Author Archives: tacodrew

Hass

wood fired grill columbus

Cuisine: Mexican
7370 Sawmill Road, 43235
(614) 760-0155
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Simply put, Hass is good, solid, real-deal Mexican in a part of town that is largely lacking. Nestled between Anna’s and Sunflower in a strip center on Sawmill Rd. just north of 270, it operates as a (surprisingly refined) dining room that is semi-attached to a Mexican market (La Favorita). If there’s one thing we’ve learned in researching alt.eats restaurants, the restaurant-market connection gives us reason for heightened expectations.

mexican restaurants dublin ohio

Expectations met by Hass’s wood fired grill. The flavor of the carne asada (steak) coming off of it is definitely a cut above, especially in the ‘papas calientes’ – a grilled/baked potato that has been sliced open and flattened, and covered with the aforementioned asada, plus bacon, mushrooms, onions, cheese and salsa. It’s like alambres atop a buttery baked potato, and this is a good thing.

Mexican wood grilled potatoes

The selection of tacos is reasonable, with a fair range of options. Fans of spit-roasted al pastor should find contentment here – it’s a solid and enjoyable rendition that doesn’t (yet?) quite meet the lofty benchmark established by Los Guachos. Fish and shrimp tacos are good, as is the vegetarian taco (taco verde), filled with cactus, potatoes and melted cheese, known as the taco verde.

Burritos and tortas are also available, as are a variety of daily specials. Tostadas are freshly made.

Hass wood grilled tacos

Hass is very new, and in speaking with the owner he admitted that there are some kinks to work out with service and the like. In our experience this was true, though it was nothing major, and we wouldn’t let it deter you from checking it out if your in the area.

Charritos Mexican Grill

New Mexican restaurant in Upper Arlington

Cuisine: Mexican
4740 Reed Road #103
Columbus, 43220
614.929.5866

The opening of a new Mexican restaurant typically merits the same attention as the opening of a new Subway, and with good reason – if you’ve had it anywhere else, you’ve almost certainly had what the new place has to offer. The code of the American ‘Mexican’ food palate has long ago been broken, and the resulting template is impressively well established locally.

Charritos, however, bucks the trend. Sure, you can find sizzling fajitas, but you can also get real, street-style tripa and lengua tacos, or even a tlayuda. Even Mexico City-style spit roasted al pastor is on offer.

Mexican restaurants in Columbus

In other words, it’s true Mexican food with the occasional nod to more dominant local sensibilities. And, it’s quite good, which is unsurprising – as we understand it, the owner and his family run several restaurants under the same name in his native Oaxaca.

We first caught wind of this place when a friend suggested that the al pastor was better than at Los Guachos. Yeah, that’ll get our attention. We tried it in a chicana, which is a politically correct naming alternative to Guachos’ gringa, and we had to agree that it was damned solid rendition. The al pastor was impressively tender, nicely flavored, but lacked the flame kissed crusty bits that put Guachos over the top… at least on our visit. Beyond that, it was pure classic gringa/chicana satisfaction through and through.

Chicana at Charritos Mexican Grill

The tlayuda was a pleasant surprise, first because they had it at all (it was a special) and second because it was so different than what we’ve found elsewhere in town. The shell was distinctly unique – thicker, crisper, and overall better. The local preference for chorizo was not recognized, and a seriously tender asada took its place. Black beans coated the shell as usual, but a smattering of white beans finished it off on top. It’s a solid alternative to the more common (as in, two places carry it…) version.

Charritos clayuda

Ditto for the tripa, and the lengua, and on and on. The flautas were particularly enjoyable, stuffed with what appeared to be tinga-style chicken. The caldo de mariscos has never been my favorite dish, but it was at least as good here as anywhere.

flautas at Charritos Mexican Grill

In other words, Upper Arlington just got a taco truck cleverly disguised as a strip mall restaurant. Use it as such, and enjoy taco truck quality food in the comfort of a warm dining room this winter.

Lotte

Korean Market columbus ohio

Cuisine: Korean
4944 N High St, Columbus, 43214
614.885.3232
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Tuesday -Saturday 11-8pm (last order 7.30pm)

I have a sneaking suspicion that Korean restaurants are trying to hide from us.
The whole idea behind strip malls is that every storefront faces the parking lot, but Silla somehow manages to be tucked away behind a bar, accessible only by going down a forbidding path between the walls of two buildings. Arirang, another strip mall location, is a grocery with a restaurant in the back. You could shop the entire retail space without even knowing that the (essentially walled off) dining area existed. A solid restaurant with a primarily Korean menu on north campus hides in plain sight behind the name ‘Japanese Oriental Restaurant’. And, finally, does anyone remember the Korean restaurant on Lane & High in the ’90’s? It was stuck so far back in a building that the only way to get there was by going down a dank, dimly neon lit, vaguely Blade Runner-esque corridor.
lotte korean food columbus
Now there’s Lotte, an established Korean grocery with a new secret. Towards the back of their sizable retail area there’s an entry to a storage room. Enter, and you’ll see sacks of rice piled high among various other palleted goods. And a door. Enter that, and you’ll find their shiny new restaurant. And, if you’ve actually made it this far, chances are you’ve made your first mistake; you order at the grocery checkout, and take the receipt – which is your order ticket – to the employee working the counter in the restaurant.
lotte oriental food restaurant
The dining area is bright, clean, cramped, and no-frills. Like Arirang, water is self-serve from a dispenser and utensils are stored on boxes at the tables. Also like Arirang, the menu is small and largely focuses on better known Korean favorites, such as bulgogi, bibimbop, and kimbop. Service was brisk, and our orders arrived quickly.
korean grocery store columbus
All were solid, if not exceptional… at least until you factor in the pricing. Our group of 7 ordered the entire menu, ate almost to the point of bursting, took home leftovers, and paid just over $50 for the whole spread.
this is what happens when you order the whole menu
I’m tempted to think of it Korean fast food – it’s not the best, but it’s fast, cheap, and will take the edgy off of any Korean cravings.
lotte oriental new restaurant
Lotte probably has the widest selection of the three dedicated Korean markets in Columbus, including a large selection of prepared foods and banchan dishes. The staff are also helpful.
korean ingredients columbus
One last note – #5 on the menu is not translated into English, and it’s what we believe to be a regional Korean spin on kalbi tang stew (Woogeoji galbitang – beef rib and cabbage soup with soybean paste). This is the only place we’ve seen it in Columbus, and it’s a deeply vegetal beef broth soup with generous chunks of beef. Definitely worth a try if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary.

korean beef rib and cabbage soup

Kolache Republic

kolache republic Columbus

Cuisine: Czech/Slovak by way of Mid-America.

730 S. High St @ Frankfort
Mon-Fri 7am-2pm, Sat 8am-3pm. Closed on Sundays.
614.928.3151
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So, kolaches. Texans assert that they’re a Texas thing. Minnesotans may claim that they’re spelled ‘kolacky’, and have dubbed Montgomery, Minnesota the ‘kolacky capital of the world’. Iowans… well, they make claims, too… yeah, thanks for the input, Iowa.

Czechs and Slovaks undoubtedly find this Yankee bluster cute, and as best as anyone can tell, are the actual originators of the pastry.

About the only thing anyone could reasonably agree upon is that Columbus has no claim to involvement with this promiscuous pastry, or at least, that is, up to now.

kolache republic

Kolaches are apparently the kind of thing people get homesick for, so with Columbus’s significant transplant population, it was only a matter of time before someone arrived with the fix. Enter Kolache Republic, a tidy new little cafe on South High in the Brewery District.

kolaches in columbus

For the uninitiated, kolaches come in two basic forms (and people with too much time on their hands even bicker about this, but never mind) – square sweets, and elongated savories. Both begin with a light, pillowy, white flour pastry. The sweets are topped, somewhat like a danish, with any of a variety of fillings, with the blueberry and lemon curd being among our favorites. The savories are filled with a delicious kielbasa or ‘hot hot hot polish’, come in 3 flavors, and take a form not unlike a pig in a blanket.

columbus kolache republic

We’ve enjoyed both varieties, both here and at the food cart of the same name that came before. They’re absolutely destination worthy, especially when paired with some of their Cafe Brioso based coffee drinks.

But Kolache Republic has something we like even more. Something that’s served as a special, that we wish were always available. Something that’s not a kolache. That item is the runza.

runza at Kolache Republic

Nebraska claims this dish, though the Germans deserve the credit. Yep, another one of those things. It’s a larger bun, something along the lines of 6″ in diameter, perhaps made with the same dough as the kolaches, filled with seasoned sauerkraut and ground beef. That may not scan like something that’d generate excitement, but I’d encourage you to give it a go. My wife thought it sounded unpleasant, but upon seeing mine begged for a bite and thereafter pronounced it delicious.

Solid sides and a sandwich are also available, making Kolache Republic an ideal lunch stop. Do check ‘em out!

Khyber

khyber restaurant columbus

Cuisine: Pakistani

425 Industrial Mile Road,
Columbus, Ohio 43228
614.275.2022
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This is the kind of story we like to write.

A cook from a restaurant we adore – Adil from Tandoori Grill – strikes out on his own to open a new restaurant, Khyber, in a new part of town. The owner of Tandoori Grill, Said, wishes him well; we’ve spoken to both and there are clearly no hard feelings. The food at Tandoori Grill remains great, the food at Khyber makes for an impressive debut, and just like that the city has doubled in quality Pakistani dining options. As far as we’re concerned, everybody wins.

Khyber occupies the west side space that previously held Azteca de Oro. As with Azteca, environs are humble but comfortable. As with Tandoori Grill, a small Pakistani grocery with a meat counter adjoins.

Pakistani food columbus

Khyber’s speciality is tandoori dishes – grilled meats and nan bread cooked in the tandoor oven. The nan bread is cooked to order and, like at Apna Bazaar/Tandoori Grill, it is thinner, less doughy, and in our estimation far preferable to most other options in town.

pakistani restaurant columbus

Of the tandoori meat dishes we’ve tried, we particularly like the seekh (ground meat) kebabs – available in lamb, beef or chicken. They are nice and juicy, feature a good amount of spicing and heat, and are great paired with nan and a little of Khyber’s yogurt based chutney.

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Also tasty  are the chapli kebabs – burger-like ground beef patties with onions, tomatoes, chiles and spices.

pakistani food columbus

The menu offers some interesting meat stews and satisfying vegetarian options. Stews include nehari - a rich beef curry stew with extremely tender slow cooked beef; goat quorma – a mild curry with lots of gravy and a meat based curry with wheat called haleem, barley, and lentils. Not listed on the menu but also available (and one of our favorites) is aloo keema, a ground meat and potato curry.

potato and ground meat curry

A little drier (in terms of the saucing) but still entirely enjoyable are the karahi dishes – curried meat, either goat or chicken, with tomato, green chili and onion.

IMG_6023

For vegetarians, or as a great side dish for the tandoor grilled meats, there are lahori chana (whole chickpeas in sauce), mash dal (white lentil dal) or bhendi (curried okra). We particularly liked the okra and the mash dal. Adil said that there would be at least one dal available daily.

IMG_6017

The menu is expanding and there are often specials. In addition to the listed items we’ve also tried samosas, goat biryani, cow’s foot curry and house made desserts including kheer (fragrant rice pudding) and semiya halwa (sweet, spiced vermicelli noodles).

One interesting, and somewhat incongruous, item is the New York style gyro. Served as more of a deconstructed dish, it’s comprised of rice topped with lettuce, gyro meat, pita slices, and a generous saucing. Unconventional though it may be, we’d take it over the vast majority of the gyros we’ve tried locally.

new york style gyro

With the most expensive dish priced at $8, and many served for far less, Khyber is very good value for the quality of food and a great addition to the West Side.

Siem Reap

Cusine: Cambodian/Thai

375 Georgesville Rd, Columbus OH 43228
624.279.2903
siemreaprestaurant.biz
Open Mon, Wed, Thurs, 11am-midnight, Fri-Sat, 11am-2am, Sunday 11am-10pm. Closed on Tuesdays.

Click here to map it!

We write up, on average, only one out of every four restaurants we try. Simply put, our goal is to tell you about the good in what’s out there. If we’re unable to find something we’d feel compelled to share with a friend, we’re not likely to share it here.

Even with that batting average established, we’ve had a particularly rough streak this summer (as you may have guessed by the frequency of our posts).  And, many of these unwritten experiences came from new restaurants serving some variation or another of Southeast Asian cuisine. We’ve had “pad thai” served as spaghetti noodles pan fried in what tasted of nothing more than soy sauce, eye poppingly gorgeous Vietnamese presentations almost completely devoid of any recognizable Asian (or other) flavors, and been presented with menus with dishes numbering in the hundreds… each more insipid than the last.

I suspect much of this comes from a desire to please the American palate – to reinvent Thai or Vietnamese as the Chinese have successfully done with their cuisine – and is attempted under the assumption that this is easily achievable.

It just isn’t working.

What is working is Siem Reap – an unassuming new Cambodian/Thai restaurant found in the shadows of the new casino, and named after a town in Cambodia situated next to a far more impressive edifice.  After a season of kissing frogs, this restaurant is sweet sweet redemption.

Our first clue to the goodness to come was the menu – not so much the items themselves, but more that the relatively modest number of items listed indicated that they weren’t trying to be everything to everyone.

Our next clue was the lagniappe – a small salad of pickled carrots, daikon, and green papaya garnished with roasted peanuts. A simple dish, and a perfect flavor combo to set the tone for the evening.

Sitting proudly atop the appetizers list were the stuffed chicken wings – a new concept to me, and one that I’m more than glad to be acquainted with. Four plump wings arrived, deboned and stuffed with what amounted to a spicy, lemongrass inflected chicken sausage threaded with glass noodles.  Juicy, complexly flavored, and sizable, each of the six at our table deemed these absolutely brilliant.  We ordered seconds. You want these, preferably now.

The beef skewers were far from the typical, anemic satay chew toys. These were actually very good, with the subtle marinade allowing the exceptional flavor of the conspicuously high quality beef to shine through. Add on the skillfully controlled char, and we were left wondering if we’d been temporarily transported to Fresh Street.

The larb – a cold minced chicken salad marinated in a lime sauce – was pleasant enough on its own merits, but didn’t have the bright citrusy punch of the (to me) preferable Thai preparation.

Our selection of mains was strongly influenced by the cold weather, which led us to rice soup and the curry ‘fondue’ hot pot. The rice soup was a pleasant, vaguely congee-like concoction served in a rich and somewhat sweet broth with pho-like sides of herbs, lime wedges, and bean sprouts. Chinese-style savory crullers were also provided, and cubes of pigs blood were an option.

Nothing could’ve prepared us for the hot pot – essentially a simmering curry broth in which you cook food from the astounding piles presented with it. We’ll let the photos do the talking here:

The vegetable plate

The proteins plate

The whole shebang: veggies, proteins, and the simmering curry broth

If the photos don’t convey it adequately, let me be clear: this almost certainly would’ve been enough to feed all six of us; we actually had leftovers enough to feed two.

It also impressed us, once again, with the freshness and quality of the raw ingredients. The broth, an exceptionally mild curry liberally dosed with fish sauce,  seemed the perfect seasoning for everything… save, perhaps oddly, for the beef.

Vegetables were scooped in, squid and shrimp bathed, and beef quickly swished around. We were instructed that the pork rinds – an intriguing inclusion – were to be soaked until soft. That took some time, but was well worth it as the flavor was exceptional.

As was most everything else. It was good, and fun, and an absolute steal at $25.95.

We finished with two fine, if unexciting desserts (to be fair we might’ve thought better of them were we not so stuffed…) – sesame balls with yellow bean paste a coconut/rice jello dish.

So, to wrap up: 6 people ate staggering quantities of thoroughly enjoyed food, and paid $75 in total for all of it. Service was pleasant, knowledgable, and prompt. The space was clean and pleasant.

In it’s west side environs, Siem Reap is nothing less than an oasis in a culinary desert (mobile food excepted, of course). Do check them out.

Haitian & American Restaurant

Haitian food

Cuisine: Haitian

1784 E. Dublin Granville Rd (161)

Click here to map it!

I have to admit that, prior to becoming aware of this restaurant, I’d given next to no thought to the idea of Haitian cuisine. And, upon learning of it, I presupposed we’d be in for something along the lines of Dominican and Puerto Rican – mild, plantain driven, and rice-rich.

And, assuming this restaurant is a good measuring stick, (and I’m inclined to believe it is…) well… kinda. Spicing is moderate, with the occasional kick of scotch bonnet peppers. Plantains are used, though their preparation was distinct. Rice, sure, but with a surprising twist. In spite of the similarities, our simple two plate meal made it clear that there was much that was unique to, and worthwhile about, Haitian preparations.

tostones

For example, the plantains with pikliz. The plantains were similar to Puerto Rican tostones in preparation (fry, smash flat, fry again), but semi-sweet plantains were used, giving it a flavor we found to be clearly preferable to any tostones we’ve had. The pikilz amounts to a cabbage slaw spiked with chiles – it was tart, bright, and spicy, and reminded us of an amped up Salvadoran curtido.

du riz djon djon haitian american restaurant

Next came the black rice with goat sauce. The rice is blackened by cooking it with a Haitian mushroom called djon djon, and was mixed with what I assume to be pigeon peas. It was served with a side of a reddish sauce containing chunks of skin-on goat meat (chicken is another option). Enjoyable, especially for those who appreciate a strong does of the flavor of mushroom (that’d include me).

legim

We also tried the ‘white rice with vegetables’, which is actually legim – a thick stew comprised of eggplant, chayote, cabbage, carrots and beef, flavored with epis (essentially a sofrito). It’s perhaps not much to look at, but make no mistake, it’s mild, hearty, and delicious in a very comfort foody way.

Haitian & American Restaurant’s decor is at least a half-step above what’s expected from its strip mall environs, and was very clean. Service was extremely friendly, and eager to answer the many questions we had about this new-to-us cuisine. The menu also includes American-style favorites (mac & cheese, hamburgers, and the like) as well as a $5 menu smaller portions (the dishes above were around $10 each and came with the plantain & pikliz).

We look forward to exploring its menu further, and would encourage you to do the same.