Articles · Reviews

Boba Guys: Best Bubble Tea Business in the USA

Boba Guys is the best bubble tea shop in the USA and a leader in their industry. It is much more than just a nice Instagram or Snapchat post. There are lots of factors that contribute to this opinion and they have been shaped over numerous visits over the last year.

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Consistency

One of the most important factors of any cafe or restaurant is consistency.

You want your drink or order to taste the same no matter which location or time you stop by at a business. I have visited at least 3 or 4 Boba Guys locations multiple times and have not been disappointed in the quality of my drinks on any visit.

The matcha strawberry latte or horchata drink tastes the same at all the different shops and that goes for their tea menu in general. This proves that there is proper training for baristas and oversight/quality assurance testing happening.

The tapioca pearls always have the same chewiness and are never overcooked or undercooked. This is a huge credit to their employees and management. I am quite a bubble tea fanatic in Florida and am often finding myself have boba balls slicing under my teeth or even tasting undercooked pearls.

Many people don’t know that the chewiness of boba balls is a Taiwanese cultural phenomenon and there should be a certain type of chewiness to the balls in order to have a quality experience. Boba Guys delivers on this experience. The sensation is called “QQ” in Taiwan and is essentially a type of texture.

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Quick Turnaround

I seem to visit San Francisco during every major national holiday when I am vacationing on the west coast and find myself at Boba Guys when there can be 30-60 people or more in line due to reduced operating hours. Despite this, the line always moves quickly and I never wait longer than a few minutes to get to the front. Once I order my drink it also comes out quickly.

I cannot say the same about bubble tea shops in Florida that sometimes take over 30 minutes to get you a drink when there are literally only 3 or 4 customers in the shop and half the time the employees forget your order completely. This goes back to management and how they train and manage their employees.

The quick turnaround is good for customers who have other things to do than waiting in line all day and for the business so they can turn as many orders as possible and make a better profit. Respect your customer’s time and your customer will respect your business. This brings me to affordability and quality.

Affordability 

When the bubble tea craze began an average drink was around $2 or $3, but the price of the drinks has soared in the last couple of years and many places are still using crappy artificial powders, low-quality creamers, and sweeteners. A few shops in Florida even charge close to $6 or $7 for a drink.

Boba Guys charges $4.50 and around $5.50 for a specialty drink with real ingredients in San Francisco, one of the most expensive places in the world to operate a business. San Francisco is filled with tons of costs you will not find anywhere else you operate a business.

It baffles me that shops in Florida are charging so much considering the rent is ridiculously cheaper in Tampa Bay compared to San Francisco and the minimum wage in Florida is under $9 an hour. The price of the drinks Boba Guys produces are a further testament to their commitment to their customers and to providing a great product at a price that general public can afford.

They could charge more and easily get away with it in San Francisco, but they would close their product off from a public that is already struggling with high rent and low wages in an increasingly expensive city. The ability to see this is definitely a credit to their business mindset.

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Quality

Quality would probably be first on any list about a great business you might read. However, many food businesses with great quality still fail without consistency, quick turnaround, and affordability and that is why I mentioned those factors first. Anyone involved in the food business is aware that the survival rate is less than 10% and perhaps lower in the San Francisco Bay area in the first two years of operations.

Boba Guys already survived those odds. No doubt quality has helped deliver Boba Guys this far and helped them to have a competitive advantage over other tea shops and boba shops which can easily be replicated and saturate markets (like many dessert or snack concepts).

No powders are used at Boba Guys. They use real tea. This is the first step in changing the quality of the drinks and advancing bubble tea. The artificial flavors and ingredients used to make bubble tea at most shops are hazardous to your health – not the case at Boba Guys because they use REAL tea. It sounds ridiculous that I have to emphasize this, but prior to Naga Tea in Tampa – you could never find a shop that did this in Florida.

There is plenty of research out there about how artificial food coloring and flavorings are bad for your health and Boba Guys may be one of the first, if not the first shop to push using real tea in drinks.

Boba Guys uses Straus Family Creamery organic milk which is local to California, organic, and rGBH-free and that really makes the difference in their drinks compared to most boba shops. I get hives from the creamers used in shops in Florida which does not happen at Boba Guys. Boba Guys also has options for lactose customers including Califia Farms Almond Milk and Organic Soy Milk.

Good luck trying to get more information from shops about their powder and sources for milk tea in Florida or trying to get almond or soy milk at a tea shop in Florida.

Housemade syrups used are brown-sugar based, no fructose. I don’t think I should have to really explain why fructose is bad for you. Sweetness levels are customizable as well which is catching on in Florida boba shops as well now. 100% sweetness might be a little much nowadays.

Clearly, the owners of Boba Guys considered what they love about bubble tea and what they could change to make experiences for customers better and implemented changes that are improving bubble tea cafes in general.

Transparency

Part of owning a business is your relationship with your customers and the owners of Boba Guys do their best to communicate with their customers and let them know how the progress of their business is going and answer any questions customers may have weekly.

Price changes and hour changes are clearly communicated so customers aren’t left confused and there is clearly lots of customer feedback that is helping shape their business into a successful one.

You will not find this kind of commitment to a business in general and I am a little blown away by how much energy and effort the owners of Boba Guys put into having a relationship with their customers. It is simply awesome and most certainly a key to their success.

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Boba Guys is the best bubble tea shop business in the USA and I will visit them anytime I am near one of their shops and support them. If you haven’t visited them, I highly recommend visiting them if you are in the San Francisco Bay Area or New York City.

Reviews

Cantina Laredo Tasting (Wesley Chapel)

Full disclosure: I was invited to Cantina Laredo for a tasting of their new menu items. My meal was provided at no charge in exchange for my opinion so please keep that in mind. Opinions are my own and do not represent the views of Cantina Laredo.

I recently visited Cantina Laredo at The Shops at Wiregrass for a tasting of their menu. The restaurant has been in the Wiregrass mall for a few years and serves what I would call contemporary Mexican cuisine. It isn’t traditional Mexican cooking, but a gourmet and modern take on it with various Mexican inspirations spread throughout.

We had the most excellent server in the house and her name was Rosie if you want to flag her down for your meal. She works most days and was completely hospitable, relate-able, and had a full understanding of the menu – easily able to make any recommendation or to answer any questions. I’d recommend her as a server.

The tasting began with appetizers.

The Ceviche ($10.49) features marinated fish and shrimp drenched in lime juice and Cholula with avocado and is gluten-free. Personally, I felt the portion for the appetizer could be larger considering that it is meant to be shared but the overall flavors were very good. Everything tasted fresh.

The Ahi Tuna Tacos ($10.29) came next and were also enjoyable, but also quite small for the price. Tuna appetizers are usually on the lighter side anyway so it wasn’t that surprising. The tacos would be a great snack with a drink if you’re not too hungry.

Both soups: Sopa de Tortilla and Arroz Con Pollo were both delicious and affordable at $4.99 a cup and $7.29 a bowl and I would recommend both soups. Mexican and Spanish soups in general when made right are really great meals and enjoyable.

One of the more popular things on the menu at Cantina Laredo is their freshly-made guacamole which I had with their queso appetizer ($9.49) and thoroughly enjoyed.

The guacamole is made table-side and uses Haas Avocados (as all guacamole should), jalapeno, tomato, red onion, cilantro, and lime juice. Queso fresco is added for this appetizer and is one of my favorite cheeses as a transplant from California.

We tasted a few cocktails during our visit and the one I will recommend you order is their Strawberry Mint Margarita ($12). That was delicious and all their margaritas packed a punch (you’ve been warned).

Moving on to entrees.

My two favorite things we tried were the Cascabel Ribeye ($29.99) and Camaron Poblano Asada ($24.99). The steak at the restaurant is clearly top-notch from the juiciness of the ribeye and the tenderness of the asada.

I get a little skiddish about ordering Carne Asada in Mexican restaurants nowadays because many of them have tough skirt steak that isn’t flavorful enough. Not a problem at all with the steaks I tried at Cantina Laredo.

The ribeye was completely juicy and definitely better than I have had at numerous restaurants around Tampa Bay. The bone-in ribeye is dry-aged for 21 days and brushed with a Cascabel sauce that I recommend on the side. It was a tasty sauce – but not one I would want to be drenched over my ribeye. I need to taste the juicy parts in my mouth by themselves – this steak needed no sauce and certainly no ketchup. 😉

There is nothing worse than ordering a steak and being disappointed and I will order the steak again in the future at Cantina Laredo after my positive experience.

I ordered the Acapulco Combination as my entree ($13.99). The tamale was delicious and tasted authentic and flavorful. I gobbled it up. The enchiladas were also enjoyable – although the sour cream sauce was better than the cheese enchilada and I would prefer two sour cream sauce enchiladas in the future.

I felt the crispy beef taco tasted decent, but needed more flavor – this could be solved by adding some sauce inside and some sour cream. I make crunchy tacos at home all the time and its easy to make them taste better – but you have to add more than just meat, cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Sour cream is normally a game changer when this happens.

The rice and refried beans were both tasty with the entree.

For a lower price-point, the combinations make sense – but I definitely would long for the ribeye and asadas in the future.

The tasting then concluded with a wide-range of desserts including Mango Tres Leches ($7.29), Mexican Apple Pie ($7.29), and a Mexican Brownie ($7.29).

The Mango Tres Leches was tart and I am used to enjoying my tres leches soaked all the way in. For me it wasn’t my favorite, but the rest of my party loved it so it may depend on your taste.

The Mexican Apple Pie was excellent to me and had cinnamon ice cream on top that made it quite delicious. The Mexican Brownie was sizzling goodness – perfect for someone with a strong sweet tooth.

Overall, the menu has changed quite a bit at Cantina Laredo over these past few years and these new additions seem to be suggesting major changes within the menu. I like the experimentation and thought there were plenty of interesting flavors to try. Definitely different visits could yield different results depending on who you dine with and what they are looking for.

The new fajitas seem to be taking over every Mexican restaurant menu lately and I didn’t try them so that might be something for the future.

One interesting thing that I did not know is that Cantina Laredo features Happy Hour in the bar from Monday to Friday from 4PM-7PM and 9PM to closing as well as Saturday from 11AM-5PM. House margaritas are $5 during this time and appetizers are half-off. Domestic beers are $2, imported beers are $3, and well-drinks and house wines are $4 – which explains why every time my parents go shopping at Wiregrass they always end up drinking at Cantina Laredo.

I’d recommend giving Cantina Laredo a look if you’re in the Wesley Chapel area – they also have specials on Taco Tuesday with discounts on tacos and beer.

Restaurant name: Cantina Laredo

Neighborhood: Wesley Chapel

Cuisine: Mexican

Address: 2000 Piazza Avenue, Wesley Chapel, FL 33543

Phone Number: (813) 907-3068

Website: http://www.cantinalaredo.com/location/tampa-florida/

Reviews

Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen in Brandon

This past weekend I dined at Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen in Brandon across the street from Portillo’s.

Our new favorite Cajun spot!!

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The restaurant is fairly new and opened back in 2016 and is part of a small chain of restaurants that are also found in Winter Park and Altamonte Springs. My family is hooked on their food and I found out why during my visit.

Prices are fair and the quality is excellent. My Aunt has been to New Orleans a little over half-a-dozen times and praised the food –  I’m sure this would vary from person to person.

What I can say is that I enjoyed my food – the Rita’s Chicken which is panko-crusted chicken with lemon sauce over dirty rice ($15.25).

The portions here are huge and easily shareable between two people – not a problem. The server and bartenders encountered were all friendly and even during their slow times the restaurant was nearly at capacity.

😋😋😋😋😋 @tibbysrestaurant #tampa #brandon #foodies #beignets #tampaeats #CarlosEats

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For dessert we enjoyed beignets covered in powdered sugar. I don’t think there are too many places in Tampa where you can grab these and I usually stop for some at the Poor Porker in Lakeland on trips to Orlando. It wasn’t quite the Poor Porker – but still delicious and a shorter drive (If the Poor Porker is reading this – please come to Tampa).

Overall – I enjoyed my food and experience and will return soon. There’s a lunch menu and daily happy hour plus plenty of drink specials. Interesting menu items for future visits include the Jambalaya, Po’Boy selections, Chicken & Waffles, Fried Catfish, Cajun Shrimp Pasta, and Gumbo selections.

Restaurant name: Tibby’s New Orleans Kitchen

Cuisine: Cajun

Neighborhood: Brandon

Address: 1721 W Brandon Blvd, Brandon, FL 33511

Phone Number: (813) 315-8443

Menu: http://tibbys.com/site/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/2017_TibbysMenu-Brandon_Online-Only.pdf

Happy Hour: 4PM-6PM Daily

Website: http://tibbys.com/

Food Tours · Reviews

Orlando Cafe Tour: Doña Juana Coffee Shop

Today I stopped by Doña Juana Coffee Shop on my cafe tour of Orlando with Le’ Anns Cheesecakes ‘N More. The cafe is open Monday-Saturday from 7:30AM-8:00PM and serves a variety of coffee, smoothies, and snacks/food. They recently opened their doors back in December 2016.

Many of the cafes we hit up today in the Winter Park area and beyond were new to the area – it’s really amazing seeing so many cool shops in Orlando – the phenomenon is also happening across I-4 in Tampa.

Dona Juana Coffee Shop

We decided to try some smoothies during our visit – I had the Acai-Mix and the others had Soursop and and Strawberry-Banana.

Acai Mix at Dona Juana

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One cool thing I noticed is that all the smoothies tasted real – plenty of cafes sell smoothies and do not use fruits or have a terrible artificial taste to smoothies – Dona Juana has tasty smoothies and the prices are fair with most smoothies under $4. The sweetness level was also just right.

It would be cool to see them expand the smoothie menu, but for now I have my eye on mango on a future visit.

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The coffee options and decor of the shop definitely were enticing – I would’ve ordered a coffee, but am going to leave that for my next visit in the near future. The staff was friendly and the shop was fairly modern inside with lots of comfortable seating and couches – something you don’t see everyday.

Here is a video from their Facebook:

I’ll be back soon!

Dona Juana Coffee Shop. 6965 Piazza Grande Avenue Orlando, FL 32835. (321) 317-3760

Food Events · Food Trucks · Reviews

USF Homecoming XX Food Truck Rally

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored post for Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally. I have been compensated for my time and writing. Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally works with more than 100 food trucks and books them for events, corporate and private catering, among other services. Opinions posted are my own and do not represent the views of Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally or businesses listed.

On Friday I visited the University of South Florida Sun Dome for a food truck rally for USF Homecoming XX. Food trucks were spread around the event including Boom Boom BoxChurroland TampaJust Smokin BBQ, Kebablicious, SantoriniSawadee Thai Food, and WING BOX. Homecoming is one of USF’s longest traditions, dating back to 1964, the year after USF’s first graduating class.

Boom Boom Burger

First we stopped at Boom Boom Box food truck. It was hard to decide what to order – but their Boom Boom Burger looked appetizing so we decided to order it. Indeed, it was an extremely delicious burger down to the last bite and a large portion that would be filling for hungry food truck rally attendees. The sauce really makes this burger and definitely makes me want to try the other things on the menu that utilize it. The fries were also great.

Sawadee Thai Food Truck

Next we stopped at Sawadee Thai Food Truck, not to be confused with Sawatdee Thai Cuisine located on 56th Street by USF. I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of a Thai food truck – but we decided that a Pad Thai would be a quick way to judge whether the food was good at Sawadee.

Chicken Pad Thai

I was surprised with both the portion size and dedication to quality on Sawadee Thai Food Truck. It tasted just as good as a Pad Thai you can get in a Thai restaurant and the price was fair at around $7. The attention to detail was there and the owners at the food truck were really friendly and remembered a friend of mine who visited the truck over a year ago.

Noodles

One of the last things I tried was the noodles off the Sawadee Thai Food Truck. Also delicious and clear dedication to authentic cuisine. I’d definitely go back to this truck and try some other more exotic things in the future – they had quite a few choices and the prices were definitely inviting.

Overall, we had a blast wandering around the food truck rally trying different food at the rally and the weather was favorable thanks to Hurricane Matthew bringing in a cold front and lots of windy weather which is welcome after an extremely hot summer. This concluded our visit to the USF Homecoming XX Food Truck Rally.

Reviews

Gyro Zone serves up excellent, affordable Lebanese food

There is this is hole-in-the-wall restaurant I have been frequenting by USF and the University Mall called Gyro Zone. It fits every definition of the phrase “hidden gem”.

The prices are fair and trend under $10 with student deals and combos that can appeal to the college students. The hours are also college-friendly with Gyro Zone open until midnight from Monday-Saturday (good luck finding a decent meal after 10PM at other places by campus). The food will leave your heart and stomach in a good place.

When you walk into Gyro Zone – you’re not sure what to expect. The place is simple enough – a long hallway with tables and a counter for ordering your food and pickup. The kitchen is open you so you can see the schwarma in all its fine excellence and their dedication to quality as they prepare the food.

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Picking a menu item can be tough – I have trended towards chicken schwarma on most visits – simply because it is the best chicken schwarma I have had in the Tampa Bay area. It’s incredible. I usually grab it in a pita, but on my last visit yesterday I decided to go for the Schwarma Bowl which comes with rice, chicken schwarma, some veggies, and a drink. All for around $7. It. is. amazing.

Gyro Zone has 41 reviews on Yelp and seems to have organically reached a 5-star average, yet every time I visit the place isn’t busy which has me concerned, so here I am…writing my love to this excellent food. I have visited over 6 times in the last 3 weeks and I left happy and satisfied every single time.

The fries that they serve with their pita are better than Five Guys and cooked to perfection. The owner (I assume) and employees who work there are always super chill and friendly. They offer delivery (I hear they may be on UberEats soon? – let’s hope).

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I finally tried the hummus on my last visit. I LOVE hummus – but my experiences with it are all over the place depending on what restaurant you eat it at. The hummus at Gyro Zone was excellent and came with some of their pita chips which I’ll add are also crazy good. Everything here is just on-point and exceeds expectations.

My friend was feeling adventurous yesterday and decided to order the cheeseburger at Gyro Zone. Sure – not an ode to Lebanese cuisine. However, I took a bite or two or three out of his burger and it was insanely delicious. I’m not sure if it was the sauce in the burger or the seasoning in the beef that made it taste so good – but this burger was not your average burger and it seems like that applies across the entire menu at Gyro Zone.

It’s hard to open a great, local business and restaurant in Tampa Bay and all the right elements are at Gyro Zone. All that is left is for people to go and experience it for themselves. Don’t just take my word for it. Go try it yourself. The prices are fair and the food is excellent.

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Restaurant Name: Gyro Zone

Address: 2709 University Square Dr. Tampa, FL 33612

Phone Number: (813) 284-0777

Website: http://www.gyrozonetampa.com/

Menu: http://www.gyrozonetampa.com/menu.html

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Gyro-Zone-166848396852439/

Food Events · Restaurant News · Reviews

Portillo’s Tampa NOW OPEN

Portillo’s opened their first location in Tampa this past Tuesday, September 27th, 2016 at 2102 East Fowler Avenue. I couldn’t resist stopping by to check out what was happening and grabbed a hot dog with some fries. I ran into Mark Sharpe from the Tampa Innovation Alliance during my visit. Look for some information about that shortly on CarlosEats.com.

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The location has the same exact design as the one over in Brandon, leaning towards a ’30s Prohibition-style and definitely is going to bring some new people to the neighborhood surrounding USF. The employees were just as friendly as the other location and the same attention to quality was obvious. Online ordering and a drive-thru are a plus, especially in the busy area around USF.

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The food was great – as expected. The Portillo’s hot dog includes mustard, relish, celery salt, freshly chopped onions, sliced red ripe tomatoes, kosher pickle and sport peppers piled onto a perfectly steamed poppy seed bun. Portillo’s offers plenty of options at an affordable price and I know I will be a frequent customer at this location. Recently I’ve been hearing about ribs at this location and that I need to try it – and that is the next thing on my list!

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Overall, I’m super excited for Portillo’s to be in the neighborhood and looking forward to them being a big part of the growing community around here. Welcome to Tampa Portillo’s!

Restaurant Name: Portillo’s

Address: 2102 E Fowler Ave. Tampa, FL 33612

Phone Number: (813) 540-9001

Website: http://www.portillos.com/locations/tampa/

Menu: http://bit.ly/2dl4Hma

Food Events · Reviews

YO! Sushi Ramen Mania Party

Full disclosure: This is a sponsored blog post by YO! Sushi. I have been compensated for my time and writing and helped plan this event. These opinions are fully my own and do not represent the views of YO! Sushi. 

This past Thursday I hosted an event with YO! Sushi at the International Plaza and Bay Street in WestShore called Ramen Mania. During the event we partnered together on we featured new additions to the YO! Sushi menu including ramen noodles, udon noodles, limited-edition poke bowls, as well as new sushi rolls and menu items. Attendees were able to meet the staff and chefs who make sushi happen daily at YO! Sushi and see them in action – something you can do as well if you sit in front of the kitchen at the restaurant.

YO! Sushi Blue Mondays $3.50 deal

In addition, we featured a new promotion at YO! Sushi in the USA called Blue Mondays. On Blue Mondays at participating YO! Sushi locations, you can find 40 dishes on special for $3.50. 31 of these dishes on special are completely new. You can check out the current Blue Mondays special here. When I first met the YO! Sushi staff last year they mentioned rolling this out to the USA and I’m glad it is now in our market. It’s an easy way to take friends to try YO! Sushi out and try new things at a cheaper price.

We also featured the new Happy Hour at YO! Sushi. Happy Hour happens Tuesday-Friday at YO! Sushi between 3:30PM and 6:30PM. Participants can enjoy $1 off all plates, $2 sake shots, $3 domestic beers, and $4 house wines during this special and is only valid here in Tampa and in Sarasota.

I was joined by members of the Tampa Bay Bloggers Group including Orangespoken, Live.Sweat.Sleep.Repeat, and Pennies In My Pocket. We were also joined by the Foodies Club at USF, Tampa Bay Eats Out, and Hidden Tampa.

YO! Sushi Poke Bowls

One of the things featured during the tasting was the new poke bowls YO! Sushi is serving. Poke bowls have caught on pretty rapidly in the restaurant industry and I have yet to really enjoy one in Tampa from most places – it always seems overpriced (normally $10-$20) or just uninteresting – sometimes the sauce they are drenched in are also overbearing. The poke bowls at YO! Sushi have a good balance – and you have the option of adding sauce or spicy mayo if need be (personally I recommend the tuna poke bowl with some spicy mayo).

The three poke bowls available are chicken, tuna, and tofu. Of the three my favorite is the tofu. The sesame sauce used with it is excellent and the bowl is balanced. You can see a serving sample below. All three poke bowls are $4.50 which is fair and allows you to enjoy something else with it like a sushi roll or appetizer. One thing I appreciate is that despite the fact that poke bowls are a food trend, the price isn’t crazy on this menu item.

YO! Sushi Tofu Poke Bowl

Another addition to the menu that we tried during the tasting party was YO! Sushi’s new ramen noodles. There are a variety of ramen and udon noodles now on the menu for those who loves soups – just in time for colder months really (hopefully if Florida can finally cool off). They are less than $5 and a nice alternative to miso soup with plenty of actual noodles and broth. I can definitely see myself combining a bowl of soup with a protein or some sushi rolls. The garlic ramen is pictured below.

No doubt the new soups on the menu at YO! Sushi are a response to the ramen craze that is sweeping the nation (hence the name of the event: Ramen Mania). Ramen restaurants are opening left and right around Tampa Bay, offering gourmet ramen for about $14-$20 that is hit or miss. Sometimes though you just want a quick bowl and don’t want to shell out that kind of cash. That’s why I think these ramen and udon noodles options are a great addition to the menu from a purely business and consumer point-of-view.

YO! Sushi Ramen

YO! Sushi Seafood Udon Noodles

The spicy seafood udon noodles had a tasty broth and plenty of ingredients in it.

Shrimp Tempura Ramen at @YOSushi. #ramenmania #eatlikeTia

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Speaking of protein – my favorite thing to order at YO! Sushi that isn’t new to the menu, but I must mention simply because I order it EVERY single time I go there is their Chicken Katsu Curry. I am a HUGE fan of chicken katsu and especially well-made Japanese curry. Maybe it’s because YO! Sushi is based out of London, their chicken katsu curry is one of the best ones of I have ever eaten in the Tampa Bay area and only $5.

One of the hard parts of being a katsu fan and eating sushi is that you normally have to choose between katsu and sushi because katsu is normally $14-$18 for dinner and with a sushi roll you’re easily breaking $30. The chicken katsu curry at YO! Sushi is excellent and inexpensive in comparison and tastes more authentic than a number of competing restaurants in the area.

If I’m at the mall for a quick stop, I’ll grab a chicken katsu curry to-go and eat it in the car. It’s just that good.

We also tried a number of new sushi rolls, appetizers, and sushi options. In general, YO! Sushi is constantly expanding and changing their menu with food trends. It definitely keeps thing interesting. From the sushi menu there is quite a few twists from the original menu worth trying.

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YO! Sushi Chefs

Throughout the event we engaged with the chef and staff and saw them in action making sushi and all the things you’ll find on the conveyor belt at YO! Sushi. There is an open kitchen at YO! Sushi where you can see this happen daily – but since most people sit in the booth, some people might be unaware that everything is made fresh daily at YO! Sushi. All the chefs are really passionate about food and can roll some sushi out at quite a rapid pace.

YO! Sushi now also offers delivery through Grubhub and catering in case you can’t make it over.

Then there is dessert – mochi and doriyaki are light and an easy end to a meal. These are some great shots from Austin from Hidden Tampa:

YO! Sushi Tasting

Thus the tasting party came to an end, but it won’t be long until I am back at YO! Sushi for my next bowl of chicken katsu curry and tofu poke bowl.

YO! Sushi. International Plaza and Bay Street, 2223 N. Westshore Blvd, Tampa, FL 33607. (813) 569-7970. 

Food Adventures · Reviews

Morimoto Asia Tasting @ Disney Springs

Last week I had the pleasure of heading to Disney Springs for a tasting at Morimoto Asia and STK. Both restaurants are fairly new to the area and part of the new developments happening all over the shopping, restaurant, and entertainment complex.

This year both restaurants will be participating in Visit Orlando’s Magical Dining Month from August 29th, 2016 to October 2nd, 2016. Magical Dining Month features over 90 restaurants in the Orlando area with 3-course prix-fixe dinners for $33. This is a great way to try a restaurant and see if you want to go there for an anniversary or get-together without breaking the bank. Many of the restaurants are also in the higher-end category and would be costly as a regular diner. The prix-fixe choices matter – of course.

Here are my thoughts from the tasting:

Morimoto has 3 appetizer choices: miso soup + house salad, assorted dim sum, and kakuni pork buns. The soup/salad option are great for people who want a light start to their meal and offers plenty to start. Personally I was a huge fan of the kakuni pork buns. Kakuni is a Japanese braised pork dish meaning “square-simmered” – the pork belly in this bun literally melted on your tongue…it was exquisite. Personally I love pork belly, but there are still options available for those who may not be as interested.

Entree options include orange chicken, lo mein (meat or veggie), LA BBQ kalbi, and a sweet & sour branzino filet. All 4 entrees are appealing depending on your taste.

The orange chicken was clearly prepared using the more authentic orange peel tart recipe and not the American sugary orange sauce. It was very enjoyable and cooked just crispy enough. The side bok choy was incredible too – the sauce on top of it excellent. Personally I am not a huge fan of lo mein – this one was better than what I am used to – but wouldn’t be my first choice on the menu.

The LA BBQ kalbi was easily my favorite. I am picky with my Korean food after living abroad and in general whenever I eat kimchi that I can enjoy (more restaurants get it wrong than right in Florida) and as a fan of Korean BBQ – this BBQ was true to the original flavor of LA kalbi while also spicing it up for a more classy experience. The cuts of meat were great and the dish was balanced. I would probably order the LA BBQ kalbi on every visit to Morimoto if possible (or the delicious peking duck not on this special menu).

I want to say that it is very interesting how Morimoto’s restaurant features a wide variety of Asian cuisines, but represents them all well. Sometimes chefs take too much liberty when preparing Asian dishes to the point where the actual root of the food is lost – but Morimoto Asia puts their own sauces and twists on dishes while keeping the authenticity there and I really like that.

Finally there is the sweet & sour branzino filet which features a seabass. This dish was flavorful and made well – but to me not my choice when I have Korean BBQ and great a great chicken option as well. Still – the sauce and preparation of this dish were far from what you’ll normally find.

Then on to dessert! Options include the MM soda float made with Japanese Ramune soda (my favorite!), boba, mixed berries, and gelato, churro fondue, and red bean sesame balls. There dishes also really depend on your preference. The churro fondue is the safest choice of the 3 – but is by no means lacking in flavor with nutella and vanilla cream.

I have never seen Japanese soda used for a dessert before and I really thought it was original to see on it on a menu at Morimoto. In fact, most restaurants don’t even carry Japanese soda – but personally I love it and prefer it against American soda brands. The MM soda float was fun to enjoy as well – pouring the soda over the gelato and watching it bubble up. Side note: If you’re feeling an alcohol drink at Morimoto – I really recommend trying the white lily martini which is made with Calpico – an uncarbonated Japanese soft drink…it is perhaps the best martini I have ever had.

Finally, the red bean sesame balls live up to expectations – but may be an acquired taste and something people who are not used to Asian flavors may be shy against trying – which is understandable – but definitely worth trying.

Stay tuned for Part 2 on STK!

Morimoto Asia. Disney Springs Marketplace, 1600 Buena Vista Dr, Orlando, FL 32830. (407) 939-6686.

Reviews

Local Legendary Burger @ Hard Rock Cafe Tampa

Full disclosure: I was invited by the Hard Rock for a complimentary tasting of their new burger. The opinions expressed are my own based on my experience.

This past Monday I visited the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino restaurant, Hard Rock Cafe, to taste their Local Legendary Burger: Old Bay Burger. The idea of the burger is to prepare something in-house that has “local flavor and flair”. During my visit I also tried an appetizer, drink special, and dessert.

Southwest Chicken Flatbread

I started off with the Southwest Chicken Flatbread as an appetizer. Flatbreads always sound great when I order them and they are usually disappointing. Not the case with the Southwest Chicken Flatbread at the Hard Rock Cafe. This was one of the best flatbreads I have eaten in the Tampa Bay region. It captured a nice mix of flavors and had fresh avocados served on top. The crust had just the right crunchy – not too crispy or too tough. I highly recommend this.

Summertime Blues drink

The Summertime Blues drink is a special added to the menu currently. It is made with Blueberry Real syrup, house-made lemonade, and Red Bull Yellow energy drink. The mixture is sweet and packed with plenty of energy. This beverage is non-alcoholic.

Local Legendary Burger

Local Legendary Burger

After the appetizer was gone, the main course arrived: the Local Legendary Burger called the Old Bay Burger. Named after Old Bay Seasoning – a product of Maryland where crabs are plentiful. The burger utilizes a crab cake mixture laid on top of the burger (important to note for anyone with allergies).

I really enjoyed this burger – it’s totally different from what you’d normally find on a menu and it’s really filling as you can see in the photograph. You can taste the seasoning in each bite and how the different parts of the burger interact. Part of me wanted to actually just have the crab cake part and cut out the beef just to see how that might change the mix of flavors – it was enjoyable regardless though. The chef also made a sauce to accompany the burger.

I’d love to hear people’s opinions on what they think of the Local Legendary at the Hard Rock Cafe and see how it compares to my experience.

Key Lime Pie

Finally, the meal ended with the dessert. The newest addition to the Hard Rock Cafe is their Key Lime Pie so I decided to go with that. The filling was reminiscent of a flan due to it being soft and almost like pudding. The taste was not too sour or sweet – somewhere in between. The crust was excellent and definitely the highlight of the dessert.

Thus the meal came to an end. There are plenty of new things worth trying at the Hard Rock Cafe whether you are looking for a snack or a meal.

Hard Rock Cafe. 5223 Orient Rd., Tampa, FL 33610. (813) 627-7757 seminolehardrocktampa.com