Going to 575 on Monday night carries a different vibe than a Friday night. The line is non-existent; the jockeying for a spot at the bar lessened. We took our spot at a table, ordered our beers, and settled in for a treat.
After the delivery of our perfect brews, a pairing of the Tine Trio was ordered to begin the festivities. A staple on their menu, flatbread is served with some warm, ooey-gooey spinach-artichoke dip, some tomatoey-garlicky bruschetta, and olive tapenade. The dip is really good. The bruschetta is delightful. The tapenade is wondrous. The combo of olivey brininess with vampire thwarting levels of garlic are habit forming. 575’s tapenade is the what olives should aspire to give their lives for.
On to the pie. Ordering a pizza at 575 is a lesson in opportunity costs. If I get the Green Stripe Piggy, I can add the green hot sauce to perfect the taste. If I get the Tomaino, I can have those super savory meatballs. If I get the Bender, I can have an actual “Meat Lovers” pizza. I can get the Mezcal and pound 3 beers to put the fire out. Or I can order the Kamehameha (my personal fave) and get the perfect mix of spicy and sweet. They need to install a wheel for you to spin so you can be surprised instead of having to decide for yourself like an adult.
But tonight, nothing short of Omni “Our Way” will do. Omni “Our Way” started out of mine and my wife’s dislike of green peppers. Notice I did not say hate. I’ll eat green peppers, I just don’t care for them. It seems like when I eat green peppers, I’m reminded of them the rest of the day with a persistent return of the flavor. And it is not my favorite flavor. Food hate is reserved for the truly deserving items that cannot be tolerated. Like bananas. So on the Omni, we sub green chiles for green peppers for “Our Way.” For the other half of the pie, Edelweiss was chosen for no other reason than its deliciousness.
Even 10 years in, 575 is stellar. I have had 575 pizza so many times, I take it for granted. When I take the time to pause, savor and appreciate it, I am startled at how damn good it is. The dough is a perfect combination of crisp, chewy, dry and moist (everyone’s favorite word) and the ingredients are all-stars. I cannot imagine a better pizza.
575 will be always be the clean-up hitter in the Eat Out Amarillo rotation. For any new-comer to town, 575 is the #1 recommendation. Now, if they only served Rondo and had a Ms. Pac Man.
On my first visit to Cafe Blvd, my hopes were set reasonably for a newly opened restaurant. Open less than one month, I expected some good food based on the location and look of the place. In my experience, new restaurants are trying to find their way in the first few months. I always set my expectations fairly low when visiting a newly opened restaurant.
Upon asking for a recommendation from our waiter, I was presented with Pho. Oh, here we go again. In my head, I hear “You gotta try the Pho. Have you had Pho? I love Pho. How can you not love Pho?” But, always heeding my advice to ask for a recommendation and following it, Combo Pho was ordered along with the Saigon Wings and Egg Rolls. The wings were very good, and I expect them to only get better as the restaurant rolls along. The Egg Rolls are from-scratch, honest to goodness delicious.
Warning! Complete Tangential Rant Ahead: Restaurant Owners, Chefs, Menu Developers, Anyone; for the love of God, would you please put appetizers in groups of 4? Invariably when an appetizer is delivered, there are 3 or 5. Stop doing that! I can’t remember the last time I had a meal at a table of 5. Four of them get eaten and everyone is too polite to take the last one. We just stare at it thinking “Is anyone gonna take that last chicken wing/egg roll/crab cake/shrimp?” Then it ends up getting massacred into 4 bites so no one feels cheated. Cafe Blvd delivered 8 egg rolls. Perfect for 2, 4 or 8 people. I hope it starts a trend. Rant over.
Then the Pho arrived. We could smell it coming. It looked different. It smelled different. And my god, did it taste different. Chocked full of steak, brisket, meatballs, noodles, onions and green onions I couldn’t wait to dig in, but my brain restrained me. I had to enjoy the experience to its fullest. The aroma from the bowl reminded me slightly of Fall. There is some spice in there in the allspice or cinnamon family that is unexpected and enticing. After my first taste, I finally got it. I finally saw the appeal. The meat is delicious and tender and the noodles are excellent, but the broth is the star. The broth is so complex and so balanced, I was shocked. The only word I can use is Full. It tasted full. I am sure there is a better word, but I can’t find it. It is the perfect bowl of soup. You are presented a plate of Thai basil, sprouts, limes and jalapenos for fine tuning to your taste, but in my opinion, it is the perfect bowl of soup just the way it is.
In the past, because of my lackluster Pho experiences I have always elected to go for Ramen, when presented the option. After Cafe Blvd’s Pho, I finally understand the appeal of both independently. Pho is the perfect comfort food, where Ramen’s quest is to jam as much flavor into one bowl as humanly possible. Pho is a house concert by Sting; Ramen is a Metallica concert in an arena. I like them both and each has its place. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t.
If someone asks me for a Joint recommendation, I try to gauge their adventure level. If they are easily freaked-out by unfamiliar surroundings or a largely unpronounceable menu, I try to steer them to more comfortable Joints. Making a leap from Abuelo’s to Pollo Sinaloa is like a Trans-Atlantic voyage for some. Frequently this hesitance prevents them from experiencing the off-the-beaten path gems. This is not the case with Cafe Blvd. It is roadblock free. The entire location has been completely renovated. From a new concrete parking lot, to replacing the interior walls, floor, ceiling and bar, it has been refurbished stem to stern. No one, and I mean no one, should be hesitant to visit Cafe Blvd. If you are averse to trying new adventures due to environment and atmosphere, Cafe Blvd is a baby step in the right direction.
Someday my friends and family might stage an intervention for me. I just hope I had Cafe Blvd's Pho that day before going to rehab.
THE JOINT EXPERIENCE
Ly’s has a striking similarity to some other joints I frequent: it isn’t packed. I am shocked every time I go to place that has killer food and it is 2/3rds empty. The first time I went to Pollo Sinaloa, we were the only ones there. Same thing at Sushi House and Indian Oven. Ichiban is packed ALL THE TIME. Coyote Bluff is too. But Ly’s seldom has more than 10 patrons in there, but those ten are in for a treat.
Two things to remember at Ly’s: don’t miss the Beef Jerky and Sticky Rice and don’t miss the Lao Pork Sausage. They are both part of a balanced breakfast. Anything you order after that will just round out the experience. I have not had everything on their menu, but everything I have had is Top Notch. The Lad Na is amazing with little crispy bit of mystery. I have no idea what it is and I don’t care. It’s delicious. The chicken wings and the Pad-C-U are fabulous. The Mee Ka Tee is amazingly smooth and mild. I prefer it at Ichiban, but Ly’s is right up there with a more subtle flavor. Their menu includes a Thai-Chinese section with Fried Rice, Egg Rolls, Cashew Chicken and Beef Broccoli, so don’t be afraid to take less adventurous buddies. Pro-Tip: when getting the Beef Jerky and Sticky Rice, ask for both sauces. The tomato sauce usually accompanying it is delightful, but the spicy choice only offered by special request is a tasty option.
Eastridge is becoming a destination for anyone wanting to go explore authentic Asian food in Amarillo. Within one block of Ly's, there are no fewer than 6 restaurants vying for your attention. Embrace the adventure. Who knows, you might find the "Best" joint in town.