Review: Mami Nora’s Chicken (Raleigh, NC)

For those whose thoughts of going out for a chicken dinner are shaped by industrial giants like Boston Market or KFC, allow me to introduce you to Mami Nora’s.  This is Peruvian style rotisserie chicken, and its presence is spreading in the Triangle.  While Lucky Chicken in Clayton has emerged as a favorite of Greg Cox, Mami Nora’s has recently expanded into Raleigh from Durham.  The ambience of Mami Nora’s in Raleigh is spartan, but the chicken (and the price) more than make up for it.  I recently ordered a ¼ chicken with two sides for only $5.50.  White meat will set you back $0.50 more, but you do get a fair bit more meat.  Either way, you can’t go wrong.  Inside the dark, flavorful skin was some of the juiciest, most tender chicken meat I’ve had in a long time.  While the white meat was well executed, the dark meat was mouth-wateringly delectable.  A sidebar offers the choice of two sauces, one sort of a mayonnaise-mustard hybrid and the other a potently spicy green salsa-like concoction, but you don’t really need either of them.  For side items, I tried the plantains and black beans.  Both were good, but the soupy, mildly spicy beans were particularly satisfying.  The beans came in a small sytrofoam cup that was easily big enough to share.  I also tried a special jerk chicken sandwich and some french fries.  The sandwich was large, but, surprisingly, a bit bland.  The fries were thinner than the wide-cut ones pictured on their website (and which I don’t usually care for).  They were more of a “Five Guys” style, and they were pretty good.  Mami Nora’s also has a huge selection of Latin sodas and beverages, including Coke with real sugar, Inca Cola, pomegranate drinks, and an intriguiging coconut soda.  They also have excellent caramel cookies.  These shortbread-dulce de leche-powdered sugar disks are crumbly and flavorful, but, at $1.75 each, a bit pricey.  Overall, Mami Nora’s is a great addition to Raleigh.  It’s cheap enough for the whole family, and good enough to keep coming back.  And it may make you forget about certain chain restaurants entirely.

Rating:  * * * *

Weekend in Charleston

image via Flickr

We spent the past weekend in Charleston, SC for a friend’s wedding.  While there wasn’t much time for culinary expeditions, we did manage to have two good meals out.  The first was a dinner at the famed Hominy Grill.  Located in a nice old building on the North end of town, with a lovely patio, the restaurant is a mostly successful mash-up of the down-home and the moderately upscale.  The food is respectable, if not great.  I had a southern-fried chicken breast, which was succulent and moist, ensconced in a thin crispy fried shell.  It was supposed to come with a country-ham gravy, but this element was nearly absent and added nothing to the nicely executed chicken.  The accompanying mac & cheese was just ok, but the mashed sweet potatoes were so pasty as to be borderline inedible.  My wife had the “big nasty biscuit” – a monstrous fried chicken biscuit with cheddar and sausage gravy.  It suffered a bit from a shortage of sausage, and the cheddar was actually pimiento cheese in the gravy, but still it tasted pretty good.  A side dish of tomato pudding – described by the waiter as “tomatoes, cornbread, and sugar – baked” was addictive.  My dad had one of the “house specialties”: shrimp & grits.  While this is undoubtedly a famous South Carolina dish, and our expectations were high, I’ve had better renditions at Crook’s Corner and Piedmont.  For dessert, we shared a fantastic peach pudding – a sort of cobbler/bread pudding hybrid, and a lighter than expected slice of chocolate-pecan-caramel cake.

Better still was our lunch the next day, at the Cru Café.  The restaurant is tucked away in a beautiful old house on a quiet street near where seemingly all of the city’s hordes of horses make their home.  If the outside is charming with its lovely front porch, the inside of the restaurant is equally as gorgeous – wood floors, old fireplaces, ultra-high ceilings, cozy seating.  I had a difficult time choosing from the menu, but eventually settled on a beef brisket sandwich.  It arrived as a hamburger bun piled high with thin sheets of ultra-tender beef, slathered in a delicious, mildly spicy orange bbq sauce.  I didn’t care much for the accompanying coleslaw, but I don’t care much for any coleslaw.  The sandwich was fantastic.  My wife had the French dip, which was nicely done if a little bland and mushy.  She reported that her side salad was excellently dressed.  My mom had the shrimp BLT, a dreamy combination of its namesake components with pepper jack cheese on rustic bread.  It was superb, and big enough to easily feed two people.  Combined with the food, the setting and ambience make this gem a perfect neighborhood café.

If you haven’t been, get thee to Charleston and delight in the city’s beautiful architecture and terrific food scene.