A look at the exterior of Cherry's Jamaican Delight in West Reading

Review: Cherry’s Jamaican Delight

A look at the exterior of Cherry's Jamaican Delight in West Reading

I was very excited when I heard Cherry’s Jamaican Delight was moving to West Reading at the beginning of the year. The new location would expose the restaurant – and the Jamaican culture that inspires the cuisine – to a whole new audience that otherwise may miss out.

Cherry’s shares a wall with Chen Vegetarian House in the 700 block of Penn Avenue. It’s a cozy location, one that previously housed small cafes. There’s limited inside seating – made more limited by current guidelines – with a few more yellow and green picnic tables set up out front.

For those not lucky enough to snag a table or those who prefer to eat at home, Cherry’s also offers takeout and delivery through GrubHub.

We decided to take advantage of the online ordering through the GrubHub app, but being just a short drive away, I opted for takeout and the opportunity to see one of West Reading’s newest restaurants.

I got a text notification that my order was ready for pickup early so I made the quick trip from our Wyomissing home into West Reading. Parking wasn’t an issue as I was able to snag a space right in front of the restaurant.

The restaurant’s renovation still feels fresh. Most of the walls are painted in a bright, vibrant yellow that is made more dramatic by the lack of tables.

My order was waiting behind the counter, and I was in-and-out and back home with my food in no time.

Cherry’s menu features Jamaican comfort food like Pepsi brown stew chicken, curried goat and several seafood options. But I had my sights on the brown oxtail stew.

A styrofoam container with stewed oxtails and rice covered in brown sauce

Oxtail is a unique cut of meat. As the name suggests, it comes from the tail of a cow. It’s a gelatinous meat. The slow-cooking in the stew helps cook it down a bit but it still has a slightly chewy consistency, especially around the bone. But the flavor is rich, and it was enhanced by the brown stew sauce.

The sauce was dark and flavorful. And it was spread across the side of rice and peas (which are actually red beans), as well, adding those deep tones to the whole plate.

A styrofoam container with chicken, rice and plantains

Arguably the most popular Jamaican dish in America – or at least the most familiar – is jerk chicken. And it’s also a favorite of my wife, Julie.

She was excited to try Cherry’s version of the dish and was not disappointed. The jerk spice, a little sweet and salty with a (very) mild heat, permeated through the perfectly cooked chicken.

Each of the meals also came with a nice little side of steamed cabbage and – my favorite – fried plantains.

A styrofoam cup with an orange drink and ice next to a styrofoam container with rice and stewed oxtails

And because every meal needs a little bit of sweet, we both decided to try the Calypso Mango, a delicious tropical lemonade that we haven’t seen anywhere else in our ventures.

In all, our dinners and drinks totaled a little less than $40, which isn’t a bad price when you consider we paid a premium for the convenience of online ordering.

Our first experience with Cherry’s Jamaican Delight definitely made us eager to try more. And hopefully others will be eager to give them a try, too.

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

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Review: Barrio Alegria Delicioso Tour

On Friday, August 14, Barrio Alegría hosted its annual Delicioso Tour, a culinary tour that highlights some of downtown Reading’s best food businesses.

Normally, the Delicioso Tour is an actual tour with guests walking from restaurant to restaurant in the City of Reading to sample the cuisine of a diverse population and learn the stories behind the food and those who make it.

Rather than canceling the 2020 event, the tour went virtual. Instead of going from site to site, the food was delivered right to your door. And because we couldn’t meet the owners face-to-face, video introductions were included from each of the five restaurateurs giving tour-goers insight into their heritage and their food.

Two chocolate milkshakes in clear plastic cups with still wrapped straws sitting on a countertop

Stop #1 – Franklyn’s Breakfast, Burgers, and Shakes

The first “stop” on the tour was Franklyn’s (1007 Penn Street), one of downtown’s newer restaurants. Franklyn’s opened at the end of 2019, Franklyn’s has a simple menu that, as the name suggests, focuses on scratch-made breakfasts and lunch.

We were treated to our choice of milkshake from the diner. I chose strawberry-banana while Julie chose the Oreo shake.

This is one time when I was more than happy to eat dessert first. The shakes were amazing. Drinking my strawberry-banana shake was like drinking a banana split.

close-up photo of two tacos in corn tortillas covered with onions and cilantro

Stop #2 – Loncheria y Panaderia Doña Tere

Doña Tere is located across from Reading High School (800 N. 13th Street), and as we found out with our second course, it is home to some of the best tacos anywhere.

Photo of two tacos, both with corn tortillas but one with shredded beef and the other with marinated pork filling.

We each had two tacos – one of our choice and one of their speciality taco, suadero. Suadero is a slow roasted or stewed beef that is then shredded similar to a pork carnitas. It had a similar flavor, too, but was just a little richer. For my other taco, I tried the adobada.

Photo of two tacos on corn tortillas. One is topped with beef and chorizo, the other is topped with shredded beef.

All of our tacos were served with a side of traditional toppings – cilantro and onion. I wouldn’t want them any other way because the meat was perfect and flavorful all on its own.

The tacos also came with a green salsa and a red salsa – both of them were a little too hot for our tastes. The flavors were great, but a little bit went a long way.

Photo of a takeout container filled with rice and beans and pork ribs

Stop #3 – El Tronco de Lily

El Tronco de Lily (101 S. 6th Street) was the “main course” of the meal. Julie had their rice and peas with ribs while I had the white rice with chicken.

Photo of takeout container with white rice and a half breast of chicken.

I was not expecting to enjoy my chicken as much as I did. It had a nice flavor, almost like a barbecue chicken but with a Latin twist. And the spices seeped in so it was good all the way to the last bite.

Photo of Spanish beans in tomato sauce.

While Julie’s yellow rice had the “peas” cooked with it, my white rice came with a dish of beans in a tomato sauce to pour over top. It was all very good, but way too much food for a five-course meal (we both saved about half of our rice for later).

The ribs were good, too. They weren’t the fall-off-the-bone ribs like you would find at a barbecue joint. They were a little tougher but still with plenty of flavor.

Photo of a plastic takeout container filled with assorted fried foods.

Stop #4 – Antojitos y Algo Mas

The dishes from Antojitos y Algo Mas (154 Walnut Street) were practically a meal of themselves. We knew were were getting chicharrón (pork rinds) and arepas (ground maize/corn, kind of like a fluffy corn tortilla) but the box also included some fried plantains, ribs and chorizo.

The latter were actually my favorites. Because of how they were fried, they almost had the texture of jerky which I enjoyed, especially as a change of pace to the other dishes we had tried.

close-up photo of a tres leche cake in a plastic takeout container topped with a cherry.

Stop #5 – Homemade Cravings

Just when we thought the meal couldn’t get any better, Homemade Cravings (50 N. 5th Street) had tres leches cake. The milky cake was so rich and sweet, but neither of us had enough room to finish it.

That was OK though, because after a couple nights in the refrigerator, the cake had soaked in even more flavor from the creamy mixture it was sitting in.

And it also helped extend the tour for a couple days, which was great because we didn’t want it to end.

The food throughout was outstanding and it was great to experience so many new places – some that I was vaguely familiar with and others that I had never heard of.

I really hope that the tour happens in person next year because the only thing better than eating the amazing food would be to dine alongside others who are discovering new dishes and new restaurants, too.

But whether the next tour is in-person or virtual, you can count us in.

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Review: Latin Taste at the Berkshire Mall

Latin Taste occupies a corner space in the Berkshire Mall food court

In the last few years, all the news around the Berkshire Mall has been the negative – the closings of Sears and Bon-Ton at the top of the list.

But even with their loss, the Mall remains the largest shopping center in Berks County. And with the holidays approaching, the crowds have returned once again.

A look behind the counter at Latin Taste

We were among the crowds that headed to the mall on a Sunday afternoon in early December. We were there to shop, but we were also there to get a taste – at Latin Taste.

Latin Taste is one of a handful of options in the Berkshire Mall’s food court. It’s also the newest, having opened a little more than a year ago in November 2018 (Lola’s Ice having opened the month prior).

Latin Taste features warming tables for most of its foods

The stand features warming tables with most of the dishes ready-made for eating in or taking home. And before you scoff at the idea of someone going to the mall for take-out, consider that the Grub Hub delivery driver picked up a large order while we were there.

We looked at everything on display, but in the end both Julie and I went with our favorites: pollo al horno (baked chicken) for her, and pernil (Spanish pulled pork) for me.

Overhead view of paper plate with pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

This was a very good version of my favorite Latin American dish. The flavors from the seasoning and marinade were very strong and the fatty parts were melt-in-you-mouth.

A close-up picture of pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

One thing I have always found with pernil is that it is richer than an American barbecue pulled pork. This was no exception. As much as I enjoyed it, I had to leave a little on my plate because it was just too much for me.

Same with the rice. There was no skimping on the portions as half the plate was covered in the yellow rice. I liked it, just as I like almost all Spanish rice. It was just a lot.

A close-up of baked chicken with macaroni salad and yellow rice in the background, from Latin Taste

Julie’s baked chicken, like my pernil, was very well seasoned, with the flavors soaking through the skin into the meat. I’m not normally a fan of baked chicken, but I found this to be flavorful and anything but dry – always my biggest concern.

In addition to rice, Julie had a side of macaroni salad, which actually was a macaroni and tuna salad. It was creamy and very good. The tuna was just a little unexpected. (Even Jakob, our two-year-old, didn’t mind the tuna as he ate almost all of the salad that Julie shared with him).

A bowl of fried plantains from Latin Taste

Unable to resist, we had also ordered a side of sweet plantains. There were none ready on the warming table so this was one item that was made fresh for us. They were also very good, but you don’t have to do a whole lot to plantains (other than cook them) to make a delicious side.

Overall, we were more than satisfied with everything that we ordered. The price was right, too. Our bill was $25, but we had a coupon for $7 off a $25 order so we got everything for $18. (Next time you get the Valpak coupons in the mail, at least pull out the one for Latin Taste. It’s a great deal).

While the Berkshire Mall may not draw the crowds it did when it opened, and there are two very noticeable empty spaces, the mall still has a lot to offer. Especially if what you’re looking for is good Latin food.

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

Latin Taste
Berkshire Mall
1665 State Hill Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

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Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Review: Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Brick Exterior of Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

It was hard to ignore the signs. On seemingly every corner in West Reading and Wyomissing, signs proclaimed the arrival of Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food. Then the Instagram posts and stories started arriving, and it was even harder to ignore.

Mecca celebrated their grand opening in September 2018. That’s when the signs started appearing.

Sheer curtains with butterfly pattern hangs in the window of Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

I’ve wanted to go ever since, but hadn’t had a chance until a recent Thursday night. On my way home from work, I took a detour through West Reading to the corner of Second and Franklin Streets to get a taste of Mecca.

The location is a little off the beaten path, a couple blocks off Penn Avenue. Like most of West Reading, finding a place to park can be a challenge. I got lucky and got the last spot on the block so I didn’t have to walk too far.

seating area with tables for four inside Mecca Caribbean

I walked in around 5 p.m. and was the only customer. I’m not going to lie: it was a little worrisome. But it actually worked out to my advantage because I was able to get great customer service and an explanation of all of the dishes that were on the warming table.

There were between a dozen and 15 items between the warming table and the heat lamp (where the fried chicken and other fried items were found) and most sounded like things that I would enjoy, but I had to narrow it down.

three styrofoam takeout containers of varying sizes with prices for small, large and "Mecca Meal" options

I ordered two Mecca meals, essentially they are sample platters where customers get their choice of main and sides to fill the large Styrofoam box. Dessert is also included in the meal.  (I also ordered a separate bowl of mac and cheese for my 15-month-old son).

The first box – mine – included ribs, rice and beans, collared greens and candied yams.

takeout container iwth rice and beans, sweet potato, collard greens and ribs

The ribs were more like riblets – small pieces that had a decent amount of meat on them. The sauce was super sweet, but I liked it. There was more fat on the ribs than I would have liked, but I enjoyed all of the meat that I ate off the bone.

The barbecue sauce from the ribs also made a great topping for the rice and beans. It was my server’s suggestion to drizzle some over the rice and beans. It was a great combination and I ended up pouring the rest of the sauce over them.

But the best thing on my plate was the candied yams – I believe the Instagram post that day called them butterscotch yams. They were more like a dessert than a side dish, the yams having been reduced into a sweet puree.

The only downer for me were the collard greens. They weren’t bad, but I have had better (Signatures by Angell comes to mind).

takeout container with white rice, mac and cheese, sweet potatoes and jerk chicken

Julie’s box, which I picked out for her, included jerk chicken, mac and cheese, cilantro white rice and more of the yams.

The chicken was very good but definitely on the spicy side (as jerk chicken should be). The white rice was pretty good on its own, but I preferred the yellow rice from my dish.

Both Julie and Jakob enjoyed their mac and cheese – Jakob cleaned his plate while Julie saved a little of hers for later.

two slices of pumpkin pie in a clamshell package

Dessert was pumpkin pie. There were no options, but I wasn’t mad about it. I enjoy pumpkin pie, and this was a very good version of the southern staple. It was a sweet with a good amount of pumpkin spice and a nice crust. No complaints about the way the meal finished.

Honestly, I have no complaints about the meal at all. There were a couple truly great items and everything else was good enough. I thought my $30 was well-spent.

Mecca may be a little off the main drag, but it’s still a convenient place for a good grab-and-go meal, one that I will take advantage of again in the future.

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

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food
166 Franklin St
West Reading, PA 19611

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Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe at the Shillington Farmers Market – CLOSED

food stand with a sign that reads "Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe"

Editor’s Note: Mi Casa Su Casa’s market stand closed in 2021. The original location remains open in downtown Reading.

Berks County is full of restaurant success stories. One of those stories is Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe, the downtown Reading restaurant that has been serving traditional Latin American cuisine for more than a decade.

We visited Mi Casa Su Casa’s Penn Street location for a review in 2015 and have enjoyed the cafe’s food many times since. When a second location opened in the Shillington Farmers Market in April, we were more than a little excited.

counter with a small menu card for Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe in Shillington Farmers Market

It’s not that we won’t go into the city, but the hours at the downtown cafe make it harder for me to get there (the cafe closes at 4 p.m. I get home at 6 during the week). But with the market open until 7 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, Mi Casa Su Casa just became a viable option for dinner.

And we took advantage of that recently with a Friday night visit to the market stand.

warming table with various Latin American dishes

We arrived around 6:15 and had nearly the whole market to ourselves. The warming table at Mi Casa Su Casa was still well-stocked with entrees and sides.

It’s a simple menu  with four proteins (baked or stewed chicken, peppered steak and roast pork), eight sides (rice and peas, rice and beans, mac and cheese, mixed vegetables, sweet or fried plantains, yuca fries and potato salad), empanadas, sorullos and desserts.

takeout dish with peppered beef, yellow rice and vegetables

I made a platter with peppered steak, rice and peas, and mixed vegetables.

The peppered steak, in my opinion, was the best thing that either of us tried. It looked like a hearty beef stew but with meat that pulled apart like pot roast. The beef was melt-in-your-mouth good in a gravy-like sauce. It was well-seasoned, slow cooked to perfection, and absolutely delicious. There was also one piece of potato. I’m sure other servings probably got more, but more meat is fine with me.

takeaway container with three compartments filled with rice and beans, vegetables, and peppered steak

The rice and peas were fine. I always like rice and beans but wanted to give the peas a try and it was good, but nothing real special. The mixed vegetables were very good with lots of cauliflower, root vegetables and squash.

One thing to point out, and Julie agreed with this, is that the food could have been a little hotter. It wasn’t cold, but it had definitely cooled off on the warming table. Had it been made to order, it would have truly made the meal great.

Julie’s meal consisted of baked chicken, plantains, and a guava and cheese empanada.

takeout container of baked chicken with plantains

She found the chicken to be very good. It was moist and coated in traditional Latin American seasonings to give it a salty and slightly spicy flavor.

The plantains were delicious as always. The empanada was a surprising hit. We’ve tried their savory empanadas before – the beef and chicken are both winners – but this was our first taste of a sweet empanada. Julie felt the best comparison was to a cheese Danish. I would tend to agree, but I think the fried dough made it feel less dessert-like, and more like a side or entree.

While there are three counter seats at the stand, we took our food to the small seating area at the other end of the market. Seating is at a premium at lunchtime, but at dinner, that wasn’t a problem.

With our two drinks, the total bill came to $32 (empanadas don’t count as a side when building a platter so Julie had to order it a la carte). The two platters, themselves, were $12 each which seemed like a very reasonable price for what was actually a lot of food.

Having another location for Mi Casa Su Casa is a great thing for Berks County and for the Shillington Farmers Market.

While we were there, Julie picked up a card for the Mi Cocina School, cooking classes that are held at the Penn Street location. I think the next time that I review Mi Casa Su Casa, it will be reviewing my own cooking.

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

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe
Shillington Farmers Market
10 S. Summit Ave
Shillington, PA 19607

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plate with stewed chicken, potatoes and yellow rice and beans

Review: El Morro Cafe – CLOSED

exterior of el morro cafe in West Reading

Editor’s Note: El Morro Cafe is now closed. A new restaurant, Takkii Ramen opened in the space in 2022.

In February, Julie and I had our first chance to visit Reading’s Old San Juan Cafe for a taste of Puerto Rico.

We loved the simple little counter-service restaurant in the old Outlet District.

So when, just a few weeks later, it was announced that Old San Juan would be expanding into West Reading, we got more than a little excited.

On our walks through town, we kept tabs on the progress at the corner of Sixth and Reading Avenues until the grand opening celebration in mid-May.

Two months later, we made our first visit to the brand new El Morro Cafe.

counter at a restaurant with a wooden box and the word "eat" inside

The setup is much the same with entrees and sides sitting in warming dishes at the order counter. Steph, El Morro’s manager, was more than happy to help us overcome our ignorance of the options.

We felt bad as a small line formed behind us, but we made our decisions and grabbed one of the handful of tables in the “dining room” off to the left side of the restaurant.

Our meals were delivered to our seats, with the plates looking very much the same as they did at the city location. Mine featured a mountain of rice — we both ordered yellow instead of white this time — and a pile of fried pork (chicharon).

plate with fried pork with rice and beans

The tender meat was covered in a thick fried outer skin with excellent flavor and texture. Black beans were sprinkled in with the yellow rice, and while I enjoyed it, it was just too much for me to handle both the rice and the meat (and I wasn’t going to let any of the meat go to waste).

If I have one complaint, it’s that the plastic cutlery wasn’t strong enough to cut through the hard fried shell around the meat.

Julie enjoyed her stewed chicken from Old San Juan so much that she ordered the same thing at El Morro.

plate with stewed chicken, potatoes and yellow rice and beans

The dark meat chicken (her request), along with the chunks of potatoes and carrots, absorbed a lot of flavor from the broth. It’s hard to pick out the spice(s) that make it so good, but it is definitely worth a try.

Each meal also includes a choice of salad. And, just like in the city, I went with a boring side salad while Julie had an excellent potato salad. It still had the bell peppers mixed in, but wasn’t as creamy. Instead, it ate almost like a mashed potato.

What’s most amazing about El Morro is that even with two drinks, our total bill was less than $20. I can’t remember the last time we ate dinner for less than that outside of a quick-service restaurant.

Not only is El Morro Cafe a great extension of Old San Juan Cafe, it fills a much-needed niche for Puerto Rican food in Reading’s western suburbs.

The fact that we can walk to it from our house is just an added bonus.

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

El Morro Cafe
36 N. Sixth Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

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Review: Old San Juan Cafe

mural with a Puerto Rican flag and an island scene on the wall of Old San Juan Cafe in Reading

Reading is a constantly changing city.

Abandoned factories tell the story of the once-thriving industrial era. Bumpy crossings serve as reminders of the days when railroads were king. And we’re just a generation removed from when Reading was the outlet capital of the world.

The brand names are gone, but the Outlet District continues to evolve, with small independent stores and restaurants to cater to locals, not out-of-state bus trips.

And among the empty buildings are thriving businesses, like the Old San Juan Cafe.

Old San Juan Cafe is located along North Ninth Street in the heart of the Outlet District. There is no off-street parking for the Cafe, so we grabbed a space across the street under the shadow of one of the old outlet buildings. Signs for long-forgotten stores like the Designer Bags Outlet and Cape Craftsmen still adorn the abandoned building.

Another sign advertised, “TOP OF THE ROC, An American Dining House.”

awning above a doorway with a photo of food and words that read "Old San Juan Cafe"

Though the outlet is silent, the street still bustles with activity, highlighted by the seemingly endless stream of customers coming and going through Old San Juan.

Neither Julie nor I had any idea what to expect going into Old San Juan for the first time. The interior was bright, with simple, but beautiful murals covering the walls.

mural inside Old San Juan Cafe depicting a rural scene with a blue house in the middle of a field

They depicted scenes from Puerto Rico — one side the vibrant beaches, the other a small hut in rural farmland.

In front of us was the order counter, where a steady line had developed and would remain throughout our dinner.

food on a warming table inside Old San Juan Cafe

Steam plates behind the counter were filled with delicious looking goods. Our biggest concern was a potential language barrier, with us not knowing what we were looking at on the other side of the glass.

We were thankful that the woman behind the counter not only spoke English, but was patient enough with us to give us the full rundown of everything available, from the tripe to the sonocho to beef stew.

food on a warming table inside Old San Juan Cafe

The two of us each picked out an entree and paid at the register before grabbing a table. I think we were both surprised to find so much seating inside the narrow building, ample room to have housed everyone who came in for takeout during our brief stay.

I have eaten at a number of Latin American restaurants for Berks County Eats, but never one that exclusively serves Puerto Rican dishes and was excited to try my roast pork (pernil).

roast pork with white rice from Old San Juan Cafe

When we were at the counter, there was only a sliver of pork left so the woman who was helping us went back and grabbed a fresh batch from the kitchen. It was outstanding.

The meat was so tender, slow-cooked to fall off the bone (most of the meats appeared to be bone-in). It was hard to pinpoint exactly what made it so good. There was no sauce, and no one flavor that stood out. It seemed so simple, but it was among the best pork that I have tried.

All of the entrees are served with a side of rice and beans. The white rice is placed on the plate with the entree while the beans were served in a cup on the side.

beans in a cup from Old San Juan Cafe

I was surprised to find that potatoes are featured in Puerto Rican style beans. The small cubes had been sitting in the sauce for so long that they now looked like sweet potatoes, taking on the same orange hue as the sauce.

Mixed together with the rice, it was an excellent side. It wasn’t spicy as far as heat, but there was enough spices mixed in to give it a great flavor.

stewed chicken with white rice from Old San Juan Cafe

Julie opted for one of the saucier entrees, the stewed chicken. The juice had soaked through the chicken skin to the bone, ensuring flavorful and tender bites throughout.

She had a thigh and a leg and cleaned the meat off of both, savoring every bite.

In addition to the meat and sides, our meals were served with a choice of salad. For me, it was a simple lettuce and tomato.

cup of potato salad from Old San Juan Cafe

For Julie, it was potato salad, one of the best that she has ever tried. It was extra creamy, with a flavorful potato (not a simple baking potato) as the base. She also enjoyed the addition of the green peppers to the mix, something she’s never found in any other potato salad.

plate with plantains from Old San Juan Cafe in Reading, Pa

Though we really didn’t need any more food, both of us have a weakness for plantains so we got a small plate with five pieces of the fried fruit. Though they would have made a nice end to the meal, neither of us could wait to eat them so they were gone long before the rest of our food.

While we both finished off our meats, we ended up taking home quite a bit of rice and beans, as well as about half of her cup of potato salad.

One of the great things about a place like Old San Juan is that not having waiters and waitresses allows them to charge lower prices. Our total dinner bill was less than $20.

This trip was the first time that Julie had been to the Outlet District since she was a child, when her grandmother used to take her on shopping trips. It brought back a flood of memories for her.

sign that reads "Bienvenidos Old San Juan Cafe" with an image of a coqui on a leaf painted to look like the flag of Puerto Rico

Future memories in the neighborhood won’t be made in large shopping centers. They’ll be made in little places like Old San Juan Cafe.

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

Old San Juan Cafe
808 N. 9th St
Reading, PA 19604

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6th Street Deli – CLOSED

Sixth Street Deli in Reading, PA

Editor’s Note: The 6th Street Deli is now closed.

Most times, I only get to visit a restaurant once before writing a review. But in the past two months, I have had two meetings in downtown Reading — one over breakfast and one over lunch — and both were at the previously unknown-to-me 6th Street Deli.

You won’t find the 6th Street Deli on Yelp. Or TripAdvisor. Or Zomato. They have a Facebook page that hasn’t been updated since 2012 and a website that isn’t much newer.

My first visit came on a Wednesday morning in early December. It was late in the breakfast service, about 9 a.m. Everyone was already at work leaving the restaurant mostly empty.

The hot bar was only about half-full and probably wouldn’t be restocked until lunch. I filled a Styrofoam clamshell with a little bit of everything. Meals are priced out by weight at the counter so I kept that in the back of my mind while dipping out my meal.

After paying a little more than $5 at the register (I also had a Clover Farms chocolate milk), I retreated to the back of the restaurant where most of the seating is located.

Six or seven round tables are set in the dining area (a handful of two-person tables are in the front as well). A TV on the wall was playing an old direct-to-video holiday special that I didn’t recognize.


My meal was a mix of familiar and unfamiliar breakfast foods. Nothing is labeled so I am still not exactly sure about everything that was on my plate.

What I did recognize were the breakfast potatoes, yucca and the sausage patty. The potatoes were good, diced and cooked like a typical American diner would do them.

The yucca was very different. It was cooked in the Dominican style with onions and vinegar that gives it a slightly sour taste. But it’s an enjoyable sour in the same way as sauerkraut. I also took a scoop of mashed yucca, which had pickled onions, but a little less pungent flavor.

Also on the plate was queso frito, a fried cheese dish that is another Dominican breakfast staple. It looks kind of like the insides of a mozzarella stick, but was surprisingly tasty. I wish I had gotten there when it was fresh out of the pan because it would probably would have been my favorite thing on the plate.

A month later and I returned to the 6th Street Deli for another meeting, this time over lunch. It was a rare opportunity for me to experience two meals at a restaurant before writing a review.

I’m glad I waited because lunch was delicious.

assorted lunch items from Sixth Street Deli

It was about 1 p.m. when I arrived, and the lunch rush was still in full swing. The hot bar was fully stocked, as was the salad bar on the opposite wall which I hadn’t even noticed on my first visit.

Skipping the salad, I filled up on a variety of hot items including rice and beans, meatballs in marinara sauce, candied sweet potatoes, fried plantains, baked beans and more yucca.

The rice and beans were excellent, as was the soupy, baked-bean like dish that I found next to it. The candied sweet potatoes were very good as well (especially with the little bit of marshmallow I found with it). The yucca was just as good as I remembered. And the plantains were a sweet little ending to the meal.

pineapple bread pudding from Sixth Street Deli

What I, and the other five people I was with, hadn’t counted on was being delivered a complimentary plate of pineapple bread pudding.

Cut up in bite size pieces for us to try, we all happily dug in. It was incredible. The pineapple filling oozed out from between the layers of bread. The whole thing just melted away in your mouth.

Like breakfast, my lunch was inexpensive, coming in at just over $7 (obligatory chocolate milk included).

The restaurant is one of many in the city that caters to those who work downtown, offering weekday-only breakfast and lunch service (though I did see them open in the evening prior to a concert at the Performing Arts Center). Because it’s a self-serve buffet, the wait is never very long so go during the busiest hours to ensure you’re getting the freshest food and the best experience.

There’s not much parking on 6th Street, but that’s OK. You don’t go into the city to visit the Deli; you go to the Deli because you’re in the city.

And while I probably won’t make a special trip downtown just to eat there, I’ll certainly eat there again when I find myself downtown.

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

6th Street Deli
34 N. 6th St
Reading, PA 19601

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Road Trip: Empanada Mama

Empanada Mama in Doylestown

Berks County Eats crosses the county line to bring you some of the best dining both near and far. This edition takes us 90 minutes east of Reading to Doylestown, PA.

Sometimes simple is better.

The old saying is especially true when it comes to restaurants. Some places try to be everything to everyone. Their menus become too large and too diverse to deliver consistent meals.

I think that’s one of the reasons why restaurants with a single-focus have remained so popular. Places like Taste of Crepes and Steak Shack have limited menus that all revolve around one item. The Crystal Palace was one of Reading’s most beloved restaurants, and its business was built entirely around hot dogs.

These kinds of restaurants are certainly not exclusive to Berks County. A few weeks ago, Julie and I had a weekend getaway planned that started with an afternoon Doylestown. I reached out to my friends at Visit Bucks County for suggestions, hoping for something new and different.

They told me if we are going to Doylestown, I had to check out Empanada Mama.

Two empanadas on a wooden plate with a cup of dipping sauce

As the name suggests, Empanada Mama specializes in the stuffed Spanish pastries. With the exception for some pre-made salads, that’s all they do.

In a town that is known for its restaurants, Empanada Mama is more of an in-and-out lunch counter. The daily menu consists of 13 flavors that guests can mix and match in quantities of a full dozen, half-dozen or lunch box (three).

The choices were overwhelming: pulled pork, buffalo chicken, peperoni and mozzarella, and sweet onion were among the ones I had to pass over.

I settled on two Korean beef and one chicken salsa verde. Julie opted for one bacon and date, one summer squash and sweet corn, and one Caprese.

three empanadas on a wooden plate

We were lucky that no one had yet claimed one of just four seats (not a problem on a nice day as Doylestown has plenty of park benches to go around) so we were able to sit down and enjoy them.

First up was the Korean beef. Filled with a mixture of ground beef, hoisin sauce, sesame, ginger, garlic and scallions, it packed quite a punch. It was perfectly seasoned with just a little bit of burn. Mixed with the thick Asian dipping sauce, it was perfect.

The chicken salsa verde was just as delicious in its own right. It had the longest ingredient list of all of the day’s offerings: shredded chicken, tomatillos, cilantro, garlic, onions, jalapeno, lime juice and mozzarella.

All of the flavors blended beautifully. The mozzarella helped balance out the heat from jalapenos. And the lime juice was the perfect finishing touch.

three empanadas on a wooden plate

Julie couldn’t wait to dig into her bacon and date empanada. It was filled with maple-smoked bacon, organic dates and goat cheese for the perfect blend of sweet and spicy. The rich sweetness from the goat cheese mixed with the dates made it feel almost like dessert.

Her other two empanadas at least felt a little lighter. The summer squash and sweet corn had a little lemon zest mixed in that added to the bright tones of the vegetables and ricotta. The Caprese was like a salad in a puff pastry. The ingredients in both tasted fresh and refreshing.

Not only were all of the empanadas delicious, they were massive. We could have probably shared a $10 lunch box and been just fine. With each of us eating our own, we were stuffed.

Empanada Mama is doing empanadas different than anyone else and better than anyone else. But saying that Empanada Mama only does one thing is a disservice to them.

In reality, Empanada Mama is making an incredible variety of delicious meals. It just so happens that they stuff them into a pastry and fry them.

And they are so much better that way.

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A bowl filled with vegetables and pork topped with soft baked bread

Review: Shirley’s Cafe & Tequila Bar

Illuminated sign for Shirley's Cafe & Tequila Bar

One of the best ways to experience a new restaurant is with friends, especially ones who are already regulars there. Knowing you can lean on their expertise helps ease the angst of trying something new.

So when some friends asked us to join them for dinner at Shirley’s Cafe & Tequila Bar, we couldn’t turn it down.

Shirley’s is a little off the beaten path, set in the middle of what was once a thriving industrial district in Laureldale. An abandoned factory sits rotting across Duke Street. Our friends have claimed the vacant driveway as their personal “VIP” parking space.

The building that houses Shirley’s blends in with the neighborhood. Utilitarian in appearance, only the glowing sign above gives away that it’s a restaurant.

Inside the front door is the crowded bar area. Hang a left, and you’ll find the patio (and after a few seconds, you might also find the button that opens the sliding glass door). That’s where our group of six relaxed for a pleasant evening.

frozen margarita in a sugar-rimmed glass from Shirley's Cafe & Tequila Bar

Being that Shirley’s is a tequila bar (and being that I don’t drink), Julie had to try one of their margaritas. The Coco Cobana was one of eight fruity margaritas and featured a lot of coconut, a little mango, and just enough tequila.

We were dining a little later than usual, so we were excited when our chips and guacamole arrived at the table.

basket of homemade tortilla chips and guacamole from Shirley's Cafe & Tequila Bar

The chips were advertised as fresh “made locally,” and it showed. The corn chips were fried and much thicker than the store-bought variety. The guacamole was also fresh, topped with a wedge of lime and slices of jalapeno peppers.

Once I ate the first chip, I couldn’t stop. The chips could not have been any better, and the guacamole was excellent, with diced red onions and the occasional chunk of tomato.

I wasn’t expecting a tequila bar to have such variety on its menu. Of course there were tacos and quesadillas, but the Latin American influence was strong throughout the rest of the menu. Along with seven traditional pizza varieties, there were three pizzadillas: pizzas done quesadilla style.

But my eye stopped at something I had never come across before: cazuelas.

bowl of black bean stew topped with bread from Shirley's Cafe & Tequila Bar

The word cazuela comes from the Spanish for “cooking pot,” and refers to a variety of South American dishes. Shirley’s offers three varieties including the “Shrimp Vera Cruz” (shrimp, tomatoes, assorted vegetables and rice) and the “El Cioppino” (an ocean of seafood like clams, mussels, and calamari mixed with sausage, vegetables and rice).

But if I’m going to try something for the first time, I’m going to go with the one called “The Classic.” Here’s a look at everything that was packed into it:

  • black beans
  • red beans
  • white beans
  • hominy
  • sautéed tomatoes
  • garlic
  • carrots
  • celery
  • onions

Add to that my choice of meat—carnita style pork shank—and three pieces of flatbread and it was one hearty meal.

pork shank in a bowl with beans and other vegetables from Shirley's Cafe & Tequila Bar

And Shirley’s doesn’t skimp on the portions either. It was served in a seemingly bottomless terra cotta bowl. The dish looked like chili, but lacked the heat of the chili powder. That’s not to say it was without spice, as it got a little bit of a kick from the chipotle seasoning.

Digging beneath the surface, I found my three pork shanks. The meat pulled right off the bone and blended nicely with the beans and vegetables. Half of the stew and one of the pork shanks came home with me, but I enjoyed every bite I had at Shirley’s.

pulled pork sandwich topped with coleslaw from Shirley's Cafe & Tequila Bar

Julie went with something a little lighter, but no less flavorful. The Texas pulled pork sandwich was topped with Colby Jack cheese and sweet and sour slaw. The top of the roll was lightly buttered like a slice of garlic bread or Texas toast. The pork was lightly sauced, which helped the other elements truly blend well to create a delicious sandwich.

All of the sandwiches are served with a choice of beer battered fries or a salad. Julie opted for the healthier, lighter option with a cup of ranch.

When the meal was over and the checks were split, our total came to $30 (that did not include the $7 chips and guacamole). It was worth every penny.

A great night out with friends is always worth the cost.

But when that night out includes an introduction to a new restaurant, it makes it all the better.

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

Shirley’s Tequila Bar
1615 Duke St
Laureldale, PA 19605

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