According to Denise Chavez in her memoir, A Taco Testimony, “every city has its tacos.” It is true for Tucson if it is true for anywhere else in the world. I am announcing my quest to find Tucson’s greatest taco. It will be a hard, thankless task that will no doubt lead to more than one upset stomach and uncomfortable car ride but damn’t I will find it. All tacos will be cataloged, all tacos will be dissected and recreated for my readers. I will leave no tortilla untouched or filling unsampled. I will find Tucson’s Greatest Taco! With or without this thing’s help:
I looked for harissa for a long time before I found some at Williams-Sonoma. I was seriously about to order it from Amazon. Harissa is a chili paste made out of fresh or dry chilies, garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes. It is an essential condiment in North Africa cuisine. The first thing I did with it was a chicken stir fry, then Eric and I rubbed a couple of steaks and grilled them. Both winners. Harissa is possibly going to replace sambal as my condiment of choice. But I don’t want to get carried away. In Tunisia it is used to distinguish their couscous from all other couscouses world wide. They also put it on sandwiches. There is only a couple of things that I know about Tunisia, one is where it is and the other is that I used to get my ass kicked whenever I played them in Volleyball for the NES. But now that I know they put harissa on sandwiches, Tunisia is skyrocketing up my list of countries I want to visit. It is now somewhere between Poland and New Zealand.
Dry them pepper fruits!
It is slightly ironic to name a restaurant after that great fountain of wisdom Mahatama Gandhi. He was a huge proponent of raw food and had many nutritional ideas that were less than accurate such as this gem, “Condiments such as chillies, pepper, turmeric, coriander, mustard, and fenugreek should be avoided, unless prescribed by a doctor.” Sorry Gandhi, but that kind of makes you sound like an a-hole. But despite Gandhi probably not wanting to eat at any of the hundreds of restaurants named after him, Cal and I did want to eat at Gandhi Cuisine of India.
Gandhi is located at Stone and Ft. Lowell in a nondescript shopping center but once inside the soothing sea foam green walls and muggy atmosphere transport you to another land. Maybe not all the way to India, but perhaps Florida or South Carolina. There is some nice Indian art on the walls and, for some reason, a poorly framed print of one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. The waiter and waitresses were very nice, the waitresses dressed in traditional Indian attire and the waiter in a skin tight lime green Yankees shirt. Turns out he was really a baseball fan because toward the end of the meal he told Cal, who was wearing his D-Backs hat, that the Diamondbacks lost. After I told him how well the Royals were doing lately, he said, “They used to be good didn’t they?” Yes, they did, Indian restaurant waiter, yes they did.
Onto the food. I started with a bowl of mulligatawny soup. Mulligatawny has gone through many incantations over the years. It was originally kind of a pepper broth but the English ruined it by taking the chili pepper out of it and making it a blunter soup with less heat. It’s still good, however and Gandhi has a pretty nice version even if they spell it mulligatani. Theirs is a chicken and lentil soup in a creamy curry broth. It could have used a little extra kick. Cal began with some chicken pakora but immediately wished that he had ordered fish or shrimp. He definitely should have. The light pakora batter while, not greasy was not the best fit for the chicken. They felt heavy. Shrimp or fish would have made for a lighter taste and thus a better appetizer.
For his entree, Cal ordered Seekh Kebab. It is a ground lamb sausage with herbs and spices. It comes removed from the skewers with a side of rice, dal, and raita.
They had a deep earthy flavor more indicative of a lamb instead of a pork sausage. Cal saved half of it to take it home to make a sandwich. Cal is a connoisseur of leftover food always looking for a new way to eat something. I think it’s all the pot he smokes.
I ordered the madras with shrimp. Madras is a blend of tomatoes, onions and cream. It’s a differently spiced curry. I asked for them to make it crazy hot. That was the menu option, Mild, Regular, Hot, Very Hot, or Crazy Hot. It was pretty hot, but certainly not “crazy” hot. The shrimp were well cooked and every bite resulted in a warm burst of the spicy, rich tomato broth.
We ordered naan but never got it. The waiter asked us if we wanted naan after he took our order but Cal said no, then I said, well bring us one order and then he got confused. I’m pretty sure we didn’t pay for it so it must have been an honest mistake.
Gandhi has a lunch buffet which I’m sure induces a nap within an hour of eating there, plus it’s only six dollars. The food was pretty good, but I suspect there’s better Indian food elsewhere, maybe not in Tucson but somewhere. I give Gandhi 7.75 bowls of mulligatawny soup, even if Gandhi himself probably wouldn’t eat there.
Logo Wars: The Noid June 24, 2008
Is this the worst logo of all time? I think it might be. It seems fitting that the worst pizza chain, ok Papa John’s is a challenger, would have the worst logo of all time. I mean seriously do you remember these commercials?
If I hadn’t been such a gluttonous pre teen I might have sworn off pizza forever. Luckily, or unluckily, my family has a steady, unhealthy relationship with Pizza Hut.
If there is a restaurant in Tucson that embodies the spirit of the city more than Martin’s then I’ve not been there. It exudes the quiet cool that some many of our town’s business, eateries and hipsters strive for yet rarely achieve. From the excellent lucha painting on the wall to the understated mismatch tables and chairs, Martin’s is the rare restaurant whose decor outpoints the food while maintaining high quality fare.
Martin has been in the restaurant every time I’ve eaten there, either bullshitting out front or even serving food. There’s usually a laid back server or cashier hanging around too. If this were some other style of restaurant besides a casual Mexican spot on Fourth Avenue, you might have a problem with this service. At Martin’s you expect exactly what you get, which is different than getting exactly what you expect. I think it is anyway, I guess it depends on what your expectations.
The food is simple, tacos, tortas, burritos and tostadas all offered with a variety of meats or even soy chorizo. The best is probably the chicken mole. It’s finely shredded, with a rich chocolate hint cutting a mild spice. The carne asada is done well, seasoned well with a nice crispiness. To be honest, and Cal concurred, it is easy to find really nice carne asada at a roach coach so I don’t necessarily recommend it when you can have the mole or the red or green chile.
The only real minuses at Martin’s are sodas in cans and a small dining area. Other than that it is really a perfect quick dining experience especially if you are shopping on Fourth Ave or if you’re just wasting time on a day off.
I give Martin’s Comida Chingona 8 and a half delicious tortas. I brought a camera with me but it ran out of batteries. So no picture this time.
Montana Avenue June 16, 2008
If you want to know what’s wrong with something, just ask my grandmother, Lulu. On all subjects, from girlfriends to hair cuts, no matter how proud you are of either, she’ll let you know. She’s such a critic. And her critiques are much funnier when they aren’t directed at you or someone you love.
Upon entering Montana Avenue I was confronted with a smell. It was possibly an air conditioner breaking down or maybe someone rubbed dog shit in my face when I wasn’t looking. Not a hot start. We sat down and our waitress came over to take our drink orders. She did so competently and with a smile but as she left Lulu said, “What’s wrong with her voice, I can’t stand it, it’s making my ears hurt.” I guess she did have kind of a high voice but I seriously wouldn’t have noticed it at all. But since Lulu pointed it out, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, until as she brought the check I was in complete concordance, “Oh, yeah, her voice sounds like cats fighting.”
I had a garden salad to start with dressing on the side. It had greens, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, cojita cheese and roasted corn. A pretty nice mix, I didn’t use the dressing. It was orange but I forget what it was. One thing to note about Montana Avenue is that they get their tomatoes from Wilcox. They are always the best part of any meal you eat there. Make sure you order something with tomatoes or just ask for some tomatoes, what are they going to say? I had a grilled chicken sandwich with Monterrey jack cheese. I didn’t eat the bun and had them replace the mayonnaise with mustard. They actually had a pretty nice mustard, a little dijon-y. I got the mixed vegetables instead of fries but they turned out to be potatoes, sun dried tomatoes and peas in some whole grain mustard. C’mon, that’s only one vegetable and peas are marginal at best.
Lulu had a turkey chop salad that was bigger than her purse. It was doused in some kind of vinaigrette but she couldn’t tell what kind. As far as I could tell, she at one eighth of it and needed a nap. She went on a pretty long tangent about how big salads are everywhere you go. I can’t disagree, salads are as big as Midwesterners at most places.
When we were almost finished Jim Click came in to watch Tiger Woods pull the US Open out of his small intestines. He looks almost exactly like he does in his commercials. I just wish his son had been there so I could have punched him in the stomach.
Some other things my grandmother hated this afternoon: where I live, my tattoo, Carl’s Jr., those Sonic commercials with two people riffing in a car, and peanut butter cookies.
Some things she admitted to liking: Larry McMurtry, that commercial with the guy and the huge umbrella, Jack’s neurologist (He’s in the hospital) Dr. Larry Aguilar, no snow birds and no students.
I love my grandma.
Montana Avenue is probably my favorite of The Fox Restaurants which doesn’t really say all that much but I give it 6.8 of the best tomatoes you can buy around here.
Montana Avenue is wildly popular on the Internet:
“The cost for 2 beers, 2 appetizers, 2 entrees and an Ice Tea…. $62.00 $62.00??? Am I reading this right? For 62.00 I’ll be coming back here on a weekly basis!” – Patrick O.
“Their meatloaf is more meaty than loafy (almost like a burger) and the tomato glaze was a little too intense for me” – Eiki I.
“Makes a great place for lunch prior to or after a COSTCO run.” – Jeff T.
Great Chefs June 14, 2008
The culinary world is populated with many a well respected chef, a smattering of superstars and a few legends. This new What the Hell feature will document the lives of those legends. Who will be the first chef in the series? Julia Child or James Beard. Hardly. This chef has achieved a fame far surpassing either of those luminaries. I am speaking of course, of Ettore (Hector) Boiardi, otherwise known as Chef Boyardee.
Chef Boyardee was born just before the turn of the twentieth century somewhere in Italy. I could tell you the actual name of the city but it would then be flooded with culinary tourists attempting to find the birthplace of the world’s greatest canned food maestro. When he was just a teenager he arrived at Ellis Island and began living in New York. He soon rose to head chef of the Plaza Hotel in New York City. He even catered Woodrow Wilson’s second wedding. Who cares if Wilson planted the seeds that became the Depression? The man knew a good spaghetti dinner when he saw one.
In the twenties, the was no hotter culinary bed than Cleveland, Ohio. That’s were Chef Boyardee opened his first restaurant. His sauce was so popular he would have to give it away in whatever container he could find, often filling customers hats with his savory marinara. He soon began mass producing the stuff in a factory outside of town. Later, he moved the factory to Pennsylvania. He grew mushrooms in the basement of his canning facility to use in his sauce. No wonder the shit sold so well, it had basement ‘shrooms in it. He also began a large scale advertising campaign with his face as the logo. This made him a sexual icon to many a housewife. He was said to have bedded two of the three Andrews Sisters. People all over America were eating his products. No one as enjoyed a level of culinary stardom before or since. Perhaps, Julia Child approaches with her television program but let’s get serious folks.
When WWII started, Chef Boyardee sold his spaghetti as rations to the army. This is the main reason we won the war and why Jewish people love microwavable beefaroni. He then sold his business to a large food conglomerate for five million dollars and took that money and invested it in steel mills. Luckily, the Korean War broke out and he made another bundle.
Chef Boyardee died, like all great men, in Parma, Ohio. He was 87. Today Chef Boyardee makes kids sick all over the world.