Tag Archives: tacos

Cafe IO – Mount Lebanon Suburb

Restaurant: Café IO…not to be confused with Captain EO, Michael Jackson’s 1986 sci-fi theme park attraction.

Atmosphere: Cozy and convivial.

Menu: Café IO is a rustic Italian ristorante that serves classic dishes like chicken marsala and orecchiette pasta. Um, wait a sec, there’s jambalaya and hummus also on the menu so maybe Mediterranean better describes the cuisine. Oops, just saw BBQ chicken and pulled pork so forget that. Now I see pork-fried rice? WTF, this place has everything!


Food: I was dining with a group of four and we started off the evening by ordering two appetizers – the Crispy Parmesan Polenta and the Crispy Green Beans*. The shaved Parmesan added an imprescindible hit of saltiness to the rather sublime polenta and combined with the sweet tomato sauce to deliver a perfectly balanced bite. And unlike T.G.I. Fridays’ fried monstrosities, Café IO’s al dente green beans were lightly adorned with a tempura-like breading and still bore resemblance to a vegetable**.

One of my dining companions has a good friend who happens to be good friends with the owner of Café IO and she had them surprise us with a Iovino starter as well. This consisted of a plate full of Italian sweet sausage, tempura mozzarella***, tomatoes and mixed greens drizzled with balsamic. It was absolutely delicious, and I’m not just saying that since it was a gift. Though that certainly didn’t hurt…

Completing my crispy trifecta, I went with the Crispy Fish Tacos for my entrée. The flavorful hunks of crunchy flounder were lovingly wrapped in a tortilla embrace with red pepper, spicy mayo, Napa cabbage shreds, pickled jalapeños and French fries (for no good reason other than why the f*ck not). Unsurprisingly the tacos were great and are now tied with Round Corner Cantina’s pescado offering as my favorites in Da ‘Burgh.

* Or by the distributive rule of algebra: Crispy (Parmesan Polenta + Green Beans).

** Green beans are botanically fruits but are still routinely referred to as vegetables in the culinary arts because chefs don’t be giving a f*ck.

*** Tempura Mozzarella would make the perfect stage name for an Italian-Japanese drag queen.

Service: Despite it being a packed house, our waitress was very attentive and kept me replete with Pumking (Pumpkin Ale, 8.60% ABV) all night.

Final Call: Combining an intimate and welcoming environment and an eclectically well-executed menu, Café IO is one of the South Hills suburbs bestest culinary destinations. And I’m not just saying that since my wife is friends with a friend of a friend of the owner. #KeepIt100

Cafe io Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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The Week in Tweets – February 19, 2016

Hooray for Friday! Now let’s run through an all-new Week in Tweets before my son realizes it’s the weekend and forces me to binge-watch Bubble Guppies…

8) Only Fast Eddie (@OnlyFastEddie)

Only drinking white wine is racist.

Agreed! I strive to remain tolerant to all ethnicities and alcohols.

7) The Glad Stork (@TheGladStork)

If “genitals” didn’t already mean something, it’d be a pretty cool name for a cereal.

Cut to Tony the Tiger exclaiming “Frosted Genitals, they’re grrrrrreat!!!”

6) ilana glazer (@ilazer)

i genuinely think Wendy’s is classy

Forget Breakfast at Tiffany’s, nothing says “sophistication” more than Holly Golightly grabbing a Baconator for Lunch at Wendys!

5) Bécky Wilde Åsh (@AddledPixie)

I told my 12 year old son he left a mess in the living room and he said it wasn’t a mess, it was art. I had no reply & picked it up myself.

I believe it was Gauguin that said “Art is either a plagiarist or a messy kid”…

4) eggva (@EvSchenker)

i love looking through old pictures of myself because even though i’m only a 3 now i used to be a -5 so any change is good change

I recently converted the my personal hotness measurement unit from Celsius to Fahrenheit and I went from a -5 to a 23!!!

3) Just Bill (@WilliamAder)

Serious talk at the office of replacing me with a Redbox.

I’m in constant fear that my wife is going to replace me with a Paro!

2) Clowndro (@clowndro)

You are being very wtf and I need you to be lol

idcjk! ily.

1 – tie) spacegirl incognito (@iamspacegirl)

*gently carrying a burrito in my mouth like a mother cat with her kitten*

Nico Martini (@drnicomartini)

Thank god I don’t have to hunt for my food . . . I don’t even know where tacos live . . .

I don’t know where tacos start their life, but I sure know where they all end up…in my belly!!

Below is a picture of Oscar and Rachel snuggling on the floor. Have a wonderful weekend everybody!


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Casa Rasta – Beechview

Restaurant: Casa Rasta

Location: Where Boustead breaks from Broadway in Beachview (try to say that three times fast).

Atmosphere: Casa Rasta occupies what looks to be a converted single family home so the dining area isn’t large*. The décor is Día de Muertos-chic ala Mad Mex. Despite the preponderance of foreboding skulls, the bright colors and streaming reggae music help invoke a vibe that is more Tuff Gong than Tuco Salamanca.


* This gives me a great idea for a new HGTV program where people go out to dinner and then come home surprised to find that their house was remodeled into a hipster taco joint. The show will be hosted by Paige Davis and B-Real, and feature a different celebrity chef every week to make the tacos. Sounds like a hit to me!

Menu: Tacos*, tostadas, burritos, tortas, quesadillas, wings, salsa and soup.

* You had me at tacos.

Food: My wife and I don’t get out to eat much since we had a child. So whenever we do get the chance to dine somewhere other than our kitchen or King’s, I try to order as much food as possible until I’m stuffed beyond belief. It’s like I’m a hibernating bear, but instead of sleep I’m storing up a reserve of artisanal tacos.

Feeling especially hungry, I also ordered the sweet and spicy mango wings to go along with a buffet of tacos to split* with my wife (asado, carnitas, chorizo and polo). The wings arrived nice and crispy like I like ‘em, and the citrusy sweet heat of the mango sauce gave them a distinctive Caribbean flavor profile.


The tacos showed up just as soon as I was done devouring the wings. They were all simply great, and I would rank them in order of deliciousness as: Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Steak, Citrus Marinated Pork and Mexican Sausage. All came adorned with onions and cilantro, while the chicken had some extra oomph supplied by avocado cream and mango.

* When I say split, I mean she gets a couple bites and I get the rest.

Service: Our waitress was super nice and made sure our water glasses stayed full. She also didn’t seem to get annoyed when I busted out my phone to take pics of the food, which I admit is super annoying.

Final Call: Not only was the food great, but the prices were unbelievably low. THREE DOLLARS FOR A TACO!??!?! I would have paid twice as much and still felt like I had gotten a good deal. My only complaint is that Casa Rasta doesn’t have a liquor license, but they are BYOB so I’ll just have to remember to come prepared with a sixer of Red Stripe next time.

Casa Rasta on Urbanspoon

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Las Palmas Carniceria – Brookline

Embracing the Mexican authenticity of Las Palmas Carniceria, this review will be presented in Spanish with English subtitles.

Restaurant: Las Palmas Carniceria

Location: Brookline Boulevardo*, en el lugar en la esquina donde la Costa Oeste de Vídeo que solía ser…

(Brookline Boulevard, in the corner spot where West Coast Video used to be…)

(* “Boulevard” is actually the same word in both languages but I changed it to “Boulevardo” because I think that it sounds more ethnic.)

Atmosphere: Auténtica bodega de la esquina.

(Authentic corner bodega. Las Palmas is basically a grocery store with a taco cart out front so there really isn’t any seating…unless you count the nearby street bench occupied by two Jesse Pinkman-esque teenagers having a lively discussion about someone named “bitchin’ ass Heather with da big ass”.)

Menu: No hay menu.

(No menu…obvi.)

Food: Ya que no había menú, acabo de señalar a lo que yo pensaba que era la carne de pollo y pedí dos tacos de cada uno para ir. Les coronada con una mezcla de selecciones de la barra de salsa sin etiqueta y recé que no estaba eligiendo nada demasiado picante. Entonces me llevé el hogar tacos a mi esposa para que podamos disfrutar de una agradable cena romántica, sentado en el sofá de la sala de estar viendo “The Unauthorized Salvados por la campana Story”

Me alegré al descubrir que las tortillas recién hechas no filtran su interior-delicias a pesar del viaje a casa llena de tráfico (maldito seas Washington Road). Además de ser estructuralmente firmes, las tortillas eran básicamente perfecto y un millón de veces más sabroso que comprados en la tienda conchas. El único comentario negativo taco que puedo hacer es que la carne era bastante duro. No me esperaba filet mignon, pero mis dientes definitivamente tengo un entrenamiento morder aunque algunos trozos de cartílago.

(Since there was no menu, I just pointed out to what I thought was beef and chicken and ordered two tacos of each to go. I topped them off with a mix of selections from the unlabeled salsa bar and prayed that I wasn’t choosing anything too spicy. I then brought the tacos home to my wife for us to enjoy a nice, romantic dinner sitting on the living room couch watching “The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story”.

I was glad to find out that the freshly made tortillas didn’t leak out their inner-deliciousness despite the traffic-filled commute home (damn you Washington Road!). Along with being structurally sound, the tortillas were basically perfect and one million times tastier than store-bought shells. The only negative taco comment I can make is that the beef was pretty chewy. I wasn’t expecting filet mignon, but my teeth definitely got a workout biting though some bits of gristle.)

Service: Amistoso y bilingüe.

(Friendly and bilingual.)

Final Call: Las Palmas mantiene real con tacos hechos a fin de que sean auténticos, sabrosos y relatevely barato. ¡Muy recomendable!

(Las Palmas keeps it real with made-to-order tacos that are authentic, tasty and relatevely cheap. Highly recommended!)


Editor’s Note: The taco pic included in this post is not mine. By the time I got home from Las Palmas, I was way too hungry to spend time on a photoshoot and devoured my tacos posthaste. Thankfully my friend and fellow taco-lover Nicole was kind enough to send me a picture of her most recent Las Palmas tacos. #ThatsWhatFriendsR4

Las Palmas Carniceria on Urbanspoon

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Sirena Taco Joint & Bar – McMurray Suburb

Restaurant: Sirena Taco Joint & Bar

Location: Back corner of Donaldson’s Crossroads shopping plaza.

Atmosphere: The interior of the restaurant is bright and inviting with a tropical island vibe that reminded me of Sammy Haggar. The outside dining area comes complete with its own tiki-ish bar and is secluded enough to make you forget you’re basically in a strip mall parking lot.


Menu: Tacos, taco’s and tacos’…

Food: I arrived hungry and ready to devour as many as the delicious sounding taco options as I could. A très taco combo sounded like the best way to accomplish this economically, along with giving me the chance to try one of the tasty sounding sides. Upon ordering the Blue Planet (bbq shrimp taco, smokey tilapia taco, Scottish salmon taco), the waiter informed me that the combos were actually unavailable. Taco threesome denied!!!

Disappointed and starving I selected the beef brisket and beer-battered cod (two tacos per entrée). Despite doubling down on the tacos, I still wanted to explore some of the other options on the menu and convinced my wife to split the chips & salsa and mac & cheese with me (FYI – it didn’t take much convincing).

The chips & salsa came out with our drinks (East End Witte/Cosmopolitan – both delicious) and I got down to grubbin’. The salsa was pretty spicy, with a smoky bite bordering on unenjoyable. The chips were also kind of a letdown. Not bad, just nothing special. The fact that they cost almost twice as much as Mad Mex’s chips and salsa had me expecting something extremely tasty and/or gigantically huge and…these were neither. The mac & cheese was disappointingly ho-hum, but thankfully it was only four dollars…

The tacos fortunately were mucho yummy. The Yuengling-battered fish filets were both crispy and tender, and the trio of toppings (avocado crema, chipotle slaw, roasted corn salsa) couldn’t have been more ideal. The beef brisket tacos were mo’ spicy than smoky with bold paprika/cumin flavors, and again the protein paired perfectly with its sister components (grilled pineapple, pickled jalapeños, roasted corn salsa, queso fresco).


Service: It was actually our waiters first time serving and he gave a valiant effort. He kept our waters full and checked on us every chance he got. Our apps and entrees took awhile to arrive, but it was a gorgeous night and I’m certainly not going to complain about having some extended time to relax on Sirena’s charming back patio with a cold beer and my beautiful wife.

Final Call: A bit pricey, a bit uneven, but overall I’m thrilled that the Sirena Taco Joint & Bar has opened in the culinary wasteland which is the south hills suburbs. My plan next time is to skip the starters and just order myself three entrees of tacos. Ay, caramba!

Sirena Taco Joint & Bar on Urbanspoon

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Mad Mex – West View Borough (North Hills)

Restaurant: Mad Mex

Location: On the ugly stretch of McKnight Road past Ross Park Mall.

Atmosphere: I had never been to this particular Mad Mex location before and assumed it would be a little dreary based on its relatively unassuming (i.e. rundown) outside appearance. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case at all.

The restaurant was actually quite bright due to it’s preponderance of windows and the décor had the same festive “Tijuana tattoo parlor” vibe as the other locations. Muy bueno!

Menu: They describe their cuisine as “Funky Fresh Cal-Mex” and I think that fits perfectly. The menu contains a bevy of cleverly-named burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas, quesadillas and tacos stuffed with just about every fresh ingredient you could want*. I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention the big azz margaritas. They’re mucho delicious**!

* They even have seitan wings, whatever the hell those are.

** And mucho dangerous! I went to the Mad Mex in Scott Township for Cinco de Mayo back in 2010, promptly chugged four margaritas on an empty stomach, and the next thing I knew I woke up fully clothed in my bed on Seis de Mayo without knowing how I got there. I then proceeded to spend the next twenty-four hours vomiting and promising God that I’d never drink again***.

*** I’ve since amended that promise to “I’ll never drink four margaritas on Cinco De Mayo again”. I haven’t been struck down with lightning yet so I’m figuring God’s cool with it.

Food: I got the Herb O’vore’s Tofu Tacos and they were as scrumptious as always*. The snap of the bean sprouts provided a great counterbalance to the softer textures of the tofu and avocado slices, and the ponzu sauce gave a delectable citrus tang to every bite.

* I used to consistently order the Wing-O-Rito, but switched to the tofu tacos last year as my go-to because I thought that they were a “healthier” choice. Boy was I wrong! This dish has a whopping 1,230 calories. Ay, caramba!

Service: Our waitress was super-nice and made sure we were well-tended to. She also repeatedly told my wife and I how cute our infant son was, which is my second favoritest* thing to hear in the world.

* The first is someone repeatedly telling me how cute I am.

Final Call: Mad Mex is the Andrew McCutchen of Pittsburgh-restaurants. It basically excels at everything – tasty food, festive ambiance, huge booze selection – and is the all-around best spot for a Saturday afternoon family lunch, a Friday night date, or a black-out drunk Cinco De Mayo. Highly recommend!

Mad Mex on Urbanspoon

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Pittsburgh Weekend Activities – March 27

Local author/blogger Laurie Koozer is performing a reading of her wonderful Steelers-centric book What Happens on Sunday this Thursday night at the Sto-Rox Library. I went to her last reading at the Green Tree Library, and it was a fun time filled with snacks, crafts and trivia. This event is the perfect opportunity to have Laurie sign your boob so that you can then get it tattooed permanently.


There is a food truck roundup this Saturday in the North Hills of Pittsburgh at Coffee Buddha. It starts at noon, and I highly advise you to get there early if you want tacos. My wife and I went to last Sunday’s event in the Southside, waited in line for over an hour and half, and just made it to the front before they ran out of shells. I’ve never felt luckier…

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Smoke BBQ Taqueria – Homestead Borough

I hate working on my birthday. Toiling away as a toothless cog in the corporate machine makes it impossible for me to believe I’m special. I really hate that hopeless feeling, especially on the one day where it’s acceptable to outwardly celebrate the fact that I successfully popped out of my mother’s va-jay-jay. My most recent birthday unfortunately fell on a Tuesday. Therefore my wife and I both burned vacation days to hangout together and properly rejoice in my existence.

After a hilly five mile run on the gritty streets of Upper St. Clair, we ventured out of the ‘burbs to try a restaurant I’d heard many great things about – Smoke BBQ Taqueria. Actually, I had never really “heard” any acclamations with my own ears. It’s much more accurate to say that I’d “seen” a plethora of glowing comments on Twitter, Yelp and Urbanspoon. Since I’ve yet to read anything on the Internet that isn’t true, I was rather excited to celebrate my birthday at the trendiest new foodie spot in Pittsburgh.

Smoke is located on East 8th Avenue in historic Homestead, a stone’s throw away from the sprawling Waterfront district. Despite its position on the main drag and our in-dash GPS navigation, we still ended up driving right past the place. After a few blocks of increasingly blighted storefronts, we doubled back and finally spotted the small, unassuming sign. We parked a little ways up the street and anxiously scurried past some shady characters on our way to the restaurant. I have driven down Route 837 countless times over the years while on the way to Kennywood, but this was the first time I set foot on it. The particular stretch that houses Smoke is one of the nicer blocks in this area. Regardless, the abundance of wig shops and check cashing joints still had my suburban-bred wife’s spider-sense tingling.

It was late afternoon on a weekday so there were multiple tables uninhabited. This was a good thing because the amount of overall seating was quite meager. There were just a handful of tables and a few stools in front of a makeshift taco bar. The quaint décor had a somewhat eclectic vibe with vibrant artwork and mismatched dining furniture. The most noticeable style element was the amount of negative space due to the high ceilings and sparse layout. This openness reinforced the relaxed ambiance and put me in the perfect mood to chill-out and stuff myself with tacos.

It was a long time since breakfast and I was famished by this point of the day. I eagerly put my food order in as soon as our welcoming waitress came over to greet us. I decided on Smoke’s taco versions of a Philly cheesesteak and pulled pork sandwich – mainly because they were the most indulgent-sounding selections on the menu. I tried the pork taco first and found it just adequate. The meat was tender and tasty, but the apricot habanero sauce and caramelized onions combined to produce an underwhelming topping. Certainly not bad, but not exactly a bold statement either.

The Philly taco was a huge step in the flavorful direction – mainly due to the aged sharp white cheddar sauce. This cheesy concoction was somehow both really delicious and really odd. I could easily see someone hating it due to the intense nutty tang and liquidy consistency, but I really liked it. Um, after re-reading that last sentence, I think its best we move on before I also admit that I enjoy watching America’s Next Top Model and give out the wrong idea that I’m anything but a happily married straight man.

The Wagyu brisket in the Philly taco had a hint of smokiness and stood up well to the aggressive cheese mixture.  The house-made tortillas were perfect vehicles for the substantial fillings of both tacos. They were buttery soft but far from delicate*. I was feeling sufficiently stuffed after two tacos but somehow still heroically found the wherewithal to finish off my wife’s scrumptious mac and cheese. It again was laced with some of the notable sharp white cheddar. This time the cheese was combined deliciously with it’s Italian cousin Mascarpone and some roasted garlic.

Final Call: After reading countless superlative-laden reviews heralding the amazing BBQ-meets-tacos cuisine of Smoke, my expectations going-in were sky high. The food ultimately didn’t change my life, but it was tasty. I will most definitely stop by the next time I’m on my way to Kennywood.

* Think Angela Bassett in How Stella Got Her Groove Back.

SMOKE barbeque taqueria on Urbanspoon

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