Girls on Food

Gina DeNicola

I feel like I’ve been baking forever, but I believe my dad is the reason I started. He would bake all the time for us as kids and everything was always from scratch. I learned how to make everything from bagels to cream puffs to angel food cake from him. I worked my way up from selling cookies for extra money to buy my kids Christmas presents to owning a full-service bakery in Nashville. After making croissants by hand for a year straight, I developed arthritis so bad in my thumbs I couldn’t hold a rolling pin anymore and I had to close my doors. To give my hands something to do that didn’t involve butter or a rolling pin, I started to write and discovered a new love. I am excited to share with what the country might already know, Nashville is more than Country Music and Cowboy Boots, it has amazing food. Check out my blog, Heart Written Words chronicling the journey of closing a bakery and life after.

Gina’s Italian Family Recipes!

Olive Oil

When I was asked to taste-test Botticelli Foods’ Tomato Basil Sauce, Spaghetti, Olive Oil, and Bowtie pasta, the words “of course” sprang out of my mouth faster than I could say Mangia! Since I am Italian, I saw all those ingredients and thought – done, dinner for a few days.

The first thing I did was open the jar of Tomato Basil sauce, give it a quick smell and stick a piece of bread in the jar.  The sauce had just the right consistency – thick and slightly chunky. It has a sweetness to it that made me turn the jar around to see if it came from  added sugar. To my utter delight, it did not! The ingredients were everything that I put in my own sauce: Italian tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, sunflower oil, onions basil, garlic sea salt and black pepper. That’s it, nothing else. That delicious sweetness comes from the tomatoes themselves!

The next thing I did was rip off another piece of the Italian bread and dip it right into the olive oil.  Like the tomato sauce, the olive oil tasted pure. I was afraid I might finish the loaf of bread dipping it in the sauce and olive oil, so I grabbed my pots and started cooking.

First up was Spaghetti and Grandma Tarallo’s Meatballs (family recipe). The sauce clung to the spaghetti perfectly, and there wasn’t the pile of water at the bottom of the bowl like you find with most jar sauces.

Sauce

Grandma Tarallo’s Meatballs

1 pound ground chuck
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1 onion, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 Tbsp. Oregano
1 Tbsp. Thyme

Mix all ingredients together and form into meatballs.  Put on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for about 35 minutes.

Meatballs

The next day we had chicken and mushrooms with the bowties. The one thing I loved about the bowties was that they were just pretty.  They weren’t flat on both sides like most – instead, one side had ridges which were perfect for holding onto the sauce.

Bowtie

Chicken and Mushrooms with Bowties

4 Tbsp. butter, divided
4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
4 tsp. fresh tarragon, chopped & divided
1 cup white wine
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks
2 small onion or shallot, finely chopped
2 cup mushroom or vegetable broth [see Kitchen Notes]
12 ounces cooked bow tie pasta
salt, freshly ground pepper

Heat a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons each of butter and oil, swirling pan to mix. Add mushrooms to pan and sauté for about 5 minutes, turning to brown them on both sides. Sprinkle half the tarragon over the mushrooms, then pour in the wine [all at once, to reduce spattering]. Let the wine reduce by about half, then transfer mushrooms and wine to bowl.

Add remaining butter and oil to skillet. Sauté chicken until just cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes, stirring to brown it on all sides. Salt it just slightly as it cooks. Give it a couple of generous grinds of pepper. Halfway through, add the remaining tarragon and the onion, stirring occasionally.

Return mushrooms and wine to pan. Add broth and simmer over medium heat to combine flavors and warm everything through. Adjust seasonings.

Take the chicken off the heat. Add cooked pasta to chicken pan. Serve with generous helpings of shaved Parmesan.

Mushroom

Botticelli Foods is located in Hauppauge, New York, but if you check your local grocery store’s specialty aisle, you’re sure to find everything from olive oil to vinegar to sauces and every type of pasta – everything you need for a good Italian Sunday Dinner. Mangia!

Kiss From a Rose: H2r0se Water

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I was recently approached to taste test H2R0se for GOF. With a lot of my life up in their air right now the promise of decreasing occasional, temporary stress, anxiety and enhancing your mood sold me right away.  I was so excited because the list of other benefits of Rose Water and Saffron had me wishing my samples were sent overnight.

The packaging alone is so beautiful I was hesitant to open the bottles.  There were four flavors, Apple, Mango, Peach and Wild Berry.  I wasn’t sure what to expect at all, and I was slightly hesitant that they would taste like old lady perfume.  I am beyond thrilled to report they did NOT!!! There was a distinct theme with all the flavors; they were light and refreshing. Flavored waters are often very sweet, almost syrupy even, the H2R0se water is not.

The first thing you tasted was the flavor of either peach, mango, berry or apple and that was followed by a slight hint of rose, but you definitely felt like you were drinking water.  Almost like the water you get at a spa, with fresh fruit floating in pitchers of iced water. You felt good drinking this water because it didn’t feel sweet and sugar and there are only 80 calories in 12 ounces.

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My favorite out of all the flavors was the Mango.  The mango flavor married well with the rose and I was slightly disappointed that I let my photographer take that bottle back to his office.

_MG_1385-EditThe Peach flavor was a close second.  There was a strong peach taste, and I could imagine this would be amazing on a hot summer afternoon.

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The Berry flavor has a lightly sweet fruity flavor, and I could imagine this in a popsicle with fresh fruit.

appleThe Apple was the lucky winner because someone gave me a small bottle of Fireball and I mixed them together.  The hint of apple mixed with the cinnamon was just incredible.

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H2r0se promises to improve skin texture and appearance, improve digestive health, increase satiety (decreases appetite), and improve emotional health. It is also a strong natural antioxidant and natural mood enhancer.  All of these promises are another thing that makes it even easier to drink this water.  Currently, H2r0se is only available in California, but they do ship.  They sent me my samples to Nashville and each bottle was individually wrapped in bubble wrap, a box full of popcorn peanuts, and fragile stickers all over the box.  My bottles all came completely intact.

Photos by: Ray Palumbo

 

Burger Up in Nashville

I knew going to a place called Burger Up with a vegetarian was risky, so I asked a carnivore friend to come along just in case. Turns out Burger Up has an amazing veggie burger, actually two that you can choose from, but more on that later. Just a little south of Nashville’s famed Gulch area high rises you will find the revived neighborhood 12th South. It is in 12 South where you will find coffee shops, handmade ice cream shops, and most recently Reese Witherspoon’s flagship store Draper James. But we weren’t there for any of those things, we were here for burgers!

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Burger Up
2901 12th Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37204
http://Burger-up.com

When you walk inside of Burger Up, you immediately feel at home. There are long community tables, soft jazz playing, and low lighting. The atmosphere was warm and friendly, and you felt like you could stay there for a good long time. There is also outside seating that can be used year round with their heaters on the ceiling.

We sat down at our long community table, and I order a 12 South Lemonade, which was house-infused lemon vodka, basil simple syrup, lemon, white wine and peach bitters. Let me tell you these go down as easy as regular Lemonade and I could have easily had 5. My only complaint about the 12 South Lemonade was that it was served in the dreaded mason jar, I despise this trend, but was willing to overlook the mason jar because the drink itself was so fantastic.

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IMG_7479We ordered some starters, and as I was sipping my “lemonade,” I took a second to look around the room. I was surprised to notice several tables with small children; it surprised me because with the open concept of this restaurant, the wood on the ceilings, large glass windows that framed the entire space and floor to ceiling curtains, you’d expect it to be very noisy and indeed you’d notice small children. But this was not the case, and I was delightfully surprised.

Service was exceptional and fast. We decided to start with the fried mac and cheese bites that came with a honey Dijon aioli and house made maple ketchup. These fried balls of goodness were exactly that! They were amazing, and when you bit into them, you saw the pasta it wasn’t just an undecipherable fried ball of cheese. It tasted like mac and cheese and could easily be someone’s dinner. Second up we had the fried mushrooms. These large fresh mushrooms were fried in a tempura batter that made them light and not greasy. They were served with a spicy lemon lime remoulade, the serving was huge and even with the 3 of us we couldn’t finish them all.

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IMG_7485Onto the burgers. I don’t often eat burgers, but when I do, I like to know that they are good quality beef, which is why I came to Burger Up. They locally source their beef from Triple L Ranch, which is located in Franklin TN, just a few miles from downtown. I ordered the Woodstock, which was a large burger topped with Benton’s Bacon (another local favorite), Tennessee Sweetwater White Cheddar, Jack Daniels Maple Ketchup. Are you sensing a theme? It is all locally sourced foods, which I am a huge fan. My burger was perfectly cooked to medium and was gone before I could say “Lets eat!” The burger came with fries, but I substituted for the sweet potato fries.

IMG_7486Earlier in this post I mentioned I was bringing a vegetarian to a burger place. Yes, my husband is a life-long vegetarian, but when I noticed they had two types of veggie burgers, I knew I was safe. He ordered the Ramsey Pimento Cheese (another southern thing) Burger, and they were kind enough to replace the beef burger with their quinoa and black bean burger. The Ramsey Pimento Cheese burger is topped with housemade pimento cheese, iceberg, tomato, pickles, red onions, truffle aioli, Benton’s bacon on a jalapeno bun. My husband didn’t read all the way to the end of the toppings list because out came the burger with the Benton’s bacon. Once we discovered that, our incredibly kind waitress took his plate right away and the kind manager, Brandon personally brought out the burger and was so apologetic.

At the end of our meals when the three of us were stuffed and couldn’t possibly eat any more, out to our table came two desserts. When I said we hadn’t ordered any desserts, the waitress said they were from Brandon. It’s service and attention to customers that make a restaurant in my opinion, and this simple gesture won me over!

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IMG_7488The desserts that came out to our table were the Olive & Sinclair (locally owned) dark chocolate brownie al la mode and the krispy crème donut pudding with a gran marnier crème anglaise. Both ridiculously amazing and over the top!
Burger Up Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Love, Peace & Pho in Nashville, TN

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I was sick and it was raining, but I knew I had a post to turn in by Thursday, so I was thinking soup. I called my favorite photographers and asked them if I could take them to lunch. I had always wanted to try Pho and there was Love, Peace and Pho right down the road from my apartment. So I put on my rain boots, grabbed my laptop and out the door I went.

Love, Peace & Pho
2112 8th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37204
http://www.lovepeaceandpho.com

Inside
My favorite photographers just happen to be my son and daughter-in-law and since they were newlyweds they, of course, jumped at the chance to exchange photos for lunch. I figured their pictures would be so much better than I could muster for this post. My daughter-in-law’s brother also joined us.

Inside3Before we get started, there is always a debate on how to say “Pho” and I’m here to clear that up, it’s “Fuh”. Now that that is taken care of, lets get to the good stuff, Love, Peace & Pho. The inside of Love, Peace & Pho is simple with a slight 70’s vibe going on and because of the time of the day we had the place pretty much to ourselves. The menu offers a wide variety of appetizers, soups, salads, Pho, noodle dishes, rice entrees, traditional Vietnamese sandwiches (Banh Mi), Chefs Box, and then desserts (more on the desserts later).

 

 

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Pho4We all decided on the traditional Pho. My son and I had the Pho Tai, which was rare beef, bean sprouts, Asian Basil, Culantro, lime, jalapenos, green onions and shallots and an abundance of rice noodles. For all you Cilantro haters out there Culantro is NOT Cilantro, Culantro is a completely different plant, but you should think of them as cousins. In my opinion, Culantro tastes like Cilantro without the soapy taste. The beef in the Pho Tai was sliced very thin and while I’m sure when it first went into the soup it was rare, by the time it reached me it was more well done. Because it was sliced so thin it wasn’t tough at all and all but melted in your mouth.

Inside4My daughter-in-law got the Pho Ga and her brother got the Pho Do Bien. The Pho Ga was slices of chicken breast in a chicken broth with egg noodles and the Pho Do Bien was shrimp, fish and squid in a seafood broth.  I tasted the Pho Ga, but wasn’t a fan of the broth and not being a seafood broth person, I didn’t even try the Pho Do Bein.

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All the Pho comes in 2 sizes small or large. The small was 22 oz and the large was, well larger. Being a “my eyes are always bigger than my stomach girl” I got the large, which was enormous and will be dinner tonight as well.

All of us were pretty well stuffed when we were finished so we did not have dessert, however, it should be noted that they had odd choices on the menu. They had the traditional Che Ba Mau, which is a combination of yellow Mung beans, fava beans, red beans, coconut milk, jelly, and ice. That’s where the Vietnamese desserts ended and then somehow you were transported to Italy and France because the rest of the dessert menu consists of Eclairs, Opera Tortes, Framboise, Chocolate Mousse or Cheesecake. The dessert menu just seemed out of place.

For all four of us the total bill was $42 plus tip. Parking can be a bit of a challenge, but in my opinion very worth the walk, if you weren’t lucky enough to park close or the nominal price it would cost to park in the paid parking lot across the street. There are also lots of vegetarian options on the menu, which will ensure my husband’s attendance on my next visit.

Photo cred:  Ray Palumbo
Love, Peace and Pho Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monkey Shines: Frothy Monkey in Nashville, TN

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Frothy Monkey has three locations in Downtown Nashville as well as one in Franklin, not far out of Downtown. It’s prone to a large hipster gathering so I’ve never been here before.   However, on this afternoon, which can very easily be classified as one of the most amazing 10 days in Nashville, I figured the old lady in me could tolerate the hipster and millennial group and head to the location closest to my apartment and their very amazing outside deck.

Frothy Monkey @ Grimeys too
1702 8th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203
http://www.frothymonkey.com

This location on 8th Avenue has a limited menu, however it still has a wide selection of coffee drinks, sandwiches and salads, along with a few bakery items that are all made in house at their main location. So with the slight chill in the air, I ordered a London Fog and a smoked turkey sandwich, took my laptop and settled outside on the deck.

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For those who don’t know, a London Fog is Earl Grey tea with steamed milk with a hint of vanilla.   More than Pumpkin Spice anything, the London Fog is a clear sign of fall and I will pick it every time over the blasé and over done pumpkin everything. It’s warm and comforting and the hint of vanilla helps you imagine yourself on the couch with a warm blanket, cat and an amazing book. You also expect it to be, well, foggy and rainy. It wasn’t any of those things today, however, the perfectly steeped Earl Grey tea and steamed milk was the perfect fall drink on this beautifully sunny day. In my opinion, some places will steep the tea too long and the result is a bitter brew with milk, this was NOT that and it was perfect, right down to the lovely “latte” art that was lost in the paleness of the drink.

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For lunch I got the Royale, which was smoked turkey, Swiss, avocado, lettuce, tomato and basil mayo. It was made on a lovely whole grain bread that came out looking very, very healthy, but in reality it had the perfect crunch and heartiness required for this sandwich. The Swiss was melted and the basil mayo was a delightful surprise.

This Frothy Monkey is attached to Grimey’s, (www.grimeys.com) which is an actual music store, yes kids, we still have those and they are amazing. Grimey’s stocks new and “Preloved” music. Along with selling records and cd’s they also have concerts, book signings and record signings. For example, on September 11th Ben Folds was here on the release day of his new project called “So There” where he had a question and answer session.

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Also attached to both Frothy Monkey and Grimey’s is Howlin’ Books (www.howlinbooks.com) Howlin’ Books is a small independently owned bookstore, yes kids, we still have those also! They carry new and used books and has a really great vibe when you walk in.

I was delightfully surprised when I decided to venture out of the apartment and over to Frothy Monkey on 8th Avenue and with Grimey’s too and Howlin’ Books attached it felt familiar and it brought me back to a time that I felt comfortable. I will be back for sure, hispster or not.
Frothy Monkey Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Eighth & Roast: Nashville’s Best Brew

There are a lot of coffee places in Nashville, A LOT and the really good ones often have more than one location or wholesale their coffee to local restaurants and bakeries.  Eighth & Roast is the first place I had a real cup of coffee so it’s my favorite, but it’s also my favorite because they were my very first wholesale customer when I owned my bakery. Eighth & Roast is owned by Brad and Lesa Wood and I spent many early mornings talking to Lesa about women in business in “Music City” and I learned more than my brain could comprehend about coffee notes from Brad, so to write this post was a little like a home coming for me.

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Eighth & Roast
2108 8th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37204
http://www.facebook.com/roastinc

If there is one thing Nashville has it is a large hipster population. The hipster can typically be found in many of the coffee shops in Nashville and I usually avoid those places; it is one of the many reasons I love Eighth & Roast, it has a low hipster population. On my morning writing this blog, there were no fedoras or man buns in sight.

When you first walk into Eighth & Roast the first feeling you get is warm and welcoming with a slight industrial feel. The whole left side of the shop has exposed brick with dark wood counters lining the large front window and the exposed brick wall. Two large community tables that came from old bowling alley lanes compliment the dark wood and brick. There is also an abundance of electrical outlets through out the seating area and cute little tables out front if you wanted to drink your coffee outside.

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They make all their pastries in-house and this morning, after standing in line probably too long deciding between a bacon egg cheese biscuit sandwich, lemon poppy seed muffin, granola, or breakfast burrito, I settled on the strawberry cardamom muffin. I also got a cup of the Ethiopia brewed coffee and yes a latte, as you can see. I had yet to have my cup of coffee this morning and I panicked. I couldn’t decide between beautiful latte art or the necessities of my morning fuel so I got both, don’t judge.

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It is by far the best cup of coffee in Nashville.  Lesa roasts all the beans right there and you can almost always find her in the roasting room roasting away. The coffee is gentle and not over roasted.   They only roast beans from small estate and small co-operative grown farms. You can find all the usual suspects at Eighth & Roast, pour over bar, lattes, cappuccino, but there are two things I would recommend in a heart beat. If iced coffee is what you are wanting, this is the ONLY place in Nashville to get it. The coffee is flash chilled and it is served on tap, yes I said tap, just like beer, but iced coffee.   If it’s a latte you are looking for, the Nutella Latte is slap your momma good.

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The Strawberry Cardamom Muffin was moist with just the right amount of spice and had large slices of fresh strawberries. It was a nice compliment to the coffee. Roast also serves lunch and has a second, smaller shop located at 225 Chestnut Street, Nashville, TN.

Eighth & Roast Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

All Thai-ed Up: The Smiling Elephant in Nashville

The story goes like this, Sam Kopsombut who came to Nashville 30 years ago from Thailand, opened an auto repair shop. At lunch they would break and cook traditional Thai dishes for the staff. One day a customer came to pick up his car during lunch and Sam offered him lunch. This customer was so impressed with his lunch he told Sam he should be fixing lunch and dinner instead of cars.  So Sam remodeled the house above the garage and The Smiling Elephant was born and those of us who live in Nashville are very happy for the change in career.

The Smiling Elephant
2213 8th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37204
615-891-4488
http://www.TheSmilingElephant.com

In our house it’s called Thai Saturday. We head out of our apartment every Saturday at 4:20, just like we are 65 years old and head over to The Smiling Elephant. They open at 4:30 on Saturdays for dinner and if you are not there when the doors open, it is not unusual to stand outside and wait in line for an hour. The Smiling Elephant does not take reservations and has limited indoor and outdoor seating.

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We ventured out of our routine this week and took some friends who have never been to The Smiling Elephant. We arrived at 6:00 pm on a Thursday and we only had to wait 15 minutes for our table outside. The inside of the restaurant is a testament to Sam and his handiwork. There is wood everywhere, literally from the floor to the ceiling.

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They are famous, and I mean famous, in Nashville for their Pad Thai, but I always get the Cashew Chicken and I have been known to change the chicken to tofu because this tofu is amazing. Not soft and squishy and not greasy from being fried, it’s just amazing. They serve it over Jasmine rice and a Satay dipping sauce. It’s made with pineapples, so many cashews you’ll go nuts and house roasted chili peppers that give it just the right amount of heat. They also will bring you two little jars that essentially contain fire, in case you needed a little more heat in your dish.

Cashew Tofuhot

My husband orders Tofu Rama, which hasn’t been on the menu in years, but because we go there every week, they see him walk in the door and they just start making it. Tofu Rama is the same amazing Tofu, smothered in what my husband describes as peanut sauce from the Gods.

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There is not a lot of parking, but if you look around the edge of the parking lot you will find okra plants, chili plants, tomato plants and basil plants all planted by someone at The Smiling Elephant and used in their dishes. Now that IS farm to table! Whenever we are completely stuffed and walking back to our car, I always stop and say a little prayer at the Spirit house and leave an offering.

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The Smiling Elephant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Nashville Taco Tuesday: Mas Tacos Por Favor

If you ask any local where to get the best taco in Nashville they might hesitate before they answer. They might look at you to determine if you are worthy. Because the best taco place in Nashville is just that, a local spot. It’s nestled in a cozy, sleepy neighborhood in trendy East Nashville, which is far from the neon signs and honky-tonks of touristy Nashville. But Mas Tacos is THE place, hands down, to get the best taco in Nashville.

Mas Tacos
732 McFerrin Avenue
Nashville, TN 37206
615-543-6271
https://www.facebook.com/mastacos

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On the day my friend and I went for lunch it was rainy and gray in Nashville, and while days like this take an extraordinary amount of motivation to leave the apartment, it was Taco Tuesday and what more motivation does one need?

When you drive up to Mas Tacos you will wonder if you are even in the right spot, but the line out the door will confirm. Yes, you are indeed in the perfect spot. When you walk into Mas Tacos there is inside seating for about 50 and a cute little outside patio area for about 20 people. There are Christmas lights strewn on the ceiling and a mismatched bunch of tables and chairs. The menu is written on a chalkboard above the kitchen window, which doubles as the register. The kitchen is slightly bigger than a walk-in closet and had a staff of about five that you could watch assemble your lunch.

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My friend and I both ordered the pulled pork taco, the fried Avocado taco, Elote and an order of fried sweet cream plantains.  Our food came in shifts, but our entire meal was ready in 10 minutes, which was surprising because we started standing in line outside the door.Food3

The Elote was sweet corn rolled in queso, spice, and lime. The summer corn was so fresh it tasted like it was just picked this morning. The sweetness and the spiciness mixed together like a perfect party in your mouth.

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The braised pork and tomatillos taco was topped with cabbage and a spicy onion and yogurt sauce. The pork was tender and full of flavor; it tasted like it started slow roasting long before I even thought about opening my eyes this morning. As for the fried avocado taco, I think this might have been my favorite. The avocado was battered and then deep fried, it was not greasy and the avocado had a crunch before you got to the signature smoothness of eating a ripe avocado. It was topped with shaved cabbage and a spicy onion and dill yogurt sauce.

 

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The plantains were also deep fried, soft, and so sweet that they were considered our dessert.

Our entire meal cost us $18.00 plus tip.  When we pushed our chairs way from the table we both declared ourselves stuffed and wondered why we didn’t come more often, like every Tuesday, and promised it would be a new tradition.

Mas Tacos Por Favor Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato