Dining Outside the Home: Kalapaki Joe’s in Lihue, Kauai! Sometimes you gotta go for bar food cravings and skip dinner in favor of Happy Hour. That translates to dine-in appetizers. At Kalapaki Joe’s, the food and beverage specials have a way of appealing to the palate. Indulge yourself with tasty chicken wings as hot as you like them. No pain, no shame. Put out the fire with a classic salt-rimmed margarita. It goes down cold and easy. Menu items are still available if you want to tag on a salad or another small plate to balance out the flavors. You’ve got time for grazing and conversation before the dinner crowd rushes in. You know what they say, the early bird…has the advantage, or something like that.
Dining Outside the Home: Jalisco Restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee! Family-owned translates to heart and soul. In this quaint Mexican cantina, you’re going to be treated like a limb on the family tree. A basket of warm tortilla chips and chunky salsa greet you at the table. The salsa is fresh and light. Dredge a chip through the tomatoes, Serrano peppers, and oregano. Yep, it’s authentic stuff. Add a side of guacamole to balance out the flavor. Love tacos? For those who appreciate it, cilantro is the star attraction. Roasted meat, shredded into small pieces, and chopped red onions with a squeeze of lime create a masterpiece that will pull you back enough to slow down and savor every bite. This is Mexican culture at its best.
Dining Outside the Home: Chuy’s Tex-Mex in Nashville, Tennessee. Where can you go and literally dish up drool-worthy nachos from the trunk of a full-loaded Nacho Car? Say again? You heard me. It’s the trunk of an Elvis-era classic car with a spread of tortilla chips, spicy salsa, creamy jalapeño, cheesy queso, and taco meat. And here’s the kicker: it’s FREE during Happy Hour Monday through Friday at Chuy’s. The restaurant decor is pure Elvis from velvet paintings, neon signs, shiny hubcaps, and nostalgic music. The menu boasts of Mexican favorites and then some of Elvis’s as well. After your fill of food and drink, there’s nothing left to say except, “Thank you, thank you very much”, in that ever familiar Elvis southern drawl.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Food for Sharing: Deveined Shrimp Queso! As the nights turn cool, cozy up around the fire with warm appetizers that are sure to please. Save prep time by beginning with precooked shrimp. It takes all the worry out of wondering if the shrimp is cooked through. I find the convenience of having frozen shrimp on hand an advantage. You will, too.
DEVEINED SHRIMP QUESO
2 tablespoons lemon olive oil
1 pound jumbo shrimp, cooked, peeled, and deveined
1/8 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/2 teaspoon seafood seasoning
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup tequila
1/4 cup margarita mix, liquid
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Romano cheese, shaved
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil, shrimp, seasoned salt, seafood seasoning, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes. Cook 5 minutes; turn and cook 2 minutes longer. Reduce heat to simmer. Cover shrimp with tequila and liquid margarita mixture. Add butter. Cook 5 minutes. Transfer shrimp to an ovenproof casserole dish. Arrange in single layer. Mix the cornstarch and water until smooth. Bring pan drippings to a boil. Gradually add cornstarch mixture. Stir constantly as sauce thickens. If necessary, add more water. Pour sauce over shrimp. Cover with Monterey Jack cheese, spreading evenly. Top with shaved Romano cheese. Bake for 20 minutes or until cheese is golden and bubbly. Garnish with fresh dill. Serve warm with tortilla chips or crostini.
Dining Outside the Home: Dos Caminos in Times Square, New York! Perhaps Cinco de Mayo isn’t the best time to try out an authentic Mexican restaurant. But then again, maybe it is. The vibrant cantina was hopping like a fiesta celebration. Shot glasses were slung back and refilled on demand. Traditional guacamole was served in natural molcajete stones with warm tortilla chips. The salsa trio was a bonus. Queso Fundido, piping hot in a black iron skillet, was spot on. Thick with melted cheese, poblano peppers, dark beer, and roasted tomatoes made it a meal. Keep the Cadillac Margaritas coming for an amazing culmination.
Dining Outside the Home: Paradise Restaurant in Key West, Florida! “Behind every storm, there is a paradise waiting for you,” say owners Christian and Julian Velez. Together they created Paradise Restaurant, specializing in tasty Latin American food. Their hospitality alone embraces everyone who comes to dine here. Sure, the iguanas may come into view over your shoulder, but that only adds to the ambiance of outdoor seating. Sit back, sip on a salty-sugar rimmed margarita for good measure while deciding what to order. Ever tried sweet and succulent fried plantains? You must. They are simply delish caramelized niblets of green bananas. Pair them with pork carnitas and Cuban black beans. Talk about Paradise.
Dining Outside the Home: Old Town Mexican Café in Key West, Florida! When a restaurant boasts of an abundance of hatch chiles and fresh, local ingredients, you begin to wonder if Santa Fe style Tex-Mex might be a good choice for dinner. Anytime the weather is hot, and the drinks are cold, it draws a crowd on Duval Street for seafood favorites, like skewered shrimp marinated in lime juice and ginger. Take a swig of on-the-rocks margarita. The salted rim offsets the spicy salsa you can’t resist tasting now and then. If you’re in the neighborhood, take advantage of Happy Hour specials. There’s no rush here.
Dining Outside the Home: Miguel’s Cocina in Old Town San Diego, California. When the menu captures the true spirit of Mexico, north of the border, it boasts of Miguel’s Signature Fajitas. What makes it so special, you wonder. Pay attention: Skirt steak and chicken topped with bacon-wrapped jumbo shrimp stuffed with Monterey Jack cheese and sliced poblano. ¡Ay, caramba! Now, you’re talking. Better order a hand-shaken margarita to wash things down. Look around. Handmade tortillas, crispy chips dredged between bowls of jalapeño white sauce and chunky tomato-fresh salsa. Is it any wonder if feels like a party?
Dining Outside the Home: Los Locos Bar & Grill in San Diego, California. Tucked in the main thoroughfare of Old Town, sits an authentic unassuming Mexican cantina that serves jalapeño margaritas with a twist of outdoor music. It should. After all, this is the perfect corner spot for people-watching. For an afternoon snack, order the special of the day: Spicy Corn Nachos. Under the California sunshine, the cheese transforms into an ultra-melty obsession. Scoop up some black beans and pico de gallo. It’s okay to lick your fingers. Dishes like this are meant to be shared.