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Bill’s Charcoal Grill

26 Mar

In theory the hamburger is simple, a disk of meat, a few condiments, some toppings, and a bread based cover are all that is necessary. Yet I am always surprised how restaurants find ways to screw up this pure Americana dish. The most egregious error is when restaurants opt for frozen pre-made patties and then proceed to cook the hell out of them. A burger patty should be handled with care and not require a pick axe to remove it from a frozen stack. If the aforementioned burger atrocity strikes a chord with you as well, then you will find a safe haven at Bill’s Charcoal Grill.

The Classic Cheeseburger with Sweet Potato Fries

The Classic Cheeseburger with Sweet Potato Fries

Located on the corner of 29th and Arkansas, this simple eatery knows how to make a reasonable hamburger. The new owners of Bill’s spruced up the interior and made a few minor changes, but the original concept has remained the same. Besides the typical burger options, a few pasta, seafood, and steak dishes are offered now. Side dishes include fries, sweet potato fries, O-rings, and baked beans. A condiment/topping bar is located next to the counter, so you can add all the veggies you desire. The food is reasonably priced with the basic burger and side costing around $5.

On our visit Steph tried the basic cheeseburger with sweet potato fries and I went with the exotic California burger and a side of O-rings. I was pleased and somewhat apprehensive when we were asked how we wanted the burgers cooked. Too many times I have been deceived by restaurants promising to cook burgers to order, only to discover that everything comes out well done. I know in this age of ecoli, you must be very careful when dealing with ground meat, but with proper handling and quality meat, cooking a hamburger to medium doneness is safe and acceptable.

The California in All Its Glory

The California in All Its Glory

I was quite impressed with the California burger. With the first bite I noticed that several of the qualifications for an acceptable hamburger were met; a toasted bun, plenty of melted cheese, and a juicy meat disk. Besides cheese the California comes with bacon, avocado, and a split hot link for good measure. While the hotlink was good, it provided almost too much decadence as well as grease. Next time I will order the Cali sans link. Steph’s cheeseburger  was just about all you can hope for in a basic burger. I was impressed that both of our burgers were cooked just as requested. Both the fries and onion rings were just average. The fries could have used some seasoning and the onion rings seemed like they were of the frozen variety.

Bill’s Charcoal Grill should definitely be in the discussion when the topic of best burgers in Wichita comes up. Their fresh, cooked to order patties help set them apart from many other contenders. If you happen to save room for dessert head next door to one of my favorite restaurants in town, Paleteria La Reyna for some delicious homemade ice cream.

Bill's Charcoal Grill on Urbanspoon

Restaurante Antojitos Salvadoreno(The New Pupusa King)

28 Jan
 Pupusa Perfection

Pupusa Perfection

Pupusas, pupusas, pupusas. If you have never tried one of these delicious marvels of Salvadoran cuisine then I implore you to stop reading this nonsense at once and proceed with haste to Restaurante Antojitos Salvadoreno. Trust me it will be worth it. It is conveniently located on Central between  I-135 and Grove. Just look for the dark blue building right next to the drive thru liquor store.

Fried Plantains: A Must Try

Fried Plantains: A Must Try

While the exterior of the building looks rather dubious and the parking lot surface resembles that of the moon, inside you will find a cozy and tastefully decorated dining room. This small eatery specializes in traditional little snacks(antojitos) and beverages from El Salvador. Besides the aforementioned pupusas, Antojitos serves fried plantains, empanadas, Salvadoran style steak, tilapia, rice, beans, and some specials. Although it is a sit down restaurant there are no printed menus, so just take a glance at the posted menu by the kitchen or ask the helpful server for suggestions.

Full Flavor from a Whole Fish

Full Flavor from a Whole Fish

On our visit we of course ordered several varieties of pupusas including cheese, frijoles, chicharrones, and the “Loco”, which is a little bit of everything. An order of fried plantains was needed as well and we probably should have stopped there, but they were offering a chicken soup, so we got a bowl of that and an order of tilapia.

I’m sorry Usuluteco, but I have found a better pupusa. The difference for me was the tenderness and abundant filling of Antojitos’s. For maximum enjoyment spread some of the accompanying salsa and curtido(tangy cabbage relish) on top of the pupusa. The fried plantains were nicely done and popular with our son. They were served with a generous bowl of mayo, which was different from my other experiences with plantains, but perhaps it is customary. When they brought out the vat that was my bowl of soup I knew we had made a strategic ordering mistake. Soon after came another plate with half a chicken and rice to accompany the soup.

Tub o' Soup

Tub o’ Soup

Then Steph’s whole tilapia was presented with salad, rice and several containers of tortillas. We were buried in delicious Salvadoran food. The soup was a basic homemade chicken stock base and was filled with assorted stewed vegetables. The generous amounts of chicken and rice made it a nice balanced

Chicken and Rice for the Soup

Chicken and Rice for the Soup

dish. While Steph was  somewhat put off by the whole tilapia, I found it delicious. You forget how flavorful tilapia can be when it is served whole.  Just slap some fish and rice onto one of the provided tortillas, throw on some avocado and you have a treat. We tried two of their homemade drinks in addition to the copious amounts of food. The horchata was not as sweet as Mexican versions, but every bit as delicious and the tamarind based juice was rather refreshing.

Bottom line here folks is that Restaurante Antojitos Salvadoreno brings it. For a $1.75 a pupusa it may just be the best deal in town. The previous tenants of this building have struggled to make it, but hopefully this place can buck that trend, because it is a gem and every time a small place like this closes it leaves a scar upon my heart or something like that.

Restaurante Antojitos Salvadoreno

2117 E. Central

316-269-4090

Link to the menu: http://www.restaurant.com/restaurante-antojitos-salvadorinos-wichita-pid=200268

Copper Oven Cafe and Bakery(Don’t Leave Without Dessert)

20 Jan

In my opinion some the most unpredictable dining adventures you can have are at cafes and diners. You never know if the place just pulls everything out of the freezer or if they actually take the time to prepare homemade food. It’s the difference between enjoying a tasty comfort food meal or something that leaves you wondering why you didn’t just go get some Pho. Copper Oven Cafe and Bakery, located on 13th just east of Meridian, happens to be an establishment where you won’t go away doubting the state of traditional American cuisine.

A Perfect Reuben with a Mound of Ranch Potatoes

A Perfect Reuben with a Mound of Ranch Potatoes

Copper Oven is located in  an older strip mall, but inside is a spacious and inviting dining area. Besides the restaurant there is a bakery that of course you must go  by to get to your seat. It’s a great idea because after glancing at their wide variety of cakes, cookies, pies, and pastries you will be hard pressed to pass up dessert. The menu has all the items you would expect from an American style cafe, but also some surprises like ceviche, upscale sandwiches, and several signature salads.  Breakfast is also served till 2pm each day and they have many hearty egg dishes to choose from.

On our visit we both decided to try a couple of their sandwiches. I ordered the iconic Reuben and Steph went with a grilled chicken pesto on focaccia.  The first thing I noticed about the Reuben was the thick cut rye bread it was served on. Good rye bread is essential for a proper Reuben and is all too often overlooked. Well not at Copper Oven, these people don’t mess around with their rye bread. Tender corned beef, plenty of melted cheese, sauerkraut, and of course the grilled rye made this one of the best Reubens I have

The Chicken Pesto Sammie

The Chicken Pesto Sammie

had. The chicken pesto was close to being a really good sandwich, but we thought it was held back by the focaccia. It was thick compared to the rest of the ingredients and could have benefited from being toasted. Other than that it was a tasty sandwich.  The pesto was fresh and had a strong basil flavor, and the fresh veggies were a good touch. Both of our sandwiches came with a large pile of Ranch potatoes, which were just basic fried potato cubes. We didn’t hear any complaints from out son who finished off quite a bit of his grilled cheese. The  biggest decision of our visit and probably our week was what to get for dessert. After some deliberation we ordered a slice of chocolate peanut butter cream pie. The coconut cream was a close second and I will be back for some of that action soon. Anyway, the

Decadent Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Pie

Decadent Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Pie

chocolate peanut butter pie was money. Good crust, great flavor, and some sinful whipped cream on top is about all you can hope for in a cream pie.

If you are looking for simple American fare done right as well as great desserts, Copper Oven is a place to check out.
http://copperovencafe.com/

Copper Oven Cafe on Urbanspoon

Marchello’s

23 Sep

Previously published in the Wichita Eagle:

With the recent closure of two local Italian restaurants, Luca and Bocconcini, Wichitans are suddenly left with fewer choices when it comes to getting their pasta fix. One of the remaining options is Marchello’s, a family run operation on south Seneca. While it does not replace the upscale menus that both Luca and Bocconcini offered, it serves up some solid old school Italian American food.

The interior of Marchello’s has the feel of a homestyle Italian joint, except for the lack of red checkered tablecloths and straw covered candle holders. There is a decent amount of seating, but I imagine that on busy days it can get somewhat cramped.

Lasagna The Way It Should Be

Lasagna The Way It Should Be

As the theme to The Godfather played in the background, we poured over the expansive menu that covers just about any Italian food you could possibly think of including pastas, calzones, pizzas, paninis, and desserts. There are even a few fusion surprises like jambalaya and something called an Italian potato. While you would need an entire football team to do a proper review of all the offerings, we decided on this visit to stick with two different pasta dishes. I had heard good things about the meat lasagna so that was my choice, while my dining companion went with an order of the Lilly’s, one of their signature pasta dishes. Lunch time specials are offered that include a drink and one visit to the salad bar.

I started my meal off at the small salad bar and was able to construct a good salad using the above average lettuce and veggies that were offered. The lasagna came out looking like a perfect piece with its expertly melted cheese and minced parsley. Fortunately, it tasted every bit as good as it looked. The well-balanced tomato sauce tasted fresh and had plenty of ground beef and pork. I was pleased to taste fennel seed in the sauce, which I believe is one the keys to good lasagna. This lasagna is certainly some of the best you can find in Wichita. The Lilly’s featured chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, and diced ham sitting on a bed of angel hair pasta. Pesto creme sauce and a layer of melted cheese capped off this indulgent dish. The pesto creme sauce with its velvety texture was the star of this meal. While we both felt there was an excessive amount of melted cheese, the Lilly’s was something we would surely order again.

The Decadent Lilly's

The Decadent Lilly’s

Although there were only two waitresses working the lunch crowd, our service was good. The prices were reasonable for the amount of food we received and Marchello’s is probably one of the few places in town where you can drink a Peroni for $3.75 a bottle.

http://marchellosrestaurant.com/index.shtm

Marchello's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

La Tradicion Tortilleria

16 Aug

Previously published in the Wichita Eagle:

I have to admit I had reservations about trying a Mexican lunch buffet. Crusty refried beans and soggy tacos sitting in a steam table is not my idea of an enjoyable meal. Fortunately at La Tradicion Tortilleria, they know how to pull off a good buffet with delicious Mexican dishes.

The Humble Exterior of La Tradicion

The Humble Exterior of La Tradicion

La Tradicion is a small joint located at Broadway and 16th, that operates as a tortilla making facility and restaurant. While a menu of typical Mexican fare is available, the main attraction is the buffet that is offered daily from 11am to 2pm. For just under $8 a person you can get your fill of traditional dishes from south of the border.

On our visit the buffet offerings included posole, shredded chipotle chicken, lengua(beef tongue) in a chili verde sauce, pork with a red chili and a green chili sauce, a scrambled egg and green bean concoction(ejotes con huevos), cheese enchiladas, and the ubiquitous rice and beans. A salsa bar and fresh tortillas rounded out the spread. Since most of the dishes were based on chili sauces or broths they were well suited to being held on a steam table and thus my fears of soggy tacos were for not.

A Plate Full of Tasty Buffet Food

A Plate Full of Tasty Buffet Food

Of the dishes we tried there was not a weak link among them. The lengua in chili verde and pork in red chili sauce were my top two picks. I have had lengua at several places around town, and this was the best so far. All of the pork chunks were tender and lean, while the chili sauce was rich and warming. You can’t go wrong taking spoonfuls of these dishes and wrapping them in warm flour tortillas. We had never had green beans with eggs before, but were quickly won over by the simple yet tasty dish. My wife who is an enchilada guru approved of La Tradicion’s cheesy rendition.

The one only complaint we had with the buffet was that some items were slow to be replenished including the salsa, chips, and tortillas. With an hour left in the buffet I would have expected additional food to still be coming out. There was only one hard working and friendly waitress running the dining room, so that may have contributed to the problem. I would recommend going closer to noon time to ensure a fully stocked buffet.

La Tradicion Tortilleria on Urbanspoon

Annex Lounge (Home of the Inside Out Burger)

9 Aug

The Annex Lounge is one of those Wichita institutions that many people have driven by all their lives, but never bother to or had the courage to venture inside. Located at Woodlawn and Harry, The Annex is your stereotypical neighborhood bar. If one was looking for an authentic dive bar experience this would be the place. It is the Bruce Springsteen of bars, where the locals gather for cheap domestic beer and a unique burger.

First off, this is an over 21 establishment, so the kids will have to wait until they are of legal age to experience The Annex. Inside you will find a small bar and a few tables on either side. The interior is clean, but most of the fixtures and furniture probably haven’t been updated in the last 25 years, which is the way you want it to be in a place like this. Trendy faux marble tables and giant flat screen TVs would really ruin the mood. They do have pool and shuffle board tables for entertainment.

annex_2

My poor camera phone does not do the Inside Out Burger justice

The menu is pretty small at the Annex. If you are looking for anything besides a burger you are pretty much out of luck. Besides the traditional single and double, they offer an intriguing one called the Inside Out Burger. My friend and I both went with this option with everything on it including onions, ketchup, and mustard.  Within a few minutes we discovered that the Inside Out consisted of a regular meat disk with an inverted bun that had been slathered with butter and grilled. It was a simple manipulation of the bun, but it proved to be rather transcendental.  The patty itself was of decent size for a single, although next time a double will be in order. The meat was flavorful and juicy enough despite being well done. The onions, cheese, and buttery bun helped to make this one of the best dive bar burgers I have had to date. While the side of chips was none too exciting, for less than $6 dollars I wasn’t complaining.

The Annex is first and foremost a drinking establishment and a blue collar one at that. So craft beer snobs who can’t enjoy a domestic brew every now and again should stay away. The good news for all you hipsters is that PBR pounders are available at a reasonable price.

I think too many people have the notion that dive bars are full of seedy regulars and surly barmaids, but that is not the case here. The waitresses were friendly and welcoming, while the patrons appeared to be fairly normal human beings. So if it’s no frills beer and burgers you are in the mood for then The Annex Lounge should be on your list.

Annex Lounge on Urbanspoon

Kimlan Sandwiches

26 Jul

If you are a fan of Banh Mi sandwiches then you should probably go eat at Kimlan right quick. This little place is nestled on North Broadway between two of the more popular Vietnamese restaurants in town, Saigon and Little Saigon. For that reason it may get passed over as people gravitate to the better known places, but if it’s Banh Mi you are after, this is THE place.

Kimlan Combo Bahn Mi

Kimlan Combo Banh Mi

Inside the small restaurant is a plain, but clean dining room with plenty of seating for lunch hour crowds. The menu is displayed at the counter and consists of 15  Banh Mi options, plus a Lo Mein lunch special. The sandwich combinations range from the typical BBQ pork and meatball to the more unique including the headcheese and pork roll variation. The sandwiches are cheap enough with prices ranging from $3.50 to $4. Some speciality Vietnamese drinks are offered including green tea and milk tea. They also have some pre-packaged food items available for purchase. I wasn’t quite sure what most of them were, but I almost pulled the trigger on some amazing looking steamed pork buns for a take home treat.

Not Available at Subway: Headcheese and Pickled Veggies

Not Available at Subway: Headcheese and Pickled Veggies

Feeling that we could each handle a couple of Banh Mi’s, we went with four. I ordered the Kimlan Combo and the adventurous Special Combo. Steph went with the Kimlan Combo as well and the Grilled Beef. Each sandwich is accompanied by pickled carrots, jalapeno, cilantro, and cucumber on the side so you have complete control of your veggie intake.

The Kimlan Combo contained BBQ pork, meatball and pork roll( a type of Vietnamese sausage). This warm sandwich was quite exceptional with its sweet pork pieces and tender meatballs. The pork roll added another layer of porky goodness, while the veggies provided some nice crunch.  The Special Combo is special because it is probably the only sandwich in Wichita that includes headcheese, although I hear Subway might be rolling out a headcheese sandwich of the month soon. For those of you not in the know, headcheese is a cold cut that contains meat from the head of a pig or cow set in aspic. While it may not sound good to anyone who’s not French, it’s really not that bad. The Special combo also comes with ham and pork roll. It was a pretty good sandwich, but I think some Sirracha sauce would have been a good addition. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the

Babies Love Banh Mi!

Babies Love Banh Mi!

bottle on the  counter until I had finished the sandwich. Steph and our son both enjoyed the grilled beef sandwich. The thinly sliced beef was marinated in a lemongrass-soy mixture that yielded a refreshing savory taste. Each sandwich is served on a perfectly sized loaf of fresh French bread.

Kimlan is an excellent choice for a quick and cheap lunch. Take two people, order 3 or 4 sandwiches and you will be satisfied with both the product and the price. Kimlan also has a good variety of sandwiches that will please even the most finicky or adventurous of eaters. The only complaint was the absence of high chairs. It was tough feeding an unrestrained 15 month old who was more interested in playing with the door rigged with a fire alarm.

KIMLAN Sandwiches on Urbanspoon

Moe’s Sub Shop

11 Jun

Previously Published in the Wichita Eagle:

In this day and age it is increasingly difficult to find local submarine sandwich shops amidst the established national chains. Luckily for Wichitans, Moe’s Sub Shop offers a change of pace when one is in the mood for a classic Italian sub.

Located in a small strip mall on south Hydraulic, Moe’s has been slinging out subs to devoted regulars for years.  With only a few tables, what the interior of the restaurant lacks in size it makes up for in atmosphere. An old arcade game, yellowed pennants, and assorted memorabilia give Moe’s dining area unique character.

The Ultimate Moe

The Ultimate Moe

The menu consists of several basic sub sandwiches in three different sizes, plus salads and lasagna. There are customizable options for cheeses, veggies, and condiments on all subs, including the most polarizing of all:  Miracle Whip. This was our first experience at Moe’s so the friendly sandwich engineer directed us towards the Ultimate Moe, their most popular sandwich.  I got it loaded with all the veggies, American cheese, mayo, vinegar, oil, ham, salami, and pepperoni.  We also ordered a meatball sub and smoked turkey sub. The Ultimate Moe lived up to its billing. It was packed with plenty of veggies and meat, but the bread was what really made the difference. Moe’s prides themselves on their fresh baked bread and you could certainly taste the difference. The smoked turkey sub was fine, but you might as well just

The Classic Meatball

The Classic Meatball

order the Ultimate. The meatball sub was very basic, with just provolone and parmesan cheese, but that is all it needed. A quick zap microwave allowed the bread and marinara sauce to meld into an enjoyable sandwich.

Moe’s does not serve the fanciest sandwiches in town, but if you want to enjoy a no frills, old school sub sandwich this is your place.

Moe's Sub Shop on Urbanspoon

Little Saigon

30 Apr

As I have said before you really can’t go wrong when dining on North Broadway, unless of course you suffer a momentary lapse of reason and wind up in the Spangles drive-thru. Little Saigon is a newer addition to the street and is located just down the block from the venerable grandaddy of Vietnamese restaurants, Saigon.

The owners of Little Saigon have done a nice job of updating the interior with plenty of seating and a clean dining room. Unlike several of the Vietnamese restaurants in town, Little Saigon features a full service bar with daily specials.

Doughy Pork Goodness

Doughy Pork Goodness

The menu covers all the essential dishes expected at Vietnamese restaurants including several varieties of Pho, noodle dishes, and rice bowls. There are also some Chinese and Korean dishes as well as exotic smoothie flavors. On our visit one of the daily specials were steamed pork dumplings and being a person that finds it hard to pass up any pork containing food, we ordered some. For our main course I went with a Banh Mi sandwich and Steph ordered a noodle bowl with shrimp.

The pork dumplings were a doughy treat. Served with a sweet dipping sauce, they were quickly consumed. My Banh Mi was filled with thinly

The Banh Mi

The Banh Mi

sliced pork, cucumbers, cilantro and julienned carrot and was served on a generous half loaf of French bread. The meat was tender and well seasoned, while the veggies were crisp and fresh. My only complaint  was it seemed there could have been more sandwich fillings to compete with the thick loaf of bread. The noodle bowl was filled with thin rice noodles, stir fried veggies, and shrimp with crushed peanuts and a sweet and savory sauce topping it all off. The dish was simple yet satisfying, which is something that the Vietnamese cuisine excels at.

Noodle Bowl with Shrimp

Noodle Bowl with Shrimp

Little Saigon is a solid and acceptable addition to the North Broadway dining scene. Since they are open seven days a week you can get your Vietnamese fix any time.

Little Saigon on Urbanspoon

Big B’s Beef

12 Mar

Previously published in the Wichita Eagle:

Wichita has many types of food in our city but there are still plenty of cuisines we are missing. Big B’s Beef is aiming to fill one of those voids by providing a Chicago style option.  Big B’s Beef , who just recently opened, is located close to 47th and Seneca in SW Wichita and is owned and operated by a family that came to Wichita from the Windy City. The menu has traditional Chicago style food including Italian Beef and Sausage, a Chicago dog, and Gyros. Sides include hand-cut fries, onion rings, fried mushrooms, and a soup of the day. Big B’s sources all of their meats and breads either locally or from Chicago.

The "Beef" Sandwich

The “Beef” Sandwich

On our visit we decided to try the Poor Boy, the Italian Beef Sandwich, and the Chicago Dog with a side of fries. The Poor Boy is a 100% Angus beef patty on a grilled French Hoagie with garlic butter, B’s own red sauce, grilled onions, and provolone cheese. The sandwich was delicious. The meat had great flavor but was a bit over done. The red sauce was a great compliment to the meat and a nice break from ketchup. The Italian Beef sandwich also had great flavor and the beef was extremely tender. We however made the mistake of ordering it without peppers and the sandwich appeared to be too simple. Make sure to get the peppers. The star of our lunch was the Chicago dog which comes with a side of fries. It included an all beef Vienna dog in a poppy seed bun and topped with onion, mustard, green relish, tomato wedges, a pickle spear, sport peppers, and a dash of celery salt. This was probably the best hot dog I have ever eaten. The toppings were all fresh and accentuated the flavor of the beef hot dog. The bun also was great. A trip to Big B’s Beef requires a Chicago dog. The side of fries were hand-cut and thick but could have been more crispy.

The Perfect Hot Dog

The Perfect Hot Dog

Big B’s Beef has several tables set up for dining in but also has a drive-thru and will deliver to close-by businesses. The staff was friendly and we enjoyed the young girl who was eager to take our order and double checked to make sure she asked all of the right questions. We enjoyed our meal at Big B’s Beef and now we have a much shorter drive to enjoy some authentic Chicago style food.

http://www.bigbsbeef.com/
Big B's Beef on Urbanspoon

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