Thursday, February 14, 2008

Jonesy's Taco House

Restaurant: Jonesy's Taco House
Address: 1502 S. 60th St
Genres: Mexican, Tex-Mex
Check Constraints: Handwritten checks.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Iced Tea ($1.50)
  • Texas Toothpicks ($4.50)
  • #5, Chili con Carne Soup & Tamale ($8.75)
  • Chicken Taco ($2.75)
One of many reasons I wanted to start this blog was to chronicle my adventures in tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, of which I am usually a fan. Unfortunately, the first pick for today's restaurant was so hole-in-the-wall we couldn't actually find the place. That turned out fine, though, as we got a chance to visit someplace I'd only been once before, and Jonesy's Taco House is fairly darn hole-in-the-wall. Its location doesn't get it much car traffic, less foot traffic, and I'm certain that part of its survival lies in the fact that some of UNO's dorms are mere blocks away. It's good food, though. Like a lot of smaller places, it sacrifices ambiance for taste, and it receives a large return on that sacrifice. Really large - the portions are ginormous, and I ordered far more food than I should have.

The Texas Toothpicks were fairly standard appetizer fare; deep fried onion and jalapeño strips, with little or no heat and not much to recommend it against the strength of the other appetizers, which ND will get to eventually. The taco was served in a deep-fried flour tortilla, but since I had gotten the taco on the side, the juice of the chicken had made pulp of the bottom of the tortilla by the time I got to it. For all that, it was good tasting, if without even a hint of heat. In that way, Jonesy's is probably closer to actual Mexican cuisine and farther away from the tex-mex that many of us know and love. Their salsa might as well be tomato-tinged water, and in fact nothing I ate today had even a hint of spice without adding jalapeños...

... except the chili con carne. Oh, man, the chili con carne. The tamale served with it was good, but the soup itself made the meal. The ingredients list probably reads something like: steak bits, tomato base, chili flakes, chili powder, cumin, and salt. And that's about it, really. There's nothing solid in the soup but the beef, but that's all it needed. It was fantastic, and it had a serious heat to it which just barely made the top of my head sweat. (If you're curious, that's how I know there's adequate spice in my food). If you need to cut the heat some, or if you like soups with more solidity to them, you can add some of the rice it's served with to it. Either way, I heartily recommend it.

There was a bit of a billing mix-up due to the hand-writing of the bill, but Jonesy's is a solid choice for a lunch. I just can't go there again until I've digested this meal; the next visit's penciled in for July.

  • Taco Burger ($2.50)
  • Beef Taco ($2.50)
  • Side of Rice ($1.25)
At $2.50 a taco, I expected some bigger portions, but I was still surprised by what we got. I liked the atmosphere of the place (almost like a small diner) and the staff was very friendly. The place itself is fairly hidden within some neighborhoods.

The chips and dip were decent. I liked the bean stuff a lot better than the cheese stuff. This may be because my wife and I had made some Velveeta dip at home around Christmas time, and we sorta overdosed on it. The fried jalapeño/onion stuff was good, but not spicy.

The taco burger is just what they said it would be: Taco guts transplanted onto a hamburger bun. It was an interesting way to eat a taco, and there was way more filling than would fit inside the actual bun. The actual taco was good. It came in a fried flour tortilla and was jam-packed with filling. I actually think there was more meat in the real taco than on the taco burger. They were light on tomatoes, which is fine with me because I'm not a fan of tomatoes. They could have used some hot-sauce or salsa, but the stuff on the table was pretty close to water. I'd say tomato-water, but I couldn't really taste anything. The rice was a little bland as well, but not bad. It had some tougher bits in it that kept getting stuck on my teeth. Not to say that it was bad, but it surprised me a bit now and then. Still, the flavor of all of it was good even without the spiciness I had expected.

  • Iced Tea ($1.50)
  • Root Beer Float (Large, $2.95)
  • #4, Taco & 2 Enchiladas (12.95, +.50 for 1 chicken enchilada)
  • Chicken Quesadilla ($3.00)
  • Dips & Chips (5.00 (meat and cheese), 3.50 (bean))
I will never underestimate the portions of mexican food again. I will never underestimate the portions of mexican food again. I will never underestimate the portions of mexican food again.

If that seems like an awful lot of food, that's because it is. Right up front, the iced tea had a strange aftertaste, one which I associate with taco meat. Nobody else thought it tasted like taco meat, but they did note an aftertaste of some sort. The root beer float was actually "substandard", in that it used soft serve ice cream, but honestly, even a substandard root beer float is still a root beer float. More importantly, the ice cream is dairy, which means that if you ordered the chili con carne and can't handle the heat, like Mecha, you'll want one of these. I tried a bite of his, and it wasn't as damage over time as the Rasta Pasta, but it was at the upper end of my heat level.

The dips and chips are probably what the nearby college students live on. The 3.50 for the bean dip or 5.00 for meat & cheese gets you a good sized basket of chips, your choice of corn or homemade flour, or mixed, and a pretty big bowl of dip, easily enough for all the chips. The bean dip was the better of the two, but when I took the first dip of the meat and cheese, I said "mmm, there's velveeta in that." I'm told that I said it exactly the way that Cham would say "there's cilantro in that". Regardless, I still had plenty of both dips, because they were both worth the money.

That was sort of a problem when the main course hit. The platter it came on was immense, and the taco came in a separate basket. Much like Senor Matias, the enchiladas were nothing but meat, tortilla, and cheese over the top. They were also huge. Immense, even. I finished them, barely, but couldn't even begin on the taco, and it took me all day AND all night to even come close to digesting the meal. Hell, it took me a couple hours before I was even capable of being anything but a somewhat ambulatory digestive tract.

Aside from the tomato water that was in the salsa squeeze bottle, this place was good quality food.


  • Root Beer Float (Large, $2.95)
  • #5, Chili con Carne Soup & Tamale ($8.75)
  • Large Beef Burrito ($5.00)
Assume that I got the quantities and prices right for the moment, because I don't have Cham's sheet thing here. The problem with his master writing things down plan.

Appetizer wise, Cham's right on the Texas Toothpicks. Even with my less tolerant heat senses, there was barely any hint of heat in them. They weren't bad, but nothing to recommend them either. They make fine, fine chips, though, whether corn or flour, and the bean dip was really good. The cheese dip is as ND describes, which isn't, you know, amazing, and is Velveeta based, but it's tasty, and I'm pro tasty. That'll really be a theme here.

The chili was advertised as spicy, and was in fact... really spicy. Somewhat shocking! I got the root beer float afterwards (which was okay, although I wish it were real ice cream) to try and blunt the heat, but I couldn't eat the portion that came with the #5. That said, it was still good, not the flavor-killing heat, so highly recommended if you think you can handle it. The #5 also comes with beans and rice, which are both fine. The tamale was so very, very, very cornbready (which I do enjoy), but a bit TOO much cornbread for me. I like it, but... so much of it. The pork flavor wasn't nearly strong enough in comparison.

The burrito was also cheese, meat, and tortilla, and it was decent. Not amazing, but also fine to eat. I also over-ordered, because I wanted to sample things, and I got to do that in spades. It makes me hum the Big O theme, but with meat. Big Meat! Big meat, big meat, big meat... anyway.

Overall, the place does stuff that's solid, cheap, and plentiful. It's not going to knock your socks off, but you'll not regret a visit. Well, unless you eat too much and it causes you to sink to the bottom of an ocean.

Friday, February 8, 2008

HuHot Mongolian Grill

Restaurant: HuHot Mongolian Grill
Address: 990 South 72nd Street - In the old Sofas and Chairs building
Genres: mongolian grill
Check Constraints: None known.
Chain: Yes. | More Omaha Locations: Yes.

  • Adult Dinner ($11.99)
    • Hot & Sour Soup
    • First Bowl
      • Hot Sausage, Onion, Yakisoba, Mushroom, 5x Mean Bean Garlic Sauce
    • Second Bowl
      • Chicken, Broccoli, Chinese Noodles, Onion, Green Pepper, Green Beans, Mushroom, 3x Black Thai Peanut, 3x Kung Pao Yow
    • Third Bowl
      • Salmon, Pineapple, Peapods, Onion, 3x Bekter's Ginger, 1x Lemon, 0.5x Garlic Oil
  • Sake Flight ($4.95)
    • 1oz each Pearl, Asian Pear, Raspberry, and Diamond
I've eaten at a HuHot before, but they just opened up the new location on 72nd street, and since it is not exactly far from my apartment, we decided it was a nice venue for dinner. Besides, the blog hasn't had the chance to hit a new restaurant yet, so this was the perfect opportunity for a scoop! Or so we pretended. What it meant was there was a chance for good Mongolian-style grilling, and very possibly some alcohol.

And boy howdy, what alcohol. A while back Mecha ordered a four-pack of Momokawa sakés from wine.woot - they were delicious, and then we learned that they stock them at Whole Foods, and then things just went downhill. But anyhow. When I learned that $5 would get me four 1oz shots of Momokawa saké, there was not a chance I was going to turn it down. And it's excellent, really. The sake's good, they present it in four faux-stone shotglasses on a faux-stone runner, and if you're of a mind to, you could slam them all in sequence.. I recommend taking your time, however, as it will allow you to really enjoy the taste, and for $5, it's a very excellent bargain.

If you're not familiar with Mongolian grilles, the concept is fairly simple. Assemble raw or raw-ish ingredients in a bowl or on a plate, apply sauce to taste, and let the grillmasters cook it on an incredibly hot flat griddle (usually circular). There are varying implementations of the concept, but the latest installment in Omaha's HuHots - the third thereof - does it very well. They have a lot more space than their 114th St location, as well as a larger griddle and more space around the ingredient bars. Their griddle chefs are a little new at the task, but their waitstaff is capable and well-trained right off the bat. Perhaps a little too eager, but I can forgive that in moderation.

The decor is modern, the light is "dramatic" (read; dim), and the food is excellent. It's a shame it's that close to my apartment, because it means I'm very likely to become poorer soon. It's an excellent addition to the Omaha franchise.

  • Adult Dinner ($11.99)
    • Asian Salad (Sweet)
    • First Bowl
      • Shrimp, Mixed (mainly green) Pepper, Bean Sprouts, Bamboo, Onions, Water Chestnuts, 2x Peanut, 1x Sesame Oil
    • Second Bowl
      • Beef, Pad Thai Noodles, Carrot, Pepper, Bean Sprouts, Bamboo, 2x Peanut, 1.5x Red Curry.
    • Third Bowl
      • Pork, Chinese Noodles, Mushroom, Pineapple, Onion. 1x Peanut, 1x Yellow Curry, 1x Kung Pow
  • Samurai Smoothie ($5.50)
I managed to pick up that the place was opening while glancing through a waiting room newspaper, so hooray for us getting to try it out. The place itself was sparsely populated, likely because it just opened, and since the food gets cooked as you want it, that made it really quick to get our food done. But the grill here was much larger than the one at the other HuHot (which could only handle maybe 8, I would put this as possibly double that.) Also, from an allergy point of view, this place initially looks bad if you've got strong reactions to things, but the website says that they'll work with allergies if you want by cleaning off sections of the grill and using differnt utensils. Of course, neither of us have serious food allergies for what they have, so we can't really test the effectiveness of their methods.

The Samurai Smoothie is mainly a strawberry/sake drink, and mainly tastes of the strawberry. Which is a shame, as I like the flavor of sake, but foe people who want sake without having to taste it, there you go. They seem to basically use sake as the baseline for every mixed drink that they have. Also, they don't have a drink menu at the moment on the tables or anything, except for beers and wines, and the manager didn't even have one ready (he used a sheaf of papers to explain things.) My guess is that they're still a bit in the prep stages, so hopefully they'll work those kinks out. Not knowing how you're gonna buy the heavy alcohol is a barrier to doing it at all.

The menu has a lot of other options (and works fairly well for picky kids) such as potstickers and such, but the bar is the star. As you might guess from my selections, I am a big fan of peanuts and their peanut sauce, along with most of the rest of them, is very solid. The red curry's good too, and now that I know what red curry is supposed to taste like, I can even say that. Aside from the Beef, Pork, Chicken, Shrimp, Salmon, and Hot Sausage, they also had Krab (labeled Krab, helpfully) and another fishy option I can't remember. The other one we've gone to at 114th only had the first three, so along with the size increase there's been a menu option increase as well, and that's good. Not as much of a menu selection as a place in my home town that I've gone to, but the rest of the place is far more solid. The site itself says that options may vary from place to place, so for another store in the chain you might end up with a few options, or a wide variety. All of the food looked safe and sanitary, no mystery buffet here. I'm surprised Cham didn't make a comment about the heat of his sauce options, but there was a pleasant mild heat in most of my options, which is what I like.

It's worth noting that the lunch option (IIRC) doesn't have any attached rice or salad/soup option. Part of the cost change, I'm sure between lunch and dinner. The asian salad is a sweet salad, with lettuce, small crispy ramen-like noodles, and some cabbage thrown in. The dressing makes me want to say 'sweet vinagrette', but that's not really quite it.

The thing that annoys me most about the place is the corny stereotypical motif, frankly. Blah blah Mongols, blah blah pillage, blah blah conquest. I suppose they need a hook to attract some people, but meh. The food is solid, the prices are reasonable for what they have, and it's something different for people who don't really go to the trouble of owning a wok or going deep into other Asian cuisine.

Petrow's Restaurant

Restaurant: Petrow's
Address: 5914 Center Street
Genres: American, Homestyle, Fried
Check Constraints: Check shows orders by table place, totaled indivually, on a single check.
Chain: No. | More Omaha Locations: No.

  • Monterey Chicken Sandwich ($7.49)
  • Cup of Potato Soup ($2.49)
  • Iced Tea ($1.19)
  • Strawberry Shake ($2.79)
Petrow's bills itself as an Omaha tradition, and really, it is. The restaurant has been here, in various incarnations, since 1903. The current incarnation isn't quite that old, but when it opened, it was on the west edge of town. It has been a long, LONG time since "the west edge of Omaha" was anywhere NEAR 60th & Center. In fact, the west edge of Omaha is currently somewhere near 180th or so. In any case, this puts Petrow's right between the two major "downtown" areas of Omaha, and that makes it a fairly popular place at lunchtime. It's not a big place, and the parking lot can't handle any more than the restaurant can, so you might want to leave a little early to make sure you get a spot.

Inside, the place looks more or less like a Denny's, though with a more up-front and visible kitchen. Really, it's a classic American diner stretched out a bit to make room for more customers. Also, there's way less pseudo-wood paneling. The sign was out to seat yourself, and the waitresses were very busy, so I'm not surprised. I knew at least part of my meal, though, as soon as I walked in and saw the sign saying one of the soups of the day was potato.

I will go to a fair length for a good potato soup. It's one of the iconic foods of my youth, along with my mother's beef stroganoff. I am not, however, not nearly as good at making potato soup as I am the stroganoff, so aside from the stuff I had at Brazen Head, I haven't had potato soup in years. I ordered, and expected something roughly like what the Brazen Head had.

I was pleasantly surprised when I put a spoonful of soup in my mouth and discovered that Petrow's is somehow privvy to my mother's potato soup recipe. They use less onion and more cheese than she did, which is a blessing upon my palate, but aside from that small and welcome change, it was literally my mother's soup, come straight out of the past to boot me in the head. Potatoes, cream, cheese, a bit of onion, all boiled together into a chowder-like soup, it's really something you can't go wrong with. If I'd known that was their recipe, I'd have ordered two bowls of it and nothing else for lunch.

They don't have a soup of the day schedule, but the waitress encouraged me to call ahead and see what soup was on for the day, as many customers do. She also assured me that the potato soup is one of their more frequent soups. There is no doubt about this, I will be going back for more.

The sandwich, amazingly, almost measured up to the same level as the soup. The description on the menu promised chicken, ham, swiss cheese, and bread, and that's exactly what I got. What I didn't expect was that Petrow's actually puts cheese on both sides of the sandwich, so meat is never in contact with the bread directly. The sandwich ends up being a bit drippy that way, but it's out the sides, rather than having the toasted bread falling apart. The swiss cheese was high quality, too, and served so hot that all three flavors blended together well in your mouth before you even start chewing.

I had originally planned to grab a banana split for dessert, but ended up just grabbing a strawberry shake to go. They clearly don't have a shake machine, as the shake is made old-style, by throwing strawberries into vanilla ice cream and milk and blending the whole thing until it's more or less smooth. They didn't skimp on the strawberries at all, either.

I'm honestly tempted, at this point, to change the "home-style" tag to "home", because everything I got, aside from the appetizers Cham ordered, was exactly as I make it myself, and the way I grew up with. Petrow's is a great place to spend a lunch or four, and for the price, you're going to come away satisfied.


  • The Platter ($7.29)
    • Deep-Fried Green Pepper Rings
    • Deep-Fried Onion Rings
    • Deep-Fried Mushrooms
    • Deep-Fried Waffle Fries
  • Cup of Cheesy Potato Soup with Ham ($2.49)
  • Pork Tenderloin ($6.49)
    • 2 Onion Rings
    • Steak Fries
If, from my description of the food I ordered, you gathered that nothing I ate at Petrows' was not dipped in batter and then deep fried (barring the soup)... you would be correct. I've been feeling off lately, and I'm not sure that when I ordered a collection of appetizers and a pork tenderloin I put together the necessary pieces in my brain to realize I would probably be eating more breading than actual food. I've eaten at Petrows' before, and must have let the complacency get to me. At least one of the foods was an actual vegetable.

The Platter honestly was worth skipping. The waffle fries were good but made from frozen, the green pepper rings had a pepper/
batter ratio easily approaching 0.5, and the mushrooms - always a hit or miss item anywhere - were dripping with absorbed moisture and oil, and were practically inedible. The only stand-out item here were the onion rings, which you get two of for free with any meal, and believe me when I tell you that that is going to be enough onion rings. If you really want you can get a ton of them for not much directly as an appetizer.

The soup, on the other hand, was worth waiting for. ND tells me the cheese in it was entirely American, but I swear I tasted a hint of swiss. That may have been residual memory from my childhood, however - my mother occasionally made a ham and swiss soup with a similar mouth-feel. It's very thick, and very full of ham, so a bowl of this is going to go a long way.

I've had the pork tenderloin before, but it's a safe bet and good so I wanted to get it again. I come from a state which prides itself on doing pork tenderloins well, and I know a good pork tenderloin when I eat one. They're hand-breaded, possibly even done on-site - no paper-thin wisp of pork enshrouded in breadcrumb armor here. It's a delicious piece of meat, made more delicious. You could almost ditch the bun it comes on and eat it straight up, but then you'd miss out on the easy way to eat the pickles and onion it comes with. I also apply ketchup to mine, which is apparently anathema to ND. It's a habit I picked up from eating lesser pork tenderloins as a method to add sorely-needed moisture. I didn't have to do it here, but I came to like the flavor.

The fries, of which there are a ton on the plate, are steak fries of fairly large width. I could stand them to be a little crunchier, but you kind of take diner fries as they come, you know? I actually couldn't finish the entire meal. That's an extreme rarity for me, but as I said, I've been feeling off. I didn't get a shake this time as a result, but I've had them before and I agree with ND's assessment that they are well and truly delicious. Get one and you won't be disappointed.