Chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia and Top Cheffame will open a restaurant called Milkwood at Actor’s Theatre. Milkwood will open Feb. 8 and serve “comfort bar food with an Asian pantry.” (Consuming Louisville)
The family who opened Guaca Mole restaurant last year will open their second restaurant, Mussel & Burger Bar, on Feb. 4. The restaurant, an upscale take on American bistro, is located at 9200 Taylorsville Road in Jeffersontown. (Insider Louisville)
A new Qdoba opened in Middletown at 13006 Shelbyville Road. (Qdobaemail)
This puts the fast-casual restaurant across from Qdoba Mexican Grill, a very similar competitor. My office-mates and I have already had heated debates over the merits of each of these Mexican-ish chain restaurants. The fans on both sides are passionate and decisive.
I’m on Team Qdoba. Here’s why:
Qdoba is all I know. I’ve only been to a Chipotle once. I’m not opposed to eating there; I’m just rarely in the same city with a Chipotle franchise. I live across the street from a Qdoba. Convenience is important, people.
Qdoba has some pretty sweet rewards. With a Qdoba card, you get a free meal with every 10th meal. On Tuesdays, you can get double points for your meal. And if that’s not enough, you get email coupons out the wazoo.
Qdoba has wheat tortillas. A small triumph in my battle against white grains.
So where do you stand in the Battle of Mexican-ish Fast-Casual?
The line often snakes at least 20 people from the cash register to the door, a daunting prospect to a hungry corporate employee with only an hour to eat.
Yes, Qdoba offers up some tasty, Mexican-inspired grub — I have a rewards card to prove my appreciation. Lately, I’ve skipped the rush and gone with an even better, local option right around the corner, Bazo’s Fresh Mexican Grill.
I’d noticed Bazo’s before on the corner of Market and Fifth streets, a lunch-friendly intersection (the restaurant’s neighbors include Dish on Market, Chop Shop Salads and FireFresh BBQ). But I usually bypassed Bazo’s in favor of the familiar Qdoba.
A business lunch changed my ways.
My companions for that meal suggested Bazo’s. That was about a month ago. Since then, I’ve been back three times.
Bazo’s has a menu that will be familiar to folks accustomed to Qdoba, Chipotle Mexican Grill and other Mexican-style, fast-casual dining, but provides a wider selection at a comparable cost with a much shorter wait time.
There are no surprises in selections like the nachos (from $5.79) or the assortment of burritos, such as the Fajita Burrito with meat, cheddar-jack cheese, grilled peppers and onions, rice, sour cream and salsa (from $6.29). There’s even a Tostada Salad, a taco salad in a flour tortilla bowl ($6.59) that will look familiar to a Qdoba regular.
But Bazo’s offers choices and menu items that the chains are missing. Let’s start with dessert. Signs on the tables in Bazo’s advertise $1.59 churros, a fried-dough dish popular in Spanish-speaking countries. There there is a salsa bar with four to five different salsa options and tiny cups for you to try as many as you want. Bazo’s also has economical combination choices that start with one to three of tacos of your choice, a small side of chili-lime chips and a choice of sides depending on the combination you choose (starts at $6.29).
And speaking of the tacos, the highlight of Bazo’s menu is the variety of fillings you can choose for your tacos, which start at $2.39. There’s the usual chicken, carne asada (steak) and bean, but the restaurant also adds barbacoa (shredded beef), carnitas (pork), shrimp, and, my favorite, fish.
The fish made me a Bazo’s convert. The first dish I tried with this ingredient was a fish burrito ($6.99). The burrito was filled with a grilled fillet, black beans, salsa fresca, shredded cabbage, cheddar-jack cheese and baja sauce.
For the $10 Challenge, however, I decided to change it up and order a combination with three fish tacos, a dish that was featured in several framed newspaper and magazine article near the register ($8.49). It took about five minutes for my order to come up, the average wait time I’ve experienced at Bazo’s. It’s just enough time to fill your salsa cups and water cup.
When I picked up my plate, the mounds of white, crunchy cabbage on top of the tacos threw me for a loop. Don’t get me wrong, I love cabbage, but not when I can’t even see the dish it is supposed to accompany. I scooped about a cup of cabbage off to the side of my platter before I dug into my tacos.
The tortillas seemed delicate enough to be homemade. They were soft and not sturdy enough to hold the slices of fish in each taco. I’m not sure where Bazo’s gets their fish (I hope not the Ohio River), but it tasted out-of-the-water fresh. The grilled fish was succulent and well-seasoned, but not too spicy. I’m curious to see if the taste of the fish holds up if it’s battered and fried or blackened, two other options available.
After taco number two, I realized how much value I had gotten in my meal and how much I had overestimated my appetite. There is about half of a fish filet in each taco, so I got really full really fast. I had also created a cabbage salad of sorts with a squirt of lime and a drizzle of the creamy baja sauce that dripped from my tacos. My impromptu side dish, the side of crunchy seasoned chips, and those little tacos packed an unexpected punch to the gut. Next time, I’ll go with the Two Taco Combo that comes with rice and beans (from $6.29).
I’m a bit ashamed that I had always passed up a little guy like Bazo’s in favor of a Big Boy Chain. Now, it’s good to know that I can get a good taco at a great price without the long wait.
Notes about Bazo’s
The price for the taco combos and some of the burritos increases depending on the type of meat you choose. Seafood is the most expensive option.
Bazo’s Fresh Mexican Grill, 428 W. Market Street, Louisville (two other locations in Louisville)
It’s only taken me a week to realize that The Man sure loves eatin’.
I work at Humana, the most traditional work environment that I’ve ever been a part of. And these office people love food. LOVE. IT. And I love them for loving food as much as I do.
Here are three observations I’ve made during my week at the company about the role that food plays in corporate America:
Forget breakfast. Lunch is the most important meal of the day. The lunch hour is the glimmer of hope that gets you through the morning and lulls you into a pleasant stupor that lasts the rest of the day. Deliberations begin as early as 10 a.m. with across-the-cubicle rumblings: “Did you bring your lunch today?” “Want to go get something?” “Where should we go today?” “Think Linda will want to come, too?” In less than two hours, a good-sized crew has formed to head out for their midday meal. And you take the full hour. Oh, yes, you take the full hour.
There are always free (and usually unhealthy) goodies to snack on throughout the day. This week, I found myself popping peanut butter M&Ms into my mouth one by one for 10 minutes straight. Why? Because they were there. BECAUSE FOOD IS ALWAYS THERE. I define “there” as a common table in the break room, your supervisor’s desk, or any other slab of space with free food up for grabs. There’s always one co-worker nice enough to bring snacks to share with the office and thwart any intentions you had of eating healthy.
Any occasion is a reason for food. New person on staff? Doughnuts for everybody. Someone’s switching departments? A departure cake in company colors. End of a productive year? Bring in Qdoba for a lunch celebration. This all happened during my first week. In five days, I have eaten more sweets in celebration than I have all holiday season. AND I LOVED IT.
I know some of my readers work in similar settings. What are some observations you have made about food and office jobs?
Got some canned goods? Want to help a local food bank? Do you like cheese dip?
Qdoba Mexican Grill restaurants in Louisville and southern Indiana will collect canned goods for Dare to Care food bank through Sunday, Nov. 20, according to an email I got from the chain restaurant. In exchange for one canned good, customers will receive a free queso upgrade to any entree. In exchange for three canned goods, the restaurant will give you an order of chips and queso.
This sounds like a win-win situation. And if you don’t make it into a Qdoba by the end of the promotion? Donate to Dare to Care anyway.