Qdoba Craft Two

Qdoba Mexican Grill Marches Into The Fair Lawn Promenade

Qdoba LogoI know I might catch some flak for writing this review because it is on a chain restaurant, but as the Yolo generation says, Haters Gonna Hate! The truth of the matter is that I believe that there is a time and a place for chain restaurants, and as long as they are serving food that doesn’t look and taste like it fell out of an animal’s hind quarters, I am willing to pay them a visit, especially when one moves in down the street from my current homestead.

When the luxurious Fair Lawn Promenade was erected, not only did this new construction provide high end apartments located in the wonderful town of Fair Lawn, it also brought with it several dining establishments. If you follow my blog you probably noticed that I have already visited and reviewed the Habit Burger Grill which is located in the Promenade, and now I have decided to review Qdoba, in the same plaza. For all of you that are not familiar with Fair Lawn the actual address that can be placed into the googles is 23-31 Route 208, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410.

To clarify my aforementioned comment, I do sincerely believe that there is a time and a place for chain restaurants as they provide casual dining at an inexpensive price point in a quick and efficient manner. I am not talking about the McDonalds and Burger Kings of the food world, I only eat there when I have had a little bit too much to drink, and I assure you, I regret it more than most people regret their one night stands. I am speaking of franchises that still care about the quality of food they are providing to their customers, and I feel that Qdoba is truly one of those establishments.

First and foremost, what drew me into the Promenade to experience all that Qdoba had to offer actually had nothing to do with their food. If you are a Bergen County resident like me, you know that avoiding Route 4 and Route 17 is more important than eating, sleeping, and on Saturday you can add breathing to that list too. So the addition of a causal dining Mexican Grill like Qdoba moving into what is basically my backyard, thus allowing me circumventing the need to travel on those above-mentioned horrendous parking lots that Bergen County calls highways, was a gift from the Traffic Overlord ConeZilla!

Welcome To Qdoba!

Welcome To Qdoba!

Since my commute was five minutes, and I was only cut off once on my way to Qdoba, when I entered the restaurant with Kat, my foodie partner for the evening, I was much calmer than I have ever been at those Burrito shops located in the 7th ring of traffic hell known as Paramus. To add to my elation, as soon as I walked into the building, I noticed a sign that simply read, “Extras Aren’t Extra!”   Could this be true? Is this a Dream, I thought to myself. They can’t just give stuff away for free, right? Or could they?

Qdoba, Extras Aren't Extra!

If it is free, it is for me, I’ll take three!

Since Kat and I are experienced restaurant reviewers at this point, we knew to peruse the online menu prior to our arrival so we were prepared to order the perfect meal. Qdoba is set up like most of the Casual Dining Mexican Grills that are sprinkled throughout our fair land, so the actual procedure of ordering was simple. When you enter, you walk into the queue and wait for an employee to assist you in constructing your epic meal.

This is my favorite part of the experience people; you literally get to build a custom Burrito, Taco, Quesadilla, Burrito Bowl, or Taco Salad that is chock full of everything that makes you happy. I know this method of serving customers has been around for quite some time now, but every damn time I venture to an establishment that uses this system, I can’t help but smile like an infant that has just farted!

As you can see from the menu, Qdoba offers quite a few entree options that can be fully customized, but I decided to go big and order the Craft 2 which is two perfectly sized portions of Qdoba’s most popular dishes. My two choices were the Mexican Gumbo with chicken and a steak taco and a pulled pork taco, one hard and one soft. (TWSS) Kat on the other hand was trying to maintain her girlish figure and opted for the health conscious burrito bowl with shredded beef. Since we both love guacamole and Queso, we made the decision to both order chips with a side of each. We rounded out our order with two medium sodas and called it day.

Our creations were assembled by a very helpful and cheerful employee that explained each step in the process making sure we did not miss any of the delicious ingredients we could add to our dishes. I could list all of the yumminess that can be added to your meal, but it would be about as boring as watching Seabiscuit, a movie about a freaking horse that does not even talk!

Once our concoctions were finalized, we paid, filled our soda cups from the awesome Coca-Cola Freestyle machines which dispenses 146 different flavors of soda, and sat our keisters down in a nice comfy booth ready to begin our feast.

Qdoba Chips

I love Queso more than most people love their significant others!

In hindsight, we may have ordered with our eyes and not our stomachs. The amount of chips provided with a single order would have been more than enough for Kat and I to share, and we will remember that for next time. Although some establishments provide free chips with your entree, Qdoba’s chips do seem to be better than the free ones, and the Guacamole and the Queso were much better that the competition’s offerings. The Guacamole is bursting with flavor, and the hint of garlic makes it very pleasant on the palate. The Cheese Sauce is also flavorful, but unlike most Queso, there is not an abundance of salt, so when the chips come into play, it is the perfect marriage.   We had to muster up some serious willpower to stop dipping these crunchy bits of corn into these enjoyable sauces.

Qdoba Craft Two

A Mexican Food Marriage Made in heaven!

When I was finally able to force myself to stop demolishing the giant pile of chips that was in front of me, I turned my attention to my main course. The Mexican Gumbo, which is described as a unique dish that combines tortilla soup, cilantro-lime rice, beans, salsa, and cheese, intrigued me, so I tried this first. I fell in love with this cardboard cauldron of savory goodness at the moment that spoonful hit my mouth. I made Kat try this dish immediately, and she confirmed that it was rather amazing. The slight smokiness of the tortilla soup and chicken mixed with the heat from the salsa and the calming effect of the cheese and rice combined forces to create a depth of flavor that is hard to achieve.

Qdoba Gumbo

Gumbo is not just for swamp people anymore!

The tacos were on par with the rest of the Mexican Grills that I have visited with the added bonus of the Queso Diablo sauce, which I found extremely tasty. I do recommend eating the Hard Taco relatively quickly because the juicy awesomeness that the no cost extras provide is no match for the structural integrity of the shell. In other words, eat the hard taco first or it will crumble faster than a game of Jenga being played by a T-Rex, The Incredible Hulk, and Mike Tyson.

Qdoba Burrito Bowl

YAY!!!! It is Nakey Burrito time!

Weighing in at just under 700 Calories, Kat’s Burrito bowl was not only tasty but somewhat health conscious. Is it a side salad and a fruit cup? No, but this bowl O’ burrito was also much more filling than your common diet fare and tasted delicious to boot. The fajita vegetables were the star of this dish as they appeared to be fresh cut and sauteed in house and treated with a very pleasant spice profile.

I am not going to tell you that Qdoba is the next Orale in Jersey City, but as far as Casual Dining Mexican Grills are concerned, I feel they are a strong contender for the leader of the pack. I thoroughly enjoyed the plethora of choices Qdoba offered when I was creating my perfect meal. I also have to say I was very surprised that the Extras were actually not extra. I was almost sure that when I reached the cash register the receipt tape was going to start to fly as the cashier nickled and dimed my meal way up past the regular price, but they didn’t. Furthermore, the ingredients that were served to us seemed fresh and were seasoned quite well.

Qdoba Smothered Burritos

Smothered Burritos + The Blue Collar Foodie = One Happy Tummy!

If you need another reason to visit Qdoba, they just introduced their newest permanent menu item, The Smothered Burrito! These are dubbed, “Smothers,” and include one of three sauces that each offer their own unique flavor. The Tangy Verde is the Mild version, The Bold Red Chili is a robust toasted chile sauce with a dash of sweetness, and the Smoky Chipotle Cream is the hottest variety which is said to pack quite a wallop. I just missed the release of these alluring sauce covered bombshells and can’t wait to head back over to Qdoba to taste test these bad ass burritos.

Overall, I would recommend checking Qdoba out if you have not done so yet.   If you do plan to visit this location, I suggest signing up for their rewards program to earn free swag and coupons!

Qdoba Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

The Blue Collar Foodie Goes Round For Round With The Duke at Charlie Blood’s

Occasionally the fact that I have a food blog comes up in conversations and when it does I typically get mixed reviews, pun intended.   Some people respond to this statement as if I just told them that I kick dogs for fun, while others reply as if I had told them I write for the New Yorker.  Although, I tend to enjoy the latter as opposed to the former reaction, by far my favorite response is also the most common; “That is, (Insert Favorable Adjective Here), you should really check out, (Insert Restaurant’s Name Here).”

This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago while I was at my local watering hole, The Twisted Elm, and ran into a few old friends.  One of them was unaware that I write this blog and as soon as I mentioned it she instantly began throwing names of restaurants out faster than I could digest them.  As I fervently tapped on my phone with my giant clumsy thumbs, trying to capture all the potential Blue Collar eateries that were being hurled in my direction, one seemed to stand out amongst the crowd, Charlie Blood’s Restaurant.  Not only was the name appealing but the way she described this joint lead me to believe that it was right up my alley.  She may or may not have used the phrase Dive Bar a few times.

Charlie Bloods

Charlie Blood’s Restaurant

The following night Kat, our friend Rory, and I embarked on our culinary quest to Charlie Blood’s, which is located at 147 Frederick St., in Garfield, NJ.  As we pulled up to what I assumed was the front of the building, more on this later, I could feel the blue collar vibe emanating from this establishment.   The yellow brick of the building illuminated by the welcoming glow of the neon beer sign in the window attracted Rory and I like a tween to sparkly vampires.

Upon entering Charlie Blood’s Restaurant we were whisked away to a wondrous world of wood paneling and draught beer, that I lovingly call DiveBaria.  This extraordinary land is a lot like Narnia from the acclaimed novel, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, except that the Wardrobe is a bar, the Lion is food, and instead of a witch there is beer.  Come to think of it, there are really not any similarities between these places, except of course, they are both magical.  Once inside, we grabbed a table adjacent to the bar, ordered a round of drinks, and asked for a few menus.

Inside Charlie Bloods

Inside Charlie Blood’s

While we swigged our first round, we discussed the menu and conversed about the astonishing selection of food that this seemingly unimposing tavern has to offer.   Even though Charlie Blood’s offers a wide variety of Italian American fare, my mind was made up the second I picked up the menu and saw “The Duke’s” face staring back at me.  The Duke is Charlie Blood’s Famous 24oz Ribeye Steak and I felt obligated to my readers to conquer it, especially since it was only $17.95.  Kat opted to attempt to keep her girlish figure, which this blog does not help at all, and ordered the 12oz steak for $11.95, while Rory went with the Seafood platter, which is described as Shrimp, Calamari, Mussels, and Baked Clams for $14.95.  To add to the affordability of this spot, all of our meals came with a house salad and fries as well.

After the hardest part of the evening was over and our food ordered, we took our beverages in hand and drank in all that this restaurant has to offer.  The walls of Charlie Blood’s restaurant are covered from floor to ceiling with local sports memorabilia and hometown heroes.   I am not talking about the kind of crap that is draped all over the walls at your local Applebee’s, that was clearly professionally framed and placed there by a decorator either, I am talking about  the genuine article.  A large poster of this establishment’s namesake, Charlie “Blood” Benanti, hangs in the bar alongside this memorabilia.

Charlie Blood's Logo

Charlie Blood’s Logo

According to the Googles, “Charlie gained his nickname “Charlie Blood” at a young age from his reputation as a street tough fighter during his school days. He began professional boxing at the age of 16 to aid his family in the pre-depression years. Many of his fights were held in Garfield, Jersey City, and Paterson.  He gained the New Jersey Lightweight crown in 1928. With a winning record of 65-5, he retired in 1931. In 1940, Charlie took over a tavern in Garfield from his father-in-law and is now owned and run by his son Sal Benanti, and his family.”

Our salads arrived and I have to say I was impressed by the portion size.  That is not to say that the salads were over sized but they were not overtly petite either.  To paraphrase a famous blond girl who broke into a bears house, it was not too big or too small, but just the right size.  The actual contents of the salad appeared to be fresh and as far as a dinner salad goes, it did its job flawlessly.

The Duke

Charlie Blood’s Famous 24 oz. Ribeye Steak

With my appetite intact and properly primed, I was ready to go round for round with The Duke.  As this 24oz beast of a steak came to our table the theme song from Rocky was playing in my head.  I have never met a steak I could not finish and I was determined to make sure that the Duke was not the first.  So far Charlie Blood’s Restaurant was not disappointing this blue collar foodie, but as the first forkful of steak was slowly approaching my craw, I knew that the moment of truth was upon us.  For, a cheap bill is not the only requirement for a restaurant to be Blue Collar Foodie approved.   But alas Charlie Blood’s Restaurant did not dissatisfy, it was love at first bite.

The Duke

The Duke’s Close-Up

This colossal slab of cow was perfectly cooked, medium rare, and seasoned just enough to enhance the natural flavor of the meat.  This was one of the best steaks I have had in a long time, and I could not believe that I was having it at a place like Charlie Blood’s Restaurant.  Kat and Rory seemed to be enjoying their meals too, considering the conversation that we were having when the food arrived had not only stopped but was only a distant memory.  As I finished my steak, I found myself sopping up the juices with my French fries so I would not waste any of the deliciousness.

Seafood Melody

Seafood Melody

All in all, Charlie Blood’s Restaurant is the perfect two punch combination, it is affordable and the food is terrific.  This is yet another establishment that makes you hear your wise mother’s voice urging you not to judge a book by its cover, in that motherly tone that we all love to hate.  These hyper local Blue Collar foodie havens are difficult to find and get harder and harder as the years drag on.  There is something extremely comforting about Charlie Blood’s, a Cheers’esque’ quality, that is sadly endangered nowadays.

There are a few notes about Charlie Blood’s Restaurant that I wish I knew before we visited that I will now share with you.  This blue collar foodie find, much like many others, only takes cash.  They do have an ATM on site, but if you want to save the fees stop at the bank before you head over.  Furthermore, if you are not into eating at the bar, I have been told that there is a full service restaurant side to Charlie Blood’s Restaurant that I will be checking out on our next visit.  The entrance to the restaurant is apparently around the corner from the door we used to get in.

Judgment:

Overall:                          4 out of 5

Taste:                             4 out of 5

Presentation:                3 out of 5

Value:                             5 out of 5

Charlie Bloods on Urbanspoon