • A California burrito has carne asada and papas fritas and is the best thing you can possibly eat at 2:15am. 
  • Machaca is a mess of braised beef and in many cases, fried egg. The best choice for raising your cholesterol, a demon to the angel of oatmeal.

The Tohono O'odham set up their jewelry for sale. 

Indian fry bread is mostly a carnival or fair specialty, when those of Native American descent break out their deep fryers and stick their fluffy bread in it, then serve them as savory tacos or sweet desserts. Thank the heart disease heavens this isn't an everyday food, because such a concoction will make your left arm tingle. There are just a few places in Phoenix to chow down on it year round, and we happily ignored the lunch crown with a collective Body Mass Index of a million as we savored this special treat. It's best to stick to the "Indian Taco" fry bread, which is dressed up with a simple smear of half-mashed pinto beans and a handful of shredded lettuce and cheese. Cover in the thin-but-spicy hot sauce and swallow. Chase with a tropical iced tea. 
Indian Taco:
Homemade mashed refried pinto beans, shredded cheese and lettuce
Vegetarian Taco:
Refried beans, layered with sauteed spicy green chile strips, onions, sour cream and cheese

Like a couple of cowboys, we took the best the Indians had to offer and moseyed down to Yuma, the sunniest city on earth, nestled on the border of California and Mexico. Corn doesn't grow too well in this region known as Sonora. (Gasp! Hold on to your husks!) So, the Sonorans have historically stuck to wheat, which led to the birth of the flour tortilla. Here, Taco Bell and Mission tortillas are replaced by ones that are thinly stretched to the point of near-translucency, made with the pure recipe of flour, water, and lard. Only. Not a thing more. Does it surprise you that Yumans are touchy about their tortillas? To a Yuman, Mr. G and his restaurant Chile Pepper are the tastes of childhood, of purity, of love.

Bean and Cheese Burrito--
Encased in an authentic flour tortilla.
The unexpected weight and the oozing brown always reminded me of a dirty diaper,
but do not hesitate, for this is the best burrito in the land. 

Rolled Tacos:
Shredded beef in a fried corn tortilla. You might know them as Taquitos.
I know them as breakfast.  

It's barely noon on a Saturday and Lute's Casino is already loud, boisterous chatter bouncing off the walls decorated with Impressionist knock-offs and Marilyn Monroe portraits, with a lot of T.G.I. Friday's flair junk hanging from the warehouse-height ceilings. A friendly but tough staff keeps things rolling in the sea of round tables, all day and night. A kind of modern Western bar where you'd be more likely to have a drink-off than a duel, Lute's is a must visit in southwest Arizona. And once you're here, you must get the Especial.
The World-Famous Especial:
One (1) butterflied well-grilled hot dog atop one (1) cheeseburger deluxe
equals one (1) gluttonous treat.

Somewhere under the cheese, lettuce and hot sauce, you will find crunchy potato tacos.
Because when it's 110 in the shade you need some extra fuel to burn. 

Stuffed beyond words, beer and burrito bellies protruding with guilt and glee, we arrived at the last stop, a friend's cookout near Phoenix. I spread some nacho cheese on a warm tortilla, dumped on a lump of beans and salsa, and wrapped it around a charred hot dog. What I took as inventive turned out to be known as a Taco Dog. Yes, they do things differently down there in the desert, where the landscape might as well be the moon to me, and with 115 degrees, you're screwed if the power goes out (which, as you may have heard, it did). In the midst of all the 9/11 sad and sentimental anniversary hoopla, I got even hungrier to taste the fattest crap the rest of our great country has to offer.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jimi D's

6303 Center Street
Omaha, NE 68106
(402) 391-2011
Open for lunch and dinner, daily happy hour (even weekends!) from 3-6pm

Beer-battered Calamari with Roasted Red Pepper and Lemon Aioli Sauce
Chicken Wings, Buffalo Style with Bleu Cheese, Pickled Cauliflower and Celery
(Ask for extra hot.)

Jimi D's. Sounds like a chain, don't it? Sounds like Applebee's spawn. Sounds like it's gonna suck. To put it simply, the interior does kinda suck, but the food is stellar pub fare with an interesting flair. The high walls are decorated with art on canvas that you might find at Target, or maybe IKEA. The soundtrack is forgettable and the sports screens dominate the vibe. In our high-backed booth, though, we were able to focus on the grub. We laid off the Bud Lite and made this an eating happy hour, which our server didn't seem to mind. He refilled our waters often, but didn't hover over us, and didn't exude that gushing casual dining cheese that can be so popular. Happy hour appetizers focus on quantity and not quality: The fried calamari was soggy, but at least the breading wasn't too thick. The wings had lots of inedible stringy bits, but we still powered through the pile of them. The nice surprise came with the "entree," the Italian Grilled Cheese with a side salad. The Fontina was present, but not overloaded, and the tomato marmalade cut the grease with an even sweetness, all sharing taste bud space with the crunch of crisp fresh greens. How often does one find food at a sports bar that isn't simply average, overindulgent, generic, unhealthy, and/or boring? I wouldn't hang out at Jimi D's really, but I will go back for a quick late lunch or early dinner. With a wine selection that's better than you'd expect, and dishes ranging from gnocchi to fish and chips to a black bean burger, I do hope this relatively new eatery can find their true niche sometime soon.

Italian Grilled Cheese:
Fontina, tomato marmalade, fresh greens, with prosciutto (optional), on grilled sourdough.
You can actually taste everything! (Tommy Colina's, take note.)
Side salad with leafy dark greens and cherry tomatoes, with house-made balsamic vinaigrette.
I was wrong to expect iceberg.

Jimi D's on Urbanspoon

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Market Basket

911 South 87th Avenue (in the Countryside Village shopping center)
Omaha, NE 68114
(402) 397-1100
Open early for breakfast, closes at a different time every day, see website

Lobster Tacos Special:
"Corn tortilla, garlic butter and sauced lobster, basil sour cream, avocado and tomato slices,"
as described on the menu

I usually have little to no idea what I'm getting into when I visit a restaurant I've never been to before. Usually it involves me swerving my vehicle into the closest place at the first hunger pang. But this was a semi-planned excursion, driven by my desire to check out another "Omaha staple," a place known for its throngs of rich old folk and rows of sticky buns. I didn't partake in the pastries, but I did order straight off the specials list, ignoring the $15 price like some bourgeois honky. The Lobster Tacos were filled with tender meat, cradled in real corn tacos (not Sysco brand) and topped with creme fraiche that was... fresh. The brown-ish guacamole was another story. Add a pile of cabbage (you know how Grandma feels about cabbage) and you've got yourself an entree fit for the finest of retirement homes. Here there was attractive plating with a variety of ingredients, but a curiously bland flavor. I don't want to harp on it too much, but in this case the food really did fulfill the geriatric genre of stereotypes. The restaurant is proud of its use of fresh and local ingredients and draws on a wide range of culinary styles prepared by chefs who give a crap, but they seem content appealing to a limited demographic. And for this reason I would advise you to go elsewhere, my fellow young-and-hungrys.

The youthful servers were all kind of milling around with those familiar dark circles under their eyes that say "I've been studying/drinking all night and this lunch rush couldn't be over fast enough." And then it was over, and I exited into the bright sunlight, wondering what we'll all be eating when we're 80.

Half a "Deli" sandwich and a cup of Turkey Mushroom soup--
Baked ham, turkey, swiss, tomato, lettuce, mayo, mustard, on rye.
The Thanksgiving-style turkey was tasty, and the bagel chip in lieu of soup crackers was a nice touch.
Orange slice garnish:
You can't really tell from the photo, but it looked like it had been pre-chewed,
perhaps for the denture-packing crowd.