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Posted by Michael Stern on Monday, August 11, 2014 5:35 AM


Far from the Italian market where the cheese steak was born, Mama's makes a magnificent sandwich. When I dined at this modest pizza parlor and sandwich shop in the company of's Bruce Bilmes, Bruce declared that it was his belief that Mama's steaks are too masterly to deliver the raunch factor that is the soul of the more traditional version, as served, for instance, at Steve's Prince of Steaks.

It is true that Mama's cheese steaks tend to defy the proletarian nature of a street food sandwich most commonly made from stringy beef and Cheese Whiz. Good beef and a proprietary cheese mix (not Whiz, not even Provolone) are worked over thoroughly on the grill, causing the cheese nearly to vanish into the finished product, but saturate every bite. Onions are not cooked with the beef, which is the typical Philly way to do it. Instead, they are sautéed separately and added to the sandwich as it is assembled.

One thing that makes Mama's steaks extraordinary is the high-quality bread on which they are built. The same bread is used to envelop all the restaurant's superb hoagies, hot and cold. And be sure to pay attention to the "Extras" section of the menu. Here you will find sweet peppers and hot peppers that are freshly roasted in Mama's ovens – a magnificent garnish for almost any sandwich. One of these days, I will try one of Mama's pizzas. They look mighty good. But it's hard not to focus on a cheese steak so good that it sets the bar beyond all others.
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Posted on Monday, August 11, 2014

French Toast

To gild this lily, pour on some of the homemade strawberry jam found on every table.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Sunday, August 10, 2014 5:41 AM


Accessible by snowmobile from Trail 96, by boat or seaplane on Long Lake, or by car when Sinclair Road is plowed, the Long Lake Sporting Club is a year-around north woods supper club that specializes in such splurge meals as prime rib, shrimp, salmon and lobster as well as what place mats tout as "legendary barbecued ribs." Customers come early and have cocktails at bare tables in the spacious bar. When the kitchen is ready to serve supper, each party is escorted to a table in the nearby dining room.

The entrée for which the restaurant is best known is chicken that gets pressure fried to develop an extraordinarily toasty crust that shores in massive amounts of juice. All meals come with ployes that arrive by the stack: ultrathin versions of the buckwheat crepes that are traditional farmhouse food in the region. They arrive with butter, a pitcher of syrup and an extra plate in which a pool of syrup should be poured. Peel one off the top of the stack, butter it, roll it into a tube, and dip it, bite by bite, into syrup as a companion for supper. Long Lake's ritual dinner also includes finely chopped salad bathed in a curious spicy tomato dressing and really good, pride-of-Maine French fried potatoes.
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Roadfood of the Day: Sarah's - Billings, MT
Posted on Saturday, August 9, 2014


These tight, crisp-fried tortilla tubes are packed with succulent shredded beef. It's great to dip them into the cup of smooth, green guacamole on the side.
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Posted by Michael Stern on Friday, August 8, 2014 4:52 AM

If only for its credo – “This Chicken ‘Clucks’ For You” – I would like Wayside Takeout and Catering, which bills itself as the home of Ole Va Fried Chicken. The 40+ year old chicken shack fries up pieces of bird that are plump and plush, all about chicken flavor with a finely peppered crust. The seasonings are so refined that I didn’t fully appreciate their goodness until I was down to the bone and found myself hunting for any little patch of crisp skin that fell as I ate. I didn’t want to leave one scrap of this delicious chicken behind!

All meals are served in Styrofoam dishware and although there are a handful of tables inside, most business is take-out. After enjoying an insanely moist thigh and full-flavored breast on premises, I walked out with a dozen drumsticks, which maintained good crunch as room-temp snacks throughout the day.

Baked chicken also is available. Perhaps some day, in another life, it should be sampled.
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Roadfood of the Day: Carmelcorn Shop - Easton, PA
Posted on Friday, August 8, 2014

Dark Peanuts

There's no need to go searching through the can of nuts for the dark ones. The Carmelcorn Shop offers peanuts cooked extra-dark like these (and also regular roasted nuts, too).
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Posted by Erika Gasser & Jon Barber on Thursday, August 7, 2014 3:17 AM

When we first heard about the cheeseburgers at the Squeeze Inn, we thought we had read about them on We remembered something about burgers with a crispy cheese “skirt” that extended well beyond the bun. A little searching told us we had been thinking of the review for the Shady Glen in Manchester, CT. Excited by the prospect of a similarly fantastic cheeseburger on the other coast, we gave it a shot.

We are glad we did. The Squeeze Inn, which has been at its current location for about 20 years, is a tiny red building that was formerly a coffee shop. Located on a busy road, we almost missed the small neon sign in the window that was the only indication of the goodness within. Inside, you literally need to “squeeze in,” as the eating area consists of only ten stools at a counter overlooking the grill. Though there is a pleasant seating area outside, behind the restaurant, a seat there deprives you a view of the fast-paced grill work and the chatter of the regulars. We made an effort to arrive at 4:30, since they close at 6, but the tiny place was already packed. Luckily, the friendliness of the clientele was only outdone by the man with the spatula.

The must-eat item here is the Squeezeburger, which was recommended to us by another customer as we waited to place our order. In its complete form, it is a 1/3-pound beef burger with cheese, mayo, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun. Cheese is extra, but the addition is well worth the price. The grill master heaps a mound of shredded cheddar cheese on the burger as it cooks (you should expect to wait at least ten to fifteen minutes for your made-to-order burgers). As the cheese melts, it spreads beyond the burger and forms a perfectly crispy edge around the exterior of the bun. Handling the burger is a bit of a challenge at first, since it requires skill to manage the lacy halo of chewy, crispy cheese. A few bites and tears into the cheese make it easier (and sent us straight to burger heaven). We had wondered whether the large amount of cheese was meant to mask a mediocre burger, but we found our Squeezeburgers to be thick, juicy, hand-packed, and delicious. Even our side order of fries was lovely. They consisted of hand-cut, golden-brown, skin-on potatoes with both crispy and soft pieces.

The Squeeze Inn offers a few other options, such as hot dogs, corn dogs, steak sandwiches, and tacos. However, we suspect the cheeseburgers are its rightful claim to fame. Despite the obvious health issues linked to frequent consumption of massively cheesy burgers and fries, we can’t stop thinking about getting another one.
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Roadfood of the Day: Lock Drugs - Bastrop, TX
Posted on Thursday, August 7, 2014

Small Town Drug Store

Lock Drug is a Main Street pharmacy in the small town of Bastrop, a short drive east of Lockhart, the BBQ capital of Texas.
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Posted by Elise on Wednesday, August 6, 2014 1:25 PM

Sometimes I think the sign out front ought to read: EL INDIO: PROUDLY HELPING DRUNKS SOAK UP THE ALCOHOL FOR OVER 30 YEARS!

24-hours a day, this Northridge taco stand buzzes with a steady stream of policemen, students, and blue collar joes. But El Indio really starts hopping after the bars close down. Everyone in the valley knows this is the hotspot for post-party tacos. I secretly enjoy eavesdropping on packs of club-hopping young men drunkenly nursing their bruised egos with a hefty side order of sour grapes, "That chick wasn't even that hot." Personally, I think they're far better off with the carne asada tacos anyways.

When I worked the late shift, I would wander up to the window early in the morning, somewhere between 3am and 6am. At this hour, when restaurants usually stick me with last night's leftovers, El Indio is still willing to freshly cook up anything on the menu. They also patiently put up with my mangled Spanish. (Please understand that all of the conversations I am about to recount here took place in broken Spanish).

The menu has the usual tacos and burritos, along with homemade sopes and gorditas. For fillings, there are the obligatory carnitas, machaca and carne asada, but nothing here is just run-of-the-mill. El Indio's carne asada never has a trace of fat or gristle. The carnitas manage to hit the perfect balance of crispy and moist, but sometimes they can be just a little dry depending on the hour. The machaca, or shredded beef, is served straight up for tacos, and scrambled with eggs for the breakfast selections. I have also found the machaca taco a tad dry at times, but it's nothing smothering them in frijoles wouldn't fix. The Milanesa is a pounded steak, breaded and deep-fried, kind of the chicken-fried steak of tacos. Again, El Indio excels in this department. Their Milanesa is peerless.

Another place where El Indio rises above the herd is with their refried beans. Frijoles are such a humble ingredient, yet such a critical element for building the perfect burrito. One night I was complimenting the cook on the creamy consistency of the frijoles. I mentioned that they must use a lot of manteca. He said, "Without manteca, they're not beans." They cook the frijoles up in the biggest pot in the world.

El Indio, like Michoacan, is a very common name for taquerias. I also frequent an unrelated place called El Indio on Artesia in Redondo Beach. It's almost like saying, "Mom's Place" or "Joe''s Diner". There are three restaurants in the Valley called El Indio. There is an El Indio Azteca on Roscoe off of Tampa and another on Devonshire near Haskell in Granada Hills. Do not be confused by look-alikes. I am specifically talking about the El Indio at 17019 Roscoe Blvd, just East of Balboa. One day I asked one of the workers, "There are three El Indios? With one jefe? One dueno?" He insisted, "There is only ONE El Indio." I asked about the ones on Roscoe and Devonshire. He repeated, a little pissed off, "There is only ONE." I asked, "Solamente?" And he proclaimed, "Solamente!".

El Indio's piece de resistance, the one thing that keeps me coming back 24 hours a day, is the chile relleno burrito (Imagine a choir of angels singing here). A perfectly cooked omelette wraps around the cheese-stuffed chile like a lover's embrace. The creamy fat in the beans makes them so much more than the perfect foil. If this were a Hollywood-style burrito love story, this is the part where the burrito would tell the frijoles, "You complete me." The chiles are not too hot, and there are never any seeds. Many a chile relleno has been ruined by the lazy shortcut of not scraping out the seeds.

On my recent photographic expedition, I asked the cook to cut the burrito in half so I could take a picture of the beautiful inside. I was surprised to find something orange. The chile was orange. I asked the cook about it and he said, "Yeah, it's usually (he tried to think of the color in English and then just pointed at his red shirt). I said, "But it's supposed to be (and pointed at my green sweater). Chiles change color as they ripen, so really, you never can tell. I asked "Pasilla?" and he nodded. I could tell he was just humoring me. He was clearly at the point of, "Look, lady, it's just a chile. Let it go."

Amongst taco connoisseurs, El Indio is known for their fantastic buche, which is something you can't find at just any old taco stand. Buche usually refers to a pig's throat. In spite of the fact that the flavor of organ meats is often too intense for me, I'm willing to try anything once. Buche kind of looks like pig's ears. The meat is neither soft like lengua and sesos, nor tough like cabeza. The taco tastes pretty average at first, like any old taco. As you continue chewing, the sinister gaminess of organ meat slowly rises up and carries you over to the culinary dark side. Compared to other foods I have eaten, I would say it reminded me the most of ox heart. A very pork-y ox heart.

As I was leaving, I stopped to say goodbye at the window. I asked the cook if I could see one of the chiles they use in the rellenos. When he brought out a bell pepper, I was floored. I couldn't believe that all this time it had been sweet bell pepper, not even the semi-wimpy Anaheim green chile. I'm not into sesos or buche, and now I discover that my favorite chile relleno is a stuffed sweet bell pepper?
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