Monday, September 12, 2011

…The Strip District, Reyna Foods, and Chicken Latino (again)

Adventure.  I love it.

I used to hate being adventurous – everything had to be planned out, or I’d lose my mind.  I had to make sure that I had all of my bases covered, or else I would not know how to handle the situation.  I had to know where I was going, what I was doing, and everything had to be on schedule and precise.

If I failed to plan, I planned to fail.

In some situations, it is important to plan things out.  I know that when I take my time in planning out lessons, everything works out great; however, if I don’t plan, I feel pretty dumb, and I’m not too good at covering that up (I’m not good at hiding my feelings, in case you hadn’t figured that out by now). 

However, I have learned that spontaneity and adventure make life a little more exciting – not so much when it comes to doing my job, but more so in my free time.  Some of those adventures have resulted in great discoveries, such as the first time I decided to go to Smoke in Homestead, or when my mom and I drove to Presque Isle, North East, and Pymatuning one day over the summer to check out those places and ended up having a great day together.

I feel like any time that I go to The Strip District, it is an opportunity for adventure.  There are the stores that I go to every time, like Wholey’s, Lotus Foods (an Asian supermarket), and Reyna Foods (a Mexican market), but lately, I have tried to go into other stores as well to see what they are all about.  Back in February, when I went with my brother, we ventured in to one of the stores that sells Pittsburgh clothing, and I was able to find tons of Pittsburgh-themed, St. Patrick’s Day-related clothing that I could wear to the parade (long before it sold out). 

On this particular trip, a teacher-friend came with me (we shall refer to her from this point on as “TF”), and we decided to see what came about.  I had to get down to The Strip to go to Chicken Latino to pick up a t-shirt that they had offered me, so we knew we would end up eating there, but otherwise, the sky was the limit.  We parked and took off onto Penn Avenue.

We started at Penzey’s Spices, since TF had to get their taco seasoning for her mom.  We didn’t spend much time in there, but I love smelling the different spices, when time permits. 

After Penzey’s, we ventured over to Lotus Foods, where I never buy anything, but I am in awe of the different things that they offer there that you cannot find somewhere like Giant Eagle – Asian teas, spices, and breads; vegetables that cannot be found anywhere around here; and different candy and cookies, like Pocky, which my brother adores.  We left there empty-handed, but not disappointed.
We stopped in a few other stores, like Stan’s Market, which has CHEAP produce – including JICAMA for $0.89/lb.!  I once paid $12.15 for a jicama at Giant Eagle – those suckers are HEAVY, and cost $3.99/lb. there!  I had to buy one at Stan’s.  I had to.  So I did, along with a couple of small spaghetti squash, which were also cheap at $0.89/lb.  We also stopped in a couple of clothing stores with handmade clothes and jewelry – neither TF nor I bought anything at those stores, but it was nice to see cute clothes that not everybody would be wearing this season.

After a quick stop at the ATM for some cash, we arrived at Reyna Foods, which had just opened.  I had to find something to reward my 3rd and 8th period classes for winning my counting 1-30 challenge, and of course, I wanted to find something “authentic”.  After walking around the store twice, I decided upon Reyna’s homemade buñuelos and Goya wafer cookies in mango and guava flavors.  I also purchased Reyna’s store-made corn tortillas, and I bought mole powder (not sauce, because it had way too much fat in it!) to make mole chicken someday when I have time.  

As I checked out, I asked the man working the register if he knew when the restaurant would be opening downstairs – I had read about it in China Millman’s article back on June 23rd (you know, the one on my bulletin board at school that I talk about ALL the time?).  It turns out that he is the owner, and he was originally aiming to open it January 1st – however, he was attending some workshops in Mexico after that time, and since he also wants to open a panadería (bakery) along with it, he’s looking to open it more around March.  He said that the restaurant itself is done, the tortilla machines are there and ready to go – but he basically wants to learn more about the foods and ingredients before serving them. 

Smart.  Very, very smart.

I told him that I am a Spanish teacher, I explained the project and my blog, and told him that I am really looking forward to the restaurant opening.  He said that his mother was Mexican and a teacher, so he understands how important a good education is. 

Now I REALLY can’t wait for the restaurant to open.

Once TF and I left there, we sauntered over to the Pittsburgh Public Market, where we purchased some fruit butters and jams from The Berry Patch.  By that time, it was after 11:00.

Lunchtime.  Chicken Latino was open!

When we went in, I told them who I was, and they got the owner, Shelbin Santos, so that we could finally meet.  We exchanged hellos and greetings, she gave me my t-shirt, and I mentioned that we were going to stay and eat.  She recommended trying the Peruvian-style chicken, which was my plan, anyway.

TF and I took a seat, and Christy, the same waitress from last time (who was celebrating her birthday last time, and shared her scrumptious pumpkin bread with my brother and I), took our orders.  I really wanted to try the Chicha Limeña, a purple corn drink with cinnamon and cloves (why are so many Peruvian foods purple?!), so I ordered that for my drink, and TF did, too, as she is someone else who likes to try new things.  Christy brought them out, bottled, with glasses of ice as well, and then she took our orders – Yucca fries to start (of course), ¼ Peruvian chicken with rice and black beans for me, and a chicken quesadilla for TF.  

The drinks were amazing – no, they do not taste like corn.  I really can’t describe the taste – it was definitely fruit juice-like, and it reminded me a lot of the Mazzamorra Morada that I had for dessert at Aji Picante just a few days earlier (only now in liquid form, not Jell-O form).  Christy was also kind enough to provide us with water, too – good thing, because I downed my Chicha quite quickly.

The Yucca fries arrived promptly, crispy and delicious-looking, and accompanied by the famous “green stuff” and mayonnaise.  TF and I mixed our dipping sauces, and she commented on how good and different (in a good way) it was. 

Our meals arrived not long after.  Shelbin had provided me with fresh corn tortillas, in addition to my meal, so that I could make tacos out of my chicken, if I wanted.

And so I did.  Rice, beans, chicken, and my green dipping sauce combined for some tacos ricos!

The chicken itself, honestly, reminded me a lot of the roasted chicken from Giant Eagle or Wal-Mart – but with a bit more flavor and care put into it.  If you like the roasted chickens from either of those places, you will like the Peruvian chicken at Chicken Latino (I promise!)

Neither TF nor I could finish our lunches, so we asked for boxes, and I also asked for 2 containers of the “green stuff” to purchase and take home.  Christy gave some tips for preserving it (like dividing it into ice trays and thawing what I needed, when I needed it – brilliant!) and gave us boxes and bags to tote our leftovers home.  We paid the bill, thanked everyone again, and went on our merry, full-bellied way.

We did make one more stop before we headed back to Da Miff’ (as I had to be at work at Kennywood at 1:30).  The smell of the donuts from Peace, Love, & Little Donuts was permeating the air, even more than the smell of the burritos and tacos that were just being cooked at the Reyna’s Taco Stand just around the corner.  TF had never experienced these fried delights, so we stopped in to see what they were selling that day.

I left with these – 2 maple & granola donuts, a chocolate/chocolate donut, a strawberry shortcake donut, and 2 Oreo donuts (I love ANYTHING Oreo!). 

So yes, I do eat other things than “Mexican” food, as some students have wondered.

TF and I went back to my house, unloaded my car, and TF went back to her home.  Before she left, we definitely discussed having to have another adventure soon, as today’s was a success. 

Being adventurous alone is fun, but being adventurous with someone else who shares your interest in adventure is memorable.  Thanks a million to TF, and I hope that you all find ways to be adventurous (safely!) as well.

Chicken Latino
155 21st St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Peace, Love, & Little Donuts
2018 Smallman St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

The Berry Patch at Pittsburgh Public Market
Produce Terminal Building
Smallman Street Entrance opposite 17th Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

The Strip District Website:
Strip District Twitter:!/StripDistrict

Chicken Latino on Urbanspoon

Peace, Love & Little Donuts on Urbanspoon

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