Choose Your Own Restaurant Review

 

It’s a hot day in California, as hot as fresh jalapenos. The air feels like a pizza oven. The corn-yellow sun shines its rays like yet another stupid food-based metaphor that you can’t be bothered to think of. Suddenly, you remember that you are a food blogger. A feeling of mild panic mixed with hunger starts in your gut and works its way into your eyelid, making it twitch.

“I really should go eat at a restaurant somewhere,” you say to yourself, thoughtfully placing a hand over your gurgling stomach. The three people that have been sitting on the couch in your living room look at you suddenly, concerned to see you speaking to yourself yet again. “Oh,” you say, attempting to salvage the situation. “Do you guys…”

Choose: “…want to go to an Italian restaurant?”

Choose: “…have any ideas where we should go?”


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You suggest going to an Italian restaurant.

Everyone seems to like the idea of Italian, and without much fuss you all climb into the car and start driving towards a half-decent chain restaurant. As you cruise down the street, you notice a biplane towing a banner overhead… and then you remember. There’s a 49er game today, and you are heading straight into the belly of the beast. Quick, you need to avoid traffic! You decide to…

Choose: Take the freeway.

Choose: Take side streets.


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You ask for advice on where you should go eat.

Seizing the opportunity to dictate the menu, the pickiest eater of the group leaps to his feet and begins listing restaurant criteria. “It should be not too expensive and not too cheap, but also not greasy and probably there should be no cheese. Except if we go to my favorite burrito place, then grease and cheese are ok,” he says, hardly taking a breath. “It can’t be Chinese because I demanded to have that yesterday and now I am tired of it, and it can’t be American or Greek or Burmese or Lithuanian or African or basically anything that I say it can’t be. In fact, it must only be a very specific type of curry, my aforementioned favorite burrito shop, or a pizza place an hour away. Also…”

But those are the last words he ever says. The other two people in the room throttle the picky eater to death with their bare hands, and you help them bury the body. Eventually you are all caught by the FBI and are sent to prison for the rest of your natural lives.

Go back


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You take the freeway.

In a stroke of sheer luck, traffic on the freeway is very light… but in the wrong direction. You have no choice but to try and get away from the football crowd, so you start driving with no destination in mind. Before long you realize you are headed straight towards Murphy Street in Sunnyvale, and you know for sure that there are some decent places to eat there. Maybe things will turn out alright after all. Quickly, you park the car and shoo everyone in the general direction of food. You walk along Murphy Street and then…

Choose: You go to the kebab joint.

Choose: You go to the Italian bistro.

Choose: You go to the Mexican place.


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You take side streets.

Using local shortcuts is always a good choice… right? After only a couple of blocks you realize you have made a terrible, terrible mistake. You are stuck right in the middle of the worst gridlock you have ever seen, surrounded by raised pickup trucks draped in 49er flags. You are trapped and there is no way out.

You're screwed now.

You’re screwed now.

The starvation slowly drives your passengers to insanity over the course of the next twelve days. Eventually, it is decided that cannibalism is the only path to survival… and you are the main course.

Go back


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You walk towards the kebab joint.

As you draw near to the kebab joint, you hear your stomach grumbling… but then you realize it’s someone in your party voicing their disapproval of kebabs. Well, it’s not the worst thing ever. The sun-faded posters in the window of this place look kind of scary anyway, and there are way too many dead flies on the inside window sills. Yucky. You turn back to pick another place to eat.

Go back


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You arrive at the Italian bistro.

The place is packed to the gills, even the outside patio. “Ugh,” you mutter to yourself. “What in the world are all these people doing here at 1pm on a Sunday??”

“It looks like they’re watching the football game on that giant portable TV screen they’ve parked in the middle of the road over there,” says one of your starving companions.

Sigh. It seems Italian just isn’t meant to be today. Disappointed and somewhat depressed, you turn around and walk back up the street to choose from one of the other two restaurants.

Go back


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You decide on the Mexican place.

You find yourself at Roberto’s Cantina, a small-ish place tucked in a corner along Murphy Street. The scent of delicious, scratch-made Mexican food meets your nose, and to your surprise there are still a couple of tables open. You are quickly seated and given some chips and salsa to graze on.

You discover that both types of salsa are excellent.

You discover that both types of salsa are excellent.

You spend some time looking through the menu, and a few different entrees catch your eye. The waiter arrives and asks you what you’d like to order.

Choose: A combination plate.

Choose: Al Rebozo (bacon-wrapped shrimp).

Choose: Steak fajitas.


 

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You order a combination plate.

You figure that the best way to try out a new Mexican restaurant is to go for a mix of favorites. You opt for a carne asada enchilada and a quesadilla, and of course refried beans instead of pinto or black beans.

C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!

C-C-C-COMBO BREAKER!

You find the refried beans to be flavorful but mostly average, a sure indicator of the rest of the meal. The quesadilla is about the same, but the enchilada turns out to be rather good. It is unfortunately impossible to eat, being nestled in a shallow bowl and inaccessible to knife and fork, but you still enjoy it. Without warning, your spouse asks you for half of your quesadilla in exchange for a couple of bacon-wrapped shrimp.

Accept the trade and give the shrimp a try.

Refuse the trade and keep your quesadilla.


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You try the Al Rebozo.

You’re not sure who Al is, but apparently he makes pretty decent bacon-wrapped shrimp. The scent of crispy bacon and fresh seafood wafts tantalizingly through the air.

When in doubt, wrap everything in bacon.

When in doubt, wrap everything in bacon.

You’ve had questionable bacon-and-shrimp plates before, so you’re not really sure what to think of this one. You tentatively take a bite… and wow! That is one tasty dish. The bacon is nice and crispy, but surprisingly the shrimp inside are not overcooked. Whoever is preparing this dish has apparently done this before, and they are very good at it. You decide that these shrimp are so tasty, in fact, that you would even eat them if they were served on top of a dried cow pie. You aren’t too sure about the weird chipotle sauce that came with them though.

Conclude your meal.


 

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You order steak fajitas.

Hey, who doesn’t like fajitas? Unfortunately, the answer will soon be you. The steak fajitas arrive piled high, sizzling on a cast iron thingy and smelling delicious. As you begin eating, however, you realize that they don’t have a lot of flavor, and the tortillas are a little odd as well. You probably should have ordered something else.

Go back


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You foolishly refuse the trade.

Like an idiot, you decide that it’ll be a good idea to decline your spouse’s trade. You greedily hoard the remainder of your combo plate for yourself, all the while being given the hairy eyeball. Later, when you arrive at home, you are assigned to pull weeds in the hot sun for the rest of your life. That evening, your PlayStation mysteriously appears in the toilet.

Rethink your decision


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You finish your meal and wrap up the restaurant review.

meter-good+In the end, you consider your experience at Roberto’s Cantina to be a success. All four people in your lunch party – including the picky one – ended up mostly happy with their meals. There were a couple of things about Roberto’s that you didn’t love, such as the flavorless carne asada and fajitas, but there were also some things that you thought were pretty good. You’d be happy to come back some day, but you can’t give it the highest score ever. You decide to rate this restaurant 7 out 10 pork-wrapped seafood items.

And then everyone lived happily ever after.

Roberto’s Cantina
168 South Murphy Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 739-2021
www.robertos-cantina.com

Roberto's Cantina on Urbanspoon



Standard Restaurant Review Disclaimer
The ambiguous and illogical rating system used in this review is not intended to be pinpoint accurate. It’s only there to give you a general idea of how much I like or dislike an establishment, and it also gives me an excuse to write silly things. If my rating system angers and distracts you, there’s a good chance you have control issues. I would also like to point out that I am not a highly qualified restaurant reviewer person, nor do I particularly care what that job is called. If you were under the impression that perhaps I was one of those people, consider your hopes dashed. Lastly, wow! You read the entire disclaimer. You get a gold star on your chart today.

 

Rico’s Hacienda

meter-goodRico’s Hacienda is not the type of place you fly all the way to Texas to visit, but it does make for a solid dinner choice. The menu offers a good variety of authentic Mexican dishes to choose from, and the food itself is decent but perhaps a bit unremarkable.

Braving air travel during the holidays is not my very favorite thing in the world to do. Call me crazy, but being herded through mazes of security ropes while people take blurry X-ray photographs of me in my underpants is just not my cup of tea. Follow that up with several hours of being confined in a straight jacket cleverly disguised as an economy class airplane seat, and you have a perfect storm of misery on your hands. The one thing that makes this ordeal worthwhile for me is looking forward to the abundance of amazing restaurants located in and around the destination – in this case, Houston.

” The real test of a Mexican restaurant is the quality of their refried beans “

The flight was joyful. Someone had thoughtfully stuffed the seat pocket in front of me with about a thousand used snot rags, and it made a very nice cushion for my knees. After touching down in Houston, we waited a perfectly reasonable 35 minutes on the tarmac while we enjoyed the fragrance of jet fuel. We were then treated to a delightful half hour of relaxation at the baggage carousel, and by that time I was ready for murder. I mean hugs. I was ready to give hugs. Trying to think happy thoughts here.

My wife and I finally met up with the car load of relatives that had come to collect us from the airport, and as we fled the mayhem we discussed our collective dinner plans. Our primary focus was agreeing on a place that wouldn’t be too crowded on a Saturday night, and if they happened to serve decent food, that was a nice bonus. Appropriately, we settled on Rico’s Hacienda in The Woodlands.

I'm not sure what a hacienda actually is, but I don't think this is one.

I’m not sure what a hacienda actually is, but I don’t think this is one.

Rico’s was exactly as I remembered it from the last time we’d been: Bustling, festive, and dimly lit. The whole place oozes with (relatively) authentic Mexican flair. We were seated immediately and served piping hot chips with fresh salsa. So far so good. Our competent and mostly prompt waiter visited shortly afterwards and took our drink and meal orders: Skillet queso, grilled tilapia, a couple orders of beef fajitas with bacon-wrapped shrimp, and an enchilada plate.

Queso is just better in Texas. I have no idea why.

Queso is just better in Texas. I have no idea why.

Our food arrived after a short wait, and in no time flat our table was jam packed with plates, bowls, and mugs of frozen margaritas. Our waiter caught a mistake with my order before it even made it to the table, and in less than a minute the replacement was sitting in front of me. Bigtime kudos to the waitstaff for being on top of things.

The bacon wrapped shrimp were very flavorful but perhaps a bit dry, and it was the same story with the bed of beef fajitas they sat on. My enchiladas were ever so slightly on the plain side, but the beef was seasoned well, the rice was excellent, and everything was sizzling hot.

Traditional bacon-wrapped shrimp and fajitas. Whose tradition exactly is a mystery.

Traditional bacon-wrapped shrimp and fajitas. Whose tradition exactly is a mystery.

For me, the real test of a Mexican restaurant is the quality of their refried beans. Good beans don’t always equate to a good restaurant, but ill-prepared beans are the kiss of death as far as I’m concerned. Rico’s refried beans were just barely on the acceptable side of average, which is a shame. They did seem to be scratch made – a critical factor – but they were also lumpy and a bit bland. The beans weren’t meh enough to prevent me from coming back, but I wouldn’t exactly say that they passed with flying colors.

In the end, I like Rico’s Hacienda. I didn’t love absolutely everything about my most recent visit, but there were enough high points that I’d be happy to come back for another meal and a frosty margarita. My rating falls somewhere in the range of 3 out of 4 pounds of queso dip. If you’re looking for a decent, friendly restaurant that won’t be too crowded during peak hours, Rico’s is the place to be. If you want the very best Mexican food in the Houston area, there are probably better choices.

Rico’s Hacienda
8000 Research Forest Drive
The Woodlands, Texas 77382
(281) 465-4820
www.ricosgrill.com
Rico's Hacienda & Bar on Urbanspoon


The holy grail of Mexican food: An enchilada platter.

The holy grail of Mexican food: An enchilada platter.