Foodie Travels: The Shake Shop, Cherryville, N.C.

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Don’t be fooled! If you drive by this place outside business hours, you might think it’s closed because of its rustic exterior. It’s not.

Again, don’t be fooled! If you’re a foodie fan of trendy spots, you might confuse this spot with the renowned Shake Shack, a fast-food chain based in New York City. It’s not.

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This is The Shake Shop, a locally owned Cherryville icon that’s been serving up Southern sandwich, side and drink favorites for decades. And it’s one of several dining favorites, along with Black’s Grill, in the western Gaston County community that have earned Cherryville press coverage as “Cheeseburger Town.”

That acclaim recently extended statewide as The Shake Shop was featured in the popular Our State magazine as one of North Carolina’s must-visit “Hole in the Wall” joints. The publication was enough to get us to finally make a #FoodieScore visit to The Shake Shop, and here’s what we discovered.

  • Don’t expect to immediately get a table on a Saturday if you arrive past 11:15 a.m. We drove up just before 11 a.m. and waited for the doors to open. After ordering at the counter and selecting a booth, we watched the small dining area fill to capacity in about 15 minutes. We also suggest you call ahead if you’re heading to The Shake Shop from outside town. We discovered the hours on the restaurant’s Facebook page are different than what’s posted on the door.
  • You must take cash here. Don’t forget!
  • Don’t expect to get a shake. While they’ve been served here in the past and the word is still in the name, it’s not part of the menu now. Do consider a handmade cherry lemon Sun-Drop, with cherries on top. It’s also a favorite drink over at Black’s Grill in town.
  • If you like Lottaburgers—a submarine sandwich-style bun filled with a burger patty and toppings on each half—you should try one here. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a place to top this lottaburger. The flavors—juicy meat, fresh slaw, tomato and pickle, also the standard sandwich toppings at Black’s Grill—and the portions are both large!
  • The onion rings are a great side choice, as heralded by locals. They’re some of the crunchiest, least greasy, flavorful onion rings we’ve had anywhere.

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The Shake Shop’s not the kind of place where you’ll find the crowd looking for the hippest, trendiest, most expensive and chic food available. It’s the kind of place where you’ll see families and friends meeting for a delicious meal at a good price. (We ate with tip for less than $20, and we ordered a few extras on top of the basics.) And it’s the kind of place where you’ll see regular customers arriving to a familiar question: “Are you having your usual today?” We heard that several times during just one quick lunchtime visit.

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Oh, and do expect to be called “honey” and “sweetie” when you order, as the Our State story reported. Southern hospitality flows freely here, and that’s just the way we like it.

The Shake Shop, 505 W. Church St., Cherryville, N.C.

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Foodie Travels: Black’s Grill, Cherryville, N.C.

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“Black’s Grill,” I would say as I answered the phone, pen poised in hand, ready to take another order. I’d write it down on a ticket pad, then tear it off and stick it above the main grill. Whoever was manning the grill would put on any necessary burgers and buns, and pass the ticket on down the line. As the fry cook, if I took the order, I’d go ahead and get the fries from the freezer and put them in the basket, to dip down into hot, yellow-brown oil.

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My two favorite parts of the job were the people and the free meal every day. The people I worked with at Black’s were there because they needed a job or wanted this particular one. Our boss, Barbara Hastings (who later passed it on to her son), was a phenomenal boss who cared just as much about her employees as she did her business. I think she knew it takes good, happy employees to make a good restaurant. My coworkers were like family to me. Those ladies taught me a lot about getting along with other people and caring. They had been through hard times, so they understood more than most people do. I wasn’t a rich kid, I was just trying to help make money for myself and for college. So I understood, too. I worked there for over two years, and those years at that job taught me more than many other jobs I have had. I learned hard work and I learned what kind of worker I was: someone who valued quality, attention to detail, and who would get things done when she saw they needed doing.

Today, I’m a schoolteacher and I don’t get to man the deep fryer anymore, or carry up large boxes full of fries from the basement. I don’t get to occasionally work the grill or dress the sandwiches. But I still go back to Cherryville from time to time to get a taste of that good old food so characteristic of my time there. And when I taste my first sip of a hand-crafted cherry lemon Sun-Drop, I know I’m in the right place.

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So what can you get at Black’s Grill? Oh, Lordy, where to start! Here are a few of my favorites. First, you have to get that cherry lemon Sun-Drop, because the waitress will make it with Sun-Drop, real cherry juice, a lemon, and cherries mixed in. It’s a powerfully refreshing drink. For food, Black’s has one of the best hamburgers in the world. Thick, perfectly-grilled, hand-pattied, juicy, hearty burgers with plenty of cheese on a toasted bun. We used to toast the buns with a thin layer of mayonnaise on the underside and lay ‘em straight on the grill. (Don’t tell my dad. He hates mayonnaise.) They have a mean hamburger steak, and another of my favorites is the grilled chicken melt: a grilled chicken breast on Texas toast with grilled onions and cheese. Get mayo, lettuce or any other toppings you like.

One good thing to know about Black’s: the default sandwich topping is slaw, tomato, pickle. I still go places and get slaw and tomato due to my love for it at Black’s. (They make slaw fresh every day, and there were quite a few times I made it myself. It’s a no-sugar slaw, just freshly chopped cabbage and plenty of cold mayo. It’s pert near perfect.) You can also get any number of other things like hotdogs, chicken patty sandwiches, corndogs, and more. They have a delicious Poorboy, ham and cheese on a hoagie bun, or Half and Half, ham and cheese on one half and a small cheeseburger on the other half of a hoagie bun.

Perhaps the king for me though is the grilled cheese. I’m serious. Black’s will trip you up because they have two versions: a toasted cheese and a grilled cheese. Be not fooled – they are not the same. A toasted cheese is your typical grilled cheese – cheese toasted between two slices of buttery bread. But a grilled cheese sandwich is another beast entirely. Here’s how it’s done: they take a fresh slice of American and plop it right on the grill, then put the bottom half of a hamburger bun on top of it upside down. They let the cheese cook and harden until it’s brown and crispy on one side, then use a spatula to scrape it up, while holding the bottom bun, then flip it right-side-up onto a sandwich paper. The sandwich dresser tops it with slaw, tomato, two small pickles, and salt and pepper, before capping it with its top bun. It’s then wrapped Black’s style. Let me tell you. I have never gotten a grilled cheese as good as this anywhere and my husband and I have eaten local food in more than 30 U.S. states. When you bite into that fresh, cool slaw and tomato, and taste it all mixed in with that crispy, toasted, melty cheese…there ain’t another taste like it. Even when I get another menu item, or even a basket, I get a grilled cheese to share with someone, too.

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Black’s famed Grilled Cheese

When you first walk into Black’s, you might feel a little out of place, or time. That’s because the people who go there are mostly regulars. But it won’t take long before you’re greeted and treated like family. And it won’t take long, if you live close by, before you’re a regular, too. I don’t live in Cherryville anymore, but I stop by when I can. It is always worth the stop. They’ve also done some snazzy retro redecorating inside and I must say, I really like it, from the Cherryville-themed mural to the antique fry baskets hanging on the walls holding ketchup packets and such. One word of warning: the parking lot and the dining room are cozy, so try to go at a less busy, less typically-lunch time of day.

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Thinking back to tickets, Black’s Grill was one of two food jobs I had where someone sent me home with order tickets before I started my first day. I was encouraged to study them and the menu to learn what was offered and how to write it. And study, I did. I was a nerdy kid. Today, I’m so glad I had that job, that when I walked in to meet Barbara for the first time, she was willing to give this homeschooled kid a chance, and that when I started to work there, I became a part of the Black’s Grill family. I miss those times. But what a blessing it is that Black’s Grill is still there – and hopping with business! – as a reminder of what’s important in life: treating people, and feeding people, right.

Black’s Grill, 1915 Lincolnton Highway, Cherryville, NC

Homemade Yeast Doughnuts

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Earlier this year, we tested a doughnut recipe in the #FoodieScore kitchen that allowed us to make the sweet treats without using yeast. The result was a flavorful doughnut we enjoyed and shared with you. But the doughnuts from that batch became much heavier as they sat for a day or two, and I found myself wanting a lighter, airier doughnut that could last a bit longer. After all, we shared some of the doughnuts with family, but we still had plenty to eat ourselves and could only eat so many at a time, within reason.

So, I searched for a yeast doughnuts recipe, hoping the inclusion of yeast would produce a lighter result and thinking such an ingredient might take a little more work to prepare. Both of those expectations were accurate with the recipe I selected. Molly did most of the preparation on these doughnuts, which required the incorporation, settling and rising of yeast, and the frying. The process did take more time and effort, but the recipe did produce a slightly airier doughnut.

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However, after a few days, the doughnuts still became a bit heavier and drier than when first made. So, I have a hypothesis about this and all doughnut recipes: They’re meant to make and enjoy right away. From our doughnut tests, we’ve learned there’s a reason why doughnut shops make their treats and sell them fresh on the day of production. A doughnut just isn’t as good after a few days. That also tells me something about those packages of Krispy Kreme and other doughnuts you see on the shelves in grocery and convenience stores. What kind of preservatives must they contain to help them maintain flavor and texture longer?

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This recipe linked here was provided by Ree Drummond, known as the Pioneer Woman, for the Food Network. It’s a solid set of ingredients and instructions, and we thoroughly enjoyed the resulting doughnuts. We also enjoyed getting creative with our decorations and toppings, leaving holes in some doughnuts and filling them with creams, icing others and adding drizzles, sprinkles, bacon and more. But most of all, we suggest that you use any doughnut recipe with plans to eat your tasty creations within just a couple of days. You’ll enjoy them more that way.

Foodie Travels: Ray’s Drive Inn, San Antonio, Texas

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We wish you good luck if you visit Ray’s Drive Inn, an iconic restaurant in San Antonio, Texas.

You’ll need luck to find a parking space in Ray’s lot, which seems to stay quite full, especially at peak dinner times. (They do appear to have a gravel parking lot across the street.) But that’s your first good clue that you’re in for an awesome dining experience at the spot that calls itself the home of the original puffy taco.

And speaking of that taco, good luck resisting the opportunity to order as many as you can, filled with nearly as many toppings as you can imagine. If you’re as lucky as we were, you’ll experience amazing service at Ray’s with a server who’s willing to describe the contents of each taco option.

Ray’s was our first stop on a two-day summer excursion through San Antonio, and we’ll be honest with you that it was quite difficult to not return for every other meal we ate in the city!

It was the aforementioned “puffy taco” that attracted us to Ray’s. I had heard about puffy tacos on one of the many Food Network shows I regularly binge on, and it appeared Ray’s was the place to get them.

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If you’ve never had one, the puffy taco is almost like a premium Taco Bell chalupa, but it’s far fresher and, well, better. The outer shell is fried crispy yet maintains a lightness that yields to the delicious filling it carries.

On our visit we sampled puffy tacos with zesty chicken fajitas, seasoned ground beef, savory pork, crispy fried fish and carne guisada. Each one offered the same familiar pop of fresh flavor of toppings like lettuce and tomato, and a crispy, puffy shell. But each one’s unique meat performed its own flavor concert with the other ingredients.

We ate a basket of chips that also came to the table—and the menu features a variety of other Mexican and American favorites—but otherwise this #FoodieScore stop was all about the tacos—wondrous homemade-style tacos.

If you can’t resist a tasty taco like us, don’t miss Ray’s. We suggest you take cash and expect a hearty crowd of other taco lovers. San Antonio’s quite lucky to have this taco treasure.

Ray’s Drive Inn, 822 SW 19th Street, San Antonio, Texas

Matthew’s Three-Ingredient Biscuits

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I’ve enjoyed some fantastic homemade biscuits in my life. With no disrespect to other great biscuit makers in my family, my grandma Vember’s were the best. It must have been the grandma love she handed her biscuits, affectionately known as “hoppy toad” biscuits, presumably because they were small and so good they quickly hopped off the pan.

Recently, I’ve had her biscuits on my mind, and I’ve come to realize I’ll never make — or likely eat anywhere — biscuits like hers again. But I’ve had this nagging hankering for delicious homemade biscuits, and I’ve been on the hunt for a simple recipe that satisfies the craving when it hits.

My wife Molly makes delicious homemade biscuits that go great with a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, jam spreads or a drizzle of honey. But Molly will tell you that I have one complaint about those biscuits, mostly when I’m the one cooking them: I don’t like using shortening, also known as lard. It has an oilyness to it that just “burns my biscuits.” I don’t enjoy working in it with my hands, and I don’t enjoy cleaning the measuring cup that contains it. So, I’ve been searching for an ingredient replacement, and I think I’ve found it.

No one recipe has delivered exactly what I’m looking for, so I can tell you that this specific recipe is probably out there in some form, but I’ve created my own version of it as a mashup of pieces from others. The only required ingredients: Flour, Milk and Butter. Be patient with these biscuits. You’ll have to try them several times to arrive at just the right combination for your taste and your oven. And when you do, I expect you’ll be quite pleased.

These biscuits offer light, flaky layers and a savory, buttery taste to boot. They make great biscuits for sandwiching toppings like bacon, sausage and eggs. They’re great with jelly. I even love eating them plain, and because of the butter included in the recipe, there’s little need for slathering extra butter when they come out of the oven. See what you think, and let me know if you like them as much as I’ve come to.

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Ingredients

2 Cups Self-Rising Flour

1/2 Cup Unsalted Butter (one stick, and it doesn’t actually have to be unsalted)

1/3 Cup Milk (you might have to test out this amount, depending on the consistency of your dough)

Yield: About 10 Biscuits

Directions

1. Cut your cold butter into cubes and toss them into your flour in a medium to large mixing bowl.

2. Use your hands, a pastry cutter or two forks to fold your butter into your flour.

3. Once your butter and flour are mixed, incorporate the milk slowly, until all three ingredients are blended well. You may need extra milk if your mixture is too dry, but you don’t want it to become too sticky either.

4. Form your dough into a large ball. Flour a flat surface and the outside of the ball.

5. Roll out your dough on the flat surface, then fold the dough over on itself and roll it out again. Repeat as many times as you like for more layers in your biscuit. You’ll see how many layers you want after your first time baking these biscuits. If you don’t want layers, roll out and don’t fold the dough.

6. Roll the dough to about an inch thick for thicker biscuits, or about a half inch for thinner biscuits.

7. Use a biscuit cutter or a circular cup to cut your biscuits. Flour the rim to keep from sticking. (You can also parcel out the dough in little balls and then flatten and form with your hands. I like a cutter to keep the biscuits more uniform in size.)

8. Place your biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet (You have butter in your biscuits to help with sticking).

9. (Optional) You can brush the tops of your biscuits with melted butter before putting them in the oven or midway through cooking for browner tops and an extra buttery flavor and texture.

10. Cook in a 450-degree oven for eight to 10 minutes, depending on the desired doneness.

More #FoodieScore Biscuits: Molly’s Three-Ingredient Biscuits

5 Coffee Shops We Love

We sample a lot of foods that deserve the moniker of a #FoodieScore, but as all foodies well know, sometimes you can score with a beverage, too. To recognize some of those drinkable delights, we compiled this list of our favorite coffee shops across the South. From Oxford, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, to our own little corner of North Carolina – here are five places you can satisfy your coffee fix.

Bottletree Bakery

The Bowl of Soul at Bottletree Bakery

BOTTLETREE BAKERY, Oxford, Mississippi—Just off one of our favorite town squares in all of America, there’s more than a bakery awaiting you here. Chances are good you’ll be drawn to the shop’s treat counter first, with its pies and pastries and other confections. But you don’t want to overlook the coffee, especially our favorite, the Bowl of Soul espresso! The spot is also one of the best to get a quick bite to eat in this Southern town that’s home to Ole Miss.

Collins Quarter

Matcha at Collins Quarter

THE COLLINS QUARTER, Savannah, Georgia—There’s a reason you feel like you’ve stepped into a street café in a foreign country when you enter. It’s because the name, the atmosphere and some of the menu items get their inspiration from Australian influences. Right in the heart of a downtown district that oozes with Southern charm and history, this favorite spot offers an assortment of coffees with global flair, along with a full menu and a delicious brunch on the weekends.

Broad River

Latte at Broad River (Photo Credit: @broad_river on Instagram

BROAD RIVER, Boiling Springs, North Carolina—When folks in this small college town refer to “the coffee shop,” this is exactly what they’re referencing. Whether you’re seeking one of a plethora of hot or cold brews, the best cup of hot tea to cure a cold or a tasty pastry for breakfast or a midday treat, you’ll find it all here. And if you’re not in a hurry, there’s plenty of room to relax on a couch or take a table for studying or working.

Frothy Monkey

White Monkey at Frothy Monkey

FROTHY MONKEY, Nashville, Tennessee—You won’t find a ton of room inside this former house, but the packed space is surely an indicator of the popularity of this shop in the city’s 12 South district. In addition to a variety of delicious locally roasted coffees, the place serves up breakfast, brunch, dinner and sweet treats, as well as beer and wine for those so inclined. We love it perhaps most of all for its funky name and the funky little space to match, along with the tasty White Monkey drink!

Camino

Chai Latte at Camino Bakery (Photo Credit: @caminobakery on Instagram)

CAMINO BAKERY, Winston-Salem, North Carolina—We first tried this hip, modern coffee shop after a show at the nearby Hanesbrands Theatre. Its delicious offerings – from well-crafted lattes to baked goods to a variety of wines – make it a perfect stop for any trip through Winston-Salem. We both love its variety of options, the college-town vibe and the beautifully-designed atmosphere.

Foodie Travels: Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn, Wilmington, N.C.

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We live in the age of digital marketing, a place and time in which companies sneakily obtain our personal information and then use it to lure us into buying their products or services. Even many of the old-fashioned billboards we pass on highways have been converted to digital boards that rotate, attempting to appeal to our culture’s tendency to move on quickly to the next newest and greatest thing.

So it might surprise some people that, for one, bumper stickers still exist, and two, they can still be a valuable tool for attracting customers such as me and my wife Molly to a restaurant. That was the case during a recent late-summer weekend getaway to the North Carolina coast. Over the course of two days, we noted a number of “Eat at Flaming Amy’s” bumper stickers on the backs of vehicles driving through the Wilmington, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach communities. We’d already visited other restaurants on our list for the weekend and still had a dinner destination to be determined, so we decided to listen to the bumpers calling, like colorful little subliminal messages, and visit the Flaming Amy’s website menu to learn more.

At that point, you might say we entered phase two of the marketing process. The bumper stickers caught our attention enough to seek more information. When we did that and learned of all of the delicious American-Mexican treats awaiting us, we quickly decided Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn was definitely the place to have dinner, meaning the restaurant’s whole tactic worked.

The Flaming Amy’s website touts the brand as hot, fast, cheap and easy. Let’s put that four-promise list to a quick test based on our visit. The meal only set us back about $20 for the two of us, which included two GIANT, specialized burritos, house-made tortilla chips and an included salsa bar with at least a dozen choices, two refillable drinks, and really no need for a tip because we paid at the counter and then visited the drink counter and salsa bar to serve ourselves. So cheap and easy checked out well. The burritos were steaming hot and clearly freshly rolled for us when they came out of the kitchen in less than 10 minutes, so hot and fast check out, too. Four promises were made, and all were kept, meaning the bumper sticker scheme felt more like a godsend than a gimmick.

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But Flaming Amy’s goes well beyond its simple promises. The restaurant’s burritos are packed with a TON (OK, so not literally a ton, but what might qualify in a human’s ability to eat a serving of food as a culinary ton) of fresh ingredients. I ordered a “Wok on the Beach,” a cleverly named concoction of shrimp, rice, broccoli and carrots that are like taking a Japanese stir-fry and using it to fill a massive tortilla. The burrito came with a side of chips, and I enjoyed dipping those in about nine different kinds of salsa from a salsa bar with even more choices than that. (Molly and I could only carry so many little cups back to the table without making excessive trips.) This place might consider adding the word “plentiful” to its list of promises. And “hip” would be another great choice, as Flaming Amy’s offers a very relaxing atmosphere that’s great for a dinner with the family or a meet-up with friends. We knew we were in for a treat when we reached the front door and it was colorfully covered (and that’s an understatement) with stickers.

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Before heading out those doors, I revisited the ordering counter to pick up my own Flaming Amy’s bumper sticker. While I don’t like attaching stickers to clutter our car’s bumper, I’m still proudly displaying the sticker in the form of this #FoodieScore recommendation, aren’t I? And you don’t have to pass me on the highway to see this advertisement. If you share it, it has the potential to reach an infinite number of people!

To summarize, and to unlock the next level in this great restaurant’s highly successful marketing plan by sharing my experience with other foodies, I’ll close with four more words: Eat at Flaming Amy’s.

Flaming Amy’s Burrito Barn, 4002 Oleander Drive, Wilmington, N.C. (location also at 1140-A North Lake Park Boulevard, Carolina Beach, N.C.)

You can also check out Flaming Amy’s Burrito Bowl, with two locations in Wilmington, N.C.

Celebrating a #FoodieScore milestone

#FoodieScore celebration

Dear #FoodieScore Friends,

These words mark the 100th post here on #FoodieScore. Thank you for supporting us each and every day with your visits, your shares, your comments and your suggestions. You have allowed us to experience more great food than we ever imagined when we started this space.

#FoodieScore began more than two years ago with the sole idea of helping us organize favorite recipes we tried in our home kitchen. We cook often and just wanted a way to remember delicious simple dishes that we discovered. We had no idea so many people would be so kind by reading and sharing with other eaters. Several posts in particular seem to have deeply connected with fellow foodies, most of all our Mississippi Slug Burger, which astounds us when we see its thousands of views continue to climb.

The kind people in the state of Mississippi are a great example of the incredibly generous support we’ve received throughout these past couple years. When we began sharing restaurants in addition to recipes—and when we launched the #FoodieScore social media family on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—the folks in the Town of Holly Springs helped spread the word about our Foodie Travels series by sharing a piece on a visit to Phillips Grocery. We delight in every bite we enjoy, but it thrills us even more when we see others reminiscing about delicious food from the past or discovering a great meal for the first time.

To be honest, we are both humbled and proud to welcome those who come to #FoodieScore for recipe and restaurant suggestions. We take great pride in supporting the #EatLocal and #ShopLocal movements through our approach, which focuses more on sharing great food instead of critiquing anything less than stellar. But in an age of gimmicky marketing tactics everywhere we look, we are even prouder that you, dear friends, are what keep our food adventures alive and well. All our support has come from what marketing moguls might call “organic” generation, meaning we’ve done no paid advertising or sneaky shopping of personal information to get our #FoodieScore posts in front of your eyes. It’s all been old-fashioned foodie-friend support, and as we roll into the future, we will continue to share simple recipes and great restaurant finds with you, thankful that you share our joy in food so much you’ll continue to help spread the love.

And speaking of that future, we have a great plate of new features cooking up in the #FoodieScore kitchen that we’ll serve up soon. We spent a lot of time traveling America this summer, and that means we have some top-notch restaurant suggestions on the way. Our experiences also mean we’ll have quite a packed Best We Ate in 2017 coming out by year’s end. (Check out Best We Ate in 2016 here for a preview.) And just as we began, with recipes, we continue to cook up lots of tasty dishes with simple ingredients and directions, and you are on our mind with each bite. So keep joining us for dinner!…and breakfast…and lunch…and dessert.

In the meantime, be sure to check out our Foodie Travels map for ideas on where to eat when you’re on the road, or at home. You might have also noticed that we recently reorganized our archives into distinct Travels, sorted by state, and Recipes, sorted by dish type, sections to help you (and us!) more quickly search among all the great food!

So, thank you again from the bottom of our stomachs (and hearts). Your kindness to join us on this journey makes each #FoodieScore experience more flavorful.

Your Friends,

Matthew & Molly Tessnear

 

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Foodie Travels: Chico’s Tacos, El Paso, Texas

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The United States-Mexico border is just a couple of miles down the road. You see hills jammed full of colorful houses in Mexico’s neighboring Ciudad Juarez on your drive to dinner. After arriving in the small, packed parking lot off Alameda Avenue in El Paso, Texas, you walk into an equally packed, nondescript building and walk to the counter, where orders are being taken—in Spanish. This is Chico’s Tacos.

The far-western Texas town of El Paso is America’s 20th largest city with more than a half million people. Ask any of the locals (and anyone who’s made their home in El Paso in the past) where you should eat; Chico’s Tacos, open since 1953, is always the answer.

We first heard about Chico’s Tacos from celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez on one of our favorite food shows, “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Sanchez hooked us from the beginning of the episode by saying, “It’s always a good time to eat a taco. There’s never a bad time to eat a taco.” Amen, Aaron! Molly and I have a mantra about such food: #MexicanEveryDay. Sanchez goes on to share the delightfully simple pleasure of eating Chico’s Tacos, and those words—delightfully simple—are exactly how my wife, Molly, described the experience after our first-ever visit.

As Sanchez explains, the Chico’s Tacos are not the prettiest, most photogenic tacos you’ve ever seen. In fact, by today’s standards, they don’t look much like tacos at all. To the processed-food society we live in, they look more like what we’d call taquitos. But they are light, crispy and covered in a very thin tomato-chile sauce that fills a little cardboard food boat. Then all of that is covered in basic, finely shredded American cheese. It is indeed simple, yet so satisfying and authentically El Paso. And two people can dine (we had a double order of tacos, a bean burrito and two drinks) for about $10. For the non-taco-inclined, it appeared many of the locals were also fond of the Chico’s cheeseburger.

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I took Spanish classes for five years in high school and college, so I’m proud to say I knew what was said at the order counter and when our number was called. I was even able to answer a question from an employee about whether we wanted packets of “dulce,” or sweetener.

It was obvious we were one of few visitors in Chico’s at the time, as most folks appeared to be dining as part of a regular routine. In a time when so much emphasis is put on the struggles between different people in our country, it was nice to experience being visitors in this great place. El Paso is a city with many bilingual English and Spanish speakers, and some patrons even live or do business across the border in Mexico. Walking into Chico’s was a chance for us to experience life in the everyday world of another culture, still within the borders of our own country, though close to another.

Chico’s Tacos is essential El Paso dining. You’ll find fancier, pricier, more Instagram-ready food. You won’t, however, get a more realistic, local food experience.

Chico’s Tacos, 4230 Alameda Ave., El Paso, Texas (Other locations in town as well)

Simple, Versatile Slaw

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I ate many church suppers growing up in the Methodist church. We attended hot dog suppers and poor man’s suppers (usually beans and bread with no meat), often as fundraisers for various ministries. One common food that often found its way onto the menu was slaw. It was a sweet, crunchy slaw, usually made by some of the Methodist Women, and it’s that flavor memory that sticks with me as what the best slaw should taste like today.

In modern kitchens and restaurants, slaws can be some of the more versatile accompaniments to a variety of meals. My wife, Molly, loves slaw with her pinto beans. I love slaw on top of hot dogs and other sandwiches. We both love the crunch and flavor of slaws on creative tacos. I’ve even found that a tasty slaw can serve as a delicious dip with your favorite crackers or chips.

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Pork Chop Sandwich with Homemade Slaw

In the #FoodieScore kitchen, we’ve concocted slaws with several different base vegetables, most commonly either cabbages or carrots. After some experimenting, we believe we’ve arrived at a recipe we agree has the best flavor with the most applications, and it’s the closest I’ve come to replicating that delicious Methodist supper slaw of my youth.

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Hot Dog with Homemade Slaw and Chili

While we don’t suggest this particular slaw as much for tacos—a slaw for tacos usually works better with longer strips of vegetable to leverage more crunch and flavor against your meat and tortilla—this recipe provides a nice texture and sweetness for your pinto and hot dog style uses. And we love that it’s something you can whip up very quickly, though we suggest letting it sit in the fridge for a few hours to cool and maximally blend the flavors.

Ingredients

½ head of cabbage (2-3 pound cabbage)

¾ cup sugar

¾ cup Duke’s mayonnaise

Directions

  1. Use a food processor to finely chop your cabbage. You don’t want it minced to the point where your slaw will be mushy once it sits, but you’re not looking for long strips here either.
  2. Add the cabbage to a mixing bowl and blend together well with your sugar and your mayo.
  3. Cover in a pop-top container and sit in your fridge for a few hours. While you can add the slaw directly to your food, I’ve found I prefer it chilled. And the more days it sits, the better the flavors blend, even after mixing.