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Beyond Breakfast: Hot Chicken Takeover

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Columbus is going chicken crazy right now, and there’s good reason for it. We’ve got lots of chicken. And it’s mostly fried. Our family has been fans of Mya’s Fried Chicken from the beginning, and being Clintonville residents it’s one of our favorite neighborhood dining spots. However, now we’ve also got reason to trek across town for fried chicken. Three words: Hot Chicken Takeover.

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Hot Chicken Takeover is a, well, takeover of the kitchen at the Near East Side Cooperative Market. The Market is on the corner of Oak and Ohio in Olde Towne East, down the street from spots like L’Appat Patisserie and Angry Baker. Joe DeLoss and his crew fry up anywhere from 250-350 meals each weekend day. They’re set up simply with an ordering window (labeled the “chicken window”), long picnic tables under a tent, and a station with sweet tea, water, ranch dressing, and silverware. It’s about as simple as can be, and in my experience, something that is well done and simple can be stellar.

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What is hot chicken? I had never heard of it before HCT opened up. Hot chicken is a popular Nashville serving of fried chicken, in which the breading is heavily dosed with spices like cayenne pepper. The chicken is served on a slice of white bread and topped with pickles. I enjoy a good bit of spice, so I relished the burn on my lips. What’s even better, though, is the meat. They’ve brined it and fried it perfectly, so it’s super juicy and a little salty. Joe said the hot chicken clocks in around 60,000 Scovilles, but if you’re a real hot-head, they served the “Holy Chicken,” which boosts the heat to over 100,000. I love some spice, but that’s probably too much for me.

The chicken brings plenty of heat, but there’s balance to it, too. Each meal is served with a creamy mac & cheese and a sweet cole slaw. You also get refills of a lovely sweet tea and access to rich home-made ranch. Every element works together, and each one nails the mark.

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HCT serves “Cold Chicken,” too. Not temperature cold, but similar cuts with less heat. This was helpful when ordering for our boys. They like some heat, but the hot chicken would have overwhelmed them. The cold chicken is just as juicy and it’s served with the same sides. The meals were big enough that got two – one hot and one cold – and split them between the four of us.

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I didn’t know what hot chicken was before, but I know now – and goodness, I’ve been missing out all these years. HCT will become another regular spot for us, for sure, and I’m really excited to see what happens with them in the future.

Important note: as of now the takeover runs Saturday and Sunday from 12-4pm. I’ve heard tell of long lines, but we strolled right up when stopping by mid-afternoon. They close when they sell out, so it’s a good idea to watch their Facebook page for availability. Joe does a good job of providing updates with the number of meals left for the day.

If you want to visit:
Hot Chicken Takeover
1117 Oak St. (on the side of the Near East Side Cooperative Market)
Columbus, OH 43205
(614) 800-4538
Open 12-4 Saturday and Sunday (they close when they sell out)
facebook.com/hotchickentakeover

Beyond Breakfast: Marino’s Seafood Fish & Chips | Columbus, OH

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Marino’s Seafood Fish & Chips
(Facebook)

1216 W. Fifth Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43212
(614) 481-8428
Open Mon-Fri, 10:30a-9p; Sat, 11a-9p (all you can eat served 4-7p Mon-Fri, all day Sat)
Accepts cash & credit/debit

Visited: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 at 5:30p

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On a recent cold, weekday night, we found ourselves wanting to go out. We were thinking about supporting a local restaurant after seeing a post from Donnie Austin at House Wine. He had encouraged everyone to hit up a local restaurant, bar, or shop to everyone recover from rough winter sales. So we found ourselves cruising down Fifth Avenue heading into Grandview. As we came down Fifth, the yellow signage of Marino’s Seafood – a place we had never visited – caught me eye, and before we knew it, we were pulling into the parking lot.

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I didn’t eat a lot of seafood growing up, although I’m certainly trying to make up for lost time in adulthood. So I don’t have a history with any seafood spots (I think we had Long John Silvers and Red Lobster nearby growing up), but I do recognize the old-schoolness of fast food places. Take, for instance, the big bendy microphone at the ordering counter. This makes me think of a Burger King near our house growing up; I always found it funny how anyone could keep things organized with orders simply being called out over a scratchy loudspeaker.

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Although the big, yellow-lettered menu boards confused me at first (so many options!), I found a handful of picture menus and whiteboards helpfully suggesting specials or favorite combos.

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I’ll be honest: in places like this, I look for the word “platter.” If I can’t find it, the word “dinner” will suffice. That usually signifies a bulked up plate of nearly everything. I love me a big fried plate of everything.

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Let’s start small: sides of macaroni salad and slaw. Both simple but very likable. Slaw is the on sweet side.

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And then the baskets of golden fried goodness began arriving, starting with my seafood platter. The platter (technically a basket) included fish, shrimp, scallops, chips, and hush puppies. All of these pictures look a little yellow-ish. That’s in part from the batter, but more so from the yellow glass lanterns hanging around the restaurant.

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Then there’s Mrs. Bfast w/Nick’s clam platter, loaded with fried clams, chips, and hush puppies.

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Plus a couple crab cakes to boot.

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We ordered from the child combos for our boys. These combos include one piece of fish, chicken, or a battered hot dog, plus chips and a hush puppy. We picked one with fish…

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…and one with chicken.

Every piece we ate was fried well. Not too greasy or too heavily salted. Just right.

Does it taste good? Absolutely. Marino’s meals are baskets piled high with crispy fried seafood. Now, this isn’t fancy fish and chips. And this isn’t the completely fresh-off-the-boat type of stuff you find on the east coast (at places like this). The fish is simple whitefish (even the scallops are disk-shaped whitefish). The shrimp and clams are the best seasoned of the lot. The chips and hush puppies are crunchy without being dry.

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I have gladly added Marino’s to my list of easy comfort foods. I could honestly go for a big plate of their fried goods any time (and if you’re really hungry, visit during their all-you-can-eat hours!). On top of that, it’s all older, family-run business that deserves your patronage. If you’re out cruising for cheap eats, consider Marino’s instead of another fast food stop.

Marino's Seafood Fish & Chip on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Missy’s Arcade Restaurant | Titusville, PA

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“Breakfast is done!” we were told as our server seated us at Missy’s Arcade. That’s always a bummer to hear, but even though we couldn’t make this a breakfast stop, our experience and the atmosphere of Missy’s Arcade Restaurant are still noteworthy.

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We stopped by Missy’s for a full lunch after pre-gaming some donuts at Clark’s Donuts Plus nearby, and before climbing aboard the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad for a ride through the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside.

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Missy’s popped up on our radar when we searched for local lunch spots online, and it had all the marks of a retro diner, not the least of which is the old building front and the vertical neon sign. The structure fits with the historic nature of Titusville and nearby towns like Oil City and Franklin, which boomed in the 1860’s with the sinking of the world’s first oil well. The small urban centers surrounded by big mansions speak to the decades of oil wealth and the communities that sprung up around it.

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The interior of Missy’s has been refurbished. It’s honestly hard to tell how old the restaurant really is, but now at least, it reads like a Coca-Cola advertisement. Every available surface is plastered with Coke paraphernalia – some very old and some much newer.

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The Coke kitsch covers everything from walls to shelves to ceiling fan blades.

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Our server fit the vibe of old diner, too. She was certainly friendly, but she got right down to business. She was one of those servers whose territory is very well defined. You’re the customer, yes, but you’re in HER restaurant.

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The meals were simplicity itself; they were just the right type of comfort food you’d expect from an old restaurant like this. Like the cup of French onion soup and a salad.

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Chicken breast sandwich and fries.

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A kid’s of meal of grilled cheese and fries.

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The kid’s burger.

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The turkey reuben.

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And the classic reuben with the corned beef thick-sliced and nicely grilled. All in all, Missy’s is a simple place to fill yourself up. It’s small, comforting, and speaks to the history of the area.

If you want to visit:
Missy’s Arcade Restaurant
116 Diamond St. (map it!)
Titusville, PA 16354
(814) 827-8110

Missy's Arcade Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Mughal Darbar | Columbus, OH

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I’ve spoken before of our family’s love for a lot of cuisines, highlighting passions for Ethiopian and Mexican food, but I haven’t said much of our love for Indian cuisine, too.

Well, it’s time to rectify that.

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When our family falls in love with a place, we fall hard, and our loyalty sometimes prevents us from branching out as much as we should. Columbus has its fair share of top-notch Indian restaurants, but for many years our hearts were true to Taj Mahal just north of OSU’s campus. We were regulars at Taj. We were on a first-name basis with the owners. We even hosted some events with them at Wild Goose Creative. We love that they had history as one of the first Indian restaurants in Columbus, opening more than twenty-five years ago. But then they quietly closed earlier this year.

The general word (confirmed by the new owners) is that it was sold to distant family members. The building was fixed up, the menu revamped, a few of the prices lowered, and it re-opened as Mughal Darbar. The “Mughal” in the title refers to the Mughal Empire that once ruled much of India, and this translates into a little more Persian influence in the food. If you were a fan of Taj, pretty much everything you loved on the menu is still there, and there are some new favorites to boot.

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Entrees are served in metal dishes, and you spoon it over rice. This makes it perfect for sharing. Above are three of our favorites. At the top is coconut murgh, or coconut chicken, in a sweeter sauce with big chunks of tender chicken. To the right is saag paneer, a tangy combination of spinach (the saag) and paneer, a spongy white Indian cheese. On the bottom left is baingain bartha, a rich and slightly smoky eggplant dish.

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Mughal also has a full bar. I appropriately ordered Elevator Brewing’s India Pale Ale to pair with our meal.

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Indian food is typically served with naan, a thin crusty bread that’s baked on the side of a tandoori oven. There are a multitude of flavors, but we usually go for the garlic naan and the paneer onion kulcha, which includes cheese and onion.

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Much like Ethiopian cuisine, Indian food can be eaten by tearing pieces of naan and scooping bites of the meat, vegetables, and rice.

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Mughal includes a type of naan called peshwari naan, too, which usually has nuts and fruit in it. We were so-so on this one – it was a little dry – but our impressions are unfair because we absolutely loved this bread when we studied abroad in London.

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Our recent visits took place during Dewali, and Mughal offered a wider range of desserts than they normally do. We enjoyed some rice pudding.

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As well as these sweet, crispy honey fritters (I can’t remember their name).

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Mughal hosts a lunch buffet regularly, and it’s especially popular on Sundays.

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Their food holds up to the buffet treatment, and it’s a chance for you to sample a lot of different dishes, plus appetizers, salad, naan, and dessert.

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You can’t really see it from these pictures, but the owners at Mughal Darbar have done some much-needed updates to their space, with fresh paint and decorations, refurbished of wood floors, and better lighting. The restaurant is an old house on High Street, just north of campus, and they’ve done a wonderful job of making it feel even more homey.

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Our last trip to the buffet included meals with vegetables, beef, potatoes, chicken, and lamb.

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And you have to finish a run at the buffet with a couple (or four) of these spongy fried cake balls. They’re hot and soaked in honey, and therefore delicious.

We certainly miss Taj Mahal and the family that ran it, but Mughal Darbar has taken a beloved experience and improved on it. So it will continue as our go-to for Indian food in town.

If you want to visit:
Mughal Darbar
2321 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43214
(614) 429-0700
Open Tues-Sat, 11a-2p, 5-9:30; Sun, 11:30a-2p, 5-9p
Find them on Facebook

Mughal Darbar on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: The Coop

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It’s a shame I haven’t written about The Coop yet because a.) they’re in our neighborhood, and b.) I can easily justify their food as counting as breakfast, since nearly every dish they serve involves some sort of eggs, be it chicken, duck, goose, turkey, or even quail.

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The Coop is a converted amusement park concession stand, and as the name indicates, poultry is their game. Although we’re not super regulars, we’ve come to know The Coop as the source for dishes – especially burgers – with unusual meats. You won’t find a regular beef hamburger here. Instead, you’ll find a yak burger. Or bison burger. Or turducken (turkey + duck + chicken) tacos. Or a benedict with turkey eggs. You get the picture.

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Owner Angela Theado recently finished a run of cooking weekends at the Hey Hey Bar & Grill in German Village (the kitchen has since been taken over by the Swoop! Food Truck crew). She’s now back at the original location at the corner of Indianola and Cliffside in southern Clintonville. It was recently announced that the building there will be renovated into the Coop Cafe, with Angela taking over the kitchen. I have to say that we’re immensely excited about it. The space has sat empty for as long as we can remember, and having a small cafe run by a proven restaurateur makes us very, very happy.

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The menu rotates a bit, so it’s a good idea to follow them on Facebook. This is what we tried on a couple of our most recent visits.

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Burgers are one of The Coop’s signatures. This is the bison burger, with a bison patty, bacon, havarti, a house-made mayo, and a sunny side up chicken egg. As far as burgers go, it’s pretty solid. I’ve had bison a few times, and its taste and texture is reminiscent of beef, just a little leaner. With the egg, bacon, and cheese, you can bet that this is a messy burger to eat, so be prepared.

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If your group includes a non-meat-eater amongst you, there is usually an option. Admittedly, this vegan coconut curry with plaintain was not our favorite thing on the menu. It’s hard to eat rice out of a container lined with foil. The foil eventually starts peeling up, and we thought the dish needed more spice overall.

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Amongst their burgers, The Coop’s yak burger is perhaps their most well-known, and rightfully so. It’s a tasty and drippy, delicious mess. I like the bison burger, but the yak is better, in my opinion. it’s lean and a little gamier, which is maybe why I prefer it. I like to taste the definite difference from a standard beef burger. At times the yak is over-powered by the bacon and cheese, but it’s hard to argue against any of the ingredients, and especially when sinking your teeth through them all together.

If you want to visit:
The Coop
2701 Indianola Ave. (map it!)
(614) 581-9353
Follow The Coop and Coop Cafe on Facebook
coopontherun.com

The Coop on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Noodlecat & the Greenhouse Tavern

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For Saturday dinner, Mrs. Bfast w/Nick and I peeled off from the Positively Cleveland group in order to do some exploring on our own. We had two particular restaurants on our radar: Noodlecat and The Greenhouse Tavern. Both are located a block from our hotel in the East Fourth Street neighborhood.

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Since this trip was one of my first major visits to Cleveland, I wanted to stop at both restaurants. The connection between them is that they’re owned by Chef Jonathon Sawyer, one of the more high-profile chefs in Cleveland. I’ve been drooling over their instagram feeds for quite some time, and many trusted friends had written about the spots, so it was time to go. Our reservation at Greenhouse Tavern wasn’t until later in the evening, so we pre-gamed it at Noodlecat, which was much less busy.

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We kept things small, ordering an appetizer and a couple steamed buns. We chose the fried nama ramen cake, a crispy and savory cake with ginger and scallions.

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The steam buns on the menu let you choose two for $6. We first chose the tempura perch. It seemed appropriate, being so close to Lake Erie.

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Second was the the pulled pork. Both buns were nice little pockets of flavor. I liked especially the crispiness of the tempura perch.

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After a bite at Noodlecat, we strolled around downtown, and then made our way to Greenhouse Tavern for our reservation. Let me just apologize up front for the picture quality. The restaurant was so dark that it was hard to really capture what we ate. Think of this more as documenting our meal, because it was one of the more unique ones we’ve had in recent memory. Overall, our experience was very good. The server was talkative but very casual and willing to answer any questions we had. He made some solid drink recommendations and then walked us through the menu. The Mrs. and I ended up splitting the tasting menu, so here’s the blow-by-blow. First was a simple amuse bouche of tomato, herbs, and cheese on a crostini.

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The first course was the devils on horseback, which are dates wrapped in bacon. It’s hard to go wrong with either of those things, and the GHT version uses chocolate and roasted peppers, which offsets the sweet dates with a slightly bitter and smokey taste.

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Our second course was the foie gras steamed clams, easily our favorite part of the meal. The broth was simply amazing, a rich, savory, salty blend of the foie gras, butter, red onions, and some of their house vinegar. It was one of those meals where you simply have to eat every possible bite of it. The clams were steamed perfectly, and after we finished mopping up the broth with the grilled bread, we used our spoons to scoop up the rest.

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I convinced Mrs. Bfast w/Nick to order the roasted pig head for our third course. We had to have the server walk us through the dish first (“No organs, no eyes, no brains.”) and point out where to find the best meat. It takes a little getting used to (I had to strategically position the platter so it wasn’t “staring” at the Mrs.), but once you start pulling it apart, it’s like a giant mound of pulled pork. All of the meat and fat was super tender; it came apart easily and we piled it on the house-made brioche to make simple pulled pork sandwiches. It was all well-seasoned, and the outside had a delicious caramelized crisp to it. It’s well worth ordering, at least once.

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Then we finished the meal with the buttered popcorn pot de creme, a small cup of custard that was stunningly rich. It was swirled with caramel and a little sea salt. We ate it slowly, to savor every sweet and creamy bite of it, and then we scraped the cup clean.

All in all, a couple delicious and adventurous meals. I look forward to hitting them up again when we’re next in Cleveland (especially a big bowl of ramen at Noodlecat). Both places are well worth visiting if you’re in town.

If you want to visit:

Noodlecat
234 Euclid Ave. (map it!)
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 589-0007
noodlecat.com
Find them on Facebook and @noodle_cat

Noodlecat on Urbanspoon

The Greenhouse Tavern
2038 E. 4th St. (map it!)
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 443-0511
thegreenhousetavern.com
Facebook & @thegreenhouse

The Greenhouse Tavern on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Yeah Baby Tacos!

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UPDATE: Yeah Baby Tacos temporarily closed.

Those of you who follow the blog regularly know that The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches in Westerville is one of my regular hang-outs. I got to know Tom and Jan years ago when we had a fun visit to the strip mall diner on our way to cut down our Christmas tree. Since then it’s been my mission to tell people about the place – and other locally-owned, mom-and-pop restaurants like it – to help readers find the unique spots and to support people who are working at their dream. In recent months there’s been an interesting development inside The Best that has added a new level of craving for me and my family. Nothing says American diner like spicy authentic Mexican tacos, right? Enter Yeah Baby Tacos.

I recently got to write about YBT on the Columbus Crave blog; before you continue, I suggest giving it a read here.

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YBT is dream project of Brittany Brewer, one of the servers at The Best. You can read more of her story in the Crave post above. I just wanted to add some more pictures and really try to convince you, dear readers, to go out and give her tacos a try. We’ve been back for a few visits and have been impressed every time.

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What distinguishes Brittany’s work from other bland Tex-Mex places is that the fact that she’s making everything on her own, to order, and that it’s all very well seasoned. Expect a little bit of heat and a whole lot of flavor. For instance, the chips and guacamole. She fries up tortillas to order, covers them in queso fresco and chili powder, and makes the guacamole fresh. Her guac is big and chunky, with lots of tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.

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We usually find ourselves ordering a basket or two of the chips and guac.

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One of her best sides is the elote, a popular Mexican street food that’s simply corn on the cob covered in queso fresco and chili powder. These are delicious. I’ll never look at corn on the cob the same way again.

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We’ve ordered probably every combination of tacos, and we haven’t been disappointed with a single one. The basic ordering system goes like this:

1. Pick corn or flour tortillas
2. Pick your meat
3. Pick your toppings (Brittany has a mix that have included things like queso fresco, pickled vegetables, fresh tomatoes, and creamy sauces)
4. Pick your sides (elote, beans, etc.)

Overall, ordering is simple because she structures it as an $8 combo with two tacos, a side, and drink.

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The meats have ranged from a zesty shredded chicken to barbacoa to a form of al pastor pork. All very good.

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The best thing about these is that there’s no shortage of spices. Brittany makes a variety of sauces and salsas. We love her standard red salsa, which has a nice bite and is a little smoky. It reminds us of a salsa we use to have at a former small chain of Mexican restaurants called Rio Bravo.

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Other salsas have included hot peppers like the ghost pepper and habanero. Everything combined results in some super tasty tacos, nothing that’s overloaded with bland rice and beans or overdone with cheese. We have begun craving these on a regular basis.

I suggest a visit to support Brittany and her endeavor. She’s getting the press she deserves: YBT was also recently featured in the Columbus Dispatch along with other pop-up restaurants around town.

When you want to visit (not if):

Yeah Baby Tacos
inside The Best Breakfast & Sandwiches
5916 Westerville Rd. (map it!)
Westerville, OH 43081
(614) 776-5788
Open Tues & Wed, Fri & Sat, 5-10p
Like their page on Facebook or follow YeahBabyTacos on Twitter.

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