Tuesday, May 13, 2008


4113 Erie St
Willoughby, OH 44094
(440) 942-5151

by Beau Cadiyo

I walked in and it took my eyes a minute to adjust. The bar was empty, and the barmaid was cleaning as if in anticipation of a crush of people who weren’t there yet. When I walked up to her, she smiled; as soon as I started asking, she said, “Work group? You look like you’re with those people,” and directed me to the very back.

When my eyes adjusted I saw red. Not anger – the whole restaurant was red, red walls, red decorations, red wood, red lights. Frank Fiorelli was even wearing a red top. I’ve only recently started becoming interested in colors and how they can impact the mood of a room, and the red made it feel intimate, like an English club, or a grandparent’s dark living room, or a brothel. We took up four tables at the back.

The barmaid said that the Dirty Burger was their most popular one – a large burger marinated in soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, with fried cheese and garnishments. I asked about the other options, and she listed them off, but reiterated that the Dirty Burger was the popular one. I ordered it.

The pizza appetizers that one of the partners ordered took the edge off of my hunger, as did the soda water with lime. I normally would have had a beer, but I have Chinese Disease and didn’t want to get all red in front of my workmates. When the burger arrived it was to general oohs and ahs, presented well and surrounded by thin-cut fries. They asked me what I noticed about it, what I thought. It was large, I said, and looked well-put together.

However, presentation is not everything. First, the marinade made the burger taste as if it was covered in black peppercorns and then dipped in salt. In a lesser bun, this would have been overwhelming, but their bun was so massive that it acted to dilute the flavor in bready…I wish I could say bready goodness, but there wasn’t much good about it. The bun was spongy, and bone-dry, soaking up any moisture in your mouth and making the peppery-saltiness all the more unpleasant. The fried cheese did little to improve the situation – it was possible to miss it in the mass. The fries were very, very tasty, but it was a small consolation when the meat of the meal was unimpressive.

Gary was a lightweight and started talking politics, which I tried to steer him clear of. Then everyone else asked me about my burger. I explained what I tasted, and why I was disappointed, and everyone else started chipping in with burger stories of their own – this burger is good, that burger is amazing. Crisis narrowly averted, I paid up and slipped out, leaving them to compare their sandwich stories while I mulled over one of my own.

Ballantine on Urbanspoon

La Mexicana

170 E. Washington Street
Painesville, OH 44077

by Beau Cadiyo

“Una Torta” is Mexican for “Sandwich.” “HA!” I hear you saying to yourself, “this uncultured buffoon thinks, like George W. Bush, that Mexican is a language! Tosh!” Well go jump in un lago, amigo – in Spain, y en Español, a sandwich is “un bocadillo.” Without getting into details, I think the differences between languages should be classified as new languages - thus, in Mexican a sandwich is "una torta." Whatever language you speak or make up, though, the meaning is the same: leavened bread with filling.

Of course, you don’t need to resort to linguistic analysis to determine that this is a Mexican restaurant: it’s fricking called “La Mexicana” and is connected to what is, apparently, the largest Mexican grocery store in Ohio. Inside the restaurant bit there is a faux clay-shingled roof, I suppose to make you feel like you are on an outdoor patio. The large, open grill is always busy; the cook jumps around like a worm in a bean and the short girl who takes orders laughs at my mispronunciations in Spanish and then makes her own attempts in English. There are always a few people sitting bar-style around the restaurant, which has one window looking into the street and another looking into the grocery store.

Una torta costs $3. It is small, in a chewy, sauce-soaked bun of some exotic, high-quality ingredients, the taste and texture of which would make any French baker stand up and take notice. The chicken and pepper filling, the same as in their chicken burritos, is stunning – saucy, shredded pollo asada perfectly prepared, sensibly seasoned and carefully cooked. It’s one of several options, the rest of which I have not yet tried. Despite the amazingness of it all, I was a little disappointed. The food is infallibly delicious, but the torta was just so small – about the size of a large hamburger. OK, so maybe it wasn’t small for others, but it certainly was for me. I was expecting something good on the scale of their burritos, which are massive, stuffed affairs with the second most delicious tortillas I’ve ever tasted.

Having grown up a few miles from the US-Mexico border, and having eaten epic amounts of Mexican food throughout my life, La Mexicana is easily the best I’ve had in Ohio and beats, handily, many places in Southern California, Northern California, Oregon, Virginia, Maryland, Wales and Spain. It easily justifies the trip to Painesville, but – y tengo un dolor en mi corazón – skip the torta and go for a burrito. Other non-professional eaters have been unable to finish it in a single sitting; it’s well worth the extra $2.

La Mexicana Grocery & Señor's Tacos on Urbanspoon