Eat! Lansing

August 13, 2009

Pablo’s Panaderia

Filed under: Best of, Lansing, Mexican — Jack Lumanog @ 9:28 pm

Pablos

Pablo’s Panaderia
311 E Grand River Ave, Lansing, MI 48933

(517) 372-0887

The first time I ate at Pablo’s Panaderia, I almost cried.  OK, well maybe not really, but I felt a little misty.  Maybe because our family has eaten some pretty mediocre Mexican food since moving to Lansing.  We’ve eaten at Fiesta Charra in DeWitt a few times simply because it’s close to our house and they pour a healthy margarita at a reasonable price. Besides proximity and margaritas, that’s where the good stuff comes to an end. No matter what you order, it’s going to be the saltiest thing you’ve ever had. We’ve had quite a few meals at Cancun Mexican Restaurant at both locations in Okemos (off of Jolly Road is preferred because it’s not as busy as the location across from Meridian Mall). We usually have a coupon, the service is OK, food comes out quickly (important when you’ve got kids!) and it’s consistently good. My wife always says the servers always seem in a hurry to shoo us out as soon as we slow down from eating. Lots of MSU folks also have a warm place in their hearts for El Azteco which I don’t quite understand. Service is always rushed, everything is an extra charge and nothing is particularly great.

So, we’ve settled down into a routine of not having great Mexican meals since we moved here from Kansas City. On one street alone in KC – Southwest Boulevard – you could take your pick of a dozen amazing Mexican restaurants.

So, enough complaining about other Mexican restaurants in Lansing that have not really hit the spot or reminiscing about the bevy of options in Kansas City.  Pablo’s is a place we’ve known about because of the road construction on our normal route to the west side of Lansing.  The torn up roads put us on a detour through Old Town. And after what seemed like the millionth time of driving by Pablo’s and saying, “We should try that sometime,” we finally did.

First time I went for dinner, I came with my family. The owner greeted us warmly, found a high chair for my youngest and put us right by the window. He was incredibly helpful in improvising a kids meal for our daughters and heaped on the sides for my entree and my wife’s entree so that all four of us could share. My wife got an amazing combo platter with carnitas (seasoned roasted pork). It had three items on it and I don’t remember any of the names but I snuck a bite of each of them and they were amazing.

For me, the 3 taco platter was what I had been missing since I moved here (pictured above with one missing – I ate the first one and realized that I should have taken a pic for the blog!). These tacos were perfection and there is just about every meat choice imaginable: lengua (tongue), bistek (steak), carnitas, chicken, chorizo (sausage) and others. I went with the various beef options and it was just amazing. Preparation is simple with two tortillas for each taco, your meat of choice, cilantro, onions and limes no the side. If you’ve ever been to Mexico, you’ll feel like you’re back there with the look of the plate and of course when you take your first bite. I don’t want to be overdramatic, but I felt like I was back in Cancun the first time I ate here. (And the successive visits over the last few weeks at the lunch hour.)

Our family of four ate an amazing meal for around $20. No liquor license at Pedro’s but they offer some fresh squeezed juices, fountain drinks and even bottled Coca-Cola hecho en Mexico (made in Mexico).  What’s the big deal about Mexican Coca-Cola, you ask?  If you are a freak about not ingesting high fructose corn syrup, you’ll love this because Mexican Coca-Cola is made with pure sugar cane.

As I write this post, I’m wondering: is going to Pablo’s two days in a row for lunch a bad idea?

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June 28, 2008

Famous Taco

Filed under: Burrito, East Lansing, Lansing, Mexican — dkastner @ 10:22 pm

Famous Taco
Various Locations 

Famous Taco occupies the space between fast-food burrito joints like El Oasis or Taco Bell, and sit down restaurants like El Azteco, Chevy’s or Chi Chi’s.  It’s the typical northern rendition of Mexican food that features plenty of unseasoned meat, cheese, and lettuce.  If you want spice, you can dip into the salsa on the side or have a bite of Spanish rice.  Famous Taco is nothing spectacular, but if you want a quick, sit-down Mexican meal, it’s a good place to start.  Sort of like the Denny’s of Mexican food.  $10 for a larger than average burrito with beans and rice.

June 17, 2008

El Oasis

Filed under: Best of, Burrito, Lansing, Mexican — dkastner @ 8:15 pm

El Oasis Antojitos Mexicanos
Michigan Ave & Francis St 

Authentic Mexican in the middle of the Great Lakes State?  Yes, it’s true!  In true Taqueria fashion, El Oasis is in a trailer at the corner of Michigan Ave and Francis St.  Curiously, the trailer has Ohio plates.

The chicken burrito is very tasty.  The flour tortilla is very soft (extra shortening!) and is filled with spanish rice, refried beans, lettuce, queso fresco, and chicken.  There wasn’t much in the way of spiciness, but there was plenty of flavor.  Two tubs of Empanadas (caramel or apple) sit on the ordering counter.  The Empanadas are coated in sugar and cinnamon and the crust is flaky, almost like phyllo dough.  

El Oasis is perfect for a quick meal and it’s in a pretty eclectic neighborhood.  Some of the best Mexican food in town!

May 12, 2008

Burrito Chain Blowout

Filed under: Best of, Burrito, East Lansing, Lansing, Mexican, Okemos — dkastner @ 8:28 pm

Once Chipotle stormed onto the American dining scene, many “me too” burrito joints joined into the fray.  Here we will determine, once and for all, who makes the supreme burrito!

Let’s have a look at the contestants:

Chipotle Mexican Grill
East Lansing and Lansing Mall
www.chipotle.com
 

No, it’s not pronounced, “chuh-poll-tay” but it is the joint that sets the standard.   Without any real advertising this Denver-based company threw up restaurants in every major city, focusing on trendy “town centers,” yuppie neighborhoods, and upscale malls.  The menu is simple and the ingredients are above-average.  Diners are presented with an array of Tobasco sauces (one of which is chipotle flavored (flavored like the smoked pepper, not the restaurant)) with which to smother their food.  The guacamole is above average and the chips suit it well.  The meats are spicy and, if eaten freshly off the griddle, are great.  I think what puts it over the top is the rice with a bit of cilantro mixed in.  They also serve beer!

The high quality food and simple, yet clean atmosphere raises the bar for fast Mexican food.  Be sure to find a Chipotle staffed with Central/South Americans, if you can, as they tend to spice up the meat a little more.

But, are you willing to sell your soul to a national chain brought to you by McDonald’s investment?

Qdoba Mexican Grill
Various locations
www.qdoba.com 

If Chipotle is the Mercedes W463 of burritos, then Qdoba is the Ford Festiva.  Pretty basic, and gets you where you want to go (face stuffed full of meat and spices).  No gimmicks, just meat, veggies and maybe some movie theater-quality nacho cheese thrown in.  The MSU Union location was recently closed, presumably due to its substandard fare.

Panchero’s Mexican… You Guessed It, Grill
Various locations
www.pancheros.com 

I can just imagine the marketing meeting.  “How can we compete against Chipotle?  I know!  Let’s make the tortillas right in front of the diner!  That’s so much more fresh! And fun!”  Well, sadly, the wait for a tortilla to finish frying is quite a negative experience.  Especially when the other ingredients lack in quality.  The Guacamole, while fresh, is uninspiring and the chips don’t do much to help it out.  The ingredients are slightly higher quality than Qdoba, but don’t match Chipotle.

BTB Burrito (formerly, Big Ten Burrito)
403 E. Grand River Ave, East Lansing, MI
www.bigtenburrito.com 

A burrito joint started in Ann Arbor, located here in East Lansing.  Unique, modern atmosphere with basic seating at long picnic tables.  Skinny burritos.  Quite cheap.  A decent meal for the price.  There are also plenty of other offerings here, but I haven’t ventured beyond the burrito.

New York Burrito
216 S Washington Sq, Lansing, MI 
www.newyorkburrito.com 

New York City?  That really chaps my hide!  There is a New York Burrito combined in an unholy marriage with a sub shop in downtown Lansing.  Just finding the correct line to stand in is initially confusing.  The burritos here are comparable to Qdoba.  Don’t waste your time.  Oh wait, that’s easy because, like every other downtown business, it closes at 6pm, so you’ll never have a chance to visit!  Fun fact: New York Burrito is headquartered in Utah.

And the Winner Is…

As a Mac fan, I have to say that Chipotle is the Apple Computers of burritos.  They’ve set an innovative standard and have managed to keep the quality up.  In a strong second I would put Big Ten Burrito and Panchero’s in a distant third.

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