Hurry to Union City Grille in Wilmington tonight—Tuesday night—and be among the first to try Chef Crist’s new dinner dishes. Forget the usual two-for-$20 Tuesday deal. UCG is offering you 20 percent off to sample the new menu. That’s a bargain. So go the UCG website, sign up for the newsletter, print the coupon, then take it to the restaurant. Bruce “The Jazzman” Anthony plays live. And check out the Black Friday special on gift cards. (Shhhhh.) 654-9780, unioncitygrille.com
The holidays have a special flavor. Check it out during Taste of the Holidays at the Delaware Center for Horticulture in Wilmington, around the corner from Trolley Square, on Dec. 6. Hours are 5 p.m. till 9p.m. Admission is free, but you’ll pay $1 for each ticket you use to sample one of the 50 craft beers, wines and spirits there. There’s food, music and a holiday craft sale. Brought to you by the good people who organize the Trolley Bazaar each June and Brandywine Festival of the Arts in September, it promises to be a great event. Premier Wine & Spirits in Newport and Limestone Road in Wilmingoton sponsors. We love it. Cheers. 690-5555, tasteholidayspirits.com
Don’t forget: Tickets are on sale now for the 2014 MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival—42 food, wine, beer and spirits events across the state May 14-18. You know the event, the one that pairs local talents with celebrated chefs and winemakers from around the world in creating some of the most memorable meals ever. Festival founder and board president Ajit Matthew George expects that 46 local and regional chefs, as well as local culinary students, will share kitchens with the visiting chefs from six continents. Winemakers will be on hand at most events to talk about their wines, and regional products such as craft beer, small batch spirits, seafood and seasonal produce, will also be featured at a number of events. “Our purpose is to be the premier food and wine event of the MidAtlantic featuring international vintners and chefs in collaboration with our local talent, to bring tourism to Delaware and to increase awareness of our cultural assets,” George says. “The Festival organizers expressed their pride in offering something for every taste, from the most discerning wine enthusiasts and gastronomes to those just starting to explore the world of gourmet food, fine wines, premium spirits and craft beers.” As usual, it promises to be one great event. Tickets are on sale now. 660-2200 x105, mawff.org
One of the best things you can do to celebrate the holiday? Book the FarmTable at Piccolina Toscana in Wilmington with a few of your loved ones. Situated near the kitchen, the communal table was crafted from reclaimed barn wood especially for Toscana by Milk Truck Vintage. Chef Dan Butler creates a new farm-inspired prix fixe menu each month, available only by reservation. Entrees are served family style. “Our FarmTable promises a lot of good food and good times,” Butler says. “Our customers round up some good friends—the table seats eight to10—and keep the table all night. The family-style service adds to the festivity and camaraderie of the evening. The menu has wine pairings available which turns the event into a fun wine dinner—great for a ladies’ night out, group date night or business function.” Or a holiday get-together. The landmark Piccolina is the latest iteration of Butler’s original 23-year-old institution, Toscana. In bustling Trolley Square, the restaurant specializes in hand-rolled pastas, hearth-baked pizzas and simple grilled meats and fishes. The bar features excellent craft cocktails. 654-8001, piccolinatoscana.com
Do you have a favorite ethnic restaurant in Delaware? We’d love to hear more about it. Just take a minute to fill out our survey. One lucky winner will win a gift card to a local restaurant! Vote through Dec. 6. Click here.
And check out our last ethnic dining special here. Here’s another tiny taste:
Like Italians last century, Latin American immigrants have changed Delaware’s dining scene. Mexican restaurants are as prolific as dollar stores, and local icons such as El Tapatio and La Tonalteca now enjoy the same popularity as Italian stalwarts like Mrs. Robino’s. A handful of spots, such as Palacio Maya in Hockessin and Mariachi in Rehoboth Beac, have elevated Mexican dining from a plastic-sunflower-in-a-Corona-bottle experience to a white tablecloth and linen napkin experience. Their menus also offer more eclectic choices, including plenty of seafood dishes and South American-influenced cuisine. While we gringos may not be ready to trade our meatballs for menudo, we are becoming more adventurous. So we need to settle this little matter of authenticity. Almost every Mexican joint claims to keep it real, but authenticity is in the taste buds of the beholder. “Authentic means it’s homemade,” says Humberto Gomez, owner of El Toro in Wilmington. “The key is the perfect mix of ingredients and when you add those ingredients.” Yet Javier Acuna, who owns Santa Fe Mexican Grill in Newark and Wilmington, is calling for a Mexican revolution. He says some local restaurants have trotted out the same menu for 15 years, so he’s challenging competitors to take it to the next level.
“It’s time for a new view toward Latin and Mexican food,” he says. “We need to bring Mexican food back to what it is, and it’s a lot more than tacos and burritos.” A few favorites:
Cactus Café • 37 N. Dupont Hwy., Selbyville, 436-2750; 4 W. Fenwick Station, Selbyville, 436-4492 • After well over 20 years in business, Cactus is now serving his brand of Mexican, Spanish and Mediterranean to a second generation of regulars. Cactus Café 54, a sister restaurant on Del. 54, is now over 10 years old. Both places feature the 1-pound steak-lover’s fajita—16 ounces of prime rib strips wrapped in a tortilla with veggies, guacamole and refried beans. Fajitas account for 42 percent of sales at Cactus. The menu drips with seafood. Order the chicken or beef chimichanga and you get the usual rice, refrieds, sauce, cheese—all topped with crab imperial. There’s grouper, Chilean sea bass and paella. The paella takes a while, so call ahead.
El Tapatio Mexican Restaurant • 550-560 Eden Circle, Eden Hill Shopping Center, Bear, 836-6477; 1700 Philadelphia Pike, Wilmington, 791-9566 • El Tapatio wants to share the culture. It’s a place to try out your Spanish, groove to mariachi and catch futból on the tube. The novice friendly menu even includes a glossary. The old Mexican decor, with distressed concrete walls and traditional archways, is reminiscent of an old cantina. The various regions of the homeland are all represented on the menu. Spices such as ancho and guajillo peppers are imported from Mexico, as is the mole. Try the burrito de Lugo—shrimp, chicken, two types of cheese, salsa verde and rice or beans. Tapatio and fajita Tapatias are solid choices. Like most Mexican places worth their weight in refrieds, the margaritas are a hit. But Tapatio offers a nice selection of imported brews, including Pacifico, Corona, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Modelo and Sol.
El Toro • 624 N. Union St., Wilmington, 777-4417 • True, this is primarily a takeout place (it has three small tables), but it’s one you need to know about. Owner Humberto Gomez has built a loyal fan base from this diminutive storefront over the past 15–plus years. The quesadilla relleñas, stuffed with cheese, beef or chicken, are favorites, along with tacos de carnitas: three tacos, chopped pork, pico de gallo, and tomatillo salsa with flour or corn tortillas and beans. By now, everyone knows about the awesome chile relleño. The secret behind Toro’s raging success? “The red hot sauce,” Gomez says. “It’s made with Cajun peppers, tomatillo, onions, cilantro, salt, garlic and a lot of love, man.”
La Poblanita • 3804 Lancaster Pike, Wilmington, 993-0464 • If you blink, you’d miss this tiny Mamí-and-Papí. And it’d be your loss. La Poblanita (a woman from the Mexican state of Puebla) packs a powerful punch with authentic cuisine that includes 13 different tortas (sandwiches), seven different tacos and the best quesadillas around. Americans prefer enchiladas poblanos, chile relleños, burritos and fajitas. Latinos, who make up 60 percent of the clientele, come for the chuletas ahumadas (smoked pork chops) and the mojarra frita (whole fried striped bass). The chips and green salsa, made from green tomatillos, cilantro, onions and garlic, are out of this world.
La Tolteca • 2209 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 778-4646; 4015 Concord Pike, Wilmington, 478-9477 • These are the last of the local Toltecas, at least in name. The local chain is still owned by the Cedillo family, but the other Delaware locations have been renamed La Tonalteca. They’ve also expanded north of the border. See next entry.
La Tonalteca • 528 S. Bay Road, Dover, 734-4575; 245 S. Dupont Hwy., Dover, 735-1572; 1000 Midway Drive, Harrington, 398-7644; 203 Newark Shopping Center, Newark, 737-8220; 4578 Highway One, Rehoboth, 644-3994; 1724 W. Newport Pike, Stanton, 636-9484 • The Mexican food that many a First Stater was raised on remains an old friend, though the name was tweaked a few years ago. Burritos, enchiladas, chimichangas and tamales are staples of the 200-dish menu, along with chilaquiles—soft tortilla chips cooked with salsa, chicken and topped with cheese.
Mariachi Restaurant • 14 Wilmington Ave., Rehoboth Beach, 227-0115 • Dining on ceviche or an enchilada of shrimp and scallops is more enjoyable when you can see the ocean. Location, just a half block from the boardwalk, is but one of Mariachi’s unique qualities. Mariachi is more than Mexican. Yolanda Pineda, a co-owner from El Salvador, offers a diverse menu of Spanish, Mexican and Latin American cuisine. Masitas de puerco is Cuban-style morsels of pork marinated in criolla sauce and roasted in bitter oranges. Lomo saltado is a Peruvian dish of sautéed strips of prime sirloin with fresh tomatoes, cilantro, red onions, green peppers and a special sauce. The seafood enchilada includes two flour tortillas with shrimp and scallops in white cream sauce covered with melted Monterey Jack cheese. Be sure to order the mussels al Gengibre.
Morelia Mexican Restaurant & Bar • 4617 Ogletown Road, Omega Shopping Center, Newark, 369-6888 • From the smiling Mariachi statue that greets you at the door to the marionettes that dangle from the ceiling, Morelia is a festive place to get your Mexican on. Let’s start at the bar, which is surrounded by funky painted stools and stocked with 50 different kinds of tequila. Regulars recommend the pork chops in mole sauce, which is made from scratch from 18 different ingredients, including three types of chile peppers, jalapeños, sesame seeds, salt, pepper and, on occasion, chocolate. It takes four hours to cook. The mole alone will make you cry.
Palacio Maya Bar & Grill • 7288 Lancaster Pike, Unit 2B, Hockessin, 239-5590 • The cantaloupe-colored walls, fluted molding and oversized decorative urns lend an upscale feel at Palacio Maya. The message on the menu touts Palacio as a place that “takes things a few rungs up the ladder” from Tex-Mex cooking. Indeed, the menu features many dishes not common to its nearby Mexican cousins, including the stuffed pepper in walnut sauce and the Veracruz-style red snapper, a filet smothered in chiles, onions, tomatoes, bay leaves, capers and olives, all served with rice. The tangy Yucatan-style pork tacos feature pork shoulder marinated in achiote, other spices and the juice of sour oranges, all baked in banana leaves with orange juice, then served on soft corn tortillas and topped with pickled red onions. The spicy-sweet chiles en Nogada is a traditional dish that features a soufflé-battered poblano pepper stuffed with ground pork and beef, cooked with raisins, apples, pears and peaches, then covered with creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.
Santa Fe Mexican Grille • 190 E. Main St., Newark, 369-2500; 2006 Pennsylvania Ave., Wilmington, 425-5200 • At the Newark restaurant, surrounded by the University of Delaware’s diverse student body, it makes sense that Santa Fe would offer a variety of international fare. Many of the countries to our south are represented here. The place even feels tropical, with its pastels, Spanish-style paintings and crafts, and a 12-foot palm tree. Try the grilled Mexican crab cake with capers and smoked chipotle remoulade or the golden chimichanga, fried or grilled. The Santa Fe chicken and shrimp features grilled chicken topped with Mexican spiced shrimp in spicy red wine garlic sauce served over Mexican rice. For dessert, homemade crêpes are filled with nutty chocolate and topped with homemade ice cream of such flavors as strawberry cheesecake or Colombian coffee and banana. The bar boasts 35 brands of tequila, 14 different mojitos, and five warm wines mulled with cinnamon and cloves.