La Cocina Mexicana

I have high expectations every time I visit a restaurant for the first time. I want a reason to come back, something that sets it apart from the hundreds of other restaurants in Berks County. I’m looking for a unique experience. I’m looking for attentive service. Above all, I’m looking for great food.

Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that I will be disappointed from time to time.

La Cocina Mexicana has been a staple in downtown Kutztown as long as I can remember. Throughout my college career, a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube man beckoned patrons into the nondescript two-story brick building on the corner of Main St. and Constitution Blvd.

But inside the building comes alive. Vibrant shades of red, yellow, orange and green pop from the carved wooden tables. A self-portrait of Frida Kahlo hangs on the wall, her ominous unibrow staring at the diners below.

La-Cocina
I ordered the mole poblano, described as “pieces of chicken smothered in rich, red or green mole.” Mole poblano is normally a delicious dark sauce made of chili peppers, a dozen different spices, and sometimes chocolate. The flavors should dance across your tongue, a perfect blend of spicy and salty.

Mole-Poblano-La-Cocina
My meal hit none of those flavors. The chicken was boiled, dry and tasteless. “Pieces” is a great way to describe it because it was hard to tell what type of meat I was eating. Some of it was dark, some white, all of it flavorless. The sauce was as flavorless as the meat. There was no hint of chili peppers, or any other flavor to speak of.

Every order comes with rice, refried beans and a side of guacamole. The rice was yellow and dry while the “beans” were a brown, watery mess that was all filler and hardly any beans. The guacamole at least looked appealing, even if it didn’t taste it.

Mexican food, when done right, is flavorful and exotic. It uses spices that other ethnic foods don’t, and opens diners to a world of flavors that otherwise go undiscovered. My meal at La Cocina wasn’t even close. There were four of us in total, and everyone left disappointed with their meals.

The only redeeming part of our meal was dessert, fried ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce piled high atop a fried tortilla shell. The shell was like one you would get for a taco salad, deep fried, yet still light and airy. The ice cream was covered in a delicious, crumbly fried shell. It’s the only reason I would have to go back again.

Fried-Ice-Cream-La-Cocina
The service wasn’t much better than the food. The food came very shortly after we ordered, which should have been the first clue that it wasn’t going to be a hand-crafted meal, but we had to wait a long time to order. When the meal was finished, we split the check, part cash and part credit, but our waitress missed a $10 bill and charged my card for the additional amount.

Berks County has plenty of other options for Mexican dining, so save the trip to Kutztown and try someplace else.

BCE Rating
Food: Poor
Service: Poor
Ambiance: Very Good
Price: Reasonable

La Cocina Mexicana
107 W. Main St
Kutztown, PA 19530

La Cocina Mexicana on Urbanspoon

Dessert Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Berks restaurant to be featured on Food Network tonight

Maniaci’s Italian Bistro in Mohnton will be featured on tonight’s episode of Restaurant: Impossible on the Food Network. The episode, which airs at 10 p.m., shows the transformation Maniaci’s by chef Robert Irvine.


Maniaci’s Italian Bistro in Mohnton, Pa., was a thriving family business that was run by Mrs. Maniaci until her death: Five years later, her three sons are running the business into the ground. Chef Robert Irvine has two days and $10,000 to overhaul the menu, décor and give the Maniaci brothers a fresh start to keep their mother’s dream alive.

Berks County restaurants have been featured on television in the past.  Ady Abreu of Ady’s Cupcakes in West Reading was the winner on an episode of Cupcake Wars that aired last May on Food Network. The Peanut Bar’s Chef Andrea Heinley was a contestant on season five of the FOX show Hell’s Kitchen, and the Peanut Bar itself was featured on the Travel Channel special Bar Food Paradise.

Tune in tonight at 10 p.m., and support a local Berks County restaurant!

Food News

The Steak Shack – MOVED

Editor’s Note (4/22/18): The Steak Shack has moved again. Another location opened inside the CITGO on Lancaster Avenue in Reading. The Sinking Spring location has now closed and the Lancaster Avenue location is now the flagship.
Editor’s Note: The Steak Shack has moved. A second location, in the parking lot of the former Surefine Market in Sinking Spring, was opened in 2013 and is now serving as The Steak Shack’s flagship location. 

Steak-Shack-2

For some restaurants, it’s the location that makes it special, like a country restaurant with a riverside view. For others, it’s the ambiance: a rustic inn with  Victorian furnishings or an upscale wine bar with chic modern style.

When the Steak Shack opened three years ago, it was, quite literally, a shack. The small wooden structure was set in a parking lot along Route 61 in Leesport. Surrounded on one side by a roadside flower stand, and a utility shed salesman on the other, the location was less than ideal.

So last year the Steak Shack packed up and moved inside Body Zone Sports & Wellness Complex, just off Route 222 on Paper Mill Road.

Now instead of watching cars pass by on the highway, you can enjoy your dinner while watching amateur hour on one of Body Zone’s ice rinks. The view is great, if you enjoy middle age Mennonite men trying to play ice hockey in jeans.

But while the Steak Shack has always lacked in ambiance and location, it has always delivered on the two things that matter most: food and service.

I knew from its time in Leesport that the Steak Shack is Cash Only, but I somehow managed to forget until after I placed my order. A walk to the ATM at the entrance of Body Zone proved useless – instead of the $20 I asked for, I got a “communication error.”

With my tail between my legs, I returned to the counter with four $1 bills and $2 in change, all that I had on my person.
“Don’t worry about it,” the cashier said as I emptied my pockets. I insisted on downsizing my order, but he refused. “I’m owner,” he said, “Don’t worry about it. I want to make repeat customers.”
This above-and-beyond personal service can only be found in small, local establishments, and it’s one of the reasons that I am loyal to the Steak Shack. The other reason is just as important: the food.
The sign proclaims “Authentic Philly Cheesesteaks,” and that’s what the Steak Shack delivers. The meat is sliced thin, and cooked to perfection. Rather than choose from the selection of cheeses (American, Swiss, Provolone, American Whiz or Cheddar Whiz), I took my steak sandwich with sauce and onion.
Steak-Shack-1
There’s something about the Steak Shack’s sauce that just blends well with the other ingredients. The sauce is the perfect texture – not thick like a marinara sauce, but thick enough that it doesn’t run out of the roll. And the roll itself is ideal: soft on the inside, but with a crunch on the outside so it’s sturdy enough to hold everything together until you’re finished.
Then there are the fries. At Leesport they were short, thick “race track” fries, but now they’re cut thin like fast food restaurants. But the flavor is still the same – a fresh-cut flavor with a little grease. Add a little vinegar and the fries reach a whole new level.
Other menu items at the Shack include chicken cheesesteaks, homemade potato chips, and New York style pizza with over 25 available toppings. When another customer asked about the chicken cheesesteaks, the owner summed up why the Shack is the best. “We use real chicken, not that processed stuff,” he said. “If you don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back.” The Steak Shack takes pride in its food, and it has a lot to be proud of.
The Shack is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner. Just remember to bring cash. Even if the ATM is working, it’s a $2.50 surcharge.
Want to share your own experience? Have a suggestion for where I should go next? Leave a message in the comments section, or tweet using #BerksCountyEats

Steak Shack on Urbanspoon

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