Category Archives: Wheaton

Summer Wheaton Restaurant Update: Aiiiiiii!

Mrs. Me and I have not been eatin’ much in Wheaton this summer due to travel, family stuff, yada yada yada.  Will try to rectify that come autumn.

All the new restaurants in Wheaton are Latino.  Surprise!*

* not a surprise

El Taco Loco has been open for a month or so, in the University Avenue strip mall next to El Pollo Rico.  We should call it El Strip Mall?  We ate there recently, review coming soon.

We have still not been to El Catrachito, in the old Irene’s III  microdiner space on University, despite its getting great reviews, but we hope to go soon.

In the old Irene’s (no numerals attached) space on Georgia, a new Latino/”Tex-Mex” restaurant called El Fogon has been open for about two months now.  I am skeptical about the Tex-Mex self-designation, since most places around here don’t really do it right, they just use it as a marketing ploy for people who don’t know better.  But maybe the food is good anyway?  Will check it out at some point.  We used to like Irene’s back in the day, despite the constant too-loud music.

Finally a little culinary variety: Tyler Cowen loves Thai Taste (11315 Fern, behind Hung Phat), his micro-review here (and my original review here). I love it when TC eats in Wheaton, because Wheaton, and also because it helps me calibrate my own restaurant-review palate.  For example, he mentions the mussamun beef as a “very very good” dish, which it is — and yet it isn’t as good as the spectacular version Nava Thai too infrequently trots out as a special.  He’s right about maximizing the condiments at Thai Taste, and I would add for all dishes, not just the soups.  Overall I still think Ruan is at the top of the Wheaton Thai heap at the moment, but Thai Taste is certainly also recommended.  Nava has been uneven lately, but if they have the mussamun available, it is a must-order.

And lastly, a new cheesesteak chainy place (Mike’s?)  is on the way to replace the Quizno’s in the Westfield Wheaton strip that also houses the Starbucks.  I’ve been off Quizno’s ever since their Vegas airport location gave me the worst food poisoning ever, so this is a welcome change (since I also like cheesesteaks). I’d still rather give my sandwich business to Marchone’s, but it’s nice to have options.

Feliz Augusto!

A Post About Wheaton For a Change

Still finalizing reviews of Range and Potowmack Farm, because there is so much to say.  Coming soon…

In the meantime: we hear the Wheaton Farmers Market is struggling.  I admit I am guilty of never going there, I just don’t ever find myself in the Triangle on Saturday mornings.  My image of the WFM is one sad little table of wilting veggies. Apparently it got bigger and better over the past year or two, but has now shrunk again, with a couple of vendors dropping out.  Unfortunately due to scheduling issues I am unlikely to get there anytime soon, but if you are one of my small handful of local Wheaton readers, maybe go check it out one of these summer Saturdays before it’s too late.  The farmers market — I think just one farm but with lots of goods — over in the parking lot of the Wheaton Forest Local Park on University may also be worth a drop-in, they’re open many hours on the weekends and most weekday evenings.

Downtown Wheaton also has a summer concert-and-movie series on Friday nights that is much better attended than the farmers market.  The 2014 season starts tomorrow at 7pm with a viewing of Frozen.  Let it go?  Or, as Ric Ocasek (or, technically, Ben Orr) might say, Let’s go! I like the nightlife, baby…


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.

A Few Words About Country Boy

I tried to think of a title playing off John Denver’s Thank God I’m A Country Boy but in fact I am not a country boy, I am at best ferally urbane, more likely just a recovering suburbanite. Also just not feeling it this morning. And so I gave up on a punny title.

However, thank goodness there is a Country Boy (Market), not really in Wheaton, but hidden up there in the northeast quadrant of Georgia-meets-Randolph (2211 Randolph), not that you can see it from either road, especially not from Georgia.  You have to use the force (or maybe just stretch out with your feelings, Luke) to zig zag across parking lot driveways and bad drivers flouting erstwhile one-way traffic patterns.  Or you can just follow the sweet stench of mulch.

Country Boy specializes in mulch, with good variety and reasonable prices.  If this were The Most Interesting Blog in the World (which clearly it is not), I might say that I don’t often buy mulch, but when I do, I go to Country Boy.  They have little bins out front where you can see the different kinds, you can touch it, sift it through your fingers, I suppose taste it if that’s your thing.*  And then you go inside, tell them what you want, don’t forget to pay for it! – and then one of their employees will load the mulch-bags into your vehicle.  Piece of cake mulch.

* We had a bottle of wine the other night that smelled a little mulchy, not in a bad way.  Terroir!

Other reasons to visit Country Boy: above-average beer selection, although with hit-or-miss pricing. Wine selection is not as good.  They carry a huge variety of delicious jarred food products from McCutcheons, a Frederick, Md. company specializing in apple and other fruit spreads, but also pickled things and salsas and whatnot.  They had me at pickled things.

CB also has plenty of fruits and veggies, of varying quality, but did not have any limes when last I visited a few weeks ago.  The Brussels sprouts were tasty but no substitute for limes (literally). But when the shopping list involves mulch and pickles and apple butter and beer, boy howdy, Country Boy is the place.

There is probably no truth to the rumor that John Denver opened for Led Zeppelin when they played Wheaton in 1969.  There is probably not even a rumor. Nevertheless:

Back to Wheaton and Wong Gee

Another bad photo of delicious food

Another bad photo of delicious food

Are we still in Wheaton?  We are.  Haven’t had the blogging energy lately, will see if I can get it back and write up some of the backlogged restaurant visits I’ve logged recently, mostly outside of Wheaton.

In Wheaton, I had a craving for Chinese and decided to revisit Wong Gee (2417 University), where we ate a couple of times when they first opened maybe eight or nine years ago but hadn’t since. Back then, we thought it was okay but nothing special. The dining room wasn’t crowded — unlike the packed Mi La Cay next door — but the dozen or so eaters were all Chinese, and that can’t be a bad sign.

I’m sure it depends what you order, like in most restaurants, but Wong Gee is officially back on my radar thanks to a couple of dishes.  In particular, the crispy beef Szechuan style is the closest thing I’ve found locally to the fabled Beef with Orange Peel at Menlo Park’s Hunan Garden.  CBSS is not as orange-y, but otherwise has a similar flavor profile and crisp-chewy texture.  I asked for it spicy – SPICY!! I shouted at least twice into the phone when placing the carryout order — but it didn’t turn out spicy at all. They need to put the SZECH back in their Szechuan, or maybe I just need to learn some Chinese in order to convince them I can handle the heat.  Even so, it was very good, and if it is any zippier next time it will be a great dish.

The kung pao chicken had more of a kick, plus good flavor and plenty of chicken and peanuts, not as good as the Joe’s Noodle House version but well above average.  Primary Wong Gee kung pao drawback is the over-reliance on celery as filler — Joe’s is all chicken, peanuts, and peppers, as it should be.  At least Wong Gee doesn’t use water chestnuts *shudder*.

I also liked the Singapore style rice noodles, which again could have been spicier but were tasty anyway, with plenty of curry, similar overall to Fried Good Dale but with super thin noodles and less pork, and less grease.  Roasted duck and noodles in soup is pretty good, although the duck has a lot of bone and fat and is just too much work, in soup.  In general, soup looks like a good way to go at Wong Gee, and there are plenty of options on the menu.

Portions are enormous at Wong Gee, good value. Ordering carryout via phone can be tricky, due to strong accents and surprisingly loud background noise given the mostly empty room, but all the details ended up correct, except for the SPICY fail.  It’s tough to say where WG fits into Wheaton’s Chinese food hierarchy: New Kam Fong is very good, Paul Kee has some fine dishes, and Full Key and Good Fortune have many supporters.  Of course Hollywood East is great for dim sum, and Kenny’s is surprisingly good too.  Mrs. Me doesn’t love Chinese food as much as I do so we don’t eat at any of these places as much as we should, but it’s nice that they’re all good, at least if you order well.  If only one of them were Sichuan…

[In the photo, that’s crispy beef on the left, kung pao on the right, Singapore noodles in the back, duck soup not pictured]