April 25, 2015

Can Jose Garces Bring the Baja to Philly?

Fast casual set up at Buena Onda. Bit of a line on a weeknight!
Buena Onda is Jose Garces' latest Philly opening at 19th & Callowhill, bringing his local empire to 12 restaurants. It's his most casual, "inspired by the fresh, tranquil, do-it-your-way spirit of Mexico's Baja peninsula." Order at a counter, pick your own seat and they'll bring out your food.

Having been to La Paz, the gorgeous Baja beach town 3 hours north of Cabo where we feasted on heavenly ceviches and fish tacos caught that same day, we had much more reasonable expectations for Buena Ondo. It didn't exactly transport us back to the Baja, but we have to say "fresh" was the best word that came to mind after our visit and the ambiance did give off a more tranquil vibe than most fast casual joints.

Tacos de Pescado Por Favor!

With fish tacos at the center of the menu, we tried each - Atlantic mahi mahi, jumbo pacific shrimp and the catch of the day (perch). You choose to have the fishes fried or tequila-lime glazed, and all are served with a chipotle remoulade, avocado, red cabbage and jícama slaw in a house made flour tortilla. Both of us really enjoyed the light tequila-lime glaze on the mahi mahi and the shrimp, and the fry batter on the perch was similarly airy but flavorful. Might as well split up your order and try some of each.

Mahi mahi, perch and carne asada tacos
Shrimp and carnitas tacos

Off the meat tacos menu, Bradd  liked his chili-glazed carne, served with chile de arbol, queso fresco and cilantro in a corn tortilla, but had to improvise when the bottom quickly fell out. He made good use of both house sauces on the table, a spicy tomato and a salsa verde, to punch things up, too. I was a big fan of the pineapple topping that gives Garces' carnitas taco a tropical twist. The menu also includes quesadillas, tortilla soup and other smaller items, as well as margaritas and beer.

Chips and salsa, always a pleaser

I wouldn't call the shrimp "jumbo" but other than that, our only major feedback is that we'd love to see more tables out on the sidewalk. Pizzeria Vetri is two doors away and has quadruple the outside seating.

Could Garces have offered a more innovative food experience? Sure. For a chef of his acclaim, Bueno Ondo isn't exactly the next Garces destination. But the ingredients were fresh and balanced each other out well - it was a solid, light dinner for a nice spring night. If we lived within walking distance, we'd be back more quickly. Given the short line that formed by 7pm, the Callowhill neighborhood doesn't disagree.

For 3 fish at $3.50 each, 2 meat at $3 each, salsa and chips ($5), and a margarita ($7), our bill was $31. Not bad, but not cheap when compared to South Philly taquerias. In the end, Bueno Ondo is not trying to be the next El Jarocho so give it a try if you're feeling fishy one night this summer.

April 18, 2015

40 Local Food Blogs to Follow Around the World

If you're anything like us, food is a very important part of your travel plans. Whether we're on the road for work or flying halfway across the world for fun, we always try to sample the best local food.

That's why the coolest thing about traveling to London, San Francisco and New Orleans with Chowzter over the past two years has been meeting all the other contributors from around the world. They write blogs, run tours and share incredible photos of the local food/culture that we're dying to experience.

Even better, we've realized that they are just like you and me - regular people who love to eat/drink, love their cities and love the communities that are built around food. That's the perspective we trust and want to lead us to our next meal.

If you're traveling to any of the following cities this summer, please check out these great local writers we've met for their posts, videos, podcasts, tweets, instagrams, etc. with ideas on what to eat. And remember that much of what they write about are "fast feasts" - not fast food and not fine dining, but all the great local, affordable dishes in between (can you say Rotolo?) And if you don't see your destination city here, check out Chowzter.com and their new video site www.foodiehub.tv for quick suggestions in about 100 other cities.

Best croissant in Paris at Grenier a Pain,
as told by Paris blogger Mathilde!
North America:

Austin - Man Up Texas BBQ
(great name! he does BBQ tours too)
Buffalo - Buffalo Eats
Charleston - Charleston Food Bloggers
(check out his video of San Francisco, too)
Chicago - Roam & Home
Dallas - FoodBitch
Detroit - The Hungry Dudes
Houston - Urban Swank
Los Angeles - Gourmet Pigs  
New York - Feisty Foodie
Orlando - Tasty Chomps
Portland - Talk. Eat. Drink. Portland.
(middle school teachers write on happy hours!)
Queens - Chopsticks & Marrow
San Diego - Kirbie's Cravings   
San Francisco - FoodHoe's Foraging
Savannah - Savannah Foodie
Seattle - The Gastrognome
St. Louis - St. Louis East and Drinks
Toronto - Food Junkie Chronicles  
Vancouver - Follow Me Foodie
Washington, DC - Capital Cooking

Around the World:

Bankok, Thailand - Thai Street Food
Barcelona, Spain - Forever Barcelona (hosts food tours!)
Baja California and western Mexico - A Gringo in Mexico
Beirut - No Garlic No Onions
Bristol, England - Bristol Bites
Buenos Aires, Argentina - Pick Up the Fork
Caracas, Venezuela - Milsabores
Dubai - Ishita Unblogged
Glasgow, Scotland - The Glasgow Food Blog
Hanoi, Vietnam - Sticky Rice
Istanbul, Turkey - Istanbul Food
Jakarta, Indonesia - Eats and Treats
London, England - Eat Like a Girl
Manila, Philippines - Our Awesome Planet
Mumbai, India - Finely Chopped
Paris, France - Mathilde's Cuisine
Puebla, Mexico - All About Puebla
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - Eat Rio
Seoul, South Korea - Seoul Eats
Singapore - Camemberu
Sydney, Australia - Simon Food Favourites
All around Latin America - New World Review

April 3, 2015

Friday Food Photos: 3 Spots to Grab Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner this Weekend in Philadelphia

Happy Friday! It's 60 degrees out, Easter weekend and we're starting to spot some flowers... could spring finally be here?? It felt like this day would never come... 

Time to shake off winter hibernation mode and get back out on the food scene. Here are three Friday food photos to inspire your next breakfast, lunch and dinner around town. 

Breakfast: Breakfast Burrito from Cafe Ynez. Despite all the great food options around Graduate Hospital, we'd been missing a good Mexican restaurant until Cafe Ynez opened last year. Brunch was the immediate draw and I can vouch that the giant, stuffed breakfast burrito is worth the trip. All the ingredients tasted very fresh and none overpowered their companions. (Overkill on rice or beans can be so frustrating.) It comes vegetarian with scrambled eggs, refried beans, pico de gallo, good guacamole, sour cream and rice in a flour tortilla but you can add any meat you'd like - I highly recommend the carnitas. Their homemade Mexican hot chocolate also hit the spot and friends were very pleased with the huevos rancheros. 

March 25, 2015

Is this the Best, Cheapest Italian Hoagie in Philadelphia?

Major Wing Lee Grocery Market is a corner deli in East Falls known for two things: incredibly cheap hoagies and 15 minutes of fame courtesy of Parking Wars.

Even though I think the show is stupid and don't care to promote the meter gods, this Parking Wars episode is actually quite hilarious to watch (starts at 8:30) as the parking authority stakes out hoagie hunters who illegally park and rush in to get hoagies. The result is a $41 fine for hoagies that cost between $2.50 and $4.25.

Yes, that's how cheap Major Wing Lee hoagies really are.

A large Italian hoagie is $4.25, which is certainly a great price for the size and amount of meat. For comparison's sake, the Daddy Wad at Paesano's is $9 and the Spicy Godfather at P&S Deli is $7.25. But cheap does not always equal good. Where does Major Wing Lee rank on the scale of the best, cheapest Italian hoagies in Philadelphia?

I'd say it's right up there with cheap hoagie legend Wawa ($6-ish) on quality and almost on the number of hoagies made per minute, considering the consistent flow of customers during the five minutes I was in the store.

I've seen people claim this to be one of the best hoagies around. That's a stretch, but they do hit many of the basics - fresh cut meat, thick cut onions, shredded lettuce - although the unforgivable sin of asking if I wanted mayo was committed.

Major Wing Lee Grocery Market's large Italian hoagie

Like many cheaper hoagies, Major Wing Lee fell victim to a less than ideal roll. The Amoroso roll felt grocery store-bought and was a too chewy for my liking. The provolone lacked sharpness, also a common occurrence with cheaper hoagies.

March 11, 2015

Everyone is Going Bang Bang for Bing Bing

Jade Shrimp Dumplings
Cheu Noodle Bar founders Ben Puchowitz and Shawn Darragh opened Bing Bing Dim Sum in mid-February. Finally a fun place to get dumplings outside of Chinatown, and it hit East Passyunk with a splash - 250+ people served nightly since opening, according to Shawn. We first attempted to visit two weeks ago on Wednesday to find a 45 minute wait, much too long for the pregnant wife. We went back again on a Saturday, arriving 30 minutes after their 5:00 pm opening and it was already jammed, though we were able to snag two seats at the bar.

Dealing with such demand while working out the typical new restaurant kinks has been a struggle, Shawn admitted, and it showed in some of the initial menu items. Adding to the challenge, Bing Bing has to live up to the success of Cheu, bringing that distinct-but-indescribable Cheunish twist on noodles to the traditional, beloved dumpling.

Dumpling hunters would be wise to leave their comparisons to Chinatown-favorite Dim Sum Garden behind. That’s not a convenient excuse, but rather a deliberate deviation from the need for authenticity that will help align expectations with Bing Bing's interpretations of dim sum.