September 2012

Casa Milagro is a highly regarded Richardson restaurant, and checking out reviews by Regular Joe and Bill Hensley, I decided it was promising. It was close enough to the hotel to make it worth a trip, and this eatery ended up being my #1 target while in Texas. There was no guarantee I’d have family, as my daughter and wife were attending a Supernatural convention at the time.

With some luck, my family was available for a late lunch, so we headed up US 75 to this eatery. It’s in a L shaped strip mall, and the restaurant itself is back from the road. Inside, it’s neat, unassuming, clean, and efficient.

Salsa and chips are free with the meal. The salsa here has plenty of cilantro, the red having a bite you don’t get in Atlanta. The chips were dry.

Eight different kinds of “honest to God” chile rellenos.

One of the things I was looking forward to from a Texas Tex Mex eatery was a chance to get a real chile relleno. You don’t see very many good ones in Atlanta. And very often, ordering a chile relleno in Atlanta gets you a ring of bell pepper with 3-4 tablespoons of ground meat in the middle (if Atlanta Tex Mex serves a real chile relleno, they will call it a chile poblano). So, to my great pleasure, Casa Milagro served 8 different kinds of chile rellenos.

I ended up ordering the brisket and honchos relleno. My wife had a pair chicken enchiladas with a tomatillo sauce, and my daughter had enchiladas de guiso, cheese enchiladas on which pork guiso, a Mexican pork stew, was poured.

A real chile relleno, stuffed with brisket and mushrooms.

Inside of the relleno.

Enchiladas de guiso, the hit of the meal.

Chicken enchiladas with a tomatillo sauce. Brown rice was the side.

The favorite dish of the meal was the enchiladas de guiso. We all thought it had more flavor than anything else we ate. My relleno was pretty popular as well. The tomatillo sauce on my wife’s enchiladas ran a little more sour than what she was used to, but they ended up being finished as well. All in all, Casa Milagro served a really fine meal. We left happy we had been to Casa Milagro.

The Impalas. Supernatural fans will know what this means ;).

Casa Milagro
1403 East Campbell Road
Richardson, TX 75081
(972) 234-6999

Casa Milagro on Urbanspoon

PS – for those unfamiliar with pork guiso, the Busy Gourmand has a nice article on this Mexican stew.

Accessible. Pretty. Good food. A place to take a date. These are a few of my thoughts after having been to Luciano’s. It’s a highly regarded Italian restaurant near the Gwinnett Convention Center, just west off the exit of Sugarloaf Parkway and I-85. I’m not usually much for a fancy lunch, but you can’t do this food blogging gig and stick entirely to routine. The change of pace was probably due.

A good bread starts the meal.

Graceful is the first word that came to mind when I entered. White tablecloths, black napkins, spare, clean, quiet. Service was excellent, of the kind that melts into the background, as opposed to the “over the top” style at say, a churrascaria. Lunch can be as pricey or as affordable as you like. There are plenty of choices in the 6 to 8 dollar range. Paninis ran from 10 to 12 and lunch sized entrées averaged perhaps 15. Ingredients reflect the character of the eatery. Prosciutto, for example, was the core meat in my daughter’s panini.

Italian panini.

Salmon portion for lunch.

I had a salmon entrée, replacing the potatoes for broccoli. The salmon was excellent, tender and a little sweet, a large portion for the price. The asparagus quite good, the broccoli the only disappointment, plain and tasting mostly of the steam used to cook the vegetable.

A quick lunch can’t begin to define a restaurant, and what I had at best is an impression. But the impression was very good, and I can recommend Luciano’s based on what I saw.

Luciano’s Ristorante Italiano
6555 Sugarloaf Pky NW
Duluth, GA 30097
(770) 255-1727

Luciano's Ristorante Italiano on Urbanspoon

I’ve not had strombolis many times in my life, but I know a good crust when I see one. I’d had mixed luck with the pizza at Cioffi’s in the past, but this stromboli is a sharp double, if not a home run, in my book.

OMG! Look at the crust!

The stuffing was pretty darned good as well.

Cioffi’s Pizza
1218 Rockbridge Rd
Stone Mountain, GA 30087
(770) 935-8822

Cioffi's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Greater Good barbecue occupies a large rambling bit of property on Hugh Howell, about a block and a half from where highway 29 veers off the road, and roughly opposite the Moes (what used to be a Tanner’s not all that long ago) and the Publix on the other side of the street. If you’re familiar with Sangria’s, it’s a bit further east than Sangria’s. I’ll note that both Atlanta etc and Marie Let’s Eat reviewed this place, pushing it into Urbanspoon’s top 10 Talk of the Town, and I can’t help but wonder if Grant’s puzzlement over that consequence wasn’t a contributing factor in the ongoing Urbanspoon war over the Talk of the Town statistic.

The restaurant has some talented owners, as the folks who run Fellini’s Pizza are in the mix. I suspect that’s pushed foodie hopes up high. And what I can say, in all honesty, only echoes the current consensus, which is that Greater Good is real barbecue, real smoked meat, but not really all that.

Ribs and Chicken. Ribs were pretty ordinary as real smoked meats go, the chicken was decent ‘cue.

Side of a rib, showing any smoke ring.

Decent sides, but a forgettable brisket.

My daughter enjoyed her pulled pork.

We had ribs, chicken, brisket, and pulled pork. My daughter likes her pulled pork soft, and Greater Good delivered in that regard. Whether it was smoked to any real degree, I’ll defer to the expertise of Marie Let’s Eat. The ribs had a smoke ring and a clear smoked smell. They left the smoky scents on my fingers, but otherwise, it was perhaps the faintest smoke and flavor I’ve run into in ages. If Heirloom BBQ ribs are an “A’. and Spiced Right (with the new owners and “on their horse”) ribs are a “B+”, these rank somewhere between a “B-” and a “C”.

The chicken was a better meat. Smoky, tasty, crusty, nicely flavored, perhaps the best thing I ate at Greater Good. I had the brisket and it was largely forgettable. Yes, smoked, you could tell that, but with good brisket available in plenty of spots (examples are here and here and and here), and this place perhaps having a fair chicken and pulled pork, don’t bother with this brisket.

I’d class this place as suitable for some pulled pork, chicken, decent beer, a place to stretch – the building is very large – perhaps maybe watch a game, have some fun. And as it’s new, there is room for improvement. The new owners of Spiced Right got better, after all. But right now in so many ways, they are not even competition for Spiced Right. That’s a problem, as I worked in Tucker back when the original owner of Spiced Right was there, and that Lilburn eatery had a formidable local reputation in the day.

Greater Good Barbecue
4431 Hugh Howell Road
Tucker, GA 30084
(770) 908-8164

The Greater Good Barbecue on Urbanspoon

The Arena Tavern is a bar that does plenty of business with sports talk radio. Advertisements and promotions with the local radio stations are a major parts of this small chain’s identity. And when I saw the 790 the Zone truck in front of the bar, I changed plans (even after lunch) and stuck my nose inside.

Yes, I’ll go inside if a local radio station is talking with bar customers.

This bar and Marlow’s Tavern are close by, and “the book” on these two is that the Arena is a better place to watch a game and Marlow’s has the better menu and food. My experience here suggests that might not be as clear cut a choice as in the past.

Catfish Bites. These things were fantastic. If I was blinded and told these came from a high end traditional all you can eat catfish spot, I’d have believed you. Tender, moist, perfect crust and flavorful.

Some of the best crust on cheese sticks I’ve seen in a long, long time.

I only ordered appetizers because I had already eaten, and besides, the rep for Arena was that it was the lesser of the two large taverns for food. And what I received were two of the best appetizers I’ve had in a long long time.

Crusts on the catfish bites were really good. Crust on the cheese sticks was about as good as any I’ve ever had. The cheese sticks alone are better than anything I’ve ever had at a classic wings n sports chain, and reason enough to drop the wings n sports chains and come here. That doesn’t count the catfish bites, which were as good a bit of catfish I’ve had in ages.

The beer selection is large, not huge, but there is plenty of most things for most tastes. There were good craft beers, good Georgia craft beers, good English, Irish and German brew, and plenty of American light lagers. Dozens of beers were on tap, and dozens more in bottles.

Having said all that, the Arena a roomy bar with plenty of wide screen TVs, with large roomy tables on which to watch those televisions. Yes, it’s a spot to watch games, and listen to sports talk. Further, Arena has rather surprising appetizers. Consequently, the culinary competition between this restaurant and Marlow’s is closer than the generic consensus suggests.

Arena Tavern
2000 Satellite Boulevard
Duluth, GA 30097
(770) 623-4585

Arena Tavern on Urbanspoon

Update: fixed typos.

Two words: Go now. Not because the tofu soup is fantastic. It’s really good, mind you, but they’re giving  the kind of service that will leave you smiling about the whole experience of eating here. Six months from now, it might be more pedestrian, so I’m tapping rapidly on  the ‘go now’ button, for those I can offer a suggestion to.

Tohdam is behind the stairs.

Terrific banchan.

They offer interesting extras, such as this mung bean pancake. It was crunchy, with plenty of green vegetable bits.

They serve a good tofu soup.

On a scale from one to 5, I’d rate the silky  tofu soup, banchan, purple (brown) rice, extras, about a 4 out of 5. Service is a 5+ and that’s what I find exciting about this eatery. It’s in a small ‘C’ shaped mall anchored by an Assi market, and is a little out of the way. I had dropped my daughter off at Japanfest and was looking for a place to eat. I ended up catching the Tohdam sign  out  of the corner of my eye.

To note, this  is the third version of this eatery. There have been 3 chef and owner changes. Staff told me they had been open 8 days when we ate. As Chloe noted on Twitter:

@FoodNSnellville It’s the 3rd incarnation. Chef+owners change each time. Gets better every time.

I never did get to the other versions, but this one should be on the tofu soup short list of everyone from Duluth to Buford.

Tohdam Tofu House
1291 Old Peachtree Road
Suwanee, GA 30024
(770) 622-5668

Toh Dam Tofu House on Urbanspoon

This dish is from  Fung Mei’s Sichuan menu, and if you’re “fried out” of dishes like dry fried eggplant, this mix of vegetables, noodles, and creamy soft meat is a worthwhile addition to your Sichuan choices.

Vegetables, noodles, plenty of spice, and creamy, fatty, delicious meat.

Try it. You won’t be disappointed!

I’ll note that Fung Mei’s E1, Chicken with Dried Red Pepper, is becoming better and better. In other venues, this dish is called “Shan City” chicken. IMO, this version is currently the best in town.

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