Alebrije Mexican Restaurant – 5th Street Highway

The exterior of Alebrije Mexican Restaurant's 5th Street Highway location.

With three locations in Berks County, Alebrije is obviously doing something right.

Our first taste came five years ago at their Exeter Township location. Then, earlier this year, we visited their Wyomissing restaurant, the largest of the three.

In our blog from Wyomissing, I promised I wouldn’t  wait five years to complete the trifecta. On a Tuesday afternoon in June, I made good on that promise when Julie and I paid a visit to the Alebrije along the 5th Street Highway in Muhlenberg Township.

The restaurant shares the Plaza 222 strip mall with Harbor Freight Tools (who was having an “urgent blowout” sale, in case anyone is in the market for tools), Mattress Warehouse and a Subway. The new Jersey Mike’s Subs is near the front entrance to the strip while the new Popeye’s is toward the back.

The interior of Alebrije is made to feel like a cozy street in Mexico.

I actually think this location had the best interior of the three. The walls were painted to look like a street scene in Mexico, brightly painted with faux-tile awnings over the windows and doors.

A mural in the style of "alebrije" art celebrates Pedro Linares Lopez, the creator of the colorful, fantastical art form.

An accent wall was painted with a mural of a stylized snake and bird with the words “Alebrije artesania inventada por Pedro Linares Lopez en 1936,” a tribute to the Alebrije style that lends its name to the restaurant.

We were seated quickly but had to wait a few minutes for our server to arrive – not what you want during a weekday lunch when you have a limited amount of time.

Chips and salsa are a must at any Mexican restaurant.

As expected, the complementary chips and salsa were first to arrive. It was pretty consistent with what we have experienced in the past, though it was maybe a little thinner than others. It tasted just as good, though and we didn’t leave much when finished.

We had ordered food and drinks at the same time to cut down on the wait and my horchata arrived a short time later.

My glass of horchata was light but creamy - and refreshing.

I love horchata, but haven’t ordered it for a blog since our visit to Let’s Taco Bout It in West Reading. It was really good. Julie mentioned that the milky, cinnamon-spiced drink reminds her of a chai tea latte. I never thought of it before, but I can see it the similarities (and I do enjoy both). My only complaint is that I asked for a horchata and a glass of water and never got the water.

It was about 20 minutes from the time we ordered until our lunch arrived. It felt like twice as long. Because of it being lunch, I was hyper sensititve to the time it took.

The Burrito Alebrije was stuffed with ground beef and topped with tomato sauce and cheese, and served with rice, refried beans, and lettuce with sour cream.

When it did arrive, my food looked amazing (as always at Alebrije). It also looked huge. The stuffed burrito was the length of the oversized square plate, flanked on one side with rice and refried beans. A simple chopped salad sat on the other side.

The burrito Alebrije was stuffed with ground beef and topped with tomato sauce and cheese crumbles. The seasoned ground beef was delicious and the tomato sauce was light and complemented it very well. It was also hearty and filling to the point where I couldn’t finish all of the sides.

The tacos de carnitas (pulled pork) came three to an order and were served with cups of spicy salsa and guacamole.

Julie enjoyed an order of tacos de carnitas (pork). They were topped with onions, tomato and cilantro and served with guacamole, pico de Gailo and spicy salsa.

Guacamole is always Julie’s topping of choice with tacos. And it really went well with her carnitas. The pulled pork was nice and flavorful, though not as much as the ground beef. Still, the tacos were very good, and again, very filling.

The lunch menu at Alebrije featured both the Burrito Alebrije and tacos de carnitas, but we were served and charged for the full dinner portions.

It was then that we realized that she was only supposed to get two with the lunch version, not the three that was on our plate. When the check arrived, we realized that while we both thought we were clearly ordering the lunch specials, we each had been given – and charged for – the dinner portions. That put our lunch around $30 (with my horchata).

We didn’t raise a stink about it as the difference in price isn’t that much, but it was a little frustrating. The lunch service also wasn’t as quick as I would have liked – there was a lengthy wait for our check after the meal, as well.

Would we go back to the 5th Street Highway location? Sure. But next time, it will be for dinner.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Fair
Ambiance: Excellent
Price: Reasonable

Alebrije Mexican Restaurant
3225 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Aaron’s Tacos

We saw the red wagon being towed north on Route 61 that morning. “They must be setting up at the Fiesta,” I said to Julie.

The red wagon is distinct around Berks County. It’s the center of operations for Aaron’s Tacos, a mobile food business that has been making the rounds in Berks County for the last several years.

The Fiesta was the Spring Fiesta, held at Jim Dietrich Park in Muhlenberg Township on June 8. The event is hailed as having Berks County’s Best Tacos (you may remember our recent visit to the Berks County Taco Fest – a completely unrelated event with a couple overlapping vendors). Aaron’s was one of about 15 food vendors schedule to take part in the event.

Aaron's Tacos is probably Berks County's smallest mobile restaurant - the little red wagon is barely big enough for the two employees who were running it.

We were at the festival early. It was shortly before noon and the lunch crowd was still rolling in while we were there. There was no line at Aaron’s when I walked up to the window to order my three tacos – one each of steak, chicken and chorizo.

As I waited, two things were clear to me.

1. Aaron’s needed one more person.

2. One more person couldn’t fit inside the wagon.

The flat-top grill was between myself and the woman taking my order. She was very nice and went through the full list of proteins available. But she was also responsible for cooking them while a colleague stood shoulder-to-shoulder with her while pan-frying pastelillos and Jamaica beef patties.

She was also the one accepting the money, and with so little room, she had to walk outside the wagon to a table with a cash box. Eventually, a third person came and was on the grill, at least some of the time, which helped the process.

And while I appreciated that my meat was being cooked to order, it felt like an eternity as I watched sevreal people come through and get their ready-made fried meat pies while my tacos remained unfinished on the cook-top.

Fifteen minutes later, they were finished and I paid my $10.50 before joining Julie and Jakob at a table nearby.

(Julie and Jakob enjoyed a meal from Tlacuani Mexican Restaurant in Temple, a restaurant we visited in 2015).

All of Aaron's tacos are served on corn tortillas with the traditional onions and cilantro plus sliced radish and lime wedges for garnish.

My tacos looked great and – like all tacos from Aaron’s – were prepared in the traditional Mexican style with onions and cilantros. The only additional embellishments were radish slices and limes. The former added a splash of color; the latter, a little DIY citrus flavor.

I enjoyed all three. The corn tortillas were also grilled on the flat-top and were served hotter than any other tacos that I have been served, but they also stayed together better than any other corn tortillas so maybe that’s the trick.

With all of the toppings the same except the proteins, they became the only differentiator between the three. The chorizo was at the top of my list because the spiced sausage has more built-in flavor. The chicken and the steak were both good, as well. I would gladly eat all three again in the future.

But I don’t know that I would wait for them again, at least at an event like the Spring Fiesta where there were 14 other places to get tacos that are just as good without the wait.

Maybe I caught them at a bad time – and I hope that’s all it is – but it just seems like the little red wagon isn’t quite big to do the job as well as it could.

BCE Rating
Food: Very Good
Service: Fair
Ambiance: N/A
Price: Reasonable

Food Trucks Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews
Alebrije Spinach Enchiladas

Alebrije – Wyomissing

Five years ago, in January 2014, Berks County Eats as we know it truly began. It’s incredible to look back to see how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same since then.

Amazingly, it’s been five years since we last blogged about Alebrije. That visit was to the Exeter Township location and while it was a very good meal, we never made it back to either of Alebrije’s other two locations in Wyomissing or 5th Street Highway.

On a Sunday afternoon in December, we finally decided to pay another visit – this time to the Wyomissing location.

Even this location has changed since Berks County Eats began. Five years ago, Alebrije’s Wyomissing restaurant was still located in a strip mall near the Berkshire Mall. In 2015, it moved to a stand-alone building, the former Ciabatta restaurant along State Hill Road.

The menu has been updated since our visit and I was glad for this because I got to enjoy the poblano soup – an item that was added when the menu was updated.

Alebrije Poblano Soup

I didn’t know what to expect beyond what the description in the menu said: “smooth, slightly spicy and creamy.” I’ve had peppers in soup but never a cream of pepper soup. But after trying it, I would eat this soup again and again.

The soup was definitely creamy and I always tasted the distinct flavor of poblano pepper throughout. I didn’t find it spicy at all – flavorful, yes, but not spicy – so it was easy to eat and enjoy. And the sour cream was a perfect complement.

I can’t imagine a better start to the meal than this.

Alebrije Spinach Enchiladas

For my entree, I decided to try the spinach enchiladas – another item that was listed as “new” on the menu.

The plate was beautiful when it arrived (it’s amazing how a little sour cream can liven up a plate). The primary topping for the spinach-filled corn tortillas was a creamy chipotle sauce. It featured a mild spice, nothing overpowering. It worked well with the spinach though and was enjoyable enough, but I would probably go back to the enchiladas poblanos (and the mole sauce) in the future.

Alebrije Steak and Chorizo Tacos

Julie enjoyed her chorizo and steak tacos. The tacos come topped with Chihuahua cheese with cilantro, onion and spicy tomatillo sauce on the side to build to your own taste.

She skipped the tomatillo sauce – the chorizo was enough spice for her taste – but she took advantage of the cilantro and onion. Both helped to enhance, not mask, the flavor of the meat. And the mix of steak and chorizo ensured that the flavors of both shined through in every bite.

Both Julie and I had sides of refried beans with our meals (mine also came with rice). I’m not a huge fan of refried beans but these were good enough.

Kids eat free on Sundays at Alebrije, which had two advantages for us. One, we could order a kids meal for Jakob and not feel guilty about him not eating the whole thing (we did take his leftovers home) and two, we knew there would be other families, most likely with small children, so Jakob wouldn’t be a distraction.

Alebrije Kids Quesadilla and Chicken Nuggets

For his meal, we ordered a combo that included two of his favorite foods: quesadilla and chicken nuggets.

The plate came with one kid-sized quesadilla and five nuggets. The quesadilla was a little simpler than one that you would order off the menu while the nuggets were pretty generic. I certainly wouldn’t order it for myself, but Jakob seemed to enjoy them so I have no complaints.

Alebrije Chips and Salsa

One other thing to mention: like all good Mexican restaurants we had chips and salsa at the table almost immediately. I’m a fan of Alebrije’s salsa. It’s somehow both thin and chunky with just enough heat to have me going back to my water.

Alebrije has always been reasonably priced, and with the kids eat free deal, it makes it even better. For our three meals, bowl of soup and an iced tea, we spent around $35 (kids meals are normally priced at $5.99). Our meal was certainly a good one and for me, the soup was well worth the additional $6.50.

I still can’t believe it’s been five years since our first visit to Alebrije, but I can say this after our latest meal: we won’t be waiting five years to visit the 5th Street Highway location.

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

Alebrije
2224 State Hill Road
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Nacho Average Empanada

One of the goals that I have for Berks County Eats is to visit as many recently opened restaurants as I can, as early as I can.

This week, we visit one of the newest, Nacho Average Empanada.

I first discovered Nacho Average Empanada at the chili cook-off at this year’s Reading Fire + Ice Festival. I picked up a menu and saw the Fairgrounds Farmers Market listed as the address.

The market stand wasn’t open yet, but the menu listed empanadas, hot dogs, chili, taco salads, and build-your-own nachos. We were just a little excited to try it.

We finally made it the market in early March. The stand is located on the mall side, near Vietnamese Delights, Gourmand Cafe and 1 Potato Two.

The stand itself is small – or at least it feels small. Much of the stand is closed off by a long, white wall where the menu board hangs. There’s no seating along the narrow aisle, just a very small shelf that I supposed could be used if you really wanted to stand and eat. Otherwise, dining in means carrying a tray of food to the seating area in the center of the market.

Despite the relatively small menu, choosing what to order was not easy. I knew I wanted to try the build-your-own nachos, but that was only a starting point. I still had to choose a meat (chili, beef or chicken), a cheese (shredded, nacho, queso or jalapeno cheese), and three toppings (tomato, lettuce, olive, jalapeno, scallion, cilantro, onions, sour cream).

That’s a lot of possibilities.

Having been impressed by the chili at the cook-off, I decided to make that my starting point, building a tower of tortilla chips, chili, shredded cheese, tomato, lettuce, onion and guacamole.

The guacamole was one of the weekly specials – a $2 add-on that isn’t available on the regular menu. But it was almost forgotten when my meal was constructed. Thankfully, the mistake was caught before I made it to the table.

There was a lot to love about the meal, starting with the tortilla chips. Nacho Average Empanada fries their own corn tortillas. The tri-corner chips were smaller and thicker than store-bought varieties. It made it difficult to use them as scoops, but they were more favorable (thanks to the frying) and crunchier. If you’ve ever had house-made tortilla chips, you know that makes a big difference.

Just as it was at the cook-off, the Nacho Average Chili that topped the chips was hearty with a mild mix of spices. It’s thick enough to work as a topping without making the chips wet and soggy.

The guacamole was good, but I probably would skip it in the future because the dish is served with homemade salsa – finely chopped and blended into what felt more like a thick sauce. The mild was very tame and safe for all. It’s served on the side so there’s no harm in trying the spicy if you are not sure.

It also ate like a meal, one that I couldn’t quite finish (though I came very close).

Julie’s taco salad was similar to my own meal in portions. It started with a similar base, but a single fried tortilla. Toppings included ground beef, lettuce, shredded cheese, tomato, onion, olives, scallions, sour cream, and special sauce with a side of salsa.

Julie felt the inclusion of both scallions and raw onions was a little much – particularly the onions which were stronger and a little overpowering at times for her taste. And the “special sauce,” we think it was a chipotle mayo, was visible on top of the salad, but there wasn’t enough to get a real taste of it.

It was a good salad, but it didn’t feel special or out of the ordinary from others available on menus around Berks County.

Our biggest regret on the day was that we visited Nacho Average Empanada and didn’t order any empanadas. We knew we wouldn’t be able to finish them and didn’t want to judge by how they heated up in the microwave at home.

At the same time, we were slightly disappointed that a place with empanada in its name only offered two basic varieties – beef and chicken. There are also better and more authentic Mexican food options in Reading and Berks County.

But it wasn’t a bad meal by any means. On the contrary, it was a good meal and the price was right – just over $20 once we added on our two bottles of water.

It’s also something that the Fairgrounds Farmers Market needed. Of all the amazing stands, there were no representation of Latin American foods.

The only other thing I can say is, welcome to Berks County.

BCE Rating
Food: Good
Service: Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Reasonable

Nacho Average Empanada
2934 N. 5th St Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Nacho Average Empanada Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Castaneda’s Mexican Restaurant – MOVING

Editor’s Note: Castaneda’s Mexcian Restaurant is moving. The location at 141 West Penn Avenue closed at the end of July. A new, larger location will be opening this fall on the other side of town at 225 West Penn Avenue.

My childhood home of Robesonia has undergone a lot of changes over the years, oftentimes in ways that I would have never expected.

For example, 25 years ago, I would have never imagined a Mexican restaurant would open in town. But that’s exactly what happened in August 2017 when Castaneda’s Mexican Restaurant debuted.

The location doesn’t have a great track record – restaurants have come and gone over the years. Most notably, Muddy’s Smokehouse BBQ occupied the space for about two years. Castaneda’s is trying to turn that around.

Visitors may recognize owner James Castaneda as one of the business partners who began La Abuela Mexican Restaurant in West Reading.

Castaneda’s menu is smaller with a greater emphasis on lighter fare – tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas, fajitas, burritos and salads.

We visited on a Saturday evening in December, and the dining room was about half-full. Castaneda’s has a handful of tables for four in the small storefront. There was also a steady stream of customers picking up take-out orders while we – Julie, Jakob, my parents, and myself – sat at a table by the front window.

With a relatively small menu, it didn’t take long to decide on our meals. Before our meals were delivered, we were served our complementary chips and salsa.

The salsa is pureed, not chunky, making for easier dipping and more consistent flavor in every bite. It was good, though I don’t think I could ever complain about free chips and salsa.

Our meals arrived a short time later. Looking for more of a meal than a snack, I ordered the enchiladas Verde – three hefty beef enchiladas in homemade green sauce and queso fresco.

Verde isn’t normally my go-to, but I wanted to switch it up from my usual order of enchiladas with mole sauce.

The sauce gets its distinct green color from the tomatillos. It had a very mild spice, but was full of flavor. The ground beef was also well-seasoned, and the two worked very well together. And the cool creaminess of the queso fresco added a nice finish.

Enchiladas at Castaneda’s are served with yellow rice and refried beans. I have always preferred black beans to refried – the texture of refried beans leaves a lot to be desired – but these were fine. I found myself scraping for as much of the salsa Verde as I could get to mix with the rice and beans to give them some of the great flavor that the enchiladas had.

Julie also ordered enchiladas, but for her it was enchiladas Suizas, one of several daily specials advertised on the menu board.

Enchiladas Suizas literally means “Swiss enchiladas.” The name comes from the dairy used to make the creamy white sauce (thank you, Google).

Choosing chicken as the protein, Julie really enjoyed the dish. It was a heavier sauce (Julie had to bring one of the three enchiladas home with her because they were so filling).

Suizas sauce was also out of her comfort zone (ranchero sauce is her favorite), but this dish got her approval, and she said she would definitely order it again.

My parents each enjoyed their meals as well – my mom had a quesadilla with a side salad while my dad had the chile rellano – a stuffed pepper also served with rice and beans.

But despite all of us being full, we couldn’t leave without trying the fried ice cream. By that, I mean Julie couldn’t leave without trying it. We just had to help her eat it.

The vanilla ice cream was coated in a corn cereal, and deep-fried. It was served with cinnamon tortilla chips and whipped cream, and topped with chocolate syrup and sprinkles.

It’s probably the highest calorie menu item in western Berks County, an indulgence that is great once every five years or so. But it’s so good. The contrast in texture and temperature between the hot, crunchy shell and cold, smooth ice cream never gets old. Everything else is unnecessary (but delicious) window dressing.

It’s also a lot of food, especially after a full meal. We all left feeling way too full. But while we certainly packed on pounds, our wallets didn’t lighten much. Castaneda’s is reasonably priced. The four of us were able to eat for less than $50, even with the dessert and some sodas.

It’s still crazy to think that there is a Mexican restaurant within walking distance of my parents’ house, but Castaneda’s is here. And based on what I saw – and tasted – it might just be hanging around for a while.

BCE Rating:

Food: Very Good
Service: Very Good
Ambiance: Fair
Price: Very Reasonable

Castaneda’s Mexican Restaurant
141 W. Penn Ave
Robesonia, PA 19551

Castaneda's Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Dessert Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Let’s Taco Bout It

let-s-taco-bout-it

The great thing about West Reading is the sheer number of great restaurants that the town offers.

I didn’t know how great that was until Julie and I were told there was a 45-minute wait for a table at the restaurant we had planned on for dinner.

Forty-five minutes is a long time when you’re hungry. So we went a few doors down to one of Penn Avenue’s newest offerings, Let’s Taco Bout It.

The sister restaurant to Reading’s Taqueria Jimenez  opened in February in the former Caggs Caffe Liberta and Cafe Harmony. But Let’s Taco Bout It takes the space in a whole new direction with its Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) theme.

let-s-taco-bout-it-thumb-wrestling

Each of the 10 tables has a Pro Thumb Wrestling Arena sitting atop the salt and pepper shakers. Vintage movie posters adorn the wall, each one promoting a campy movie from the 1960s or 70s starring Santo.

let-s-taco-bout-it-santo-movie-posters

In the posters, Santo is seen facing increasingly fearsome foes:  the mafia, vampire women, Martians and more. Amazingly, all of his supernatural foes are adept at hammerlocks, dropkicks and sleeper holds (but Santo knows how to counter them all!).

Julie and I had a pair of thumb wrestling matches (I let her win one so we could have a pleasant meal) before our drinks arrived. I went with my standard pineapple Jarritos, but Julie was a little more adventurous, opting for a horchata.

let-s-taco-bout-it-horchata

Horchata is cinnamon rice drink, and Let’s Taco Bout It does a homemade version. It was so different than anything either of us have tried before. It was a little bit like drinking tapioca pudding, but the cinnamon gave spice to an otherwise refreshing drink.

let-s-taco-bout-it-chips-and-guacamole

We couldn’t help starting our meal with an order of “Holy Guacamole and Cheeps.” The guacamole is homemade, and that makes all the difference. It had fresh cilantro, onion and red pepper. It was smooth and flavorful, but we didn’t have enough to get through the pile of chips.

Let’s Taco Bout It offers a limited menu for your entree. There are tacos (of course), as well as a burrito, a quesadilla and a torta. Then, there are the “luchadors.”

let-s-taco-bout-it-luchador

Available in six varieties, “luchadors” are basically tacos on steroids (not accusing Mexican wrestlers of using steroids, it’s just a metaphor). Each comes on an oversized, grilled homemade tortilla with cheese, cilantro, onions, avocado and your choice of featured ingredient.

If you’re going to order a luchador, why not order the greatest one?  That’s why I got the El Santo. The primary ingredient was chorizo, the mildly spicy Mexican sausage.

let-s-taco-bout-it-chorizo

I could taste the difference in the homemade tortilla immediately. It was a little thicker and had more flavor depth than an average tortilla. It was also packed with more chorizo than I thought could fit. The avocado provided a nice cooling contrast to the meat in what was a delicious dinner.

let-s-taco-bout-it-pork

Julie went with the “Dynasty,” which was filled with pork marinated in pineapple juice. The pork was tender, but she never really got that pineapple flavor. Still, it was very good, and very filling, meal.

Both of us took home a quarter of our luchador (we each could have finished our own if we had not ordered the guacamole). And we certainly did not feel cheated out of the $32 that was spent on dinner.

Let’s Taco Bout It may not have been our first choice for dinner, but it was the right choice.

It’s another standout restaurant for West Reading, and one that I look forward to visiting again.

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

Let’s Taco Bout It
616 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

La Abuela Mexican Restaurant

la-abuela-exterior

A few months ago, Julie and I were walking through West Reading during the annual Fall Fest on the Avenue. As we made our way down Penn Avenue, we paused outside La Abuela Mexican Restaurant, the newest restaurant in town at the time.

The owners were standing outside, handing out photocopied versions of the menu to everyone walking past. I was intrigued, but I always like to give a restaurant some time before making a visit.

Fast-forward to a Friday night in November, in need of a place for dinner that was close to home. I dug through our pile of menus and came across the La Abuela menu I picked up two months ago. My decision was made.

La Abuela is located in the old Van’s Cafe, next to Subway on the 400 block of Penn Avenue. It has a major advantage over many of the other restaurant’s along West Reading’s main thoroughfare: a row of customer parking spaces on a private lot behind the building.

la-abuela-1

The most notable change in the building since the new restaurant took over the space is the floor-to-ceiling map of Mexico. Bright shades of orange, yellow, purple and green highlight the country and neighboring Guatemala, home to one of the restaurant’s co-owners.

In English, La Abuela translates to “Grandmother.” A picture of an elderly grandmother adorns the menu, which is filled with traditional Mexican dishes.

la-abuela-jarritos

It also includes 10 flavors of Jarritos, a brand of Mexican soda. I enjoy these sodas so much more than American soda because they are made with real cane sugar (and a lot of it. A two-serving bottle contains more than 50 grams).

But what I love more than the soda is the food. I couldn’t wait for our meal so I ordered an appetizer of flautas, fried tacos filled with chicken and topped with homemade salsa, queso fresco, Pico de Gallo and sour cream.

la-abuela-flautas

The crispy tortillas ate like an egg roll with more flavor coming out of every crunchy bite. The sour cream and queso fresco helped temper the spices in the salsa. I probably could have gone through a couple plates of flautas and left very happy.

Instead I finished off my share and waited for my tacos al pastor to arrive. Normally, I go for something heavier like enchiladas or fajitas, but marinated pork with pineapple, sautéed onions and cilantro sounded too good to miss.

la-abuela-tacos-al-pastor

I was not disappointed. The meat was so tender and flavorful. With the sautéed onions, it ate more like fajitas than tacos.

Three different salsas accompanied the dish, including a cup of fresh-made guacamole. It was so smooth with the right mix of cilantro and mild heat. The other two salsas — one a Pico de Gallo, the other a tomatillo sauce — were good in their own right (the Pico was probably my favorite of the two), but the guacamole was perfect.

While I was enjoying my tacos, Julie was digging into her enchiladas verdes. Like me, she opted for something a little out of her comfort zone as she normally enjoys her enchiladas with a red sauce, but she greatly enjoyed this change of pace.

la-abuela-enchiladas-verdes

The chicken was juicy and spicy, but not hot. The cheese was melted inside the tortillas as well as sprinkled on top.

Her favorite part of the meal might have been the refried beans, which she called the best she has ever eaten. I would tend to agree.

The beans were made using black beans so they looked more appealing than the brown beans we get at most restaurants. The black beans also gave it a richer flavor.

After we had our fill, Julie asked our waiter for a box for her last enchilada. Our waiter, one of the co-owners, tried to talk us into dessert, saying it was better than dinner. Unfortunately we had no room left in our stomachs to confirm his claims.

We had arrived early for dinner, about 5 p.m., and there were not many others in the restaurant with us. By the time we were finished an hour later, it had begun filling up for dinner so it took our waiter a little longer to take our check (about $35) and see us on our way.

After a delicious, and quite filling meal, I was glad that I found the menu earlier that day. La Abuela was definitely the right choice.

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

La Abuela
448 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews
Tlacuani Rice and Beans

Tlacuani Mexican Restaurant and Grill

tlacuani-mexican-restaurant-and-grill

Since I started Berks County Eats as a part-time hobby in 2012, I have only had two dinners that didn’t live up to my expectations.

One of those was La Cocina Mexicana in Kutztown. It was one of my earliest reviews, and one of the most disappointing, with food that our party of four all found to be bland and tasteless, the complete opposite of what Mexican food should be.

La Cocina notwithstanding, there are still plenty of places in Berks County to get great Mexican food. One of those is Tlacuani Mexican Restaurant in Temple.

Tlacuani literally means “someone who eats things” or “glutton” in the Aztec language of Nahautl (thank you Google Books search). That suits me just fine because if the food’s good, I have no problem being a glutton when I go out to eat.

tlacuani-dining-room

The dining room is vibrant. Some would call it gaudy. The tables, each one carved with a scene of life in Mexico, are painted in bright colors with matching chairs. Shades of orange, blue, red, green and pink pop against the off-white tile floor.

tlacuani-chair

Our six-person table, which felt empty with just the two of us, had a scene set outside an old adobe building. The sides and all of the chairs were painted green, with alternating scenes of rural towns and a man riding a ox.

It’s a stark contrast from the homey feel of the building overall. Our table was directly in front of the original fireplace. Above it, behind a sculpture on the mantle, is a metal plate that reads, “Temple Hotel. 1853.”

tlacuani-chips-and-salsa

Like many (all?) Mexican restaurants, the meal began with free chips and salsa, but Tlacuani’s was unlike any we had tried before. The salsa was not the standard red tomato mixture. Instead, there were two options: a slaw-like mixture with green chilies mixed in, and a green syrup-like sauce.

Both packed a serious punch and had us refilling our drinks before we had got through half of our chips. Any worries we had about our meal being bland were quickly thrown out the window.

Tlacuani offers a more varied menu than some other Mexican restaurants we have tried before. Sure, there are plenty of options for enchiladas, burritos and tacos, but there seemed to be more entree options, or at least more than appealed to me, including the chiles en nogada.

tlacuani-chiles-en-nogada

Two stuffed poblano peppers arrived, each one stuffed with a mixture of steak, pork, almonds and fruit, topped with white sauce and dried cranberries, and served with four tortillas.

The peppers easily peeled apart into strips that laid nicely on my shells. I piled on the filling (and rice and beans for good measure) and dug in. It was love at first bite. Poblanos are on the mild end of the heat spectrum, but that was enough spice to cut through the sweetness of the filling. The sauce was delicious, and though simple, the dried cranberries were a pleasant surprise every time I found one on my fork.

Sopes were another dish that I had not seen before. Perhaps I’ve skimmed over it in other places, but Julie spotted it on the menu at Tlacuani and decided to order it.

tlacuani-sopes

The description was rather vague, only saying that there would be two soft corn sopes topped with choice of meat, with beans, lettuce, tomatoes and cheese, but no mention of what a sope is. I blame my ignorance on the Pennsylvania Dutch in me.

It turns out that sopes are little corn pockets that look like hollowed-out waffles but are crispy like a taco salad shell. The meat (in this case, chorizo), was buried inside with the veggies loaded on top. It was close to a taco, but the sopes were heavier with more corn flavor. And the chorizo added all of the spice needed to make it a perfect dish.

We had really hoped to finish our meal with some fried ice cream, but neither of us had any room for dessert so we asked for our check—just under $30 for the two of us.

Three years ago, I walked out of La Cocina disappointed.

This trip to Tlacuani definitely did not disappoint.

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

Tlacuani Mexican Restuarant
5005 Kutztown Rd
Temple, PA 19560

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Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Road Trip: Buena Vista Mexican Restaurant

buena-vista-mexican-restaurant

As much as I love to plan out where and when to try a new restaurant, sometimes the best places are the ones I find by accident.

This is especially true when it comes to our road trips, those times when we have to find somewhere to eat outside of the comforts of Berks County.

That was the case a few weeks ago when Julie and I made a trip to Philly. We took the train from Malvern to Jefferson Station (nee Market East) with every intention of enjoying lunch at the Reading Terminal Market.

Those plans quickly changed after we walked in during the Saturday lunch rush. Unable to move, let alone find a place to sit and eat, we abandoned the market, went with a light lunch and decided to look for a bigger dinner when we returned to Malvern.

So after a long day in the city, we were starving for some good food in the suburbs. After consulting nearly every review site, we found ourselves in a strip mall along Lancaster Avenue.

Buena Vista Mexican Restaurant isn’t visible from the street. The shopping center that it sits in features three strips of shops and restaurants with Buena Vista tucked way in the back around a curve in one of the rows.

The walls were painted different colors, green on the sides, maroon in the middle. Bronze lizards, an Aztec sun sculpture and assorted paintings covered the wall. Somehow, the decor came together without feeling tacky.

buena-vista-chips-and-salsa

One of my favorite things about dining out for Mexican food is the chips and salsa, and Buena Vista may have the best that I have tried. Instead of the thin, Tostitos-style chips served at many restaurants, Buena Vista has thicker, deep-fried chips that are made in house. Combined with some fresh, mild salsa, I could have kept eating them all day.

And the meal just got better from there.

buena-vista-steak-fajitas

My steak fajitas were still steaming on top of the sizzling skillet when they were delivered to our table. Served atop the traditional bed of grilled onions and peppers, with a side of refried beans and all the fixings, I couldn’t wait to start piling on my tortillas.

There were no weaknesses on the plate as everything was really good, but what really set this dish apart was the guacamole. This was, hands down, the best guacamole that I have ever had. It tasted so fresh, with just the right amount of cilantro and other spices to complement. Adding it to my fajitas made all the difference.

buena-vista-chipotle-enchiladas

While I like to change things up whenever I go out, it is almost a sure bet that Julie will order enchiladas. This trip was no exception as she ordered some shredded beef enchiladas with chipotle sauce. A little spicy, but not too hot with plenty of meat.

When I get high quality food like we had at Buena Vista, I don’t mind paying a little more. The chips and salsa weren’t a free add-on like they are at most places, and our total bill came in just a little over $30.

Buena Vista was not a place that I had planned on eating, but it ended up being one of my favorite meals in a long time.

That’s why I will never stop looking for new places to eat.

Buena Vista Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Alebrije – Perkiomen Avenue

IMG_2965According to Wikipedia.com, an alebrije is a piece of Mexican folk art, a brightly-colored sculpture of a fantastical creature.

It’s also a really cool name for a restaurant.

Though the name is catchy, it’s the food and the atmosphere that hooks people on a restaurant. The owners of Alebrije must be doing something right to have three locations in Reading: 5th Street Highway, Perkiomen Avenue and State Hill Road.

Alebrije’s Perkiomen Avenue location is set in a repurposed Bojangles. The old drive-through window still juts out awkwardly from the side of the building. Inside, guests are greeted by a parade of cardboard cutouts, including The Most Interesting Man in the World who invites you to “stay thirsty, my friend.”

A large mural is painted across the back wall of the dining room. The clichéd southwestern scene features a desert complete with cacti. A door to nowhere betrays the fact that a wall has been removed.

The old order counter is now the bar where the wait staff were tending to a man who had his coat draped over one stool and his briefcase on another. All told he took up three of the four bar stools, and the fourth was blocked by the collection of empty margarita glasses.

We got a seat at one of the high top tables that were shoe-horned into the bar area. A forged-iron cowboy stick figure held up a dessert card and guarded the three bottles of hot sauce (two red, one green).

IMG_2960Like all good Mexican restaurants, the meal starts with unlimited chips and salsa, and for my wife, a frozen banana margarita.

IMG_2963There was definitely no skimping when it came to her drink. It was big, and as her eventual hangover proved, not watered down.

When it comes to main courses, my wife and I each have our Mexican favorites. For her, it’s ranchero sauce, a traditional mild red sauce.

For me, nothing beats a good mole sauce. Though there are thousands of variations on this chili pepper-based sauce, my favorites are the ones that have that dark brown color that comes with the addition of chocolate.

IMG_2964When my enchiladas poblanas came out, they looked like they were covered in the darkest chocolate. The sauce was amazing, the mix of heat and sweet balanced perfectly with the chicken. Admittedly I have not made it to every Mexican restaurant in Berks County, but of the ones I have, this is the best sauce of any kind that I have found.

While my enchiladas were excellent, I was very disappointed to see the light brown puddle next to them on my plate. I like refried beans—they’re great as a side or rolled up as part of a burrito—but they should at least look like beans. Though the beans tasted fine, they were runny and just did not look appealing.

Overall though, Alebrije was impressive. The building may have been a little cramped, but it’s pretty impressive what they’ve done to turn it from fast food into a real restaurant. The prices are impressive, too. Even with the margarita, our bill was less than $30. That’s hard to do without a drink at most restaurants.

I am sad to report though, I saw no mythical creatures during my visit.

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

Alebrije Mexican Restaurant
3805 Perkiomen Ave
Reading, PA 19606

Alebrije Mexican Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews