Garcia’s Tortilla House

There’s nothing like a one year hiatus! Whoop whooooop! I’d like to say I was super busy this past year, but I’ve mostly been content and lazy.

We have now lived in Charleston for two years!!! I guess we aren’t really “newlyweds” anymore like my bio states.  I’m still utterly in love with this city – and with my husband ha.  However, I’m constantly at a loss for words when people ask me where to eat in Charleston.  Um, genre? Price? Classic or trendy? Area of town???? Before I know it, I’m sweating with anxiety. Must. Give. Good. Rec.

In summary, that question is starting to elicit the same response as when people ask me where to eat in New Orleans, the answer to which is, “How long do you have???”  This is further complicated by the crazy boom of restaurants in this city.  The growth here (on every level – seriously, check out the housing market) is insane!  Which means that when I go to The Eater Charleston hottest restaurants list, I usually don’t recognize half of the names.

Well one of those names on the list (as of September 2015), I can totally recommend: Garcia’s Tortilla House.

Garcia’s Tortilla House – Fancy level: crazy casual/sweatpants acceptable; Money: $20 dollars for two people’s tacos!; Ambiance: I just said you can wear sweatpants, so you can guess.

Geoff and I take Mexican food pretty seriously.  It’s our usual go-to after we spend an hour discussing other options.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – give me cheese and refried beans and I’m pretty much a happy camper.  Well, lately, I’ve found I have a wee bit of a dairy intolerance.  Also, some new study told me it’s NOT healthy to consume 1 pound of liquid cheese in a sitting.  Rude!

Anyway, we ordered a few tacos from Garcia’s – without cheese, and I didn’t miss it at all.  What is amazing about these tacos is, for once, the tortilla!! You can see them making them while you eat.  And they are the star of this taco.  Usually, places give you a great filling and a sad, grocery-store-bought tortilla.  Not this place.  These tortillas are pillows of deliciousness.  I immediately asked a worker, “Do y’all sell these tortillas?” Yes, they do! I know where I’ll be stopping on our next Mexican themed cook night.  (And I’ll also stop next door at Veggie Bin, as I do at least twice a week, for some complimentary veggies. SHOP LOCAL.)

My one pic of our tacos looks pretty sad – but tacos are hard to photograph, people!!!

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We got two of their specialty grouper tacos and one carnitas taco with refried beans, grilled veggies, cilantro & onion.  My ONE regret is they don’t have legit hot sauce – at least have a good selection if you don’t have a homemade one.  They had Valentina only.  Next time, I’ll be bringing one from our collection at home —- we LOVE hot sauce.

I got a definite family feel at this restaurant.  As in, the worker could answer all the questions I asked and also openly encouraged us to come back.  They are new, and though they are on the hot list, we all see a lot of restaurants here that don’t make it.  I sure hope they do!  And if I must eat tacos to support the local economy, that is a cross I will bear.

FIG Food is Very Good

I FINALLY got to eat at FIG last weekend when my parents came to town (read: they were footing the bill).  It only took me a year of living here.  It was worth the wait.  Everything – the food, the waitstaff, the ambience – was perfection.  FIG stands for Food is Good and, boy, was it ever.  We opted to get 4 appetizers, 2 main dishes, and a dessert.

For round 1, we got the nine vegetable salad, the tomato tart tatin, chicken liver pate, and ricotta gnocchi with bolognese. They were all delicious, but the tomato tart tatin and ricotta gnocchi were especially scrumptious.  The tomato tart didn’t look all that appetizing (kind of like a giant beet) but oh man it was awesome, and it came with a light goat cheese that tasted whipped.  I did wish the dressing on the vegetable salad was a little lighter, like a vinaigrette.

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For our main dishes, we got the mustard crusted swordfish and the pork schnitzel.  I was looking forward to the schnitzel mostly, but the swordfish stole the show.  It was awesome.  The schnitzel was flavorful but wasn’t really a schnitzel (too thick).  The potato puree served with the swordfish was to die for.

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Now, for dessert.  Normally, I’m not a big dessert person, much to my mother’s horror.  I would prefer to ask the waiter for another bread basket and butter.  (BTW FIG gets their bread locally from Normandy Farm Bakery, and it was delicious.)  But when we heard this dessert option, we knew we had to try it: vanilla malt cake topped with roasted banana ice cream and buttered rum.  OH MY.  This was the best thing we had all night.  Coming from a non-dessert person, that’s high praise.  Mom, if you are reading this, have you emailed them for the recipe yet???

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All in all, this meal was perfection.  We spent a few hours here and were not rushed at all.  We had delicious cocktails, some wine, and after dinner drinks.  Then, we went home to watch our LSU Tigers win!  Perfect night.

Here is a pic of my darling parents.

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FIG will now be my top recommended spot for anyone looking for fine dining in downtown Charleston.

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Lee Lee’s Hot Kitchen

Is Lee Lee’s Kitchen Hot… or not? I’m sorry, I have a lame sense of humor. BTW, the answer is NOT.

Lee Lee’s is a new-ish Chinese restaurant near the Citadel. We have tried it twice, and both times we left literally saying, “Blech!!!” I insisted we try it a second time because I had heard such great things about this place – they got rave reviews from week one of opening. Perhaps we ordered wrong?

Round 1: we got the Sichuan wings and ginger beef. I can’t thoroughly describe these because it was awhile back. When I asked my husband if he remembered what they tasted like, he responded, “No, I tried to block that out.” I do remember the wings having a strongly unpleasant taste. Like, I couldn’t eat them. And that never happens.

I also remember that for the shared main course, we were left making our own sad little mix of white rice, soy sauce, and chili paste (the last two of which we had to ask for just to import some flavor other than ginger).

Round 2: we got the wonton soup, crab rangoons, and salt and pepper calamari and shrimp to share. First two were very average, if not below average. And we ain’t picky about our rangoons! For the main dish, we knew we would get this before we arrived because the waitress on our first visit said it was the best dish on the menu. God, I hope she was wrong.

They had options of salt and pepper shrimp OR salt and pepper calamari. I asked if we could get both. Waitress said yes, failing to advise of the significant upcharge. Then the dinner arrived. I almost laughed. It was heavily breaded, deep fried seafood with no sauce. Literally what you would get if you ordered a seafood platter at a seafood restaurant, minus the delicious fries and tabasco.

So we had (yes, they were salted and peppered as the name suggested?) fried breading and white rice. We found ourselves, again, requesting soy sauce and chili paste for sad “stir fry.” I picked out the few sautéed peppers/onions and wouldn’t eat more of the seafood. Again, a meal I wouldn’t eat. I think the only two times this has happened in Charleston were both at this restaurant.

Sorry to give such a scathing review, but it was just so bad. Even the hubby said, “I want to go write a review for this place!” All indignant-like. He so cute.

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Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

I’ve lived here over nine months and still had not made it out to Boone Hall Plantation.  There are a lot of events held there, but I really wanted to devote a day to just exploring the grounds.  When I made a new Australian friend at the local laundromat (yes, I am very random) and heard she wanted to head out to the plantation in Mount Pleasant, I decided to tag along.  Best decision.

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Though the house was quite small for the plantations I’m used to, the grounds were just stunning.  Overall, it was a great bang for you buck, too.  You pay $20 to get into the grounds.  However, you can take up to four different tours and wander the grounds til you drop.  The guided tours include a house tour, a slave street history tour, a bus tour of the grounds, and a gullah culture tour.

The Gullah culture tour was truly fascinating.  Gullah is the term for the descendants of the slaves from the Lowcountry.  An old man sang Gullah songs for us and recounted the history and customs of the Gullah people.  I want to be his friend.

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Here are some other pictures of the grounds.

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I would go so far as to say this is a must-do on your visit to Charleston.  Downtown is awesome, obviously, but you should get away to the quieter parts of the area and to learn about the history of this home.  Also, for your pop culture enthusiasts, parts of The Notebook were filmed here, and this plantation is where Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds were married.

 

Carmen y Juan

Geoff and I went on quite the trek for a good Mexican place we hadn’t tried. (Speaking of Mexican in Charleston, I’m pretty sure Juanita Greenbergs food-poisoned us.)  We found this place based on reviews, and it is really far into Mount Pleasant.  It took us half an hour to get there from DT Charleston.  Worth it?  Yep.

It is called Carmen y Juan but was apparently formerly known as Los Compadres – so different sites list it by different names.  It is in a little strip mall in a neighborhood.  We got a bit lost. Call it Carmen y Juan or Los Campadres, it is run by the most friendly people!!  Really makes you want to support local businesses and small businesses.  One of the owners (I’m not sure which one – apparently it is run by two friends) was working the kitchen.  The owner’s son, a pre-teen (? I’m not good at guessing kids’ ages), was our waiter.  Um, he was super cute and a good little waiter! He eagerly told us his favorite things on the menu and was very attentive.

First, the salsa served was great! If you like spicy food, make sure to ask for the spicier salsa.  So good.  They also make their own spicy hot sauce to put on your meal!  When the owner saw how much we liked spice, he said, “Please tell me next time before you order your food. I can make it spicy!”  Love that. The margaritas were obviously freshly made with good ingredients.  They really hit the spot.  Per our waiter’s suggestion, we ordered the Chicken Chimichangas.  They were very good! Really more of what you think of as a flauta or taquito, but delicious either way

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We also shared the Steak Fajitas, which were excellent. Image

(Excuse the poor photos.)

Plenty of food for two! Probably too much – we planned on going to a movie after, but I wanted to lie in bed in sweatpants instead.  Maybe next time. This is the kind of place you really root for.  It was obvious that the owner knew his regular customers.  And the food is delicious!!

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39 Rue De Jean Midday Snack/Happy Hour

Geoff and I had the most lovely happy hour at 39 Rue de Jean.  No, they didn’t have a happy hour special, but we just couldn’t resist the outside seating, French bistro style, for a glass of wine.  We were there around 4:00, so the place was pretty much empty.  After ordering wine, we looked at the menu for something to nosh on.  Bowl of mussels?  Sold.  My favorite food memory from my summer studying in Lyon, France (and there are many) is a giant bowl of mussels with a big hunk of bread or french fries for sopping up the sauce, served with a crisp beer.

We ordered a bowl of Moules Mariniere, which is the mussels in the white wine, parsley, and shallot sauce.  A bowl of this is $9.99 – and there is an even bigger size if there are more than 2 people.

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This was definitely 10 dollars well spent.  These mussels were incredibly good.  They also served it with complimentary bread and butter, which I successfully stayed away from.

While I can’t attest to the main courses at 39 Rue de Jean, the mussels and the overall atmosphere definitely won me over.  You really feel like you are sitting at a charming bistro in France.  The decor is spot-on and relaxed.

Geoff enjoyed it, too. 🙂  We’ll definitely be coming back for more.

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Mama Kim’s

I cannot stop thinking about the delicious food I had at Mama Kim’s recently.  I woke up thinking about it last night.  Wandering downtown on King Street, trying to find somewhere to grab a late bite, Geoffrey wanted to go to Mama Kim’s.  I was reluctant, thinking this was a run-of-the-mill Chinese joint (which I love, but delivered to me in bed).  Also, I like to be waited on when I eat out.  This place involves ordering at the counter.

Man, was I wrong!!! This place actually is not Chinese, but mostly Korean.  Korean meat is the jam.  The guys working the counter were awesome.  We did not know what to order.  But we specified it be spicy! What we got was Spicy Pork Bolgogi, which is deeeelicious marinated grilled pork, torn into tiny pieces with a delicious spicy sauce.

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This was seriously one of the best things I’ve eaten in Charleston since I moved.   It was deliciously spicy – we added hot sauce but would have been just as happy without.  For you weenies out there, you may wanna order it mild.  It came with fried rice (you can get plain white if you prefer, but why would you prefer that?), and a variety of side dishes, like pickled veggies and bean sprouts.

At around $17.00 per order, it seems like an expensive order (and most dishes were around that price).  But this easily serves 2, with seconds for both people, or leftovers if you are into that sort of thing.

I can’t WAIT to go back.

Update:  I went back.  Well, I picked up food and took it home.  The meat was so fatty, I couldn’t even eat it.  It was seriously just pieces of fat.  I could only eat the rice and veggies.  For $17, I expect a decent serving of meat.  So, I have to edit this review to say that I suppose the deliciousness we had here last time is inconsistent.  Wahhhh.

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