Friday, December 30, 2011

Nigiri Umi from Tomi Sushi's Lunch Menu

Nigiri Umi

Here was the nigiri umi lunch set from Tomi Sushi. At S$20 (US$15), it was more than I would prefer to spend on lunch, but it was still much cheaper than most of the other stuff here. And at least it was healthy, not to mention kinda cool that they go so far as to provide two different types of soy sauces depending on whether you are eating sushi or sashimi (the former being darker but milder in taste).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Kao Tian Xia BBQ World in Geylang

Corn and Lamb Skewers

A comment was posted this afternoon with a suggestion to give this place a try (196A Geylang Road, 8401-1318). The thought must have stuck, since Xinjiang skewers were the first thing that came to mind when I was trying to figure out what to eat for dinner.

The good thing was that it was pretty much what I expected: heavily salted (anything less would not have been authentic). But that also made me realize that I've lost my taste for this stuff. It was too much for me, especially when the lamb meat was a bit dry and tough too. I ended up leaving some of my food uneaten.

Well, at least it was a new place, and it was interesting to see them do all sorts of vegetables on a skewer. They also had some drinks from China in the fridge, including a haw nectar and some brand of beer that I'd never seen before. I seem to recall liking LDM's skewers more, but these days I suspect that I'd probably find it too salty too.

Monday, December 26, 2011

More Travel Tips Inspired by Clooney

More than a year ago, I put up my list of travel tips that were inspired by George Clooney's character in Up In the Air. Since that time, I have realized that there is a bunch of other stuff that I do that wasn't mentioned. So in a followup to that, here are more tips to add to my original list:

(1) In my original set of tips, I mentioned that one should choose a bag suitable for the location. One that works well for me is a bag that can double as a wheelie and backpack. A great example is when I went to Gulangyu in Xiamen: the narrow cobblestone walkways and cramped ferry were best maneuvered in a backpack format. But when I got in a taxi to head to the airport after that, I switched my Tumi bag en route into the wheeled configuration for easy navigation through the airport.

(2) Try to avoid packing shoes in your luggage since they take up too much space. Assuming that I'm on a business trip, black leather shoes are generally versatile enough that I can wear them nearly anywhere (if I need to work out, then just pack swimming trunks which take up very little space and can be rolled up). And if I really have to pack a second pair of shoes for some reason, then I'll be sure to shove socks into the shoes to take advantage of that space.

(3) Not only does it make sense to travel lightly, but sometimes I intentionally underpack. Pants, if kept clean, can be reasonably worn on alternating days without needing a pristine pair for every single day. And if needed, one can just buy more clothes at the destination - or just pay for the hotel's overpriced laundry service in the worst case. The only thing that I intentionally overpack? Socks and underwear. They are small, light, can be tucked into corners of your luggage, and must be clean! Having it all in your carry-on also makes it convenient when using the showers at the airport lounge.

(4) I know a lot of people wear jeans on the plane. But jeans would be the last thing that I would wear, especially on a long haul. Why? Have you ever tried to sleep in denim? Ugh. My choice is for khakis instead given that the soft cotton is much more comfortable. Sure, shorts are comfortable too, but that pressurized cabin gets cold after a while. Plus, khakis give you the ability to look respectable (think: upgrade candidate), especially when paired with a jacket. And if the humidity down here on the equator makes a jacket impractical, then a dress shirt with a frontside pocket at least comes in very handy for holding a boarding pass while trying to get through the mayhem of an airport security check.

(5) One of the things that makes Singapore Changi airport so awesome is the fact that the currency exchange booths offer rates that are pretty much in line with the market (as opposed to the huge ripoff that I once faced at SFO's Travelex). And if one has a Singapore bank account, then one can use the electronic NETS system so that one doesn't even have to fumble for loose change. I also make sure to change money at the start of every trip, even if I have enough cash from my last trip to that country. This way I get a receipt that makes it easier to submit expense claims later without having to go online later to look up the historical rates and print it.

(6) When you have a lousy laptop like mine whose battery only lasts about two hours, a BlackBerry (or other phone of course) is key since I can do most emails in offline mode on the plane without having to drain the laptop battery. Plus, the emails go right out once you hit the tarmac rather than trying to find an internet connection for your laptop, which is really only needed when I need to do something deeper with attachments or applications that the BlackBerry can't handle.

(7) Many people have probably included one of those global plug adapters in their arsenal of travel equipment. But I also try to make sure that my electronics use US/Japan plugs because they are the smallest and also work best with most in-flight power outlets. The worst situation is to travel with one of those gigantic UK plugs - I've seen a couple of cool designs where UK plugs can collapse into a more compact form, but it hasn't been that common, and still doesn't beat a US/Japan plug.

(8) Always have small padlocks on your bag, even if you are not checking in anything. Why? Shockingly, some hotels don't have in-room safes. And even ones that do might be so small that they can't fit a laptop. Sure, these little locks can easily be cut, but at least it's enough of a deterrent in case you really need to use your carry-on bag as a makeshift safe in your room. And always hang the Do Not Disturb sign on the door to keep the staff from coming in. I mean, does anyone *really* need turndown service and an ice bucket? Even daily housekeeping service is unnecessary in my opinion unless one is staying more than a week (kudos to Westin for their Green Choice program).

(9) You know those little sheets of paper that hotels have sitting next to the phone? Always grab a couple blank sheets and shove them into your bag. This is to keep track of those little cash-based expenses without receipts, like tips, vending machine soda, or even street food. Scribbling them down on the little sheets not only helps one remember when filing expense claims, but also makes it a bit more substantiated when written on paper that has the hotel's logo and address on it.

(10) In the US, where security requires you to take off your shoes, jacket, and belt, I have a preferred sequence with which to send my bags through the X-ray machine. The first tray must contain my shoes. That way, once I get to the other side, I can put on my shoes immediately and be functional enough to move around quickly to keep the line moving. My second tray must contain my laptop. That way, once I get to the other side, I can easily grab that and shove it into the third item going through, which is my laptop bag. My fourth item is my wheeled luggage, which I can just grab and move away easily with - and put my belt back on later.

Oh - and if you are able to get your hands on kiosk-based immigration clearing in selected countries, definitely get it - it saves so much time. Singapore residents of course already have that, while I'm also very grateful for the US's Global Entry program as well as HK's Frequent Visitor e-Channel. Now I just need to somehow find a way to get an APEC card.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Quesadilla from Spruce Taquería

Grilled Snapper Quesadilla

Watching Rick Bayless on TV this morning got me thinking about tacos, so we made our way to Spruce for lunch today. Granted, I ended up with a quesadilla instead, but it did the job, even if the salsa didn't taste as fresh I would have liked. They were pretty stingy with the side of guacamole, and they've gotten rid of their aguas frescas too. But hey - I liked the chips, and I can't expect much more without having to go all the way back home.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Yakiniku Yazawa, Robertson Walk

Clockwise from front: tokusen kiri-otoshi, tan shio, Australian jo karubi

I've been wanting to come to this yakiniku shop for a while now. But last time we tried to do a walk-in, we were unexpectedly met with a fully-booked restaurant. So we made a reservation for tonight, and made it down here to the former grounds of Cafe Garb (11 Unity Street #01-01, 6235-2941).

One of the things that these guys differentiated themselves on was the quality of the beef (and mind you, with correspondingly high prices to match). Sure, places like Aburiya offer wagyu too, but these guys are particular enough that the serial number of the cow that they have in stock that day is displayed in the restaurant so that you can go to the website to look up the details and lifespan of the beast before they flew this marbled beauty down here from Japan. And similar to the chicken diagram at Shirokane Tori-Tama next door, these guys had a cow diagram so that one could pick out the parts of interest - or one could simply go for an omakase.

We went for a plate of the tokusen kiri-otoshi, which amusingly was just an assortment of scraps that they couldn't cut into full-sized pieces. It was still melt-in-your-mouth delicious - so much that I kept getting more glasses of beer just to wash down the taste of that fat lingering in my mouth. They also offered a few cuts of cheaper Australian wagyu, which suited us just fine. And I loved the salt that they used in the salad dressing as well as the cold tokusei reimen that we used to close it all off with. It was definitely worth the money, but at these kinds of prices, it's reserved for special occasions only.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Haji Maksah Barkat Chahya Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak

The name above is a bit of a mouthful, which may be why this place is probably more commonly known as Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak (221 Boon Lay Place #01-106). I'm not exactly any nasi lemak expert, but I can see why this place is so highly regarded. The chili sauce was spicy, the rice was fluffy, and most strikingly, the ikan bilis was as light as air.

And while the one of the fried chicken pieces that I got was disappointingly cold, having cumin in the batter was a nice touch. Indeed, I liked this ensemble enough that I went back for seconds. I'm not planning to be out in Jurong again anytime soon, but if I do, I'll be stopping by here. Hopefully that lei cha fan place that I noticed on the way out will be worth a try too.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Japan's Yayoiken Has Opened in Singapore

Nasu Miso and Hokke Set

Another family restaurant chain from Japan has opened up in the Liang Court basement next to Meidi-Ya (177 River Valley Road #B1-50, 6338-7170). Similar to Ootoya, the menu consists mainly of teishoku, ranging from grilled fish to tonkatsu. Similar to Ootoya, they provide unlimited refills of rice. But unlike Ootoya, the quality of the ingredients just wasn't quite as good.

Now, it's not like I had a bad meal; if anything, I cleared everything on my tray and plan to return rather frequently. I liked it a lot better than many of those stalls just outside of it, and having a little jar of tsukemono that you could help yourself to was a nice touch too. But if there were an Ootoya next door, I'd easily go to Ootoya instead. (Side note: these guys have a bento service available on weekdays that might be interesting to try one of these days.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Shabu No Koya, Liang Court

Kurobuta Shabu Shabu

I noticed this shop a number of months back, but only got the chance to give it a try tonight (177 River Valley Road #B1-03, 6337-7856). And unfortunately, I didn't like it. The sesame sauce was a tad too sweet for me, and worse, some of the veggies that they brought out were starting to wilt.

At S$27 (US$21) for the kurobuta dinner, it wasn't cheap either. I was going to say that one could pay just a little more for the tabehoudai option at Ohsumi, although it looks like I was scarred by a subsequent experience there too. The search for a quality shabu shabu continues.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sapporo's Kura Ramen in Singapore

White Miso Ramen

Of all of the ramen shops that have been popping up in Singapore over the past few years, this is probably one of the few that I hadn't tried (68 Orchard Road #04-01, 6333-9280). It was intentional; the miso-based menu simply didn't look very interesting to me. But we were at Plaza Singapura tonight and needed some dinner, so we ended up stopping here.

I didn't like it, mainly because the noodles were overcooked. Actually, it wasn't just the noodles; the rice in the chahan was mushy too, while the gyoza were frail and limp. Fortunately, that brown stuff in the middle wasn't pre-minced garlic from a jar, but rather tenkasu. And I liked the thin slices of pork from a separate bowl of buta shabu ramen. The white miso broth above was much better than I thought it would be, but alas, it wasn't so good that I finished the bowl to the end.

Separately, it looks like this Tokyo Walker place has done some shifting around. Ajino Champon is gone. In its place is Kazokutei from the back. And in Kazukutei's old spot is an outlet of Botejyu. Kura, Ajisen, and that Fruit Paradise place are still in their old spots. Well, I normally don't come that often to Plaza Singapura anyway.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Return Flight on SilkAir

Apple Juice and the Straits Times

This doesn't look like much; after all, there is only so much that the flight attendants can do when the plane only spends maybe no more than 15 minutes at cruising altitude on this short hop from KL to Singapore. But despite that, they had plenty of newspapers to offer everyone before taking off, making this flight go by in the blink of an eye.

Treating a Hangover at McDonald's Malaysia

Bubur Ayam McD

This chicken porridge from the McDonald's at KLIA this morning was exactly what I needed: a warm salty sludge to sit in my stomach. OK maybe sludge is the wrong word...it was more of a thin pulp instead. I wonder what that fried chicken McMuffin tastes like.

Post-Drinking Bites from Jalan Alor

So-Called Mongolia BBQ

Here were a couple of things that I grabbed in the vicinity of Jalan Alor tonight, the first of which was labeled "Mongolia BBQ" on those lit yellow hawker signs (are those a new thing, BTW?). It seemed more like an attempt at Xinjiang skewers rather than a bowl of Mongolian BBQ. If it was meant to be like Xinjiang skewers though, then it failed due to the lack of one critical ingredient: cumin. I probably won't get it again as a result.

Ramly Burger

I thus defaulted to that old Malaysian street food standby: a Ramly burger. This guy out on Jalan Nagasari made the beef patty inside nice and greasy, although there was so much margarine in this thing that it almost tasted like chemicals. Well, I suppose that it probably wasn't any worse for me that all of the alcohol that was consumed earlier.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Taking SilkAir to Kuala Lumpur

SilkAir

SQ only operates a few flights to KL every day, but they've been hard to get ticketed on, so I've had to take MH on my past couple of runs up here. And I'm not sure why I didn't realize this before, but SilkAir has a lot of runs up here too.

It must have been a long time since I've flown these guys, but I was surprised by how the plane's interior is so bright and clean, providing a sense of space. The mood music overhead provided a gentle calming effect for what would have otherwise been a rushed commuter flight.

But waiting forever on the tarmac at Changi this morning also reminded me of how much more work I can get done by taking the bus instead (incidentally, I'm told that Aeroline finally got some newer buses or seats now). Well, if I need to fly to KL for some reason, then I'm definitely choosing SilkAir. In some ways, I like it even better than those cramped flights that SQ proper does up here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Japan's Marukin Ramen at Scotts Square

Tsukune Ramen

Another chain from Japan has opened up a branch in Singapore, with this one being at the newly opened Scotts Square (6 Scotts Road #B1-11, 6636-3468). But in contrast to the chain's usual tonkotsu broth, these guys created a chicken-based broth, apparently in an effort to be halal.

Normally I would frown on such a deviation from the original, but given the tonkotsu fatigue that was discussed yesterday, I was actually kind of glad that that did that. All things considered, they did a decent job of getting this chicken broth to a tonkotsu-like white color, all while staying savory and refreshing at the same time. I haven't seen tsukune used as a topping before either.

But there wasn't much else that I liked about this place. The noodles were overcooked, the gyoza were a bore, and perhaps most shockingly, they weren't serving any beer! This isn't going to be a regular place of mine as a result, but at least it kept from adding to the tonkotsu clutter, even if that technically is still my favorite variety of ramen.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Hachifukumaru by Nantsuttei Group

Hachifukumaru Ramen

It's interesting. Keisuke's original outlet in Singapore was largely based on chicken stock (at least, outside of his shellfish varieties), while Nantsuttei across the way was largely based on tonkotsu. Then Keisuke went toward tonkotsu as well, and even opened up a second shop dedicated to it. Now it looks like Nantsuttei has also expanded to a second shop (160 Orchard Road #01-13, 6737-9713), but going in the opposite direction by using chicken bones.

There was no doubting the quality of the ingredients that they were using, and by and large, this was refreshing, especially since tonkotsu ramen is so overplayed here these days. But admittedly there wasn't anything so punchy about this bowl that made me cry for joy either. At least that black negi-based oil gave it a little extra fragrance, and all of those veggies on top helped eliminate some of the guilt. The fact that I drank the broth down to the last drop showed that I still appreciated the quality either way.

Monday, December 05, 2011

My First Flight on ANA

Kalbi

I may have just found my new favorite airline (or at least, somewhere up there next to Virgin America). Why? For one, that economy class meal, which was almost as good as one might get at a restaurant, with thin, tender, fragrantly marinated karubi, all with the nice touches of miso soup, oroshi, and a generous bottle of water to accompany it. More importantly, the economy class seats were decked out, complete with laptop power, live camera feeds from the nose of the plane, and even Japanese food programs dubbed Iron Chef-style. I can't believe that I've been missing out on ANA all of this time.

Granted, the seat pitch here was claustrophobically tight. It almost felt like I was in one of those capsule hotels...not that I've ever actually been in one of those. I struggled for a while trying to place my power adapter into the plug underneath the seat because one simply couldn't bend down that far given the seat in front of you (I MacGyver'ed it by taking a photo with my phone and then figuring out how the plugs were oriented). Note that these were those fixed shell seats that slid out underneath you rather than reclining backwards, so thankfully the guy in front of me couldn't make it even more cramped than it already was.

Interestingly, ANA was also offering something called My Choice, which let you buy snacks like donburi and udon if you were still hungry after the official meal service. You could even pre-order a full business class meal in economy class if you wanted to, albeit at the cost of a whopping 5000 Yen (US$65). I didn't order any of this, but it was cool to see that such options were available. Seriously, I might have to consider taking ANA on my next flight to Japan or even the US, especially if I run out of Systemwide Upgrades on United. I'd much rather take Economy Class on ANA than on UA, and it would presumably be cheaper than SQ too.

Vegetable Sukiyaki in United Economy

Vegetable Sukiyaki with Udon

This was lunch from the long haul in United peanut class today (no, I didn't clear the upgrade list, perhaps because my itinerary was ticketed by Continental rather than United?). The sad thing wasn't even the meal itself, but rather the possibility that this was probably the most vegetables I've eaten in the past five or six days. I'm definitely going to have to load up on salads when I get back.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Raising Cane's at San Antonio Airport

Chicken Biscuit Combo

That breakfast biscuit was a lot better than I thought it would be. At first these guys didn't seem like anything more than a shop that sells chicken fingers, but that sauce put it to rest. I liked how it wasn't overpowering with a processed taste, while the little hash browns were perfectly seasoned too. I'll eat that again if I'm back here again.

This airport really needs to put up better rental car return signs though. When driving in the darkness at 5 or 6 AM, one can't see the signs to figure out where to go. This forced me to drive around for a while before powering up the GPS, thus losing whatever time I thought I would gain by choosing an airport hotel for the night before. Strangely, even Hertz itself did not have its big yellow sign turned on.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

A Drink Roundup from This Run to the US

Neuro Drinks

Here's just a roundup of some interesting drinks that I saw on this trip, such as these lightly carbonated Neuro drinks that were just way too syrupy for me. I'll pass on these next time.

Sphere Shaped Coke

I also saw these sphere-shaped Coke bottles at Walmart. I didn't buy any, but it was interesting to see; I can only assume that it was a promotional thing made to resemble Christmas ornaments?

Dos Equis Dos-A-RitaProbably the most interesting drink of them all was this Dos-A-Rita, or basically a frozen margarita with a bottle of Dos Equis inverted into it. I believe the idea is for the beer to come out slowly into the margarita, but I drank the latter so quickly that I ended up having to pour the beer out into the glass afterwards. It was two drinks in one, but it was also priced at $10, which was more expensive than the plate of puffy tacos that I got along with it.

Henry's Puffy Tacos Cantina, San Antonio

Carne Guisada and Picadillo Puffy Tacos

Puffy Tacos. Yep, that term in and of itself aroused my curiosity. And when I heard that this shop (6030 Bandera Road, 210-432-7341) was the creator of them, I figured that I would hop on over there for dinner tonight. But instead of the grimey hole in the wall that I was hoping for, this turned out to be a commercialized family restaurant with a T-shirt counter.

Granted, the food came out super fast, and those deep fried tortillas was interesting (they were a bit like an Indian bhatura, but thicker). But seeing mine topped with Taco Bell-like lettuce and tomato was a big turnoff for me. Even Chuy's had fresher salsa than these guys. In retrospect, maybe I should have gone to try Rosario's tilapia tacos instead.

Corn from San Antonio's Market Square

Elote en Vaso

Man, I must be visiting all of the wrong places in San Antonio. I came down to Market Square, or El Mercado, as it was supposed to run some kind of Hispanic festivals. But it turned out to be just as touristy as the River Walk, with store after store of souvenir shops lining the walkways.

There was some food, but one had to pay tourist prices too, like this $4 cup of Elote en Vaso. Granted, it tasted great as it was dressed up with butter, cheese, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. But I noticed thus stuff for sale at local supermarket chain H-E-B where the same sized cup would have cost maybe just a dollar or so.

Sights from Austin on a Saturday

Hot Boiled Phở and Crawfish

Here were just a few things that I came across before leaving Austin today, the first of which was just a place that I happened to notice while driving by (it was too early in the morning to have gone in). Yes, the sign suggests that they managed to serve phở alongside Vietnamese-Cajun crawfish. How is that for one stop shopping? I thought that the Vietnamese-Cajun thing was more in Houston instead of Austin, but I suppose that they are not that far from each other.

Three Wishes

Next up were these stacks of Three Wishes at the flagship store of Whole Foods. The interesting thing was that these were $2.99 rather than the $1.99 that they are priced at back home in order to compete with Trader Joe's. Otherwise, this store was huge, with a lot of various cooked food counters for you to sit down at. It was almost like they were able to surround the supermarket with a bunch of stations from Marché.

South Texas Antelope Chili

Finally, I went to the downtown location of the Austin Sustainable Food Center's Farmers' Market. It was much smaller than I thought it would be: just two rows of a parking lot rather than the gigantic sprawl that we saw in Portland. But I managed to grab this bowl of South Texas Antelope Chili from a stall called Dai Due. It tasted as good as it looked, with a rich and crumbly cornbread to go along with it. Actually, those red chili peppers were more sour than they were spicy, but either way, it worked for me.

Tacodeli in Austin, Texas

El Popeye and The Vaquero

I'm not sure why, but a lot of the taco places around here are only open during the hours of around 7 AM to 3 PM, thus making them breakfast and lunch places rather than anywhere that one can get dinner at. In that spirit, I came down to Tacodeli for breakfast today, especially since there was one outlet just down the street from my hotel. They claimed to be "serving the best tacos in Austin since 1999," and Zagat had them as a top Bang for the Buck.

The breakfast renditions I had included this spinach, egg, and cheese version as well as one with grilled corn and roasted poblano peppers. They were pretty darned good, especially with the various sauces that they had to go along with it, including a habanero one as well as a creamy green one that was kinda spicy too. I may have expressed hesitations about Tex-Mex in the past, but if Tacodeli and Torchy's are better representations of it than Chuy's, then I'm all for it.

Side note: They had locally brewed Dr. Pepper here. Like a Mexican Coke, it used sugar rather than fructose. I still really couldn't taste the difference (perhaps because my mouth was still on fire from that habanero sauce), but it was also only recently that I realized that Coke in Singapore is also sugar-based. In that sense, it's actually American Coke (and maybe Korean Coke) that is more unique since it uses fructose instead.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Tex-Mex from Chuy's in Austin, Texas

Hatch Chicken Enchiladas

The place that I wanted to go to tonight was already closed, so instead I ended up at a nearby outlet of Chuy's, a chain restaurant from here in Austin. It certainly was commercialized with its birthday chants, margarita pushes, and T-shirt counter. But I've gotta admit that I pretty much finished all of my food too, including those paper thin chips and fresh salsa.

It reminded me a lot of Chevys Fresh Mex from back home, except that I liked this place a little better. Indeed, if I were being forced to eat at a Tex-Mex chain, then this might be one of the better choices. But alas, I left here tonight with a bit of remorse, and certainly would still prefer to avoid such places if I can. At least I can take some consolation in the idea that it was local.

City Market in Luling, Texas

Brisket, rib, and sausage

With work in San Antonio now behind me, I grabbed a car to make my way up to my next meeting in Austin. But I didn't take the most direct route. Instead, I swung out to the little town of Luling, where barbecue from the City Market (633 East Davis Street, 830-875-9019) scored a whopping 29 for food on Zagat. That was even higher than the 26 that Kreuz got, so I was looking forward to seeing what made this place so great.

Similar to Kreuz, the meat pits were separated from the sides/drink counter, and for good reason too. After emerging from the pit room, my clothes completely smelled of smoke - just what I needed before going to my next meeting. That, and the raw onions that I really shouldn't have eaten...but they just tasted so good with that meat and sauce.

Yes, the thing that made this place stand out was the sauce, a bottle of which they handed over to you, together with a fork, when you ordered a drink. I liked the quality of the meat, particularly the tender brisket. But my gripe was that it really required the sauce to take off, whereas Kreuz of course took pride in not needing any sauce at all. Frankly, I still prefer Kreuz instead. Actually, next time I'll probably try the other shops in Lockhart; I passed Black's and Smitty's on the way up to Austin.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ácenar HotMex CoolBar in San Antonio

Lomo de Puerco

Downtown San Antonio was much more touristy than I thought it would be: filled with plasticky-looking restaurants along the Riverwalk, including a top-rated Zagat establishment that we went to last night but turned out to be somewhere that I'd prefer to forget. So I wasn't getting my hopes up about this place either (146 East Houston Street, 222-2362), especially since they were serving upscale Tex-Mex rather than proper Mexican.

Then again, this was Texas after all, so Tex-Mex technically would be more local. And I ended up really liking the food, be it the spicy little starters and tortilla soup or the grilled adobo pork loin above, whose delightfully smoky meat surrounded what looked like turkey stuffing inside but turned out to be cuts of spinach tamale instead. I'm looking forward to seeing what else I can get around here, especially after getting a car to make my way out of the tourist district.