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

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

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner
Assorted foods in takeout containers spread on a granite countertop

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.

Caribbean & Latin American Dessert Lunch & Dinner Uncategorized
Overhead view of paper plate with pulled pork and yellow rice from Latin Taste

Latin Taste

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 seven options – the others are Chick Fil-A, China Max, Lola’s Ice, Ray’s #1 Pizza, Subway and Taco Casa – 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

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe at the Shillington Farmers Market

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe at the Shillington Farmers Market

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn

crab-barn-exterior-1

In my time doing Berks County Eats, there has been no more highly anticipated restaurant than Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn.

In February 2013, the Reading Eagle reported that the new restaurant would open that summer.

It was 45 months later, November 2016, when the doors finally opened to the public.

Nothing builds anticipation like a four-year wait.

We waited just a couple months after the official opening before making our first trip to the Hampden Boulevard landmark, just north of the Reading city limits.

Look for the barn with the giant crab hanging off the front. You can’t miss it.

Having never been to the original, I had no frame of reference for what to expect.

crab-barn-bar-1

Walking in, I was impressed. The main entrance opens to the lower-level bar and waiting area. A boat propeller and other nautical memorabilia hung on the wooden walls (the Goldfish crackers for bar snacks were a nice touch).

As we were led upstairs to the dining area, I was even more impressed.

It’s very hard to combine rustic barn and nautical theming, but the Crab Barn does it. A painted on American flag takes up much of the roof. The far wall is painted to resemble a vintage barn-side advertisement, but instead of Mail Pouch tobacco, it beckons you to chew “Male Crabs.”

crab-barn-interior-1

There’s also a swordfish, the back half of a boat, oars and two mounted elk heads (one of these things doesn’t belong).

Clearly a lot of work went into the building. One thing that could still use a little work is their system of seating customers. The hostess is downstairs. The dining room is upstairs. Staff came and went while we waited. Then, after we were led upstairs, we waited again while they fixed a table for us.

Service was a lot better after we were seated.

At this point, I need to mention that I don’t like crabs (or anything, generally, that swims). I have tried to like them. Not happening.

crab-barn-dungeoness-crab

Julie, on the other hand, loves crabs. On her business trips to Seattle and Portland, she especially grew to love Dungeness crabs.

Though she was a little worried about having them 3000 miles away, she couldn’t help herself.

And she was very pleased. The meat came out in nice chunks, and there was plenty of it to enjoy as she cracked open every leg and claw.

To go with the crabs and the other entrees, the Crab Barn offers nine side choices, many of them unique to the restaurant, like the tomato cucumber salad.

It was a light side, a good change of pace, served in a nice lemon basil dressing. Julie’s second side, the basil redskin mashed potatoes were also quite flavorful.

crab-barn-steak-tips

So, what does a land lover do at the Crab Barn? Well, they are prepared for customers like me with several turf options to go with the surf.

My choice was the marinated beef tips.

The small sirloin pieces were marinated in Sriracha bourbon marinade. There was only a hint of heat from the Sriracha, but it picked up rich flavors from the bourbon. I really enjoyed it, though the half pound portion felt small.

For my sides, I went with fried plantains and Island cilantro rice. I loved the plantains (if you’re a regular reader of the blog, you know there was never any doubt). The rice was good, too, but I would have liked a little more cilantro.

Several of the items on the menu, including the Dungeness crab, are listed as market price on the menu. That was about $25 on our visit. With my beef tips and iced tea, our total for the two of us was about $45.

It was a four-year wait to get crabby at Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn. Judging from the full dining room, we weren’t the only ones who were anxious to try it.

Now that we’ve been there, we’re excited to go back.

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

Gettin’ Crabby at the Crab Barn
2613 Hampden Blvd
Reading, PA 19604

Gettin' Crabby at the Crab Barn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Bernville Eagle Hotel

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Exterior

I love the character in historic inns and hotels, the places that have been serving food and drinks since the roads were dirt and transportation was four-legged.

Every small town and village had one, and many of them are still going. The Stony Run Inn, subject of last week’s blog, is one of those places.

This week, we paid a visit to another historic hotel, one that has been at the heart of Bernville since 1869.

That’s when the Eagle Hotel opened along Main Street in the little borough (now the only borough) in northwestern Berks County.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Interior

Nearly 150 years later, it’s still a gathering place where locals grab drinks and dinner six nights a week (closed on Sundays). Though I’m sure patrons in the late 19th century weren’t ordering from a Caribbean-inspired menu like the hotel offers today.

There is no separation between restaurant and barroom. The single dining room features a large center bar with tables lining the perimeter. The sound of crashing billiards balls echoed out of the back room.

The menu is mostly bar food, but there is a small selection of entrees (plus a few weekly specials). And everything is reasonably priced. Only two menu items cost more than $20, the full rack of ribs and my choice, the Cuban coffee crusted flat iron steak.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Flat-Iron-Steak

Served with plantains and a side of rice and beans, the steak was buried beneath a mound of onions and peppers.

It certainly wasn’t the largest steak that I have ever had, but it was flavorful. I’m not a coffee drinker, but the coffee crust was subtle while adding a crisp char to the outside. I love sautéed onions and roasted peppers so I had no qualms about digging in.

The rice and beans were good, but nothing compared to the more authentic Latin American restaurants that you find closer to the city. And there was certainly nothing to complain about with the portion size.

I’m a sucker for plantains so I was going to love them no matter what.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Salad

My meal was also served with a starter salad and roll. While the salad was nothing to speak of (spring mix with onions, cherry tomatoes, cheese and a cup of dressing), the roll was very enjoyable – soft and buttery.

Julie wasn’t quite hungry enough for the full rack of ribs, but she thought she could handle the half rack.

Bernville-Eagle-Hotel-Ribs

The ribs were also given a little twist with chipotle barbecue sauce and diced mango on top. It was a little disappointing to find the mango was not reduced into the sauce. Ribs are not conducive to toppings so most of the mango fell off with every bone that was picked out. There was also just a little kick from the chipotle, but not too much.

We both enjoyed the fries. They’re the fresh-cut, skin-on kind. That’s the way I love my fries.

The meal was also served with baked beans and slaw. The beans were OK, but nothing special. And she wasn’t a fan of the slaw which she found to be all cabbage and little slaw.

My brother and sister-in-law were along for the visit, and the four of us all had good meals. It wasn’t remarkable, but it was certainly quality bar food. For our four meals (plus drinks – one beer, one sangria and one iced tea), it came to $86 so right around $20 per person for what were some hefty portions on everything.

The Eagle Hotel is your typical local bar and restaurant. The emphasis is clearly on the bar, but you can still enjoy a good, hearty meal, just as people have been doing for a century-and-a-half.

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

Bernville Eagle Hotel
301 N. Main St
Bernville, PA 19506

Bernville Eagle Hotel Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Bars & Pubs Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Old San Juan Cafe

old-san-juan-interior-2

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.”

old-san-juan-exterior

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.

old-san-juan-interior-1

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.

old-san-juan-1

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.

old-san-juan-2

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).

old-san-juan-roast-pork

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.

old-san-juan-beans

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.

old-san-juan-stewed-chicken

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.

old-san-juan-potato-salad

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.

old-san-juan-plantains

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.

old-san-juan-bienvenidos

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

Old San Juan Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Jumbo China Buffet – RENAMED

jumbo-buffet

Editor’s Note: Jumbo China Buffet is now Regal Buffet. 

We all have our guilty pleasures in life. As a food blogger, my guilty pleasures revolve around meals that most food bloggers would be ashamed to eat.

One of my guilty pleasures is the Jumbo China Buffet along the 5th Street Highway near Fairgrounds Square Mall.

The buffet is the largest buffet of any kind in Berks County with 10 stations to navigate and what looks like enough seating for a few hundred people.

Buffets of any kind are hit or miss. If you go when it’s not busy, you risk food that sits for a while. So unlike a sit-down restaurant where the service should be better during off-peak hours, you want to visit a buffet at its busiest.

I went with a friend of mine on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, and it was definitely busy.

jumbo-buffet-1

Jumbo Buffet tries to be everything to everyone. In addition to the Asian staples, they offer a wide range of American comfort food. There’s a carving station with fresh-cooked sausage and ham. And plenty of hot bar items including fried chicken, pizza, and fries. I’ve never tried any of these items myself, but I always see people filling their plates with them.

in the back of the buffet area is the hibachi, where you can create your own stir-fry from a selection of seafood, meats, vegetables and lo mein.

I have a system when I go to Jumbo: three trips to the buffet, twice for dinner and once for dessert. And I always end up with similar plates from one trip to the next.

jumbo-buffet-plate-1

Fried rice and chicken with broccoli are my two staples for the first plate. These are two items that are always done right when I go. The rice is always bright yellow and has just enough vegetables (a few peas and some onions) that I can convince myself that it’s good for me. Same with the chicken and broccoli. While it’s doused in a tasty soy sauce that has no nutritional value, it has white meat and vegetables so it can’t be all bad.

From there, I’ll build out with whatever looks interesting. On this trip, that was a pork dumpling and a little chicken in garlic sauce. The dumplings are always their best when they are first delivered. With no sauce to soak in, they don’t hold as well on the hot bar as other items. But when they’re fresh, they are delicious, especially with a little drizzle of ginger sauce to help them go down.

The chicken in garlic sauce is very much like the chicken and broccoli but with the addition of more vegetables (the occasional carrot or onion) and a stronger taste of garlic. And I can never have enough garlic.

jumbo-buffet-plate-2

Plate number two begins with the classic General Tso’s chicken. Jumbo’s version is a little hotter than others, but it’s not overbearing. There’s plenty of sweetness to help cut through the heat. And it’s always a popular item so you know it will be fresh every time.

Adding to my second plate, I opted for sweet and sour chicken, a vegetable egg roll and the very non-Chinese dish of fried plantains.

The sweet and sour chicken is always good, but not much different than any others you’ll find throughout the county. It’s the same lightly breaded, fried chicken pieces and the same red sauce. Similarly, the egg roll isn’t much different than anywhere else. Like the dumplings, it’s always better when it’s fresh out of the kitchen.

The plantains don’t fit with the rest of the meal, but I didn’t care. I love plantains and I’ll grab some off any buffet that has them.

jumbo-buffet-dessert

After two trips to the hot bar, I venture up for dessert. I tend to connect with my inner child when I go to Jumbo because dessert always includes soft serve ice cream. It’s always vanilla and chocolate mix for me.  I also found banana with strawberry syrup on the dessert bar so I added that to my plate. It’s not fancy, but I like bananas and I like strawberry syrup so I went for it.

jumbo-buffet-donut

Dessert includes one last item, the guiltiest of pleasures, the fried donut. The fried piece of dough, rolled in sugar, is something I look forward to on every trip. These treats just melt in your mouth. I always make sure it’s the last thing I taste before I walk out the door.

The great thing about the buffet is that it’s quick and cheap. We were in and out of the restaurant in about a half-hour, spending $15 per person for a hefty meal.

It’s not glamorous or fancy, but Jumbo China Buffet will always be one of my favorites, even if I feel a little guilty about it.

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

Jumbo China Buffet
3252 N. 5th Street Hwy
Reading, PA 19605

Jumbo China Buffet Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Asian & Pacific Islands Buffets Dessert Lunch & Dinner Reviews

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe

mi-casa-su-casa

Downtown Reading is probably one of the most underrated food hubs in Berks County.

Penn Street alone offers a wonderful variety of options. Yet for those of us who don’t live or work downtown, making the trip into the city for a meal seems like a lot of work.

Sometimes all it takes is a little push to get us suburbanites to head into town. For me, that push came in the form of a half-price gift certificate for Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe.

While the Peanut Bar may be Penn Street’s most famous eatery, it is far from the only option. Just two doors down from the Reading landmark is a restaurant that has been building a legacy of its own for the better part of the last decade.

A display case just inside the front door of Mi Casa Su Casa shows off the accolades that the restaurant has earned in its first eight years of business. The restaurant’s success has led to a second location, as Mi Casa Su Casa also operates a cafe inside the Goggleworks.

Because of its location, Mi Casa Su Casa is perfect for breakfast and lunch for those working downtown. When we walked in, it was clear that Saturdays were a much slower time. But for a couple people sitting at the counter, we had the dining room to ourselves.

Mi Casa Su Casa’s menu isn’t very big, but it is varied, reflecting both American tastes and the Caribbean heritage of the owners.

Did you ever have one of those days when you just couldn’t make up your mind? That was us on this day. There were just too many delicious-sounding options that we decided to create our own mini-buffet by ordering four sides to split between the two of us.

Our waitress delivered our meal, one plate at a time until our table was no longer visible under a sea of white plates.

yuca-fries-mi-casa-su-casa

The first item set down in front of us was the yuca fries. Yuca is a distant relative of the potato, a starchy root vegetable native to South America and a staple food for millions of people. The thick-cut yuca were deep fried to a light yellow and served with two options for dipping: mayo ketchup and garlic butter.

Yuca is much starchier than a potato so the fries maintained a lot more substance through the frying process. But after a nice soak in the garlic butter (which I claimed for myself while Julie happily took the house-made mayo ketchup), the fries went down smooth. Though I have to say they were much more filling than I had expected.

rice-and-beans-mi-casa-su-casa

Our rice and beans were next to arrive. When it was presented, the rice was neatly piled on the plate with the beans in a small bowl. The use of red beans (I wrongly assumed black when I read ‘rice and beans’) made it look like a bowl of baked beans, but the flavor was altogether different. There was no brown sugar or bacon. Instead it used mild spices that let the natural flavor of the beans come through.

empanada-mi-casa-su-casa

A pair of beef empanadas served as a stand-in for our main course. The trip through the fryer made the outer pastry crispy and delicious. I was expecting cheese to come oozing out after my first bite, but was pleasantly surprised that the filling was mostly beef, with just enough cheese to hold it together. It was about as perfect as I could have hoped for.

plantains-mi-casa-su-casa

Completing our make-shift four-course meal was an order of tostones, fried plantains. Plantains contain more starch than a banana, making them perfect candidates to join the rest of our meal in the deep fryer (only now do I realize how much of our meal was actually fried). They were delicious, and despite having had more than my fair share of food already, I could not stop popping them in my mouth.

After adding on a couple bottles of soda to our final bill, our lunch was still just $17, a bargain for what appeared to be an endless amount of food. The best bargain Mi Casa Su Casa offers, however, may be the free parking in the lot behind the restaurant, which will save you a little money and a lot of hassle.

Our meal at Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe was well-worth the drive downtown. It was a great meal at a great price. You can’t ask for much more than that.

It took a little motivation to get there, but the food is more than enough motivation to go back.

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

Mi Casa Su Casa Cafe
320 Penn St
Reading, PA 19602

Mi Casa Su Casa on Urbanspoon

Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews