Rainbow Asian Cuisine

 2412 North Roan Street
Johnson City, TN

Don't overlook this ultra-fresh diamond in the rough!

I only had to eat at Rainbow Asian Cuisine once, and I knew I had a new favorite restaurant.

Now let me tell you why it gets 4 stars instead of 5: Location. It’s physically attached and part of a Best Western, and in a location that can be difficult to get in and out of during periods of high traffic volumes. If I completely ignored the location and graded the restaurant on food and the interior’s decor and cleanliness, Rainbow Asian Cuisine would, hands down, get the full five stars.

Just have someone else drive you there while you keep your eyes closed. :)

I recently moved to the tri-cities area from Memphis, which has a plethora of really good Vietnamese restaurants (Pho Saigon, Saigon Le, and Pho Hoa Binh) and Thai restaurants (Bhan Thai, Bangkok Alley, and Jasmine). So I wasn’t expecting the peculiarly named “Rainbow Asian Cuisine”—which serves Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese—to be anywhere on par with these other restaurants.

I was wrong.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

And I am so glad I was wrong.

From the exterior, Rainbow Asian Cuisine doesn’t look like much and doesn’t give you high expectations. It’s physically a part of a Best Western. But once you get inside, the story changes immediately. There’s a soothing wall-based water fountain and pool, a double-sided fireplace is centrally located in the dining area (which wasn’t lit when we went in August, but I bet is fantastic in winter, at night, and for romantic outings), and the decor is tastefully done.

The restaurant is immaculate. That might be because it has only been open for 3 months now, but I suspect the owner (who I talked with for a good 10-15 minutes) also has high standards of quality control and cleanliness. She seemed passionate about her food and restaurant, and it showed in everything I saw and tasted.

I arrived hoping to get some vermicelli. When I asked the waitress for it, she didn’t know what it was and immediately went to go get the owner. The owner talked to us at length about the variety of dishes available (and apologized for not having vermicelli, but recommended the pho as an alternative). She emphasized how everything was fresh and made a point of stating the herbs they used were not only fresh, but they grew and picked their own herbs!!!

My partner and I ordered and shared the spring rolls and lettuce wraps as appetizers. One bite was enough to immediately erase any and all reservations that might have been lingering.

Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s food is literally so fresh, I think the only fresher things I’ve eaten were picked out of my own garden and put directly into my mouth.

Both the lettuce wraps and the spring rolls beat the pants off of Pho Saigon’s identical menu items—and Pho Saigon has probably been ranked as Best Vietnamese Restaurant in Memphis for over a decade now!

Seriously. That good.

We ordered pho chicken noodle and Thai basil lamb for entrees. Again, Rainbow Asian Cuisine exceeded our expectations. The pho was delicious and slightly more complex (in a good way) than Pho Saigon’s offerings. The basil lamb was even better. The vegetables were cooked perfectly and…. Words just fail me.

I regret not having brought a camera to take a picture of the plate, because the food was beautifully plated. These people care deeply about what they are serving, and they serve it with pride.

Unfortunately, there were not many people in the restaurant while we were there: 1pm-2:30pm. Granted, these are not peak hours, but it seemed like the locals in Johnson City have not figured out what an absolute gem they have hiding nestled up against the side of a Best Western. This makes me concerned that Rainbow Asian Cuisine might not make it because of its location and the locals not wanting “foreign” food. It would be a shame—nay, a crime—if this were to happen.

Rainbow Asian Cuisine seems to be relying on word-of-mouth advertising, which might actually work in a smaller place like Johnson City, TN. As such, if you are reading this and in (or near) Johnson City, consider this my recommendation that you must go to rainbow Asian Cuisine.

Go between 11am-3pm (Mon-Sat) to sample the less-expensive lunch menu. You’ll be back for more. And tell a friend and write a review after you’ve visited.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Without a doubt, these are the best spring rolls I have ever eaten.

The “Fresh” in “Fresh Spring Rolls” ain’t there for show, people. The herbs are indeed fresh. So fresh, in fact, that the only fresher herbs I have had were probably the ones that I picked straight from my own garden and used within the hour.

The owner claims they grow and pick the herbs they use in the restaurant to ensure critical ingredients are as fresh and vibrant as possible. Honestly? I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a garden in the kitchen.

For $3.99, the spring rolls may very well be the best value for your money as an appetizer—and quite possibly the best appetizer.

Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps

There’s no denying that these are fantastic lettuce wraps, and 4 of them could easily make a meal for someone with a small appetite. However, priced at $9.99, it ties as the most expensive appetizer (along with the sampler platter).

All the other appetizers are $4.99 and under, so there are better, less expensive alternatives that might not be as filling. Like, for instance, Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s fresh spring rolls for $3.99. (Yum!)

The price is the only thing keeping me from giving the Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps a full 5 stars. (Maybe at $6.99?)

Thai Basil Lamb

There’s a substantially cheaper ($6.99) Thai Basil (with chicken or pork or beef—but not lamb) on the lunch menu, we wanted the lamb off the dinner menu.

The Thai basil lamb was superb and fully justified the higher price. We could not decide if the lamb was ever-ever-ever-so-slightly overcooked or not, but the vegetables were spot-on perfection. The Thai sauce brought the heat to this dish, but not overwhelmingly so.

To sum it up, my partner and I agreed that, if we were not limited by our stomachs’ capacities, we could sit and eat nothing but this all day long and not get tired of it.

Pho Vietnamese Noodle Soup (chicken)

I was a fan of Pho Saigon’s pho (in Memphis, TN) for over a decade. One bowl of Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho put Pho Saigon into second place.

To put this into perspective, Pho Saigon has probably been ranked the top Vietnamese restaurant in Memphis for over a decade. Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho? Better. So how does a restaurant that’s been open for only 3 months topple a long-standing champion?

Again, it’s the fresh herbs and vegetables that put Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho over the top.

Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho has a beef broth that is slightly more complex/rich than Pho Saigon’s broth. There’s more rice noodles, meat, and vegetables in Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho. The bowl of pho comes with a side plate containing a bowl of hoisin sauce (for dipping meat in), a bowl of sriracha (“rooster”) sauce, a lime wedge, incredibly fresh sprouts, and a sprig of basil so fresh and large you could probably stick it into the ground, keep it watered, and it’d root and grow a new plant. Pho saigon, in contrast, supplies you with a side plate of not-as-fresh herbs, no hoison sauce, no lime wedge, and the sriracha sauce is in a plastic, sometimes-dirty container on the table that kept me from ever using it.

Although both Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho and Pho Saigon’s pho are superb, Rainbow Asian Cuisine is better because the ingredients are fresher and it’s obvious they just care more about their food and its presentation.

I also think it speaks volumes about the quality of Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s pho when the only pho I’m able to compare it with comes from a restaurant about 600 miles away from Johnson City, TN!!!

Ginger Salad

Normally I’m not a fan of salads, and Rainbow Asian Cuisine’s wasn’t likely to convert me. It didn’t. I think I was expecting a more traditional Japanese ginger salad, but this dressing wasn’t as vinegary and had a hint of creaminess to it.

It wasn’t a bad ginger salad (like I had at a sushi restaurant a couple weeks before where they’d tried to pass off thousand island as being oriental), and I imagine people who are more enthusiastic about salads would say it was good. But me? I just thought it was a decent salad.


Juicy Jim's Pizzeria

 551 S Highland St
Memphis, TN

Even though it's good pizza, there's better in Memphis.

Ready to be confused?

Juicy Jim’s Pizzeria is located on 551 S. Highland, and Juicy Jim’s (without the “pizzeria”) is at 546 S. Highland—right across the street from one another.

Yes, it’s wonky. It all stems from a contract that Domino’s has with the landlord for the strip mall, prohibiting any other businesses from selling pizzas, so Juicy Jim opened up the pizzeria across the street from Domino’s—and Juicy Jim’s original store (that focuses on subs).

One of the great things about Juicy Jim’s Pizzeria is that it’s open from 11am to 3am, so you can get a late night pizza from them. They also make their dough fresh and from scratch. I had a chicken and spinach pizza and it was quite good. As a warning, the “medium” at Juicy Jim’s pizzeria is probably the size of a large at Domino’s or Little Ceaser’s—and the crust is pretty dense/filling.

There’s no “special” (meat lover, vegetarian, supreme, etc.) pizzas available, so each topping you add to your pie will take a chunk out of your wallet. Recreating a “supreme” style pizza at Juicy Jim’s Pizzeria is probably going to run you $30-some dollars.

Despite my coming to the restaurant on a Sunday, during a lull in business, and with the owner present and working the front, it took nearly 40 minutes from the time I ordered until I received the pizza—and this was carry out, not delivery. Juicy Jim’s Pizzeria has only been in business for a couple months, so there may still be some problems being worked out behind the scenes.

While Juicy Jim’s Pizzeria makes good pizza and is open until 3am; it’s pricey, slow, and not the best pizza Memphis has to offer. Check out Memphis Pizza Cafe if you like thin crust pizza or check out (my personal favorite) the Pizza Shack’s thicker crust, homemade dough, and signature “Shack Attack” pizza (with BBQ sauce and pulled pork—among numerous other things). Neither will leave you disappointed, waiting forever, or wondering where all the money in your wallet went.


Juicy Jim's

 546 S Highland St
Memphis, TN

Great steak sub sandwiches, though a bit pricey and slow.

Juicy Jim’s is a nice independent business located nearish the southwestern side of the University of Memphis. There are two Juicy Jim’s restaurants, one right across the street from the other. The small shop on 546 S Highland Street sells subs and calzones, whereas Juicy Jim’s Pizzeria across the street at 551 S Highland sells pizzas and beer.

Yes, there’s a reason for the same business being located on both sides of the same street! Apparently the Domino’s Pizza adjacent to 546 put something in the lease where no other restaurant could sell pizzas out of the same shopping center, and Juicy Jim’s didn’t realize that, had to stop selling pizzas at that location, and then rented a new location across the street so they could do pizzas anyway. (I’m sure this would make a textbook “how not to run a business” example in an MBA/business class. I’m also betting that the old location at 546 eventually gets closed so as to minimize expenses/rent/salaries.)

But… on to the sandwiches. To sum it up, they’re tasty but a bit expensive. Foot long sandwiches tend to run in the $10-14 range. The menu is a bit daunting for newcomers: it’s lengthy and doesn’t feel well organized, so you’re going to end up ordering whatever or you’re going to spend several minutes reading over all the options/combos. I’ve had two sandwiches so far. I can’t remember the names of them (one was steak and peppers and cheese and marinara sauce whilst the other one was a “garbage” type sandwich with everything on it. Both were so filling that I could barely eat them and then I didn’t (couldn’t?) eat anything else for the rest of the day.

The restaurant itself was relatively clean, although I did spy a roach climbing the walls in the dining area. (But seriously, what restaurant/house in Memphis DOESN’T have at least one roach in it?) The staff…. looked stoned, although they were friendly. However long you think it takes to make your sandwich, add an extra 5-10 minutes, and that’s about when you’ll get your sandwich.

As I mentioned before, I suspect everything is going to be consolidated in the new business location across the street—and some apathy and ennui may have set in at the old/original location.

If you want something faster and cheaper, try the Super Submarine Sandwich Shop just across the railroad tracks on Highland.


El Chico (CLOSED)

 3491 Poplar Ave
Memphis, TN

Standard mexican food with a few gems, but kind of dirty.


EDITED Sept 14, 2010

The El Chico located at 3491 Poplar Ave, Memphis TN 38111 closed down and has been replaced by another Mexican restaurant called La Hacienda.


This is a 2.5 star restaurant that’s rounded up to a 3.

El Chico’s is a small (under 100 franchises) sit-down restaurant chain in the southeastern US. I’ve only been to the Memphis location at the Poplar-Highland intersection, so can’t speak for other locations within the chain. However, the Poplar-Highland establishment is a decent enough Mexican restaurant and bar.

My first trip to El Chico’s was after class with a bunch of archaeology grad students to get margaritas. For those that don’t know, academics that do rural field research (archaeologists, biologists, geologists, etc.) are reknowned for their ability to find good bars. I’m normally not a fan of alcoholic beverages, but I have to admit that El Chico’s does produce some nice mixed drinks.

Like many sit-down Mexican restaurants, El Chico’s serves free chips and salsa. The chips are served hot and the salsa isn’t bad. El Chico goes a step above other restaurants though in that they will also provide free cheese dip, which is good alone or mixed with the free salsa. Poor grad students can definitely take advantage of the good drinks when combined with free chips, salsa, and cheese dip! :)

Most of the menu items are nothing special—not bad,but they just don’t stand out. Things you ought to try though are the 7-layer dip (inexpensive and very filling), the skillet brownie (chocolate/sugar overload!), and the Top Shelf guacamole (best I’ve ever had).

I’ve never had bad service here, though some of the waiters and waitresses are clearly better than the others who are just “coasting” along.

The one downside to the restaurant is that it can be dirty sometimes. The lights are dim, so you might not notice. But if you wait until your eyes adjust and then really look around, you’ll notice it. This is more of a housekeeping issue than a problem with the food. I’ve never had questionable things in my food (and I have looked), but A tends to eventually lead to B in these situations—unless A is addressed. If El Chico put more effort into cleaning up and played more on food presentation, it could merit 4 stars instead of a 2.5 rounded up to a 3.

Top Shelf Guacamole

Guacamole that’s hand-made from ripe avocados right at your table. It just doesn’t get any fresher than that!

I’m not normally a fan of guacamole, but this was actually good enough that I’d spring for it. A couple of my friends who love guacamole swear that this is the best there is and order it every single time they go. They’re practically salivating on the table by the time it’s served.

Brownie Skillet Sundae

A triple chocolate brownie with pecans topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and brandy-butter sauce.

I absolutely love this dessert and it’s practically a meal all on its own. You’ll be getting a large piece of brownie that’s served hot on a scalding skillet. The server will pour the brandy-butter sauce over the top and it will boil as it hits the hot skillet. (My mouth is watering as I type this.)

Personally, I like to tweak this dish just a little. If I’m in “chocolate overkill” mode I’ll ask them to substitute chocolate sauce for the brandy-butter sauce. I also like to substitute cinnamon ice cream instead of vanilla, as I think it pairs better with the chocolate brownie (but might not work for everyone with the brandy-butter sauce instead of the chocolate sauce).

I think this is probably one of the best desserts in Memphis.

Seven layer dip

The starving college student special!

The seven layer dip (the bowl, not the cup!) is a great deal. You’ll get a HUGE bowl of dip that will probably take an entire basket of tortilla chips to polish off. You can almost feed two people off of this one appetizer—or one person can make it into an entire meal and leave feeling like a bloated tick and not wanting to eat anything else the rest of the day.

While the dish itself is merely what you’d expect from a Mexican restaurant, the price and the volume of food makes this menu item an exceptional value—and thus 4 stars instead of 3.


Letizia's Pizza

 666 Main Avenue
Norwalk, CT

Probably the very best pizza in Norwalk,CT--if not CT.

Walk into Letizia’s and it won’t be long before you’re greeted with a smiling face. The employees all seem to be happy to be there and happy to see customers. And you’ll be happy you went there to get a pizza. Customer service is superb and you can tell that the employees really are concerned about the quality of the food and their customers’ dining experience.

Letizia’s is a small pizzeria and doesn’t have a large dining area, but that’s what take-out is for. Letizia makes all their pizzas on a made-to-order place basis. Pizzas are fired in a wood-burning stove, so you’ll be smelling and tasting a hint of smoke and wood with your pizza—and it really adds to the whole experience. In fact, this is where getting take-out pizza actually works in your favor. The pizzas smell divine when they come out of the oven, and if you ate in the restaurant, you might be tempted to dive in right away. If you did, you’d burn your mouth. Instead, if you do take out, that gives the molten, magma-hot toppings a chance to cool off just a little before being consumed.

I’m an out-of-towner and I’ve been to Letizia’s about a dozen times over the course of two years. I have never gotten an inconsistent pizza: they’re always excellent. It’s one of the things I look forward to each time I’m in Norwalk on business.

The only criticism I can level on Letizia’s is that the crust is super-saggy. I like a little more structural support when I pull off a slice, but this is really just my own preference—there’s nothing inherently wrong with Letizia’s crust: it still tastes great. I suspect this might be a regional/traditional thing where people like to fold/roll their pizza slices.

Garbage pizza

Letizia’s version of “the works.” It has so many toppings on it that I have simply forgotten what all is involved. All I know is that it’s very good. If there’s a topping that you don’t like, Letizia’s will accommodate you by swapping it out for another “non-premium” topping.

Buffalo pizza

Hot wings on pizza? Is that legal? Is that a good idea?

I’m here to tell you that yes, it is a great idea (though it is probably illegal to some food critics)! The spicy tang of the hot sauce on the chicken gave this pizza a nice little kick. I’d never had anything like it before and I was back the next week for another one—this time with even more hot sauce.

Surprisingly, the best hot wings I had in Norwalk were the hot wings on Letizia’s Buffalo pizza. I highly recommend this spicy taste adventure.


Planet Pizza

 607 Main Ave
Norwalk, CT

Mediocre pizza, sub-par pizza rolls, and weak hot wings.

The Norwalk, CT Planet Pizza is right across the road from the Hilton Garden Inn, so it’s a quick, easy, and obvious place to go for a quick bite if you’re spending a day or three at the hotel—except that you shouldn’t.

The pizza isn’t all that bad, but it’s nothing particularly special. If you want good local pizza, go to Letizia’s about a half mile down the road—even if you have to walk on foot. In the rain. Uphill both ways.

The pizza rolls…. These items are pre-made and reheated as ordered.

The hot wings—even the hottest available—were simply tame compared to what you can get in the southern US of A. I think the Connecticut Yankees were a little out of King Arthur’s hot wing court. :)

It’s interesting that tiramisu was on the menu as a dessert. I’d never seen tiramisu on a pizza place’s menu before, but I quickly learned that nearly every restaurant in Norwalk has tiramisu on the menu.

But the absolute worst sin of all is this: the sauce is just Barilla pasta sauce, which you can get at the grocery store, instead of something homemade. They even advertise the fact that they use Barilla right on the menu. (Just look at their online menu on the first page!) I can’t imagine that any self-respecting Italian pizzeria would ever do such a thing, and even if they did use Barilla sauce, they’d at least doctor it a bit and then create the illusion that it’s something other than canned sauce. There’s just no explanation for this offense other than outright lack of caring, which seems to be a pervasive attitude in this restaurant—and the root of all its problems.

Even though I spent nearly 4 months (over the course of 2 years) living out of the Hilton next door to Planet Pizza, every time I went there the food was consistently sub-par. I finally gave up on them and I just don’t go there anymore—even when the company I work for is picking up the tab.

Pizza rolls

I tried three different pizza rolls (eggplant parm, chicken cutlet parm, and meat lover’s roll) over the course of about 3 months. Each time I ordered one, the guy behind the counter pulled a pre-made one out and stuck it in the oven to reheat it. (At least it wasn’t a microwave.) Sure, restaurants reheat pre-made stuff all the time, but most have enough humility and shame to not do it so openly. The end result is about what you’d expect: dry and rubbery crust and a core that’s been cooked overly long.

It was consistent though: consistently “eh.”

If you do find yourself faced with the prospect of eating one, get extra sauce to help mask the taste. Barilla to the rescue!

The Works Pizza

All in all, this wasn’t a bad pizza, but it wasn’t anything to get excited about either. It was DEFINITELY better than the pizza rolls.

However, there’s an absolutely AMAZING pizza place (Letizia’s) half a mile down the road—but they aren’t open as late. Letizia’s makes fresh pizzas with great toppings and dough in a wood-fired oven that leaves lingering hints of smoked wood to tantalize your taste buds.

Honestly, the only reason for getting a pizza from Planet Pizza when Letizia’s is so close would be if Letizia’s was closed. Even then, the nearby Tuscan Oven just south of the Hilton makes a much better pizza to order in a wood-fired oven and they take real pride in their food. They’ll even deliver it to the Hilton since it’s right next door.

Buffalo wings (12 piece)

Your standard buffalo/hot wings—or so you’d think. I’m a fan of spicy wings, so I ordered the hottest they had to offer—Toxic. I also bought two drinks thinking that this would be an eye-watering, sinus-devastating experience.

It wasn’t.

Planet Pizza’s version of “toxic” (which is beyond their “hot” version) was pretty tame and very disappointing. I thought that this might just be folks from Connecticut not liking spicy foods as much as southerners, but Letizia’s makes a buffalo wing pizza that had wings almost twice as hot as what Planet Pizza put out.

People from Norwalk clearly know how to make wings spicy, but Planet Pizza apparently can’t handle the heat—or thinks their customers can’t.


Ubees Restaurant & Bar

 521 S Highland St
Memphis, TN

An unremarkable college-themed restaurant

Imagine a run-of-the-mill restaurant about a block away from a large college, done up in the local college’s school colors, with a big screen TV for watching sporting events, but not serving alcoholic beverages.

That’s Ubee’s in a nutshell.

I had a coupon from for Ubee’s, so I sprung for lunch for myself and a couple other coworkers. None of us were particularly impressed with the food—it wasn’t bad but it wasn’t good. Ubee’s does get points for the clever/fun names of the menu items, though. You can tell they had fun developing the menu.

Unfortunately, school spirit as a marketing gimmick and witty names on the menu don’t compensate for what was merely average, forgettable food.

Given the choice of spending $6-8 at Ubee’s or spending $4-6 at the grocery store and grilling something myself, I’d grill something myself. And if I was concerned about time instead of money, I’d go grab better food from somewhere else nearby, like R. P. Tracks (see my review for them).

Hot wings

Ubee’s has two kinds of wings: hot wings and mild wings. I like my wings with some fire so went for Ubee’s hot wings. What a disappointment. There was almost no heat at all. Whenever I eat hot wings, I have to compare them to Don Don’s hot wings. (See my other review for Don Don’s hot wings.) Comparing Ubee’s hot wings to Don Don’s hot wings is like comparing a firecracker to an atom bomb. That said, I have had worse hot wings. (See my review for Yum’s.)

If you’re in the mood for hot wings, Don Don’s is still THE place to go in Memphis. They have more kick and you get more for your money.

Chocolate therapy

Ubee’s menu describes this item as being “chocolate cobbler.” I’d hoped for an ooey-gooey brownie-type dessert mixed in with molten chocolate fudge. You know, like you’d expect from a dessert described as a “chocolate cobbler.” After all, that’s the kind of mind-blowing chocolate you’d expect from a dessert called “chocolate therapy” and priced at $5.

Instead, chocolate therapy turned out to be an almost cake-like brownie that was far too sweet and far too skimpy on chocolate. There was no molten chocolate fudge. There was not even a drizzle of Hershey’s syrup over the top. It was just a cake-like brownie—and not a very chocolatey one at that. Portion-wise, it looked more like a $2 serving than a $5 one. I would certainly never pay $5 for it again. (Honestly, I wouldn’t even pay $1 for it again.)

In short, “chocolate therapy” couldn’t live up to its clever name, which promised far more than it delivered. If I need chocolate therapy (and who doesn’t from time to time?), I’ll pop over to Muddy’s Bakery (see my review for them) or El Chico’s Mexican restaurant for their skillet brownie—now THAT is some serious chocolate therapy.

Dirty hippie

The “Dirty hippie” is a clever name for a vegetarian portabella mushroom sandwich with roasted red pepper, feta, artichoke on ciabatta bread. Unfortunately the name is the most clever thing about the sandwich.

A coworker had this item and I asked her opinion of it. She said it had too much portabella, which overwhelmed the other ingredients. Overall, she ranked it as “okay” but said she wouldn’t order it again—especially considering that it was $7 and that there are other good sandwich shops (Super Sub Shop, Jason’s Deli, Raffe’s) in the area.

In fact, she said she wouldn’t bother ever going back to Ubee’s. It wasn’t bad, but it just wasn’t worth it.


Republic Coffee

 2924 Walnut Grove Rd
Memphis, TN

Eco-friendly, healthier alternative to Starbucks

With the closing of my usual hangout of Highpoint Coffee, I set out in search of a new place to do work and study. I ended up at Republic Coffee, which is a hybridized coffee shop with a limited restaurant component. This was my first trip and I’m pretty impressed. I’ll definitely be back.

I’m writing this review from the restaurant, where there’s free wireless available as well as ample plugs. I’ve monopolized a table for the past 3.5 hours and haven’t been run off or given any dirty looks—though I have been periodically ordering food and not just mooching wireless and air conditioning. (Mooching really perturbs some businesses, and quite understandably so.) There’s several other people with laptops and books, so I suspect this is a popular place for college students.

Walking in the door there’s a series of bins for sorting out the trash from the recyclables, so Republic Coffee gets points for being eco-conscious. They get even more points using “slow food” member, obtaining organic and sustainable foodstuffs. And then there’s even more points on top of that for installing solar panels that take the restaurant “off the grid.” All together, I think that merits 5 stars from any hippies. :)

There’s no “regular” coffee here. It’s Americana so a bit stronger than you’d get elsewhere. Drinks run the range from smoothies to espressos (creams and truffles), americanos, cappuccinos, lattes, Mochas, frappes, Italian sodas, and teas.

Insofar as food goes, there’s a wide range of organic, slow-food options—though the specialty seems to be geared towards breakfast themed selections.

There are events on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Friday (live music) nights from 7-9pm or 7-10pm. If you’re feeling sociable that’s great, but the activities can be disruptive if you’re attempting to do work or study. The acoustics can be a bit loud at times from the general din of chatter. The patio is unfortunately fairly small and parking can be a bit tight.

Service was pretty good considering that there were about 15-30 patrons in the restaurant and only one waitress, one barrista, and one cook. Music selection was eclectic and soft, sometimes with “organic” sounding acoustic covers of recognizable popular tunes with an occasional folksy song tossed in the mix.

Price-wise, Republic Coffee is a little more expensive than I’d grown used to at High Point Coffee, but I have to admit that the quality is better and I’m eager to try new things on their drink and food menus.

hashbrown casserole

This blew the doors off the hashbrowns you get from McDonalds—and pretty much every other place I’ve been to that serves hashbrowns. I’m not sure how it’s prepared, but it’s good and filling with a nice mix of salt and pepper. It’s delivered hot, made to order, and with a gooey light sprinkling of shredded cheese melting on the top.

Americano decaf

Normally I don’t do americano, much less a straight-up americano, but I wanted to sample the baseline decaf coffee they served. If you don’t have that, you’ve got nothing to build and and everything to try and cover up with syrups and dairy/soy products.

I’m pleased to say that Republic Coffee has no need to hide anything.

Orange Bronc

A smoothie made from organic orange juices, bananas, orange sherbert, and vanilla yogurt. This was just the right balance of sweet and tangy and it came in a glass that was probably able to hold 20 ounces. This is a tasty item and a good value. I just wish I’d drank it slower and savored it instead of greedily slurping it down and chasing the remnants around the bottom of the glass with the straw.


Pita Mediterrean

 3950 Park Ave
Memphis, TN

Good, inexpensive pita wraps

Don’t bother looking for “Pita Mediterrean” on a sign out front. The restaurant’s sign actually reads “Pita Wraps.” Yes, just like the other “Pita Wraps” on Poplar near Mendenhall. The guy that used to run that place sold it and opened this new store next to the Burger King where Goodlett dead-ends into Park.

I’m happy to say that the food is just as good at the new location—and just as plentiful. Plus, the food is about $1 cheaper per item than the location on Poplar!!! Suh-wheet!!

The restaurant isn’t anything special inside, and the decor is a clashing mash-up of minimalism paintings paired with photos of animals from the BBC’s “Planet Earth” series. But hey, they at least made an effort!

Despite the lack of a themed decor, the restaurant’s interior is very clean and orderly. The Health Inspector gave them a 95 on the last inspection, which is well above the average for restaurants in this area of town.

Overall, this is a very nice little “mom and pop” pita wrap place that thousands and thousands of people drive past each day and won’t ever discover what they’re missing. The owner is very nice, eager to get your business, and appears to be relying largely on word-of-mouth for advertising. (That latter bit could be a fatal mistake. He should probably advertise on the nearby college campus.)

chicken shawarma pita wrap

Don’t be surprised if the guy that owns the store recommends this wrap to you. He almost certainly will.

Imagine a chicken shawarma pita wrap almost as big as a Nerf football. Okay, maybe not that big, but it’s definitely going to fill you to capacity and then some. Crammed with fresh vegetables and hummus and sauces, be sure to pick up some extra napkins for when the juices go running down your arms.

If this dish wasn’t so darn cheap and filling, I’d give it just 3 stars because the chicken seemed just a little on the bland side. However, I’m biased towards the lamb, so this could be my own personal preference.

I’d take this dish instead of fast food burgers or subway in a heartbeat.


The Pizza Shack

 4523 Summer Ave
Memphis, TN

Competition for Memphis Pizza Cafe?

If you’ve lived for any length of time in Memphis, you know that Memphis Pizza Cafe is THE place to go for pizza in Memphis.

Until now.

A co-worker ordered pizza for a business meeting and got it from The Pizza Shack. I was absolutely floored by the quality of the pizzas. The Pizza Shack has fresh, homemade pizza dough that tastes like you made it yourself—or rather how you WISH you could make it yourself. The toppings are generous (but not overwhelmingly so) and of superior quality. The sauce (also freshly homemade) was quite tasty—a good pairing of tangy and zesty. I like a lot of sauce on my pizza, but The Pizza Shack has about the usual amount—so if you love sauce (like me) you’ll want to request extra on your pizza when you order.

Surprisingly, all this homemade quality and taste don’t come at a wallet-gouging price: The Pizza Shack’s pizzas (and other foods) are quite reasonably priced. You could spend as much at a chain pizza place, but you’d be insane to do it when you could have TPS pizza instead.

The Pizza Shack isn’t a large restaurant, but it uses its space well and has a “cozy” atmosphere. It’s clear that they’ve put some effort into making the place look nice, clean (98 and 99 on the last two health inspections!!!), and welcoming. Also, they’ve got delivery service, which helps reduce the potential load on the dining area.

My co-worker’s kids loved the restaurant’s “build your own pizza” feature. Basically, kids can put their own toppings on their own personal pizza and then have it cooked to perfection for them. (Perfect for the fussy eater!) As an adult, I also find that kind of customization intriguing—and I don’t think there’s any other restaurant in Memphis that offers anything like this.

In summation, I don’t think that The Pizza Shack dethrones Memphis Pizza Cafe as being the best pizza in Memphis. MPC is great for cracker-thin crust pizza and TPS is great for a good, thick and chewy pizza crust. They’ve each got their own merits depending on what you’re in the mood for, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in either.

If you’re sitting on the fence as to where to get pizza, give The Pizza Shack a chance. It’s only been open since the end of March 2009, so it’s not well-known…. yet. Go there. Have a pizza. Then go tell your friends and become a regular. This is a new business that’s well worth supporting.

There is a downside to the store: it’s in a very hard-to-find location. It’s actually behind some other business off of Summer Ave. near N. Perkins. It’s easier to find if you just go to the Lowe’s off of N. Perkins and park in the northwestern corner of the Lowe’s parking lot.

Our Meaty Pizza is just that: hearty and MEATY! For everyone who feels carnivorous! - Meaty at The Pizza Shack


A meat-lovers pizza. Pepperoni, sausage, ham, bacon, ground beef, salami, and steak—with a special seasoning that adds even more saltiness and spice. As usual, the crut is wonderfully doughy and chewy. This was quite possibly the best meat-lovers pizza I’ve ever eaten. Incredibly filling. I’d also go with extra sauce (aka “pizza lubricant”), but that’s just my own preference for more sauce than usual.

The Italian Stallion

Pepperoni, black olives, salami, red onions, and Italian meatballs. This meaty pizza packs a bit of a spicy kick—and you can ask to have it made even spicier. I would DEFINITELY recommend requesting extra tomato sauce on this particular pizza. It ain’t Italian without lots of tomato sauce!


You know what I like most on my veggie pizza? Meat. Unfortunately that rather defeats the point of vegetarian food. So if you’re skipping the meat, then this pizza is for you. Whereas I was missing the lack of seared dead animal flesh, vegetarians will probably give this pizza the full 5 stars (or maybe 4). It comes with broccoli, red and green peppers, mushrooms, red onions, and black olives. Jalapenos are optional (but I’d personally go for them and extra sauce). The only gripe I have about the veggie (other than the lack of meatiness) is that I’d have liked for there to have been slightly more veggie toppings. Sliced whole tomatoes (or sun dried tomatoes) might make for a welcome addition.

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