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
A plate with three enchiladas - one each with red, white and green sauce, with refried beans and rice from Norte Sur

Norte Sur Mexican Restaurant

A view of the exterior of Norte Sur, featuring a brick and stone facade with large picture windows

First impressions for a business are everything. I think they are even more important for a restaurant because when you think about it, your first visit to a restaurant is multiple first impressions.

What does the building look like? What does the dining room look like? How were you greeted when you walked in? How is the service? How long does it take to get your food or your check? And of course, what does that first bite taste like?

Wooden tables and benches beneath colorful strings of banners at Norte Sur

One of Berks County’s newest restaurants, Norte Sur Mexican Restaurant, checks a lot of boxes.

Norte Sur opened in a former Turkey Hill Minit Market along Kutztown Road in Muhlenberg Township, right across the street from the former Freymoyer’s Restaurant.

The amount of work that was put in to transform the building shows that Norte Sur is serious about their business. The exterior has been given a touch of class thanks to the addition of a brick and stone facade.

Wooden tables and benches beneath colorful strings of banners at Norte Sur

That same motif carries inside to the dining room where brick arches set it apart from the take-out and kitchen areas. Otherwise, the decor is subdued compared to other Mexican restaurants in the area. Strings of small, colorful banners hang from the ceiling while the walls are decorated with paintings along with a few traditional men’s and women’s outfits. The seating is comprised entirely of booths made of high-backed wooden benches.

We were greeted and seated by a friendly hostess who also served us throughout our visit. We – Julie, Jakob and I – had arrived around 5 p.m. on Friday afternoon and were the only ones dining in at the time. Two other couples were seated before we left at 6 while we heard several phone orders coming through during that same time.

Norte Sur’s menu is pretty simple: tacos, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas and a handful of additional entrees and appetizers.

A bowl of green poblano soup drizzled with sour cream and cheese and topped with red, green and yellow tortilla strips from Norte Sur

One appetizer that caught my eye was the crema de poblano, a creamy soup that started with a mix of chicken broth and poblano pepper. It was topped with tortilla strips, cheese and sour cream.

I had poblano soup once before, about a year ago at Alebrije in Wyomissing. I enjoyed this one just as much, though they had very different flavor profiles. Norte Sur’s version wasn’t as creamy, but I found it to be just as flavorful with a little more spicy heat throughout. I enjoyed the addition of the tortilla chips which added some texture. The shredded cheese was also a nice touch, helping to thicken the broth as it melted.

It was definitely something that I would order again. The same can be said for my tacos Norte Sur.

Three soft-shell tacos with steak, pico de gallo, cabbage and pickled red onion from Norte Sur.

The tacos Norte Sur are, as the name implies, a signature item for the restaurant. The three soft-shell tacos are filled with grilled steak, cabbage, pickled red onions, chipotle sauce, pico de gallo and cheese. It was a delicious combination.

The steak was nicely done in small-ish strips with a hint of seasoning, but the flavor of the toppings was outstanding. The pico was bright and fresh. The pickled onions added a vinegary note that paired well with the citrusy tones of lime juice which could be tasted throughout. I was very happy with my decision.

A bowl of refried beans with yellow rice on a plate from Norte Sur

Most entrees at Norte Sur are served with a side of rice and refried beans. Refried beans are not my favorite, but these weren’t bad. The yellow rice was also good. It had peas and a few bits of carrot throughout. I knew I couldn’t finish all of the food that I had ordered so I sacrificed some of my rice and beans in favor of the tacos and soup.

Julie and Jakob both had rice and beans with their meals as well. Julie always gravitates to enchiladas, and in this case, it was the enchiladas Norte Sur.

A plate with three enchiladas - one each with red, white and green sauce, with refried beans and rice from Norte Sur

The meal included three distinct enchiladas: one beef, one chicken, and one cheese, each topped with a different sauce. The beef was topped with a traditional red enchilada sauce that had more of a kick to it than the other two. The chicken enchilada was topped with a creamy white sauce that provided a cooling contrast. And the cheese was topped with green tomatillo sauce that was somewhere in the middle.

All three were very good, but Julie’s favorite was the cheese enchilada (it usually is).

A large soft shell taco on a plate with refried beans and yellow rice from Norte Sur

Jakob’s favorite thing on his plate was the rice. Our two-year-old can sometimes be adventurous with his meals and sometimes not. We knew he would eat the rice – and he did, happily. We had hoped he would eat his beef taco, but after a couple bites he gave up on that.

We had the choice of soft shell or hard shell for his taco, and chose soft. It seemed like he was having difficulty holding it together which may have been why he stuck with the rice.

A basket of tortilla chips with a bowl of red salsa from Norte Sur

I should also mention that we had chips and salsa at our seat before we had even ordered our meal. The chips were served warm – always a nice touch. And the salsa was very good, and like much of our meal, had a kick to it.

The service and price both left good impressions as well. The two servers covering the dining room were attentive throughout, and our meals and my bowl of soup cost about $35.

After we left, Julie and I were both remarking about how good the food was and how impressed we were with what they did to turn a mini market into a real restaurant.

Our first impressions of Norte Sur Mexican Restaurant were very good all around.

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

Norte Sur Mexican Restaurant
2610 Kutztown Rd
Reading, PA 19606

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews
Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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.

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.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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).

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food

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.

Mecca Caribbean and Soul Food Pumpkin Pie

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

Caribbean & Latin American Dessert 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

El Morro Cafe – CLOSED

el-morro-cafe-exterior

Editor’s Note: El Morro Cafe is now closed. The restaurant shut its doors in late Spring 2020. A new eatery, B Green Deli, has been announced for the location.

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.

el-morro-cafe-interior

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).

el-morro-cafe-fried-pork

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.

el-morro-cafe-stewed-chicken

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

El Morro Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Caribbean & Latin American 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

6th Street Deli

sixth-street-deli

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.

sixth-street-deli-breakfast-2

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.

sixth-street-deli-lunch

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.

sixth-street-deli-pineapple-bread-pudding

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

Breakfast & Brunch Caribbean & Latin American Lunch & Dinner Reviews

La Abuela Mexican Restaurant

la-abuela-exterior

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

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

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

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

la-abuela-1

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

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

la-abuela-jarritos

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

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

la-abuela-flautas

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

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

la-abuela-tacos-al-pastor

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

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

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

la-abuela-enchiladas-verdes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Abuela
448 Penn Ave
West Reading, PA 19611

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews
Tlacuani Rice and Beans

Tlacuani Mexican Restaurant and Grill

tlacuani-mexican-restaurant-and-grill

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

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

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

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

tlacuani-dining-room

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

tlacuani-chair

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

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

tlacuani-chips-and-salsa

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

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

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

tlacuani-chiles-en-nogada

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

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

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

tlacuani-sopes

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

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

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

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

This trip to Tlacuani definitely did not disappoint.

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

Tlacuani Mexican Restuarant
5005 Kutztown Rd
Temple, PA 19560

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Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Road Trip: Buena Vista Mexican Restaurant

buena-vista-mexican-restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

buena-vista-chips-and-salsa

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

And the meal just got better from there.

buena-vista-steak-fajitas

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

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

buena-vista-chipotle-enchiladas

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

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

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

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

Buena Vista Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews