Category Archives: Taste of Wheaton

Best…Taste…Ever

Thai Taste's Charcoal Grill

Thai Taste’s Charcoal Grill

The 2014 Taste of Wheaton has charcoal and citrus in the nose, with a sweet corn bouquet; it hits your palate with a blast of graphite, hints of soy and fish sauce, and meaty undertones, before receding into a lingering, feral, umami-saturated finish.

All of which is to say, and I think Comic Book Guy would agree, this was the best Taste of Wheaton ever.  But why?  After all, the usual suspects were mostly again accounted for.  Well, there were three key differences this year, all better than previous years:

One, the vast majority of dishes were available for $1, or else $2, and the $2 portions were mostly quite large.  Only a few offerings were higher, like the Limerick Pub’s $5 crab cake sliders.  In past years, many dishes were in the $3-5 range, but it’s much better to have cheaper options, for maximum diverse sampling.  The organizers must have pushed for this, and it is a big improvement, glad all participants played along.

Thai Taste Cooking Demo

Thai Taste Cooking Demo

Two, the cooking demo is a great addition.  I only caught the first one, with the Thai Taste folks making pad thai, but there were others throughout the afternoon. The setup was in a tent with plenty of seats and a mirror for viewing the cooktop.  Sponsored and MC’d by Yelp (!), there was a good mix of action and discussion, and patient viewers got samples of the finished product.  I hope they keep doing this in future years.  At the Thai Taste demo, they were heavily cross-selling Hung Phat, the grocery store behind which TT lives, and it truly is an excellent twofer.  The most interesting part of the demo was when she put salt in the pad thai at the end, despite having already added a fish/tamarind sauce.  There was also talk of a “secret ingredient” but I’m not sure what they meant by that, might have been kidding but who knows?

Three, it seemed less crowded this year.  Still plenty of attendees, enough to feel like a big outdoor party, but easier to maneuver than in the past, and manageable lines.  Can’t control this, of course, but it was a nice atmosphere – “nice” in that classic, ferally urbane Wheaton way, of course.

Some details on the food:  Hollywood East, Ming Tree, and Saigonese each offered orange chicken, among several other $2 plate options from each place.  Hollywood in particular was serving enormous portions.  I settled for a delicious pork dumpling, which I doused in chili sauce.

Charbroiled pork or chicken was also available from several tents.  I chose Thai Taste, since (a) they are a first-year Taste participant and (b) Mrs. Me and I had already tried and loved their pork-on-a-stick.  I could have just stood next to their grill for hours, it smelled so good.  Popular too, they were having difficulty keeping up with demand, with a large line building, waiting for the pork to finish cooking.  Thai Taste also sold me a $2 cup of Thai iced tea — I did not need any convincing, and it was the perfect beverage on a warm day for someone who didn’t have quite enough coffee this morning.

Food to the left of us, food to the right of us, food in front of us… (Charge of the Taste Brigade)

Food to left of us, food to right of us, food in front of us, griddled and grilled… (Charge of the Taste Brigade)

I also tried an empanada from Pollo Campero, where I have never eaten but clearly need to.  The empanada had gone soft from hanging out in the warming oven, but was otherwise delicious, plump with tender stewed chicken and just enough creamy, zesty tomatillo sauce.  They were also selling a lot of “campenitos” – little buckets of fried chicken pieces, kind of like those KFC bites buckets except I think with a better chicken-to-coating ratio.

Other $1 options, all good or better quality too:
Cobanos: pupusas, tamales, chicken taquitos
Pollo Sabroso: pupusas, fried chicken wing, saltenas, plantains
Umbertos: tacos (also $2 quesadillas already sold out by noon, if I was reading their sign right)
Limerick: potato croquettes, Irish meatballs
Moby Dick: various sushi
Marchone’s: Italian sub sections

Ledo and Little Caesar’s each had slices for $2, and IHOP was there too, and while I don’t usually eat at those places, they were doing a solid business, and I have to admit it’s good to have them participate, more options for more people.  We like options.  I also didn’t try anything from the Ana G. Mendez Culinary School or Green Plate Catering, both of which were also doing cooking demos later in the day.  Green Plate’s food looked good but far too healthy for me.  The Mendez School is a new and interesting local food scene addition, related to this Puerto Rican entity, and more info on the new local digs here.

Other notes: the wine tent (with food pairings) was huge, and evidently hugely popular despite charging extra for tickets.  Kids seemed to be enjoying the rides. Orquesta la Romana sounded great, especially the tight brass section, and lots of folks were grooving on the lawn.  Soul Crackers had just taken the stage and had launched into a heartfelt rendition of Take Me To the River as I was leaving.

All in all, a fun, happy, tasty, well-done event. Thanks and congrats to the organizers and sponsors.  Next year, my expectations will be even higher!

Recent Wheaton Food Stuff

Lazy sunny Saturday, lazy headline.  Lazy post too, probably.

Taste of Wheaton is tomorrow.  Or, tomorrow!  (?)  (punctuation!!) Hard to decide how excited to get about the Taste at this point.  I am interested to see how the cooking demos go, including one (at noon) by  Max Prasertmate of the new-to-Wheaton and very good Thai Taste by Kob.  Otherwise, as suspected, participants are the usual suspects (plus Thai Taste!) (thanks to BEI for posting this link in comment to previous post).

Ate at The Chicken Place (2418 University) recently for the first time in years. Their food was about as remembered: pretty good overall, nothing special, but probably underrated considering nobody ever talks about them.  They do a very good charbroiled chicken, and Mrs. Me digs their plantains.  Lomo saltado is only okay, not saucy enough, but the components are fine.  I made the mistake of looking at their Yelp file, which has several recent very negative comments that don’t really hold up.  In particular, I found the Chicken Place service to be super friendly, just as it was years ago, from the owner (?) to all the servers.  They even called me back to tell me it would be 15 minutes longer than originally predicted for the chicken to be ready.  How many restaurants bother to do that?   So we like the Chicken Place.

A new Latino restaurant, called El Catrachito, has opened in the former Gloria’s/Irene’s III/etc. space just a few storefronts down University from Chicken Place.  I can’t find a website for them, but I did find that they had a “food violation” reported but then passed inspection just this week.* Is it better to be investigated and found to be fully sanitary and compliant, or is it better not to have any complaints in the first place?  Anyway,  there were lots of people eating at El Catrachito the other night, so obviously someone likes it.  Will try to go at some point.  I’m weary of every new restaurant being Salvadoran around here.  Bring me all your vindaloos and biryanis!!

* Who knew WUSA posted this stuff??

Taco Loco, or whatever, next door to El Pollo Rico, still isn’t open (is it?) despite being “coming soon” for like a year now.  Honestly I can’t be bothered to investigate further.  Someday I’ll be over there again to peer in the windows.  Maybe they gave up?  Or maybe it’s really open and I am just out to lunch, or “out to lunch” again.

Tonight we are going to friends’ house where they will grill pork chops in apple sauce in honor of Ann B. Davis, a fitting tribute in which we are excited to participate.  Naturally, we are bringing limes.

Taste of Wheaton and Other Notes

Yeah yeah, I’m still here.  Just back from a  weekend trip to Buffalo, where (you may already know) they are famous for the wings of the chickens.  They are also famous for professional sports futility and presidential assassinations and The Lake Effect and probably other things, but I will limit my upcoming report to the wings, and a few other culinary adventures. Buffalo is actually a pretty fun place.

Also coming soon, reviews of Woodberry Kitchen, which I have been having trouble wrapping my brain around, and probably some other places where I ate months ago and haven’t gotten around to discussing.  Fortunately I took a few notes at a few places, so I can still write about them.

Also also, the 19th annual Taste of Wheaton will be this Saturday Sunday, June 8, from 11-5 in the usual Wheaton Triangle location.  New this year: local chefs doing cooking demos.  Sounds fun!  I’m assuming the participating restaurants will be the usual suspects, but I haven’t seen a list yet.

Taste Wheaton This Sunday

In college, when we used to play cards or games or whatever and someone needed to take a quick break, that person would say “in but out” which loosely translated meant “I am coming right back so DO NOT TAKE MY SEAT” and it was surprisingly effective.  Everyone always respected the in but out.

Vis a vis the blog, I remain indefinitely in but out, for now.

However!  I would be even more remiss than usual were I not to note that this Sunday is the Taste of Wheaton 2012 — it would be odd and kind of gross if it were some previous year’s Taste of Wheaton — and I will attend as usual, at least briefly, even though most of the participating restaurants are the same as they always are.  Limerick Pub is a new addition, so that’s something.  Los Cobanos, Hollywood East, Saigonese, Moby Dick, and Marchone’s never get old, so all in all it’s still well worth a visit.  I cannot recommend eating anything resembling pizza while in Wheaton, even if you really like pizza.  Especially if you really like pizza. You have been warned.

Don’t forget your stack of dollar bills!

Taste of Wheaton 2011

Behold The Eatin' Wheatonians

Predictions of rain and thunder and frogs and locusts turned out as accurate as…[simile fail]…anyway, they’ve been inaccurate.  Rain still likely toward the tail end of the afternoon, but for most of the day we have had ideal Tasting weather, quite a bit of sun but not too hot, though a few degrees hotter (and sunnier) than last year.  Already was good critical mass at 11:30 AM, and by noonish lots of folks rolling in to the dulcet tones of Rocknoceros, power generators, and sizzling pupusa grills.  Good eatin’ and poor photographin’ to follow.

Los Cobanos Chicken Tamale

My favorite item today was the chicken tamale ($1) from Los Cobanos (11210 Grandview, conveniently located right behind their Taste of Wheaton tent), steamed in a banana leaf (and in foil), light and delicate but full of corn flavor and a decent amount of chicken.  I liked Los Cobanos last year too, but have never eaten a full meal there — apparently I need to do that, because their food is good.

Cobanos’ next door neighbor, both permanent location and today’s tents, is Pollo Sabroso (11216 Grandview), where I have also never eaten aside from the Taste, and they have pretty good food too: today I tried their lechon plate ($5), featuring tasty but fatty pork chunks with good rice’n’beans and very good plantain (I’m not a plantain guy but Mrs. Me liked it, so that’s the authority for that).

mmmmm...charcoal pork...

Sergio’s Place (11324 Fern) was the only notable new participant this year (I think?) so I made sure to try one of their offerings. I had never had a paselito ($1) before, and I liked it, sort of an empanada-samosa hybrid with a melange of savory pork, potato and carrot encased in a rich fried (baked?) masa dough. Heavy, but not greasy, and lots of flavor.

I tried to order differently than I did last year, but could not resist the charcoal pork from Saigonese (11232 Grandview).  $1 for a small skewer, irresistable.

Little Caesars ($1/slice) was beating Ledo ($2/slice) in a price war but neither had much of a line in the early going.  I didn’t notice any taunting or other psychological pizza warfare going on.

Pollo Sabroso Lechon Plate

Like last year, IHOP wins for most annoying booth, with people clowing loudly about the funnelcakes.  I guess there is a market for funnelcakes — I might even enjoy one myself from time to time — but the marketing tactics are counterproductive, for me.

Several places had pupusas among their items, all for $1 a pop, but only El Boqueron (2311 Price, aka La Rumba — identity crisis?) had a pupusa grill set up front and center (left-of-center actually) so you could watch your snack sizzling moments before you eat it. The pupusas from Los Cobanos and Sergio’s were sitting in piles in warming tanks; I suppose Cobanos was making theirs fresh in their regular restaurant, conveniently located right behind their tent, but Sergio’s Place is blocks away so not sure how they’re managing it.  Anyway, Boqueron wins for presentation and freshness.

Most of the participants are either chains or are based in the Triangle, either on Triangle Lane (Moby Dick, Marchones) or on Grandview as noted above.  I wonder how some of Wheaton’s other many excellent restaurants can be persuaded to participate in future years.  Would be nice to include, say, Thai and Peruvian and Korean and Irish/Scottish pub snacks, just to name a few.  Also, maybe, hmm, I don’t know, Caribbean…(!)

Longest lines were at Hollywood East and Saigonese, unsurprising: they had the most choices, almost all at just $1 apiece, and quality is high. Plus they festoon their tents with banners, grills, etc.; most tents are bare bones.  2012: more festooning, people!

All in all, despite similarity to last year’s restaurant lineup, another solid taste.  Here’s hoping the organizers do some outreach to other local restaurants to increase the diversity for next year.  Meanwhile, thanks to those that did participate this year, their community spirit is appreciated.

Taste of Wheaton Lineup (Finally)

Program is here (PDF).   As noted by BEI in comment to previous post, only 16 restaurants, mostly the same as last year, kind of a letdown.  Still, there will be plenty of tasty food at low prices from some of Wheaton’s top restaurants.  Can’t complain too much.

The biggest insult is the program brochure’s misspelling of Little Caesars — they have it as “Little Ceasars.”   No respect, to the pizza corporation or the historical figure.  The folks at Ledo will probably taunt the Caesars people all day.

Taste of Wheaton Within Sniffing Distance

Just four days away! This Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM in the Wheaton Triangle, specifically. But I think it is really strange that the organizers have not released a list of participating restaurants.  Am I missing something? The entertainment is enumerated (Rocknoceros woooo!), why not the eatin’??

Even the Gazette apparently has not pried the list out of them. But they do have a nice article today about the owners of the new and awesome Island Hut — wonder if Gloria and family will have a stall selling Caribbean bites on Sunday?  If they do — and I hope they do — you will know it by the long long line.  And it will be worth the wait.

Two Great Tastes That Taste Great…Separately

Of all the days for all the food festivals in all the world, she schedules hers the same Sunday as mine. 

The Gazette warns us that Wheaton and Silver Spring have both scheduled a food festival for Sunday May 15. There is no truth to the rumor that representatives from each will meet halfway, in the Forest Glen Metro parking lot, and rumble the night before. Food fight!

Amazingly, this will be the 16th annual Taste of Wheaton, which has grown steadily in recent years.  Still no official list of participating restaurants as far as I know (wouldn’t it be great if Rick’s Cafe were one of them).

News Roundup

Best part of Amber Parcher’s article on the Taste of Wheaton is the great news that Marchone’s, and presumably other nearby spots, did a booming business on Sunday, outside of the festival.  Hopefully that will carry forward. Mrs. Me and I were in line behind Amber (and Mr. Amber?) when she interviewed David Kessler, waiting for fish pies.  Oh the exciting brush with MoCo celebrity! Alas, no photographic evidence.

Also in the Gazette, maybe good news about developer interest in various Wheaton sites.  It could be fabulous news, depending on deal specifics, future rents, environmental reviews (!) and so forth.

Wheaton Calling has a nice review of Cabanita, the Peruvian place we missed last time around. It’s on our list.

Fire Station 1, the long (long long long…long) awaited brew pub in Silver Spring on Georgia in the former fire house, is finally ready to open, probably next week, according to CityPaper (and h/t JUTP). Menu somehow manages to be both too big and too generic, but we keep our hopes tentatively high.

Wheaton Tastes Good

No surprise there. Overcast and 70 but no rain is not a bad way to spend a gluttonous weekend afternoon with thousands of our Wheaton friends and neighbors, at today’s Taste of Wheaton:

Taste of Wheaton 2010

Taste of Wheaton 2010

Lots of good and varied eatin’ opportunities among the fifteen food vendors, but even at $1 a pop it is difficult to sample a variety of dishes because even the cheap ones tend to be filling. I did what I could.

We skipped the chains in favor of local establishments, and so did most everyone else we saw. Such a culinarily enlightened crowd! IHOP had a big crew loudly but largely unsuccessfully pushing their hot dogs and funnel cakes — nothing wrong with the occasional funnel cake — and Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts had about what you would expect, but not many takers. Biggest lines seemed consistently to be at El Boqueron and Saigonese, but almost every food vendor was doing a solid business.

Los Cobanos (11210 Grandview) was the first vendor we saw, and therefore the first food we ate:

Los Cobanos Pupusa y Taco

Los Cobanos Pupusa y Taco

The pupusa was good but greasy, chicken taco was crunchy and pretty good although more of  a taquito than a taco. At $1 apiece, an outstanding start. Like several others (Pollo Sabroso, Umberto’s, Saigonese), Los Cobanos tent was set up right in front of their actual restaurant. I think the Grandview Avenue restaurants get the most value out of Taste of Wheaton because you taste their food, look up, and hey there’s the storefront behind the tasting tent. In most cases I think food vendors operate at a loss at the Taste, there is no way they make money charging $1 for pupusas or enchiladas or 1/4 sandwiches (Marchone’s). So participation is a huge point in all these places’ favor, in my book; it is of course a marketing opportunity but nevertheless a loss leader, and it also shows community involvement, and I like that.

So we meandered further up Grandview to the El Boqueron (2311 Price, next to the former Ferdinand’s space) tent where the long line gave us time to finish the Cobanos pupusa before ordering a Boqueron pupusa, plus an enchilada and tamale ($4 for the three, I forget which one cost $2):

El Boqueron

El Boqueron Do-It-Yourself Combo Plate

The enchilada was open-face and soaking wet, and it’s hard to tell in the photo but that’s the enchilada on the bottom and the pupusa (also wet thanks to slaw) on top. Pupusa was less greasy but maybe also not quite as flavorful as Los Cobanos’ version. Enchilada was okay. Mrs. Me and I both liked the corn tamale a lot, it seemed deep-fried not steamed but was fresh with great corn flavor. And I know it seems like pupusa overkill already, but I do love a good head-to-head taste test, plus how can anyone walk by an outdoor griddle full of fresh pupusas and not buy one?

El Boqueron Pupusa Griddle

El Boqueron Pupusa Griddle

Already we were getting full but onward! We tried some grilled beef at Saigonese (11232 Grandview) (excellent) and a saltena ($2.50) at Pollo Sabroso (11216 Grandview):

Pollo Sabroso Saltena

Pollo Sabroso Saltena

The saltena was right out of the oven, hot, and full of beef, peas, potato, and a scalding brown liquid that involved a flavor I couldn’t place. Not bad, and the dough was really good, perfectly cooked, but it was too wet inside (and outside, once bitten).

We bypassed old favorites like Moby Dick (11220 Triangle), selling various sushi bites for $1 apiece, and Marchone’s (11224 Triangle), selling sandwich sections and cannoli, and also skipped El Pulgarcito de Callao (11333 Elkin), where we recently lunched, and Umberto’s (11230 Grandview), where we ate right when they opened several years ago to only average results and haven’t been back — they seem to have dropped the Italian half of their menu and are focusing on Tex-Mex. We didn’t try their food today but it looked good, and we will eat there again someday. Overall, Grandview has a pretty good restaurant row going these days.

Mrs. Me wanted some Singapore Rice Noodles from Hollywood East but they ran out by 1 p.m. and were slow to replace them; lots of other good looking food at HE though. Need to try their new Wheaton Mall location soon, and maybe also their Mall neighbor Noble Roman’s, who appeared to be losing today’s Taste pizza battle to Ledo, which had a little line the whole time we were there. NR is really designed to be a “family” place (i.e. Chuck E. Cheese competitor) but if they have skee-ball we will brave the kids at least once, at least for a half hour.

Our final stop was the Global Cafe African Grill (11310 Georgia, in the Exxon station), which didn’t seem to have its act together. When we first arrived the proprietor was on his cell phone, ignoring us and everyone else who walked up. In his defense, I think he was on the phone with his parter trying to figure out where their food was, because it sure wasn’t in the tasting booth.  We came back later and some of the food had arrived, though there was no jollof rice (per the sign) and also no meat pies (not per the sign):

Global Cafe African Grill Menu

Global Cafe African Grill Menu

Their website (which I am shocked exists — Global Cafe seems least likely of all Wheaton restaurants to have a website, and it ain’t much, but it does exist, so more power to ‘em — better off spending time on food than HTML anyway) indicates jollof rice is their big specialty, so its absence was a bummer. In addition to missing dishes, they also had no change, frustrating would-be purchasers who only had twenties. The guy seemed pretty stressed out. We bought a “fish pie empanada” and the peanut butter soup stew — did they think “stew” would sell better than “soup” or was it just a typo? — and although my expectations weren’t that high, the fish pie was actually pretty good, with a nice pepper kick, although a bit dry inside. Peanut butter stew was okay:

Global Cafe Peanut Stew and Fish Empanadas

Global Cafe Peanut Stew and Fish Empanadas

The food makes me want to visit their restaurant in search of jollof rice, but their logistical problems give me pause. Anway, I don’t have to decide about whether to eat there right now, because I am done eating for at least the rest of today and possibly the first part of the week. This was mostly high-quality food, but also heavy and calorific.

Whew. Another successful Taste of Wheaton in the books.

Coming sometime in the next 48 hours, the results of yesterday’s pre-Taste warmup: the Good Eatin’ Banh Mi Smackdown, pitting Saigonese against Hung Phat in a delicious Vietnamese sandwich head-to-head (bread-to-bread?) taste test.