Wednesday, November 05, 2014

La Panda : Longmont

These days, there's a good chance you'll find my SO and I dining at either El Pollote or at La Panda.

There is a healthy number of taquerias in Longmont, and all of the ones we have tried have ranged from decent to pretty good.  However, the tacos at La Panda have just stood out from the crowd, and we have since found a few other offerings that we're fond of too.

I'm guessing La Panda is short for Panaderia (bakery), which took me way too long to come to that conclusion.  They do have a selection of various buns and cookies, which are located out of frame in the following picture (helpful me, I know).  But in fairness to me, the photo does show the freezer with the ice cream, which we actually enjoyed more than the baked goods that we've tried.

The tacos are the primary reason we come here and we've, uhh, come here a bunch of times:

They have a number of choices for meat. Just to name the ones I remember: carnitas (braised pork), carne asada (grilled beef), barbacoa (beef cheeks), salsa verde, pollo, milanesa (breaded pork), lengua (tongue), tripas (intestines), buche (pork stomach) ... and I know I'm leaving off a few.

In general, we tend to be nightmare taqueria customers on our first visit, since we like to do a "variety pack" order in order to try out as many types of meats as we can.

However, on our successive visits, we've continued to do this, since they just do an outstanding job with their meats.  Each is cooked well and more impressively, has its own distinct flavor and texture.  For example, the carnitas has a more pure flavor, tasting like and with a texture of pork, slow-cooked with some salt, while the barbacoa tastes like it has been more marinated in a chile sauce and cooked until it has a toothier texture.

I should note that they do *not* have a salsa bar (at least at the original location), but they do serve a salsa with their complimentary tortilla chips.  They seem to switch between two different salsas, both of which we've been more than happy with.

My SO is a big fan of menudos and La Panda offers it on the weekends.  Personally, menudos can be more hit or miss - sometimes the texture of the tripe can be a little much for me.

With that said, we both enjoy the menudo here.  Their tripe has a texture of a chunks of beef if they had a good portion of tendon/fat attached to them.  The flavor of the soup is really the attention-getter, though: just a great mix of flavors of slightly smokey chiles and beef stock.

Caldo de Pescado
We are also big fans of their fish soup, so much so that we've tried looking up recipes to see if we can to make some on our own.  The soup has a nice rich flavor, melding the individual flavors of the vegetables together with a unique tang to it as well.

Smothered Burrito
Yes, it looks like your standard burrito that you get at an Americanized Mexican joint, but a few things distinguish it from those: 1) there's not as much heavy filler in the burrito itself, just your chosen meat (which as mentioned above with the tacos, I'm a big fan of), 2) the green chile salsa is fresh, on the more viscous side and has a kick, so cuts through the heaviness and 3) the sour cream is not your usually super heavy stuff.

With that being said, it is a fairly large portion, so while I recommend it based on the taste alone, do note that it's probably best for when you're got a healthy appetite.

Flautas - Carnitas
Your desired meat, rolled up tightly in a tortilla, deep-fried and topped with sour cream, tomatoes and lettuce.  Also recommended as well.

Breakfast burrito - Chorizo, potatoes & eggs
I have no picture - we ate these too quickly - but I would be remiss if I didn't mention their breakfast burritos.  Delicious, with the ingredients being nicely tied together by their salsa.

Ice Cream
Last, but certainly not least, are the ice cream pops that they have.  They serve two local brands of ice cream: Paleteria Americas in Fort Collins and La Michoacana in Longmont.

We've only tried the Paleteria Americas ones, mainly because we've been scared off by the artificial sounding ingredients in the other brand.  We're also pretty particular about the flavors of Paleteria Americas ice cream that we do try now, after we tried their gooseberry flavor and it was so ick-sweet that we simply couldn't finish.

However, the flavors that we do like, we *really* like.  In particular, we're fans of the nuez (pecan), piñon (pine nuts), and the chocolate.  The nuez and the pinon each have a nice creamy mouth-feel, reminding me a little of the red-bean ice cream pops found in Asian grocery stores. Both have plenty of their respective nuts in them, so flavor-wise, each has a nice pairing of creaminess and the flavor of the nuts.   The chocolate flavor can be best described as a fudgcicle, with actually decent chocolate and cream in it.

While I can't say that this is destination restaurant that you drive specifically to eat it, it is one of those places that if you're in the area, it's more than worth your time to check out or if you live in the area, hit up on a regular basis.

La Panda Panaderia y Taqueria
609 Ken Pratt Blvd Longmont, CO 80501 (Map)
(303) 776-1396

La Panda II
1118 Main St Longmont, CO 80501 (Map)
(303) 682-0649

Friday, October 10, 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Marco's Hot Dogs & Tacos : Longmont

Oh, Marco's Hot Dogs & Tacos is certainly an interesting one.  As the name implies, they've got a cart for hot dogs and one for tacos, all nestled underneath a covered eating area.

Sound like a bizarre combination, right?  But somehow it works.  And eating here, just makes me reminisce for some of the places in Mexico.

Hot dogs w/ everything
The hot dogs are wrapped in bacon and grilled.  The "everything" includes: beans, tomatoes, shredded cheese, mustard, ketchup and cream cheese (?).  I am definitely not one of the "bacon makes everything better" fanatics, but here the bacon works, adding a nice crunchy texture.   The rest of the ingredients are what gives this most of its flavor and are satisfying in a American casserole/comfort-food type manner.  These hot dogs are filling, which I always seem to forget when ordering our tacos.

I've heard some Spanish-speaking folk get a choice for what meat they'd like, but I believe we just got carne asada.  The tortillas a fresh and lightly grilled and the meat is flavorful.  Together with fresh onions, cilantro and salsas from the salsa bar, you've got a winning combination.

This is not complex food, but it's decently executed in a charming environment.

Marco's Hot Dogs & Tacos
1647 Kimbark St Longmont, CO 80501 (Map)
(720) 288-3907

Monday, August 11, 2014

El Pollote : Longmont

Sometimes, when my SO and I walked around 9th and Main in Longmont, we would sometimes smell something delicious being grilled. And we would wander about, trying to Toucan-Sam smell our way to the source, but we were never able to determine what was producing the wonderful smell.

One evening, we had a hankering for tacos and decided to walk into the Carniceria Las Cazuelas, thinking they had some.

When we asked about food, they pointed us towards the back of the store, which is actually El Pollote, a small restaurant, specializing in grilled chicken.

Damas y caballeros, este comida es la verdad.  (Ladies and gents, this is the real deal.)

Half-chicken meal

Its evident that the grill has been used a lot. You've got wonderful depth of flavor in the char on the chicken (think of the flavors you get from the patina of woks, cast-iron pans.) And the chicken was cooked just right, not over-cooked nor dried out.

Fresh house-made tortillas.

Flavorful pickled onions.

Moist, tasty rice and delicious refried beans.  Now this is a meal.

We've been back a number of times since and plan on returning.  Go check it out.

El Pollote
917 Main St Longmont, CO 80501 (Map)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Thai Kitchen & Bar : Estes Park

For those of you, who have not had the chance to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is the small town that most tourists pass through to enter the national park.  Needless to say, Estes Park is largely sustained on the tourism industry and generally speaking, that generally translates to restaurants not having too much incentive to go above and beyond putting out the bare minimum.

As if to prove the point, the last time we ate in Estes Park, we had a truly, truly awful dining experience at another Asian restaurant.  Sorry, I have no writeup for that, but we will certainly never be returning.

I mention the above to explain that we generally avoid eating in Estes Park.  However, we had just done a longer hike and my S/O was hangry and threatened to beat me with my own leg and deprive me of delicious chocolate chip cookies.

So we pulled in the parking lot of Thai Kitchen with low expectations.

It's always nice to be proven wrong.

Kratiem (w/ tofu) - Slice sautéed chicken / pork or tofu with garlic, black pepper, broccoli, snow peas, and carrots - Freshly fried battered tofu with a light crispness to the exterior.  The rest of the vegetables were nicely pan fried, and everything was covered with a light thickened sauce, tasting primarily of fried garlic.  Relatively straightforward, but nicely and refreshingly done.

Vegetable Korma - Fresh mixed vegetable gently cooked in cream sauce and sprinkled with nuts and raisins - Cauliflower, potato, almond slivers, raisins.  The korma had a nice, creamy coconut milk flavor with a few other spices thrown in.  Also nicely done and not too heavy either.

Pistachio Kulfi Ice Cream (Indian Style) - Home made ice-cream made to an authentic recipe. - To top off the nicely done entrees, this was the pièce de résistance.  Plenty of pistachio chunks, so a strong pistachio flavor.  The taste initially tastes as if it will be too sweet, but then the sweetness tapers off and disappears.  The texture is much firmer than that of traditional ice cream or gelato, such that you have to dig in with your spoon to get a bite and hold on with your finger so the whole thing doesn't go flying.  But certainly a nice ending to a satisfying meal.

I'll also note that the service was friendly.  I believe we were served by one of the owners of the place and she was friendly and enthusiastic.

If we find other restaurants like this, I may have to rethink my generalization that tourist towns are devoid of decent restaurants.

Thai Kitchen & Bar
401 S St Vrain Ave Estes Park, CO 80517 (Map)
(970) 577-7112

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home

My SO and I have recently discovered that Jacques Pépin's and Julia Child's PBS cooking show, Julia & Jacque Cooking at Home is streaming on Hulu.   It's not only undeniably clear how knowledgeable and skilled both personalities are/were in the kitchen (I mean watch how effortlessly Jacques debones a chicken), but it's also incredibly endearing seeing what good friends these two were. 

It's also so very refreshing to see personalities on TV have honest reactions to tasting food.  So, so much better than the polished, over-edited reactions on any food TV show today.

And you can believe we'll be making our way through Jacque's solo show, Jacque Pépin: More Fast Food My Way, available on youtube.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Bella's Best : Atlanta

It's been awhile since I've had a proper post and my SO and I have since moved away from Atlanta; however, I was surprised to see I hadn't posted about one of my favorite bakeries in Atlanta.

I've previously posted about F.A.R.M., the farmer's market in Smyrna, which we loved.  Bella's Best was one of the stands that attended and each week, like a moth drawn to the flame, I would inevitably be drawn to their booth.  Over time, my SO and I tried their strucla and their breads, which were quite good, but given my past history with cookies (yeah, okay, maybe obsession is a better word), I would always manage to sneak-in a purchase of one of their delicious cookies.

Over time, we built up a bit of a rapport and when I approached, I would amusingly hear "oh no, here he comes for more cookies!"  I would somewhat sheepishly smile, but then go about figuring out which cookie I wanted for the week. 

For my birthday, my SO ended up calling them and ordering a platter of a dozen 3" cookies as a gift.  When my birthday rolled around, my SO came down with the flu, so I ended up picking them up myself.  Once they saw who the cookies had been order for, they started good-heartedly laughing.

And yes, I ended up finishing the whole platter, thank you very much. 

Pictured, from front to back, are the peanut butter cookies, ginger cookies, oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip.  I would be happy eating any of the cookies, particularly now since I haven't eaten one in quite some time, but my favorite somewhat surprisingly was the ginger cookie, which was just bursting with the flavor of real ginger and had this delightful bendy, chewy texture - this was by far the best of any ginger cookies I've ever had then and now.

So if you get a chance to stop by the FARM farmer's market or any of the other markets they attend, I'd highly recommend you stop by and try out some of their delicious baked goods.

Bella's Best
25 - D Bennett Street  Atlanta GA 30309-1266 (Map)