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Meal Plan Box Review: Hello Fresh

Website: https://www.hellofresh.ca/

These meal plan boxes first came out a few years ago and instantly became popular.  I mean, what’s not to like.  It promised portioned out foods for recipes selected by the user to make every day meal prep so much easier.  When they first came out, I was very interested in giving them a try, but with my dad being a judgy chef and all, I never really did.  Plus, giving them a few more years would show me whether it was worth the investment or not and give them a chance to iron out any kinks they had, technologically or tactically.

The goal for me is to try out all the meal plan box companies and determine which one is most superior based on my experience.

I decided to go with Hello Fresh first because we received a coupon for 55% off of the first box for all new members.  At the time, most of the other box companies, goodfood and Chef’s Plate, were only offering 50% off.  My first step was to investigate which recipes were available for the three plan boxes they had, all of them include free shipping.

The pronto plan box, priced at $13.33/serving, is meant to make preparation quick and easy, promising that recipes would take less than 30 minutes to make.  The pronto plan allows the user to select whether it will be for 2 or 4 people and how many recipes, 3 or 4, for the week.  Taking the number of people and multiplying it by the number of recipes will get you the number of serving sizes and thus the price of this box, which ranges from $79.98 – $213.28.  The recipes that were available for the week in question were Coriander-Spiced Pork with Fragrant Couscous and Herby Salsa; Chimichurri Burgers with Avocado, Monterey Jack, and Cabbage slaw; Turkey Milanese with Pesto Greens and Creamy Potatoes; Peanut Satay Noodle Stir-fry with Sugar Snap Peas, Red Bell Pepper, and Thai Basil; and Pesto Chicken with Lemony Couscous and Zucchini Salad.

The family plan box, priced at $10.83/serving, advertises that the recipes in this plan will  encourage everyone to get into the kitchen and that everyone would enjoy dinner together, including the picky eaters.  The standard size for a family is set at 4 and cannot be changed, but the user can select 3 or 4 recipes, putting the price range for this box at $129.96 – $173.28.  This is the box we selected, going with 3 recipes.  The recipes available for the week in question were Seared Pork Tenderloin with Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes and Tarragon sauce; Retro Burger with Caramelized Onions and Creamy Potato Salad; Crispy Chicken Parmigiana with Cucumber-Apple Salad; Pork and Parmesan Patties with Butternut Squash Mash and Green Beans; and Crunchy Potato Chip Chicken with Cheesy Cauliflower and Green Peas.  We selected the Seared Pork Tenderloin, Crispy Chicken Parmigiana, and Pork and Parmesan Patties.

The final box is the veggie plan box, priced at $12.33/serving which is as the name indicates, a vegetarian option.  While I’m not a vegetarian, I do appreciate that it includes a box to accommodate those who are and having seen some of those recipes, I am not opposed to trying this box out in the future.  Besides, I rarely get enough veggies in my life to begin with, so it wouldn’t hurt to try.  This box is the most limited of the three boxes.  It is set at 2 people and 3 recipes with no room for selecting otherwise, which sets the price of the box at $73.98.  The recipes available for the week in question included the Peanut Satay Noodle Stir-fry (same as in the pronto meal); Veggie Chili with Tortilla Chips and Sour Cream; and Spinach and Feta Pie with Cucumber-Olive Salad.  In other words, there are exactly 3 recipes so there were no other choices for alternative recipes that week.

Before I dive in and describe the whole food making process and delivery, I will share with you the ordering process.  So this meal plan box acts like a subscription service (I’m not sure if the others are like this as this is my first one, but with time I shall either confirm or deny).  If you don’t see a recipe you like or you just don’t want the meal box for that week, you can have that week skipped.  If you had just wanted to try for the one week, then after you receive your order you can simply just cancel.  The thing I love most is that I only have to pay for the boxes I ordered.

When I was first setting up, the site kept crashing on me.  It would load the menu pages one time, but then later, upon revisiting, it would say that the page either did not exist or was unavailable at the time (due to maintenance or something).  No matter, I pressed on, adding the plan I wanted to my shopping cart and checking out.  I entered my credit card info in as well as the promo code and then it crashed.  I wasn’t able to get back into it all night and wasn’t sure if my credit card had actually gone through.  So the next day, I checked again on a PC (I have a Mac now) and on a different browser and it didn’t have any record of my purchase going through the night before.  Okay, fine, so I put in another order and put in my credit card and promo code.  Everything went well.  It went through and then I got my receipt by email and it had charged me full price.  I was furious.  So I did what I do best.  Write a very strongly worded email expressing my dissatisfaction with the situation.

Then I waited.  The website said it would take at least 2 business days for me to receive a response to my inquiry.  The first email I received stated that unfortunately my credit card had been charged before my promo code had been applied.  Well no kidding!  After a bit of correspondence, they said that I would get a full refund, but my meal box would still come.  In the end, I didn’t get a full refund, but that partial refund was still worth it.  I am very impressed with how customer service handled my complaint and as a result, has made me more likely to come back to this particular company than I would have had they refused to refund me.

On the website, it indicated a 12 hour window for the time of delivery on the chosen date of delivery (Mon-Wed).  When I signed up, it gave me a slightly narrower window.  Before the food was to be delivered, I received an email around 6:00 a.m. saying that it would soon be on its way.  My mom confirmed that it came by Fed-Ex at around 10:00 a.m. on Monday morning (the day I had chosen for it to be delivered).  I had given directions for it to simply be left at the door and since the box is insulated and contains ice packs to keep the meat cool, I wasn’t too concerned if it didn’t make it into the fridge right away.

Now on to the food.  The first recipe we tried was the Crispy Chicken Parmigiana with the Cucumber-Apple Salad.  I didn’t realize when we had ordered it, it had the instruction “make first” because we were going to start with the Seared Pork Tenderloin.  However, it ended up having to be the Crispy Chicken Parmigiana because the chicken was the only protein that was thawed enough to be cooked that night.  The recipe instructs us to make the salad (just the cucumber and apple part) first, to allow it to marinade.  The dressing was just sugar, lemon juice, and dijon mustard.  If I make it again, I would substitute honey instead of sugar.  It’s also worth mentioning that this meal kit assumes you have the basics like sugar, pepper, salt, oil/butter, etc. so make sure you have those things at the very least.  Since I already know some things about cooking, prepping the chicken was pretty easy.  However, instead of eggs, the box included mayonnaise, which is something I never thought of using.  Mayonnaise is egg based, but sticks to the chicken so much better than egg and also allows the bread crumbs to adhere more easily as well.  However, mayonnaise is also inherently oilier than egg and at some points I failed to take that into account.  After breading the chicken breasts, the recipe instructed me to pan fry until golden brown, approximately 3-4 minutes per side.  It included an additional note that it wouldn’t be a concern if the chicken wasn’t cooked all the way through, which is expected if you’ve only cooked each piece for a total of about 8 minutes.  I had expected to finish the breasts in the oven, but the next instruction was simply to turn on the broiler and put the chicken, which was now topped with pizza sauce and cheese and leave it until the cheese was melted and the internal temperature was 165°F.  I, of course, misread that and set the oven as low as it would go (it wouldn’t go down to 165°F).  I baked it for an additional 15-20 minutes, but the middle was still raw, so I ended up having to cut them in half, turn up the temperature and bake them for another 10-15 minutes, which then resulted in some portions being overcooked.  Since there were no carbs (if you don’t count the breading on the chicken), I decided I wanted to make a portion of pasta to go alongside it.  It was nothing special, just plain pasta with a little bit of butter.  My mom helped me out with that while I had my hands full with the chicken.  The cucumbers and apples were served on top of spinach, which was the final touch.  The amount of spinach we were given was so small, it looked like it was only one portion size of spinach.  This told me one of two things.  The first was that we were in the habit of over eating and over estimating the size of a single portion.  The second was more of a question of why there was so much more of the cucumber and apples compared to the spinach (the ratio was way off). The acidity of the salad (since we did use a whole lemon) was a perfect contrast to the heavier Chicken Parmigiana.

The second dish we made was the Pork and Parmesan Patties with Butternut Squash Mash and Green Beans.  Since we didn’t end up using all the parmesan from the night before, I used that in addition to the package of parmesan that had been portioned off for this meal.  The butternut squash had already been cubed and so all we had to do it put it into some boiling water with a bit of salt and boil until soft.  The green beans were seasoned with salt, pepper, and tossed with oil before setting them to roast in the oven.  Since the night before, we had problems getting the chicken to cook all the way through, I tried to make the patties as thin as I could so that they would cook more faster.  However, I didn’t make them thin enough because, despite following the recipe properly this time (no misreading), it still didn’t cook all the way through and we ended up just microwaving them.  I have to say, the butternut squash mash and green beans were my favourite sides of the three meals.  I especially loved the sweet-savoury combination and creamy texture of the mash.  I may have baked the beans a little over, but I do prefer my beans to be a little drier, so that turned out well.  I really like fresh parmesan because it isn’t as strong as dried parmesan and creates a different texture when used in cooking.  This was the first time I didn’t hear a complaint from my mom about having parmesan in a dish.  The night before she was already saying that the chicken parm could do without the parm, but with this, she couldn’t even tell.  I felt like a parent who had to hide veggies in their child’s food, except instead of veggies it was cheese.  The onion gravy I made for this dish was my crowning achievement.  I’ve made a similar one at Julia’s house with the same success and with the addition of rosemary, the sauce was taken to the next level.  I will acknowledge that rosemary is a fairly strong herb and that me forgetting to put it in till the end may have added to its pungency.  My mom liked the gravy, but said that rosemary in general was too strong for her.

With those two dishes complete, it only leaves the Seared Pork Tenderloin with Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes, and Tarragon Sauce to be discussed.  It’s ironic that this was the dish I had wanted to make first and it ended up being the last dish.  We made some modifications to this dish.  Instead of roasted potatoes we decided to go with a mash (more on this later) and since the roasted green beans had been such a success the night before, we decided to roast them instead of pan-frying them.  I prefer recipes that utilize the oven as well as the stove top because it is way more efficient.  The pork was essentially seasoned and seared off before finishing it off in the oven which was great because by this time in the week I was getting pretty tired and this recipe was a little more hands off, which was nice.  My sister helped with this one and instead of boiling the potatoes decided to microwave them.  Generally this isn’t a problem except for the fact that Yukon Gold Potatoes are not meant for mashing.  This made for the lumpiest mashed potatoes I have ever made.  Even with the amount of sour cream we added to make it lighter and fluffier did nothing except for make it taste like a lot of sour cream.  We reserved some of the tarragon to put into the potatoes, but being so mild, the tarragon was generally lost in the potatoes.  This time, being so concerned with not getting a raw slice of pork tenderloin, we ended up overcooking it.  I guess, that’s part of the reason why there was a sauce, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the sauce as it had been made from sour cream.  In other words, with sour cream being so prevalent in the potatoes the sauce was just a sour cream overload.  I think if I make this sauce again, I will just use flour, butter, salt, tarragon, and milk instead.

Each dish had their highlights and the prepped and portioned ingredients saved me a lot of time.  It definitely comes in handy for those who don’t have the creativity to come up with their own recipes on a weekly basis or if they don’t have very much time to prep and cook everything after work.  The great thing about the meal box is that the recipe booklet Hello Fresh sends includes the recipes that I didn’t select, but having the recipe gives me the chance to try making it myself even if I didn’t buy it from them originally.

Usually my mom prefers Chinese/Vietnamese food over any other cuisine, but this week was the first time I’ve seen her eat everything off her plate without complaint.  She had good things to say about all the plates, so I consider this a huge success.

If I had to sum this box up in one line, it would be restaurant quality dishes at home.

I don’t want to make a recommendation until I’ve had the chance to try out more meal plan boxes, but they have made a good impression on me and I encourage others to try it out and let me know what your experience is like with the box.

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Hello Fresh Box (It’s gigantic and really heavy!)

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Our three recipes for the week

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Crispy Chicken Parmesan

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Crispy Chicken Parmesan

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Pork and Parmesan Patties

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Pork and Parmesan Patties Plating Style 1

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Pork and Parmesan Patties Plating Style 2

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Pork and Parmesan Patties Plating Style 3

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Seared Pork Tenderloin

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Seared Pork Tenderloin Plating Style 1

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Seared Pork Tenderloin Plating Style 2

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Seared Pork Tenderloin Plating Style 3

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Restaurant Review: K & B Pho

Location: 806 Centre St NE

We used to come to this location back when it was Happy Hill Restaurant for dim sum. Though it was often on the noisy side, this place was always packed and served some of the most delicious dim sum I have ever had. Unfortunately that closed down and became a sushi restaurant, which I never ended up visiting and now it’s a Vietnamese restaurant.

While scanning the menu, the Cambodian Noodle Soup caught my eye. The last time I had had this was at Giang Nam before it closed down. For those who have never had cambodian noodles, they’re very similar to sweet potato or tapioca noodles (also called crystal or glass noodles), but they’re not nearly as chewy. So of course, I had to order this. Little did I know I was about to be sorely disappointed. My sister had her usual: Bun Bo Hue and my dad ordered his usual Beef Stew with rice or egg noodle (only he said the wrong number and ended up with a Seafood Noodle Soup). My mom went for a rice dish, the BBQ Pork Chop on Broken Rice.

Lately, my dad has a thing with ordering a starter when we go for Vietnamese food and it’s always spring rolls. The spring rolls here were actually quite decent and filled with meat rather than fillers (cellophane noodles, vegetables, oil).

For those who have had pho, Cambodian noodles, or Chinese rice noodles, you would know from the second you put it your mouth that something wasn’t right. There was something off about the texture. It wasn’t exactly mushy, but it was soft. And though it didn’t “bleed” into the soup, it was starchy. They didn’t do too badly on the soup. It both smelled and tasted exactly as I had remembered them. There was a fairly good meat to noodle ratio (but of course I prefer more noodles to meat so there was too much meat for my liking). Unlike most places that serve Cambodian noodles soups, they chose to use kidney rather than liver and slice it thinner than I’m used to. I think the choice to do that is because kidney has a much milder taste than liver and is a lot smoother. Valerie’s Bun Bo Hue wasn’t at all like the one we usually have a Pho Huong Viet (I haven’t done a food review on this place because I usually forget or so packed that we just want to eat and get gone so I don’t have time to take pictures, but it is a really good restaurant like my favourite Vietnamese restaurant of all time). It wasn’t spicy like it should be and the noodles were too soft. My dad’s dish was ordinary, so I have nothing really to say. It’s honestly just noodles and seafood, which everyone knows the taste of. The broth was just the same as the staple in all Chinese noodle houses, so it was decent. My mom’s dish was the highlight of the evening. It was huge for our/her standards. In fact, she was unable to finish it all. The rice came with a “salad” on the side and I’d have to say that it’s one of the healthier feeling options on the menu.

Having said all that (or complained about it), I would return to this restaurant to try the vermicelli and woven vermicelli dishes. Since it’s days as Happy Hill Restaurant, it’s remodeled the dining area and now looks very sleek. However, the bathroom has not been remodeled and remains the dirty, dingy, dungeon it was before. From this experience, I’d rate this place a 3/5.

spring rolls

Spring Rolls

bun bo hue

Bun Bo Hue

Broken Rice

BBQ Pork on Broken Rice

Cambodian noodles

Cambodian Noodle Soup

 

Restaurant Review: Goro+Gun

Location: 225 7 Ave SW (Scotia Centre in the Core)
Website: http://goroandgun.ca/

These last few weeks have been hell for me. Though I’ve taken some time off of work, it’s far from relaxing. These two months off are meant for me to study for the LSAT. I promised myself this would be the last time I take this damn test. It’s becoming incredibly stressful to continually have to endure the four hour exam and besides all that, it’s costing me a fortune just to try and get in. Today I took a much need break and went shopping downtown at The Core with my sister. I’ve passed Goro+Gun several times on my visits there and was initially informed of it’s existence by my cousin, Yulin.

Today we finally had a chance to stop in and give this place a try. The entrance was not exactly as I expected. There wasn’t really a podium/counter where the host or hostess could stand and the doors opened up into what looked like the middle of the restaurant. My sister and I approached cautiously and were immediately greeted. As it was nearly three in the afternoon, the place was pretty empty and we were promptly seated and served. My sister, Valerie remarked that the place had the feel of a tapas bar. With the open kitchen and a lot of bar seating, it certainly seemed that way.

We started with drinks: the elderflower power and yuzu soda. Both brought me back to Mexico when we had the alcohol free margaritas. In short, way too sweet. The other thing was that I expected the yuzu soda to be less…washed out in colour. It looked almost exactly the same as the Elderflower Power and tasted almost the same. I expected that the blood orange would have brought a vibrant redish orange to the drink, but that wasn’t what happened. We quickly worked through the menu, deciding to go with a calamari, a tuna poke, the Paitan Ramen, the chef’s selection of sashimi, a rainbow roll, and the special yuzu scallop.

The calamari were so perfectly fried that at first I was shocked. Most of the restaurants I’ve been to in the past have vastly over-fried the calamari so that it’s hard and rubbery. This was not the case for these calamaris. They were soft and succulent, leaving me wanting more. It served with a yuzu and spicy mayo sauce, which tasted a little different than most spicy mayo sauces I’ve had. One obvious reason was that there was yuzu in the sauce giving it a unique taste, but the other was that the mayo was actually spicy. The only complain was that it was a bit on the salty side, but other than that, best calamari I’ve had to date. The second appetizer we ordered, the tuna poke, is equally fantastic. Though, also on the salty side, they had large chunks of tender tuna and smooth, creamy avocado on a bed of fresh greens, dressed with a sweet sesame dressing and served with fried wonton crisps. I feel that my ability to handle raw fish has grown substantially. I remember a time when the idea of putting a raw piece of fish into my mouth made my stomach turn. But now, I can appreciate it as well as the skillful seasoning of the chef.

We had just finished with our appetizers when the rainbow roll arrived. It certainly was rainbow. The roll consisted avocado and cucumber topped with tuna, salmon, prawn, scallop, and ikura served atop two sauces: a spicy mayo and a garlic aioli. I didn’t have a chance to have much of the spicy mayo, but it was essentially the same as the one served with the calamari except no yuzu. The garlic aioli was surprisingly good with the roll, the slight saltiness was perfect so that I didn’t have to use any soy sauce. As we worked on that, the sashimi came. Now, I can handle raw in small quantities. I still can’t handle eating a slab of sashimi so this one was all for Val. When we were ordering, the waitress informed us that the Chef’s Selection would have two more pieces of sashimi than if we ordered any of the other types of sashimi on the menu. Unfortunately, it was short one piece. Though this is not a huge deal, considering the price, I’d really have wanted that piece, although it wasn’t like we could say, hey, we’re missing a piece because by the time we realized it, it was at the point where she could have just said, you ate it and no one could prove anything. We let it go, but it’s something I’m going to soon forget. After that was the Paitan Ramen. Apparently, Goro+Gun is known for its ramen, so this was a must for us. I don’t particularly like miso based soups simply because they have a tendency to be very salty. And while tonkotsu broths have a richer pork flavour that is creamier in consistency, sometimes the porkiness can be a bit overwhelming for me. So today we decided to go with a chicken broth based ramen. The Ramen had pork belly, bamboo shoots, boiled bean sprouts, and heaps of green onions and seaweed. The broth was phenomenal especially since they don’t use any MSG in any of their food. The noodles, when I first had them were slightly chewy, just the way I like them. The only sad thing was that there was very little of much else. The heap of bean sprouts was so small I could have eaten them in one bite and there were only about four slices of bamboo shoots, but the worst was that they only gave two small slices of pork belly. I get that pork belly can be expensive, but come on. For a dish of comparable size and price, Anju gave us four large slices of pork belly. I was unimpressed to say the least. The last dish was the special yuzu scallops. The menu doesn’t ever indicate how many pieces are in a roll or how many pieces of sashimi per order, which I wish it had. At first, we thought that the price was for one piece and we were completely appalled. It turns out that it was for two pieces. I mean, that’s not much better, but I’d have to admit, it was pretty good. It’s similar to the creamy scallop dish that most sushi restaurants have, but it’s funny how a touch of citrus can elevate the dish.

In the end, we decided to round out the meal with a dessert, something we hadn’t tried before: a green tea white chocolate brownie. It was unlike any dessert I had ever had. The “brownie” looked more like slices of cake topped with chilled and sweetened red beans, a berry compote and spun sugar. I’ve never had spun sugar in my life; it something I’ve only ever seen on TV. It’s even more beautiful up close. Eating it was like eating needles, but in a good way. The green tea was very light and the chocolate undetectable. I preferred the compote to the red bean, but the red bean was still pretty good.

Though expensive, the meal was pretty good. It seems as though there is a touch of yuzu in everything and at this time I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. In most of the dishes we ordered, it was undetectable. Even in the drink I could barely taste anything but the overbearing sweetness of the other ingredients in the drink. All things considered, I would definitely recommend this restaurant for their ramen and appetizers. Next time I’d like to try out their bentos and teppenyaki. That’s another thing for another day though. Based on today’s experience, I’d rate them 4.25/5.

Panorama of Restaurant Interior

Panorama of Restaurant Interior

Calamari

Calamari

Tuna Poke

Tuna Poke

Rainbow Roll

Rainbow Roll

Chef's Selection of Sashimi

Chef’s Selection of Sashimi

Special Yuzu Scallop Sushi

Special Yuzu Scallop Sushi

Paitan Ramen

Paitan Ramen

Green Tea White Chocolate Brownie

Green Tea White Chocolate Brownie

Restaurant Review: Julio’s Barrio

Location: 1110 Memorial Dr. NW Calgary, Alberta

Website: http://juliosbarrio.com/

This is my second time coming here, The first time I went was for dinner with my family. I can tell you that this restaurant is not meant for family dinners. For dinner with friends? Yes. For a couple of drinks? Yes. For a loud and possibly good time? Yes. Family dinner? Not really. I can’t even remember what I had had the first time I went; I think the noise erased most of my memories of the place. All I remember are the tables, which look like they used bathroom tiles. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that, except that it isn’t really my style. Colourful and fun, but still not my style.

This time I had lunch with a friend. It was different coming here with a friend instead of my family and for lunch instead of dinner. It was tranquil and hard to believe that my first experience had been as bad as it was. We were seated in a sunny spot and it was really nice, except that the table wobbled a little. Our waitress started us off with some tortilla chips and salsa in a flower shaped tortilla bowl. Both my friend and I ordered tacos. I had the shrimp tacos while she had the baja fish tacos, both of which made it to the table in record time. I hardly felt like I had waited ten minutes when the food appeared. My shrimp tacos were advertised to be seasoned and diced with avocado dressing and a fresh mango salsa and my friend’s baja fish tacos were corona battered and lightly fried red snapper fillets topped with chipotle aioli. Of course they were also topped with some fresh vegetables like red cabbage, lettuce and so on and instead of fries they came with refried beans, corn salad and rice. I found this to be a nice change since fries aren’t that healthy and this gives it a more Mexican flare. The rice and corn salad were delicious, but I found the refried beans to be a little on the salty side. That’s not to say they didn’t taste good, just a little less salt would have made them that much better. Unfortunately my taco wasn’t as nice as the sides. The shrimp completely lacked seasoning and the avocado dressing was more like a deflated avocado foam. It didn’t help that the salsa released so much water that it mixed with the avocado foam and ran out the back of the taco all over my hand and plate. My friend’s baja fish taco looked much more appetizing and hopefully if I ever return there, I will give those a try.

All in all, great service, okay food, and a fun atmosphere. I would rate this restaurant 3.5/5

Baja Fish Taco

Baja Fish Taco*

Image

Shrimp Taco in the foreground. Baja Fish Taco in the background. Really bright and obscured basket to the side: tortilla chips with salsa

*Picture credit goes to Rhiannon

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