Category: Mexican (Page 2 of 4)

Two North Dakotan Burritos: Juano’s & Paula’s Cafe (Steakhouse & Lounge)

I’ve never been that into burritos. This month, I’ve eaten two and I’m not sure what’s brought on this sudden urge to order burritos.

Juano’s
There’s no Chipotle in Fargo. Hell, there’s no Chipotle in the whole state of North Dakota. Live in Fargo-Moorhead and want Chipotle? Drive two hours east to St. Cloud. I visited Chipotle’s website to double check. When I entered in my zip code, it replied that there were no locations within 100 miles. It suggested searching again, with another city, state, or zip code. And then it added, “Or move.”

Or move? What the heck, Chipotle? Why would you even say that?

We may not have Chipotle, but we have other casual/carry-out Mexican-themed chains like Qdoba, Panchero’s and Moe’s Southwest Grill. If you want to visit a regional chain, there’s the newly opened Red Pepper location (thoughts on my first and only visit) and Juano’s. Since one Red Pepper visit was enough for me, I headed to my nearest Juano’s location for a take-out lunch. A couple friends with similar tastes mentioned Juano’s offers their favorite Mexican food in the community. There’s a fancier sit-down location on Broadway in downtown Fargo and a few other quick-serve locations.

I don’t know if this is a company-wide special, but North Fargo’s Juano’s offered a $5 burrito wrap between 11 a.m.-3 p.m. This was quite a deal considering the rest of the menu hovered around $10. I filled my burrito with rice, black beans, ground beef, lettuce, cheese, fresh cilantro, and their spiciest salsa. The ground beef was nicely seasoned. While some may have considered it too salty, but I’m fine if foods push this boundary just as long as they don’t leap over it. The black beans had a texture more like refried beans which took away some of the burrito’s textural contrast and the salsa was less spicy than Chipotle’s hottest, but overall, this was a flavorful burrito.

I noticed they can also drench burritos in chili sauces. Juano’s downtown location offers its menu with prices on their Facebook page, though I can’t find an official website with information on their other quick-serve locations.

Paula’s Cafe (Steakhouse & Lounge)
On my day off, I headed up I-29 towards Mayville, North Dakota. I first visited Mayville in mid-March and made a note to return to Paula’s, a bustling cafe along the main street. There was just something about this cafe that fascinated me. I started following their Facebook page and admired their daily specials featuring good ole’ home cooking as well as photos of smoked meats. Mayville’s about 45 minutes from Fargo and I braved the windy drive on a dreary spring morning.

I parked along the main street and entered what looked like a mostly empty diner equipped with an old fashioned counter. I asked a server where I should sit for lunch and she directed me to the dining room. I followed a sign instructing me to seat myself. Once inside the dining room, I passed a salad bar and searched for a smaller table for one. When I couldn’t find one, I chose a table in the back. The other customers appeared to be regulars who knew exactly what they were doing and I was confused. It didn’t seem like anyone had noticed I seated myself, so I went to the salad bar and asked a server about the protocol. I wondered if I supposed to eat the salad bar or order from a menu. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying salads and I didn’t see any menus. I tried to explain that this was my first visit and I had no idea what I was doing.

The server may not have heard me well because she instructed me to help myself to the salad bar, mentioning I could go back as many times as I liked. I thought it was odd that the salad bar was the only thing offered for lunch. But since I was there, I filled a plate with vegetables, a toasted roll, and small cup of potato au gratin soup. When I reached my table in the back, I found some ladies congregating around my seat. At first, I optimistically wondered if they were going to join me, but when I noticed one woman grabbing towards my purse, I got the idea they were trying to move it elsewhere. I wondered where, exactly, they planned to place my purse, phone, and book. Anywhere except there, I suppose. A server noticed what was occurring and walked over to assist the ladies. I asked if I should move, but the server relied, “no” and helped them find a different, empty table.

I sat down to eat my salad and noticed others had beverages. I found a server and asked if I could have a glass of water and she came over right away with a large pitcher and a couple glasses. At this point, I felt rather sheepish about eating by myself. After a few minutes, I noticed others eating hot foods and asked if there was a lunch menu. She brought one over quickly, explaining the daily specials. I chose the beef burrito. Along with the salad bar, it cost under $9.

While I waited for my entree, I nibbled my plate form the salad bar which included the typical offerings. The salad was fresh. The piping hot potato au gratin soup tasted exactly like the boxed versions of potato au gratin I used to enjoy at my grandma’s house.

Th
The beef burrito was generously-sized and covered with melted cheese and red sauce. It came with some shredded lettuce, diced tomato, a tube of sour cream, chips, and salsa. Although the salsa seemed canned or bottled, it carried a pleasant kick, along with the red sauce. The best part of the meal was the tender beef inside the wrap. It was a little smokey and fork tender. I don’t doubt that Paula’s knows their meats. In hindsight, I should have just chosen a burger. A local reporter spoke highly of the burger and I feel silly assuming the salad bar and beef burrito would make a healthier choice.

The dining room was quite busy and once I landed on the servers’ radars, they showered me with “huns” and “sweeties.” I think the awkwardness can be more attributed to the fact that no one was used to new people who didn’t know what to do.

Solo dining is always an adventure. Sometimes, I feel perfectly at home and other times, I feel awkward. Cafe 116 in Fergus Falls, MN and Harvest Thyme Bistro in Wadena, MN come to mind as being especially comfortable for a solo, female diner. This was one of the more awkward meals where I was especially aware that one thing was not like the other (that one thing being me, the non-regular). I felt the curious stares from the regular diners.

Being open to adventures means taking in the awkward along with the cozy. For me, the most anxiety-ridden experience is often walking into the cafe of a close-knit community, alone. However, it’s impossible to learn about or connect with others unless someone takes a chance and my favorite way to do this is trying the local food. I truly believe people are good at heart. . . even if they are trying to move me to a different table.

A Few Tastes: Los Paisanos Taqueria, Sun Street Breads & A Sysco Food Show

This past weekend, Jake and I headed to the Twin Cities for the wedding reception we never had. We had said our vows in October at a small ceremony and were finally able to extend the celebration to family and friends.

Neither Jake or I enjoy planning party details such as color schemes and table decorations, so our family turned the reception into a beautiful, food-filled surprise at the Embassy Suites near the airport where Jake’s uncle manages the food services. Bites from the evening included Rustica’s bittersweet chocolate cookies, absinthe cocktails, crab salad served in tiny, edible spoons, and rosy roast beef with my favorite creamy horseradish sauce. I’ll share more as we collect photos from friends. We are continually humbled by the kindness and generosity of our family and friends and extend our gratitude to everyone who planned and participated in the reception.

We stayed with both of our families, who spoiled with home cooked foods. We also managed to grab a few meals out. Here are a few tastes from the past week:

Los Paisanos Taqueria, East St. Paul, MN
Tortas are essentially impossible to purchase in Fargo-Moorhead, so I always find one whenever we stay with my husbands folks in East St. Paul. A while back, I wrote about a torta I ordered from By More Taqueria. Afterwards, a reader recommended Los Paisanos Taqueria, noting that it’s his favorite place to grab a torta in East St. Paul. This was my second visit since he left the comment.

The restaurant is located down the road from the Rainbow Foods on Arcade. It’s painted in bright colors and looks a little worn. Those who are concerned about sanitation might notice the current ServSafe Food Handler certification prominently displayed near the register. My typical order of a small horchata and beef milenesa torta costs about $10.

The sandwich is the size of my face. The bottom bun is spread with re-fried beans while the top covers layers of avocado, cheese, shredded lettuce, mayonnaise, and pickled jalapenos. My favorite part is the thin beef cutlet and its crisp breading that’s heated on the griddle. Don’t hesitate to ask for a small cup of the spicy red salsa to dip the sandwich in if it’s not included in your take-out bag. There are tables for customers who want to dine-in, but I find the restaurant smells strongly of fruity air freshener. Service has always been friendly. 
Sun Street Breads, South Minneapolis, MN
My husband’s found a friend in Sun Street Bread’s breakfast biscuit sandwiches. He remembered enjoying one earlier this winter and wanted to return for our first post-reception meal. You know it’s good when Andrew Zimmern continues to mention Sun Street as one of his favorite bakeries. He even specifically mentioned the egg biscuit sandwich on his list of “personal bests.” 
On this visit, Jake ordered the Southern Fried Biscuit ($7.50) to soak up the beverages from the previous evening. 
A tender, toasted biscuit, runny fried egg, bacon, fried chicken and gravy laden with chunks of sausage. I feel my arteries constrict just looking at this photo. My goodness, it was really good. Especially that peppery country gravy.
I’m not sure this side of fruit ($3.50) offset all of the Southern fried, but it was generously portioned and of high quality. I ordered from Sun Street’s lunch menu and tried the Steak & Swiss ($9.75), their version of a cheese steak. Ironically, I wasn’t crazy about the bread because its texture reminded me of Olive Garden breadsticks (thought it was certainly acceptable), but liked the other components. Especially the flavorful beef, spicy pickled banana peppers, and swiss cheese sauce. 
Each lunch sandwich comes with one’s choice of fries, salad, fruit or soup ($1 upcharge). I was pleasantly surprised by the large size of my accompanying salad and its freshness. A scoop of beans was a welcome gift of randomness. They tasted of smoked paprika. 
Sun Street is very busy during weekend brunches, but during the past few times I’ve dined, there I’ve never had trouble finding a table. 
Sysco Food Show

As culinary students, we’re invited to attend Fargo-Moorhead’s food service shows for free. Last semester, we visited US Food’s sprawling show held in the Fargo Dome and this week, we attended Sysco’s show at Scheel’s Arena. I have a mixed feelings about Sysco. Obviously, they make purchasing convenient for restaurants, but also seem to be making efforts in purchasing meats from distributors who raise their animals humanely, supporting sustainable seafood practices, and increasing partnerships with local distributors. On the other hand, I wish more restaurants would more intentionally seek food from local suppliers and farms and make their own foods from scratch instead of relying on pre-made convenience products. But what kind of fool turns down free food? Albeit, most of the food is frozen, canned, jarred, of a mix, or pre-baked, but it’s fun, nevertheless. 
Most of the food vendors at these shows are gracious to the roaming pack of hungry students and provide engaging interactions. Some are a little less thrilled. On this visit, I tried to restrain myself to a walleye finger, lemonade, iced tea, a few nachos with self-serve cheese sauce, and a dinner mint. One can certainly go overboard sampling from the platters of most any fried food imaginable, cheeses, and desserts.

As the token Korean, I took it upon myself to try a Korean empanada, a new product from one of Sysco’s internationally-themed lines. I found that it tasted surprisingly. . . Korean. Nicely done. My classmates seemed content to end their tours with ice cream cones dispensed by the Blue Bunny cart. 

Mom’s Chicken Chalupas

The best things don’t always come from mom’s kitchen, but they often begin there.

For most of my years living at home, my mom just didn’t enjoy cooking. She thought of it more as work than a fun activity and often relied on convenience products. As we moved through high school college, she experimented with a greater variety of recipes. I’m sure the fact that we were older and more independent resulted in days filled with more time and less stress.

In her later years, she spent a lot of time caring for her own mother who lived in an assisted living facility in Burnsville, MN. It was here that she made many friends with whom she exchanged recipes. One of our family’s favorites was a casserole she called Chicken Chalupas. I recently discovered she had submitted this recipe in a cookbook published by my grandma’s care center. As usual, I added my own twists.

This past weekend, we attended a memorial service for my grandma’s sister-in-law, Agnes. My cousin found this photo of my mom while he was looking through Agnes’s old photo albums.

For some reason this makes me inexplicably happy.

Alice’s Chicken Chalupas

For a milder version, omit the jalapeno and spicy enchilada sauce. My mom grilled the chicken breasts which added a lot of flavor. We are not permitted to have a grill on our patio, so I sauteed the chicken breasts in olive oil with a spicy, steak seasoning. The original recipe also did not contain sauteed vegetables. You could omit these, or choose your own combination of vegetables. I did not measure them but would estimate I added 1-1 1/2 cups of sauteed mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers

Ingredients:
Cooked and seasoned boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Cooled and cut into small pieces

1/4 lb. shredded sharp cheddar cheese

3/4 lb. shredded pepper jack
1 can cream of chicken soup
2 cups sour cream (I used light).
1 small can of diced green chilies
1 clove garlic, grated or minced
2 tsp. cumin
Black pepper
3-4 stalks of green onions, chopped

1 red jalapeno, finely diced
1 small can of drained, sliced black olives

Sauteed mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers
1 package of flour tortillas (original recipe suggests eight-inch)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Mix the shredded cheddar and pepper jack cheeses and set aside.

Combine the cream of chicken soup, sour cream, green chilies, cumin, and season with black pepper.

Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and add the jalapeno, olives, half of the green onions, and sauteed vegetables.

Add half of the shredded cheese and all of the cut-up chicken.

Place a few spoonfuls of the chicken mixture in a tortilla. Roll and fold in the ends. Place in the baking dish and repeat until you use all of the chicken filling and the baking dish is full.

Top the filled tortillas with the rest of the sauce and spread until even. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and chopped scallions.

Bake for about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

To serve, I cut the casserole into squares and served with spicy, red enchilada sauce.

Hodo Sky Prairie Rooftop & Why I Can’t Hate Paradiso

Post orientation Hunger Games, Jake treated me to dinner at the Hodo Sky Prairie rooftop patio.  I washed away the day’s blood, sweat, and tears with a hearty glass of sangria, $9.

The beverage was refreshing and filled with a lot of fruit, though weak from an alcohol standpoint.  I know this because I, a lightweight who had only eaten a small cookie for lunch, did not feel buzzed.  Normally under these circumstances, I’d be tanked by a half bottle of light beer.

For dinner, we both ordered the American Double Cheeseburger special, medium rare, $8.

The burgers were deceptively small as the patties were quite thick.  They were juicy and actually cooked a little south of medium rare (which is better than overcooked) with a flavor like sausage.  We topped them with the accompanying ripe tomato, tender lettuce leaf, and red onion.

Sides included crispy, homemade sweet potato chips and a trio of pickle spears.  It seemed strange they were served three on a plate for two people.  Guess who just got one. . .

Jake ordered a dessert layering shortcake with peach, rhubarb compote, and whipped cream.

My favorite component was the tart rhubarb.  The shortcake was buttery but seemed a little bland, possibly benefiting from a dash of salt.  While the mint leaves added a beautiful flair, they seemed impractical to eat.

On Saturday evening, Jake got lucky.

For two weeks, I had badgered him into accompanying me to Bonzansaville’s Pioneer Days festival.  Think North Dakota’s version of Murphy’s Landing.  Fortunately for Jake, I learned Bonanzaville closed at 5 p.m., a mere half hour before I could corral him out the door.  With an admission price of $12 each, we made alternative plans.  I sulked while he rejoiced.

Plan B was errands and dinner.  We journeyed towards the bright lights of Paradiso Mexican Restaurant, a North Dakotan chain with four locations.  Tonight was the night to discover what what Paradiso was all about.  It loudly beckons from Interstate 29’s access road with fluorescent lights, and its parking lot is always full.

We walked inside waited along a throng of families.  Women sipped on margaritas in colors not found in nature.  When our buzzer sounded, we were lead through rooms that expanded into rooms.  One featured a large fountain while others were decorated with statues of children playing musical instruments and playing games.  Imagine the White Witch of Narnia’s courtyard.  Except happier.

Our waiter was a friendly college student who reminded me of my brother.  We were immediately fond of him.  Paradiso delivered on its catchphrase, “The chips are free.  Dinner’s extra.”  Our server brought us a basket of warm chips and a mild salsa (bottom left).

The salsa tasted fresh, though we wished for more heat so we asked our server if Paradiso had any hot sauce.  Instead of bringing us a commercial bottle of hot sauce, he provided a spicier and more garlicky version of fresh salsa (top right).  And when we polished off our first basket of chips, he brought a second.
As entree, I chose the Chimi Fundito filled with chicken while Jake ordered chicken fajitas with a side of re-fried beans.

The chicken in the chimichanga was moist and the creamy, green sauce was a little spicy.  In addition, the side of rice was flavorful without tasting like the artificially stinky versions I usually hate, and the re-fried beans were light and well-seasoned.  I just don’t have anything bad to say about my meal.

Jake said he enjoyed his fajitas, adding, “It’s hard to mess up fajitas.”

The chicken breast sat on top a large pile of sauteed onions.  They were so thinly sliced they bordered on mushy and tasted of margarine or butter flavoring.  Not what I expected to taste, but I ate some anyway.  Jake nibbled from my plate, commenting that my re-fried beans were much better than those he had ordered as a side.  Then he ate much of the remainder of my burrito.  Our bill for two entrees and two beers was $40, plus tip.

We were both too full to indulge in the fried ice cream dishes that kept floating past our table.

Paradiso was packed with families celebrating birthdays and screeching, crash-banging children.  The menu offered only Americanized choices like burritos and enchiladas and the margaritas ran in rivers of banana and electric blue.  I wanted to hate it, I wanted to mock it, but I just couldn’t.  I might have been having too much fun.

Mango’s Mexican Grill is still our Fargo-Moorhead favorite, but I thoroughly enjoyed my giant enchilada.

Jeni Finally Gets Her Sloppy Torta: Quick Trip Home & By More Taqueria

Two months away from home without a food adventure left me in a crazed state.

The other weekend, I wanted to eat a torta, a food that isn’t exactly commonplace around here.

The Fargo torta buck stopped at my Internet search.  I was only willing to go as far as Googling the sh#$ out of Fargo + Moorhead + torta.  I’d love for you to prove me wrong.

My torta craving grew to the point where I considered driving to Minneapolis for a sandwich.  Nothing more.  Just a sandwich.

Last weekend, we returned to the Twin Cities for a quick visit to surprise Jake’s mom for her birthday.  We left for the cities earlier than normal and greeted her when she returned home from work.  Both surprisers and surprisee seemed equally happy about the reunion.

We also visited the family for which I babysat and apprenticed last year.  I know it’s a tale as old as time, but the experience of watching a baby transform into a child that talks in complete sentences and zips around the sidewalks of Minneapolis on a Strider is fantastic and humbling.  We barely have the skeleton of a wedding in place, but we now have a ring bearer.

Speaking of wedding plans, we’re finally getting started.  Or at least, we’re thinking about it.  I’m more concerned about the food.  Can you recommend a vendor who could make a non-traditional wedding dessert?  Neither one of us is a big fan of cake, but we’re very fond of pie.

On Saturday morning, I woke up early to go to the St. Paul Farmers Market.  I managed to get funneled into the world’s most treacherous detour, finally landing in a back parking lot, unscathed.  This summer, our CSA has supplied us with all of our vegetables.  The quality has been high, but the selection mundane.  Walking through the farmers market nearly brought tears to my eyes as I admired stands of melons, okra, eggplants, habanero peppers, and foraged mushrooms (I just learned about Probstfield Farm’s Old Trail Market in Moorhead, MN and plan to stop by this weekend).

I bought some treats to supplement our weekly CSA box and stopped at A Toast To Bread for the empanadas I used to enjoy each weekend.

Fortunately, I got there early enough to purchase one of each variety to share with the boys.

They were as delicious as I remember.  The first was filled with ground beef and veggies, the second with ground beef, olives and raisins, and the third with tuna.

For lunch, we took home spicy BBQ, baked beans, and collard greens from Ted Cook’s, per Jake’s request.

My rib tips were more dried out than normal and I had to toss about half.  Otherwise, everything else tasted the same.

Dinner was cloudy with a chance of these. . .

I like to occasionally indulge with meals accompanied by these.  For those who may take issue, my reply is the same as the one I gave to the man in the elevator this afternoon.  He sternly informed me that the cream cheese on my bagel was unhealthy, to which I replied, “I don’t care.

He may have been a client.  Oops.

On our final morning, I snuck out for a morning torta.  I knew that stacking a torta onto the weekend’s meals could result in trouble, but pressed on towards my goal.  After all, my life has led me down a path of uncertainly regarding when I will run into my next torta.  If I see a torta, I will indulge.  Plus, one can always transport food on ice.  We took home quite the haul.

Jake’s an East Saint Paul boy, through and through.  His parents live in the Payne-Phalen area and it took me until now to discover the restaurants that line Payne Ave. and Arcade St.  On Sunday, I stopped at By More Taqueria, located near the intersection of Payne Ave. and Phalen Blvd.  Someone on Chowhound had mentioned torta.

My one track mind zeroed in to the torta options that could be filled with one’s choice of meat.  I did not notice breaded beef milanesa, my usual favorite, but had plenty of other options to pick from.  Some, I could not translate, though I remember seeing fish, lengua, and possibly cabeza.  I don’t remember much of the illustrated menu posted by the counter, but recall seeing seafood soup and a daily meal special that included nopal (cactus), which I adore.

I asked the man at the register for suggestions, and he earnestly steered me towards chorizo.   So, chorizo it was.

As I waited for torta, I sipped a glass of horchata.  Both cost about $9.  The two employees were very friendly and made everything fresh as families trickled in for their Sunday lunches.

My massive torta was filled with a griddled layer of crusty chorizo and toasty cheese.  It’s toppings included a healthy slick of mayo, smushed avocado, refried beans, shredded lettuce, chopped onion, and tomato.  Also, the bun was nicely toasted.

My torta tasted exactly how I had hoped and I dug into my sloppy sandwich.  I paused to share half with Jake.

He agreed that it was delicious, though we both bit into small bits of something hard.  My experience wasn’t unpleasant enough to ruin the sandwich, though Jake’s bite left him a little jolted.  I wonder if it came from the chorizo.

In summary, I felt the flavors were really beautiful.
As I drove along Payne Ave, I made mental notes of places I’d like to try during future visits home.  The area’s restaurants rarely seem to be mentioned and I look forward to exploring its food possibilities.

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