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

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

Shirley’s Cafe & Tequila Bar

shirley-s-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.

shirley-s-coco-cobana-margarita

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.

shirley-s-chips-and-guacamole

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.

shirley-s-classic-cazuela-1

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.

shirley-s-classic-cazuela-2

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.

shirley-s-texas-pulled-pork-barbecue-sandwich

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

Shirley's Cafe and Tequila Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner 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