Monday, March 28, 2016

El Azteca Mexican Restaurant - Sandy Springs Georgia

You can find this location of El Azteca at 5925 Roswell Road NE, Sandy Springs GA 30328 in Sandy Springs, just north of the perimeter and in the same shopping center anchored by Lowe's Home Improvement. parking is in the lot surrounding the restaurant with most of the overfill to the right, just south of the building.


This is another one of those restaurants I've visited many, many times over the years starting in the 90's - there's a bit of an odd story to this restaurant in that a family member opened a second location just a short distance further north so at one point there were two El Aztecas, a couple of miles from each other and competing for the same locals.

This location (and the one remaining) has a rather expansive footprint with plenty of room to handle just about any sized party. I especially like to meet friends out on the patio and have margaritas while munching on chips and Mexican cuisine. This is a Tex-Mex style Mexican restaurant that's been around for a long time - the food is more of what I call the schwag-Mexican variety - mostly fare for Americans. The chips are good but the salsa could use a bit more kick. All the food in general is quite palatable but nothing special, still this is a solid restaurant.

The margaritas here are OK but nothing special - ask for the Texas style if you want to get a buzz and having something a bit better. The bar is decent sized and not a bad place to spend the afternoon after work. I do love the graphs on the latest incarnation of the menu - nothing like muscular Aztec warriors to get the excitement going. There are also unusual painted artwork along this vein on the walls.

The service here is exceptional and has been great for as long as I can remember. If you come a lot the servers remember you and they often know what you order. The food itself is typical of these types of Mexican restaurants and sure to please most American palates. While El Azteca isn't anything special, it is a location for this type of food and if you're like me, you'll get into situations where this is exactly what you're looking for. Combine the food with the service and you'll have a solid experience (especially after a margarita or two).

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
El Azteca Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Bud and Alleys Waterfront Dining - Seaside Florida

You can find Bud and Alley's Waterfront Dining at 2236 East County Hwy 30a, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459, right across from the main loop for Seaside's retail area. Parking can be found on the street or in the areas in front of the shopping loop - otherwise it's a bit difficult to visit this area unless you're on a bike or hiking. There's plenty of bicycle parking.

Bud and Alley's is comprised of the main restaurant, which is elevated above street level, a Pizza bar and a Taco bar. All three have two things in common - the name and "bar" so you can surmise the primary purpose. This is very much a drinking establishment first with food being a secondary concern. That being said, the few apps and sandwiches I've tried here over the years have been passable.

So why come to Bud and Alley's? It's really about the spectacular view and convenience from one of the most beautiful beaches in the Gulf. The view is increased exponentially by the elevated Waterfront Dining location - if you can get up there early enough it's worth sitting under the covered porch next to the open windows. Enjoy a mimosa with your omelet or just start right in with beer or mixer.

For drinks this day (early morning), we started with Bloody Marys, extra spicy. These are some of the best Bloodies you'll find in the area with plenty of spice and things to chew on including a peeled cocktail shrimp - I especially like the pickled okra - they add an element of salty deliciousness that's well worth enjoying. I've also enjoyed a few 30A Beach Blonde Ales at Bud and Alley's - try this one if you're into sampling local craft - quite refreshing.

 For starters I've fond of the 1/2 Pound Peel and Eat Shrimp and the Smoked Tuna Dip. For Salads, the local Arugula is quite good when it's in season. For sandwiches I like the Heirloom Tomato BLT and the Angus Hamburger. Someday I hope to try the Shrimp and Grits - they also have a Muffaletta on the menu but I can't remember if I've tried it.

The only negative about this place is the service - not that we didn't receive good service from the server, but just the general vibe of the place. I've worked in many restaurants and bars, but this one has a distinctive disdain for people that aren't recognized as locals. I can imagine it gets quite packed during prime season and there's nothing like that to make you hate your job. I felt like the people working here were just wore-out and tired of tourists that don't tip and demand great attention. It's in the look, the snarky comments and overall attitude. It won't keep me from coming back, but will make me think twice.

-- John

(also posted to Yelp)
Bud & Alley's Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Bayou Bills Crab House - Santa Rosa Beach Florida

You can find Bayou Bill's Crab House at 4748 US Hwy 98 W, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459 - Highway 98 is along one of the main drags that travels East-West and bisects the high-ground between Hogtown Bayou and the Gulf. If you continue west you'll hit Mirimar Beach and then Destin. If you travel east you'll hit the access to Grayton Beach and Seaside. The building is single-story, free standing and looks a bit like a house, with a short front-porch. Parking is in the lot in front and it looked to have plenty to support the larger-than appearing seating capacity.

This seems to be a favorite among locals and a bit off the beaten path, which fits right into what I look for in tourist locations. We came here while enjoying the fall weather and as such, it was only about 30% occupied during the off-season. The interior was extremely nice - not your typical beach-shack - with tons of local fauna represented on the walls and nice wooden planks as sheathing. They also have an awesome salt-water tank with luminescent jellies swimming around - quite beautiful.

Specials were on chalk boards in the entry and they have both pirate(!) and gators scattered about with netting, etc to add to the ambiance. The bar is expansive and tonight quite empty but I can imagine it gets packed on weekends and during tourist season. We ordered a few drinks and I can attest to a mighty fine margarita.

Menu options were your usual mix if seafood with fried and grilled items. I had the blackened fish with a vegetable medley and baked potato and was able to try a few things from the fried platters and crab cakes that others had. I thought everything quite good as was the service. I've put this on my list of places to experience on subsequent visits as the food seemed very fresh and consistent.

-- John 

(also posted to Yelp)
Bayou Bill's Crab House Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Taco Mac at The Prado - Sandy Springs Atlanta Georgia

You can find this location of the Taco Mac (or T-Mac as they seem to be rebranding) at 5600 Roswell Rd, Ste 3, Sandy Springs Georgia 30342 at the Prado. Parking is along the streets or in the parking decks (parking is free at either).

Typical of the other Taco Mac locations, the interior is a fairly dark affair even with windows lining some walls and probably due to the lighting and black ceiling. But you don't come here to enjoy the sights outbound to the parking or street - instead you come for the many, many TVs showing any manner of current sports, the extensive beer selection and pretty much the wings.

My previous visits had me enthralled by the pour-count taps at many of the tables. Basically you sit where the taps have something agreeable to the table, set things up with the staff and get blistering drunk with non-stop beer guzzling action. Unfortunately those taps have been removed (or perhaps it's a good thing). Otherwise there isn't much distinctive to this location if you don't count the Fred (ask about it after you join Brewniversity). This night I ordered  Founders Double Trouble to start - quite good.

Speaking of Brewniversity, once you sign up you can show the server your card and the app keeps up with the varieties of beer you drink. There are thresholds that provide you with prizes (you usually get a shirt for signing up - of course I never got mine). This thing is cool when it works - or perhaps I should say it's cool except when your server forgets to run your card or even better, doesn't give your card back (happened to me at this location, first I didn't get my card and asked for a replacement online, waited and tried using it on my last visit and none of my drinks were registered).

And if that last seemed a bit of a jab at the servers, you got it. While the service at some of the locations is very good (the Ashford Crossing location, for instance), this location seems to be a bit off and very inconsistent for me. Better to sit at the bar as the bartenders have it together.

As usual my group went for the wings and from the last time I visited I got "the trick" - try the wings roasted instead of fried and get a side of the  Three-Mile-Island or even better, the Slow Burn sauce. That's a true winner and elevates the common wing to new heights. We also had both the sweet potato and regular fries which are hard to beat.

I ordered several different stouts or chocolate porters on this occasion - I tend to focus on the draft selections - all were exceptional. The Ob the Gubna was quite strong but well balanced with delicious accents; the Starr Hill Boxcar Pumpkin Porter - was better than I thought it would be (I really don't like flavored beers but this one worked).

In all the service was good (we sat at the bar) and the wings good and my expectations met. Otherwise this is a solid 3 of 5 stars.

(Also published to Yelp)
Taco Mac Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato