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Posts Tagged ‘Cheap’

Mike’s Chili Parlor – 12/17/11

Website

Location: 1447 NW Ballard Way

Hours:

Mon-Thurs: 11am-11pm

Friday: 11am-12am

Saturday: 12pm-8pm

Cash Only

Mike’s Chili Parlor is a 72 year old Ballard institution. The distinctive Art Deco building has stared down modernity and continues to survive in new Ballard. A dive bar/diner that specializes in chili for decades to the point that even the Food Network has recognized their longevity in an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.

Mike’s is a tiny, one room bar with an old school diner counter running along one wall with a view of the huge pot of chili simmering on the stove. Along the opposite wall are booths with sagging red vinyl benches and in between are a couple of tall tables. Also crammed in to the small space is a pool table. How anyone can play pool without hitting everyone nearby, I do not know.

Their specialty is chili. Meat chili served over beans in bowls. Scooped over pasta, fries, hot dogs, and burgers. Sure you can order a plain burger or hot dog but why would you go to a place called Mike’s chili and not order chili? This is East Coast chili, with a Greek pedigree.  Not a vegetarian/vegan friendly place. They have a full bar, draft beer, and wine as well.

The Service:

Probably the fastest service we’ve had over the course of this project. We had barely sat down before the server came over to ask for our drink order. Friendly, too.

The Drinks:

I had a Manny’s Pale Ale, my default beer when there’s nothing else on draft that I’d like to try.

J ordered a Long Island Iced Tea. The quintessential, dive bar Long Island. Neither terrific nor horrible. Perfectly serviceable with just a hint of tequila.

The Food:

I chose the traditional Bowl of Chili, served over beans with cheese and onion. The first thing I noticed was how dark red it was. They must add a hefty portion of paprika to the spice blend. After a couple of bites, I found it to been very spicy, a little greasy, and way too salty. So salty, in fact, that I ended up drinking a couple of glasses of water afterwards because I was so thirsty. I did like the texture of the finely ground beef though. It made me nostalgic for taco salads. I liked the fact that they pour it over the beans so they stayed firm rather than turning to mush. I think I would have enjoyed the depth of spicy flavor of the chili more had it not been so salty.

J ordered an East Coast/Midwest favorite, Chili Pasta with cheese and onion. He loved his chili so much so that he lamented the fact that he’d ordered a small rather than a large. The pasta apparently helped cut the spiciness and saltiness of his chili because he didn’t have any complaints. He liked how finely diced the onions were so they ended up being a condiment rather than a feature of the chili. All in all, he thought it hit the spot.

The Price:

Manny’s Pale Ale: 4.25

Long Island Iced Tea: 8.00

Bowl of Chili: 5.50

Sm. Chili Pasta: 6.75

The Verdict:

J and I are kind of split on Mike’s Chili Parlor. He loved his chili pasta, partially out of nostalgia, I think. There aren’t many places in Seattle that serve chili over pasta. I thought my chili was way too salty. I would be willing to give Mike’s another chance to see if it was just a freak, salty batch of chili since I did like the texture of the meat.  Perhaps on some cold winter night, we’ll go back.

Pho Big Bowl – 12/11/11

No Website

Location: 2248 NW Market St

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 10am-10pm

Sunday was cold and damp so we decided it was the perfect weather for a bowl of pho. Pho Big Bowl sits at the west end of Market Street, near La Isla and Anne’s Teriyaki. It’s another restaurant on that block that would be perfectly at home in a strip mall. A simple interior of formica tables and the type of chairs I’m beginning to identify with cheap Asian restaurants. Other than a few spring rolls, the menu consists entirely of pho in bowls of varying sizes.

The Service:

The pho came out super quick and the staff was friendly.

The Drink:

Every bowl of pho comes with a can of soda so J had a Sprite. I was kind of chilled so I opted for Green Tea which was pretty bland.

The Food:

J ordered the Pho Tai Chin, noodle soup with medium rare eye round and brisket. Surprisingly good. The meat was flavorful, cooked to a perfect medium rare that continued to cook in the hot broth. Unlike the pho at Pho Than Bros, this meat looked and tasted like beef which gave the already good broth an extra punch of flavor. The small size was the perfect amount.

I chose the Pho Ga, noodle soup with shredded chicken. The chicken was moist and tender. The broth was good on its own but adding Thai basil, lime, and a little Sriracha gave it an even richer flavor. The noodles weren’t mushy. Overall quite tasty.

The Price:

Pho Tai Chin: 4.85

Pho Ga: 4.85

Green Tea: 1.00

The Verdict:

Pho Big Bowl totally surprised us. After our visit to Pho Than Bros, neither of us was particularly looking forward to another pho restaurant. The fresh ingredients and flavorful meat completely changed our minds about pho. I can understand why a bowl of piping hot pho would be lovely on a cold, winter day. I know I’d like to try the vegetable pho for it variety of veggies so we will be back.

If you have the choice between Pho Than Bros and Pho Big Bowl, choose Pho Big Bowl. You won’t be sorry.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , , ,

Zesto’s Burgers – 11/26/11- Closed

Website

Location: 6416 15th Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 10am-10pm

As a teenager, I remember going to Zesto’s when we would drive out from Duvall to visit my dad’s aunt and uncle in North Ballard. If it wasn’t a holiday, my dad would usually take us to Zesto’s for lunch, more because of the classic car on the roof than for the food. Much later, when I had moved to Ballard, my dad continued to insist we take visiting relatives to Zesto’s for lunch. For the longest time, until I actually moved to here, I associated Ballard with Zesto’s.

Zesto’s has sat in its spot next to Ballard High School since the 50’s. It’s an old school burger joint in the mold of Arnold’s Diner from Happy Day’s. Red vinyl booths with Formica tables. Black and white photos from Zesto’s hey-day decorate the walls. The menu is what you would expect from a burger joint in Seattle. Burgers. Fish and chips. Milk shakes.

The Service:

The two guys behind the counter were really friendly and our food came out in a reasonable amount of time.

The Drink:

J had a Mr. Pibb Extra and I chose the Chocolate Milk Shake. The shake was passable. Not as thick as I like and a little mild on the chocolate flavor but not horrible.

The Food:

J ordered the Mushroom Burger with Swiss cheese and a side of fries. Not good at all. The patty was obviously previously frozen. The mushrooms were really greasy. He said it tasted like the crappy burgers he remembers from the high school cafeteria. The burger was better than the fries, which were barely cooked. The worst burger in Ballard.

I chose the Bacon Burger meal with fries and a milk shake. My burger had that “flame-broiled” flavor I associate with Burger King. It was a dry sesame seed bun containing a flavorless patty. The “special sauce”, which I usually hate, actually gave the burger some much needed flavor. The bacon was the best part and it was merely okay. The French fries, which were obviously frozen and from a bag, were lukewarm and forgettable.

The Price:

Mushroom Burger with fries and a drink: 8.99

Bacon Burger with fries and a milk shake: 9.99

The Verdict:

Sometimes doing these reviews is not fun. I remember when Zesto’s was better than average. The guys behind the counter were really nice and I hate to give a bad review but we have to be honest. Zesto’s is barely a step above McDonald’s and Burger King. Flavorless, frozen burger patties. Lukewarm fries. Greasy burgers and barely passable milk shakes. It’s really bad that, other than the service, the best thing we can say about Zesto’s is that neither of us got sick. Sure, if you feel nostalgic for the burger joints of your youth or are a teenager with no taste and a cast-iron stomach, I suppose Zesto’s is okay but in our opinion they have the worst burgers in Ballard.

At this point, we’ve visited all the burger joints in Ballard. Both J and I agree that the best burger is at King’s Hardware for their creative selection, flavorful beef, and .28 cent buffalo wings. The Counter and Hamburger Harry’s tie for second because I preferred the former and J, the latter. Then it depends on what you’re looking for in a burger. Scooter’s or Red Mill are good for relatively quick and cheap burgers. If you want a hipster atmosphere, Hattie’s Hat is a good bet. After that, it goes Zak’s, because their burgers were okay but not memorable and in last place is Zesto’s.

Of course, the best burger in Seattle remains Norm’s in Fremont.

Vietnam Café & Sandwich – 11/5/11

No Website

Location: 5701 15th Ave NW

Hours:

Mon-Fri: 11am-8pm

Saturday: 11am-7pm

Sunday: Closed

Vietnam Café and Sandwich is located on the corner of 15th and 57th in what was, for half a second, a Peruvian coffee house. It’s a sparse space of the teriyaki joint mold. A short order counter. A few tables and chairs. A kitchen tucked behind a ¾ tall wall. They offer a menu of Vietnamese dishes, ranging from spring rolls to bahn mi to various versions of rice and/or noodle entrees along with tea, soda, and bubble tea.

The Service:

The guy at the counter was super friendly. Our food came out piece meal because it seemed like he was the only person working.

The Drink:

J and I shared a pot of mild green tea. J wasn’t all that impressed with the tea though I thought its flavor was perfectly fine.

The Food:

I’ve been searching for a Fried Tofu appetizer as good as the one at Boom Noodle so I ordered Vietnam Café’s version. These lightly fried chunks of tofu were piping hot but not crispy at all. Kind of rubbery, to be honest. The salt and pepper was obviously shaken directly from a generic salt and pepper shaker.

I ordered a Pork BBQ Sandwich, a toasted French baguette with stir fried pork, homemade mayo, sautéed cucumber, pickled daikon and carrots. The mayo was quite good with a spicy aftertaste. The vegetables, especially the daikon and cucumber, were incredibly fresh with just a hint of a vinegary, pickled taste. The sandwich could’ve had more pork though. What little was there got lost in the huge baguette and the vegetables. The flavor was a bit too mild, as well, but it was nicely caramelized.

J had the Hu Tieu Soup, pork broth with yellow noodles, grilled chicken, steamed pork, fried onion, chives, and cilantro. Tasty. The yellow noodles were real, Asian style noodles rather than spaghetti. The chicken was really flavorful with a delicious, grilled flavor. The pork tasted like real pork. The broth was very good. J made the comment, while eating, that if pho tasted like this soup, he’d like it way more.

The Price:

Fried Tofu: 4.50

Pork BBQ Sandwich: 5.00

Hu Tieu Soup: 7.50

The Verdict:

Even though the fried tofu and my sandwich left a bit to be desired, there was enough potential in what the Vietnam Café offered that we would return. The ingredients were extremely fresh and J really enjoyed his soup. Frankly, even with the issues, the food there was way better than any of the teriyaki joints in Ballard. Another plus is that it’s only a block from our apartment. If you like cheap, fast Asian fare, give them a try.

Red Mill Totem House – 10/30/11

Website

Location: 3058 NW 54th St

Hours:

Tues-Sat: 11am-9pm

Sunday: 12pm-8pm

Cash & Checks Only

The day before we started this project, one of Ballard’s institutions unexpectedly closed. Totem House Seafood and Chowder, located across the street from the Ballard Locks, had been there for years. A kitschy, 1950’s interpretation of a Native American long house, Totem House served up a plethora of fried seafood, chowder, and milkshakes to generations of Ballardites. For months the building stood empty with speculation of its eventual demise running rampant until it came out that local chain, Red Mill Burgers, had bought the building with the plan to renovate it while keeping true to its kitschy past.

Red Mill Totem House is tiny, just like the original Totem House. When J and I went, we ended up getting our meal to go since there was nowhere to sit. The interior is more colorful than its predecessor but just like it, the menu hangs over the order counter. Red Mill, known for their burgers and milkshakes, has added fish and chips at this location only.

The Service:

The obviously high school and college age staff were friendly and our order arrived quicker than I’d expected considering the crowd.

The Drinks:

I chose a Chocolate Milkshake, which had a mild chocolate flavor. It wasn’t quite the “collapse a lung” thickness I prefer but pretty good none the less.

J had a Strawberry Milkshake, made with chunks of real strawberry. Really good.

The Food:

I ordered the Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger, with lettuce and tomato on a Kaiser bun and fries on the side. I am not a fan of “special” sauces so I requested no Mill sauce. I know there are lots of fans of Red Mill burgers out there but I’m just not one of them. The beef patty was so thin and flavorless that all I could taste were the toppings. The bleu cheese was a bit too sharp even for me. The bun was forgettable. The only good things were the really fresh tomato and the peppery bacon. Red Mill bacon is awesome, I will give them that. The fries were pretty good as well. Thick without being greasy and having a nice potato flavor.

J chose the Double Bacon Delux Cheeseburger, two beef patties, bacon, lettuce, tomato, red onion, American cheese, and Mill sauce. Even with two patties, he made mention that the burger was still thinner than one at Norm’s. Possibly because he had double the meat, J said he could taste the beef. He really liked the bacon as well. A quintessential, classic bacon cheeseburger. He had onion rings on the side. Good but nothing special.

The Price:

Chocolate Milkshake: 3.39

Strawberry Milkshake: 3.39

Bleu Cheese Bacon Burger: 6.79

French Fries: 2.09

Double Bacon Deluxe Cheeseburger: 6.99

Babe’s Onion Rings: 3.19

The Verdict:

This is one of the few times J and I disagree. When it comes to fast, cheap burgers in Ballard, I preferred Scooter’s and J liked Red Mill. My problem with Red Mill centers on the flavorless beef. Why would I want to eat a burger in which I can’t tell there’s even beef in it? Might as well eat a salad. J really enjoyed his burger though so we might go back someday. If we do, I’ll try something from their new fish and chip menu instead.

The Sloop Tavern – 10/29/11

Website

Location: 2830 NW Market St

Hours:

Mon-Sun: 11am-2am

One of the things we’ve learned over the course of this Project is that there are more pieces of Old Ballard left than you might think. Fine dining and hipster hangouts have not taken over all of Ballard. Saturday night, J and I walked the length of Ballard from our apartment on the east side of 15th to visit one such holdout.

The Sloop Tavern has been a Ballard institution for over 50 years. Located near the Ballard Locks, the seaman themed painting on the side of the unassuming cinderblock building lets you know immediately who the clientele of the Sloop is, if the name didn’t already. The interior has that interchangeable community bar look that’s the same across the country. A long bar along one wall. Numerous TVs showing two or three different sports games. Tatty Formica tables and red vinyl booths or beat up wooden chairs. There are a couple of pool tables, a pinball machine, and a few video games opposite the bar.

The menu at The Sloop matches the décor. Typical pub fare. Burgers. Sandwiches. Fried seafood. They have 9 beers and one cider on tap. Their claim to fame is the ability for customers to “Sloopersize” their draft beverages to a 33.8 oz, frosty mug that may take two hands to lift.

The Service:

It wasn’t busy at all when we went to The Sloop. Just a few people watching football or chatting. At one point, a couple dressed as Calvin and Hobbes came in, obviously for the Halloween party that was to take place later in the evening. The bartender, who also acted as waiter, was friendly and our food came out amazingly quick.

The Drinks:

J and I chose to Sloopersize our Stongbow Ciders, a nice, dry cider. The mug was so heavy that I had to use two hands to lift it. It took us so long to finish our ciders that we were able to finish and write our preliminary thoughts about our meal.

The Food:

J ordered the Fish and Chips. He said the fish was really fresh and surprisingly good considering he doesn’t usually like beer batter. Usually the batter overwhelms the flavor the fish but that wasn’t the case here. The fries were okay. He was glad he chose the seasoned fries option because otherwise they would have been rather bland.

I chose a BLT with a side of potato salad. This was BLT prime. The BLT from which all BLTs are descended. A BLT in its purest form. Lightly toasted, plain white bread. Mayonnaise. A pale tomato. The brilliant choice of shredded lettuce, thus keeping the other ingredients from sliding out from between the slices of bread. The salty bacon was fried to perfection. Crispy with just a slight chewiness. All it needed was a little yellow mustard. Was it a gourmet, fancy BLT? No, but it captured the essence of a BLT. The potato salad was a little too sweet. I think they used Miracle Whip rather than Mayonnaise. I added yellow mustard, salt, and pepper to make it more to my taste.

The Price:

Sloopersize Strongbow Cider: 2 @ 6.50

3 Piece Fish & Chips: 8.75

BLT with Potato Salad: 8.75

The Verdict:

We really liked The Sloop Tavern. It didn’t feel as insular and cliquey as the other old school Ballard bars we’ve been to over the course of this project. People were friendly. The atmosphere was comfortable. The food was better than most dive bars and a Sloopersized Strongbow Cider was awesome. We’ll definitely take the hike back.

 

Golden City Chinese Restaurant– 10/22/11

No Website

Location: 5518 20th Ave NW

Hours:

Daily: 10:30-2

Golden City Chinese Restaurant sits between Market Street and 56th on 20th Avenue. The front spans three doorways underneath a fading red awning. Door number one leads to Golden City, the restaurant. Door number two, goes to Golden City, the dive bar that was picked out of all the Chinese restaurant dive bars in the city to be mentioned in the Seattle’s Best Dive Bars book. The third door, where once there was a Scream barbershop, opens to a gaming off-shoot of the bar, a long room with ping pong tables and video games.

To be honest, we’d heard tales of Golden City that made us leery of eating there for the project. Bad service. Stabbings. The type of place taken right out of a John Woo movie. With this in mind, we chickened out, by-passing the bar for dinner in the slightly less sketchy restaurant that looks like every Chinese restaurant ever depicted in movies or on TV. Bright white walls with dark wood accents. Red vinyl booths and Formica tables. Wall decorations straight out of whatever restaurant store caters exclusively to Chinese restaurants across the US.

The menu has all the usual cheap Chinese restaurant suspects. Chow Mein. Pot stickers. Egg rolls. General Tso’s chicken. Sweet and sour pork. All available in various permutations of combos. You could go to virtually any cheap Chinese restaurant west of Mississippi (barring San Francisco) and find exactly the same menu.

The Service:

Our server was super friendly, answering questions and making suggestions. Our order came out at a pretty good pace.

The Drink:

We both just drank from the large pot of hot Green Tea. It didn’t taste as grassy as some green tea I’ve had. Kind of a generic green tea.

The Food:

J ordered Pot Stickers as an appetizer. The plate arrived with six large pork pot stickers. After taking one bite, J said they reminded him of the traditional pot stickers he’d gotten on the East coast. The exterior dumpling had a nice contrast between the doughier top and a nicely seared, crispy bottom. The pork filling wasn’t too greasy and actually tasted like pork.

For my meal, I ordered the Garlic Chicken Individual Combo which included egg drop soup, an egg roll, BBQ pork, pork fried rice, and chicken and vegetables in a garlic sauce. The Egg Drop Soup tasted like it had come from a can with a heavy, salty broth, strings of egg white, and translucent, flavorless, orange-colored chunks of what I assume were carrots. J and I split the small Egg Roll. It was greasy and over fried to the color of cardboard. The filling consisted of limp, hot cabbage or lettuce … couldn’t tell which … and some unidentifiable meat. It came with a large bowl of red, sweet sauce that was oddly bland. With the egg roll came four pieces of BBQ Pork that was actually okay. The red rimmed and moist slices looked and tasted like pork.

My main dish was Garlic Chicken, chunks of chicken breast, carrot, onion, green pepper, mushrooms, and dried chips of garlic in a brown sauce. Initially, the dish tasted okay but after a few bites, the overly sweet tomato base turned me off. The thick, syrupy sauce overwhelmed everything it touched to the point that I could barely distinguish the other elements, except for the garlic chips, which tasted spoiled and funky. The chunks of chicken were moist and the vegetables weren’t overcooked which is pretty much the only good thing I can say about this entrée.

My garlic chicken came with a huge scoop of Pork Fried Rice. Terrible. Awful. I took one bite and left the rest because it was musty, dry, and two minutes away from being spoiled. J tasted it and declared, “Tastes like it was cooked in an old shoe. How can you screw up fried rice? This is an abomination.”

J chose the Chef’s Special Lo Mein, chicken, pork, and shrimp over noodles. He has been searching for good Lo Mein ever since moving to Seattle from Pittsburgh … and continues his search. This dish tasted as if they had cooked our two entrees together, added pork, shrimp, and broccoli to half and called it the Chef’s Special Lo Mein. The worst part was, instead of using actual lo mein noodles, they merely poured the meat, vegetables, and sauce over spaghetti noodles. He hated it.

The Price:

Pot Stickers: 6.50

Garlic Chicken Individual Combo: 10.50

Chef’s Special Lo Mein: 8.25

The Verdict:

J made an interesting observation after we left Golden City, “It’s almost worse when a restaurant does one or two things well and the rest is horrible than when a place is overall bad. It means they just don’t care enough to try to do everything well.” Golden City didn’t even try. The horrible pork fried rice. The “garlic” sauce that was interchangeable. The over fried egg roll. The spaghetti lo mein. This place made Louie’s seem amazing. Needless to say, we won’t ever go back.

Frankly, Ballard just doesn’t have a good Chinese restaurant. Louie’s is clean and has okay food. Ballard Mandarin had good food but was not particularly clean and Golden City was terrible. Since clean trumps good food, whenever we’re too lazy to take the bus down to the International District, we’ll probably end up at Louie’s when the craving for Chinese food hits.

Categories: Restaurants Tags: , , , , ,