Sunday, July 3, 2011

Do I Sense a Chaaallennnge?
The ten minute walk with ten bucks lunch challenge

There are so many excellent looking restaurants in the Berkeley neighborhood we decided to throw down a $10 lunch challenge to see who could get the best lunch in our ‘hood for ten bucks or less. We figured it would not only help us decide on a new lunch spot for the fam, but also allow us to try 4 new restaurants. All of the restaurants were on Tennyson Street except for Tacos Jalisco, which is on 38th, and are no more than a ten-minute walk from our house.

We started the challenge with Amanda’s choice at Swing Thai, .2 miles away from our house – about a five minute walk.

Walking in we noticed it very clean and classy with a modern Asian feel – in other words, no cheesy paper lanterns or metal chairs with red vinyl seats. We were greeted by a smiling hostess and seated immediately. The rest of us sat around like a bunch of sad-sacks while Amanda decided what to order. She decided on the Pad Thai and while it took quite a while to prepare, it was extremely hot and fresh when it arrived.
Amanda said it was the best Pad Thai she’d ever had. It had a nice hint of peanut and unlike most pad thai, was not overly sweet. She did order the mild and it could have used a little more kick – next time she’ll try medium.

Next we moseyed our way across the street to the Cozy Cottage. It was also .2 miles from home and google maps said it would have only taken us four minutes to walk here.

We were met at the door right away and Ainslee decided she wanted to sit outside. It was starting to get a little hot out, so the hostess moved a table into the shade for us.

This place had a huge menu, with tons of options under ten bucks. Ainslee narrowed it down to two options, the Cozy Blintzes with fruit and cream cheese and a classic cheeseburger. After a protracted pros and cons session – longer than death-row inmates take to decide on a last meal – she went with the burger.

The burger was big and dripping with juices, Harper (who was looking a little famished by this point) said it made him start foaming at the mouth. The burger had a big, beefy flavor that tasted more like a homemade patty than a bland restaurant hockey puck. Ains loaded it up with tomatoes, onions and lettuce and dug in, juices running down her chin the whole time.

Harper and I were feeling peckish by this point and couldn’t wait to dig in to our own lunches. Harper chose DJ’s Berkerly Café, which we mentioned in an earlier blog post. It was .4 miles and 8 minutes from the homestead.

DJ’s is a breakfast and brunch place, with lunch items limited to a few sandwiches. Inside, the exposed brick walls and humming duct work overhead give it a relaxed, loft feel and I can imagine this place being popular in Portland.

The waitress remembered us from our earlier visit and was as perky and Rachel Ray-like as ever. Harper went with the strawberry stuffed French toast, which is sort of a misnomer because it’s actually stuffed with strawberry cream cheese.

This was definitely the best tasting meal of the challenge. The French toast was deliciously sweet, without being cloying and the tangy cream cheese inside kicked it a few rungs up the flavor ladder.
By this time I was hungry enough to, as my step-dad from Maine likes to say, “eat the ass-end of a skunk and use his tail to wipe my face.”

We walked around the corner from DJ’s to Tacos Jalisco, also .4 miles and 8 minutes from Casa de Workman.

Walking in was like walking in to a restaurant that had been frozen in time in 1974 and was just thawed by a team of paleontologists. The cheesy décor, the placemats that try to make us bilingual, the booths that were a little to close and a little too high. Needless to say, I loved it.

I ordered the taco plate with two steak tacos and two tongue tacos. The waitress, who was a little surly but showed a lot of cleavage so I didn’t mind, brought us a basket of warm tortilla chips and an assortment of delicious salsas.

My tacos arrived steaming and sizzling, each one on two little corn tortillas – just the way they’re supposed to. They were very basic, meat, onions, cilantro and a lime to squeeze over the top. The steak tacos were a little more flavorful and tender than the tongue, but both were excellent.

The Winner

So, this challenge did have a winner and a loser. We devised a complicated criteria consisting of eight elements ranging from taste and presentation to price and distance from home. We assigned points in each category and chose the winner based on the results.

First place – Cozy Cottage
A combination of atmosphere, service, choices and distance from home made this the narrow victor.

Second Place – DJ’s Berkeley Café
Great service and delicious food made this a tough decision.

Third place – Swing Thai
Good atmosphere, excellent food and proximity to home made this an excellent choice.

Fourth Place – Tacos Jalisco
I totally lost it when I ordered the tongue tacos. The kids were too creeped out to give it high scores.

Winners – us!
For having so many excellent food choices within walking distance of our house.  The best part was freaking out the wait staff when only one of us ordered and the rest of us looked on drooling.

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