The Joint experience
Over the years and countless visits, I have tried almost everything on the menu. While their lunch and dinner offer some of the best Mexican Food in town, the breakfast is the standout. My go-to at La Campana is the Pork in Green Carne Guisada with scrambled eggs. Included are home fried potatoes and top-notch refried beans along with 2 of the Tortilla Whisperer's best work. *Note Tell-Tale Sheriff's Vehicle in the Parking Lot
But before the food was ordered, the chips and THE Hot Sauce arrived; I patiently waited for water to arrive so I could prepare for the analysis of today's spiciness. Yahtzee! About 5 chips in, you realize it is creeping up on you. Your nose starts to water, and you start gauging if you can keep going or will have to give up and power through the sensation until food arrives. You apply water which only helps until you swallow the water. You slowly keep dosing out a chip with hot sauce on it until you realize that you will run out of hot sauce before the food arrives and then panic sets in. I had to flag down the waiter so I could resupply my ammo. Do not get me wrong, the sauce is hot, but it is spectacularly delicious. It has a savory, umami, buttery flavor that has to be experienced to be believed.
When breakfast arrived, the pork was tasted and appreciated. I do not know if better pork in green exists. This is pretty damned near perfection. I began assembling a tortilla filled with eggs, pork, sauce, beans and potatoes. As I work my way around Amarillo, I will be sampling breakfast burritos to find the best ones in town. This is the current benchmark. It is warm, fresh, slightly spicy, and comforting. Everything is harmonious. The tortilla is a little on the soft side, so it has some difficulty holding together under the strain. You will have green sauce on your hands; plan accordingly. There is enough on the plate to create 2 burritos and have some beans leftover.
I have a soft, flour spot in my heart for La Campana. It has never disappointed me. It will not disappoint you either. Go experience THE Hot Sauce and please an Aztec God at your earliest opportunity.
The Joint Experience
Sushi House is located in a strip mall in Wolflin Square. Some of the best Joints I have ever eaten at are in strip malls. There is something about the joy of finding a gem located between a shoe store and a mattress shop.
I love sitting at the sushi bar and watching them perform their craft. Experiencing the knife skills of a sushi chef makes me doubt everything about myself in my kitchen. “There is no way a knife is that sharp.” Oh, you don’t roll it with your bare hands into a lumpy, uneven mess and then smush it with a dull knife.” The thin slices of fish that come off their knives are a work of art. It makes me almost feel bad to eat it. Almost.
An Unagi roll is a given anytime I do sushi. In addition to that we had a Tiger Tear, Dragon Roll, and a Spicy Cowboy. All of them were spectacular. I am sucker for anything with eel on it, so my standouts were the Unagi and the Dragon Roll. The freshness of everything is a pleasure.
I have heard friends of mine who are scared to try sushi. “Ewwwwww…..Raw Fish!” I implore you to experience it. For God’s Sakes, they have a roll that is steak and fried shrimp; it doesn’t get more Texan than that. Amarillo has never been known for our progressiveness, especially when it comes to food. We tend to run about a decade behind national trends, but when we embrace them and they take root, the results can be spectacular. Sushi House is among the best in Amarillo.
Now, go order the Unagi Roll and tell the sushi chef to “Surprise Me” on the other one. You will be glad you did.
The Joint Experience
When you visit Ichiban, be prepared for a wait unless you go before 11:30. It is small and crowded. You can usually find a seat at the bar, but total seating for the entire Joint might be 35. Also, it is not fast food. Typical wait after ordering Ramen is about 20 minutes. But these are just minor obstacles you overcome to be rewarded with the nectar of their labor of love. The chefs working behind the bar are slaving over these huge wok/cauldrons that are heated by flames from one of the 7 levels of hell. To watch them work makes me sweat by proxy. Every time I go, I am astonished by the waitress that moves around the room taking care of every table’s orders, delivering the dishes, bussing the tables, taking call in orders and doing cashier duties. The way that she moves around the room, always seeing 3 steps ahead reminds me of Barry Sanders at his peak.
The menu doesn’t look like most Asian menus in town. Sure there are the usual suspects of Kung Pao Chicken, Cashew Chicken, Fried Rice and Pad Thai, but in addition to the Ramen-Udon & Noodle Soups, you will see things not offered anywhere in Amarillo. Donburi (Rice Bowls), Curry Fried Noodles, and something called Atomic Chicken (the 4 Chiles symbol makes my lips burn just thinking about it, among other things) beckon me to branch out, but my salivating tongue always produces “Tom Yum Shrimp Ramen” before I can stop it.
The Tom Yum Shrimp Ramen is Heaven in a bowl. When you are given the bowl, the first thing you notice is the care taken in presentation. Everything is fresh and appetizing. The second thing you notice is the boiling heat. It comes out so hot, you should wait before eating it. But you don’t, because you are a dummy that never learns. You would think that burning the roof of your mouth repeatedly would teach you. But you don’t, do you dummy? The noodles are perfectly cooked to transport the delicious broth to your taste buds. It has tender shrimp, bean sprouts, scallions, cilantro, a fish cake and a piece of nori. But the star is the broth. It is a combination of spicy and sour that cannot be described. I have no idea what is in it, but I am sure it includes unicorn blood and dragon horn in the list of ingredients. I find no greater joy in the moment eating it when I have polished off enough of the noodles to pick the bowl up for my first slurp of broth. The spice is just right for me. It is the top level of pleasurable and the low level of macho. When I am done and finally push the bowl away, my lips have a perfect tingle, my nose has taken notice and my tummy is warm. Perfect cure of a cold or a hangover.
I have begun to form my list of Restaurant Resolutions, formed in large part by Ichiban. That list includes “Try Everything On the Ichiban List, Starting With All Of The Soups.” I just need to convince my tongue to cooperate.
As we were paying for our meal, I asked for a take out menu. The cashier/waitress/Hall of Famer told us that they were in the process of updating the menu. They would be removing some of the items that are more common at most restaurants in town. That sounds fine; just don’t mess with my Ramen.