With an open mind, and possibly a little liquid courage, we're looking to discover those dumpy but delicious places that we might never set foot in alone.
We've gathered a group of adventurous souls for cocktails and dive eating, and we're calling it the Dive Bar Dinner Club.
For our inaugural Dive Bar Dinner Club adventure, we chose Chino Bandido Takee Outee
. The restaurant, with its funky fried Chinese-Mexican menu, has been featured on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins' and Dives
. Chino Bandido has two locations, but we wanted to make sure we got the authentic experience so we chose the original at 19th Avenue and Thunderbird.
The club rules are fairly simple. Once a month, leave your fancy foodie snobbery at home and head to the host's house for a cocktail and the dive reveal. Drink and discuss, then head for the dive.
Overlooking the hand painted sign, dubious location, and questionable menu, bravely enter the chosen restaurant and partake in what it has to offer. Rave about the brilliance of the choice. Or not.
At the conclusion of dinner, choose a new host and do the whole thing again next month.
Here's the scoop on our first drink and dive:
: Since Chino Bandido serves up unexpected Mexican Chinese combinations, the pre-dive warm up was a Ginger Margarita
. The recipe, which can be found here
, includes a ginger syrup made from fresh ginger, lemongrass, sugar and lime juice. If you are going to try making this one, remember to prepare the syrup ahead of time to allow time for it to cool completely before mixing the drink.
After placing our orders, we headed for the dining area, a large open room with garish fluorescent lighting and rows of folding tables lined up cafeteria style.
Sure, the seating is by no means stylish, but the large tables provided ample room for our large group. And as far as a dive restaurant goes, the bright lighting might just be considered a plus.
The place was a little industrial church basement-ish, but comfy enough that we didn't feel the need to immediately reach for the hand sanitizer.
It wouldn't be a dive if the décor didn't include some unexpected fixtures and Chino does not disappoint.
Tucked into a corner we spotted an enormous statue of a giant panda wearing a sombrero, the Chino mascot. We saluted our new friend and settled in to sip our beers, both Mexican and Chinese varieties, while waiting for the food.
The Dinner: Chino Bandido offers fourteen entrees in three configurations, a rice bowl, a burrito, or a quesadilla. The entrees can be ordered individually, but we recommend going for a combo with sides of refried beans and pork fried rice.
The group favorites were the jade red chicken, a spicy sweet chicken that we ordered as a burrito and the emerald chicken, a tasty ginger and green onion combination delicious in a quesadilla. The carnita rice bowl was just so-so, but the pork fried rice was tasty enough to be ordered and eaten as a meal alone. We also sampled the chile relleno and the tostada, and though they were both cheesy guilty pleasures, the group agreed that the Chinese-Mexican combo dishes were the best.
The meals are all served in aluminum take out containers. Nothing fancy, but you can easily pop a lid on and take the leftovers home. And you do want to take the food home, it's that good.
The takee outee option is nice in theory, but none of us left any food behind. We'd have to order extras to make that happen, but the food was so inexpensive that we might just be tempted to do so on a return visit.
Finally, each meal is served with a complimentary cookie. And who doesn't love the cheap thrill of a free cookie?
Overall our first Dive Bar Dinner Club experience was a huge success The pre-game ginger margarita cocktail and the food at Chino Bandido were both so satisfying that we think the dive bar has been set pretty high. Will our next one be this good?
Join us again in a few weeks to find out where we're brave enough to drink and dive next!