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nibbs

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  1. After spending 2 weeks in Huizhou, China, I’m afraid I don’t have too many restaurant suggestions to offer. That’s not to say we haven’t eaten well – As a whole, the food has been tremendous. The problem is that I can’t read the names of the places or report an accurate address. Here’s what I can tell you. If you’re staying at the Kande, don’t eat a dinner in the Italian/Western restaurant. I don’t care how tired you are. Better to eat a granola bar and go to bed than eat there. The Japanese restaurant Kisso on the 2nd floor is a better bet. On our one visit I didn’t have anything outstanding, but nothing was outstandingly bad. One thing I can’t recommend is finishing a bottle of shochu solo. I did like the tempura shrimp… I think… All directions will be relative to the Kande, so here we go. We had OK food at one of the places if you exit the hotel and go left towards the McDonalds. They had some photos on the menu. Best things we had were a sweet and sour fish dish (evidently called squirrel fish, which I believe refers to the cut – fried so it almost looks like calamari) and some cold sour noodles with veggies. This was with Westerners pointing at menu items – No Mandarin. Everyone was very nice, to the point of shaking our hands on the way out of the place. This was the fist place you hit, and I think there are 2 right next to one another. Sorry I can’t be more specific. I had the worst McDonald’s cheeseburger ever a few night later when I needed a snack. Maybe try the fries instead if you’re desperate. I think the night shift isn’t cooking the burgers enough. For the severely homesick only. We had some great sweet and sour pork and hot pepper chicken across from TCL Display (aka Cotco). If you cross the river at the bridge closest to the Kande and then stay straight for a while (passing the sport park), you’ll see a big building called TCL Display. Ask the cabbie to pull over at that point. Looking at the shopping plaza, I’m talking about the restaurant all the way on the left. Little 15 year old working the front speaks a little English. All the waitstaff in yellow. That may change. We had menu guidance when we went here – So have someone at the hotel write out s&s pork and pepper and chicken and maybe you’ll get what you want. I am not kidding about this s&s pork. We had it everywhere because we had it here first. And nowhere else comes close. They are putting some kind of fruit or spice or combination thereof that can’t be beat. Not syrupy and didn’t seem like it was from a jar (but if it was, I’d buy a jar). 3 dishes usually ran us a fat 50 rmb (about 8 bucks). So $4 a person. Silly. Snicker at s&s if you want, but it is special here. All that said, I’ve saved the best for last. If you’re in Huizhou, you will thank me for this one. If you’ve got a lakeview room (and as I write this, the lake is a drained mud pit), look out your window. Look right. See a sign that says ITAT in yellow? Or maybe a tall building with green lights on the top (they’re off right now, so not always)? As long as it is a reasonable hour, leave the room and start walking. Walk right to that Itat (something like ‘Super Club Shopping Fun’). Take a soft right. You are now on the correct street. Stay on the left hand side of the street. You’ll pass what looks like a police station on your side of the street. And then a China Construction bank on the opposite side of the street. Keep walking, and you’ll see a restaurant on your side with all kinds of fishtanks outside. Probably some actually out on the sidewalk. Is there a menuboard with picks outside the door? Are there hostesses in yellow long dresses? Are there pink tablecloths? Hell, this still might be any old restaurant. You better make sure. Duck your head in and look left. Big butcher window inside the restaurant? You have arrived. Don’t expect any English. If you have hosts, have them write down ‘bamboo clams in black bean sauce’. Succulent and easy to eat. And chicken. Definitely chicken. This is the best chicken I’ve had in many years. Salt and, um, I don’t know - Maybe heroin. Fantastic. I could eat a whole one no problem (maybe next time). Get the fried rice, if you’re in the mood. Most of this we ordered either through charades or pointing at picture menus; Mandarin phrases like ‘Do you speak English’ and ‘I don’t speak Mandarin’ were of no use when ordering. We paid 108 rmb to stuff ourselves. They bring the check and then you pay up front. Couldn’t be easier, and they’ll be happy to see you. Other places to try if you have hosts – The Sicuan hotpot place with the dude with the long spouted (talking 4 feet here) teapot. Never had Sicuan hotpot before. Fantastic – Kind of like shabu-shabu, except addictive and flavorful. All with a strange sweet tea included. Highly recommended. That’s all from Huizhou. Enjoy it!
  2. I have to agree with Bryan - Randy's and Cinelli's are the best you can buy in Durham. Cinellis offers hot cherry peppers as a topping, which combined with sausage (which they cut into thing longwise slices) makes a great pie. The new Randy's up on Guess Rd has a particularly good guy on the oven many nights. If you like it a little overdone (as I do), he's happy to comply. And the Mellow Mushroom is awful. I also agree with Varmint. Cut the lock and make some great pizza. http://jvpizza.sliceny.com/ I'd post a pic of one of my pies, but egullet doesn't seem to show me that option. But they look about like what this guy is putting out. Jeff Varasanos insight into making great pizza at home are fantastic. ~Nibbs
  3. nibbs

    RDU: Barbecue

    >But I'm sure it doesn't even begin to compare to wood-smoked BBQ. I've been in NC for 10 years. Been eating at Danny's for 9, in 4 different locations. If I ever move away, Danny's would probably be the first place I'd hit on a visit. Best fries in the Triangle, above average q, and stellar sauce. It isn't Carolina style, but it is damn good. Plus those corn nuggets... ~Nibbs (pork plate - fries and slaw)
  4. I don't know that I've met an Egullter who has been to guglhupf and didn't like it. So if you're looking for breakfast, and pastrys and coffee will set you right. then I'd head there. Also fantastic sandwiches at lunch (I favor the beef-n-blue). That said, it isn't really 'southern'. But it is really really good. Bring a loaf of bread home with you. http://www.guglhupf.com/ BBQ in Durham - Bullocks is a southern experience, but the 'q is nothing to write home about. I second the Allen & Son recs, if you can make it out there. If you are pressed for time, The Q Shack serves up a nice brisket sandwich, and is really a funky cool BBQ place. Best onion rings on the planet. About 1/4 mile from guglhupf. http://www.theqshackoriginal.com/ Southern breakfast? On a weekday? I can't recommend anything... I take it back. Actually, Wimpys on Hillsboro Rd (about 1/2 mile west of 9th St, on the left) makes a fantastic biscuit sandwich. Take-out only. Big as your hand. I really like the pork biscuit or the bacon/egg/cheese. I think they'll do baloney too, and if that isn't Southern... And look out for Loco Pops if you find Wimpy's. They are gormet popsicsles that are worth the detour. ~Nibbs
  5. nibbs

    Bin 54

    My wife and I had our Valentines Day dinner last weekend at Bin 54. There were some high and low points - Mostly high. Scallop app was great, as was the wedge salad (served icy cold, as it should be). Both servings were brought on separate plates, which was thoughtful. I started out with an Old Fashioned (which I had never had before). It was OK - I guess I'm not a fan. Then the steaks came. I went with detlefchef's recommendation on the hangar steak for $22 - Tasted great. I ordered it medium-rare, but what I got was a little closer to rare. I think that would probably be OK on a more tender cut, but I probably would have preferred a little more time on the grill. That said, it was a flavorful cut and went well with the shallot sauce that accompanied it. My wife opted for the dry aged kc strip for $36. It was fine except it had no flavor and bad texture. Dry aged for a mere 3 weeks, it had none of the 'high' flavors one is looking for when you choose to pay a premium price for dry aged meat. I miss Fowlers already - They had dry aged steaks with real flavor. I think that they were aging them more in the 5 to 6 week range. At any rate, lesson learned. No more dry aged from Bin. In a cocktail exploration mood, I had a Mai Tai as my second drink. At least I think that’s what I had. It was really good. Sides we had were fries and spinach - Both good, but not so good we'd order them again next time. Digression - The sorry state of friedom in the Triangle continues. When will this underdone skin-on-the-ends floppy tasteless fry plague end? Thank God for deliverance via Danny's BBQ. Dessert was chocolate 3 ways - A mini soufflé, a small ice cream sandwich, and something else. What the hell was it... A napolean. With some mint in it. This dish was a highlight that we would order again. Really good soufflé. On the whole, we'd go back if someone was looking for steaks. Definitely better than all the experiences that I've had at the Angus Barn (never had a good steak there..). The whole experience was taken down a peg by our actual V-Day dinner at home. Karen got some new york steaks (sic) from Costco which she dutifly left on the counter once she got home. I grilled them over applewood and charcoal - Hers with soy and garlic, mine with salt/pepper/olive oil. They were both better than either steak from Bin. In fact, they were the best steaks we've had all year. Four for $23 rather than 2 for $58. Side note – Stopped at Piedmont on the way home for yet another cocktail. I tried the Fennel Countdown – Fennel infused vodka with some OJ and something else. I can’t recommend it. My advice: 1) Don’t order drinks with names based on puns. Even good ones. 2) Don’t order drinks with names based on 80s ‘stick in head’ ‘who sang that’ tracks. Even bad ones. 3) Fennel may be an aphrodisiac, but tummyaches are not. Don’t drink it just because you paid for it. A night out with your s.o. is worth more than that. 
  6. I am sad that I'll no longer be able to get dry aged beef. Sure, I only splurged for it maybe twice a year, but still... We were there probably once or twice a month. We may have even been there on the last day. I tried to stop by before turkey day to get some sundries. Sad to hear they are gone. I wish there had been some 'going out of business' sale or something. How can we grieve without a wake? For those that follow the 'get a new puppy' breed of coping with loss, check out Compare Foods just north-east of where Roxboro and 85 intersect (by the Big Lots, if that's a reference for you). It is a completely different animal, that's for sure. But it is all Durham. Crazy hodge-podge of foods - selection like a Teeter and the price and layout of a Food Lion. All kinds of Latino food items, and also great selection of Asian foods and unusual cuts of meat (I needed Chinese black vinegar and a skin on pork shoulder - No problem). And they even had King Aurthur bread flour, which our local Teeter and Kroger can't consistently stock. It is not quite the adventure that the Asian market in Cary by Crossroads is, but it is damn close. And close to my house. Take my advice and save your arm - Get a cart even if you are planning on getting only a few things. If anyone is reading from Fowlers - I'll take whatever beef you started aging 2 weeks before your last day off your hands... ~Nibbs
  7. My first try a few weeks ago was with a Calphalon 5qt stock pot - It worked well and all bread was rapidly consumed. Then, as luck would have it, my wife's b-day present arrived (a Le Cruset pot, slightly larger). I baked 2 loaves head to head, and can't say that one came out better or worse than the other. I think a large part of the success of this method is just in the auto-steam due to having the lid there. Haven't had any sticking problems (but I'm prone to overdusting with flour) ~Nibbs
  8. My wife and I went to Vin on a recent Friday for her birthday. Our first time, and it was once of the best meals out we'd had in quite a while. We absolutely hogged out because I had to try some of everything. My quick highlights: The s.o. made me order a blueberry manhattan, because she's pregnant and she wanted to try some. So I had to drink most of it. There are worse wives out there. It was so good it almost made me want to drink a regular manhattan. We had the fries as a pre-app. They are shoestring and served with a malt vinegar aoli. The aoli solves the age old quandry of how you get enought vinegar to stick to your chips. I could have used more vinegar in the aoli, but that didn't seem to slow us down. Bread served with dinner was excellent - Seemed like an italian loaf, with lots of air in the crumb. Good crust. The waygu tartare disobeyed several laws of physics. At least the egg yolk on top did. I pierced it, but it didn't really rupture. I kept dipping toast points into it, and it just sat there, yielding yolk without collapsing. Eventually it collapsed and ran into the beef. I ate it all. Dish was excellent and I would selfishly order it again instead of experiencing something new. Wife had some kind of salmon. I thought it was only OK. She thought it was excellent. She's probably right. Dinner I had the pork shoulder with beets and lentils and gnocci (?) and mint (which was used so sparingly that I wouldn't have known it was there had I not been told). I gotta say, I don't 'like' beets or lentils. Or gnocci, for that matter. This dish was recommended to me, and Vin seemed to have the rep it takes to make me eat things I don't 'like' (Magolia Grill does the same for me). They really came through - It was excellent. I think for me it encapsulated what I liked about the restaurant. The entree was $28, which I'd say seems kinda pricey for pork shoulder. Yet it was worth every penny. It reminded me of the old story about the factory consultant who charges $500 to fix some equipment just by swinging a hammer. When confronted, he provides a bill for $5 for swinging the hammer and $495 for knowing where to swing it. Ms. Christiansen knows where to swing the hammer. Wife had scallops that seemed OK, but I was chin deep in pork. When dessert time came, we balked at the mint ice cream wih nibs (ha!) in it. I think we both had visions of chalky green flavored ice cream. I don't know what else we could have been served earlier that would have made us wake up and realize that at Vin there weren't going to be any cop outs like that. Everything else was stellar, and this was no exception. No artifical green mint coloring, just clean mint flavor. It's tough to travel from Durham when we're looking to spend some real $ on dinner - With Nana's up the road and Magnolia 2 miles away, we have some options. Now we have a Raleigh option that deserves attention.
  9. >Serena's not bad for dinner. There's not a lot like it in the area. They were closed one day for lunch last week due to some personnel issues. I hope they get them resolved, because I'd like to see them stay open. They make some great sandwiches at lunch. Could be too much sq footage, tho. Gotta turn a profit. Another dinner option is 9N9 - They stay open. I often stop in and bring springrolls and sandwiches home for dinner. But it will be empty, so I don't think you'll get much 'culture'. Just about everything else gets boarded up by 2PM.
  10. Well, here’s a summary of the places that my wife and I visited in San Juan this past weekend. I’ll try to keep it short. I'll fail. Before I go too far, I'd like to thank the eGullet community for all the tips and reviews on restaurants in San Juan. I read them all and jammed them into one document before we left so that I would have something to go on. So thanks to everyone who contributed. Miguel Gierbolini and Damien’s recommendations from the Restaurant Recommendations in Puerto Rico? thread were particularly helpful and accurate. Also, much thanks to Oscar who was studying in the Convento hotel and recommended some places to visit. We left on Thursday afternoon, arrived in San Juan, picked up a rental car, and drove to the Old San Juan area. Guidebooks be damned - we were going to drive down the cobbly narrow streets of OSJ and pray for parking. We found a parking space within three blocks of the hotel (El Convento). Since it was already 3 p.m., and my wife is pregnant, and I don't have a death wish, we grabbed a snack in the hotel. El Picoteo is the tapas bar in El Convento. I had read good opinions of it on eGullet and elsewhere. So we decided to give it a shot (thus disobeying the first law of travel eating - never eat in the hotel). We ordered three dishes - the grilled calamari, the meatballs in almond sauce, and some empanada-style dish that was filled with lobster. And a mojito for me. The only thing I would (and did) order again would be the mojito - It was excellent (but for $7.50, it damn well better be). As for the food - The lobster epanada was OK; But really, were talking about a HotPocket here. More precisely, four $2.50 HotPockets. The grilled calamari was also OK - it seemed fresh and included plenty of garlic and spices. Nothing special. The meatballs, however, were special because the sauce was rancid. Why is it that some people aren't able to taste rancid nuts? I mean, it is the most awful taste to exit a kitchen. It was pretty clear that some of whatever almonds were used to make the sauce were past their prime. The hotel was nice, but we would be eating elsewhere for the remainder of our vacation. No more unsatisfying $50 snacks. That evening we found our way to Baru, which is about four blocks from the hotel, or a little longer if you follow our guidebook map (Note to LonelyPlanet: You’ve got Baru on the wrong block. By like 3 streets.) This is another tapas place that was mentioned highly by some other eGullet reviewers. We enjoyed the food here. We ordered some plantain chips that came with a bean salsa that was slightly sweet ($10). This was followed by a beef carpaccio that was excellent ($16). And to finish off we had shrimp skewers with a yucca mofongo ($23). Meanwhile I continued to drink mojitos ($7), which were about the same as at the hotel – Awesome. The next morning we made our way to the local bakery/diner that seems to be universally recommended – La Bombonera (even though it was in the LonelyPlanet guidebook). I didn’t find the mallorca pastries to be too compelling (not that they were bad – just not Krispy Kreme good or anything) - but the coffee was excellent, the fruit salad fresh, and atmosphere was pleasant. I would definitely return - and we did. Three days in a row. So here’s my advice if you go: Walk in the door, look to your right, and pick a pastry. They will all be somewhat smaller than what you would expect from a European bakery. My favorite was the sugar donut - chewy and delicious. Tell the nice woman who gets your pastries that you would like them for here. Try out your Spanish if you want (para aqui, I think). She'll put them on a plate and you can walk in and take a table. When the waiter comes, order coffee and expect that it will come with milk. Maybe order a mallorca if you’re into that kind of thing. When the coffee arrives, try to put some sugar in your coffee. Keep shaking. Keep shaking. No, no – bang the bottom. Hmmm… Give up and unscrew the lid and use your spoon. We had several dishes during the three visits - our favorites were the fruit salad, the fresh squeezed orange juice, and the breakfast sandwiches. My bacon, egg and cheese on the last day was especially delicious. The best description I can give on the sandwiches is that they are like a crust-out Panini. The fries that came with the sandwich were the best I’d had in months. Maybe ever. Perfect diner fries. Heinz on the table to boot. Large breakfast for two cost about $15 and is worth every penny. This is superior roadfood – on a really narrow road. Speaking of roadfood, the next day we drove over to Pinones. This is an area of beachside snack shacks and fritter huts just east of San Juan. We passed most of the shacks and eventually tried to turn around and go back. That's when I jammed the rental Suzuki into the beach sand and promptly got stuck. A big thank you to the six construction workers who stopped to help push us out. I was getting tired of digging and starting to really miss my Subaru Baja. Welcome to Puerto Rico indeed. We finally got back to the shacks and just walked around, pointed at stuff, and ate it. I think we had a crab epanada (which at $1.50, was 2x the size and taste of the lobster ones from the hotel). We also had a bacalaito (bah-kah-la-E-to? I think), which looks like a potato chip on steroids but is really a codfish fritter. It is not at all similar to a clam fritter like you would get in Rhode Island – It is big and flat. But it was delicious. We also got some virgin Pina Colada drinks that were great. It seemed like we were eating Puerto Rican county fair food; It was delicious, perfect to hold us over until dinner, and cost about $12 total – And that’s with $5 of cold virgin Pina Colada goodness. For dinner, I wanted to try traditional Puerto Rican food. My first choice was La Casita Blanca, but we were advised that we could get similar quality at half the price at El Jibarito in Old San Juan. I have mixed feelings about El Jibarito. On the one hand, I got an entire fried red snapper for $16. It was fresh and delicious. My wife and I cleaned those bones bare. On the other hand, this was partly because my wife grouper was not so fresh and delicious. The opposite occurred with respect to our side dishes – her rice was delicious, while my mofongo was dry and inedible. I should have ordered the tostones (sp?). I must say that this was not a good introduction to mofongo. To top it off, as I was finishing my meal, the waiter was offering some kind of special house hot sauce to the other tables of tourists (cruisers, no less!) before their entrées even arrived. I sure could have used that with my fish… It’s not that I wouldn’t go back to El Jibarito, but I'd try to hit La Casita Blanca first. And I’ve never even been there. One of the things that I most wanted to experience in Puerto Rico was to visit a lechonera. This is a restaurant where they serve roast pork off of a spit. Living in North Carolina (and knowing my way around a pork shoulder or two), I was naturally curious. I can't say exactly what the usual preparation is - Although I've heard things like 'marinated in sour orange juice and garlic'. We had heard that the Guyavate region was well known for its many lechoneras. We were also advised to drive a little past the ones that you see right when you get off the highway. So we got off the highway (52?) and headed east. There were some lechoneras immediately on the right, and they sure looked good enough to me - But we kept driving, staying on the most windy-hilly-roller-coaster of a road I think I've ever been on. There were times that I thought the cheap Suziki rental car would not be equal to the task. I highly recommend this road if you have some kids along for the ride. They'll love it. Once we got to mile (km?) marker 29 (about 5 minutes off the highway), there on the right was Mueller's Lechonera. No, not kidding. A German name for pork in the lush Puerto Rican hills. Open-air place with tables outside and the guest of honor visibly roasting out front. The pig was smaller than what we in NC are used to (I'm guessing - There was pretty much only a head and some shoulder left on the spit). For $13.25, my wife and I got rice, 2 fried plantain things, a pound of pork and a nice view. The pork came with skin that was actually thin enough to eat - And fabulous. Some of the pieces of pork had more zing (salt and pepper, seemed like), while others had a great charcoal flavor from the spit. The serving of rice was as large as a paper plate can handle - It was very good, as was the plantain type food item. There was what I believe was some pique near the counter which went well with the pork. It's a little windy of you sit outside, so take care that your plate doesn't blow into your lap - I speak from experience. The only thing I regret is not tipping the kid who brought our food (Do you tip if you order at the counter? I don't in the US, but maybe I should have given him a buck...). There are those of us whose most vivid memory of high school Spanish was the 'D+' we got in it. Luckily for us, here (and on the rest of the island, with the exception of Pinones), this was not an issue - English was understood and spoken. We were there around 3 on a Saturday, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. If HollyEats ever makes it to Puerto Rico, no doubt La Bombonera, Muellers and Pinones would be required stops. The last place we tried was The Parrot Club in OSJ - We needed just a snack to sleep on after the porkfest of that afternoon. We had heard some yea's and nay's from fellow tourists, but the crabcake was recommended. So of course we ordered it. And didn't really care for it. I'll admit that it had plenty of crab in it, but there was really nothing compelling about the texture or flavor. The bacalaitos (sp? - with cool crab salad) were a much more refined version than the ones we had in Pinones. Smaller flat fritters that matched well with the crab salad - They were spectacular and disappeared quickly. Drinks were good, although the mojito was probably the least spectacular I had during our visit. We overtipped after being undercharged by 1 drink. And that’s about it. Our rental was banged by someone overnight (via fist, not vehicle – Unless someone made it onto the sidewalk). Maybe we took someone’s spot? We figured sure we were going to regret not taking the insurance. When my wife showed the small dent to the guy at Budget, he looked at it and sort of shrugged. The words he used were ‘Here’s your receipt’ – But his expression was just the same as the guys who pushed us out of the sand – Welcome to Puerto Rico. We’ll be back.
  11. HollyEats is dead on regarding this custard place called Carls in Fredricksburg, VA. My wife and I stop almost every time we head to DC. It's about 8 minutes off the highway and almost always another 8 minutes in line. My sister got married this weekend. For a second, I thought you might be family... It wasn't something we were expecting, but she is. So there you go. Buy your mom a dark chocolate milkshake at Carls. ~Ed
  12. Well, I'll give this a bump since the wife and I were at Sunset beach this past weekend. Maybe some advice for those who will be in the Calabash/Sunset area for a house rental. It is summer, after all. We went to the Boundary House in Calabash for lunch because the first place we went into was a buffet and we really didn't feel like stuff ourselves. It was OK. We both had po-boys. I've had better and I've had worse. The place is very neat and clean and soul-less. I kinda regretted going in there once we sat down. The sweet tea was excellent. The atmosphere and menu reminded me of a Lucky 32's (for all you Triangle residents). The place is kept a little too cold, which is refreshing when you walk in, but gets old fast. Lunch was pretty cheap - Our po-boys were $8 or $9, if I recall. I wouldn't refuse to eat there again (and believe me, it doesn't take much), but I wouldn't seek it out. Went to Crabby Outwaters for dinner - It is right next to the bridge on the way to Sunset. Overall, this was much better. Hushpuppies were served gratis with some cinnamon butter. All the tables have a hole cut in the center with a trash can in it that you can throw your scraps into. I had the fried softshell crab with corn pudding – It was pretty good. Wife had the grilled shrimp and scallops – Also pretty good. Nothing was knock-your-socks-off, and it wasn’t cheap (about $17 for entrees), but the service was good and there is a view of the water (in which we saw a small gator – No kidding!). The seafood seemed very fresh – In fact, the place is above a seafood store. I would go there again unless I had a recommendation for someplace nearby. Last spot was the Calabash Deli for breakfast on the way out of town. There we got a bacon egg and cheese on a hard roll, coffee and juice, all for under $3. I highly recommend it, and I also recommend loading up on lunch meats here before your long week at the beach. Not as good as the be&c on hard rolls that I wolf down in CT, but hit the spot nonetheless. If anyone has any recent experiences around Calabash or Sunset Beach, get them up before next year – We’ll be going with the whole family for a week. That'll give me a reason to look for this thread next year…
  13. Kid friendly in Chapel Hill - Elmo's is a good bet (somewhat upscale diner food). It is actually in CArrboro, I think. And I think Jujube would be worth a visit. My favorite dim sum place is up by me in Durham, tho (Hong Kong on Guess Rd). The Triangle is a great place to be - the weather is good and folks are generally friendly to newcomers (because they're either Southern and hospitible or transplants and have walked in your shoes). ~nibbs
  14. Bryan - I think you are right about Randy's dough. I had the fabulous fortune to eat at Pepe's Pizza in New Haven, CT on Saturday (I was in CT for my grandfathers 90th). I grew up about 20 minutes from Pepe's, but we never went as kids. After we ate, I realized why - My hometown is thick with pizza that is damn good - 8 out of 10. So why would my folks wait in line for something that was a 10? But now that I lived in NC for 9 years, even a joint that serves only OK pizza on a New England scale is worth the extra effort. That said, the Randy's on Broad is far and away the underachiever of the 4 branches. And I am still regretting not bringing the cold leftover Pepe's slices home with me. Because I'd be eating one right now. Varmint - I came off as a little hostile toward NC q', which was not what I intended. I do like NC style, but so many places seem to just roast some pork until they can shred it and add some cider vinegar and pepper flakes. Granted, that can be pretty good on a sandwich - But I don't get any kind of smoke or texture from that. I'll go to Bullocks for the experience more than the q (they are a landmark, and the puppies are perfect). I've been to Allen & Son once - I don't remember being impressed, but I was pleased and they deserve another chance while I'm paying better attention. And NC has defintely made me a sandwich and slaw man. In KC they do pickles... gross... So what's your recommendation for a place within 40 minutes of Durham that serves good NC q'?
  15. Nibb's Top Ten Lunches in RTP (without further preamble other than to say that they are not in any particular order (other than some loose grouping by location) and to also say that I've tried to stay geographically within or close to RTP (but hell, sure, I'll drive out to Cary for Thai if the mood strikes me (but just because it is so don't make it right)) and hence some favorites won't make this list even though I go there for lunch all the time). Chosun OK (Korean BBQ): The single step as you enter Chosun OK takes you far from the strip mall in which it resides. It is the dining experience in the Triangle that feels the most authentically Asian to me, and I've been fortunate enough to travel to Japan and Hong Kong (ostensibly for work, but I was all about the food). My favorite is the BBQ box lunch of...hmmm... I think there is beef, but then also listed is Korean BBQ or BBQ box or something. So there are 2 ways to get the beef. Don't try and go cheap and get the $1 cheaper one just to see if it is the same. I've done it, it isn't, spend the $1 and get the Korean BBQ box. So much food in the box lunch - Sides of rice and kim chee for the table, excellent tempura in the box, along with some California roll just in case you weren't full already. I've also read good things about the kim chee soup. Get some green tea to go along with it and your meal is complete. Expect to spend about $10. Northwest corner of the intersection of 54 and 55, in the same plaza as the Pizza Hut and the Taco Bell. 9N9 (Vietnamese): Vietnamese sandwiches for $2 apiece. This is an absolute steal deal that fills me with guilt each time I go for it. 2 sandwiches for lunch are more than enough. They are on fresh tasting good French rolls, filled with bbq pork or ham or whatever else they feel like filling them with, along with marinated shredded carrots and plenty of cilantro. Go for the bbq pork or grilled pork, and order some spring rolls to go with it. The insiders tip is that the sandwiches are no longer on the menu, but they are usually on the dry erase board by the checkout. Hate to shoot the golden goose, but they could raise the price to $3 and I'd still order 2. Pho is also excellent here. It's an all around gem that I hope stays around for a long time. Usually somewhere around $8. Northwest corner of the intersection of Alexander and Miami, next to Jersey Mikes. Let's stay in this plaza for a while... Pipers in the Park (Sandwiches): A very cute place with art on the walls and a chalkboard menu. Get in line (usually 3-4 people long) and decide what you want. I can't get away from the chicken reuben (I think maybe its called the 'Ryed Piper'), but the Pipers' Pile Up (hold the onions) is also good. Good choice for a somewhat healthy and more than somewhat tasty lunch, and the only one on this list that has really good cc cookies (should you find yourself craving something sweet). We're talking about $5 per sandwich plus drink. They have my vote for the best sweet tea in the area. My tip for you is to ask for a little side of the chipotle ranch dressing when you pick up your order - Great for dipping your potato chips into. Danny's (BBQ): I need to start with a confession - The first real job that I ever had in the Triangle had a Friday tradition of going to a Danny's location that is now probably 8 years closed. When that location closed, we'd drive 1/2 hour to a location way down by Tryon Rd. Then when I got my new job, they put a sign up for a joint in RTP and I was so impatient for it to open that I called the main branch repeatedly for status updates. I've got some Danny's under my belt. Literally. Now is when I'll start a fight with a bunch of Carolina bbq purists, raise their ire and have to deal with all their piss and vinegar (mostly vinegar). Danny's pork q is consistently the best in the immediate area. The chopped pork has a great smoky flavor and has a mixture of textures, but it isn't shredded the way Carolina usually is. The sauces here (both the hot and the sweet) belong in Kansas City more than Raleigh. I'm not saying it is Authur Bryants and I'm not saying it is any kind of Carolina style bbq. What I will say it is - is great. Someone tell be about better pork in a 15 mile radius and I'll try it. Go with the chopped pork and 2 sides (and get the regular, unless your are super hungry for pork, in which case get the large with a side of Lipitor). I'd tell you what sides are good, but the only things I have ever had are the slaw, the beans, and the fries. And they are all good. I used to be beans and fries typa' guy, but Carolina turned me into a slaw man. The fries are usually the best in the area - The only competition in my mind are Hectors in CH and the James Joyce in Durham, and those all serve basically the same style of fry (something like 3/8" smooth cut well fried). They are almost always hot fresh and crispy. And with all that sauce, you sure don't need any ketchup. In addition to the 2 sides, you'll get a nice piece of Texas toast for sopping up pork and sauce bits. The sauce here is the real draw. The sweet is sweet and smoky, and the hot is fiery, with a type of heat that really fills your mouth but doesn't get in the way of the pork. When I did go to Arthur Bryants in KC, they had just released a 'Sweet Heat' sauce that reminds me of Danny's hot. I love the stuff and highly recommend a mix of the hot and sweet on your pork. There is a vinegar sauce for those that think they are in Rome and must do as if. And a mustard sauce if you can find it (usually there is only 1 bottle). If you're hungry (and I am now), they also have corn nuggets, which I have of late acquired a taste for. Creamed corn in a nugget form - Very dippable. The hushpuppies are only OK, and the beef never holds my attention for very long. They also have good sweet tea, although I'd rank it 1 point lower than Pipers. We're talking a 5 minute line and around $8 total most lunch times. If you go whole hog and get the corn nuggets, you might be closer to $10.06, give or take. At least that's what it was this afternoon. So if you are working in RTP and need some lunch, there are 3 great spots in that one plaza - Danny's, 9N9, and Pipers. That seems to be the strip mall lunch culinary limit, because as far as I'm concerned, the Jersey Mikes, Cheers Deli, Milano Pizza, PriddyBoys, Con-Fusion Japanese and 2 or 3 other places in there are worth neither the time nor the dime. In their defense, I've never actually eaten Milano's pizza. But I have walked in, looked at the pizza, and walked out twice, if that tells you anything. Randy's (NY Style Pizza): We'll jump to another strip mall on the other side of 40 - This time on Miami near the intersection of 54 (same side of the street as the Bojangles and Micky D's, opposite side from Wendy's). We're talking pizza, so we're talking Randy's. And since we're talking the only decent NY-style pizza by the slice available in RTP, we're talking a line that usually gets to the door. A great option is the 2 slices with 1 topping + drink for $4.95 or something like that. The slices are usually about as big as your head. OK, not that big, but 2 slices is enough to satisfy a lunch need. The atmosphere at lunch is pretty crazy, and the wait for a sandwich is usually about double what a wait for a pizza or calzone is. Plus there is limited seating and even more limited parking. The slices, tho, are consistently good - Not the best ever, but they beat the hell out of the 2 or 3 pizza buffets in RTP. (As an aside, the cooks/ovens there turn out consistently better pizza than at the Randy's on Broad Street. The Randy's in Hope Valley by Woodcroft is usually better than the Broad St. branch as well. I guess Duke students don't know or demand good pizza. I take this thing personally because I used to live 2 blocks from the one on Broad St, but it was always a lottery - We'd either get an imitation of a Papa Johns (relatively thickly crusted and maybe too much cheese) or a great pie. Subject for another rant, I suppose.) Serena (Sandwiches): Lets' say you try to go to Randy's and you can't find anyplace to park (because if you do, you won't). And by the time you ditch your car on the side road near the credit union and hoof it up to the plaza, you don't feel like waiting in a noisy line for pizza and a 1 in 3 chance at a seat. You want to wait in line for a sandwich instead. Well, Serena (in the same plaza) is a great bet. First off, they are one of the reasons that the parking in that plaza has gone from improbable to impossible in the last 3 months. Plus they have plenty of seating. Their menu says 'American menu featuring stuff from Spain' on it. Or something like that. I must admit that on our first visit, my buddy and I took to calling it 'that $10 sandwich place'. And that is marginally unfair, seeing as how you can get out of there with sandwich, drink and side for just under $10. So what's good? They had a stuffed peppers special (goat cheese stuffed, served on a grit cake over steamed spinach) that was the most complex culinary effort I've had for under $10 in quite some time. It was fantastic. There was some syrup around the outside that really set the dish off. The grit cake was crisped on the outside and gave some hunger defying substance to what seemed like a light lunch. The sandwiches (I've had the avacado BLT and the grilled portabello) are stellar as well. Really great ingredients in correct proportion. As a side, you can get fries, cheese grits, or asparagus for a buck. I'm a big fry snob and theirs don't cut it - but that hardly matters because the asparagus and cheese grits make it easy to pass on the fries. Get whichever you prefer, but don't plan on finishing the cheese grits. My only complaint is that the bread has taken a turn for the worse (used to be crusty, now it's just kinda soft). With the intense flavors inside the sandwich, they overcome this shortcoming easily. The advantage I guess is that the roof of your mouth isn't raw for a day after eating there. I'm starting to enjoy their sandwiches better than most that I get at the Guglhpf (you're on notice, Guglhpf reuben - More kraut or else), where the bread is vastly superior. Serana has been open less than a year and they are still getting the kinks out, but I think they're definitely on the right track. What are we up to here - 6? Four more to make 10? I'm running out of steam... But I still have plenty of smoke.* *(see segue styles: lame, forced, poorly executed) Rub's Smokehouse (BBQ): Let's go down the road to Rub's Smokehouse on 54 (between where 54 and Miami merge and the Airport Rd. intersection). Rub's is another relative newcomer - I believe they opened some time late last summer in the old Deli Box location. They are a BBQ joint that serves up some good 'q. I'm partial to the beef over the pork here, and they often run out of the beef at lunch (at least they did last time I was there), so that tells you what the popular vote is. The pork isn't really NC style here either, although the sauce has more vinegar than the sauce at Danny's and they will put slaw on your sandwich. All sides have been OK (not my style of fries - They somewhat recently changed them and they don't seem to have any crispness to them - but others I've eaten with really liked them. Maybe if they start par-frying the fresh cut fries they'll kick the pants off of anything in sight). Onion rings have been good and the slaw of cole is solid as well. One of the worst things about Rubs (and Danny's, and Randy's, and probably 10 other places in RTP) is trying to find a seat at 12:05 on a weekday. On the other hand, one of the best things about Rubs is that you can eat outside on a picnic table in the grass behind the restaurant and there are almost always some tables available. Rub's also has more of a BBQ joint feel than some of the other places in the area. I think they are still experimenting and improving and are well worth a visit - Especially if you're in the mood for a mid-day picnic during a North Carolina spring. Thai Lanna (Thai): The Thai situation in Durham has been dire for quite some time. I was introduced to Thai food in Detroit, where you can't take a left through a blinking red into a strip mall without running into a Thai place. That may be an exaggeration, but I can't say I've seen a better US city to pick to 'Thai one on' in (although Vegas makes a case for itself based on Lotus of Siam alone). So most of the local Triangle offerings have left me hungry. When I've got a craving for pad thai, and I don't feel like whipping out the ol' Cooks Illustrated and making it myself, Thai Lanna in Durham is the place I head to. They serve the best pad thai in the area. It isn't the best I've ever had, and I wish there was some more of it (I am such a hog for pasta…), but it is well executed and satisfying. The coconut soup is spicy and satisfying and the ginger dressing is what you should go for on your salad. Thai Lanna is in the Greenwood Commons shopping center - West side of 55, about 1 or 2 miles south of I-40, past the Golden Coral. Other things in the same plaza include an Indian buffet place (which is also quite good) and some trophy selling joint. Mr. Wok (Chinese Buffet): I must admit that I used to love a Chinese buffet, but in the last few years or so, they have become tiresome. Most of the examples in RTP are either boring or out of buiness. Mr. Wok, however, is an exception. So when I have that craving for all-you-can-eat Crab Rangoon and steamed rice, Mr. Wok is the antidote. What's different about Mr Wok? Number one is that it is almost always busy and crowded. While this can be a pain, in the buffet world it is just what is needed. There should be lots and lots of food turnover so fresh items are always on the buffet. The lunchtime clientele is usually a mix of RTP keyboard jockeys and lunch break construction workers, all jamming down 2 day's worth of calories in one sitting. The other thing that sets Mr Wok apart is the selection. They have most of the standards (chicken stir fried, fried or steamed about 3 different ways each, steamed rice, soup, rangoons, egg rolls, etc), but they also have things you usually wouldn't find on a buffet. There are usually sesame balls, which make a nice snack. There are dumplings that are good with a small bowl of the adjacent dumpling sauce. Thai curries are usually available. There are also delicious fried pork cutlets that are the closest thing to tankatsu that I have had in the US. My favorite item is a dessert offering – Banana hunks rolled in coconut and fried, served with a syrup that you can spoon over them. Between these and the little sugar donuts, I usually save at least one of the 3 plates I'll fill for sweets. That said, it is a buffet and you should be in the mood for a buffet if you go. This is not a Bellagio style gourmet buffet, but it is a cut above the rest in RTP. It is in the same plaza as the Big Lots, at the southeast corner of the intersection of 54 and 55. There is a McDonalds and a Bojangles in this plaza as well. Well, I only got to 9, but here's where I'll put in the honorable mentions. Someone can respond with their favorites and maybe I'll have somewhere new to try. I like an Indian buffet as much as the next guy, and Spice and Curry (in the same plaza as Chosun OK) is as good as any and a favorite of many. I prefer the Tandoor Indian Grill (in the same plaza as Thai Lanna). Also good is the Bombay Grille (on 55, just east of Chosun OK). I guess the ubiquity of the Indian buffet is wearing on me a little, but I must say that all these places please more than disappoint. Their only flaw in my book is that no one distinguishes itself from the others in my mind. But a 3-way tie for the 10th spot is not my style. I like El Dorado because every once in a while I like a chips and salsa Mexican lunch. My co-workers can order for me because my order never changes (lunch chimi – beef, rice instead of beans; and a sweet tea). It is in the plaza with the Food Lion, southwest of the 54/55 intersection. And Kemps, on 70, is about the only place to get some Carolina calabash style seafood, but I have to be in the mood for that - It can be a mite heavy... I guess that is it – I've been working in RTP for 6 years, and I've seen a fair number of places come and go. I must say that Danny's is probably the one I'd have to have 10 years from now if for some reason I moved away. But this list should get you through that 2 week project that strands you in the area. So wheredo folks think I missed? Because I'll try it if I haven't already - And if you are fairly enthused, I may even give a place I didn't like another chance. ~Nibbs
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