The $10 Challenge: Los Aztecas Mexican Restaurant

I love a success story.

But for this week’s $10 Challenge, I was determined to fail.

I have operated under the notion that $10 should be enough to receive a decent meal at a local restaurant. But what if you throw in a couple of extra bucks? Will the more-expensive meal be worth blowing off the $10 budget I have imposed upon myself for the last few weeks?

I decided to test this theory at Los Aztecas Mexican Restaurant, a local chain with three locations in Louisville and the surrounding area.

Los Aztecas Mexican Restaurant on Main Street in Louisville, Ky.

Los Aztecas has been the go-to Mexican place for my buddies and I for years. In high school, I visited the restaurant’s Main Street location about once a week because it was the only eatery open for lunch during my Sunday afternoon shift at the Louisville Science Center. I didn’t fully appreciate the variety Los Aztecas offered back then. Instead, I ordered a chicken quesadilla (the starter entree for anyone new to Mexican food) each time I brought something back to the museum for lunch.

A few years have passed, and I have since been fortunate enough to further explore Los Aztecas’s extensive food and tequila selection. But I’ve gotten into a rut during my last few visits. I have been ordering the quesadilla fajita grande with chicken or the burrito fajita grande with chicken with the reassurance that each of the similar dishes will always come out tasting great.

On my most recent dinner visit, I wanted to flip to a new page in the Los Aztecas menu and try a different entree.

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The $10 Challenge: Moby Dick

I don’t know who enjoyed this week’s $10 Challenge more  — me or my dog, Roscoe.
Roscoe has picked up some nasty habits during the four months we have crashed at my parents’ house. The worst of those traits has been begging for table scraps, a practice that my dad encourages every time he “accidentally” drops a hunk of bread or piece of meat on the floor. Now, mealtimes include a performance by Roscoe, who uses sad eyes, high-pitched whimpering and outright barking to wrangle himself some people food.

Roscoe mustered up all his begging skills while I ate the subject of this week’s Challenge, a meal from Moby Dick. 

He's very food motivated, especially when it comes to Moby Dick.
Moby Dick is a Louisville fast-food chain restaurant that features a seafood menu. According to the blog Louisville Hot Bytes, there are 18 Moby Dick locations throughout the area, which explains why I thought the place was a national chain until I got to college. 

Growing up, my mom would turn to Moby Dick when she wanted to add some variety (and maybe a little more nutrition) to our usual fast-food diet of burgers and fries. But as an adult, I’m not sure how much healthier Moby Dick is than places like McDonald’s. Most of the items on the fish restaurant’s menu are battered and deep-fried, save the baked fish and some of the side items, such as coleslaw. 

But Moby Dick fries everything, from the okra to the onion rings, to near-perfect crunchy bliss. 

Because I had Roscoe in tow, I had to use the Moby Dick drive-thru to order one of the handful of value meals the restaurant offers (not an easy task when a terrier mix is crawling across your lap). The meals, all of which are less than $10, consist of some variation of fried cod fillets, side dishes and bread. Fried shrimp and clams are also available. 

I selected the First Mate Meal that includes a piece of fish, fries and a hushpuppy. The meal comes with the option of two slices of white or rye bread so you can assemble your own sandwich if you like. Unfortunately, I dislike both of their bread options.  I picked white, but planned to use my own wheat bread when I got home. My meal only came to $5.88, so I was willing to substitute the bread to get such a good deal. 

One of the best parts of the Moby Dick experience is unwrapping your meal. 

 

 The brown paper bag in which orders are delivered has to be carried flat to accommodate the basket that’s inside. To keep everything inside, employees staple the bag, which forces diners to rip open their order like a present on Christmas. 

The contents were a great gift to the senses. 

Behold, a gift from the sea.

The breading that covered the cod was crunchy and golden brown. And the large filet (a very generous portion) was so flaky on the inside that it fell apart when I tried to put it on my bread. The fish was delivered on a bed of french fries that were as crisp and hot as the fish. 

For such perfect textures, I was disappointed in the lack of unique flavors in the meal. The fish and fries tasted good, but neither had any pizzazz. They were just plain. And the fries and the fish needed a few good shakes of salt, which I attempt to abstain from adding to restaurant food. 

But Roscoe had no problem with the dish. 

From the time I tore through the brown bag, he paced around my chair in anticipation of his share of my dinner. He whimpered and yipped while I assembled my sandwich. But things got ugly when I began to enjoy one of my favorite parts of the meal, the hushpuppy — a deep-fried ball of batter that is crunchy on the outside and doughy and dense on the inside. I got one hearty bite of the hushpuppy before my own puppy went on a loud barking rant that only ended when he got a piece. 

I only got half of my hushpuppy. The price of being a dog owner.

Thank goodness Moby Dick’s prices fall well under $10. Next time, I can afford to order extra hushpuppies. 

The Stats: 

  • Moby Dick, 3802 Dixie Highway, Louisville, KY (click here for other locations)
  • First Mate Meal without the drink (includes cod filet, fries, hushpuppy and two slices of bread): $5.88

Mission: Accomplished 

The Gulf oil spill is dampening my dinner

I love the environment as much as the next hippie. So when this Gulf of Mexico oil spill started, I was pissed.

But now the mess might make its way to my dinner table.

Now, it’s personal.

According to the New York Times, there will be an “inevitable decrease in the availability and increase in the cost of shrimp, oysters, blue crabs and a host of other seafood” if this spill isn’t plugged quickly.

It’s been a week since that article was published, and the folks in charge still haven’t stopped the black gold from gushing into the Gulf.

What does this mean for casual seafood diners?

Not much right now, according to the NYT article. But if things don’t get better, seafood will be harder to come by, and therefore more expensive.

In the case that the price of a good fish sandwich skyrockets, here are some tips to manage your food budget if you’re a seafood lover:

  1. Limit yourself to eating seafood once a week. Pick a day and devote it to everything fishy. Try going old school with some fish sticks or class it up a bit with some broiled salmon.
  2. When in doubt, veg (or fruit) it out. Stock up on seasonal fruits and veggies and experiment with hearty, vegetarian dishes. I visited Berkeley, Calif., once, and they had a portabella mushroom alternative to every meat product. Sure, a mushroom will never be tilapia, but it’s meaty and filling enough to satisfy your hunger.
  3. Combine seafood with other less expensive meats. Gumbo is a great dish that gives you flexibility with the meats you include. If you’re short on the seafood ingredient, add some cheaper pieces of chicken. Here’s a recipe for gumbo from All Recipes. Judging from this picture, this is something I’ll try even if seafood prices don’t increase:
Yummy, yummy, gumbo is about to be in my tummy.