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.

gyro1

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).

gyro2

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/

Soobak

I went to Soobak with some friends last month was impressed with how good the food there was. Arriving early (for friends who always arrive late), I decided to order a California Roll to start my meal and was surprised with the generous portions and fresh taste of the roll.

All the sushi rolls were delicious, including the eel handroll I tried. I am normally not a huge fan of complex rolls, but the Soobak Signature Roll, which features katsu lobster, salmon, krab delight, avocado, masago, tempura deep-fried with eel sauce, was delicious! Prices were extremely reasonable with their most expensive roll being under $10.

The galbi bento box (pictured below) has plenty of rice and the ginger salad was excellent – trust me it will be hard to find LA galbi (the one you see in the USA) for less than $10 anywhere (even for lunch). The pieces of galbi were savory, sweet, bone-licking goodness.  The miso soup that I added on was also worth the extra $1.

One of the most interest parts of the meal was the Korean Taco with Bulgogi. It was absolutely amazing. $6.95 for two, but fully-loaded with plenty of ingredients inside – there is nothing like it in Tampa Bay.

We sampled the frozen yogurt and it was surprisingly delicious (I’m not a huge fan of frozen yogurt because it normally hurts my sensitive teeth) – the taro was flavorful and went down easy. The place is small, but they have a big enough table for lunch with a few friends. Location-wise it’s close to Downtown and South Tampa – easily accessible from a bridge in the middle of the two. Parking is in the street – you might not be able to park in front, but there are plenty of public parking spots in the area.

Overall, this place has plenty of different Asian dishes at affordable prices and with great tastes so I will be back for many more trips to this Asian spot on Davis Island. Make sure you sign up for a rewards card!

Fun fact: Soobak means watermelon in Korean.

Soobak on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Soobak

Cuisine: Korean, Japanese

Neighborhood: Davis Island

Address: 218 E. Davis Blvd. Tampa, FL 33606

Phone Number: (813) 258-3377

Website: http://www.facebook.com/soobaksushi

Carlos Eats Seoul: Tacos Chidos (타코스치도스) Fresh Mexican Grill in Hongdae (홍대)

Money has been pretty tight in Seoul as I wait for my financial aid to arrive from my home university. I have had to make it by on things, such as tuna kimbap, ramyun, pizza, and various other cheap things you can find in convenience stores (the college student lifestyle indeed). My awesome parents back home in Tampa dropped me some cash the other day and I decided I should probably have one good meal to keep myself a little happy until my scholarships and aid come.

I was craving Mexican. Tacos & Rice was the first thing to come to mind, but I was thinking more of a sit-down environment and found Tacos Chidos (타코스치도스on my food blog friend Seoul Food’s blog. Some Korean food blogs with amazing food pictures I found on Korean search engines Naver and Daum led me out the door and on my way to Hongdae on a food adventure.

I ended up lost looking for the restaurant for about an hour, but used the mental map in my head and some friendly locals to find the nightclub Harlem in Hongdae. Once you are at the club you walk down the street and make a left into an alleyway and you can find Tacos Chidos near the back of Kraze Burger. This area is surrounded with students and is right next to Hongik University so if you don’t see any students you know you are probably going the wrong way.

When you enter you will see about five or six tables and a bar. I decided to sit at a table. A waiter was quick to bring me a menu and bring me some complimentary chips and salsa. One of the first things I noticed was the free Wi-Fi and a waitress was nice enough to set me up on my iPod Touch with the password. Another cool thing inside the restaurant was Spanish-style wall paintings and Spanish music playing inside the restaurant which created a nice atmosphere, especially to a Hispanic diner.

I decided to order the ground beef burrito for 10,900 won. The cheapest burrito is the bean burrito for 8,900 won, but I like some meat in my burritos. Tacos range from 6,000-8,500 won and for that price I think it is probably a better deal to get a burrito. The enchiladas also caught my eye with chicken for 10,900 won and beef for 12,900 won. I also ordered a Coca-Cola for 2,500 won and a side of guacamole for 1,000 won.

In Tampa there are few places where you can get a small sample of guacamole and if you do find it then the guacamole is some ridiculous price like $3 or $5 so I was happy to try the guacamole at Tacos Chidos. I was quick to finish the chips and salsa and when I finished the waiter came and refilled it for me. At first I was confused and thought maybe I was being charged for this and when I noticed that this was just the waiter servicing me well, then I really wanted to tip the waiter (unfortunately in South Korea tipping is considered rude). The tortilla chips tasted fresh and the salsa was a little spicy with a nice aftertaste to the chips.

The burrito came out quickly. I read the cuisine was Tex-Mex and normally I am not a fan of this type of Mexican cuisine, but I was surprised when I discovered the savory taste of the meat and ingredients inside the burrito. The rice and beans were both satisfactory, certainly not authentic Mexican cuisine but still enjoyable. The side of guacamole tasted fresh and was a nice addition to the rice, beans, and burrito. The sauce on the burrito was slightly spicy, but added a nice flavoring. The tortilla used for the burrito kept in tact and didn’t fall apart when I started to dig in. Many of the flavors here reminded me of Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant in Tampa. Different than California-style Mexican food and places like The Taco Bus.

One of the waitresses was watching me eat and brought me a complimentary side item of jalapeños. Although I don’t eat spicy food I couldn’t help but be astounded by the great service at Tacos Chidos. When I finished my meal the waitress came by and offered to refill my chips again for me despite my empty plate. The waiter refilled my drink every time he saw it low and never proceeded to try to rush me out of the restaurant with my check. The great service and enjoyable Mexican food really made my time at Tacos Chidos memorable and I suggest you check it out if you have a chance.

Restaurant Name: Tacos Chidos (타코스치도스)

Cuisine: Mexican

Neighborhood: Hongdae

Address: 마포구 서교동 361-8 경서빌딩 1F Seoul, South Korea

Phone Number: 02-3143-3618

Other blogs about Tacos Chidos:

http://www.cyworld.com/sosweet22/7224339

http://deltion.blog.me/40124231603

http://blog.naver.com/osunsimi/129309600

Carlos Eats Seoul: Caffe Bene (카페베네) in Sinchon (신촌)

During my first weekend in Seoul I was really hungry and wandering around looking for something good to eat in Sinchon. My rusty hangul was preventing me from reading many of the signs around me and I somehow ended up wandering into Caffe Bene or 카페베네 (It wasn’t hard for this to happen as Caffe Bene is seen almost as frequently as Paris Baguette). You’ll find cafes practically everywhere around South Korea. Coffee is actually really expensive in South Korea, it can cost more than 7,000 won for a drink…and I thought Starbucks in America was expensive. I normally pay around $3/$4 (~4,000 won) maximum for a coffee. Coffee is so easy to make at home it really should not be an expensive luxury item unless the taste is phenomenal.

I did see something that looked very appetizing on the menu: Caramel Cinnamon Bread. This large piece of bread was a sweet and satisfying (though certainly an extremely indulgent and unhealthy) choice and it has to be one of the best desserts I have had before. You’ll find many dessert shops throughout Seoul and you have to really wonder how Koreans manage to stay so skinny with waffles and ice cream literally everywhere.

There was a bit of language barrier problem here when, despite me pointing and saying the name of the item, the cashier had no clue what I was trying to say. Luckily, she grabbed someone who spoke some English and helped me out some. She got me my honey bread item, but gave me the wrong beverage: a sparkling organic blood orange drink, which actually ended up tasting quite good but probably cost me more than I really wanted to spend.

Cafes are also a nice place to lounge and usually have Wi-Fi. It sure isn’t no Cafe Kili, but I’ll take the desserts here anyday.

Restaurant Name: Caffe Bene (카페베네)

Cuisine: Cafe, Desserts

Neighborhood: Sinchon

Website: http://www.caffebene.co.kr/

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/caffebene

Twitter: http://twitter.com/caffebenehq

Ploy Thai (Brandon)

Ploy Thai was one of the first Thai restaurants I fell in love with when I first moved to the Brandon area back in 2005. The inside is decorated as lavishly as any other Thai restaurant, but there is something about the quality of the food and service that I enjoy after every visit. The quiet atmosphere is relaxing and when I came back from a week-long trip of eating and traveling for spring break last year in San Francisco , the mecca of great food, the first place I wanted to go when I returned was Ploy Thai. My last visit was after finals. I was craving some Thai food after hours of studying and I thought of the relaxing environment of Ploy Thai almost instantly when I started thinking of restaurants in the Brandon area.

Fun fact: Ploy Thai is named after the owner’s daughter, Ploy, which means “little gem” in Thai.

I never intend to order soup, but I find it hard to resist once I look at an item on the menu and think about the last time I enjoyed one. The Tom Kha Gai or Chicken in Cream of Coconut Soup ($3.50) started my dinner and I really love the lemongrass and cilantro in the soup and the coconut milk is sweet and leaves a nice aftertaste in your mouth.

The Chicken Pad Thai ($10.95 for dinner) is superb. I personally enjoy my Thai food non-spicy and Ploy Thai consistently delivers an excellent Pad Thai in this regard, I can’t comment on Thai hot flavors. The noodles are packed with flavor and the smell of it fills me with zest. The quality of Ploy Thai’s chicken is great tender and juicy, and their simple Pad Thai really hits the spot.

The consistency of the Thai Tea is usually made well and although you may want to ask for little ice so you can get more actual tea, the tea is usually reasonable for the price. Thai food is either water or tea, I find it hard to drink anything else with it.

Overall, Ploy Thai consistently has great food and service and I have enjoyed every visit here in the past few years. They have lunch specials that are $7-$8 if you’re looking to save a few bucks. Ploy Thai is certainly worth a look if you’re in the Brandon area and is located only a few minutes from the Brandon Mall. I have been to the Cross Creek location in New Tampa and enjoyed it as well.

Ploy Thai on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Ploy Thai

Cuisine: Thai

Neighborhood: Brandon

Address: 1941 W Brandon Blvd. Brandon, FL 33511

Phone Number: (813) 684-5007

Website: http://www.ploythairestaurant.com/

One Family Korean Restaurant

I have dined at One Family Korean Restaurant (known as Pine Tree Karaoke Cafe until 2010) for about 3 years now. Regarded by many as the best Korean restaurant in Tampa Bay and after searching high and low myself, I have to agree. One Family offers reasonable prices for dishes in comparison to the Korean price inflation found at several other restaurants in town. Their lunch prices stay around $10 as well and even dinner is a bargain. The side dishes are not as plentiful as Rice Restaurant and Lounge, but One Family provide the essentials.  One Family is found in a Korean plaza on Hillsborough Avenue (right past some yellow flashing street lights) and is right next door to a Korean grocery store called S-Mart 1. The restaurant is easy to miss if you don’t look out for buildings with Korean writing.

I came for dinner and split a few entrees with friends. We ordered 해물파전 (Haemul Pajeon) for $10.99, 돌솥비빔밥 (Dolsot Bibimbap) for $11.99, 불 고 기 (Bulgogi) for $14.99, and 갈 비 (Galbi) for $16.99. Normally we would be fine just with one appetizer and a main course, but we wanted to have a variety of things during this dinner. The price was still reasonable when split. Some places charge over $20 for Galbi, believe it or not.

The first thing to arrive was our appetizer: 해물파전 (Haemul Pajeon) or Seafood Pancake. The pancake was great! It is perhaps one of the best seafood pancakes I have had in the Tampa Bay area. The sauce in the middle is a spicy sauce, but actually edible for sensitive diners, unlike the one at Sa Ri One that almost burned my tongue off. The ingredients inside were cooked well. I was excited when the dish arrived and accidentally ate a piece before I could snap a photograph. The Haemul Pajeon went quick, but it was quite filling as a start and it is important to share this dish because you get tired of the seafood taste after a few pieces.

The 돌솥비빔밥 (Dolsot Bibimbap) is one of my favorite dishes at One Family. It is a hot stone bowl filled with steamed rice and topped with ground beef, vegetables, and a sunny side up egg. They also give you spicy sauce on the side. This entree is AMAZING. You can still hear all the ingredients in the hot stone bowl cooking when it comes out. Break your egg and mix the ingredients to begin a delightful tasting adventure. I mix the bibimbap with everything I eat. You will find yourself attempting to finish the bowl, but there is so much food packed in that I have found it to be almost impossible. It is only $1 extra to upgrade from regular bibimbap to the stone bowl so I always upgrade. It just tastes better that way.

The 불 고 기 (Bulgogi) or marinated grilled beef with vegetables came out on a sizzling skillet. I found the beef to be perfectly tender and full of flavor. Superior to Soul of Korea, but still not quite the flavor Sa Ri One on South Dale Mabry has. The price is about the same as Sa Ri One, but I think the portion here was much larger and better for sharing with friends or family members (The one at Sa Ri One was just for one). I enjoyed the beef and felt it was worth the price.

Ah…The 갈 비 (Galbi)! Galbi is one of my favorite Korean dishes and One Family makes delicious pieces of Korean short ribs. Each piece leaves a savory aftertaste and you will be licking the bone. The pieces were huge and the price is reasonable when compared to the crazy $20+ prices at other restaurants, such as Matoi Sushi. I have love for the Galbi at Pacific Grill in Valrico, but for Tampa residents the Galbi at One Family is the best bang for your buck.

The waitress was attentive, but nothing to brag about. She came and brought our food and went on her way. Stopped by for some refills throughout our meal. Most of the waitresses are young Korean girls, probably daughters or family friends of the owners. Most patrons are Korean here as well. The restaurant is nicely decorated, quiant, and feels like it took a slice out of Korea. Overall, One Family Korea is a great and affordable Korean restaurant and my personal favorite in Tampa Bay.

After our meal we decided to sing some karaoke upstairs. It was $25 an hour. Split between friends it isn’t so bad and the price is on-par with Korean karaoke spot Tampa Karaoke, though the English song-list was a bit lacking to Tampa Karaoke’s frequently updated list. The funniest song to karaoke was “My Heart Will Go On” by Celine Dion🙂.

One Family Korean Restaurant and Karaoke on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: One Family Korean Restaurant

Cuisine: Korean

Neighborhood: Town N Country

Address: 7030 W Hillsborough Avenue Tampa, FL 33634

Phone Number: (813) 901-0153

Website: http://www.onefamilykoreanrestaurant.com/

The Generous Pour Event @ The Capital Grille – #TCGPour11

I attended the Capital Grille’s Generous Pour Preview Event on Monday night. The Generous Pour Wine Event will occur from July 12th to September 4th, 2011 at Capital Grille locations. This event will feature a collection of nine wines from around the world, each hand-selected by The Capital Grille’s Master Sommelier, George Miliotes, one of only 173 Master Sommeliers in the world. Guests can enjoy as many wines from the list as they like for only $25 per person with dinner.

The preview event occurred at Capital Grille locations around the country and was an opportunity for select media to taste the wines on the list and pair them with the dishes provided with recommendations and a live webcast from George Miliotes. Participants used the Twitter hashtag #TCGPour11 to discuss the event and could ask questions to Mr. Miliotes via his twitter username @TheWineExpert.

This post is longer than usual due to the complete menu we explored, in addition to the wine pairings we compared. Feel free to skip ahead to what interests you most. I have broken the post down by course.

We were immediately greeted when we arrived and taken to a private room in the back for the event. The room had a single table with chairs around and a television screen where Mr. George Miliotes would soon be introducing us to the wines we would be tasting. The waitress assigned to us was great and quite knowledgeable about all the wines and dishes. She was always smiling and was a nice addition to the experience.

There were many ways Capital Grille could have executed this event and, in my opinion, they chose to make it as intimate and involved as they possibly could.  The conversations with George over Twitter were extremely interesting as he advised other media members. Originally the webcast almost felt unreal, until I checked my iPod Touch and saw the questions he was answering posting live by fellow local users in Orlando and Atlanta. He answered one of my questions in regards to a sweet red wine, but not too sweet…recommending  a sparkling Shiraz like the black chook.

Hors d’oeuvres

The first thing we were offered were three hors d’oeuvres: smoked salmon on onion pita crisps, fresh tomato and mozzarella crostinis, and wild mushroom and boursin crostinis. The wine paired with the three was Marquis de la Tour, Cremant de Loire Brut, France.

All three hors d’oeuvres were appetizing and light and the Marquis de la Tour was light and not empowering the hors d’oeuvres. The salmon was pleasant in taste and smoked just right, there was no fishy aftertaste. The wild mushrooms and boursin crostinis were tasty as well. Our personal favorite was the fresh tomato and mozzarella crostinis. They left a “WOW” factor in your mouth after each bite and complemented the sparkling white wine’s light and crisp taste perfectly.

The bread they brought us during the wait for the appetizers was also delicious, although we had to leave some space for the appetizers, entrees, and desserts soon to come.

Appetizers

For the appetizers and entrees,  two wine pairings were suggested for each dish and Mr. Miliotes encouraged us to make our selection on whether we preferred new world or old world wines with our food. The two appetizers being provides were pan fried Calamari with hot Cherry peppers and prosciutto wrapped mozzarella with vine ripe tomatoes. The two wines being offered were La Cana Albarino or Chateau St. Jean, Belle Terre.

For the calamari, we chose the Chateau St. Jean, Belle Terre wine as our favorite. Although the La Cana Albarino washed it down best, we felt the Chateau St. Jean provided the best finishing touch. We chose the La Cana Albarino as our choice for the mozzarella. It had a subtle taste we really enjoyed. The calamari was excellent and full of flavor. In the past few years I have started eating calamari regularly and this one did not disappoint. The mozzarella wasn’t too heavy and still had a great texture.

Entrees

Most preview events allowed the media to pick one entree, but due to a few no-shows at the Tampa location, we were able to test out the wines with all three entrees!

The bone-in kona crusted dry aged sirloin with shallot butter was phenomenol. Our favorite of the three entrees. It has a fantastic taste to it, the waitress noted that Capital Grille ages their steak in-house and they do it well. I ordered it medium and the deeper you went into the steak, the better it tasted. It has a smokey like taste that went fantastic with the wine we chose: The Chalk Hill Estate, Cabernet, Savignon, Sonoma, which had a volcanic chalk taste. The wine perfectly finishes the sirloin.

The salmon was our second favorite. Now I love sushi, but I tend to hate cooked fish. Something about it always leaves a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. However, Capital Grille’s cedar smoked salmon with tomato fennel relish left no bitter aftertaste and was filled with a savory, lemony flavoring that left me in awe. The Byron Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, 2009 was paired with the salmon for it’s moisture and although white wines are normally paired with seafood, we found the Byron Pinot Noir to be a great addition to the salmon.

The 10 oz. filet mignon was enjoyable, but perhaps the only dish we felt we could have been replicated at another restaurant, though the wine pairing was what really made this dish awesome. We appreciated the crunchy texture to the spinach, it wasn’t soggy and flavorless. The lobster macaroni and cheese was also delightful, with large pieces of lobster present throughout.

The filet was cooked medium and our choice wine for this dish was Tarima Hill, Monastrell, Alicante, Spain, 2009. It had a subtle taste that didn’t overpower the taste. The vanilla taste was a nice final touch.  The wine is new and we were among the first people around the United States to try it. You can now enjoy it at Capital Grille locations until it becomes commercially available in August.

Desserts

As if we could still manage to eat after sampling so much food…it was time to eat dessert! The two dessert choices: flourless chocolate espresso cake and strawberries Capital Grille were served with RL Buller, The Portly Gentle, which is an Australian take on classic Port dessert wine.

Both desserts were great with a fresh taste to the fruits. They were a nice to end to our meal and the flourless chocolate espresso cake was so good,  I attempted to finish it all despite being completely full. It was a solid dessert packed with flavor. We also feel this dessert best matched the wine pairing.

Overall, the food and hospitality at Capital Grille was great and the wine pairings were even better. When we left we were given wine bottles with gift certificates as a token of their appreciation along with with the leftovers of food that have stocked my fridge, truly a generous pour event. The $25 summer deal for these wines is great for diners and wine aficionados to fully explore their dishes.

The 9 wines featured for $25 during The Generous Pour from July 12th to September 4th are:

  • Marquis de la Tour, Cremant de Loire Brut, France
  • La Cana Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain, 2010
  • Chateau St. Jean, Belle Terre, Sonoma, California, 2008
  • Freemark Abbey, Cabernet Bosche, Rutherford, California, 2003
  • Chalk Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma, California, 2006
  • Byron Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara, California, 2009
  • Conte Brandolini Vistorta Merlot, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy, 2006
  • Tarima Hill Monastrell, Alicante, Spain, 2009
  • RL Buller, the Portly Gentleman, Australia



The Capital Grille on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Name: Capital Grille

Neighborhood: Westshore

Address: 2223 N West Shore Blvd Tampa, FL  33607

Phone Number: (813) 902-2911

Website: http://www.thecapitalgrille.com/Locations/Tampa/Main.asp?Location=Tampa