Monday, June 16, 2014

Eat at Il Vicino and Give Back to a Great Cause

If you read "Dining by the Alphabet: Letter V", you'll remember the glowing reviews that Il Vicino received from Wichita By E.B..

Well this Thursday, June 19th, my friends will be putting on a little benefit at the Il Vicino located at Bradley Fair. From 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. if you bring in the attached flyer below, 20% of your purchase will go back to fund the Nathan TenClay Memorial Scholarship.

This is a new scholarship, my friends have started recently in memory of a friend of theirs that passed away after his battle with cancer. I encourage you all to not just eat some really good food but also give back to a great cause.

I also want to send a major thanks to Il Vicino who was totally gracious and willing to participate in this cause. In talking with them to get this set up, they were nothing but generous.

Happy Dining Folks.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dining by the Alphabet: Letter V: Il Vicino

One question I always get asked is, how did the Dining by the Alphabet go? Then I realize I’m still five letters away from finishing. The last time we left off, it was Letter U with Usuloteca which is still up and running. So by basic English, that means letter V is next. Now there are not many V restaurants in Wichita so the pickings were slim. I decided to settle for a place I could grub at and even grab a drink.

Il Vicino
2132 N Rock Rd
Wichita, KS 67206
(316) 636-2121

Il Vicino is a wood oven pizza restaurant located in Bradley Fair at 21st and Rock. They also have a location in the College Hill area at Douglas and Oliver (at the Southeast corner). They are most known for their pizzas but also serve pastas, salads, sandwiches, among other items.

I get the word “Il” doesn’t start with the letter “V” but for the long time Wichita By E.B. readers, you’ll know that words like, The, Il, El do not count. For those not fluent in Italian, let me translate the restaurant name for you. Il Vicino translates to The Neighbors.

For the return of “Dining by the Alphabet”, my official guest dinner for Letter V was Taylor. She’s a first time Dining by the Alphabet-or (is that a word?). She’s a fan of all sorts of foods and this was her first time ever visiting Il Vicino so she was rating this restaurant with a clean slate.

We went during the week in the evening and the place was half full of other hungry folks. It does get busier on weekend evenings. Inside, the restaurant has a very polished and upscale look but don’t let that deter you. It’s not super upscale and you could easily show up in jeans if you wanted. I’ve been in before with shorts on. Regarding seating, the place fits just under 90 people and has a very nice patio outside that seats 50.

Upon our arrival, we had a nice gentleman kindly open the door for us where we were warmly greeted by a couple other employees standing at the register. Their menu is posted right as you walk in. (For reference you can also check out their menu here: Note for those who care, any sandwich or pizza on their menu can be ordered gluten free. After scanning through the menu, you can go up to the register and order your food and beverages and sit where ever there is an open table.

Insalata Cesare
All their food items are numbered on the menu. I went with the #4 which is the Pollo E Pumante (Garlic oil, mozzarella, roasted chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, asiago, fresh basil) and ordered it with light cheese. Taylor had the #8 which is the Angeli (Sweet balsamic marinara sauce, mozzarella, roasted chicken, Portobello mushrooms, artichoke hearts, gorgonzola, fresh rosemary). We also ordered a couple salads. I went with #29 which is the Insalata Il Vicino (Roasted chicken, egg, tomatoes, gorgonzola, artichoke hearts, walnuts, on romaine, house vinaigrette). I felt like I was Italian when I ordered the salad as it sounds so cool rolling off the tongue. Repeat after me……..”Insalata Il Vicino” Taylor had #30 which is the Insalata Cesare (Traditional cesare dressing (blended anchovies, egg, fresh garlic, olive oil, lemon, Dijon) tossed with romaine, croutons, and asiago.) On top of that we had a water, I ordered a big beer and Taylor had a glass of wine. Please note wine and beer are the only adult beverages they serve. They do not serve liquor.

Insalata Il Vicino

We grabbed a table after ordering and our server quickly brought us our drinks. One thing we both noticed is the service is very friendly. The speed throughout the night was well above average. Taylor noted the service was great and the waiter did a good job. Our waters were never empty.

Our salads were quick to come out. Taylor said her salad was awesome. The croutons and dressing made the salad. The Caesar dressing had a little zing to it which she liked. I, too, thoroughly enjoyed my salad. It was a nice break away from the monotony of the regular ranch house salad you get at many restaurants. The artichoke hearts and house vinaigrette really hit the spot.

Hot oil sauce....and beer
Not too long after the pizzas came out. The pizzas come in a 10 inch size and a 6 inch size. We stuck with the 10 inch size and after the salads we just devoured; the larger pizzas were probably a little too big for dinner. My pizza was fantastic. It was not greasy and has the very clean and fresh feeling when you eat it. Taylor and I were both big fans of the thinner crust. I am not much of a crust eater when it comes to pizza. If I don’t have anything to dip it in, then I leave it to the side unless we are having family dinner at my parents’ house and my mom loves to eat the crust of a pizza so she’ll eat mine. That or she hates food to go to waste and takes one for the team and eats it for me. Fortunately Il Vicino has this hot
oil that’s placed at every table that you can put on your pizza or use it to dip your crust in. It’s great and one of my favorite condiments in any Wichita restaurant. After doing some research, it’s made within Il Vicino at their New Mexico location and is shipped to other Il Vicino’s. Many stores have tried to make it but can’t match it. Moving on, Taylor felt her pizza was ok. The two bright spots for her pizza were the crust and the balsamic marinara sauce. At the price of $10 for the pizza, she thought the pizza would have been best if she had shared it with someone else.

#4 Pollo E Pumante
#8 Angeli

Overall we were very pleased with dinner. The most outstanding part of Il Vicino besides the food was the service which is always very important in my book. Plus it should be noted the cleanliness of the place. They really take good care of the establishment from the inside of the building even to the restrooms.

That brings us to rating time. Taylor decided to give Il Vicino a 3.9 out of 5. I decided to give Il Vicino a 4.25. That gives Il Vicino a final score of 4.08. As always, anything over a 4 is a great score for Wichita By E.B. and that means a definite recommendation from us.

Compared to other pizza places in Wichita, this is totally different than my other favorites. The top 3 pizza places I’m a fan of in no particular order are Ziggy’s, Picasso’s and Il Vicino.

I would like to thank Taylor for joining me on the return of Dining by the Alphabet as I look to finish up the final letters.

That ends Letter V putting us with only four letters left to end this three year adventure. Next up is Letter W. Any suggestions anyone? There are a ton to choose from!

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Restaurante Antojitos Salvadoreno Reviewed

I’m a true sucker for trying foods that I have never had before or that I rarely ever get the chance to eat. There’s one cuisine I haven’t had in over two years and something I’ve been meaning to try again for the longest time. So when I heard a new restaurant opened up in the past year on the east side of town, I put it high on my list of restaurants that I needed to try out.

When the opportunity presented itself to go here for lunch, I jumped at it and that brings us to the latest food blog.

Restaurante Antojitos Salvadoreno
2117 E. Central

Antojitos Salvadoreno is a newer restaurant near Central and Grove that specializes in Salvadoran Cuisine. They are only open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 am to 10 pm.

My friend and I stopped by for a mid-week lunch. Just by pulling in, she had a small concern as the restaurant has that sketchy dive restaurant look to it. When you walk inside, it’s a totally different experience. It was bigger than we thought. That day for lunch there were four other people eating when we arrived. Place wasn't busy at all.

Our server greeted us immediately, sat us, and took our drink order. He also handed us their one page menu (front and back) that consisted of 25 food options. I already knew right away I just had to order some papusas. You can’t go to a Salvadoran restaurant and NOT order them. So I asked our server what their three most popular papusas were and he recommended the following menu items:
#1: Revuelta: chicharron con queso: pork and cheese
#3: Frijol con queso: beans and cheese
#5: Papusa loca: crazy papusa: pork, cheese, beans lorocos

We figured, why not? We ordered all three. The papusas came with pickled cabbage and a jar of hot peppers and vegetables that were all spiced up. All three papusas came on the same plate which we didn’t mind. We took one bite of each in order and the Papusa Loca was by far the favorite from both of us. The Revuelta was alright, I ate small bit of it as it looked pretty cheesy. The third papusa was a messup and they accidentally gave us an all cheese papusa so I didn’t touch it at all. My friend had all three and enjoyed the papusas but #5 is the go to if you ever stop by here. Make sure you add some pickled cabbage on top of it, very delicious. The jar of hot peppers is as advertised, very spicy.

After the papusas, it was quite filling so we decided to split a lunch entrée order. We went with #18 Carne Asada (arroz frijol ensalada pico de gallo aguacate; rice, beans, salad, pico de gallo, avocado). For as little people in the restaurant they had at the time, our lunch order took a LONG time to come out. Not sure what was taking forever as our server never came out to let us know the hold up. From walking in to leaving, it was well over an hour which is way too long for what we ordered.

Once the carne asada came out, it was a big plateful of food. My friend felt the carne asada was cooked to her liking. I felt it was ok but nothing to write home about. Mixed up some tortilla, carne asada, pickled cabbage and called it good for lunch.

To end lunch, our server recommended an Empanada de platano. It looked to be a cream filled empanada. He said it’s a good sweet menu item to end on as a dessert. At $.1.75, we figured “what the heck.” We had to order it to go though as we were running short on time. We split the empanada later and both thought it was ok. Our opinion could have been swayed as we didn’t have it fresh as we had to take it with us. So take that for what it’s worth.

Overall, we were in general agreement that the papusas were great, the service was friendly but food took longer than it should have, and the prices are good. Papusas run around $1.75-$2.50 a piece and lunch/dinner items run $8.99-$22.99.

It’s definitely an alternative to Usuloteca (read the Wichita By E.B. review here) for those that don’t want to make the drive out south. I’m sure I’ll give this place another try to see if they can speed up their service levels.

Here's the menu:

Have you been? I would love to read your thoughts.


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Monday, May 19, 2014

Wichita Ribfest: First Time Attendee Thoughts

There’s a recent Wichita event that I have missed out on the first two years of its existence. I told myself I was going to make it a point to go this year. That event is the Wichita Ribfest. I’ve had quite a few friends go the past couple years and the general consensus when asking their opinions was “It’s ok”, “Something you only need to try once” and “It can get pretty expensive.”

It only makes sense that one of Wichita’s Top 200 food bloggers should attend the event so his 12 readers could get a sense of what to expect if they ever want to attend Wichita Ribfest.  

The basics of the event: You pay $5 for a wristband that gets you in each day of the event. Wichita Ribfest, this year, took place May 16th-18th. So you pay $5 and you can come and go as you please. The event is located in City Lot D at 777 E. Waterman, just east of INTRUST Bank Arena. They have it all blocked off. Once you arrive, there’s all the food vendors set up, a concert stage at the south end and towards the west end an area for kids to play at.

I went with a couple friends on Sunday (first timers as well) and we stuck primarily to the ribs area and the beer tent. You do need an additional wristband to drink so they’ll card you when you enter. If you’re lucky to look young enough, they’ll even card you again when you order a beer but according to one lady’s button, she cards because she cares. They must have cared for me twice as much.

The beers were $5 a piece and the food was a totally different situation. One of the complaints I heard from friends was there isn’t a sampler type platter where you could try each of the ribs from each of the vendors. You have to wait in line and order separately from each place. It does make sense to me not to make a sampler platter as you may mix up the sauces and/or mix up which rib is which. Prices from each of the vendors were the same. $8 for a quarter rack (3 bones), $15 for a half rack (6 bones) and $25 for a full rack. You could add $3 and add a couple sides.

Our plan of attack was to just order a half rack at each of the four stations we saw even though there were 5-6 advertised for the weekend. So for the three of us, we spent $60 and had 8 bones a piece.
After trying each of the places, we came to a general consensus of how we ranked all four places. From last to first place (drumroll please………………….)

4th Place – Cowboys Barbeque and Rib Company
We had these to end our day and they just weren’t up to par with the rest of the four. They weren’t the fall of the bone type of ribs, a little tough and too dry.

3rd Place – Hickory Road BBQ & Catering Company
This was our first set of ribs. The meat came right off the bone but it was a little dry. Pretty good flavor and the sauce was good.

2nd Place – Porky Chicks BBQ
Decent flavor, tender, but was just way too salty for me. My personal vote would have been for Hickory Road to be 2nd place. Drinking a beer while eating these made me salivate for some water. These ribs were the third ones we tried.

1st Place – Howling Coyote BBQ Company
Hands down winner of the event. Little did we know they were the defending champions from last year and actually won again this year too. These were the best of the four.  Good flavor, tender meat, just everything you would want in a set of ribs.

Regarding the event itself, the comments my friends made were nearly spot on. The event is ok but nothing special. It can get a little pricey for what you get. If you have friends that are great cooks, you ‘d be better off buying some ribs and having a backyard cookout. But to me, part of the Ribfest is the experience you get of going. The people watching at Wichita Ribfest alone is worth the $5 alone. 

Would I go again? Maybe....Perhaps but it’s probably something I’d go to on a whim instead of planning on making a day of it. After about two hours at Wichita Ribfest, I was done and ready to leave.

The highlight of my day!
Have you been? I would love to read your thoughts.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Pho Lotus Vietnamese Restaurant Reviewed

On one random day, I decided to just start driving around for a restaurant to try. This thought popped up in my head that I should give south Seneca a try. I drove from Kellogg and Seneca all the way to Seneca and 235. There were so many different restaurants to choose from, some I’ve never heard of.  It almost made me think of doing a Seneca Restaurant Crawl where I spend one afternoon going from restaurant to restaurant trying new places out.

BUT……I shall save that idea for another day. While passing by all those restaurants, I had to choose just one. It was a tough call but I found a restaurant that was a go to meal and there I was.

Pho Lotus
1523 South Seneca St
Wichita, KS 67213
Phone number:  (316) 425-7999

Walking inside the place is pretty small, has the feel of a dive restaurant. Your basic décor of any Vietnamese Pho restaurant is up on the walls including a television airing an episode of a Vietnamese television show. I heard there is a Vietnamese version of The Price is Right. What would I give to walk into a Pho restaurant and see Vietnamese Plinko? Or better yet, appear on an episode of Vietnamese Price is Right playing it? Add that one to the bucket list.

After glancing at the menu, it didn’t take me long to figure out what I wanted to order. I went with the Vietnamese spring rolls and a large bowl of Pho (with eye round steak, beef flank and tendon). The service was pretty quick. There were only four other diners in when I stopped by for lunch. I tried to engage my server in a small conversation about the place but she didn’t seem to want to be a part of it. I just hope she wasn’t thinking that I was flirting.

With minutes, my spring rolls came out and first bite in I already came to a consensus on it. I just wasn’t a fan. The worst part about blogging restaurants is having to give an honest opinion of the food and the spring rolls just didn’t have much flavor to it even with adding the hoisin/peanut butter sauce on it. The roll was rather dry and the meat quality left something to be desired.

Next up was the bowl of pho and I was hoping for a better go around after the spring roll. When I start out eating pho, I always take a spoonful of broth and taste it before adding in the hoisin and Sriracha. It’d best be described as ok. Once diving into the bowl and mixing everything up, I knew Pho Lotus wouldn’t rank up there with the heavyweights of Wichita in terms of quality. It was more of a middle of the road type Pho that’s nice to have if you live in the area but not a place you would go out of your way to travel to.

Service was quick. Food was ok. That’s the basic gist of Pho Lotus.

I've attached pictures of the menu below for you all to take a look at. 

Happy Friday and Happy Dining folks. 


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