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Chili Verde – Mexican Paradise Found Right Here in St Petersburg

This Newcomer is Getting Attention

The food at Chili Verde is awesome. Awesome as in I think about it even when I am not there. Awesome in that I think about it even when I have leftovers in my fridge.

Awesome in that I check my leftover container multiple times to make sure no one in the household is stealing bites. (Or worse, eating all of it!)

Just go knowing there’s no memorable atmosphere, no famous chef, no killer margaritas and no hour-long wait. Just authentic food you may never forget.

You can get your tacos crispy

How I Found It

Ironically, my journey to Chili Verde started at VIP Lounge in Treasure Island.  After yet another trip to VIP where the wait was an hour or more in the middle of a weekday afternoon, Terry and I took to Yelp and Google. We were starving and we wanted Mexican. Now.  Deciding that both Agave and Chili Verde sounded like solid options, we let the direction the car was already headed make the decision for us. Chili Verde it was.

We drove onward, me chattering on about how it must be new because I drive that way all the time and I couldn’t place it.   We arrived at the appointed location and turned left into…a former gas station?

You know what I’m talking about.  Once a gas station in appearance, always a gas station in appearance. And not what I was expecting.  But my stomach, 170+ reviews on Yelp and almost 700 – yes, seven hundred – reviews on Google with an average rating of 4 1/2 stars suggested we give it a shot.

My Trifecta – Enchiladas Verdes made with ground beef, steak and chicken quesadilla and those beans!

And what a shot it was.  I had the Enchiladas Verdes made with ground beef. I love enchiladas – chicken enchiladas, cheese enchiladas, spinach enchiladas, seafood enchiladas – you get the idea.  If you love enchiladas you’ve probably tried them every way imaginable.  Enchiladas to me always seem decadent.  Lots of cheese, usually.

The Enchiladas Verde

Chili Verde’s Enchiladas Verde are different.  Maybe it is the delicate corn tortillas that seem as though they were made seconds before moving on to the their enchilada destination.  Maybe it is the generous smothering of the light verde sauce. Maybe it is the delicate unmelted grated cheese on top of the mound of shredded lettuce piled on top.  After almost a dozen servings of this same dish, I’m still not sure.  But trust me, it’s good.

Accompanying the enchiladas are rice and beans.  I’m not a huge rice fan, but I usually end up eating it all.

Now for the beans.  I love beans.  Whole, refried, churro-style, black, pinto, you name it.  These are quite decadent and I have taken to ordering an extra side.  I want to know and don’t want to know how they’re prepared. I’m afraid my nutritionist might not approve…

Close-up of the enchilada goodness

The Quesadillas

Equally delicious but definitely heavier and more filling are their quesadillas.  We usually get the steak-chicken combo, and get an extra to take home nosh on.

This is the combo steak-chicken quesadilla with everything

Steak combo quesadilla – In case the first photo didn’t snag you

The Tacos

The tacos are little bits heaven.  Traditional Mexican street tacos with tortilla, meat, onions and cilantro.  If you want tomatoes, lettuce etc you can ask for it American style.

They’re sold individually, but I bet you can’t eat just one.  Order 3 and try the Barbacoa.  It is truly moist, flavorful and tender.

St Pete Foodies named Chili Verde one of the 10 Best Places to get tacos in St Petersburg Florida in 2018.  https://stpetersburgfoodies.com/restaurants/best-places-in-st-petersburg/10-best-taco-places-in-st-petersburg-fl-2018/

Barbacoa Tacos – looks pretty healthy to me!

 

Insider Tip: Yep, it used to be a gas station

Whatever you do, don’t let that deter you.  

Hmm. I wonder what this used to be?

In 2018 St Pete Foodies included Chili Verde as a notable newcomer on its list of the 10 best St Petersburg restaurants list.  Since my personal favorites Red Mesa Restaurant and VIP Lounge are on that list I knew they were on to something.  But I was already on to Chili Verde.  And so were a couple of my friends! When I was so gracious to share my Chili Verde discovery with a couple fo so-called friends, guess what? They already knew.

My dream at present is to make it there some day before 10 am, so I can try the Chilaquiles.

I don’t believe the Cydesdales are real

The Details

Chili Verde, 2801 22nd Ave N, St Petersburg, Fl 33713-4248.  They’re open late.

Yelp

Facebook page

Trip Advisor

It’s a small Mexican market too

Insider Tip: Second location coming to the Skyway Marina Village shopping center!

Stay tuned for more info

VIP Lounge & Mexican Restaurant – Treasure Island

Popular Gem Tucked Away

If you are new to the area, here’s what you need to know about VIP:

  • The food and atmosphere are addicting (watch out, waistline)
  • It has a cult-like following (do they put something in the food so I can’t stop?)
  • They don’t take reservations or call ahead orders (who wants to wait, right?)
  • It’s a TI landmark that is hard to find at night (maybe you shouldn’t be driving at night?)
  • VIP has an insane number of “regular” patrons (will there be any room for little ole’ me?)
  • Parking may be tricky. Free parking impossible really.  (I thought the best things in life were free?)
  • It’s small so best for smaller groups (But I want to go with all my Facebook friends?)

Chicken Tinga Tacos

Why You Should Go

However, if these things sound like reasons not to go, think again:

  • Tomorrow is always a great day to start a diet.
  • Yeah, they do put stuff in the food. Spices.  Peppers. Cheese. Tortillas.  It’s a restaurant, not a grocery store.
  • If you don’t want to wait go in the afternoon! You are on vacation so your day probably started late anyway.
  • I bet your Uber or Lyft driver can find it. Better yet, put the address in your GPS map app and then just stop your car in the middle of the road when she says you have arrived.  Take your time looking around while you hold up traffic. Its cool – everyone does it.
  • VIP is friendly but not clique-y. It isn’t high school all over.  You’ll be welcome.
  • Free parking? Even love isn’t free.  There are diamonds, Tinder subscriptions, diapers…
  • All 12 of your real Facebook friends will fit.  For those of you with thousands of Facebook friends, they’re probably already at VIP.  You don’t really know all those people anyway.

The chips are so good you don’t need the queso and guac, but get them anyway

Because VIP has been around since the 70’s, locals and visitors who have been coming here for years have grown with the restaurant. It’s a true Rapisardi family affair, and one that’s focused on making your experience here as memorable as possible.

Two words: The Three Amigos

The Food

So here’s one thing I always forget between visits to VIP: The food can be spicy.  Really spicy.  So much so that your beverage of choice will become your BFF.  And if that BFF involves a VIP margarita, you may need a “Lyft” or Uber home.  Even items that aren’t labeled spicy are spicy, so you know if they mark an item “Spicy” AND mark it “No Returns Please“, they mean it..

Can’t handle spice? Then ask your server about the menu item you’re considering or eat from the Gringo menu. Gringo food includes the mandatory chicken tenders loved by children everywhere, along with hot dogs and hamburgers.

VIP Enchiladas

Insider Tip: Better for small groups

It’s pretty small inside and very popular.  Even at off times you’ll have trouble seating a large party.

VIP Perfect Meal

I’ve heard the fajitas at VIP are phenomenal.  I’ve only smelled them, and always too late when I’ve already ordered. (If you’ve had them feel free to leave a comment below and tell us what you thought.) Having lived much of my life in Texas, I have a thing about fajitas.  The best place in Austin for fajitas used to be the Hyatt Regency on Town Lake. And it was THE place for runners to go post Cap 10K.  Then Pappasito’s arrived on the scene, with garlic butter poured over tender, sizzling fajitas.  That’s the bar VIP fajitas have to beat.

I’ve also heard folks get quite emotional talking about their Wet Burrito.  It’s actually the Tinga Chicken tacos that make me cry.

If you could only feel the heat this dish packs

The Parking

So more about parking.  Because let’s face it, you’re at the beach so parking is limited to begin with.  But then you put it in a tiny little center next to Ricky T’s Bar & Grille and Sweet’s n’ Treats ice cream shop, and put it right on Gulf Blvd where Central Avenue comes over and you can imagine the difficulties.

Paradise parking has a large lot located behind VIP, where Park Place dead ends at 106th Ave.  It’s paid parking but unless you have a parking fairy on  your shoulder this will be your only shot.

However, if you park back in this lot and walk in through the back entrance (through the patio section), you’ll likely see cars parked 3 deep.  Don’t be tempted, dear tourist.  This is not for you.  This is for those locals I mentioned earlier that frequent VIP so often that other frequent patrons know who’s car is whose and therefore who they can park behind and block in. I only wish I could drink margaritas and eat Mexican food so often that I could be a regular there.

Anyway, walking in through this entrance also means you will walk through the kitchen to get to the dining area.

Chips up!

Insider Tip: One small bathroom

So maybe go before you go, if you know what I mean.  And don’t wait until the last minute.  It’s all nice and friendly until a line forms for the potty.

One word: Mango.  Your reward for a life lived well.

The Details

VIP Mexican American Cuisine  – 10625 Gulf Blvd, Treasure Island, Florida  727-360-5062.  Enhance your visit to the VIP by visiting their website, Facebook page and Trip Advisor!

Visit the news page of the website to find out about special events (Cinco De Mayo is one) and daily specials.

Website

Facebook page

Trip Advisor

The Wholemeal Cafe, Golden Bay, New Zealand

There’s a Whole Lot to Love

I’m writing about The Wholemeal Cafe in Takaka because I believe that if you are lucky enough to find yourself traveling almost anywhere in Golden Bay, you should make a stop at The Wholemeal Cafe.
I’ll go so far as to say that you should visit The Wholemeal even if you’re as far away as Nelson.  We actually planned our first visit from Texas.
You just have to be prepared for “the hill“.

” I like coffee culture. It’s got integrity. After all, we are legal drug dealers, so why not have integrity?”

Wayne Green

The Granddaddy of Kiwi Cafe-Culture

If you’ve spent any time traveling in New Zealand, you’ve no doubt experienced New Zealand cafes.  I think the concept is slowly catching on in the U.S., but in many destinations here they’re missing entirely. Or you have to really work to find them.
Not so in NZ.  There are cafes everywhere, with many serving simply outstanding food.
And in my opinion, none does it better than The Wholemeal Cafe in Takaka.

Pinwheels can be seen in the upper left and lower right of the display case

A Brief History of The Wholemeal Cafe

The Wholemeal Cafe started out life as The Wholemeal Trading Company in 1977, as a sort of bulk food co-op.  The current owners took over more than 25 years ago and have “gently guided” Wholemeal to what it is today.
Located in the small, but exceptionally sited township of Takaka, The Wholemeal Cafe is a feast for the eyes and the stomach.
In 2000 they expanded into other parts of the old theatre building and the cafe took on the space and shape it still has today.
The Wholemeal Cafe is a place for the young and the old; for hipsters and hippies; for tourists and locals.

Fresh, tasty and unpretentious cafe-culture food

What You Should Eat at The Wholemeal Cafe

Anything.
Seriously, whatever strikes your fancy.  I’ve had everything from coffee to baked goods to wraps to salads to breakfast to meet pies to fish/chips.
So hopefully you get the picture.  It’s all good. Really.
So my typical MO is to go for breakfast, getting a quiche or eggs, along with the infamous Flat White coffee.  But I never leave without lunch to go in the form of a scone, or meat pie, whatever delectable fruit-filled bar they may have, a pinwheel, a salad of some sort, and a wrap.
I’m not really a wrap fan.  The only places I will eat them are at The Wholemeal Café and at T and Me Tea Company in Gulfport, Florida.  (Which is sadly no longer in business.  Come back? Please?)  Wraps not on the menu but you’ll see them in the display case.  If you’re lucky, they may have one or two leftover from the previous day and you can get those at a discount.

Insider Tip: The Wholemeal Trading Co. Green Salad Dressing

You’ll want some.  It’s self-serve, on the counters at all times in those ketchup/mustard-style squeeze bottles.  So no need to ask for dressing “on the side”. and definitely no judgement for how much of it you’ll be wanting to put on your food.

The Flat White was gone before I finished taking the photo

Whatever you decide, make sure to at least get at least one item that you can put the Wholemeal Trading Co. Green Salad Dressing on.  This might be the most perfect, both tasty and versatile, salad dressing on the planet.

About the only items this would not go well on would probably be any fruit bar or scone, or of course, not in your coffee. Or maybe in coffee would be ok.  Other than that, I think everything else is fair game as a potential vessel for this outstanding dressing.

The only caveat to getting lunch to go is that The Wholemeal is a responsible restaurant. Therefore, it isn’t chock-full of “to-go” packaging.  I’ve put the dressing on my wrap before leaving the café before, and wasn’t thrilled with the effect when I delayed eating for several hours.  So earlier this year they gave us a to-go coffee cup that we put the dressing in and covered it with plastic wrap. Needless to say this might not be the best set-up if you have an active day planned.  So if you’re traveling with a small close-able container, you’ll be set and you can add your dressing at the perfectly precise moment..

It’s a bit of a gathering place – check the local bulletin board to find out what’s going on

When To Go

This part is a little trickier.  Wholemeal Café opens early – between 7:30 am and 8:30 am most days.  But they also close early too, around 3 or 3:30 pm.
But it seems like they may now be staying open for dinner on Fridays, at least until around 8 pm.

Insider Tip: The Wholemeal Cafe cookbooks

Now there are three.  We have the first two.  The third came out earlier this year. Both of the first two contain the salad dressing recipe. For several years Terry and I ate this salad dressing on our salads every single day.  It was the perfect icing on the cake for our salad.  (Recipe to be shared later!)

Filling the display to start off the day

How to Get There

The Wholemeal Café is in the burgeoning metropolis of Takaka, the largest town in the Golden Bay region with a population of just over 1100.  (After you’ve been in New Zealand awhile, you’ll start to think of towns like Takaka and Motueka as big. And Motueka IS big – population almost 8,000!)
Just don’t be misled by the number of kilometers (104) between Nelson and Takaka. The kms don’t begin to tell the story.  In between those two towns is Takaka Hill. (If you spend much time in the region, you may see some cute t-shirts with references to The Hill on them.)

Insider Tip: Trust me, you’ll want a container

As is the norm in New Zealand, The Wholemeal Cafe runs pretty lean in terms of to-go packaging.  So you may want to bring small container if you’d like to take some green salad dressing for later.

The road through Takaka Hill is very steep with many bends.  But on good weather days the views over Tasman Bay and Golden Bay are simply stunning.  There’s no need to rush and there are plenty of places to turn out if the traffic behind is pressing you.

Takaka is going to be on your way if you’re heading up to Onekaka, Pupu Springs, Collingwood or the Farewell Spit from Nelson.  And frankly, it’s a great central place to stay, and more affordable for trips in Abel Tasman National Park than places in Kaiteriteri.

The Dressing

” Simple recipes handed down can become timeless treasures, enriching our identity and our culture.”

Wayne Green

Leave a comment below and tell us if you’ve been to The Wholemeal Cafe!