Saturday, November 22, 2014

Meandering to Maria's for Mexican Food

Maria's Mexican Kitchen
163 W. Ontario Ave. Ste. #101
Corona, CA 92882

It's been some time since we have made our way out to Corona to see our good friend Anthony, and his wife Sabrina. Usually when we head out this way, I pick a restaurant. During this visit, they threw me for a loop when they had a place that they had wanted us to try. This took a lot of the pressure off of me, which was nice. Now the only pressure I would have was trying to make it through some of Sabrina's stories without falling asleep. Not an easy chore for sure.

Maria's is housed in a spot where we formerly did a review. Back then it was called the Twisted Gourmet, but they have since moved on to another spot in Corona. Maria's opened here in May of last year, and they do have another more established place in the Woodcrest section of Riverside. Since opening on the corner of Ontario and Main, Maria's has kind of gotten reviews all over the map on Yelp. It seems that people either love this place or hate it. I know, not surprising for Yelp, but it made me wonder which side of the fence I would land on at Maria's.

We got to Maria's at about 7pm on a recent Saturday night. The restaurant was deserted when we walked in, but soon after we arrived a large party filled the front of the place, which brought some much needed life here. Since Maria's has taken over this space, they painted the walls bright colors, added colorful furniture, had some plants strewn across the area, and added plenty of decor to the walls. The menu is pretty much what you would expect from a Mexican restaurant. Combo plates, burritos, tacos, and all of your favorite Mexican cuisine is represented here. I was pretty hungry after our long trip out the 91 Freeway, so let's see how this visit ended up for us.

We were given the customary Chips and Salsa to start things of with. These were some pretty stellar chips. They were fried nicely, while still being light. They were almost addictive. When the salsa came to the table, I was kind of let down by the appearance of it, but its flavor won me over. I typically like a chunkier version, but this salsa had enough heat to compensate for the lack of chopped up veggies. There were some nice pieces of onions floating around in there though. A very good version of chips and salsa, which got me excited for what was to come.

The appetizer section did not exactly inspire creativity at Maria's. They have eight items on their appetizer menu, and four of those are quesadillas. We went with their El Toro Quesadilla ($9.95). This large flour tortilla was filled with shredded beef and cheese, then served with sour cream. The menu says this comes with guacamole, but there was none to be found here. No matter, this was still a pretty good quesadilla. It was conveniently sliced into four pieces for the four of us, so there was no way Sabrina could have hogged it all. The quesadilla was not as greasy as I had thought it would be. The beef inside was tender, and this had just the right amount of cheese in it, so it did not overshadow the meat.

Most of the meals at Maria's come with your choice of soup or salad. Anthony is partial to their Caldo De Albondigas Soup. This meatball soup came in a broth with carrots and cabbage. Anthony liked the flavor of the meatballs. I had the Dinner Salad, which was just your basic salad, which included fresh greens, tortilla strips, your choice of dressing, and a sprinkling of cheese on top. I'm not sure what made this salad for me, but I really liked it. There was just enough dressing, plenty of crunch from the tortilla strips, and I liked the inclusion of the pepper on the side.

Anthony will start off our entree portion of this blog with his choice, the El Trio Grande ($16.95). This three item combination plate came with a pork tamale, chile relleno, a shredded beef taco, and rice. Anthony kind of was up in the air about his meal. He liked the tamale a lot. It was stuffed with plenty of pork, and then topped with cheese and red sauce. The chile relleno he felt was good, but he's had better. The taco was very average. Just looking at the almost white hunk of tomato on top of the taco would have turned me off too. Anthony is usually a big eater, but even he could not finish all of this food, so he took some home for the next day.

Sabrina is always predictable when going out for Mexican food, as she always gravitates towards a Two Cheese Enchilada Combination Plate ($9.95). As you can see, this was the case at Maria's as well. Sabrina used to be enamored with the food at Miguel's, but now she has switched allegiances to Maria's. She likes the red sauce here better, and the inside of the enchilada has a good amount of cheese. She likes the beans and rice here as well.

I guess I shouldn't give Sabrina such a hard time about getting the same thing, because Katie's a creature of habit when it comes to ordering Chicken Fajitas ($15.25). These are your typical restaurant fajitas, with sizzling iron plate and all. The chicken was cut into large strips, and served with onions, green bell peppers, and tomatoes. They come with your choice of tortilla, beans and rice. She of course got a side of Guacamole ($3.75). Katie felt the chicken here was juicy, but otherwise nothing spectacular. She liked both the beans and rice though.

I had asked the waitress about the carnitas, and she mentioned that the Chile Con Carne De Puerco ($15.25), also known as Chile Verde, was a better choice. Even though I did not have the carnitas here, I have a feeling she was correct. This was a really tasty plate. The pork hunks were very tender, and the chile verde had a little kick to it, which made my taste buds stand up and take notice. I had wished that the serving size was a little more generous with this though. The beans and rice were pretty good as well, with plenty of cheese topping the beans.

I think we all left Maria's satisfied with our meals. Now don't get me wrong, this is not life changing Mexican food here. It's good, middle of the road Mexican food, in an area that seems to have a love affair with Miguel's. This is better than Miguel's. Unlike at Miguel's, the food here taste like something. The prices are a little on the high side, but with most dinners you do get a salad or soup, so you will be leaving here with a full stomach. The service that we received on this night was pretty good. They were not crazy busy, so our waitress had plenty of time to make sure we were doing okay. Sabrina and Anthony ended up picking out a good place for dinner. I'm sure it was all Anthony's doing.

Out of five time capsules, (because the city of Corona hold the unofficial record for most time capsules lost, a staggering 17 of them within the city limits), five being best to zero being worst, Maria's Mexican Kitchen gets 3 time capsules.

Maria's Mexican Kitchen does not have a website, but you can find more information about them on their Yelp page, which you can see by clicking here:

Maria's Mexican Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Planting Ourselves at Los Agaves

Los Agaves Restaurant
600 N. Milpas St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93103

For years I have been hearing about this Mexican restaurant in Santa Barbara. I've heard about the salsa bar, been informed about their killer molcajetes, and of course I've been told about their long lines. That's why when Katie and I were staying in Santa Maria, we strategically left there to make it here when we thought it would be less crowded. Mission accomplished, we arrived here right at 11am on Sunday, found a spot in their very small parking lot, and walked straight up to the register to order. It's awesome when a plan comes together so nicely.

Los Agaves now has three locations. They have two in Santa Barbara, and a new one that opened up just about a month ago in Goleta. Their location on Milpas is pretty nice. Ordering is done at the counter, and then you find a seat in one of their many seating areas. I got the feeling this was once someones home, with all of the connected rooms. The tiled floor and exposed wood beams really gave this restaurant a comfortable feel to it. They also have patio seating here, so you can enjoy the great Santa Barbara weather.

The menu at Los Agaves is pretty large, with many of your Mexican favorites present and accounted for. Most items hover around the $12 mark. Take some time to check out their daily specials, which are written on the blackboard behind the registers. From everything that I have heard about this place, there's some good stuff hiding in those specials. We made our selections, and grabbed a table in one of the more secluded rooms. Let's see if Los Agaves is worthy of all this hype.

No trip to Los Agaves would be complete without a trip to their legendary Salsa Bar, which is located right to the right of where you order. I did not take the time to write down what all six of these were, but they all were pretty stellar. I really liked the hotter ones, but I am usually always partial to spicy salsas.

True to form when we are eating in a Mexican restaurant, Katie always orders Guacamole ($4.25) to start off with. This was a very good version of my favorite fruit. This guacamole was not overly seasoned with garlic salt and citrus. Just topped with some diced red onions, cilantro, and tomatoes, which allowed the natural flavor of the avocado to push through. I really liked the texture of this guacamole as well. The tortilla chips were baked nicely, and not greasy as all. I had a hard time not scarfing this guacamole down before our meals came.

After about five to ten minutes, our food started making its way out to us in stages. First to arrive was my Crispy Shredded Beef Taco ($3.50). This taco was filled with shredded beef, salsa, sour cream, cheese and placed on top of almost a half a head of lettuce. This taco was good, but there needed to be a little more shredded beef in here. The sour cream was plentiful, and of course the salsa was spot on. The crispy taco shell was fried to perfection, without dripping in grease.

I should have tried one of their molcajetes, but this Agaves Burrito ($12.25) got a lot of love on Yelp, and it was definitely worthy of it. Halibut and shrimp fills this burrito, along with roasted red peppers, onions, cheese, lettuce, and guacamole. It's then topped with a chipotle sauce. I really liked this burrito. There was plenty of shrimp, but the halibut kind of took a backseat to the more flavorful shrimp. The chipotle sauce was almost addictive, it was that good. One of the best burritos I have had in awhile. This burrito was supposed to come with beans and rice, but I ended up getting only the rice with a side of their Agaves salad. The Agaves salad was a pleasant surprise. It came with mixed greens, mandarin oranges, mango, avocado, dried cranberries, and a very good mango dressing. I'm not much into salads with fruit in them, but this one was fresh and delicious. Their rice was even good. Nice and light, and sprinkled with cotija cheese. This plate was all it's cracked up to be.

Katie went the breakfast route at Los Agaves, with this Huevos Rancheros. ($7.95). When I asked Katie to describe this dish, she could not contain her excitement about it. She threw around adjectives like; best, delicious, and heavenly. It starts with the tortillas here. The corn tortilla was crisped above the eggs, and kind of gave this a chiaquiles effect. The chipotle sauce had just enough heat to it, but did not overpower the plate. This was served with black beans, rice, and potatoes. A good sized meal for under eight dollars. Katie also wanted me to make sure that I give a shout out to their tortillas here. She said they were some of the best she has had.

I guess you can say that we really liked the food at Los Agaves. Everything we had was fresh, the salsas and sauces were all top notch, and the portion sizes were pretty generous. We stayed full all the way home, and only managed to eat a little bit of dinner on this night. With all the variety on the Los Agaves menu, we look forward to making many more trips back to Santa Barbara in the near future. For all of you from OC, this restaurant reminded me of a much better version of Taco Mesa. Service was pretty good, even though we did not interact too much with anyone here. Los Agaves was well worth the trip off of the freeway, and it was even better that we beat the rush here. The famous Los Agaves lines were out the door when we left here right at lunch time though.

Out of five bicycles, (because the city of Santa Barbara ranks in the top 20 for most commuters that get to work by riding bicycles), five being best to zero being worst, Los Agaves gets 3.5 bicycles.

For more information about Los Agaves, head to their website here:

Los Agaves on Urbanspoon

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Starting the Day Off Right at Kay's

Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen
135 E. Clark Avenue
Santa Maria, CA 93455

We had the whole day to hang out in Santa Maria recently. My friend was having his wedding up here, but the ceremony did not get underway until 4, so that meant we had plenty of time to check out our surroundings on this early fall weekend. We had plans to see the Santa Maria Museum of Flight, and maybe if we had time, we would swing by the Santa Maria Town Center for some shopping. Of course with all of this planned, we had to start our day with breakfast.

I had bookmarked a breakfast restaurant in Orcutt before we left OC. Orcutt is an unincorporated area of Santa Maria, which is an oil town. This community is named after William Warren Orcutt, who not only was an oil man, but he also brought the fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits to the attention of scientists. Old Town Orcutt has a small town feel to it, even though there are 35,000 people living here now. This main commercial area has an old west kind of vibe going for it, without being too hokey.

We pulled up to Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen at 10:30, and had about a fifteen minute wait. They were kind enough to have coffee outside for those waiting to eat here. Kay's has been around for over 14 years now, and word has definitely gotten out about this restaurant that's only open until 2pm. There's a nice heated patio here, but we were seated in one of the rooms near the front of the restaurant. This restaurant is housed in a building that dates from 1904, and it has been restored while Kay's been in charge. Walls are adorned with lots of photographs of local history. The menu is what you would expect from a breakfast joint; scrambles, omelettes, and pancakes, but there's also a small selection of sandwiches and burgers here for those not wishing to partake in breakfast. We were here for the first meal of the day though, so let's see how that worked out for us.

Katie will start us off with her choice this morning, the Garden Scramble ($10.95). This veggie egg dish included sliced bell peppers, red onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach, then topped with avocado and cheddar and jack cheeses. Katie liked the fluffiness of the eggs, which with the fresh produce really made this omelette a winner. Her choice for a breakfast bread was a homemade biscuit. This was a very good biscuit. It was buttery and not dry at all. This made us wish that we had ordered these biscuits with some gravy.

I did not have a hangover, but I could not resist the allure of having this Too Much To Drink Last Night Omelette ($10.95). Inside this omelette was diced up chicken fried steak and bacon, then it was topped with cheddar and jack cheeses, and smothered with bacon and sausage gravy. I'm surprised I have never seen an omelette with chicken fried steak in it before. Predictably this was a delicious omelette. The gravy was full of flavor, but did not overshadow the insides of the omelette, a very hard balance to achieve. The cheese did get a little lost here though. You get your choice of either hash browns or home fries with this meal, and I went with the hash browns, which were just okay. I should have maybe went with the home fries instead. For my bread option I had their seasonal muffin, which just happened to be Pumpkin Spice. This was a pretty good muffin, which did not go overboard on the cinnamon and nutmeg, like other, "pumpkin", items tend to do.

Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen was a great way to start our day in Santa Maria. The breakfasts here are pretty good sized, so make sure you bring your appetite. We did not think the prices were way out of line for this much food. The service we received from our waitress Kristen was personable and she really made us feel at home, even though we were probably one of the few parties that was not from around here. If we are back in the area again, this is a definite place for us to hit up for breakfast. Of course after all this food, we predictably skipped our plans to go to the museum, and went back to our hotel for a two hour nap before the wedding. So much for the best laid plans.

Out of five oil rigs, (since Orcutt is an old oil town), five being best to zero being worst, Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen gets 3.5 oil rigs.

For more information about Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen, go to their website here:

Kay's Orcutt Country Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sampling Salvadoran Food in Santa Maria

Las Comadres
202 W. Main St.
Santa Maria, CA 93458

I have one rule when we are on vacation. I never want to eat at a restaurant that I could eat at when I am at home. That's why you won't see me going to Cheesecake Factory in Boston, scarfing down chicken strips in Times Square at Friday's, or when I'm in Vegas, eating at Javier's. Okay, I don't eat at Javier's here either, but that's just because it's not good. Anyways, the point is that we look for places where the locals eat. These seem to be the best places, and that's what we were hoping for when we went to Las Comadres in Santa Maria.

Las Comadres is a restaurant that hit all of our key points.  It's a Salvadoran restaurant that seemed to get real good reviews on Yelp, it's something that we haven't had at home, and as an added bonus, it was just right down the street from our hotel. How could we not eat here? I did a quick check of Salvadorian restaurants in OC, and Yelp gave me 16 to try, so if we liked the food here at Las Comadres, then we might have to check some of those restaurants out.

After freshening up after our long car ride, we made it to Las Comadres at about 7pm on a Friday night. Not exactly in the most happening part of town, we were welcomed by their neon sign assuring us that they were open. There were a few TVs turned to some novellas, a few soccer jerseys hanging on the brightly colored walls, and some maps of El Salvador thrown in for decor. That's about it for ambiance. This is a no frills kind of place, where you seat yourself, and then they bring you a menu.

If you are expecting some Mexican cuisine to be hidden on this menu, you might as well keep driving. Salvadoran tamales, yuca frita, and probably the most notable dish from this Central American country, pupusas rule the roost here. The menu might seem a little adventurous, but we were pretty excited to finally try this cuisine. We asked a few questions of our very friendly waitress, and waited for our food to make its way out to us.

I guess I spent all this time telling you this isn't like a Mexican restaurant, and then they place Chips and Salsa in front of us. Okay, there's a tiny bit of crossover here. These were some pretty sturdy tortilla chips, which were almost on the verge of being overcooked. The salsa was on the watery side, but I liked the large pieces of onion in there. This salsa had a big tomato flavor, but hit you with a good amount of spice near the end. I had a meal coming my way, but it was hard to resist this salsa.

Whenever it's unlikely we will be back to a restaurant again, I always gravitate towards combination plates, and Katie must have picked this up from me, as she selected Combo #4  which includes 2 Pupusas, a Tamal, Yuca Frita, Beans and Rice ($12.99). She chose to have one of her pupusas filled with just cheese, and the other to have cheese and squash. The cheese they use in these was a Salvadoran soft cheese called quesillo. Katie was really excited by these pupusas. The squash was really fresh, and the cheese was not crazy heavy. The outer corn portion of the pupusa was a great vessel for the insides. The rest of the plate was pretty good as well. The yuca frita was probably the best version I have had. Fried perfectly, very crisp, and not greasy, it was made even better when dipped in the beans. If I had to pick a weak spot here, it would have to be the rice, which was a little on the bland side. Katie left here very happy though.

Not the most beautifully plated dish, I went with a combo as well. The #1 Combo included 2 Pupusas, 1 Chicken Tamal, and half a Plantain ($8.59). I enjoyed my food as well. I had pork, cheese, and beans in my pupusas, which is also known as the Revueltas pupusa. The pupusas are not filled to the brim here, but they will fill you up. The tamal is not like the Mexican versions I have had. These are very moist, not overly stuffed with chicken, and they have a lightness about them. I've never really been a fan of plantain, but this one was one of the best I have had. Not sure what they did to this, but if more plantains tasted like this, I'd order them way more than I do. A very solid plate of food.

It's safe to say that the food at Las Comadres piqued my interest in Salvadorian food. I've already got a place bookmarked that is near my house. As for Las Comadres, this is a no frills place serving up some delicious Central American cuisine. If you come here with an open mind, and not expecting Mexican food, you will definitely leave here happy. The service we experienced on this night was very pleasant. Glad we shied away from the norm, and went with something that was a bit out of our comfort zone. A real hidden gem in Santa Maria.

Out of five video games, (because before his name was famous for being on a video game, John Madden was head coach of Santa Maria's Allan Hancock College's football team), five being best to zero being worst, Las Comadres gets 3.5 video games.

Las Comadres does not have a website, but you can find more information about them on their Yelp page here:

Las Comadres Salvadorean on Urbanspoon
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