Sitting in the confines of the buffet restaurant king brought a sense of normalcy back to my senses as the wide variety of foods – served cafeteria style these days due to the COVID-19 pandemic – and the multiple aromas wafted through the air. I proudly claimed (to myself, of course) that I was the first customer of the day to see this veritable pot 'o gold (well, buffet) at the end of the rainbow.
I have been a Golden Corral fan for years. I was talking to the manager Danny and reminiscing all the way back to when they added one of their staples to the menu – the bourbon street chicken. It was still there, still amazingly fresh, and absolutely delicious.
The seemingly endless buffet that runs from one end of the establishment to the other, looked extremely fresh, with the reds, greens, and other bright, crisp colors of the salad bar, to the browns of the meat and potatoes section to the bright, cartoon-like tints of the dessert bar. I sat near that end of the restaurant and I must admit, the carrot cake and the cheesecake kept calling my name. There were also a variety of soups to try. There is something here for everyone, even the pickiest of eaters.
Before I even attempted a conversation with the sweet sugary section, I had to hit all my favorites – which included the pot roast, an amazingly thick and moist cheeseburger on a soft buttered bun (with grilled onions and jalapenos), green bean casserole (need to get my healthy portion of veggies), barbecued chicken, pulled pork....Whoa, maybe I should stop...pizza, pork chop and macaroni and cheese. If you eat everything, can they all be favorites?
I remember going to Golden Corral with my dad. He thoroughly enjoyed the liver and onions more than anything, barely surpassing his love for the baked potato, and all its fixins'. He could sit there for hours, usually making friends in just a short time. I thought about him as I walked through the stations of food. I am not a liver fan, but I'll go with the onions any day.
Consistency in taste is key to building a following and you undeniably know what you are getting every time you dig into your favorites here. The massive number of tastes fascinated my taste buds and my brain slowly slid into food coma mode.
As I waved goodbye to the multitude of food, Danny asked me what I had for dessert. I told him that I was trying to stay off sugar and sweet.
But, since the cheesecake AND carrot cake knew my name, well....
Valley Star Awards tickets are now available. Although we are holding a show, there will be no awards portion of this year’s show. Since fewer Wintertainers™ were able to visit this year, and because attendance to concerts was limited, we decided to not do an award ceremony, but we still wanted to bring some great entertainment to the stage.
This year, the show will feature Bobbi and Punch, Diego and Edith, Mark Staggs Festus Live Comedy Show, Jamie Layton, Midnight Mustang Band, and Redneck Revival.
The event will be held on Wednesday, February 17 from 1 to 4 p.m. Lunch will be available from 12 to 1 p.m. It will be held at Mission Bell Resort, 1711 E. Bus. 83, on an outdoor stage. A rain date of February 19 has been scheduled should it be necessary to delay the show.
Tickets are $15 per person and $12.50 for groups of 15 or more. Social distancing will be practiced, and seats will be grouped as guidelines allow.
Tickets can be purchased by phone at (865) 253-2514 or online at www.wintertexantimes.com. You can also pick-up tickets at the Winter Texan Times office, 1217 N. Conway, Mission; or by calling Mission Bell Resort at (956) 585-4833.
When I first walked into Cabo Grille in San Benito, comfort washed over me. The worries and struggles of a long and tiring day slowly became a distant memory as I sunk myself into my booth, suddenly already refreshed a bit and looking forward to the task at hand – eating.
The inside ambiance, the Tuscan colors and soft music deepened my comfort and the food spoke to me, telling me to stay for the duration of the evening.
Needless to say (but I will say anyway), it was an enjoyable experience. Add to it the incredible Happy Hour deals, made with Winter Texans in mind, and this former San Antonio establishment has made itself a good home in the Rio Grande Valley.
I asked my server Lexi what she would recommend, and she did not disappoint. Unlike those who say, “Oh, everything is great,” Lexi immediately recommended to me her favorites and what the most popular dishes were.
After a few questions, my mind was set – I went for the calamari as an appetizer and the Camaron (shrimp) Angeles.
The large serving of calamari accompanied by two dipping sauces that complemented the large, battered rings of calamari.
What I especially liked about this plate was that the rings were large, and, unlike onion rings, they were not firm or stiff. Calamari is a flimsy meat – rubber band like – and crammed into batter with no room to breathe takes away from its flavor, leaving the batter taste overwhelming.
Instead, I received calamari the way it should be prepared. The outside was light and flavor-packed and made for a great combination with the large pieces of meat inside. Definitely a winning combination.
Next up was the Camaron Angeles, shrimp stuffed with peppers and white cheese, wrapped in bacon, and nicely placed on top a bed of white rice. A mild splash of an Asian sauce gave the dish an incredible explosion of taste and the shrimp/bacon/cheese combination made the dish exquisite.
Upon finishing my meal, I took in the entire place in. Some Winter Texans sat at the bar and another group sat at a table, adult beverage accompanying each as they perused the menu.
They looked relaxed too – just not as relaxed as me after this wonderful and calming experience. I will definitely be back.
As I perused the jam-packed menu from Los Comales Restaurant at 151 ½ N. Texas Ave. in Mercedes, one item in particular seemed to capture my attention – Poquito de Todo, or A Little of Everything.
I usually avoid these types of plates because, while I like a whole lot of different food, there's usually something that doesn't quite meet my liking, or when it says A Little, it usually means “A Little Less.”
That certainly wasn't the case in this situation.
The plate consisted of two enchiladas, Panchos with fajita (every chip was loaded with fajita, cheese and a jalapeno slice), one chalupa, one beef quesadilla, rice and beans.
And it covered the plate – completely. What may have been most impressive was how the architects in the kitchen were able to pile so much food on a plate and not turn it into a mismatch of everything where you just dug your fork in and played guess what's in my next mouthful?
Each item had its own section on the plate, it didn't mix with any other item (well, a couple pieces of rice and a runaway strand of lettuce may have found their way into something else) but it was structured and organized and full, similar to how my mom would pack a suitcase, as opposed to me or my dad.
The overall amount of food was great, the variety greater and the comfort I felt from digging into each item may have been the best of all. I was ready to nap even before I reached for my heavily filled beef quesadilla inside a homemade flour tortilla.
I asked for some salsa other than the mild pico de gallo they brought with my chips and what they delivered was a highly flavorful red sauce, with just a touch of heat.
You could also tell that this town heavily supports the Mercedes Tigers football program and other athletics. I arrived about 10:50 a.m. (the restaurant is open from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily) and there were several customers – ranging from around five years old to somewhere in the 70s age range) wearing their Tigers orange, from lanyards to facemasks to T-shirts and more. It truly gave it a hometown feeling.
I ordered the milanesa de pollo to take home to my daughter, a junior at McHi who was “in class.” When she opened her take home box, her eyes lit up at a large piece of deliciously battered milanesa. “Quick dad, get the ketchup please!”
Usually I can go back to her room, knowing that there was going to be some leftovers for me. When I opened her door to peer in, the box lay on the floor next to her bed. When I opened it, ready to try even the smallest leftover piece I was saddened – all I saw was the bottom of the box. She ate it all.
We both had large plates of delicious food at Los Comales and we both ended up finishing not a little, but all, of everything. Next time I'm in Mercedes for a sporting event, I'll definitely stop here.
It did not take me long to realize I was sitting in a unique restaurant the other day as I cruised into Frankie Flav’z Craft Burger House in Harlingen. I walked in, was greeted, and sat down and began looking over the menu. There I found burger choices named “El Guapo,” “Trump’s Burger Wall,” “The Cut Throat Burger,” “The DoNutt” and more. My fondness of this establishment was growing as fast as my appetite.
Frankie Flav’z has burgers that utilize items such as bananas, caramelized granny apples, peanut butter, corn and for the Triple B Burger, bacon, blueberry and brie, among other tantalizing ingredients and magnificent mixtures. Of course, there are plenty of the more common toppings from a variety of cheese to grilled onions, jalapenos, mushrooms, and a list that seemingly never ended.
Most of the burger options can be made into hot dogs as well and the menu has a smattering of chicken sandwiches, salads, and street tacos.
My server Trinity recommended the “Trash Can Burger,” so I went with that. After all, at the time of my visit, the deadline for this story was vastly approaching and the longer I perused the menu, the more I could not decide. The stranger the burger, the more it piqued my interest. Trinity said that burger was her favorite and it did not take long for me to figure out why.
First of all, it’s a large burger, stacked high with the crowning achievement being two deliciously deep-fried onion rings with a dash of sweet barbeque sauce. This did cause me somewhat of a dilemma – do I leave the rings atop the burger or eat them individually. I compromised, leaving one at the top of the burger tower and enjoying the other one.
Topped with a healthy portion of chopped brisket along with bacon, tomatoes, American cheese, a spring mix, and grilled onions (something I add to every burger I eat), the flavors were a fabulous array of fun. This was a meat lover’s dream – bacon, burger, and brisket, how can it go wrong. All that was missing was a nice nap.
A trip to Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers is more than a trip to another burger joint. For me, this was like a trip back home.
The burger patties are thin but bigger than the bun, filled with flavor and some savory crispiness around the edges. The seasonings Freddy’s uses do not get buried inside an inch-thick patty that gives off nothing but meat flavor. This, in itself, was unique and the way my mom would make burgers back home in New York.
I took my burger with cheese, pickles, tomato and onions and the taste of home filled me even more. The pickles were oval sliced, the onion and tomato were fresh.
I ordered my fries with chili and cheese, filled a couple tiny cups with their fries’ sauce, and soon had a large order sitting in front of me, with enough chili to have as a side order.
Again, the flavor of both the creamy and jalapeno (not hot by any means, but tasty) was a delicious addition to an already tasty order of fries. Freddy’s also has a dry seasoning mixture that can be sprinkled over the fries, so there are many options for a person to enjoy.
Of course, you cannot go to Freddy’s without having some of their frozen custard. I almost think it was made just for the Rio Grande Valley. Unlike most ice creams that quickly lose the “ice” part when you take it outside in the South Texas blistering heat, the same cannot be said for the custard.
With all the benefits of ice cream, but with a thicker and smoother flavor, Freddy’s has several options for the customer – from their signature sundaes (my daughter had the signature Turtle Sundae and dug into it like I had never fed her before – she is now a big fan) to their concretes and shakes.
So, the trip to “another burger joint” was anything but that. It was differently delicious, delivered quickly and doled out in good portions.
Most importantly, you could enjoy the custard without it quickly turning into milk.
It did not take long for me to reach my comfort zone soon after I stepped into El Mirador restaurant located at 105 W. Tyler in Harlingen.
The service both started and ended with a smile and the food just made the smile grow larger, along with my satisfied stomach.
I started with some chips and salsa, but the difference here was that there were five salsas to choose from, all ranges of heat, but none so hot that you could not distinguish the flavors.
After mixing and matching salsas with chips and some queso flameado, melted cheese with crumbled chorizo on top, my wonderful server Marcela brought out my main dish, one she recommended – the molcajete dish with fajita and shrimp. Molcajete is usually a stone bowl used with a tejolote to grind up a variety of food products. My order was delivered to me in the traditional stone bowl, angrily sizzling up a storm and smelling amazingly delicious – and fiery hot, if something can actually smell that way.
When I talk about hot in this case, I mean in terms of temperature. The bowl, which also had a nice amount of grilled onions at the bottom, also had three pieces of cheese that started inside the bowl and stretched out to the top edges. Sitting on top was a beautiful green half avocado.
Marcela brought me some flour and corn tortillas and I never got to the flour, the homemade corn ones just hypnotizing me as I scooped out the mixture inside the molcajete and, for the first taco at least, decided to not add any of the wonderful salsas.
The first bite sent me back to my married days to a woman from Monterrey, Mexico. We would go visit my in-laws and much of the time was celebrating, playing golf, and tantalizing my taste buds with so many different flavors. This was me back during those wonderful days in Monterrey.
After I was full – like full full – Marcela bagged up the remaining food, added some chips and salsas and sent me on my way. I stopped to pay and tell the owner, Jose Elias Alvarez Mata, how much I enjoyed this visit and I thought for sure I would be able to finish all my food.
He looked, chuckled, and said matter of factly “Yeah, you couldn't.”
It was not a question, but a statement that said, “you're not the only one.” We then talked about the amazing variety of flavors and, while the molcajete was bubbling like the top of a volcano, it's spicy heat was more than manageable, leaving your taste buds working to be tantalized with the mega-flavors.
He responded that they try to make everything as authentic as possible while not making their food too spicy for customers. However, he said, “If they want something spicy or hotter, we'll certainly accommodate them.”
Living in McAllen, rarely would I go to Harlingen just for a meal. El Mirador changed my perspective, however, and I will definitely return to try different items from a menu loaded with a wide spectrum of choices, from breakfast to lunch and dinner.
In fact, I see myself going back there before the end of the year. It was that good.
The phenomenon of Chef Arevalo
I have noticed this strange phenomenon.
Whenever Victoria Palms’ Chef Marcus Arevalo cooks up something for you to eat, it is going to be absolutely terrific.
Such was the case once again as I visited the restaurant with no idea of what I wanted. The chef came out to say hello and I asked him for his opinion to help cure my clueless dilemma. His first recommendation was the blackened tilapia, followed by the fried whitefish.
Being hungry, as always, I chose both.
My server, Elizabeth Andrade chimed in after she asked what I ordered and said she especially loved the blackened tilapia, an encouraging preview of what was to come.
The tilapia arrived and before even a bite was taken, it looked and smelled absolutely mouth-watering. The fish, with the mixed spices, came out blackened as advertised and the spices on top glistened, giving amazing contrast to the snow-like whiteness of the fish.
I have been playing a little in recent weeks with blackening food and found how easy it is – for me at least – to end up with a product that is over blackened, the power of the pepper dominating the flavor. This was not the case with this tilapia as Chef Marcus created an amazing piece of fish, the blackened flavor deliciously combining with a fish that was cooked perfectly, flaky yet firm and not rubbery. A stunning combination of flavors. Elizabeth was spot on when she promoted this dish.
The fried whitefish was another dish that tickled the taste buds. The first bite brought about two distinct flavors and an interesting mixture of the crunchy outer layer of breadcrumbs and other seasonings, and the delicate inner fish. There were also two distinct flavors – from the batter and the fish -- and, my favorite part, is that it was probably 85% fish and 15% batter, unlike so many places that seem to flip-flop those percentages, making you search for a glimpse of the fish.
Now, I am a sauce guy. I enjoy salsas and tartar sauce, ketchup, and soy. The list goes on. I was really into the hot pepper challenges and fell in love when chipotle became a trend. So, I asked for some tartar to go with the fried fish plate, thinking I would need something to offset the dryness of the batter.
I think I used a third what I was given, a shock to me. The fish did not need it, so I just used it in little dabs to accentuate the dish. Then it dawned on me – a revelation – when the fried fish is not all batter and is mainly fish, there is no super dryness to contend with.
It was yet another five-star victory for Chef Marcus. I cannot wait to go back to Victoria Palms Restaurant, hungry and without a clue… as usual. I know I will be in good hands.