El Azteca

El Azteca
1520 South Dayton Place
Ames, IA 50010-6438
(515) 232-0116

The Dish:
Chips and Salsa (Appetizer free)
Cheese Quesadilla (Chloe)
Chipotle Chicken(Me)
Fajita Quesadilla (Tress)
Two Diet Cokes and a kids milk
$29 (Tax and tip included)

Grade: 1 Spoon, 1 Knife

We have been by this fare at least twice a week for the last five years or so, having never made it in to see what it’s all about. A couple friends of ours swore up and down it was the best ever! As it turned out these we meet these friends at el Azteca to take care of a few business items.

Ambiance: Previous posts have noted that there have been many Mexican entrepreneurs that will buy a restaurant building that went out of business (Family Tables, Pizza Hut, in this case an old old Happy Chef) and transform it into a successful authentic Mexican resturante. El Azteca is no exception, as folks visiting who have been to a Happy Chef at one point in their lives will recognize the building design and some hints as to what the building was originally built for. Aside from that, the building was jazzed up in the a typical Latin American fashion that made you feel as though you took a step south of the border. We showed up a opening time, and the musica was blaring, but it was turned down within a few minutes. There were colored incandescent light bulbs throughout the dining area that probably would have enhanced the experience had we been there in the evening hours.

Menu/Price: Most Mexican fares have relatively inexpensive lunch menus or combos that can get you in and out for less than $7. For whatever reason, the lunch menu does not exist on the weekends at el Azteca. You can still get combo meals at a moderate price, but we decided to try a specialized dinner as the price was not much more. Expect about $10 a person taking this route, but there is plenty to choose from. I am a bit of a Chipotle fan so I went that route. Tress and Chloe got similar items that they always get at each Mexican restaurant we go to. The menu’s were bound in a nice leather that felt like an oversized new wallet, just thought I would through that in there.

Meal: Chips and salsa were pretty standard and pretty mediocre. They were not bad by any means, they just was not anything to get excited about even after adding massive amounts of salt (not recommended for folks on a low sodium diet… just sayin’). The rice and beans that came with both of our dishes we’re also mediocre. Chloe’s quesadilla must have been good because she gobbled it up pretty quickly, but at the same time maybe she was hungry. Normally I try a bit of her’s to make sure it’s good but she took to it before I could. However it looked good! I did not try any of Tress’s either as it also looked good but, I was mostly focused on my chipotle chicken that defiantly had a chipotle sauce on it with great flavor but it was drowning whatever spices might have been on the chicken. I am thinking I got more sauce than is supposed to be there. What I don’t know is if the sauce is always like this, because it was like a cream soup being poured over the chicken. Don’t miss read any of this as it was bad sauce, it was great. There was just a lot left over.

Service: Since we we’re the first customers in the door for the day we had really good service. I did like the appearance that the wait staff had as they were in a nice shirt and nice slacks. I think the host (who seated us and processed our bill) was in a tie as well. The one thing that kind of bugged me that was not a big deal in any way was it was implied that I knew Spanish. I know enough to be dangerous, but normally I let others know this by braving the circumstances. Our waiter started in Spanish with me right off the bat! I don’t recall that ever happening elsewhere.

Overall: I honestly think that over time after some move visits they might graduate to a 1 Fork 1 Spoon rating, and I do believe we will visit again (probably sooner than a year). However if we don’t, my gut says 1 Spoon, 1 Knife as I had high expectations based off of our friends comments.

Cheddar’s Casual Cafe

Cheddar’s Casual Cafe
1301 Northwest 114th Street
Clive, IA 50325
(515) 222-3129

The Dish:
Grilled Cheese (Chloe)
Ribeye (Me)
Sirloin (Tress)
Two Diet Cokes and a kids milk
Monster cookie
$33 (Tax and tip included)

Grade: 1 Spoon, 1 Knife

I had heard that Cheddar’s was going to leave Clive so I wanted to visit while we still had the opportunity (note at the time of this writing this location was no more), so we took a trip down to Clive to take in Cheddar’s one last time.

Ambiance: I always had a love for their giant windmill like fan, and their upside down pole mounted ceiling fans. Other than these oddities, the place had a feel for a plant friendly dining area. Perhaps it was because they we’re going to close this location, but it seemed as though pictures that had once hung on the walls were now missing as evident by the hooks holding nothing. Not sure why they would do this prior to closing day but perhaps they were owned by someone else.

Menu/Price: Maybe due to why they are leaving, but everything seemed a lot less expensive than it used to be. They have a great selection of dishes and meal arrangements, but I did not see my beloved Chicken Mashers that I used to get back in the day. Oh ok, I’ll share with you what they were. It was a bowl with mashed red potatoes (skins included sometimes) with your choice of gravy topped with cheese and six chicken tenders. I know we can get better versions of this at KFC but back when I visited often, the KFC bowl did not exist. Currently you can get a decent steak for less than $8, it seems in the past this would have been around $12.

Meal: The ribeye I order was pretty good, but the sides it came with; mashed potato’s and veggies were just plain lousy. The potatoes seemed as though they were pureed and the vegetables were mushy. Tress’s plate was in the same state of affairs as mine. Chloe’s grill cheese was ok, but the fries that came with it were seasoned way too much for her tastes and mine. However our desert was awesome and will truly be missed. Their monster cookie which is A colossal homemade chocolate chip cookie baked in a skillet, topped with premium vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, chopped nuts and a cherry. Baked fresh just for you, please allow a few minutes.. A great treat to share between two to three people.

Service: I really did not want to make the last few weeks of work for someone miserable but I probably should have. Service folks were nice but you could tell they had a “meh I don’t care” attitude. There was no sense of urgency in requests and a general sense of apathy. I guess I cannot really blame them, but still stick it out through the end.

Overall: Not sure why Cheddar’s is closing its doors, although I could speculate. It is rumored another similar restaurant is going to take its place. It seems the fans, the monster cookie, and the steak quality saved them from getting just a 1 Spoon rating. Hopefully the place that replaces it has similar items.

Night Owl Steakhouse

Night Owl Steakhouse
3685 W 45th St
Chalk Cut, ID

The Dish:
Italian Ribeye (15oz) medium well
Garlic stuffed baked potato
Steamed wild rice
House Cream Soda
Triple fudge Brownie
$41.00 (tip and tax included)

Grade: 1 Spoon, 1 Knife

I was hoping to get a steak with a potato while I was in the land of potatoes looking for a car. I could have hit the main fare’s that I had been to in the past but never reviewed (Lonestar, Outback, Applebee’s) but decided to hit a local ma & pa establishment. While I don’t know if they are still a true “ma & pa”, they are a true local establishment. There is no way a chain could replicate this kind of derelict looking building safely.

Ambiance: Good and Bad. Good if they are attempting to look like a hole in the wall that you would not want to eat at because you’re scared the ceiling may become part of your meal. Bad if that kind of thing scares you. I think the place really should be condemned, or at least brought up to a few recent building codes.

Menu/Price: Not surprisingly their menu defiantly boasted that they were a steakhouse. All cuts were offered as well as the non-beef dishes of higher grades (Tuscan Chicken, Roasted Pork Loin, and Grilled Salmon). They also had the normal sandwiches for those who did not want a “dinner entrée”. Weirdest thing on the menu was a Lumberjack-A 100% pure Idaho potato split and stuffed with ham, swiss, and sautéed onions and baked to perfection. This did not sound bad at all but what caught me off guard is how can you have a non 100% pure Idaho potato? Where they secretly serving some dishes with potatoes that were grown in such a way that 23% of the potato was not in Idaho?
Pricing was a bit high I thought as I could get a similar steak back home for probably half of what they had here, no lunch menu that I saw but pricing ranged from $17-$35

Meal: Being in Idaho I had high expectations for my baked potato. Unfortunately it was pretty much the same as an ordinary potato from home. The garlic stuffed was actually garlic butter that was smothered inside the baked potato. This was ok but it is not what I would call “garlic stuffed”. As for the steamed wild rice, it was defiantly steamed but perhaps a few hours before making it to my plate. The appearance of it was horrible but the taste was ok.
The steak was disappointing in taste, size was great. In fact portions on all sides and deserts as well as the steak were ample enough to tame a hungry wild man. However being a Midwesterner, I know a good steak when I prepare one, or dine on one and this one sadly was not in that category. The triple fudge brownie was a little rich for my tastes but would be perfect for the chocolate lover. The best thing for me though was the house cream soda and unfortunately that too had some issues. It had a rich taste and could have easily been the saving grace for the place, however it was basically flat. Now there could be the issue of the C02 being low, but when I inquired about it with our waiter, he said it’s always that way. So I am puzzled how something that is not carbonated can qualify as a soda. It would be ok if it was labeled “House Vanilla Drink with a touch of bubbles”.

Service: Even though the steak was ordered as medium well, it came out more like medium rare. When I asked them to correct it their policy is that the customer can correct it to their liking. Outside of that little tidbit the service was ok. Requests for sour cream and napkins were fulfilled within lightning speed.

Overall: I think the big thing that disappointed me the most was the miss labeling on the menu for the potato and for the cream soda, the state of the building defiantly needs improved and with prices they have listed I am curious as to why they have not put a little more money back into the business. But if you’re the adventurous type, I recommend it. Otherwise you might be better at the main fare.