Saturday, July 16, 2016

Luna Rotisserie and Empanadas

Located at 112 West Main Street in Durham, Luna serves Latin American cuisine for lunch and dinner. There is a full bar, and specials change regularly.

On concept alone, Luna would be well worth visiting. Billing itself as South American and American South, the restaurant offers Latin entrees, empanadas, and patacones (plantain sandwiches) along with Southern sides such as succotash, smoked bacon collards, and pimento mac and cheese (as well as quite a few vegetarian options). But there is more than just a good gimmick here. Food quality, service, and pricing all make Luna a hit.

The restaurant’s interior is fun and inviting. Spacey wall murals and a well-lit bar are inviting, and there are both long communal tables as well as more traditional seating. It can get quite loud in here when the restaurant is at capacity, but that was a non-issue during our visit.

As we were first-timers, our server was good enough to give a rundown of a few unfamiliar menu items and offer recommendations. We eventually settled on a starter of arepas (maize cakes topped with chicken, pork, brisket, and black beans, respectively) and an empanada and two sides a piece. All of the food came surprisingly quickly, and were it not so filling, we surely would have opted for some of the dessert empanadas (yes, that’s a thing) as well.

About that food: the flavors here are incredible. The meats were juicy, flavorful, and well-seasoned, and the sides equaled, if not surpassed them. The black beans and coconut rice was creamy, the maduros (plantains) sweet, and the yucca frites a welcome break from regular fries. Among the drinks we tried, a mint mate was clean and refreshing while Luna’s version of a horchata – a departure from the Mexican-style rice milk drink – tasted like a passionfruit iced tea.

The pricing here proved to be surprisingly wallet-friendly. Empanadas (either one with two sides or two with one side) were $9.50 and portioned generously. The drinks were south of $3 and included free refills. Even entrees here (aside from seafood specials) top out at $15.25.

With some restaurants – particularly newer or inconsistent establishments – it is natural to question whether it is worth the gamble. But with Luna, the question is, “What are you waiting for?”


Luna Rotisserie & Empanadas Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Bona Fide Sandwich Co

Located at 104 North Churton Street in downtown Hillsborough, Bona Fide Sandwich Co serves sandwiches, bowls, salads, and sides from 10:30 to 4 every day. It is takeout-only: no seating is available.

Every town or city center needs a reliable sandwich shop, and on the surface, Bona Fide seems to fit the bill quite nicely. The location (walkable from most of Hillsborough’s landmarks) is tough to beat, and the menu is varied and appealing. Not only is there a good balance of classics (a Reuben, an All American Sub, an Italian Hero) and vegetarian options (5-Spice Banh Mi, Drunken Grilled Cheese), but there are also more eclectic combinations with names that project a sense of fun. The Werewolves of London, for instance, mixes roast beef and ale mustard with pickles and arugula.

Unfortunately, almost every other aspect of Bona Fide was a letdown. One does not expect a takeout-only place to be capacious, but Bona Fide fills so easily that there is no room to form ordering or waiting lines; customers tend to huddle around. This would be a lot less of a problem if it weren’t for the fact that on summer days, the restaurant gets uncomfortably hot. Whether this is a ploy to sell drinks or an abundance of faith in the efficacy of a box fan is anyone’s guess.

My craving for an Italian sandwich was strong enough to motivate me to brave the wait. The price charged ($7 for an eight inch with no sides; the footlong went for $13) was steep but not outrageous by Hillsborough standards, and the staff seemed hardworking and genial. The actual sandwich was something of a mixed bag. On the one hand, it had a good mix of ingredients (salami, mortadella, ham, peppers, arugula, and provolone), and everything tasted fresh. On the other hand, it was lacking a certain zest, and it ultimately paled in comparison to Giacomo’s rendition.

I wanted to like Bona Fide, and had I arrived when it was less hot and less crowded, I may have. The location and menu make it worth another shot as do the quality of the ingredients, but pricing and taste both leave something to be desired.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tara Thai

Located at 435 Dolley Madison Road in Greensboro, Tara Thai offers Thai soups, salads, entrees and more for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

There is no shortage of Thai in Greensboro proper, and there is even more in the surrounding area. Despite this, Tara Thai manages to stand out. Familiar dishes are prepared in a way that is unlike any other Thai eatery I’ve frequented. In some cases, these departures are welcome, in other cases, not so much.

Housed in the back of a plaza off of Dolley Madison, Tara Thai is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. Once you get past the odd location, however, the inside is classy and comfortable. The menus have an ornate design that gets your attention.

Speaking of the menus, the selection here is commendable. The classics (pad Thai, tom ka gai, fried rice, and various curries) are all accounted for, but you can also find several duck dishes and a wealth of vegetarian offerings.

For our first visit, my wife and I split an order of vegetarian samosas, a chicken pad Thai, and a beef red curry. Both entrees came with a small salad with peanut dressing. While this is usually a favorite, the peanut dressing was offputtingly sweet. The samosas were also very different from what was expected. In contrast to the Indian style, Tara Thai’s rendition consists of triangular turnovers stuffed with corn and other vegetables along with a yogurt-based dipping sauce. Again, this ended up leaning more sweet than savory. Just when I was ready to write the food off as being overly sweet across the board, however, the entrees delivered a few nice surprises. For starters, instead of having some scrambled egg mixed in, the pad Thai was covered with a dome-like layer of egg. While strange to look at, this preparation did not disappoint. The noodles underneath were moist, and the dish was flavored well. The curry also had a good bit of heat, and the beef was cooked nicely.

Tara Thai’s pricing is not too far off from that of the competition (entrees in the $10-$15 range), and the inclusion of salads and small dessert bites works in its favor. The service here is quick, courteous, and efficient.

If you have tried Greensboro’s other Thai spots, Tara Thai is unlikely to leap to the top of your list. However, its solid service and interesting – if uneven – food make it at least worth a try.

Tara Thai Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato