AM8: Sunflower Drive In

Today I finally visited a place that I’ve heard about off and on for years, Sunflower Drive In.  This is a vegetarian/vegan joint located in Fair Oaks at the corner of Main and Fair Oaks.  Whenever this place came up in some conversation it was always a rave review, unfortunately I’d just forget about it shortly after until it came up again months (or years) later.  The most recent occurrence was last December and I made a point to write it down that time.  Specifically, the item that was recommended to me was a Super Nutburger.

I arrived a little after noon and parked in the smallish lot.  The place looked quiet for the most part.  There were a handful of people sitting at the various patio tables and picnic benches around the building, but most were finishing up and heading out.  I Looked over the menu for a few minutes and picked out the Super Nutburger, as suggested and, to drink, a small pineapple juice.  By the time I had paid and turned around there was a decent line behind me.  A steady stream of people continued to arrive after this, but at least half seemed to take their orders to go.

The Super Nutburger [$6.49] is basically the same as the regular nutburger [$5.69] but with a larger patty and on pocket bread instead of a whole wheat bun.  The regular is described as a “nutmeat patty served with sauce, onions, pickles, tomatoes, romain and sprouts.”  I added cheese($0.99) and avocado($1.55) to it.  The Pineapple juice was $2.29, and my grand total with tax was $13.15.  I was handed a little paper slip with a number on it and I took a seat at one of the picnic tables to the right.

It was a little chilly in the shade there, but I bet it’s a really nice place to eat when it’s warm out.  I could hear the local roosters calling out all around the area.  My food was ready in about 7 minutes and I retrieved it from the window when my number was called out.  My burger was wrapped up in paper on a plastic tray / paper plate.  Once I got the front open I could see lots of greens waiting to spill out.  I carefully unwrapped the rest and took some photos.  I couldn’t see the patty itself quite yet.  The pocket bread was thin but large in diameter and they stuffed it full of the toppings.  I did see some big slices of avocado already sneaking out the side.

As soon as I attempted to get my hands around this thing and pick it up I realized that this was going to be messy.  When I read “pocket” bread I was envisioning something more like a pita pocket, closed on one end.  Instead it was more like a couple round pieces of flat bread.  I dug into it and mostly got romain, sprouts and a pickle.  The sauce was creamy, not quite a thousand island type but something kind of in that direction.  All the veggies were nice and fresh.  Finally after a few bites around the front I made it to the nutmeat patty.  It was mostly brown, with a bit of orange to it here and there from (I guess) carrots.  It was still warm, despite the cool air and breeze (I should mention that there is a small amount of indoor seating). Texture-wise it was surprisingly enjoyable.  While not at all like a beef patty from a place that serves quality burgers, it was not that much different from some fast food beef patties (I wasn’t to be clear that I don’t mean it’s bad, rather that it’s not weird).  As far as the taste went it was delicious!  It had just more than a hint of cumin to it, making it the most prominent flavor outside of the other toppings.

I have to admit that I came here with the thought in my mind that maybe this had been oversold to me over time and that I would leave disappointed.  I’m glad to say that was incorrect.  I really enjoyed my food, Oh!  And I almost forgot to mention the pineapple juice!  Very flavorful and delicious, like someone grabbed a whole pineapple with both hands and wrung it out over a cup.  I’m also happy that this is within driving distance for lunch from work, I have a feeling I’ll be adding this into my usual rotation soon!

AM7: El Sombrero Taqueria & Cantina

I’ve probably mentioned a few times that my favorite Mexican joint is just across the street outside of Roseville.  Today I decided to finally bring it to the blog.  This is El Sombrero Taqueria & Cantina.  It is located at the corner of Douglas and Sierra College in the Walmart Neighborhood Market center.  I remember a long time ago this was a Tugboat Fish & Chips.  El Sombrero has been here for a number of years now and sometime in the last year even expanded into the unit to the left, adding the cantina potion (you can even see that the cantina lettering on their sign looks newer than the rest).

Inside you approach the counter and have two large sections of menu board to look over.  There’s a ton to choose from.  I always get the same thing though, the carnitas plate with guacamole & sour cream on the side.  This is about $13, and the sides probably a few bucks.  I also added a horchata to drink (either 2.75 or 3.55, I’m not too familiar with the sizing but I think I ended up with the large after asking for medium).  This is not exactly an inexpensive taqueria to eat at, especially for what I like to order, but I feel it’s worth the premium.  I paid and was given a number to put on my table.  Then I waited a moment while she stirred up their house-made horchata and poured it over ice into my cup.

I claimed a table in the relatively quiet dining room.  Most people must have been at home watching football.  There are a few big screen TVs here and at least one, on the side of the restaurant I was on, was playing the Carolina/Seattle game.  I grabbed some chips and salsa from the salsa bar and snacked on that for the 7 or so minutes my order took.  The chips here are fairly standard, but they keep them warm which helps.  My horchata, which I don’t order here that often, was spiced generously with cinnamon.

Out came a big bowl of guacamole and a massive amount of sour cream with the rolled up corn tortillas.  The guacamole is no joke here.  It is fresh, chunky and delicious.  Following shortly behind was my main plate.  Divided neatly was the tender pork, refried beans, rice and a small bit of pico de gallo and lettuce.  The carnitas here is always a perfect mix of fatty, crispy and leaner pieces.  One thing that sets El Sombrero’s carnitas apart from others is a citrus flavor which I would say is just a touch strong enough to not be able to call subtle.  Many carnitas recipes I have seen call for some kind of citrus flavoring, but I’ve never actually been able to taste it like I can here, and it’s good.  Add the lime from the guacamole and it’s even better.

El Sombrero isn’t flashy or modern, at least in the original half anyway, but the service is good and the food is outstanding.  Everyone I’ve brought here or recommended it to has agreed it’s top notch.

#239: Chicago’s Pizza With a Twist

Hello 2016!  It’s been a long and much needed break, but I’m back to work.  My list has grown a bit as several new restaurants have opened in the last couple months and there are already several new ones on the horizon.  I’m kicking it off with a pizza place that caught my eye a couple weeks ago, Chicago’s Pizza With a Twist, located next to Leo’s Kitchen on Foothills and Pleasant Grove.

At first I thought, another pizza place?  We already have so many.  But when I drove up to it to see if they were open yet, I saw the banner that said “Home of the Authentic Indian Pizza.”  That definitely piqued my interested so I popped in to grab a menu.  Not sure why but it didn’t occur to me until I went through the door that this might have a dine-in option.  So many pizza places are take-out and delivery only, so the small dining room kind of caught me off guard.  Once home I skimmed over the menu and found lots of the usual pizza offerings and toppings, but on one page in particular there were pizzas like Tandoori Veggie, Palak Paneer and Butter Chicken.  I was sold.

I had an unusually early start to my Saturday and by 3:45 I was already thinking about dinner.  I went to their website to decide what I would get and eventually found myself downloading the mobile app on my phone to place the order.  The app is nicely made and very responsive.  Some things are broken out in a strange way so it took a minute to figure out how to do a half and half, but once I found the option it was very straightforward.  Before I knew it I was checking out and used my thumbprint to pay.  It was super easy and convenient.  By the time I grabbed my keys and wallet to head out I had already received the confirmation email which stated the time my pizza would be ready to pick up, which was about 15-20 minutes.

I arrived a little early and was greeted as soon as I walked through the doors.  One employee was sitting at a table in the dining room and another emerged from the back to meet me at the register.  Since I had already paid there was little to do, they checked the order and let me know it would be out in about 5 minutes so I took a seat and a couple photos.  Soon the box was walked out and handed to me, then they bagged up some cheese and peppers for me and I was on my way.

I wondered what it would smell like as I drove home, but instead of smelling like curry or masala I actually mostly detected green peppers.  I had ordered a medium half Chicken Tikka Masala (Tikka Sauce, Tikka Chicken, Mozzarella Cheese, Mushrooms, Red Onion, Bell Pepper, Garlic, Ginger, Fresh Cilantro) and half Curry Paneer (Curry Sauce, Cheese, Mushrooms, Bell Pepper, Red Onion, Black Olives, Tomatoes, Garlic, Ginger, Curry Paneer & Fresh Cilantro) [$14.99].  I got home and cracked the lid open to see a pizza that wasn’t crazy or weird looking at all.  Mostly what stood out were the cubed pieces of paneer.

The crust was a ordinary pan style (they do have options for an actual deep dish crust though).  The main toppings of chicken and paneer were embedded in the layer of cheese, and most of the rest was below that.  Both sides had a light colored sauce.  I started with the chicken tikka masala side.  The slice held up fairly well under the weight of the toppings, which were generous.  Although the crust looked quite crisp from the top, once I was holding it I realized it was fairly soft and just crisp around the edges.  I might ask for well done in the future as I love a crunchy crust.  The tikka masala sauce was tasty, perhaps a bit less rich than I was expecting though.  Chicken, onions bell peppers and mushrooms were in great supply.  A few bites pulled some extra of the top layer away and revealed the extra veggies underneath.

Next up was the Curry Paneer, and I think this was my favorite.  Also a little more mellow than expected, the curry sauce was still delicious and had a nice smooth flavor to it.  The paneer was toasted from the ovens and fairly dense, requiring slight chewing.  A little different than what you would find in a typical Indian restaurant’s sauce, which would probably have a more moist, rubbery texture.  Both of these came with cilantro, which I am not much a fan of and forgot to make a note to leave it off.  It blended in with the other flavors pretty well though and I didn’t really notice it.

Overall I was pretty happy with this pizza.  One thing I noticed as I sat down to write this up was that the menu mentions take and bake, so they pretty much do it all (take out, dine in, delivery, take and bake).  I think I might do a take and bake butter chicken pizza next.  The question of how this stacks up against normal pizza was one of the first I thought of.  The sauces are mostly what make these pizzas unique and I definitely enjoyed them a lot.  I’m not certain if they do a thinner crust but if they did then this place would certainly rise above a lot of the usual pizza joints I frequent.  The fast pizza places like Trademark are still tough to beat on price, quality and speed though.  All in all it’s nice to have a new place that sets itself apart from it’s vast competition.  If I worked in the area I’m sure I’d find myself coming for the buffet to try their other creations. Below are some screenshots from the app ordering process.