Tacos Del Rancho justo lo que necesitaba

I woke up at 2 AM, awoken by the arrival of yet another snow dump. My alarm was set for 4 AM, for a United flight out of Ottawa which was originally scheduled at 6:25 but had already been delayed by half an hour the night before.  I knew the heavy snow would cause further delays and my layover in O’Hare was impossibly short to begin with. Perhaps for that reason, I couldn’t get back to sleep. Or perhaps I was too much aware there was no other flight to Tucson out of O’Hare. I was already assuming that I’d spend the night in Chicago and my plan B was a deep dish pizza adventure and a visit to the United Center to see the Blackhawks play the Predators.

We landed late in O’Hare, but United had decided to hold the plane for the few of us who needed that connection! Even my checked bag made it!  Long story short, I was really impressed with United. But not impressed enough to order their food.

After getting my bag, getting the rental car and checking in at the hotel, I had been awake for far too long while having only had a small bag of plane pretzels. It was well overdue to get some real food. I drove back towards downtown, having passed a whole bunch of restaurants along the way. I ignored the KFC, Arby’s and other McDonald’s and ended up at Tacos Del Rancho under the Arizona afternoon sun.

Tacos Del Rancho is a fairly new joint, located in one of the numerous small strip malls on Oracle road. Established in September 2021, it is 100% family-owned and operated. They say that their tex-mex menu is inspired by the Sonora desert. Points for making their own salsas and also their own fresh corn and flour tortillas. Bonus points for using certified Angus beef. On the menu, you’ll find Nachos, Asada Fries, Gordita, Burritos and of course, Tacos! The decor is minimalist, but polished with bright colours.

I relied on the staff’s advice before ordering. They told me that the most popular item on the menu was the Taco Del Rancho ($4.50). Frankly, if the dish is named after your restaurant, it HAS to be the best thing you offer. So I ordered it in a combo! Two tacos, served with  beans, rice and a choice of side – I picked the Chile En Rajas – and a soda. Read more!

A pizza in a Cage (II)

It had been a while since I last tried a pizza at La Cage, which is no longer “Aux Sports” as the Waffler nation well knows. In fact, pizza wasn’t on the menu for a while, although they did have flatbreads on the menu a while ago. Not the same dough, so not the same, though.

Now available in some locations, a selection of Neapolitan pizza. I was intrigued, because unlike before, they now have a dedicated pizza oven in select locations. Options include Prosciutto & Arugula; Bacon, Sausage & Onion; Margherita; Italian Sausages. I decided to go ahead and order the Margherita.

Margherita pizza is a traditional culinary specialty said to have originated in Naples, Italy. Very popular for its simplicity, this napoletana pizza is topped with tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil. The colors of these three ingredients are meant to represent the Italian flag. It seems to have been first described, in 1830, by Riccio in the book Napoli, contorni e dintorni.

So if it is so simple, why is it so popular? If simplicity is the base, the real secret of a Margherita pizza lies in the use of high quality ingredients. You want a very fresh, fairly raw pizza sauce, made with San Marzano tomatoes. You want real fresh mozzarella di Buffala, coming in balls, not the industrial blocks. And of course, the freshest of basil, sweet with large leaves.

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Not the ringer we expected

Fast Food chains are always looking for new offerings to attract consumers. Variations should be limitless yet it is rarely really out of the ordinary. Still, here in this corner we decided to give a shot to Harvey’s newest burger:

The Angus BBQ Bacon Ringer Melt.

So you get a 100 per cent Canadian, flame grilled Angus burger topped with BBQ sauce, cheese, bacon and Onion Rings on a toasted bun. As always, you top your burger with your choice of fixings.

I fired up the app to get it to go from the Saint-Joseph Boulevard location in Hull. First things first, Harvey’s informed me that they were currently experiencing supply challenges with their gravy. As a result, their Poutines may temporarily be unavailable on the menu at some locations. I had no interest in a Harvey’s poutine so I cannot confirm if it was actually available, but the app kept offering it to me as an option.

Harvey’s sells it’s Angus BBQ Bacon Ringer Melt for $8.79. The regular Angus Burger goes for $6.39, with cheese for $7.19, with cheese and bacon for $8.39. So basically an extra 40 cents for a couple of onion rings.

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Hitting the spot on Christmas Day

We arrived at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal with plenty of time to spare before we boarded the Queen of New Westminster to Nanaimo. We only had snacks on our journey so far.

It being Christmas Day, lots of things were closed in the terminal area. Vending machines were not a wanted option. So I headed over to the Tsawwassen Quay Market to check it out, fingers crossed. The air was fresh and the wind was brisk.

Tsawwassen market is a small retail market that showcases a West Coast theme and lifestyle, featuring fashion and crafts. There are usually plenty of food options but today, only three were open. The Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory was immediately ruled out by me.

Two options were in the running: Salsa, a Mexican joint offering tacos, quesadillas nachos, enchiladas and burritos. And Frankie’s Barbecue Grill, featuring hot dogs, hot sandwiches, beef dip, pulled pork and smoked meats.

I texted the menus over to see if the Waffle family were interested. They were. The question was: did they want to come over or would they like me to deliver? The food might get cold if I walked back to berth 3 with it. So the decision was made to enjoy the fresh air.

Once we set up our new base camp at a counter by the back corner window, the kids decided that Frankie’s had what they wanted : hot dogs. Mel wanted Frankie’s Famous Philly Cheesesteak. I strolled over to order. I got there just in time to be third in line : sailing time was getting closer and more people were showing up.

I ordered two Double Dog Specials ($8.99) (two with ketchup only, two with ketchup and mustard), the Cheesesteak ($8.99) and I opted for Frankie’s Signature BBQ Beef Sandwich ($8.99). I paid and was then informed that it would take 15 minutes. That seemed like a lot.

I got to stand on the side and watch. The steak for the Philly Cheesesteak was pre-cooked. It was unwrapped, put on a plate and in a steamer it went. While the meat was warming up, the sandwich was being prepped. A large hot dog roll was stuffed with a mix of shredded cheese. Once the meat was ready, it was added in the sandwich, and it went back in for a steam to melt the cheese. After pulling it out, BBQ sauce and raw white onions were added.

Next, the hot dogs. Frankie’s Franks were no babies. Jumbo weiners, a whole bunch steaming in a big tray. Fresh hot dog rolls were pulled from the bag, the sausage put in them, and the dogs went into another steaming device – they barely fited.

Next, my Beef Sandwich. First, the hamburger bun was toasted on a panini press. The meat was different than the Cheesesteak, it had a nice pink colour from the package before going in the steaming machine. Mayo went on the bottom bun, followed by the beef, BBQ sauce, coleslaw and more mayo.

Anyone who ever had a Philly Cheesesteak would be appalled by this sandwich. Sure, the steak was minced thinly. But there was no apparent caramelization of the beef, as you usually get when cooked on a griddle. Hot dog rolls are not hoagie rolls they are not as long, anyway. But the bun was honest. Cheese wise, the cheaper versions are usually made with American cheese or even Cheeze Whiz, fancier versions use Provolone. Here, we had a cheddar blend, so the texture was a bit off. The addition of raw onions is not unheard of, but I prefer grilled onions.

The hot dogs were fine, too. Meaty jumbo weiners. Fresh commercial buns. Kids engulfed them.

As for my beef sandwich, it was probably the most interesting of the bunch. The meat was juicy, steaming does that. The coleslaw was creamy. It worked well with the BBQ sauce, a darker kind of sauce, providing sweetness and bitterness. There was mayo, too, which might have been a bit much. Thankfully, the sandwich held togheter fine. The bun was fresh enough to absorb the moisture well and the toasting was done on the outer crust.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves here. An attentive reader might have noticed that despite Frankie’s labelling itself a “Barbecue Grill”, this is not a Barbecue joint and no grilling is ever involved. This is not haute cuisine. This does not even quality as fast food. It is overpriced. But we were so hungry, it hit the spot. And that is all that really mattered, there and then.

We made our way back to Berth 3 to watch the Queen of New Westminster arrive at Tsawwassen. We were all set to sail away.

‘Tis the Season to try something different

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

Before we nestled the children all snug in their beds,
We had to eat and feast, as after all,
‘Twas the night before Christmas!

Now, we were going away for a few days, so the thought of planning a traditional ‘Réveillon’ was overwhelming. So I suggested we would follow a long-establisehd Jewish tradition and eat Chinese food for Christmas.

The kids were confused, so I had to explain. It’s been documented a-plenty that North American Jews have been patrons to Chinese eateries while Christians are celebrating. Historians believe that the tradition began in New York’s Lower East Side, at the tail end of the 19th century, with an early wave of Eastern European immigrants. Chinese immigrants were settling down nearby, in what became Chinatown.

First thing, many Christian-owned and operated restaurants were closed on Christmas Day. Chinese shops didn’t follow the same calendar. A match made in heaven! It also helped that, when it came to kosher law, Chinese restaurants didnt use dairy and therefore, there was no mixing of meat and dairy. That one is easy.

But what about pork? Pork is not kosher food (neither is shrimp) and it is used in Chinese cooking. But it is usually concealed inside something, like a wonton or an egg roll. Apparently for many, if you can’t see it, you can’t know it’s there, making it safe to eat. Plausible deniability! A true Christmas miracle!

And so the decision was made to order from Ding Ho, a Gatineau restaurant located in small strip mall, at the corner of St-Louis and the Alonzo bridge, in a space that was occupied for the longest time by a Patio Vidal franchise. Five years ago, Vidal was gone and Ding Ho was opening for business.

Now, we basically never order Chinese food for several reasona. For starters, Ms. Waffle is wary of MSG and the kids are not too familiar with this type of food. So this was a momentous occasion! Ding Ho’s menu is classic Chinese-Canadian fare: Chop Suey, Chow Mein, Foo Young, Fried Macaroni, Fried Rice, etc.

Ms. Waffle was weirdly excited by this and took control of the online order. Chow Mein and other noodle dishes were ruled out, she has strong opions regarding what she terms slimy noodle dishes.

The only existential question I was asked was, Spring Rolls or Egg Rolls?
“It’s Christmas. Let’s get both!” I magnanimously pronouced, like a Wise Man packing Myrrh for the Messiah.

Ms. Waffle made sure to order the classic Chicken Balls and added some Breaded Shrimps for good measure. A Chicken dish, a Beef dish, some Spareribs for Mini-Waffle et voilà! Bonus, our order being over $50, we were getting an extra Chicken Fried Rice for FREE, a saving of $8.95!

1 x Sweet & Sour Chicken Balls$12.95
4 x Egg Roll$6.80
4 x Spring Roll$6.80
1 x Salt and Pepper Chicken$14.45
1 x Garlic Spareribs$12.95
1 x Beef with Green Peppers$13.95
1 x Breaded Shrimps with Garlic Sauce$14.95
1 x Chicken Fried Rice (Special) FREE

The food arrived in the planned time frame. A whole bunch of styrofoam containers were soon emptied into more presentable dishes. The table was set and we were ready to celebrate!

Most certainly, it smelled good and looked good! The Waffle jr. is not keen on fried rice, so we added some leftover white rice to the table to keep her content. We all filled up our plates and dug in.

The Chicken Balls were meaty and actually quite decent. Nice white meat, not overdone. The fried batter was a bit doughy but the ratio was good. That was not the case for the Shrimps, where there was too much dough. I ate mine with the Cherry Sauce and left the garlic sauce alone.

The rolls were pretty good. The Egg Rolls were nicely crispy, with plenty of delicious filling. The Spring Rolls were not as good, a bit oily in my opinion. I stayed with the classic Plum Sauce to eat them.

The Garlic Spare Ribs were uneven, as is often the case for this dish. Some were really meaty, nice and tender. Others less so, with more cartilage than flesh. Luck of the draw or expert eyes will get the best pieces! There was plenty of the sweet and garlicky sauce. It was a tad fatty.

The Salt and Pepper Chicken was a nice, simple, crispy dish. The chicken had been deep fried than mixed with very simple sauce, not too salty with a good peppery flavour. Lots of chicken too, with some onions and a few pieces of green peppers.

The Beef and Green Peppers had a different ratio, with lots more veggies than the S&P Chicken. Which is fine, I guess, considering that it is called Beef and Green Peppers. The beef was crispy yet tender. The peppers were still firm. Some sliced onions, too. Pretty good dish even though I would like more beef!

Finally, the Chicken Fried Rice was also good. Nice and salty from the soy sauce, the chicken flavour was punching through too. Nothing to complain about this freebee!

All in all, we all enjoyed our Chinese Christmas meal. The portions were quite generous, so there is plenty more left for us to enjoy at a later day. The food was plenty hot and we all had a fortune cookie. Apparently, one of my investments will bring solid returns.