Monday, March 9, 2009

Asian Sandwich Deli (Tucson)

My first impression was not to be impressed by such a generic name for a restaurant but then I read some pretty positive reviews on Yelp and had to give it a try. My new favorite sandwich spot in Portland is the Best Baguette Vietnamese sandwich shop so I can make direct comparison.

I took a nice leisurely walk to Asian Sandwich Deli on a sunny day. It is located amongst some other casual spots on Speedway and would be pretty easy to miss. Inside there are some tables at which to eat but I decided to take my food home. I ordered a roasted pork Vietnamese sandwich and was asked if I wanted it spicy. I asked for light hot sauce and with the jalepenos on the side. Both requests were followed perfectly and the heat of the sandwich was exactly as I wanted. My biggest complaint is that the Asian Sandwich Deli web site still lists the price of the sandwich at $2.50 which is a steal (and just a bit lower than the same sandwich in Portland). But when I got there the real price was $3.99 which is still ok but meant the modest sandwich was much less of a good deal.

The meat on the sandwich was additionally disappointing in volume, color and taste. At Best Baguette the meat is a roasted pork red similar to a cha shu pork but at Best Baguette Asian Sandwich Deli it was a light brown. It wasn't very appetizing to look at. But even worse was how little was on the sandwich. The flavor experience was dominated by the flavor of the bread which was pretty neutral and not great. the texture of the bread was also super dry and crumbly. not quite stale but not super good and super fresh like at Best Baguette. The sandwich also had carrots and cucumbers with a healthy amount of cilantro. The sandwich fillings also made the bread a bit soggy

The Asian Sandwich Deli (through the prism of one sandwich) was mediocre. I will probably not try it again and instead seek out another Vietnamese joint and try them.

Map of Asian Sandwich Deli
1710 E Speedway Blvd Tucson, AZ 85719
(520) 326-3354

Friday, March 6, 2009

Beyond Bread

Beyond Bread makes the best bread I've had in Tucson.

They make good sandwiches and have tasty soup that comes in a big sourdough bread bowl. Beyond Bread may not be the place to go if you are cutting calories or avoiding carbs. But there is no better place to go in Tucson if you are hankering for a nice slab of bread with butter on it. My favorite part of Beyond Bread is the sample station while you wait in line to place an order.

They have a rotation of daily breads of which the Ancho, Chipotle & White Cheddar bread is my favorite. Other flavors include: multigrain, Fig & Pistachio, Parmesan & Herb, Parsley & Swiss, Rosemary, Brie, Scallion & Chive, Chocolate Babka. Each is only available on a certain day of the week so you have to be a returning customer if you want to experience Beyond Bread's full lineup of tastiness.

Map of Beyond Bread
3026 N Campbell Ave
Tucson, AZ 85719

El Torero (Tucson)

The mythology about El Torero had me excited. It's a hard to find treasure of a resataurant in South Tucson. One that has been in operation since 1956! El Torero and Lerua's are owned by members of the same family and while the menus are a bit different for sure (more variation from the norm at El Torero) they compliment each other well. The story goes that the management waited ten years to announce that the son had taken over his mother's place out of fear that the regulars would be concerned. In fact when the change in leadership was made public one regular voiced a fear that his favorite menu would be altered only to learn that he had been coming to the "new" El Torero for a decade!

We started with a cheese / chile crisp and it was probably my favorite so far in Tucson. I'm not ready to crown it Best Crisp in Tucson like other online reviewers but it was great. I liked how it really had cheese everywhere and yet the crust was crusty and not soggy. It looked like it didn't ever get soggy by the time we left. Bravo!

Most of the reviews herald the Turky Mole but I couldn't really wrap my head around that. Instead I thought I'd aim for the heart of the target and get the 2 taco / 2 enchilada special with carne seca all around. The waitress said the carne seca was different than Lerua's but it seemed pretty similar to me. I think cooked in a dish might be the best way to experience this juicy style of carne seca though. It was pretty yummy. GReat in the enchiladas for sure. The tacos were hard shell which I find boring. Taken out of the shell, the meat + lettuce + cheese was good, especially with some enchilada sauce mixed in. One of my favorite Mexican places in Tucson so far!

We also got a Topopo salad which looks like an elementary school science fair experiment that won "most creative." I didn't try it but was told it was ok. Certainly it seemed the quality of the ingredients was good.

There was a Dos Eiquis draft option so I got one of those. The price on the menu seemed high but XX lager on tap is much better than in the bottle. Half liter mugs are a decent amount but maybe not quite worth the price difference. I'd be interested to see if they do a drink happy hour at all. That could be dangerous.

The interior is plain but somehow has absorbed the spirt of decades of festive family dinners. The owner tended bar and cracked jokes about his TV tuned to Smallville with a regular customer who was dining at the bar. Turns out this is a place when "surround sound" means turning up the one speaker on the TV to very loud. El Torero might be simple Mexican family food but in the best sense. The price is right, the food is good and the service is very friendly. No question this is a place to come back to frequently. It was hard not to feel at home there. (El Torero is very kid friendly too and loud enough inside to not find a normal kid or two to be disruptive.)

El Torero is had to find because the address is on 26th between 4th and 5th but the restaurant is not right on the street. Very easy to find once you have been there. Basically look for all the parked cars on a pretty desolate street.

Map of El Torero
231 E 26th St, Tucson, AZ 85713
(520) 622-9534

Exterior picture courtesy of Flickr

Taco Shop (Tucson)

I heard good things about Taco Shop so I had to check it out. There are a couple locations in Tucson and I went to the Broadway one and ordered a grip of tacos: 2 al pastor, 1 pollo asada, 1 carne asada and one carnitas.

The shop itself has no character whatsoever which could be either a good sign or a bad one. Near the register there are pictures of their workers and regular customers and I get the sense from other online reviews that the crew is pretty much the same around the clock. While I waited for the tacos I helped myself to some salsa from the salsa bar but my options were much more limited than at other places. There was a hot red, a medium red and a green. Not a "mild green" just a "green." Salsa was totally neutral and not worth trying. The tacos on the other hand were pretty good.

Normally if a place has a weak taco it is the pollo or the carne asada and tends to depend on the quality of the meat. At the Taco Shop my favorite was the pollo! The meat was amazing. Cooked perfectly so it was juicy enough but not charred too much. The flavor on it was subtle (perhaps simply taste from the grill). All the tacos came with a big dallop of decent guacamole.

The al pastor was good but not as good as the pollo. As pastor seems hard to find in Tucson so I might try it again but really only the pollo was one I'd highly recommend to others. I often scoff at taco joints that double up on their tortillas cause most are light on the filling and the "wrap" seems excessive. In this case the tacos were very generous and the thin tortilla came apart on ever taco. With each I took a bite from each end before the taco fell apart and then I just ate the pieces out of the styrofoam cartons they came in.

Carnitas seemed too greasy but the crunchy parts were pretty yummy. The carne asada tasted better than it looked. I had flashbacks of Los Betos before I had my first bite but the meat was not as poor quality as it looked. I didn't want to finish either of these two. They were fine but not worth much commitment.

Overall Taco Shop is a good place and is open 24 hours which is a big plus. Prices seemed a bit high at first but then the tacos are large. Next time I'll get three tacos instead of five and it will be plenty. Definitely a place to recommend!

Taco Shop on Broadway
Pollo = A
Al Pastor = B+
Carnitas = B-
Carne Asada - B-

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Los Betos Tacos (Tucson)

The Tucson Weekly claims Los Betos is the "best taco stand in Tucson" (according to readers).

i went to Los Betos shortly after landing in Tucson. I got 3 tacos -- 1 carnitas and 2 carne asada. The tacos were big ones (double the size of an LA taco truck) and were topped with a pretty guac sauce. The Carnitas was divine! Juicy and crispy -- I couldn't get enough. But the Carne Asada looked like high powered compressed rat ass and tasted like rodent too. The quality of the carnitas meat was higih and the carne asada was low. "How low can you go?" well this tasted like rubber erasers you find on the floor. Gross! Note I only ate two bites of the carne asada tacos....

I'm not saying I got sick from Los Betos, because I can't tell for sure, but I did have a terrible flu / food poisoning encounter within a day after eating there. I'd still get the carnitas in a heart beat but I would never feed the carne asada to my worst enemy.

Cost: Seemed a bit pricy but the quantity of food is substantial. $2.50 is a meal in one taco
Taste: Carnitas only: great.
Experience: mixed but I'll go back for the carnitas!