Edmonton Restaurant Review: Menjiro Ramen

Menjiro Ramen’s mural; I did not win the contest to fill the speech bubbles.

I’ve been running my YEG Food Deals pages on this site for over four years now and, having expanded to sharing information on social media, I’m finding that more and more businesses are starting to reach out to me on their own. In the case of Menjiro Ramen, their sister restaurant Jang (also new) is the one that direct messaged me through Instagram.

On Monday, December 17, Menjiro Ramen would be having their grand opening. To celebrate, they were running a week-long special for $10 noodle bowls. Kirk and I actually attempted to visit on that first day. However, to avoid disappointment, I phoned ahead when I got home from work to see if we should bother to drive over.

Turns out, they had literally just sold their last bowl of soup. I followed their Instagram page over the next few days and it seemed that they were consistently selling out. It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that we managed to make it there and snag some noodles for ourselves.

Menjiro Ramen’s Menu

Unlike most other shops, Menjiro Ramen only serves soup made using chicken rather than the usual pork. For that initial visit, we were told that we only had the option of their Tori Paitan, a creamy broth. That was okay with me since I had my eyes on the Black Garlic, which uses that soup base, and Kirk ordered the Spicy Red ($10 each that day). They were short of the pork shoulder that typically comes in each bowl as well. To replace that, we would receive pork belly instead.

It didn’t take long for the kitchen to prepare our meals. Both bowls came out piping hot. I sampled Kirk’s Spicy Red. It literally had a deep orange-red colour to the soup. I sampled the broth by taking a couple of sips. Personally, I found it a tad too spicy for me. It had a very peppery finish that lingered at the back of my throat. I don’t really enjoy heat like that as it’s sort of irritating. It did taste pretty good though. I simply wouldn’t be able to have a whole bowl of that in a single sitting.

I thought my Black Garlic ramen was a lot more manageable. The broth may have been saltier and grainier than I’d prefer, and I was a hoping for more noodles. Yet, I thought the texture of the noodles was al dante with a nice bite. I also loved the pork belly and the chicken seemed to be well-seasoned. The marinated egg and pieces of bamboo shoot were delicious ingredients.

This art cracks me up.

Being so new, I wanted to see if a second visit a few weeks later would make a difference. We stopped in again for lunch on another Saturday, making sure to arrive shortly after opening to get the best selection. Menjiro Ramen was only half full, and I had noticed on their social media that they were no longer posting about being sold out, so the restaurant must not be as busy as when initially launched.

On this occasion, Kirk and I both opted for the creamy broth-based Spicy Miso Ramen ($14.50 per bowl). We also started with a plate of the Cheesy Takoyaki ($6.50).

Kirk tried the takoyaki, but he didn’t love them. He found the texture of the interior was too smooth and the exterior wasn’t crispy enough. I’m not entirely sure what Menjiro Ramen uses for the center. Traditionally, takoyaki is made with a wheat-flour batter and it’s filled with octopus, green onion, tempura crumbs, and green onions. When there was octopus lacking, these were quite mushy on the inside. Overall though, the mouthfeel didn’t bother me. They fit my memory of the takoyaki I’d eaten from markets in the past. I imagined it was an incredibly creamed potato. The octopus pieces were apparent and I liked the consistency of the shell. What really improved them was the melted cheese. Honestly, cheese makes everything better, and it did its job in this particular case.

The Spicy Miso Ramen hit the spot. I feel like maybe the portions were somewhat larger than with the discounted bowls offered during their grand opening week. Then again, the bowls they used to serve the ramen were different (specific dinnerware for specific menu items), so maybe it was a visual trick. One thing I noticed was that the bowls, sadly, didn’t have any bamboo shoots this time around. Pork shoulder was in-stock though, so we got to try that. Not my favourite. We both liked the pork belly better. Additionally, I thought the chicken was a little more bland than before. Kirk commented that his soup wasn’t hot enough, temperature-wise. And, I will say that the space loses heat every single time a customer enters, especially on chilly days. On the other hand, the temperature of mine was fine (I can’t deal with scalding food). Whenever I pulled noodles from the bowl, steam came wisping up. The intensity of the spice was much more pleasant than the Spicy Red, too.

I don’t regularly go out for ramen, so it’s hard for me to compare with the several other places in the city. Still, on their own merit, Menjiro Ramen’s chicken-based broths are quite satisfying and, between the two visits, the service has been great. The business is also a welcome addition to the far south side of Edmonton, an area that was previously lacking a more than decent ramen spot. Hopefully this location continues to fit that bill.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Mexico Lindo Tacos & Grill (Sherwood Park)

Our feast was enough to feed double the people!

I’d had my eyes on Mexico Lindo Tacos & Grill for a while now. The online reviews have been stellar. So, when I noticed that Groupon was, again, offering discounts on a meal for two, I decided to snap up a voucher. Kirk and I redeemed our deal in Sherwood Park on a Sunday night.

It’s a well-designed venue with a spacious, open layout. When Kirk and I walked in, I will say that I received a lot of extended stares from other patrons. I got the sense that they don’t typically see a lot of Asians dining there regularly. It felt a little awkward at first, but the staff were friendly (it’s clearly a family run business). In the vein of knowing a Chinese or South Asian restaurant is authentic when you see others of that ethnicity happily spending their hard-earned cash there, it was the same at Mexico Lindo Tacos.

Complimentary chips with dips while we perused their menu.

Once we settled in, we perused the menu. Although the beverages we saw at other tables looked wonderful, we opted to stick with water for the evening. Instead, we split a few dishes between the two of us, including the Queso Fundido ($16.50), Quesadilla de Tres Quesos ($8.50) with Al Pastor Meat ($4), and Tacos Dorados ($12.99).

I love a stretchy cheese pull, and the Queso Fundido with Mushrooms did not disappoint. I swear the layer of Oaxaca cheese was about an inch thick. The cheese combined with the sautéed mushrooms and homemade Mexican chorizo was deliciously satisfying, and plenty, if you want to make it a meal in itself. I do recommend that you eat this first and quickly. Once the hot skillet cools down, it’s not as good because the cheese will no longer be stringy enough to scoop out easily. I’d also suggest ordering extra flour tortillas because the three that come with the dish aren’t quite enough to go with the abundance of stuffing in the pan.

Quesadillas stuffed with cheese and Al Pastor pork.

You definitely get a decent value for your money at Mexico Lindo as the Quesadilla de Tres Quesos with Al Pastor Meat was huge. I was expecting smaller flour tortilla shells as I’ve had at other eateries around Edmonton, but the plate we received held two large 8 to 10 inch wide tortillas filled with a three cheese mixture and a generous amount of shaved Al Pastor meat. The vertical spit-roasted pork was super juicy and a little bit crispy on the edges. Served with in-house guacamole and crema, this was fantastic and perfect for sharing. With the two items that we’d tried so far, there was already enough food to feed about three people.

Tacos Dorados

To finish off our meal, we had the Tacos Dorados. Unlike the other dishes we had sampled, this was prepared differently. The corn tortillas were stuffed with chicken and rolled into tubes before being fried until a crunchy shell was created. The four tortillas were then covered with shredded lettuce, crema, and queso fresco (soft, smooth, mild unaged white cheese). I have to say that the chicken tasted a tad bland inside the tortillas, but was much improved as long as it was eaten with all of the toppings.

Fresh tortilla chips with salsa

Additional to the plates we chose, Mexico Lindo Tacos also provided complimentary tortilla chips with salsa and dips to start. The salsa was refreshing on the palate and the dips featured varying degrees of heat. All of them were excellent accompaniments to the rest of our items.

 

We enjoyed ourselves and the atmosphere (FYI, they also have live music on Saturday nights). Perhaps another outing is required to take advantage of happy hour on weekdays between 2pm to 4pm, or their many daily deals, which are always so tempting when they come up on my social media news feeds. This is a restaurant that I’d certainly be inclined to revisit as the food and service exceeded our expectations.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Jack’s Drive-In (Spruce Grove)

Welcome to Jack’s Drive-In

For over 55 years, Jack’s Drive-In has been a staple along First Avenue in Spruce Grove. The v-shaped roof has become an iconic landmark that has stood the test of time. Since 1961, the restaurant has called that very same spot its home.

As far as I could remember though, I’d never been to Jack’s Drive-In. I’d always just heard people talk about it. In my opinion, it was too far out of the way to visit. That changed, however, when I spotted a deal on Groupon. I ended up purchasing a voucher redeemable towards a meal for two. Valued at up to $30 (we paid $17), the coupon included two burgers, two sides, and two drinks.

When we decided to use it, we drove there on a whim. An event we attended turned out to be less than exciting and there wasn’t as much food as we expected, so we hopped in the car, and headed towards Spruce Grove to quell our hunger. Arriving at the parking lot of Jack’s Drive-In, we could see that there was a drive-thru, which only a couple of cars were utilizing. Inside, it was fairly quiet, too; a single family was hunkered down for supper.

I soaked in the ambience as I walked in. It’s so quaint with its 50s mom and pop diner style. The right wall is painted with more than life size images of Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. The booths and the stools are upholstered with bright, shimmering red vinyl, and the tables all have a vintage feel. An old juke box is even situated to one side and a wood framed TV anchored in a corner rotates through old photos of Jack’s Drive-In. The kitchen is cordoned off with an open window where customers can place their orders.

Their extensive menu is clearly laid out above the order window.

Service was really friendly. The young woman working at the front was extremely helpful in explaining their menu and suggesting the more popular items. It was also super clean. Ultimately, Kirk opted for the Jack’s Special burger with a half order of poutine and a bottle of water. I selected the Mushroom burger with a side of perogies and a cup of root beer.

The Jack’s Special burger comes with two thin patties of beef layered with pickle, cheese, ham, lettuce, and sauce. I can’t say that was my cup of tea. The ham was sort of an odd choice to me, especially after seeing that it was of the processed variety. The cheese was also American, giving it that plasticized texture. I’m not sure I fared much better with the Mushroom burger. It had the same type of cheese, the sauce was rather runny (making it incredibly messy), and the mushrooms didn’t taste fresh. In fact, the meat didn’t seem to be either. Clearly they were prefab patties that were probably previously frozen. They also lacked that charring from the grill. Considering that this is a diner that prides itself on this menu that has never changed, both of us agreed that the burgers needed some work.

On the other hand, the sides were more promising. Sadly, the poutine did not come with real cheese curds. However, the gravy was rich and not overly salted. It was hot enough to melt the cheese, and the fries were held up pretty well. The six perogies were plump, soft and a little bit crisp on the outside. I asked for bacon bits as my topping (perhaps I should have added sour cream for good measure), and, as a whole, these were delicious. I only managed to eat one as I was quite full from my burger and the poutine Kirk couldn’t finish, so the rest were taken home as leftovers.

My burger with our two sides and my root beer.

I will have to go back at some point to try their milkshakes and maybe to grab some of the other sides available on the menu, but the burgers are kind of mediocre. More than anything, it’s a cute place with a great Albertan story, and, personally, I think the place remains mostly due to the nostalgia factor. It seems that a lot of people have many wonderful memories associated with the eatery. As long as that continues to hold true, I’m guessing that there will always be someone willing to keep Jack’s Drive-In alive for many more years to come.

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Prairie Noodle Shop

Prairie Noodle Shop’s custom interior

About three years ago, I had the pleasure of attending a Get Cooking event where Prairie Noodle Shop‘s upcoming business was showcased. I was really excited to get a legit ramen restaurant with an Albertan twist. Their dishes were going to incorporate freshly made noodles while utilizing local meats and produce to infuse flavours familiar to our region. From the beginning, they’ve largely stuck to that formula, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Sadly, I don’t make it to the eatery on 103 Avenue and 124 Street as often as I used to. But, I really wanted Kirk to try it for once. So, we stopped by approximately a month ago to give the menu a once over during lunch. To start, we chose to sample the Baowich (2 for $10) and Dumplings (6 for $12). Each of us also got a bowl of the Spicy Garlic Miso Pork Ramen in Broth ($17).

The Baowich were interesting since I’m so used to other places serving their bao with a single steamed bun being topped with filling and then folded for consumption. Here, they sandwich the ingredients between two steamed buns. Thankfully, the amount of filling inside the sandwich provided a decent ratio to the bun. If there was too much bun and not enough of the selected pork belly, I would have been disappointed. The pork belly was covered with their house sauce (no idea what this is made out of), pickled and fried onions, and shredded lettuce. This made for a good combination of textures and it had that umami flavour. My only wish was that the pork belly would have been cut a tad thicker and cooked until a little bit more crisp.

Featured dumplings by Gourmai.

I’ve previously posted about a Dumpling Pop-Up by Gourmai. The chef is better known as Mai Nguyen. She supplies all of the featured dumplings on offer at Prairie Noodle Shop. The day we were there, the dumplings weren’t the most adventurous. Still, we decided to try the half dozen chicken and veggie selection. They were quite voluptuous and juicy with beautifully seared skins from being pan fried. The dipping sauce gave them an extra shot of flavour without over-salting the dumplings. If you are ever at Prairie Noodle Shop, ask about the day’s feature. Mai makes every single dumpling by hand, and they’re delicious.

Now to the best part, the ramen! Their Spicy Garlic Miso Pork Ramen is my absolute favourite bowl to get at Prairie Noodle Shop. The roasted pork belly is essentially the same as what we had in our Baowich; however, when submerged in soup, it doesn’t matter so much about how crispy the meat is. It also comes with smoked and pulled pork, sweet corn, sesame seeds and their umeboshi egg. The soup itself is pork-based and full-bodied; the flavour profile is amplified with miso, garlic, and a house made chili oil that adds a kick of heat at the back of the throat without becoming overwhelming. Their noodles have a nice bite to them (never overcooked), and that seasoned umeboshi egg is to die for.

Fire & Ice and Black Sesame Ice Creams

We finished off our lunch with their Fire & Ice and Black Sesame ice creams ($4 each). The Fire & Ice was a combo of two different flavours: one sweet and one that was sort of peppery. I was intrigued by the idea of the duo and I was the one who decided to order this, but it wasn’t our cup of tea. Partly it was to do with the texture. It reminded me of when I leave a tub of ice cream in the freezer for too long and the cream starts to separate and rise to the top. It gets thick and goopy. That’s what this felt like. I even asked the server if that was normal. It sort of seemed as though she wasn’t sure what to say. In the end, she told us it might be that any fruit puree in the ice cream that wasn’t mixed in well enough might have frozen into clumps and produced that texture. I can’t verify it, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt there. The Black Sesame was much better. The flavour wasn’t as saturated as other black sesame ice creams I’ve had in the past though, so it could use some improvement as well.

After serving the city for the past few years, I can safely say that the petite Prairie Noodle Shop continues to hold their own where it matters. The ramen is just as tasty as I remember it to be when they first opened and the service is commendable, too. I hope that they will always strive for that same consistency with their broth, noodles, and personability for many more years to come.

Edmonton Bakery Review: Cinnaholic

What’s inside the box?

Cinnaholic is an American-based franchise that introduced their first Alberta location in Edmonton this past spring. Opening to much fanfare in the downtown core (the Mayfair on Jasper building at 10075 109 Street), the promo of $1 cinnamon buns for the first half of their launch day had patrons lined up all the way down and around the block. Even though my co-worker and I had plans to take advantage of the deal, there was no way we would get away with staying in line for what would likely be a few hours. We turned right back around, leaving empty-handed.

Cinnaholic’s menu is quite extensive when building your own bun.

Fast forward to early fall, and a few of us decided we’d treat ourselves to a lunchtime dessert. We walked over to Cinnaholic once more. This time, it was a normal business day for them and it was a lot quieter. The most difficult part of the process when ordering your cinnamon bun is choosing from the 18 icing options and 24 topping selections. However, the cost is no joke either. The Classic Old Skool Roll with Vanilla Frosting is $5.50. Modification to the icing is going to be an additional 50 cents per flavour. Additionally, every single topping chosen is another 75 cents each.

Their showcase has a number of suggested buns.

My friends went all out with theirs. I kept mine fairly simple by swapping out the vanilla frosting for what I think should always be the regular accompaniment to a cinnamon bun, cream cheese frosting. To top it off, I picked a cookie dough topping. All in all, I expected that this would total about $6.75 plus tax. However, it was a little less, ringing in at only $6.25 as though the switch to the icing was free.

They can get quite elaborate.

As a bonus, I do recommend signing up for Cinnaholic’s rewards card. For every dollar spent, you’ll earn points, and those points can be redeemed for discounts. You’ll also get periodic offers for free toppings, etc. Best of all, with my first purchase, I was able to save $3 off of my bill, making this treat significantly more affordable that day.

Once our orders were placed, it didn’t take the staff long to prepare our buns. They carefully packed them up in paper bags, so we could take them to go. As soon as we returned to the office, I opened up my box to take a look. Honestly, the dessert looked a little worse for wear. I guess the heat from the cinnamon bun had melted the cream cheese icing and caused the cookie dough to slide off. It certainly wasn’t as pretty as what I’d seen of other purchases on social media. Still, the biggest test came with a tasting.

I was the last to try my Cinnaholic bun out of my friends since I decided to eat my real meal first. From their desks I heard them say that theirs were good, but super sweet, so I got a little bit apprehensive. When I finally began to take bites of mine, it was no longer as warm (I was too lazy to walk to the microwave to heat it quickly). And, although the bun itself felt fresh, because Cinnaholic uses all vegan recipes that are dairy, lactose, egg and cholesterol-free, the dough was somewhat dense. It, unfortunately, doesn’t become as airy and fluffy once baked as one might be used to.

In terms of the frosting, it was sugary to the point of the granules being evident, and, while I do believe that cream cheese icing is better than vanilla, I’m not sure it was immediately discernible that what I was tasting was supposed to be cream cheese flavoured. The cookie dough topping may have been the best part of the cinnamon bun. It was malleable and I scooped up dough to spread onto each piece of bun as I ate.

Cinnaholic’s interior is bright.

Personally, Cinnaholic wasn’t my favourite. I’d much rather get my usual cinnamon bun from Cinnzeo. Those are tried and true and they never disappoint. Still, I do feel that Cinnaholic serves a niche market for those who may have food intolerances. That’s the clientele that they were created for, and it’s nice that customers have this option. It’s just not going to be my top pick, and I likely won’t continue to go out of my way to visit Cinnaholic often.