Sidney’s Coffee & Eats montage

The Vitals: the spot: Sidney's Coffee & Eats 705 Commonwealth Ave, Strathmere NJ 08248 the eats: Avocado toast w/ egg and bacon the bucks: $11.50  the full nelson: Trendy coffee shop fare comes to the South Jersey shore and I'm all for it

My visit to Sydney's Coffee & Eats turned out to be well timed. These days I count my calories a bit, enjoying a midlife health revival. Over the course of this year, I've lost nearly 30 pounds and my cholesterol levels have hit all time highs and lows in all the right places. I won't sit here and prescribe some miracle diet though, just share how some meals I enjoy strive for balance.

Sidney’s Coffee & Eats menu

Not your Dad's Jersey Shore breakfast & lunch joint

Apologies for posting the lunch menu instead of the breakfast menu but a quick scan will prove that Sydney's Coffee & Eats is indeed offering Jersey Shore diners a more contemporary balanced fare. Amongst the hot dog and soft serve ice cream spots, sandwiches like the Fairmount are welcomed find. Multigrain bread, sprouts and avocado that also get a double protein hit with turkey and bacon are the meals that are gonna fuel me up for full days at the beach. The added addition of the bacon makes me feel more confident in a fullness that allows me to skip the chips. Sidney’s Coffee & Eats Avocado toast 1

An California staple on the Jersey Shore

I lived in LA when Avocado toasts became the talk of the town. I was a bit skeptical on the idea of paying $15 for guacamole on bread until I started to make them at home. Add an egg and some salsa and you have a fantastic hearty breakfast and that can become well balanced with the inclusion of a slice of hearty whole grain bread. At Sydney's Coffee & Eats, you can get that plus some bacon for under $12 bucks, well under that $15 mark. Take that Hollywood. Sidney’s Coffee & Eats Avocado toast 2

A well balanced bacon and egg breakfast

I make these a lot at home and I can tell you that one egg and two strips of bacon is all you need. Sure there are times when you gotta hit it hard at the diner but that's when overkill and breakfast induced naps occur. There are even greens on here too and they season the toast with Everything Bagel Seasoning. That's a tip I plan to bring to the Khan kitchen soon. I have a few spots down in the Jersey Shore that have become traditions like Giovanni's Delicatessen and Berardi Brothers for pizza. Sydney's Coffee & Eats is a welcomed addition to that lineup and the best part is that it comes without the guilt of a cheat day. As I write this it's still August so if you're down in South Jersey and are looking for hip coffee fare food, I'd hit Sydney's Coffee & Eats for breakfast or lunch.
Sanguich montage

The Vitals: the spot: Sanguich de Miami 12057 SW 8th St. Miami FL 33135 the eats: Cubano, Pan con Bistec the bucks: $10-$14 (give or take .50 cents) the full nelson: if there is a better Cuban sandwich, I'd still go here too

If there was one flaw to my Cubano sandwich experience at Sanguich de Miami, it's that I didn't eat it right there on the spot. Then again the highlight of my Cubano experience at Sanguich de Miami was eating their Cubano sandwich at 30.000 feet. I love a carefully planned meal on a plane. I don't mind being "that guy" who opens up a bag or box of deliciousness down in coach or first class for that matter. Some people have rolled their eyes but all I can say to that is "you chose to pay for Chili's To Go, I chose to have my Lyft driver stop at one of the best Cuban sandwich joints in Miami" on my way to the airport. Sorry not sorry, people. Cubano Sanguich 2

"Everything is made in house. Down to the mustard"

Over DM's on Instagram I gathered some impressive details about Sanguich de Miami. I was curious about the spot on sliced ham that joins forces with the signature slow roasted pork, commonly referred to as lechon because of the whole Spanish thing, to which I received the response: "Everything is made in house. Down to the mustard". That's impressive folks . . . they make the damn mustard. I will stop myself and add that the bread is made elsewhere but to spec and that the lard rendered from the pork and ham is used to toast the bread. What does all of this mean? Well, along with the spot on layers of cheese and pickle, the sandwich is perfectly balanced yet hearty as hell and hits like a perfect homemade holiday meal slapped between two slices of bread baked with love. A damn fine, perhaps perfect sandwich. And I had it cold on the plane. Well, let's call it room temp. Bistec con Pan Sanguich

Tomorrow's sandwich: a worthy sequel

Of course I had to get two sandwiches and I chose the Pan Bistec. Sous vide steak gets hit with mojo rojo, shoestring potatoes and swiss cheese. Mojo is a popular sauce and marinade in Cuban cooking, often using garlic and citrus to flavor pork dishes. I've never had mojo rojo but don't think this is as spicy as it looks. It's more like an earthy chile profile like guajillo used in Menudo or birría. It gives the beef a subtle depth of flavor. So I did eat this a full day after ordering it which meant a night in the fridge(gasp) and a trip to the microwave(double gasp). It was still good AF. I mean, its beef and potatoes in bread from a joint that goes to the trouble of making their own mustard. As I dug through my bag I realized I left out the garlic aioli which is a condiment you can get on the side. The sandwich didn't need it but also I wasn't wowed by it either. I'll also add that this sandwich is good but the Cubano takes top honors.

Until we meet again

I'll just have imagine what it's like to have a cafecito post Cubano at Sanguich de Miami. I'll definitely need to eat these sandwiches on premises to get the full Sanguich de Miami experience. But you know what? It's a sandwich, the perfect portable food and possibly the best takeout you can do on a plane for your own sake for the sake of your fellow passengers. So try Sanguich de Miami at 30.000 feet. Be that guy. It works for me. And my guess is a Cubano from Sanguich de Miami at 30,000 feet will work for you too.
Midnight Shift montage

The Vitals: the spot: Midnight Shift 1610 Broadway St, Lubbock, TX 79401 the eats: NY Strip Steak, Burgers, Charcuterie the bucks: $$$ the full nelson: pricey comfort food for the upscale tourist or the trendy Lubbock local

I really like Lubbock TX. I guess you could say I was just surprised that this blip on a map had some respectable dining options. When we drove through Lubbock on the way to ski the slopes of New Mexico, I experienced a meal at the West Table that I would easily return to again and again, price of gas be damned. It wasn't a life changing meal per se, just a remarkable find for a small city like Lubbock. The restaurant knows they are setting the bar high and take pride in doing it in a market where they don't have to. Midnight Shift doesn't hit those notes but it is a bit cheaper(by a hair) and pretty friendly by design. It's more a bar lounge with a decent menu. The safe bet would be to stick to burgers but I was feeling more like a bourbon and a steak that night. Midnight Shift old fashioned

Old Fashioned anyone?

I love these cocktails. Some bourbon plus simple syrup, some bitters and an orange peel make for a cocktail with a punch. Especially in the hands of an experienced bartender. Like the service at Midnight Shift, the bartender lacked experience but the drink went down well enough. I guess I just really like whiskey. NY Strip at Midnight Shift 1

You get what you pay for

Even though my gut said keep it basic, I reached for the stars and got a NY Strip steak. This cut was my first steak crush growing up. I love ribeyes and skirt plus other lesser known cuts like flap meat but you don't find those out often. I tend to criticize getting a steak when it comes to bang for your buck because it's pricey and I can flip a steak with the best of them. But you know what? This steak did the trick. And the well roasted brussel sprouts topped with a heavy hand of parmesan and the sweet potato terrine were decent sides. If I made them at home I would pat myself on the back. At the end of the day, splurging for the steak probably left me more impressed with Midnight Shift. I just didn't think they would be doing anything game changing. So why not let a good cut of beef and some whiskey bring a smile to my face? Midnight Shift might be named so because when it's late you take what you can get. That's the case here. It's not horrible but better options don't exactly pop up that frequently when you're covering this many checkboxes in Lubbock TX. It's a hotel restaurant and while some hotel restaurants snag celebrity chefs, they are by design mean to be crowd pleasing and convenient to a weary traveler. And for one craving a steak and a whiskey on his way back to Austin, Midnight shift was certainly both pleasing and convenient.  
El Naranjo Montage

The Vitals: the spot: El Naranjo 2712 S. Lamar Blvd Austin TX 78704 the eats: Duck Mole, Cochinita Pibil, Octopus & Potato, cocktails and Mexican Wine the bucks: $$$ the full nelson:  Regional Mexican cooking that tows the line between rustic and sophisticated well with a cost to match

Back in April I visited El Naranjo in Austin TX. The Oaxacan restaurant had been on my list for sometime. First off, I'm always ready to try regionally specific cooking of any country. Oaxaca isn't just any region though. Famed as the land of a thousand molés, there's more to the Southern Mexican state than the dark brown sauce that coats braised chicken and seared duck. First off there is more than one kind of mole and the dark brown stuff with hints of chocolate and cinnamon are the tip of the iceberg. In fact so is mole when it comes to Oaxacan cuisine. Before this becomes a deep dive into a state in Mexico that counts dozens of languages predating the Spanish conquest, a remarkable amount of microclimates and biodiversity and perhaps the country's most famous chef as a native son, let's just go into a picture driven play by play of what I ate at a restaurants whose chef eventually would win a James Beard award for Best Chef Texas this year. Yeah that was a mouthful, but so was this: Tuna Ceviche at El Naranjo 2

Tuna Ceviche to start

I'm always up for a taste of raw tuna to start a meal and I adore ceviche. I can't say this was the best dish I had that night nor was it among the better ceviches I have had in town. You could skip it but don't skip this. El Naranjo cocktail 2

SANGRE OAXAQUEÑA: a fine cocktail

Excuse the all caps but this drink deserves that say it loud effect. Mezcal, a liquer made from Ancho and Poblano peppers, hibiscus tea, and lime juice make for a drink you could drink all night. But I had other plans. Mexican wine at El Naranjo

Skip the beer and margs . . .

You can get beer and margaritas at any Mexican restaurant with a liquor license. Take advantage of El Naranjo's Mexican wines like this Syrah blend from Baja California. Back when I lived in Los Angeles we would take excursions down to Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico's wine country which is also home to an incredible Mexican meets Mediterranean cuisine. I also got married at a winery down there so I can't not try a bottle. Think of this red as something closer to a Southern French red from the Rhone Valley. This is the kind of red wine that won't be the heaviest on its own but will pair very well with intense meats dishes like braised lamb and steaks cooked over charcoal. Or a seared duck breast in a molé . . . but I am getting ahead of myself. El Naranjo's Octopus and potatoes 2

My second fav dish of the night

Octopus is cooked in a sous vide and then sliced and tossed with diced roasted potatoes in a chili oil. My eyes rolled back in my head as I ate this. Octopus is butter when it's cooked till tender and that is a painstaking process. A sous vide is what you pay the big bucks for at a place like El Naranjo and it works. The chili oil reminded me of the separated layer of oil in a Bengali curry my aunties would make. This dish is a must order. El Naranjo's Tlayuda Oaxaquena

Tlayuda Oaxaquena

I'm not biased for blue corn but at times it is a sign of Nixtamalization which is corn made the right way. That means making tortillas the old fashioned way which is fast becoming extinct thanks to modern conveniences. Beyond altering corn production into a dark dystopian future, shelf stable tortillas taste like eating cardboard compared to the real deal, and drowning it with salsa is often how one makes it palatable. Not the worst fate but there's a better way to eat masa. What happens when you use heirloom corn and it's nixtamalized? The toast off the blue corn gives off a wonderful nutty aroma. The fiery salsa roja cuts through the beans and queso nicely. The only downside to this dish is that it is filling and does bring up an interesting point: menu labeling. Some plates are bigger than others and you can easily fill up if you happen to be a party of two. This Tlayuda could put a dent into you soaring through the menu. Luckily I had a dish to reinvigorate my appetite. El Naranjo's Cochinita Pibil El Naranjo's Cochinita Pibil taco

Cochinita Pibil

This rendition of the Yucatan classic wasn't like the stuff I've had down south but somehow I could not put it down. In Quintana Roo, which neighbors the Yucatan, I visited a woman who made Cochinita Pibil on Sundays. Her verison, served to me in a plastic bag which I took home and promptly devoured on bolillo rolls, was cooked underground and remains the gold standard. So why was I constantly nibbling on this despite an approach to total fullness? Great meals find a way I guess. This dish is a crowd pleaser and I would encourage you to order it, especially when dining as a group. El Naranjo's Duck Mole

The Best Molé I have ever had

And of course it was with Molé Negro, what some consider the Holy Grail of Mexican cooking. While there are many moles of many different shades, Molé Negro is a blockbuster hit and for good reason. At El Naranjo, 30 different ingredients including almonds, pecans, peanuts and Oaxacan Chocolate combine forces for a most complex tasting experience. Chef Iliana de la Vega also sources a rare chile called Chilhuacle that grows in Oaxaca for this molé as well. Don't think of it as just spicy, this pepper also adds notes of cocoa, tobacco and dried fruit. Sounds like a wine description right? That should foreshadow how deeply complex this sauce tastes. Now I have had molé several times over the years but no dish hit quite like the one I had at El Naranjo. What made this so special? The right protein that deserved to be hoisted up with such a magnificent sauce. I became a fan of duck breast cooked medium to medium rare(yes you can do that) in my youth going to French restaurants. I'm a steak lover and duck seared like this is right up the steak lover's alley. Like an Au Poivre(French Peppercorn sauce), the right sauce makes a protein elegant beyond approach. I previously held this distinction for French dishes like steak au poivre. I now consider this molé as part of that cannon, maybe even the crown jewel. I could just come to El Naranjo and order this duck with a glass of Mexican red wine and be happy as can be. And I know that because even after I ordered this dish, I ordered more. Gorditas de Chicharron at El Naranjo

Gorditas de Chicharron

Underneath the shredded lettuce, crema and that dollop of pico de gallo lies two gorditas stuffed with chicharron. I was two full for the thick masa discs stuffed with fried pork skin so I'd advise ordering them early on and know that they will fill you up unless you are part of a big group. And that's probably the only issue I had a El Naranjo, there was too much to try and it's hard to experience it all with a small party. So plan multiple visits or bring a group. Just know that the duck mole will that dish that will mark your experience until you get to Oaxaca itself. Like Oaxaca, El Naranjo is a special place.
H3 Ranch montage

The Vitals: the spot: H3 Ranch 105 E. Exchange Ave Fort Worth TX 76164 the eats: Chicken Fried Steak the bucks: $19.99 the full nelson: affordable steak joint in the heart of the tourist friendly Fort Worth stockyards 

Back in March I was invited by my pal Trey Chapman of Trey's Chowdown to judge a burger competition down in the stockyards of Fort Worth. I was joined by Celebrity Chef John Tesar and Trey at the judges table. It was a day of eating but you know what? A picture is worth a thousand words so . . . Burger showdown montage

I swear I kept in under control

We judged these burgers like true professionals. A first round of judges eliminated 30+ burgers to just three. Then each were quartered up. The shocking truth? I walked out of a burger competition a touch hungry. So yes, after a burger competition I went hunting for Chicken Fried Steak. Ali Khan at H3 Ranch

Warning: H3 Ranch is temporarily closed but . . .

You can try out their food at Red Booger Saloon. The menu is the same and if you're on the Cheap Eats hunt like I was, you will wisely forgo the pricier steaks for the chicken fried steak. Priced at $19.95, the chicken fried steak comes in at half the price and includes sides. Now about that chicken fried steak . . . H3 Ranch Chicken Fried steak 1

Make it a meal

I skipped the fries and made it more of a meal with H3 Ranch's beans and corn on the cob. I liked the contrast of these sides vs grabbing a fistful of fries. Now a fact about chicken fried steak: great texture comes from a freshly pounded steak. The Country gravy wasn't half bad either. Mostly I loved that this meal fit the surroundings of the Fort Worth Stockyards and didn't break the bank. And it paired well with a bottle of cheap domestic beer; a whole other category of dining if you ask me.

My Question to you:

Have you ever had a game changing chicken fried steak? A version that makes you think twice about getting a proper steak, regardless of cost? Can't say that I have and yet I believe it's out there. Until I find that, a $20 version of H3 Ranch's Chicken Fried Steak and a couple longnecks of American Domestic will just have to do.
Mr Beef montage

The Vitals: the spot: Mr. Beef on Orleans 666 N. Orleans St. Chicago Il 60654 the eats: Italian Beef  Combo, Italian Beef, dipped the bucks: $9 the full nelson: An Italian Beef located close to downtown, tourist adjacent and legit too

I love Italian Beefs. Whether it's Nottoli & Son which was featured on Cheap Eats Chicago, a late night run at Portillo's or the well regarded Johnnie's Beef in the west suburbs, Italian Beef's are the sandwich of Chicago. Cousin to the French Dip but with remarkably more flavor, Italian Beef's date back to when Italian Immigrants created wedding feasts called peanut weddings under modest circumstances(they were poor) by slow roasting beef, slicing it thin and serving it on bread with the flavorful seasoned au jus. Nowadays you can skip the peanut wedding and just pick a spot. Great Italian Beefs can be found all over Chicagoland. Mr Beef sign 2

Mr. Beef on Orleans

I happened to be staying in downtown Chicago while attending the James Beard Awards. Known as the Oscars of the food world, I was honored to be a member of the judging committee this year. I had a few hours to kill till my flight home and Mr. Beef was pretty close to me so I gave it a shot but also at the behest of hilarious food writer Dennis Lee of the Takeout. His office, which also includes The Onion, is a short stroll away. That can be pretty dangerous if you have the habit of gaining weight by reading menus. Mr Beef wall montage 1

Mr. Beef got fans

This is a montage of three walls worth of notable fans of Mr. Beef. I spoke with owner Joe Zucchero, who dished out a ton of goods when it comes to the history of Mr. Beef. Considered the baby of the block when compared to other Italian Beef joints, Mr. Beef opened in 1979. A few years later an up and coming comic named Jay Leno would visit. Joey took care of Jay and Jay said "when I make it, I'm gonna put you on the map". A review in the early 1980s gave Mr. Beef 4 stars across a myriad of factors including beef, bread, peppers and au jus. Celebs started to roll in and Mr. Beef on Orleans became a Chicago Italian Beef Institution. Mr Beef menu

Good prices and Pepsi= classic Italian Beef menu

Look, this ain't bad for 2022. One beef plus sharing an order of fries, or if you're feeling emboldened, cheese fries will do you right. I also tried a pizza puff too . . . when in Rome I guess. But really you are here for one thing and one thing only. Mr Beef Italian Beef sandwich

Italian Beef Combo Juicy

I went for it. Italian beef with Italian sausage and dipped in the gravy(au jus) plus hot peppers. Out the gate for the die hards, the hot giardiniera at Mr. Beef ain't that spicy. But it's made every week, got great crunch and does the job. The lack of heat is by design, Joe tells me. He wants you to taste the beef. Speaking of, he uses Sirloin Butts unlike some other places that use a cheaper cut. The sausage isn't necessary but it feels so over the top which speaks to a fine quality about Chicago dining: gluttony.

The gravy is the whole damn point

The gravy, which in actuality is more an au jus, is the whole damn point, and that goes for any good Italian beef in the city. At Mr Beef, when the sirloins first go into the 500 degree for an initial heat blast, it's actually unseasoned. After an hour and half of high temp then medium temp roasting, the seasoning comes in along with a pan with water to catch the drippings. That's where the flavor really builds so make sure to dip your sandwich in it by ordering it juicy. Ali Khan's Beef grin 1

The price of flavor: a beef grin

You will want a roll of paper towels handy but at the end of the day, you're here for an Italian Beef facial. Mr Beef used bread from Libiorio bakery and it holds its own despite taking a jacuzzi in the Italian Beef gravy. The price of indulgence is messy but worth it. If you are a Chicago native you no doubt have your favorites. Joe told me that "Italian Beefs are a very territorial thing". If you're a visitor like me, they are all worth trying. A good beef stand captures the soul of the city. And Mr. Beef's Beefs got a lot of soul.  
Tam's Deli montage The Vitals: the spot: Tam's Deli 8222 N. Lamar Blvd Austin TX 78753 the eats: Bánh Mi Sandwich the bucks: $7.75 the full nelson: A Cheap Eats certified Bahn Mi and Vietnamese Cafe with a lot more Tam's Deli in Austin TX has been on my must try list since I moved to Austin in 2015. Geez, am I freaking slacker. Coming from LA I had to find me a Cheap Eats certified Bánh Mi joint. If you have never had a Bánh Mi you are missing out on perhaps the greatest sandwich rival to an Italian Cold Cut combo. And for the record, I ain't talking no BMT from Subway. Tam's Deli interior

A classic Cheap Eats dining room

Sparkling linoleum, a cash register that draws the eye when you walk in and just enough kitsch knick knacks to let you know the part of the world you are dining, Tam's Deli is a glorious Cheap Eats dining room. No need for fancy interior design ideas here. The promise of affordability is enough draw. Tam's Deli bahn mi 2 Ali Khan at Tam's Deli

A sandwich in balance for under $10

Every Bánh Mi sandwich gets house mayonnaise, pickled carrot, cucumber, cilantro and jalapeños. The baguette most likely lands around 9", not quite a footlong but almost enough to share. I'm partial to the Bánh Mi with cold cuts and pate, and it's my go to order at Saigon Le Vendeur. Tam's isn't quite as stuffed with meats like that one but they do an interesting twist: adding roast chicken. I couldn't put it down. Tam's Deli bahn mi 3

The rest of the menu beckons.

All the classic elements are here with Tam's Deli Bánh Mi: a light airy baguette with the perfect crisp exterior, the masterful layering of cold crunchy uplifting vegetables, pickles(carrots) and herbs, the creamy layer of mayonnaise and the funky savory meat mix of pate, ham and chicken. Much like an Italian cold cut combo that makes creamy mortadella, savory salami and spicy coppa work, Bánh Mi is a masterful meat lovers sandwich paired smartly with bright fresh contrasting plant life. Tam's Deli doesn't serve fav Bánh Mi in town but it's still damn good. And I'm far more curious about their extensive menu of Pho, Rice Bowls, and house specialties like Vietnamese Crepes. Tam's Deli is priced well within the Cheap Eats margins and in 2022, that is a miracle.
Interstellar BBQ montage

The Vitals: the spot: InterStellar BBQ 12233 Ranch Road 620 N Austin TX 78750 the eats: Brisket, Burnt Pork Belly, Pulled Lamb, Tacos, Beets, Zucchini Tomato salad . . . I mean all of it the bucks: $20 to $30 a person. Typical craft bbq prices the full nelson: As good as Central Texas BBQ gets. 

I could start this off with a typical generic headline like "stellar bbq at Interstellar" but it doesn't do the food John Bates is serving or the current level of barbecue found in Austin justice. First off, the barbecue is just getting better and better and that's happening everywhere. Many are heeding the call of offset smokers(and other comparable devices) and delivering meat sweats worth driving miles for. However, in Austin . . . I shake my head at how many places are opening up and bringing something new to the game. Interstellar BBQ brisket CU

Entranced by the brisket

That perfect bite of brisket is forever associated with the words "Texas" and "barbecue". InsterStellar has that. Recently I ventured to Hot Luck Fest at Franklin BBQ. Of course I tried some his famous brisket. Even though I was far from hungry(if anything uncomfortably full), I marveled at how melt in your mouth the brisket was. It was as rich and as tender as tuna belly at a sushi restaurant or Wagyu beef off a hot stone. In that moment I could not imagine brisket being better. The thing is it doesn't have to be better. It just always must be very very very good. You can check that box at InterStellar.

Interstellar BBQ platter 2

My fav meats

The brisket is a must try but please don't limit yourself at InterStellar. The Czech sausage was solid and reliable, as were the spareribs. The jalapeño cheddar has an uncanny addictive quality. Even when I was full, I kept nibbling. The pulled lamb was magnificent. I've only had it at Micklethwait, my neighborhood go to and it should be served at more places. The Pork Belly Burnt Ends are what you need to feed picky Southerners who believe that barbecue should be smoky and sweet. This is some of the best meat candy there is. The turkey though . . . I have long believed that great brisket joints also make great turkey. InterStellar has the best turkey I have ever had at a barbecue joint or anywhere really. Interstellar BBQ platter 3

Don't sleep on the sides

What I love about the modern barbecue movement is the chef driven sides. John Bates served farm to table, nose to tail sandwiches at Noble Sandwich Co - a place I've lauded before. Prior to that he worked in Italian restaurants. Which is probably why he has a zucchini tomato salad on the menu. The Zucchini is thinly sliced, raw and is marinated in vinegar. It's a sweltering summer salvation. The beets are outstanding. As are the smoked scallop potatoes. Those I would order a pint or two of and serve on Thanksgiving and I'd probably pass them off as mine . . . Interstellar BBQ platter 1

It's gonna take a few visits

The good news is InterStellar is good enough to make it your Steady Eddie BBQ fix. I'm kicking myself for not getting here sooner. But that's how it goes in Austin. You find a kick ass place and you say "man it can't get any better", and in some ways it doesn't. The landscape simple rewards you with more options, more favs for this smoked meat or that side. As a diner, we win no matter what.

The Vitals: the spot: Llama Kid 4620 E Cesar Chavez St, Austin, TX 78702 the eats: Ceviches, cocktails, Anticuchos(skewers) the bucks: $$$ plan on $75-$100 a person with drinks the full nelson: Pricey Peruvian food with a chef's kiss

I love Llama Kid but I also love Peruvian food. My first forays into the cuisine were at neighborhood saltado joints in LA, namely Mario's Peruvian in Hollywood. Back in the day a Mariscos saltado; Peru's take on fried rice spiked with shrimp, octopus and calamari along with french fries(potatoes are big in Peru) ran me like $12. Now it's up to $17 and change. Signs of the times point to everything becoming more expensive. Especially if you upgrade from neighborhood saltado joint to a date night worthy Peruvian restaurant with fine dining elements. The saltado at Llama Kid runs $20-$27. And while I didn't try their version, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they are gonna level it up like they do their ceviche: Llama Kid ceviche 1

For the ceviche alone

I've lived in Austin for almost seven years and I'm perplexed why there isn't a ceviche bar on every corner. It just turned June and we have hit triple digits multiple times. Llama Kid's ceviche ain't priced for visits as often as the mercury climbs past 99 degrees but make no mistake, you're getting the premium fish here. Llama Kid ceviche 2

Straight outta the sushi bar

The Ahi Tuna in the Nikkei was meaty and bursting with flavor, all signs of quality tuna being used. Chef Diego Ysrael Sanchez adds thin strips of Nori(seaweed paper) and sesame seed to up the umami. The move here is to get multiple ceviches and keep your spoon dipping. Llama Kid ceviche 3

The power of the Tiger

Every ceviche on the menu uses leche de tigre, the signature of Peruvian ceviche. A mix of citrus juice, Aji(Peru's national pepper) along with habanero create a powerful brew. The Mixto ceviche(pictured above) really takes to the heat thanks to a mix of fried calamari along with the fluke, octopus and shrimp. Take note of the corn and sweet potato too, both Peruvian staples. Llama Kid anticuchos

Anticuchos: the (mini) kabob of Peru

I suppose I should just call them skewers. These tasty street food morsels were a necessary follow up to the ceviche because I've seen people do that raw food diet and everyone caves eventually. We weren't trying to crush the whole menu so these seemed like enough. I could have eaten 12. Shrimp and chicken featured here and I would definitely try the chicken in entree form. These went well with the Rosé pictured to the right. Llama Kid cocktails

The drinks rock

They really do. Great cocktail program here. This where you can do some damage on your bill. Kinda worth it too. I supposed I'd love to come back to Llama Kid and eat through the menu with a group. But I also liked how we did this: a light dinner, a couple drinks and what could be a great pregame before a show. Nestled in East Austin, Llama Kid is a prime time beast for that kind of night or a proper dinner. There just isn't enough Peruvian joints around, definitely not enough ceviche so I welcome this kid to the game of dining in Austin. Mark this in your Yelp bookmarks future Llama kids.  
La Taquicardia montageThe Vitals: the spot: La Taquicardia 6014 Techni Center Dr ste 2-101, Austin, TX 78721 (no website guys) follow on IG: @lataquicardia_atx the eats: Cochinita Pibil, Chicharron Tacos the bucks: $4-$5 a pop the full nelson: generous tacos on proper homemade corn tortillas  First off credit to where credit is due. Shane Orr of Austin Brewery Tours slipped in the hot tip on La Taquicardia. Not surprisingly they are located at a brewery. You'll find this taco truck over at Southern Heights Brewing Company, on the east side Austin. Breweries are no stranger to food trucks in the ATX but this one hits as hard as the food line up at Meanwhile Brewing. This is getting pretty deep in the Austin brewery scene, so for those not in the 512, I'll stick with a taco rundown for now. Regardless you have just gotten two breweries with great food to hit up next time you are in town. La Taquicardia menu 1 La Taquicardia menu 2 La Taquicardia menu 3

Menu rundown

Craving breakfast tacos at 5pm? You're in luck as breakfast is served throughout service which mirrors the brewery's hours. And speaking of hours that's Wed-Thurs 3pm-8pm, Friday 3pm-10pm, Sat 12pm-8pm and Sun 3pm-8pm. That also means you'll have to eat your breakfast tacos for brunch. Everyone has their taco move but let me add this: save room for a gordita. I didn't, but after tasting the quality of the blue corn tortilla which is made fresh(along with flour) you need to understand the maiz is the star of the show. I also would keep an eye on the specials, these plates are priced for some serious bang for your buck.

La Taquicardia tacos 2

Two for the road

I wanted to get a sample and not stuff myself, so I went with two tacos before I trucked off with a 4 pack of Tahitian Dream IPA to go. I went with the Cochinita Pibil, and the Chicharron. Cochinita Pibil, in the bottom half of the taco boat, is a specialty of the Yucatan Peninsula. Turns out two is meal, which is why they are priced at almost $5 a pop. But you're getting your money's worth. If you have ever seen Once Upon a Time In Mexico, you'll know Cochinita Pibil; it's the dish Johnny Depp's character literally kills for. Before Amber Heard gets stuck in your thoughts I'll offer you the definition: Pork marinated in citrus(orange and lime or Valencia oranges) and annatto paste, wrapped in banana leaf and slow roasted. It's the equivalent of a braise but when you have had it the old school way, cooked in the ground, it's like barbecue with humidity, not unlike barbacoa. The gold standard is a whole suckling pig cooked this way, that's what I have had down in Isla De Mujeres which is a ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen in Quintana Roo. But even silvers are damn delicious. I don't know how La Taquicardia does theirs(yet) but I can tell you they crisp up the pork in the flat top before putting it into the tortilla. It was a delicious move. La Taquicardia tacos 3

Waxing on Chicharron

Chicharron is pork skin that has been fried, aka pork cracklings. Chicharron en salsa is a version where the cracklings are mixed with salsa, sometimes getting soaked in water to get them softer. It might sound off but I enjoy it when the cracklings get soaked enough to when they get good and chewy. I asked chef about this and she said that was also her preference, though these were a bit too crisp. Not as much of a taster as a looker, I'd look to other fillings for my second taco. Unless I can request them extra chewy. It wasn't too far off the strike zone but tortillas this good deserve a 98 mph fastball that catches a good amount of plate. I hear great things about the salmon. And of course I'll be back to try the steak, the barbacoa and the gorditas. Take special note of the specials too because I think the best part about Taquicardia is that the tacos are just the gateway drug to a menu run by a woman has really great cooking skills. She says she's been going for only three weeks. Her tortillas taste like she has been in the game for 10 years.