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Breakfast at Old Country Buffet in Bellis Fair, Bellingham

With the new allowance for cross border shopping, the line up at the border crossing is expected to be longer.

It was not as bad as we thought as there were many lanes opened.

We stopped at Old Country Buffet for breakfast before our shopping spree since it was still early and some shops were not opened yet. The above was Ben’s first helping which was protein laden.

I can’t recall what was the exact price for the buffet breakfast; it’s less than USD6 and USD2 for drinks. If you do not want the drink option, they will give you a glass for water.

My first plate was a balance of protein and carbo.

Nanzaro’s choice was strictly protein. Oh! wait, there was some rice underneath the omelette. More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Dona Cata Mexican Restaurant on Victoria and 34th, Vancouver

Truth is I know very little about Mexican food. Sometimes I get confused with what is what in Mexican cuisine. Perhaps what I know about Mexican food can be summed up as follows:

Quesadillas has cheese. Tacos can be soft shell or hard shell. Burritos is a Mexican wrap. Oh … what is fajitas now? Can I say it is like quesadillas without the cheese? What is enchiladas now? I can imagine some of you now shaking your heads side  to side and tsk-tsk’ing me. Go ahead. :-)

Apart from not having someone to teach me about the cuisine, perhaps one of the things that prevents me from trying more is because I associate Mexican cuisine with beans. I just never liked beans. Never did since when I was young.

Another thing too. I always thought of Mexican food as colorful food. I am not sure why. Maybe it is because of the fruits I had before or the colorful chips.

And of course … Mexican food is spicy!

We met up with Mo and Patch. This is so long ago I can’t even remember when exactly it was. Maybe it was at least 2 months ago.

Mo is the one who writes the EcoGreenBean blog. Mo suggested that we meet in Dona Cata and since we had not blogged about this place before we readily agree. It is good that we blog about non-Asian food once in a while, right?

The Dona Cata is a popular restaurant, and is one of only a handful of Mexican restaurant in town. The Mexican flag draped in front of the restaurant tells me that Mexicans are proud of their flag. How come we don’t often see Asian restaurants have flags draped outside the restaurant is what I was trying to say.

This is one restaurant that is well covered by the media for sure. They had amassed quite a lot of news articles which they proudly frame up and hung on the wall. They are running … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Salsa and Agave in Yaletown, Vancouver

Ever since Alejandra and Estanislao started telling me finer points about Mexican food, I get more interested in finding out about it. I used to be so oblivious about Mexican food. If you ask me, I would not be able to name one Mexican restaurant or even know where to find one.

Since the past few weeks, I had began to understand a lot more and that Mexican cuisine is more than just tacos and burritos. A month ago, we went to the El Mariachi. I wanted to try the Sopa Azteca (Aztec Soup) that Alejandra said I should but unfortunately they did not have it. But when I found out that the Salsa and Agave has it, Suanne and I made a beeline to the restaurant.

Salsa and Agave is located in the middle of Yaletown. This hole in the wall had gained quite a reputation and is arguably one of the best Mexican restaurants in Metro Vancouver. They closes on Mondays but on other days they are open for lunch and dinner between 11AM to 9:30PM.

I was curious as to what the word Agave means. Estanislao told me that agave is a type of cactus that is used to make Tequila, particularly a type of agave called the blue agave. But if you think they serve tequila in Salsa and Agave, you will not find it here.

Salsa and Agave is really small … and extremely popular. We counted only 8 small tables each able to hold 2 people each. As usual, Suanne and I were there early at about 4:45PM. So there were a lot of empty tables. By 6PM when we were about to leave, the restaurant was filled with customers standing in between tables waiting for one to free up.

It was freezing cold outside and I guess no one wanted to wait in the cold. That is why everyone was cramped into the little space.

ALL of the customers speaks Spanish. We stuck out like sore thumbs being the only Asian faces.

Service was very friendly. First thing we got was tortilla chips and red salsa served in a mortar like bowl.

We were sitting there for a few minutes trying to understand the menu. It was confusing for us — all of them looked the same and we can’t imagine what most of them were. We told ourselves we will not want the tacos stuff and wanted a true dinner.

Our waitress was friendly and helpful. We told her we don’t know what we wanted except that we definitely want the Sopa Azteca and “real Mexican dinner”. First thing she told us, in a hush tone, is “do not get the burritos, we make it like the Americans”. We had a good laugh.

At first I wanted to order a Mexican pop but then I noticed that they had a drinks dispenser with a white and a red drinks. Even though we do not know what it is, we ordered one of each. We just had to try.

The red drink is the hibiscus (a kind of flower). Hah, one learn new things everyday. In Malaysia, hibiscus is the national flower and no one even thought that it could be made into a drink. The drink is sourish. While it was OK, it will not be something we will enjoy a lot.

But the white drink was fantastic. It is called the rice and cinnamon water. It is sweet … and cinnamony, of course. One can easily mistaken this for milk. I think a lot of people will like this.

So … finally … this is Sopa Azteca. It is a tomato soup with tortilla, diced avocados, cheese, sour cream and chipotle pepper in it. It tasted “cheesy” and not too spicy. The fried tortilla presents a balanced … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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La Taqueria Taco Shop on West Hastings and Hamilton in Downtown Vancouver

I still do not quite get it. When you use Twitter, do you say that you Tweet or you Twit?

I am not sure if you know that we are on Twitter. You can reach us at @chowtimes if you want to follow us.

Anyway, this post is about my first food blogger meet organized via Twitter. @604foodtography sent a twitter to @tibbidy, @edlau and myself asking if we wanted to have a quick bite at La Taqueria. @seasaltwithfood picked up our tweet and decided to join us as she was already in downtown. Unfortunately, @tibbidy pulled out at the last minute … saying that she had to deal with this thingy called work.

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La Taqueria is located on West Hastings and Hamilton in downtown Vancouver.

I had never walked along this stretch of the road before. So it was a surprise when @604foodtography pointed to me that La Taqueria is located just across the street from Marc Emery‘s headquarters (Marc Emery is known as the Prince of Pot in Canada) and next door to Vancouver Seeds Bank (which sells Marijuana seeds for medicinal purposes).

It was OK. I did not feel unsafe waiting outside La Taqueria in bright daylight. It was cold though waiting outside. Both @604foodtography and I were there first. I told @604foodtography I had a feeling that @edlau would be late because he had a reputation for being late. True enough, he was!

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La Taqueria is really small. At best, I think they have stools for only 12 people. People either wait for a table or like many people do, they take away. Waiting for a table is not a problem because it doesn’t take long to gobble down 4 small tacos anyway.

@foodtography knows this place very well. He had been here several times already. He said that at times there are lines that goes right out to the door. But on that day, it wasn’t too bad. We even managed to get the counter seats — all four of us. All four of us who were armed with hefty SLR cameras!

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The menu is really small and simple. Even that it was bewildering for me who is not familiar with Mexican food and names. But it is easy once you read the description in English underneath the Mexican names. You can click on the picture above to show a bigger image to read the menu if you want.

So there are about a dozen types with something for everyone … beef, chicken, fish, vegetarian, vegan and even the more exotic ones like cow tongue.

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Each taco is $2.50. People normally order four. If you order four, More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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El Mariachi on Hastings, Just East of Boundary in Burnaby

Suanne and I told ourselves that we need to just give Mexican cuisine another try. Truth be told, our impression of Mexican food is of beans and mushed up food. I just don’t like beans personally.

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So, a couple of weeks ago I happened to speak to Alejandra in the office about Mexican food and the fact that I dislike beans. She was quite livid that my whole impression of Mexican cuisine is just all wrong.

I did not think much about it after that but when I got back to my desk later on, I found an email in the inbox from Alejandra with a list of her favourite Mexican restaurants … along with the recommended dish to order! Perfect. This is just what I like — a Mexican recommending their favourite Mexican restaurant. You can’t get a more authentic experience than that.

BTW, see her third recommendation above. Does anyone know which restaurant she is referring to?

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So, Suanne and I went to El Mariachi for our Friday dinner. You know what we like about this place … the fact that it is so unknown and yet to the Mexican community, they are well known (or at least that’s what Alejandra told me). There were very little reviews found of this place.

Moreover, if you walk along the street, you will very likely not even know they existed. It is located upstairs with just a banner that announces their existence.

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If you walk along Hastings in Burnaby (between Boundary and Ingleton Ave), the one thing that might catch your attention is the sandwich board just outside their entrance.

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What greeted us was a surprise. It was more than what we expected. The whole place was colourful and bright. They were playing very catchy Mexican songs. So it was just perfect having just stepped out of a blustery and wet day — warm decor, warm colors and warm welcome.

Alejandra told me that they have live music but it’s only on the weekend. Actually, the place was quiet for the Friday night. It was just us and another party who dined there.

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The waiter was a cheerful guy. For drinks we asked for something Mexican. He recommended a Mexican pop for Suanne saying that the Jarritos is Mexico’s national soft drink which uses the nation’s favourite fruit flavours. Jarritos is to Mexico what Coca-cola is to the US. The drink is not very fizzy and not too sweet.

For me, I had the Negra Modelo. This dark beer came in an unique fat bottle.

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Seeing that we were asking a lot of questions about Mexican food, our waiter explained that in almost all Mexican restaurants, they provide free appetizer of chips. They came with a green salsa and a red salsa which was more orangey than red.

The salsas was not spicy with the red one a tad more spicier. Suanne prefers the green salsa better because it has a sourness in it. The corn chips were great. Suanne can’t stop picking one up after another … something she regretted doing when the real food came.

The salsas is the watery kind and not the chunky ones we are used to.

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For our first course we wanted to order Sopa Azteca as what Alejandra recommended. They said they don’t have the Sopa Azteca but recommended something like it … Sopa Tortilla. This is super awesome. Not only is it presented in such a delightful manner, it tasted great.

It is tomato’ish and lightly spicy. Just the kind of thing we need for a cold day. In this soup are thinly fried tortilla, cheese cubes, avocado and garnished with cream. The crispy fried tortilla gives the soup a  whole different texture and the cheese provides that tinge of saltiness to the flavour.

And this was just … More on following page. Click here to continue reading

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Que Pasa Mexican Foods in Richmond

The South Arm cooking club for seniors went for a Mexican meal for their last meeting in June. This is not only a dining out experience but it comprises of a tour at the Que Pasa factory. Do you know that Que Pasa in Spanish means “What’s happening?”

Que Pasa was established in 1983 in Vancouver as a small street-front deli specializing in freshly prepared salsas, and home-style tortilla chips. Since 2002, Que Pasa is operating in a larger facility plant at 12031 No. 5 Road in Richmond, BC. The plant includes equipment for cooking and volcanic stone grinding the corn and a large kitchen for the salsas and food preparation for the deli.

Que Pasa has made it to the 139 reasons to love Canada which was published on July 1, 2006 by Shelley Fralic in the Vancouver Sun. Que Pasa is well known for their organic corn tortillas, salsas and Mexican-style prepared foods like chicken fajitas, enchiladas, burritos and cheese quesadillas.

Que Pasa also produces several private label products, mainly tortilla chips for brandname like Western food and Kirkland. We were told that the Costco brand of tortilla chips uses organic corn and organic canola oil.

Que Pasa factory tours are held all year round. You can book a tour anytime with at least 2 weeks notice prior to the proposed tour date. The tour is free. There are some very stringent rules to be followed for the tour for safe and sanitary reasons. The rules are:

  • no chewing gum,
  • no food or drinks (understandable),
  • no camera or audio equipment,
  • no tank tops, shorts and skirts,
  • no nail polish (we had one member to remove her nail polish before the tour start),
  • no jewelry and watches must be removed or covered,
  • no sandals i.e. all participants must wear rubber sole, full toe footwear, (we had one participant who had to go home to change her shoes),
  • and participants must wear a hair net and a beard net if applicable.

All participants must wash their hands and go through a foot bath before entering the facility.

At the end of the tour, we got a free package of 60g Que Pasa seasoned snack chips. We got to choose from various flavours like spicy cheese, spicy salsa and sun ripened corn. We actually prefer to have a taste test of the different kind of chips instead. We would like to compare the difference between their hand cut tortilla chips and in-line tortilla chips. The hand cut chips are made from round tortilla which is then cut into triangle shape and the in-line chips are cut into triangles from the press. The in-line chips are supposed to have more bubbles and more crispy. When asked which is their best seller, it’s still the original blend tortilla chips. Que Pasa does carry blue (from blue corn) and red (with food coloring) tortilla chips.

After the tour, we headed to the Deli for lunch. Here are some of the food we had.

This is their 25th year anniversary Que Pasa pie. It’s rice top with a round tortilla and loaded with stuff as seen.

Chicken fajitas and enchiladas (the only item in the deli made with corn tortilla, the rest are made with flour tortilla).

Another enchiladas, burritos and quesadillas.

The retail store which is located next to the Deli carries a variety of specialty bottled sauces made from unique blends of chilies, a wide selection of traditional Latino seasonings, canned goods and pinatas.

Stella, thank you for organizing the tour for the seniors. It is certainly a very informative tour. We learned how tortillas chips are made from dried corns from scratch and we enjoyed the meal at the deli.

Que Pasa Deli on Urbanspoon

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Atlanta Trip: The Border Mexican Restaurant

A colleague of mine at the Atlanta office offered to show me some of the nicer places to eat. Anytime anyone offers to take a drive away from the office area for food, I immediately will jump into the offer. After all, at the rate I am visiting Atlanta, I think I would have tried every place that is within walking distance within the next two trips.

We went to a Mexican restaurant called The Border. It was only until I was home and started blogging about this that I realized, hey … I had been here before. I was here the last time for lunch. Here is the blog entry. That was about lunch … this one is for dinner.

What drink would you order in a Mexican restaurant? For me, I only know of Margaritas and got myself a mango version. Hmmm … not bad. Would have preferred it a bit more fruitier.

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OK, don’t roll over your eyes. I am a newbie when it comes to Mexican food. I am still in a very early stages of discovery. So, the food below may be very basic to you … but not to me! :-)

We also had nachos but ordered something new that I never knew existed. The dip is made of cheese! I can’t remember what type of cheese but I think it is something like goat or something. It was awesome but as I had that, I just keep thinking how much cholesterol there are in this.

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The best part of the meal is this soup. Again, I forgot what it is called but I vividly recalled that it had big chunks of avocado. Next time I am in a Mexican restaurant, I’ll look for this. Wait … I see it now. I actually took pictures of their menu and I guess this one is called … well … Chicken Soup!

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By the time the Fajitas came, I was really full. The tender-sliced chicken is served on a sizzling hot plate with bell peppers, onions and tomatoes.

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It also came with some stuff that you wrapped it in. I still hate the mashed up beans but the tomatoes were very fresh.

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The tortilla came wrapped in foil, I guess to keep it warm.

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Then the hard part … putting this into the wrap and rolling it up …

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… not an easy task really. I guess I must have put in too much and found it hard to keep it together.

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On the Border Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

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Atlanta Trip: Zocalo in Midtown Atlanta

Seems like the whole village was in Atlanta the week we were there — which was good. My boss and my boss’s boss was there too to meet their boss. Separate meetings though. Minions like me have lesser meetings. I had expected this trip is going to be lighter than the previous ones as I am not driving the meetings. I just need to participate … I like these kind of trips.

First thing we did when we landed at the massive Atlanta airport was head over to Midtown Atlanta. Marko had offered to join us for dinner show us around Midtown. For me, I am always game to go somewhere new and try something different. After all these trips to “motherland” Atlanta, I am beginning to run out of places to try in and around Cumberland.

Long story short, Marko suggested Mexican but well, I am not really a fan of Mexican food. Somehow it always conjure up in my mind images of mashed beans … shudder. But then he used the magical words … AUTHENTIC Mexican food … now, that’s a different story altogether. I just gotta try it.

We went to this place called Zocalo. Man, the place was packed to the gills. They seem authentic enough … no aircond, semi open space and guess what … no lights too … just candles. It was unbelievably dark. It was so dark we could not even read the menu. They came by to give us a small torchlight to read. LOL! The place was loud and noisy though … lots of Spanish chatter. BTW, are Latin American ladies generally loud? I can hear their screams and howls and laughters from the other table. The guys are more subdued. They know how to have a great time.

I ordered the Mango Margarita. Wowee … this is the best Margarita I had ever had. It was so fruity that I could hardly detect a hint of tequila. Not a drinker myself, the drink went to my head and felt somewhat tipsy. Nice choice. They came by and asked if I wanted another … no way man, I would not be able to walk after another one. This sweet potent margarita will be my baseline benchmark of what a great margarita is going forward.

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The salsa was awesome. Sure beats the ones we buy from the Superstore about a million times over. Don’t roll your eyes, OK? I got a legitimate question. Guacamole … how do you eat them? Use it like a dip just like salsa here? I saw them making it fresh next to the tables that order them. They looked absolutely delicious. I am gonna try that next time I am in an AUTHENTIC Mexican restaurant.

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Now … for the life of me, I can’t remember what I ordered for dinner. No, it was not because of the Margarita that I have select memory. No, no … it was simply because it was so long ago and I don’t have the receipt. I think it’s some fish dish. It was nice … I liked it. The best part? There were no mashed up beans on this.

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It was a good start to the trip this time. At least, this time I can totally relax because I don’t really have to prepare anything for the next day. So, I don’t care if I check into the hotel late. Life is good …. it’s all good.

Zocalo on Urbanspoon

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