It's time for another edition of Wendy's Best Bites. This recurring column lets me share some of my favorite casual dining menu items with you. Today's pics are from recent restaurant visits I've made, and these items all pass my Big-Flavor test. Be aware that many of these are limited-time, seasonal items -- so where noted, you'll have to act quickly to try them before they're gone.
(1) Avocado Chicken Soft Tacos from El Pollo Loco.
El Pollo Loco is near my office, so I go there once a week for lunch. All it took was one bite of their amazing Avocado Chicken Soft Tacos for them to become one of my favorite lunches! They are full of amazing flavor thanks to a generous serving of marinated fire-grilled chicken, sliced creamy avocado, jack cheese, spicy pico de gallo, crisp cabbage, and flavorful poblano cream. Then everything is carefully wrapped in one of El Pollo Loco's soft artisan tortillas. The tortillas are really unique -- they're soft like a flour tortilla, but they have the earthy flavor of corn tortilla. The chicken has a char-grilled flavor, and the poblano cream reminds me of a spicy ranch dressing. They don't skimp on the avocado either.
(2) Pollo Tropical's 1/4 Chicken Platter. Pollo Tropical just opened its first location here in San Antonio last month, and I predict it's going to become a very popular dining destination. Pollo Tropical was founded in Miami in 1988 and has since expanded to locations in Texas, Georgia, and Tennessee -- along with several international locations. Pollo Tropical's menu has a definite Caribbean accent, focusing on grilled chicken, slow-roasted mojo pork, and unique sides. I attended the Grand Opening of the first San Antonio location, and I loved the food! I tried the 1/4 chicken platter, which came with Yucca with Garlic Sauce and Caribbean Corn Soufflé The yucca was starchy and reminded me a bit of potato, and the corn soufflé was like a soft cornbread pudding. The chicken was juicy and flavored all the way to the bone...so good! One of the signature experiences at Pollo Tropical is visiting the sauce bar, which features 10 different sauces. My two favorites were the fruity Pineapple Rum and the creamy Cilantro Garlic.
(3) Cheese Enchilada Platter at Taco Cabana. Taco Cabana is one of our favorite casual Tex-Mex restaurants. Their prices are easy on the wallet, and the food tastes homemade. I can't believe that until recently, I had never tried their cheese enchiladas! In my defense, I love their soft tacos and chicken flautas so much that I don't visit the rest of the menu very often. My mistake, because the cheese enchiladas are fantastic! They're filled with gooey melted cheese and topped with flavorful chili gravy. Paired with refried beans and rice, it's a filling dinner. This month, Taco Cabana is bringing back its popular Taco Treat fundraiser to benefit the Warrior and Family Support Center (WFSC) at Brooke Army Medical Center here in San Antonio. All Taco Cabana locations in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico are selling $1 coupon books good for five free bean and cheese tacos. That's a great bargain..and 100% of the proceeds are going to WFSC. The WFSC is dedicated to providing coordinated services to patients, next-of-kin, and extended family members with a primary focus on wounded Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom veterans. The center provides a relaxing entertainment environment for veterans receiving treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center and their families.
(4) Quattro Formaggio Pizza at Grimaldi's. Grimaldi's originated in Brooklyn, where the lines go out the door and down the street. In recent years, they've expanded throughout the country, offering up authentic New York-style pizza. Grimaldi's is a great place to go with family or friends and order their amazing coal-fired brick ovens. In addition to our regular favorite -- pepperoni and sausage + pesto -- we sometimes like to try their seasonal specials. This Fall, Grimaldi's seasonal pizza is the veg-friendly Quattro Formaggio. This pizza is so good that even avowed carnivores will go nuts for it! The pizza is flavored with Romano, gorgonzola, parmesan, asiago -- in addition to fresh mozzarella. This is a white pizza, meaning it doesn't have tomato sauce. This combination of cheeses is very flavorful -- and the proportions used ensure that the robust gorgonzola doesn't overpower the other cheeses. Paired with a seasonal beer or wine from their extensive wine list and one of their market-fresh salads, you've got a perfect meal.
(5) Create-Your-Own Salad Wrap from Salata Next Generation Salad Bar. Salata is one of our favorite new restaurant finds of last year. We love going in, stepping up to their amazing salad bar, and having one of the friendly servers help us create a custom salad. Every time we go, we create a completely new creation. One time, we might have a Mexican-inspired chicken salad...the next, we might create a Tropical-inspired seafood salad. On our last visit, Michael decided to try a Salad Wrap. Rather than tossing the ingredients in a bowl, they add them to a large wrap and create a hand-held sandwich-salad hybrid. The creation pictured has chicken, corn, pico de gallo, cheddar, and a spicy ranch. If you've never tried Salata, now is the perfect time to visit one of their locations in Texas, California, or Illinois. From now until October 20th, Salata is celebrating their Eat Light at Night campaign. The purpose is to encourage people to enjoy healthy, well-proportioned dinners. Salata mobile club members will receive a variety of discounts -- including a buy one, get one free offer. To sign up for Salata's mobile club, simply text "Salata" to 777111.
(6) Chester's Tasting appetizer platter at East Coast Wings & Grill. North Carolina-based East Coast Wings & Grill has two locations in the San Antonio area, and I recently visited to check out their food. The menu boasts 75 flavors of wings -- as well as burgers, salads, and sandwiches. The best way to try some of the best items on the restaurant's 6-page menu is to try the signature Chester's Tasting appetizer platter. This platter is a perfect starter for larger groups -- but a girlfriend and I basically made an entire meal out of it during our visit! The platter features wings (mild, medium, hot, or x-hot), Chicken Pot Stickers, fried mozzarella sticks, fried pickle spears, Bean Stalks (crispy green beans), and slices of Chester's Pub Pretzels. This is all served with a variety of dipping sauces, including: marinara, Bourbon Honey Mustard, and a choice of ranch or Lava Ranch. Everything on this platter was well prepared. The wings were plump and flavorful, and the fried food wasn't the least bit greasy. My two favorite items on the platter were the Bean Stalks and the slightly crispy pretzel bites. This Chester's Tasting truly offers something for everyone!
Disclosure: The restaurants featured hosted The Weekend Gourmet to try these items to facilitate inclusion in Wendy's Best Bites. All opinions expressed are my own, and I only share items with you that I tried and personally enjoyed.