#throwback review of lunch at El Pastor this summer

I’ve taken a couple months off from reviewing restaurants…but after a couple of my adoring fans (bahahahaha jk!) asked if I was ever going to blog again, I figured I should get back to it.

So here’s a quick review that dates back to this summer to get the ball rolling:

I went to El Pastor on Park Street for a quick lunch with two friends over the summer and was not very pleased with any part of it, except the friends part!

First of all, the entire place smelled like a stale cigarette the second we walked in. That’s not an appetizing smell, and definitely not what I want to smell walking into a any restaurant.

Now to the food.

el-pastorI’m a sucker for a good combo meal so I got the Sabor De Mexico with one chile relleno, one tamale, one pork taco, rice and beans, but I asked to swap out the pork taco for a lengua taco. The only way to describe the entire plate of food is bland. Nothing had any flavor and the hot sauce they put on the table tasted like watery tomatoes.

The chile relleno tasted like a boiled pepper with cheese in it…no seasoning, no grill flavor on the chile. The batter wasn’t salty or crispy. It wasn’t good. The tamale was fine, but nowhere near the best tamale I’ve ever had. The meat on the inside was tender, but again…didn’t have any flavor and the corn dough was dry. The lengua taco (yes…I like lengua tacos…at least I do at other places) was not good. The meat was stringy and didn’t have any seasoning on it at all so it tasted very gamey. I ate so little of the rice and beans I can’t even tell you what was wrong with them. Basically it was not a good plate of food.

FOOD NOTES: On top of the terrible cigarette smoke smell, the food at El Pastor was pretty bad. It wasn’t inedible, but I definitely was not happy with my lunch. My lunch dates weren’t as critical of their lunches, but I won’t be back.

Big portions, big history housed in tiny Wonder Bar

Wonder Bar

Wonder Bar

There are a lot of options for steak in Madison and the surrounding area, but I’m pretty sure there isn’t a place that has as much history as Wonder Bar. I’m not going to get into too much detail, but if you like gangster history and don’t mind eating on the other side of a dead body (what? yeah…that’s what their website says), then Wonder Bar is a great place to check out.

Wander Bar BBQ bacon wrapped shrimp

Wander Bar BBQ bacon wrapped shrimp

My mom and I went on a Friday night and got seated upstairs. There’s nothing super impressive about the decor or the dining areas, but if you read up on the history of the place, it is pretty cool. We decided to start with the BBQ bacon wrapped shrimp. The BBQ was tangy and had a little spice, the bacon was thick and the shrimp were huge. Combine all those ingredients and we had a great appetizer.

Wonder Bar wedge salad

Wonder Bar wedge salad

Steaks come with a salad, and of course both of us got steak. Even though our waiter warned me the wedge salad could probably be a meal on its own…I decided to go with that. And boy was he right. It was legitimately 1/4 of a head of iceberg lettuce, an entire tomato (cut in half), probably a full cup of blue cheese and a ton of dressing. I don’t usually love blue cheese, but I usually like it on a wedge salad…this time it was good, but I didn’t eat even half the blue cheese that was on the plate.

Wonder Bar filet and hash browns

Wonder Bar filet and hash browns

My mom and I both got the house filet with hash browns…because what else do you get when you go to a steak house?! Both filets were perfectly cooked and had a great flavor. They were also super tender and had that great grill char. The hash browns were crispy and had onions mixed in…winning!

Needless to say…we skipped dessert and took home doggy bags.

FOOD NOTES: If you’re looking for a place to get a stiff drink and some classic steakhouse food…Wonder Bar is definitely your place. My mom and I had a great meal…but keep in mind that classic steakhouse food usually comes with a higher price tag. Another thing to note…if you’re trying to find Wonder Bar…it’s the super tiny brick building right behind the Coliseum Bar. If you’re not looking closely…you might drive right by.

Ramen outshines baked goods at Asian Sweet Bakery

Asian Sweet Bakery on Park Street

Asian Sweet Bakery on Park Street

When I first heard about Asian Sweet Bakery on Park Street I wasn’t quite sure what to think…all of the reviews on Yelp were super positive, but most of the individual baked goods sounded either too sweet or a little odd for my taste. But I’m always going to give a new place at least one chance, so I went for lunch with my friend Nicole.

Asian Sweet Bakery baked goods

Asian Sweet Bakery baked goods

The tiny corner bakery has a decent-sized bakery case filled with baked goods even around lunch time. There’s also a small dining room with about four tables. The woman behind the counter was super helpful in describing what everything in the bakery case was and answering questions about the menu.

Asian Sweet Bakery ramen with shrimp dumplings

Asian Sweet Bakery ramen with shrimp dumplings

We decided to try the rice noodle ramen with shrimp wontons. I’ve had bad ramen and it’s like eating noodles in warm water. But this ramen was great. The noodles were perfectly cooked and the broth had a great savory flavor…it wasn’t too salty, but it definitely had some depth. There was just enough cabbage and it still had a good amount of crunch to it. The shrimp wontons were not what I was expecting, but they were super good. The soft noodle wrapper was al dente and the shrimp filling was flavorful…I think it had some green onions mixed in! The other thing to note was the size of the bowl…it was more than enough for the two of us.

Asian Sweet Bakery pot stickers

Asian Sweet Bakery pot stickers

The pot stickers were also pretty good. The pork filling had a good, sausagey flavor, but they weren’t too greasy. And they were crispy, which is way better than mushy pot stickers.

Now onto the sweets

Asian Sweet Bakery black bean bun, kids bun, Chinese fried donut

Asian Sweet Bakery black bean bun, kids bun, Chinese fried donut

I got a red bean bun, which looks like a cinnamon roll without frosting, but instead of cinnamon and sugar the sweet stuff is a sweet red bean paste. I’ve enjoyed similar desserts at other restaurants and this one was also pretty good. The bread and the paste were both moist, and I felt like there was a good amount of the paste…I was worried there might be more dough than the yummy filling.

Nicole and I decided to split one of the super long Chinese fried donuts, but it was kind of disappointing. The batter tasted like plain fried dough…the dough was not sweet and there was nothing sweet sprinkled on top. It was definitely not what we were expecting, and not great.

Nicole also got a fun hotdog and corn bun for her daughter. It was a simple flat pastry with slices of hotdog and corn kernels in it. It went over pretty well with Avery, but I think she liked the red bean bun better…we kept saying it was chocolate!

FOOD NOTES: Although I liked most of the sweets (except the fried donut) that we got…I think the hidden gem of this super simple place on Park Street is their ramen and wonton soup. The broth is super flavorful, the ingredients are fresh and plentiful, and the price is great for the amount of food you get. The red bean bun was pretty great…but I’m not sure if I’m adventurous enough to go back try some of the other interesting baked goods in the case.

Bakery treats fall short at Lane’s on south side

Lane's Bakery

Lane’s Bakery

I have been a devoted lover of Scott’s Pastry Shoppe for a couple years now…I always have to get a cheese danish, and I usually get another donut or some donut holes. Over my years of visiting Scott’s I always had this little voice in the back of my head telling me I needed to compare it to Lane’s Bakery on Park Street, so when it reopened a couple years ago I knew I needed to go.

Lane's bakery case

Lane’s bakery case

My mom and I went on a Friday morning and the place was packed. The Villager Mall houses a lot of other things, but I’m pretty sure most of the cars in the parking lot were for Lane’s. There were two long cases filled with everything from cakes and kringles to donuts and cookies. My mom and I decided to split three things and then she got something to take home and two things for my dad.

Lane's cookies

Lane’s cookies

My mom and I split a sugar donut, a cheese danish (obviously) and a powdered sugar rossette. We got my dad a chocolate chip cookie and a peanut donut, and my mom took home an apple pie pastry.

lanes boxThe sugar donut was probably the best of the bunch, which doesn’t bode well for my return. The donut was fresh, crispy on the outside and perfectly fluffy and sweet on the inside. The cheese danish was not great. There was too much pastry, not enough cheese filling, and there was way too much of the super sweet, hard frosting. Scott’s sugar donuts and cheese danishes are way better than Lane’s. The rossette was something new for me (and I think it was a seasonal specialty). It was a crispy, fried cake that broke into tiny pieces when I tried to break it apart and eat it. It didn’t have any real flavor other than fry oil and the texture of the batter was either burnt or super oily…I couldn’t tell.

As for the stuff my mom took home, she said the apple pie pastry looked and smelled better than it actually tasted. She said the apples and cinnamon mixture tasted good, but it was overpowered by way too much of the dough. And the peanut donut and chocolate chip cookie didn’t get rave reviews from my dad.

FOOD NOTES: Considering this less than stellar first visit and the fact that Lane’s is all the way on the south side, I probably won’t be back. Their cheese danish was nowhere near as tasty as Scott’s and that’s what I crave when I visit bakeries, so Lane’s did not pass my test. We did not try their kringles (which is something they say they specialize in), but I have tried Scott’s and they are very good, so I think I’ll stick with my Middleton fave. What’s your favorite bakery in the Madison area?

Best breakfast award goes to hidden gem on Park Street

The Curve on Park Street

The Curve on Park Street

I’ve driven past The Curve, an extremely tiny restaurant on Park Street, many times, but I never really wanted to try it because it looks a little rundown. After hearing through the foodie grapevine that I was missing out, I decided to try it out for breakfast the weekend before Christmas.

Since the tiny (8 tables, plus a counter) restaurant is right on South Park Street I was worried about parking, but we got a spot on the same block looking toward Monona Bay. The Curve’s exterior and interior presentation is a little unsettling (it’s dirty, outdated and could clearly use some repairs), but don’t let that stop you from ordering. The menu is simple and the staff (two or three people max) are probably the nicest I’ve dealt with ever. The red tile floors partnered with the chatty regulars really give this place a neighborhood feel!

Coffee at The Curve

Coffee at The Curve

We were brought two large cups of coffee before we even had a chance to open a menu. Sometimes diner coffee can be bad — weak, bitter, too strong, lukewarm, only drinkable with cream — but not at The Curve. The coffee was hot, smooth and best consumed black. Good coffee is the first mark of a good breakfast place!

Homemade corned beef hash

Homemade corned beef hash

Now here’s where this review is going to get a little confusing. I was planning on ordering the corned beef hash off the menu, and that’s when the woman told me the special was corned beef hash. I immediately said I’d get the special, but after she walked away I realized the corned beef hash on the menu was $2 less than the special…which didn’t make a lot of sense. And when I asked — the difference does make a huge difference! The hash on the menu is out of a can, but the special hash is homemade. And apparently they only have it every other weekend. I’ve had corned beef hash out of a can and it tastes like dog food. DO NOT get the corned beef hash if it isn’t the special. The homemade corned beef hash special was crazy good! It had a spicy, garlicky heat to it with tender corned beef, crispy potatoes and onions. Corned beef hash is one of my favorite breakfast dishes (thanks Dad!), and this is the best one I’ve had. Normally I need the egg yolk to make the dish perfect, but this hash was so good I could definitely eat it without the egg — but I won’t because eggs make everything better! The serving size is also something to mention — it wasn’t too small or too big…it was perfect! I was full when I finished off my plate, but not gross full and it kept me filled the rest of my day.

The Curve omelet

The Curve omelet

My mom got some sort of omelet that I don’t even remember trying because my hash was so good! I do remember bringing half of her omelet home, because it was so large!

FOOD NOTES: There are three take-aways from this review.

  1. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” really applies to The Curve. Don’t let the peeling paint and dusty window ledges scare you away.
  2. The employees (and diners the day we were there) are some of the friendliest people I’ve met in a restaurant. The woman who works there even invited us back the next week on a day that she brings in Christmas cookies for all of their customers!
  3. The corned beef hash special is so good I’m craving it now just writing about it and looking at the picture. It is a perfectly seasoned, crispy pile of potatoes and corned beef only made better by the gooey eggs! Remember: I wouldn’t suggest ordering the corned beef hash off the menu.

Authentic Mexican food can be found on S Park St

I’ve posted about my quest for authentic Mexican food before, and I had almost lost hope until I had my first meal at Taqueria Guadalajara. The Mexican restaurant is a block down from the new Barriques at Park and Fish Hatch. Be careful not to drive past because it looks like a house and is between two other small buildings. You walk in to a front bar area that seats about a half dozen, then there’s the open kitchen and in the back is a dining room that probably seats about 20.

Taqueria Guadalajara chips and salsa

Taqueria Guadalajara chips and salsa

Our waitress promptly brought over some chips and two little bowls of salsa. As I’m assuming everyone already knows, I hate cilantro and they use a lot of cilantro at Taqueria Guadalajara. So if you love cilantro you’ll love both of their salsas. The red salsa had chunks of tomato, a lot of cilantro and no too much spice. The green one was extra spicy, also had a lot of cilantro and is pureed. Clearly I didn’t like either of the salsas but most people probably would.

Their menu has well-known options like tacos, chimichangas, enchiladas and burritos, but it also has some interesting options like lengua (tongue), huaraches, menudo (only on Saturday and Sunday) and chile rellenos. I wasn’t sure how I’d like some of the more authentic options so I opted for a lengua taco and chicken enchiladas.

Taqueria Guadalajara lengua taco

Taqueria Guadalajara lengua taco

The lengua taco comes in a freshly-made corn taco with onions and cilantro…our waitress was more than happy to exclude the cilantro. My friend doesn’t like avocado so I put her avocado on my taco when it came to the table. The corn tortilla was hot and fresh. The lengua was super tender and had a perfectly seasoned flavor. It came with a small chunk of lime, which adds a great tang to the taco. The raw onions added a great flavor and crunch. I wish the taco normally came with avocado on it, but it would be worth it to add it on. I loved my tongue taco, and went back a couple weeks later for more tongue! On my second visit I got a lengua huarache, which is a flat corn tortilla covered in beans, choice of meat, green salsa, melted cheese, lettuce, tomato, avocado and sour cream. The lengua on my second trip was just as good, but the extras on top really added some great flavor and made the meal better.

Taqueria guadalajara enchiladas, rice, beans

Taqueria guadalajara enchiladas, rice, beans

For my main meal on my first visit I got chicken enchiladas. They were very tasty but nowhere near as special as the lengua taco. The shredded chicken was cooked well and was plentiful. The enchilada sauce was supposed to be a green sauce, but usually green sauce is made with cilantro so I subbed that out for red sauce, which was standard red enchilada sauce. The enchiladas come with rice and beans, which are usually throw-away sides in tex-mex restaurants, but these were great. The rice was plump and had a good flavor. The refried beans were perfectly creamy but still had lumps, and actually had some flavor…I’m not sure how but they didn’t just taste like beans.

FOOD NOTES: The restaurant itself isn’t anything impressive, but the fresh, authentic Mexican food is show stopping. The chicken enchiladas were fine, but the flavor of their rice and beans were exceptional compared to most places. Tongue sounds disgusting, but when you call it lengua and it tastes as good as it does at Taqueria Guadalajara, you can’t pass it up. They use a lot of cilantro so if you’re like me and think it tastes like soap…make sure to ask for everything without it. I definitely suggest the huarache, and would definitely be up for trying some of the other authentic menu options. If you’ve had menudo let me know what you think about the traditional Mexican stew made with beef stomach.