Los Chilitos

I can never remember the name of Los Chilitos, which is on 17th Ave near 14th Street in SW Calgary, but I’ve been obsessed with it since the first day I saw it.  Tequila and Taco House?  That’s awesome!  I usually call it Tequila and Taco House, which is the most awesome name in all of nomenclature.  That’s just unbelievably cool.

Somewhere, Leonard’s metal chin is rusting with drool thinking of this place.  When I was in Japan with her, she needed to eat tacos at least every two days.  Do you know how hard it is to find tacos in Japan?  There’s no Tequila and Taco houses there!  A2 can empathize.  Aparently she did the same thing through all of Europe.  Well, guess what, Leonard?  There’s a Tequilla and Taco house near my house, and you can’t come because you ate too many tacos in Japan, and wouldn’t even try tako.

You may not be able to tell from that picture, but Los Chilitos looks like a house set way back on its lot, with an enormous two story patio.  There’s more space outside than inside.  It’s a really nice patio with a really nice view.  You know how some Mexican restaurants feel like they’re owned by a chain, and some feel like they’re owned by a family?  Los Chilitos just oozes authenticity. 

Tall and I went one sunny afternoon, because he loves to eat and he loves to help.  The drink menu impressed me, and I couldn’t resist the mohito.

I don't think it's a gay drink.

Do you see that?  Real mint leaves crushed in there.  It was frigid and delicous.  It is porbably the best mohito I’ve ever had, and I’ve had over three.

Tall loved that his Coke came in a glass bottle.  He usually hates Coke, being very devouted to Pepsi.  He tastes the difference easily, and for a Coke to do well by him is an amazing feet.  Perfect temperature, and perfect presentation.

Honestly, it didn’t seem like things could get better. 

Then our food came

Those tacos there, they were amazing.  And I got both the red salsa, and the green salsa.  Green salsa is the super spicy salsa.  I love the taste, but it’s too hot for me most of the time.  Having both let me use just a little bit as needed.  This is one of the best tacos I’ve ever had, and I’ve had over 300 tacos.  Most of those are since meeting Leonard.

Tall’s burito was just as good.  Tall couldn’t find anything to complain about with it.  Tall loves to complain about food.  He loves it as much as eating food and helping.  It’s his favourite thing in the world.  He could find no fault in this burito.  That means it was aboslutely perfect.  Nothing was wrong, or he would have brought it up. 

Then it started to rain a little bit.  Our waiter appeared, and told us he had prepared a table for us inside when he saw the clouds forming.  He didn’t want us to have soggy food, and as soon as the first drops hit, he was there to help us.

Waiters have a hard job.  They have to juggle all kinds of tables, and make sure food comes out, and everyone is happy.  There’s a certain amount of forethought the job requires, but usually you do the basics by route and save your energy to solve problems with angry customers.

But this guy, he solved problems before they happened.  He was ready to help us out as soon as he thought there could be a problem.  The rest of the servers were cute girls, with asses like onions; they brought a tear to your eye, and you were in no way sad.  This guy was so good, he was better than that. 

Yeah, this dude was better than cute girls.  He was amazing.  I think he might be the owner, and if he is, this place will do well.  They have a man who not only understands good customer service, but goes above and beyond to provide great customer service.

And inside is pretty cool too:

Smiley faces protect the identities of the innocent

When our bill came, it was really good.  We had eaten amazing meals in a great place, with excellent service.  The prices were what you’d pay in any causual dining restaurant, but this was one of the best meals out in my life. 

I love this place.  If you want to throw me a party, or thank me for something, or impress me, take me to Los Chilitos.  It’ll put me in a great mood, to be sure.

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Rating: 5 Stars

Food Star: Excellent, a superb taco.

Drink Star: Fresh mint in the mohito!  YES!

Atmosphere Star: Spot on.

Staff Star: Greatest waiter ever.

Price Star: Worth so much more than we were charged for

Tall’s Rating: 5 Stars.  From Tall.  He found nothing to complain about.

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Watchman’s Pub

Watchman’s Pub is just down the street from my apartment.  It’s a rarity on 17th Ave, much like Morgan’s Pub.  Both these places are real. 

By contrast, most of 17th is trying to be ironically classy, and the understanding of irony is about as good as their understanding of classy.  Neither is really all that good.  Classy is usually attempted by setting high prices, acting snobby, and overdoing their ultra modern decorations and menu choices.  They then try too hard to be ironic by acting contemptuous of their self-created surroundings, not worrying about dress codes for staff or customers, and acting like they were forced into a strange, expensive menu.  It blends into an expense poser mess, failing to achieve either goal. 

Watchman’s deserves respect because they just are who they are.  It’s a local pub, with just the right amount of dive bar to be charming without being scary.  They’ve got a great patio for people watching,

and the interior is such a classic pub; wood panel walls and a big central bar. 

When I came in, the crowd was perfect.  Some beer-league team shared pitchers in one corner.  Two old guys argued in a language I couldn’t place.  Some guy sat alone nursing a broken heart and a Budweiser.  Another dud had a scotch and a news paper. 

I knew I had to come here to write.  It’s the sort of place where you can sip a beer and a whiskey and pretend you’re just like Hemingway. 

…if whiskey didn’t make me sick… 

It’s a casual, seat yourself sort of place.  I was barely on my stool when the waitress popped out of nowhere, like an impatient gopher.  Literally, sit, BAM waitress. 

She was either bored or really into me, and couldn’t wait to show me what a great girlfriend she’d make with her beer and food getting skills.  I’m pretty sure it’s the second one, and cute girls who bring me beer are much cuter than those who are too busy already having boyfriends who aren’t me. 

Those girls are jerks. 

I tried the Watchman’s house draft.  It was terrible.  I think maybe some drunk took a bitter pee in a rain barrel.  It was definitely more on the dive bar ascetic than the neighborhood pub, and while it got more drinkable as the glass got emptier, next time I’ll order something I know.  But I drank the whole thing.  And it got better as it went.  I became more and more forgiving.  It wasn’t as bad as I first thought.  It just shouldn’t be your first beer.  You drink it third, when your taste is a little dulled.  It doesn’t sit well with a sober tongue, but it’s not that bad as the night goes on.  I mean, I kept drinking it.

Considering how very pub the place was, I decided to go with the fish and chips.  I almost gave them a full food star, when I realized my meal was just alright.  Sometimes, I forget that Calgary is a long way from the ocean.

A real map. From a map store.

 

I also forget what good fish and chips should taste like.  Honestly, you get Captain Highliner Imitation Fish Paddies at so many of the restaurants in the city I  fool myself into thinking tolerable fish is good. 

This man does not make food.

 These were real fish and chips.  They were good.  They weren’t great, but they were good.  And, I didn’t notice at first, but…

They came on a fish plate!

Then the bill came.  It was a great surprise, in that is was super low.  Like couch change low.  So I tipped the waitress 100 percent and promised myself I’d be back. 

This is really a great place.  Sure, I bitch, but I like Watchman’s a lot.  You really need to check it out.

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Final Ratings: 4 Stars 

1/2 Drink Star: The beer was bad, but I wasn’t offended, because it suited the place.  I just wish I hadn’t tried it. 

1/2 Food Star: 1/2 Because they should make good fish and chips in a cool pub, and these were just … okay. 

Staff Star: Attentive and cute.  She was amazing, and made up for the problems I had with the product. 

Atmosphere Star: So cool.  Exactly what I wanted and needed. 

Price Star: Almost derserves two price stars.  Seriously, you get way more than you pay for here.

Bumpy’s Cafe

There’s this little café I pass on the way to work with a really cool kitschy sign.

 

Bumpy's Cafe

I always want to head in and check it out, but it’s downtown Calgary, so it’s hours are designed to cater to the flow of business.  They aren’t open late and I’m not getting up early.  I figure it’s cool; downtown Calgary is a ghost town at night, meaning where it isn’t empty, it’s scary.  They shouldn’t have to stay open late because I want to know if I like their food as much as their sign.It is open on weekends, but every time I think about going there, I realize I’d be walking to work on my day off, and it’s just too much to bear, so I never go.

But then I took a week off to hammer out a new draft of my novel, and that Monday morning, I wasn’t quite ready to get to work when I got up.  The idea of walking towards work, then stopping at a café on the way there, and not going in, appealed to me.  So I finally went to Bumpy’s.

While I don’t own a lot of it, I tend to like people who like kitsch.  I may be using the word wrong, but I considerate to mean pop-culture artefacts maintained in part for their novelty value.  People who are into kitsch tend to be eclectic in the best possible way.  They will sample anything, and keep the best of everything, and combine it.  Bumpy’s is cool as soon as you walk in, from the stuff hung on the walls and the retro 1950s ad art style.

I found it a little confusing, as I couldn’t find the wall mounted menu, in part due to the layout.  I didn’t need it that badly, because I know I wanted an ice mocha.  A coffee shop that doesn’t have that should probably just give up.  I did want to see if they had any cool mind-blowing drinks I’ve never heard of.

This menu is a secret. I challenge you to find it.

Being downtown in Calgary means you have to be fast.  People won’t wait, and someone else is willing to be fast if you aren’t.  Speed trumps quality, so if you’re not fast, it doesn’t matter if you’re good.  Bumpy’s was ready for this.  They had a lot of people working in there, and they all seemed like the kind of kids who would hang out there when they weren’t working.  They had some really cute alt and hipster chicks in the crowd behind the counter, but unfortunately I didn’t get to talk to them.  The friendly guy who took my order was awesome and helpful and I almost can’t fault him for being a dude.

Almost.

Looks alright, but

 

I got my ice mocha and a breakfast Panini, and this is where things fell apart.  I have a sweet tooth, which is why I go for the mochas.  This one was heavy, and a bit bitter.  Maybe this is more authentic, or some sort of fancy coffee reason I don’t know.  I’m a Canadian boy, and as such Tim Horton’s has taught me Mocha means it should taste like hot chocolate and coffee mixed together.  I expected that, just cold.  Maybe that’s wrong, but it’s like serving unsweetened ice tea in Canada; if you don’t warn your patrons, you’ll lose them due to their expectations of a different product.The Panini was heart breaking.  I expected some twist, like a peppercorn cheese, or sautéed mushrooms.  This may sound hypocritical after what I wrote above, but here’s the deal; mochas are very common, and you can generally expect them to taste a certain way.  Calling a sandwich a Panini means you have a fancy press, and you’re planning to take some liberties with the standard recipe.

This was scrambled eggs and crispy bacon between slices of dry toast.  It was like an egg McMuffin that had quit trying.  I honestly kept waiting for a surprise twist, and became so disappointed I nearly couldn’t finished.  

The prices were in line with what I had expected, which would have meant more if I had liked anything I bought. The sad thing is, it’s such a cool place.  It’s just not a good café.  I still might go back, but mostly just to hang out.  I’d order a cheap drink from the awesome staff, and consider it rent on whatever chair I sat on.

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Rating: 2.5 Stars

  •  Atmosphere Star
  • Staff Star
  • ½ Price Star

 Joey takes suggestions.  If you have something you want him to write about, leave a comment or a private message, and he’ll do or review what you’d like.

Morgan’s Pub

If there are three things Tall, my gentle giant, loves, they are food, being included, and terrorizing villagers for sport.  When he found out I would be doing restaurant reviews as part of this blog, and that he could help, he was onboard.  He was upset when he found out we wouldn’t be stomping on any thatch roof cottages, but you can’t have everything.

We headed down 17th Avenue one Saturday afternoon, after deciding we would eat somewhere based solely on its outward appearance.  We noticed how many shitty facades line 17th.  There were places with their windows covered in brown paper, buildings with signs that hadn’t changed since 1952 in the worst way possible, and just a bunch of ugly restaurants.  Tall kept admiring the wrong buildings.  He pointed and said “That would make a nice restaurant.

“Tall, that’s a bank.”

“I know.  I’m just saying, it would make a nice restaurant if it wasn’t a bank.

Eventually we saw 1410 World Bier Haus.

Not a bank

It fit our ascetic standards, so Tall charged across the busy road, glaring at cars like the Incredible Hulk.  Brakes squealed in horror, and I waived my apologies at the terrified grandmother as I followed behind him.

1410 had a line at the door.  It was supper on Saturday, and there was a playoff hockey game on T.V., so the place was packed.  Tall wasn’t waiting for food.  He tried to scare the villagers, but Canadians care more about hockey than hungry monsters, so we started to backtrack.  Then we saw Morgan’s Pub

This guy danced for us

We headed in, and even though there were big screens on every wall, facing each seat, broadcasting the Canuck’s game, the place was half empty.  There was a stage for live music, but the radio was playing.  Tall noticed the music was great.  It was all classic rock or hard alternative, but never so heavy that it would alienate people who weren’t fans of the genre.

The only problem was the ceiling:

What is that and what does it want?

Look at that.  What is it?  I’m sure it’s not a problem, because there’s no way a health inspector could miss it.  It just looks terrible and dirty.  Tall went red in the face because he was afraid to breathe.  It was seriously disconcerting, and we both kept noticing it.

Our waitress came, and my initial read on her was she was used to being one of the boys.  You know, that cool chick who drinks beer and never orders just a salad, and plays video games and talks smack, and you almost forget she’s a girl when you’re not looking at her.  On top of that, she was friendly in a brash sort of way that I think exudes confidence.  Tall didn’t take such a liking to her.  She was a couple of years older than us, and while she was in good shape, she also had an asymmetrical haircut, really short camo shorts, and Ugg boots.  He thought she was trying too hard to act younger than she was.

I really don’t care why a girl is wearing short shorts and boots, as long as they wear them.

I started with a vodka coke and chicken spinach dip.

Brilliant!

  Honestly, I don’t know why I never thought to add finely chopped chicken to spinach dip.  It was tender and delicious.  It made a good thing better and more filling than usual.

Tall felt that a restaurant can be judged by their steaks, as a cooked slab of beef on an open flame is the highest cooking art in Alberta.  So we both tried it.  I won’t be making that mistake again.  The cut was weak and it was pretty bland and chewy.  Tall’s was undercooked.  It wasn’t inedible, just very disappointing.

Looks good, but once it's in your mouth, you'll be sorry.

Then the bill came and turned everything around.  We paid next to nothing for our food, drinks, and appies.  The bill showed the truth of Morgan’s Pub.  It’s a place to go and hang out for hours.  Seriously, I don’t think I’ve found a pub downtown where I could afford to do that until Morgan’s. 

I’ve decided that while as a restaurant, the steak leaves them with 4 stars, they score 4.5 as a bar, because if I had considered them as such, I would have just had the delicious appetizer, and only the ceiling would have bugged me.

Tall is less forgiving than me, and awards only 3 stars.

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Star Breakdown:

Joey As Restaurant:

Drink Star

Price Star

Staff Star

½ Food Star

½ Atmosphere Star

Joey as Bar:

Drink Star

Price Star

Staff Star

Food Star

½ Atmosphere Star

Tall

Drink Star

Price Star

Food Star

Tommy Burger

I barely made it back from Portland in time for Tall’s birthday.  He wanted to go out on Friday night, and I was landing at midnight.  Being the unstoppable force of nature I am, I planned to take a cab home, drop off my bags, and catch up to the party.  The day before I left Oregon, I got a text, saying the festivities had been moved to Tommy Burger on Saturday afternoon.  That meant it would be easier to get there, and Kodie could pick me up at the airport, because he was no longer going to be at a party.  Everything was coming up Joey.  

 

A few months earlier, one of my coworkers, W1, had told me about a restaurant downtown where they served gourmet burgers, like a $40 Kobe Beef burger with lobster and white truffle Hollandaise sauce.  Only in Calgary, kids.    He told me about their wild game burgers, like elk, and the tuna, turkey, and bison.  Gilly was slightly disgusted for what passed for classy in Alberta when I told her about this place.  She couldn’t believe we would be willing to make burgers out of Kobe beef. On the drive home, Kodie was worried about the cost, but glad it was close.   

The next morning, I realized I was wrong.  W1 had told me about Lounge Burger, not Tommy Burger.    

Where we needed to be...

Where we needed to be...

 We were not going to the above restaurant.  My first concern was that Tommy Burger was a far ways South down McLeod Trail.  I called Kodie, who after all these years was still surprised I could be wrong.  His boyfriend, Shawn, was at work with his car.  We called him, and Shawn had thought to find the restaurant before he needed to leave.  He swung by to pick me up, and we grabbed Kodie and headed south.   

   

Tommy Burger turned out to be high-end casual dining rather than gourmet, which suited me better.  Casual dining, for those unfamiliar, means a restaurant is nice but not pretentious, the sort of place you aren’t ashamed to bring a date, but you know every item on the menu.  I don’t have a highly refined palate, as evidenced in my wine country tour.  I will eat anything, and I would try an ostrich burger, or whatever rich people insist on eating, but I generally prefer something simpler.   

We walked in, and the hostess was a beautiful blonde girl in a short dress so tight it looked like she had been dipped in half a bottle of ink.  I decided it was probably best I did the talking, since it would be wasted on the gays.  I told her we were there with people, and gave Tall’s name.  I was about to say something witty and charming, the details of which I won’t type here so that I don’t get promises of undying love from women I’ve never met, but then I remembered she was a hostess. I used to work in a restaurant, back in university.  There I learned the true reason restaurants have hostesses.  Sometimes, a jaw droppingly gorgeous girl will come in and apply for a job.  You would never guess by looking at her, but she turns out to be sixteen.  Alberta law requires servers to be eighteen in a licensed establishment.  Minors can only be employed in positions that don’t handle alcohol.  A restaurant does better with attractive serving staff, and a hostess is an investment in the future.  She has a job right out front, drawing customers into the restaurant, and she starts to learn how things are done.  When she turns eighteen, she can become a server.  

A Classy Interior

A Classy Interior

Jailbait is jailbait.  I bit my tongue and followed her to our table.  We were about twenty, so they put us in a section where our long table had walls on three sides, with just one opening into the rest of the restaurant.  The décor was designed to subtly remind one of a 1950s diner, but with enough restraint to keep it from being tacky.  Over half our party was there, so I let someone else entertain Kodie and Shawn while I perused the drink menu. 

What’s this?  Tokyo Iced Tea?  

Tokyo Iced Tea

Tokyo Iced Tea

Kiwi?  I fucking love Kiwi.  Our waitress was tall and smiled easily, and was too busy to give me her undivided attention.  I stopped flirting and sent her off to get one of these tiny wonders.  

Really, look at that drink.  Think about how good it could possibly be at its best.  It was better than that.  David showed up, and I told him needed to try one.  “Joey, that’s just a long island iced tea with kiwi.”   

“Yeah!  Kiwi!”   

He decided to sit at the far end of the table to avoid me.  I assumed he just didn’t want to compete with me should our cute waitress have three seconds to spare.   

Tall is a giant, and he eats like one.  Meals out with him generally include appetizers, to maximize the amount of food he can possibly consume in a single lifetime.  It was 2:12 by that point, and all that was sloshing around in my stomach was Tokyo Iced Tea, so I figured I had better get a starter.  Then I saw them; Kobe beef sliders.  Despite living reasonably near Kobe in Japan for a year, I never had their beef.  There was enough other exciting food.  Gilly might be right, putting Kobe beef in hamburgers, even tiny hamburgers, might ruin it.  

Also pictured; Shawn's bucket of poutine

Also pictured; Shawn's bucket of poutine

But trust me, sliders are not ruined by Kobe beef.  They were juicy, without being fatty.  I bet that’s what angels taste like.  They were amazing.   

For the main course, you could choose a prebuilt burger, or build your own.  I perused the ingredient list, and found a dilemma.  First of all, they make tamago burgers.  The Japanese may not know a lot about burgers, considering the fact that they won’t put Kobe beef in them, but there is one piece of burger technology they have perfected.  Everywhere you go, every chain, has a tamago burger.  First you take a regular burger.  Then you add a fried egg.  Then you’re done.  You’re welcome.   

But next to the second greatest hangover cure in the world (after Aquarius), was another burger-vation.  That is an innovation specifically related to burgers, by the way.  They would put a pineapple on my burger.  I love pineapple.  Pineapple makes me consider the possibility of a loving god who understands my taste buds.  So now I had to choose between tamago burger and pineapple burger.   

Some of you are probably thinking “Pick both!”  That’s a dangerous option.  What if the savory glory of the egg is compromised by the pristine tang of the pineapple?  In the past, I have melded such diverse ingredients and created chimeras of fantastic taste splendor, such as the Unholy Cheeseburger Pizza.  But that day was not the day to see if fried egg and pineapple mix.   

Mostly because they probably don’t.   

Instead, I had them put on fried onions, bacon, aged cheddar, and I went with pineapple.  

The Burger as Art

The Burger as Art

Some of you might not like the fruit, but let me tell you, this was as good as pineapple gets.  Imagine the best possible outcome for this burger.  Now add 25%.  That’s how good it was.   

 Tommy Burger was high end casual dining.  While it wasn’t the cheapest burger I’ve ever eaten, it didn’t break the bank.  It was worth every penny.  It was one of the best.  Top three, actually, after Freshness Burger and Hawaiian Kitchen in Koichi, Japan.  But if you’re not willing to leave the country, you may have to make due with Tommy Burger.  

 You know, which is like making due with a Rachel McAdams/Jessica Alba threesome.  

So Far, so good...

So Far, so good...

What? No Amy Smart? I'm out of here.

What? No Amy Smart? I'm out of here.

 

Tommy Burger gets 5 stars from me, and if you don’t go check it out, you are either a vegetarian, or you hate yourself.   Which most vegetarians do.  

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Ratings Breakdown:

 Full Stars; Food, Drink, Staff, Price, and Atmosphere.  

Five Star Total

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If you are a Calgary restaurant, and you’d like to have Joey review your restaurant, send an email to joey.stadelmann@gmail.com.

Restaurant Rating System: 5 Stars

Before I put up my first restaurant blog, I wanted to create a rating system.  I want to use a five-star system, but really, what does a star mean?  A vague scale doesn’t really tell you anything.  So I’ve decided I’ll give stars based on specific criteria.  Each star can be full or half.  I’ll use these to rate a place.  A star is awarded for each of the following:

 Drink Star: This is generally the easiest star to get.  If you don’t water down the fountain pop, and your well vodka doesn’t make me sick, you’ll probably earn this one.  The real risk is if you promise and don’t deliver.  If you have a fancy drink that looks sounds delicious, but comes out crap, you’re risking this star.

 Food Star: The food star is mostly about meeting expectations.  McDonald’s gets a food star easier than a classy steak house.  I don’t expect the same experience from both.  A half star delivers without impressing.  A full star beats expectations.

 Atmosphere Star: Does the restaurant match the dining experience?  Again, this star is tempered by expectations.  A fast food place just needs to be clean, while a gourmet restaurant needs to be quiet, comfortable, and classy.  Tolerable gets a half star, and a place that is enjoyable gets full star.

 Staff Star:  For me, staff star is divided in half.  The first half is based on if they are knowledgeable, courteous, and attentive.  If they’re good at their job, they get a half star.  The other half comes from how attractive the staff is.  Some may feel this is not fair, but I want cute girls to bring me my food, and they want my tips.  As Bran Van 3000 taught us in “Supermodel,” “Now, everyone knows if you want to run a successful cafe, you have to hire the prettiest waitress.”  No matter how you feel about it, if I don’t find myself picturing someone nude, you’ll lose this star.

 Price Star:  If the quality of the experience matches the price, you get the price star.  Half star if it’s a bit expensive, but I would still consider coming back.

 Then I’ll total the stars, and give a final rating.  The bottom of the review will list the specific stars awarded.