#269: Taqueria La Nueva Vallarta

12:30PM / 1/15/2022


I’ve eaten so many burritos in this building.

Today for lunch I headed over to Fairway & Pleasant Grove to go to Taqueria La Nueva Vallarta. This Mexican restaurant took over the space left behind by Freebirds World Burrito, next door to In-N-Out. I’m not sure when they opened, but if the oldest Yelp review is a good indicator than it was around March 2021. I headed in at about 12:30 after taking a quick peek at the menu online.

The interior is brightly-lit and refreshed from it’s Freebirds days, with some wild neon green booth seating and reconfigured counters. Lady Lib is gone and in her place is a row of LCDs crammed with the full menu (a bit more detailed than the website I think, so check out the photos below). It was moderately busy inside with about half the tables in use and a few people already in line to place orders. I stepped in behind them and started looking over the menu to finalize what I had started putting together in my head at home.

I don’t wear glasses (yet), but the text on these screens was on the smaller side and I had to step up closer to read them clearly. There’s a lot to choose from. I decided to go with a fairly basic order to get the sense of the place. I chose the Regular Burrito (meat, rice, whole beans, pico de gallo)[$8.99] and picked Asada Steak for it. I also picked out their Super Taco (meat, large corn tortilla, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, lettuce, pico de gallo)[$5.99] and went with Carnitas for this one. I finished off my order with a regular fountain drink [$2.50].

I grabbed a table by the front and by the time I had filled up at the fountains and grabbed some chips and salsas from the salsa bar my food was already on it’s way out. I had just ripped open the grease stained bag of chips when it was delivered.

The taco was a monster. It was piled high with lettuce. I pulled some aside to get a better look at what was underneath it and spotted a few large chunks of pork, sour cream and the pico. It was a challenge to get this thing up off the plate to take a bite. It came with a fork and I almost wondered if they didn’t actually expect people to pick it up. I lost about 1/3 of the lettuce with my first bite, but otherwise it held together pretty well. It was too much lettuce anyway.

This was totally fine. Everything was fresh but nothing really stood out to me, including the carnitas. I love the crispy fried bits of pork but this version didn’t have any of those. It was kind of bland overall not just in taste but in texture as well.

I took a break between the taco and burrito to dig into the chips. The bags were available for anyone up at the salsa bar, and I had somewhat higher hopes for them seeing that the white paper bags were a bit greasy from the chips within. I thought this could be a sign they were made in house. Whether they were or not didn’t really matter because they were wholly unremarkable. Barely a hint of salt was visible. They were not served warm, which didn’t help. I grabbed 3 of at least 5 different salsa options to try, a white, a red and a green (the bar was not labeled).

The white was my favorite. It was creamy and had a surprising little bit of heat that snuck up on me after a few bites. The red had a strange flavor that I was unable to put my finger on. I was not crazy about it. The green one must have been avocado based. I usually like this kind but this one was incredibly salty as well as very heavy with lime. After a few bites I set it aside.

On to the burrito. This came foil-wrapped and kept it’s heat nicely while I tried everything else. I cut this in half to get a look inside before biting into it. Down the center was the asada, and surrounding it was a nearly uniform layer comprised of rice and beans. It was almost hard to tell what was rice and what was beans. I went to work on it and found that the flavors were similarly uniform. The asada was, again, fine. Similarly to the carnitas, it was very uniform in texture and didn’t have any blackened edges which give so much texture and flavor. The pieces were very small, almost like a rough ground beef. It was…boring. I was literally looking forward to finishing it so I could get a few more photos and get going with my other errands for the day.

While the food here was totally blah, I wouldn’t say it was bad, just not memorable in the slightest. Maybe I went a little too basic with my order, who knows. I will say that the place was very well kept and the staff was friendly and on top of things while I was there, clearing tables within minutes of people leaving. 2 out of 5 sounds about right.


#268: Eureka!

12:05PM / 1/3/2022


Based on my experience here I think it’s a good example of “don’t judge a book by it’s cover.” I remember seeing it from the road once it had been built, just west of the Galleria next to Lazy Dog, and thinking it was the most corporate chain looking place I’ve ever set eyes on. I assumed the thousands of these restaurants all looked the same with it’s modern styling of brick, steel and wood colored panels. From there, with no reasoning behind it, I then assumed it was a soup/salad/sandwich type of place that I wouldn’t have much interest in. Fast forward a couple of years to Fall of 2021 when I meet my parents here for lunch while they are in town. I’m surprised to see that not only is their menu dominated by burgers but they have a fantastic beer list and a pretty serious full-bar to boot. I then took a look at their website to see it’s a relatively small chain, mostly along the west coast with a few locations creeping East.

I’ve been here once since, which was actually just last weekend. On both previous visits the weather was a bit nicer than today’s overcast with a chilly breeze. On my first visit we sat out on the nice patio which has a gas-lit fire feature and a number of heaters. The bar sits up against a roll-up type glass door/window that adds outdoor bar seating when opened. Today no one was sitting outside, on account of the weather, but the window was about halfway up allowing some cool air into the dining room. This comes into play later.

I arrived just after 12PM and took a seat at the bar, where I was greeted immediately and given food and drink menus. I glanced over at a blackboard with the current rotating draft beers available and picked out Urban Roots Modest Pleasures IPA (13oz, 6.3%)[$8] which the bartender poured right away. The place was fairly quiet at this point with maybe 4-6 other parties seated around the perimeter of the dining room. The large bar was all mine until just before I left. The place is pretty chill and has some comfy loungy-type seating near the front. Seems like a nice place to sit if you’re just getting drinks and maybe appetizers.

I spent quite a bit of time going over the menu. I had looked online and picked out a very different meal before heading down here. I was going to get the Firecracker Pork Riblets as a starter and pair it with the Salmon Kale Caesar Salad, but unfortunately there were no riblets to be found on today’s menu in the restaurant. Instead I decided to get the craziest sounding burger they have, which grabbed my attention on both prior visits. This is the 28 Day Dry-Aged Bone Marrow burger (Bone marrow shiitake burger, grilled onion, horseradish mustard aioli, roasted Roma tomato)[$20]. I upgraded the standard fries it came with to the Truffle Cheese Fries [+$3].

Click/tap to enlarge menus

The burger took a while to prep and I spent the time listening to a podcast, watching the dining room slowly get busier, but most of all start to get annoyed at the breeze. I think that normally this would not be much of an issue, but the front door is apparently broken and the slightest wind whips it fully open, turning the side of the restaurant I was sitting on into a full blow wind tunnel. To the hosts credit, they would close the door at every opportunity between seating guests, but it was a futile effort. They should have just locked it and directed people to enter through the patio door instead (or closed the roll-up window, which is really the right answer here).

Anyway, my food arrived in about 20 minutes. The patty on this thing was gigantic. The the aioli was oozing down the sides slowly. I did not expect the truffle cheese fries to basically just be plain fries with a side of truffle cheese sauce to dip in. As I do with just about every meal involving fries I started there first, to enjoy them at their hottest. These were already luke-warm upon arrival, and the wind was threatening to remove the heat from my burger so I switched gears and dug into it while it was still hot. I never even set it back down again.

This thing was juicy, messy, flavor-rich, perfectly cooked. Previously I’ve had the truffle mushroom burger (photo of this at the bottom of this post) and the double-stacked bacon burger. Both were fantastic but felt slightly overpriced at $18.50. Gotta be honest – this totally lived up to the $20 price tag. The fries suffered right away with their lacking temp and the wind tunnel didn’t help. They were, however, still pretty decent when I poured all of the truffle cheese sauce over them and ate them with a fork.

All three visits have mostly been filled with good food, solid service and a nice, laid back atmosphere. Today was a bit rough around the edges. Based solely on today’s visit I’d give it a 3.5. If today was like my previous visits it would be 4.5 easily, flirting with 5. Don’t be like me and make wild assumptions – you might just miss out on a great burger 😉

Truffle Mushroom Burger from my first visit back in Oct 2021.

#267: Chaodown Poki

12:15PM / 12/18/2021


Today’s lunch is Poke at Chaodown Poki. They are located on Douglas in the small center with Sunrise Natural Foods and Mario’s Early Toast. I arrived at 12:15 and this parking lot was jam-packed. I’ve been here just once before, back in July 2020 when take-out only was in full force. As is the case with many of my recent posts, this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to dine in.

I stepped inside just behind a family which gave me plenty of time to review the space and the menu. Although they had some tables stacked up in the back of the dining room, a row of tables along the bench seating was available to sit at. It’s a nice clean and modern space with much of the kitchen open to view.

Looking at the menu I was slightly disappointed at first to see the # of scoops per bowl seemed low. They start at two with the regular bowl and top out at four for the largest size. I usually get the largest option so I peeked over to watch for the size of the scoops as the family was being served. They looked about the same size as my regular lunch Poke place in Rancho Cordova (Poke Cube). Seeing that I decided to just stick with a regular bowl ($12.50), because the 4-scoop bowl was sort of pricey at $17.50. I decided I’d order a side item to round out my order.

(click/tap for full size image)

When my turn was up I started by asking about the Chaodown Fries. They were described as seasoned fries with a couple of sauces and topped with green onions. I decided instead to get the tempura shrimp (4 for $9 – well the menu says $9 but I was charged $7). On with my bowl, I chose a base of white rice and salmon for both scoops of protein. For sauces I picked ponzu and a wasabi cream sauce, with a little extra ponzu over the rice. Asked if I wanted any other sauces I asked for recommendations and went with the suggestion of a sesame shoyu on the side.

Moving on to the toppings I chose egg, edamame, corn, crab salad, two types of masago (regular and a habanero flavor), then finished it off with some roasted sesame seeds, crispy onions and chopped peanuts. I would have added avocado as well (+$1.75) but totally forgot. With a $2.50 fountain drink my total came to $23.71 after tax.

I took a seat and dug in while my shrimp were finishing up in the deep fryer. There’s always a lot going on in these bowls, flovor and texture-wise. My usual spot doesn’t offer peanuts and I really enjoyed that little crunch and taste with everything else. I’ve seen two different types of crab salad, one that seems to stick together well and the other, which is used here, that seems a bit more coarsely sliced, a little dryer and scatters easily when stirred in the bowl. I’m not super crazy about this type but it’s a minor complaint. I was hit with a powerful wasabi aroma as I took a bite of the salmon. The flavor was much less pronounced and faded quickly. The egg was a new addition for me. While I enjoyed the soft texture it did not overcome the other flavors to be very noticeable. The habanero wasabi seemed more like a colorful variation than anything that supplied a detectable heat. I decided to check out that side of sesame shoyu about 1/3 into my bowl. It smelled incredible of strong roasted sesame. I poured the whole side over my bowl. It added a saltiness that I didn’t realize I had been missing. This was the missing flavor that took it from OK to Good. I would not omit this in the future here.

My tempura shrimp arrived within a few minutes and were very hot and crispy. They had a perfect, golden flaky batter that was a delight to bite into. They were a smidge on the greasy side and were the only thing I really needed napkins for. For the $7 that I was charged I was pretty happy with these. For $9 I might reconsider. It’s interesting to note that they offer these as a protein option for the bowls themselves.

I’ve found many poke joints to not quite hit that threshold where I return and I’ve been thinking a lot about why that is, especially given the ingredients and construction are largely similar. It feels exactly the same way with Mongolian BBQ, a connection I made today as I was eating and thinking about the flavors. With Mongolian BBQ, at least for me, their sauces are a key factor. If they aren’t rich enough or if I can’t add it myself (looking at you, Galleria’s O Tasty Mongolian) I find that I don’t return often, if at all. There is a flavor intensity to the sauces here (those that I’ve tried on my two visits thus far) just didn’t quite hit the spot for me. Other than that, the service, the dining space, and the ingredient selection here is honestly pretty decent. It’s hard not to mention the price feels a touch on the high side, but that’s going to be the case at so many places now and I doubt they’ll return to the levels we’ve enjoyed for so long. Although it probably sounds like I’m being kind of hard on this place, it was good, I’ve just become picky with my poke (that is a silly sounding phrase). I think a score of 4 of 5 is fair here.