Alebrije Mexican Restaurant – 5th Street Highway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chips and salsa are a must at any Mexican restaurant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Aaron’s Tacos

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

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

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

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

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

As I waited, two things were clear to me.

1. Aaron’s needed one more person.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food Trucks Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Berks County Taco Fest

On Saturday, Quintas los Cobanas Grove (formerly Blue Falls Grove) hosted the first annual Berks County Taco Fest.

Julie, Jakob and I made the trip to the Leesport-area campground about an hour after the event started (it ran from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.). We paid the $5 to park and then bought $25 worth of food tickets before descending to the creekside parking lot where the vendors were ready.

Unfortuantely there were a couple stands that weren’t quite ready yet, including Taqueria Los Rancheros. This was a real disappointment for me as the restaurant recently joined Instagram – and the food looks incredible.

One retaurant that was set up early was Castaneda’s. I love Castaneda’s, but because they already had a long line (and because I have already blogged about them), we decided to skip over their stand.

Instead, we started our tasting session at the Comalli Taqueria, a locally owned and operated Food Truck that is scheduled to be everywhere from Lancaster to Allentown to Philadelphia, with plenty of stops here in Berks County throughout the year.

Comalli offered five distinct varieties – el gallo (chorizo), al pastor (pork and pineapple), el nopal (cactus), el jefe (steak) and tinga (pulled chicken).

Julie wanted to try to the al pastor, and she really enjoyed it. The pork was delicious and she liked the “zing” from the pineapple. It was also topped with onion and cilantro, the traditional toppings.

I am a big fan of cactus so I had to order the el nopal. In addition to the grilled cactus, it also was topped with pico de gallo and fresh avocado. I loved it. The taco had some heat to it but not too much that the avocado didn’t tone it down.

We had also bought a tinga taco, hoping that our 18-month-old would eat it. I enjoyed it instead. The marinated chicken was perfect. And all three tacos were served on fresh corn tortilla that were served hot, which made them even better.

Our second stop was to Chilangos, a Lititz restaurant that caught our eye thanks to the giant cauldron of pork that was stewing next to the stand.

That was for the carnitas, which unfortuantely wouldn’t be finished for another half hour. Instead we did a double order of cochinita pibil tacos.

Cochinita pibil is another slow-roasted pork dish – I had to look it up. Chilangos’ had DIY toppings. I went with the standard while Julie got pico on her’s. They also had two salsas, a spicy red and a slightly-less-spicy salsa verde.

I loved it, especially with the salsa. The meat was tender and well-seasoned while the green salsa added a nice jolt of flavor to every bite. The fresh corn tortillas brought everything together nicely.

Our last stop of the afternoon was to Taco Town Catering. The Allentown-based food truck was hard to miss with its bright red and green paint proclaiming “best tacos.”

Julie’s final taco of the day was a chorizo taco. It was good, and the meat was very flavorful, but chorizo is always a little drier so it wasn’t as enjoyable as the others.

What we both enjoyed were the elotes, grilled street corn. It’s such a simple thing – corn on the cob brushed with mayo and doused in cheese and chili powder – but it’s so good. Even Jakob loved it, though he just wanted the toppings.

In addition to the taco stands there were two beer stands. Candy’s Homemade Ice Cream also brought their food truck in from Shoemakersville to serve dessert, but we were way too full for that by the end.

By the time we left, the number of cars on the parking lot had more than doubled. And by the looks of the photos and videos that I saw, the festival stayed busy well into the evening.

And that’s a great thing because I thought this was a great effort for the first year. Hopefully the event comes back next year because we had a great time – and great food – and we can’t wait to do it again.

Food Festivals & Events
Alebrije Spinach Enchiladas

Alebrije – Wyomissing

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

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

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

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

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

Alebrije Poblano Soup

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

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

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

Alebrije Spinach Enchiladas

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

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

Alebrije Steak and Chorizo Tacos

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

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

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

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

Alebrije Kids Quesadilla and Chicken Nuggets

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

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

Alebrije Chips and Salsa

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

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

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

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

Alebrije
2224 State Hill Road
Wyomissing, PA 19610

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

Nacho Average Empanada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a lot of possibilities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunch & Dinner Mexican Reviews

D&J Sandwich Shop

d&j-interior

A good sandwich is never hard to find in Berks County. There are dozens of great sandwich shops that offer quick meals for lunch and dinner.

You’ll find at least one in almost every little town. And like with pizzerias, everyone has their favorite sandwich shop.

For Julie and I, one of our favorites has always been D&J Sandwich Shop on the edge of Wyomissing and Shillington.

Julie and I have both been to D&J often. I needed an outsider’s perspective for the blog so I called up my brother, Matt.

d&j-exterior

The location is not ideal for a restaurant — or any business. The corner of Revere Boulevard (Route 724) and Old Fritztown Roaddone a tremendous  is heavily trafficked, but the restaurant lacks parking.

Customers are welcome to pull up in front of the building in unlined spaces. It can be challenging to get in and out, however, especially if another car is entering or leaving the lot. It’s also a challenge if you drive a Toyota Tundra like my brother.

But there was still a steady flow of customers while we were there so they either found space out front or did what we did and park along Old Fritztown Road.

d&j-barstools

D&J’s interior has been retrofitted, literally, with the classic look of a 1950s-era diner. The stainless steel counter stools are covered in teal and purple leather seats. The same colors are used on the chairs around the half dozen tables that sit on the black and white checkered floor.

Everything else seems to have a Coca-Cola logo on it, from the napkin dispensers to the ceiling fans, where every blade is in the shape of a glass Coke bottle.

After ordering at the counter, my brother and I took a seat and waited for dinner to arrive.

We ordered a lot of food: two sandwiches, an order of fries and some mini tacos that my brother ordered on a whim (because I was buying).

d&j-mini-tacos

The mini tacos were the size of a folded over tortilla chip, filled with beef and deep fried. And they were actually pretty good. I’m sure I could find something similar in the freezer section of the grocery store, but we downed them quick.

d&j-meatball-sub

I ordered a meatball sub for my main dish. I’ve had them before at D&J and always enjoyed them. The meatballs are big; the sauce is good; and they always add the right amount of peppers and onions. With all of the other food, I probably should have just had a small, but I managed to finish it.

Matt felt guilty about ordering his ham and cheese because he thought it was boring. It actually was anything but.

d&j-grilled-ham-and-cheese

D&J doesn’t make their grilled ham and cheese with slabs of lunch meat, but with chopped ham. It looked like a steak sandwich where someone grabbed the wrong meat. But the chopped ham worked, and little bro enjoyed it.

d&j-french-fries

One of my favorite things about D&J is the fries: crinkle cut, crispy (but not burnt), well-salted and addicting. Matt agreed.

Fries here are shareable, even for two hungry eaters like us. (If you’re going solo, ask for the more manageable half-order).

Our more than $30 total was a little more than I usually expect to pay at D&J, but we can blame that on getting large sandwiches and an extra side (plus our two drinks).

D&J has been one of our favorite sandwich shops for many years now. And after taking my brother, I think there was another convert.

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

D&J Sandwich Shop
200 Revere Blvd
Reading, PA 19609

D & J Sandwich Shop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Diners Lunch & Dinner 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

Van Reed Inn

van-reed-inn

When a restaurant closes, there’s always a question about what comes next.

If we are lucky, a new restaurant arrives, one that is better than the one that it has replaced. That’s what happened with the Van Reed Inn.

The new incarnation of the Van Reed Inn opened in December of 2014 after some much-needed renovations.

One year later, the restaurant along Route 183 north of the city still looks like new. The bar and dining area are enclosed in a single room with 10 tables — four of them two-seat high-tops — and sixteen stools on the bar.

A pool table sat idle at one end of the room. On the opposite wall was a menu board with the days specials that lit up in shades of yellow, green, red and blue. An adjacent room is used for take-out orders.

Julie and I arrived around 6:30. For a Thursday night, it seemed like a good crowd. Half of the tables were full. The same could be said about the stools. Both filled up more by the time we left.

We sat ourselves at one of the high-tops and waited a few minutes for the menus. The restaurant seemed to be a little short-staffed with only one waitress to take care of the tables and a bartender for those on the stools.

When our waitress did arrive, she was very pleasant and apologetic for not getting to us sooner. After that, she was extremely attentive for the rest of the night.

van-reed-inn-chipotle-ranch-wings

We were both getting a little hungry so Julie put in an order for wings to get us started. They have 15 different flavors on the menu. All of them sounded amazing, but we settled on the chipotle ranch.

Six meaty wings arrived coated in the creamy sauce. The wings are smoked, and the flavor from the smoker shines through it all. They had a nice crisp outer layer (from their trip through the fryer). The sauce was delicious, giving all of the flavors of ranch plus that added southwestern kick. It was a great start to the meal.

I had more wings yet to come as part of my BBQ platter.

van-reed-inn-barbecue-sampler

A sampling of Van Reed Inn’s smoked favorites, the platter included beef brisket, pulled pork, four wings and two sides.

The best thing on the plate had to be the wings. I was going to order the “Irish Pride” flavor (spicy garlic BBQ), but saw the daily special: lemon garlic. They were nearly perfect with great citrus flavor, slightly sour, and just enough garlic to give it a kick. Once again the smoke shone through and complemented the other flavors nicely.

Another stand-out from my plate was the beef brisket. Six slices with no sauce to hide the flavor. Instead, they were coated in a simple, but delicious dry rub. It had a little extra sugar for a sweet after-taste.

The pulled pork wasn’t bad either, though I wasn’t a big fan of the sauce. I would have liked it better if it had been served dry like the brisket, maybe with a little sauce on the side.

On the side, I ordered sweet potato fries and broccoli (which makes it a balanced meal, right?). The sweet potato fries were really good, fried to a golden brown.

van-reed-inn-pulled-pork-tacos

Across the table, Julie was enjoying her pulled pork in the form of tacos. The pulled pork was more enjoyable mixed with the cheese sauce and coleslaw.

The three tacos were filling, but not too heavy that she couldn’t finish her fries. The fresh-cut potatoes were very good and worth forcing every last bite.

When we were finished, I was pleasantly surprised to see that we had only spent a little more than $30 for our meals. I was expecting a bigger price tag for the amount of food that we ordered.

Not every restaurant revival works which is why we celebrate the successes.

Van Reed Inn is a certainly a success.

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

Van Reed Inn
2707 Bernville Rd
Reading, PA 19605

The Van Reed Inn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Barbecue Bars & Pubs 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

The Works at Wyomissing

When the Works at Wyomissing opened in 2003 it was a playground for adults, an abandoned textile factory turned into two-story bar, restaurant, and game room. The upstairs bar doubled as a nightclub on weekends where local bands and DJ’s kept the crowd on the dance floor until closing time. The game room below was open until 11:00. Here, adults turned into big kids again, trying to amass enough tickets to buy a lava lamp or pizza oven. A smaller bar downstairs featured acoustic performances, and the main restaurant was a home for casual fine dining.

In the last few years, however, everything has changed. Gone is the upstairs restaurant, replaced by Ballocity, a Chuck-E-Cheese-like ball pit and maze. The game room is populated by whiney little kids.  The restaurant is more casual than fine dining since Building 24 opened next door. And, everything, including the downstairs bar, closes at 9:00 pm.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is the quality food. The Works still delivers the same quality food that they always have. One of the highlights on the menu is this “healthy” offering, the towering taco salad. A giant bowl made of crispy taco shell is filled with fresh lettuce, red peppers, and grilled chicken, and topped with a Mexican cheese blend. And, it is definitely towering, measuring almost a foot around, and standing almost as tall

Towering-Taco-Salad-Works-at-Wyomissing

The Works also features their signature molten iron chili, which uses pulled pork instead of ground beef. The chili is excellent on its own—just enough heat to go with the sweetness of the tomato base and not too many beans—but the Works uses it in a multitude of dishes, including to top off an order of Slag Pile Nachos (an appetizer for four that features nachos topped with lettuce, melted cheese, jalapenos, and just about everything else in the kitchen) and the Scrap Pile Burger, a ¼ pound hamburger patty grilled your way and covered in chili, cheese, and sour cream.

The Works has a long menu that does include a couple misses. The menu features build-your-own pizza. If you’re looking to take the family out for pizza, you can do better by going to one of dozens of pizza shops in the county. If you want an individual pizza, you’re better off ordering a pepperoni roll appetizer which is packed with more flavor for the same price.

No trip to the Works is complete without dessert. Some of the best dessert in Berks County is found here. The Peanut Butter pie is the perfect blend of chocolate of peanut butter, the ice cream sandwich features chocolate and vanilla ice cream smothered between two gigantic fresh-baked cookies (and is occasionally topped with a Hershey kiss, sprinkles and/or M&M’s, depending on who’s manning the kitchen that night).

But the real treat is the Black and Tan Tower, a massive concoction that can feed at least three people. The base is a still-warm brownie oozing with melting chocolate chips. A hefty scoop of vanilla ice cream sits on top. Then comes my personal favorite, the blondie—a chocolate chip cookie in bar form. Next is a scoop of chocolate ice cream, capped off with another triangle-shaped brownie. It is then covered by dollops of whipped cream and a pool of chocolate syrup large enough to drown a small child (and depending on who is in the kitchen, a smattering of M&M’s). The monstrosity is held together with a wooden skewer.

Black-And-Tan-Tower-Works-at-Wyomissing

Entrees run between $10-$20. Burgers and fries are between $8-$10. Desserts are $5.00 and up, but the dessert menu doesn’t list prices so be sure to ask your server before ordering.

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

The Works at Wyomissing
1109 Bern Rd
Wyomissing, PA 19610

The Works at Wyomissing on Urbanspoon
Lunch & Dinner Reviews