Monroe has a surprising number of restaurants. I could be catty and say that there's nothing much else to do in Monroe but eat. I could be cattier and say that I can prove it by the appearance of most of the people in the city. On the other hand, I shouldn't talk...
Anyway, a new Chile Verde just opened within five minutes of our apartment! I was surprised to discover, after moving down here, that I really enjoy authentic (or a reasonable facsimile) Mexican food. Chile Verde is the best in town. It's a local chain (now with four stores) with good prices, large portions (see the above paragraph) and great food. There are a couple of other Mexican places in Monroe, the worst being El Chico's, part of a large franchise chain.
The best burgers are found at local dives. I like the burgers at Bayles Landing, a place a short distance from where I work, over the bridge in West Monroe, and at Melvyn's, another dive on 18th Street. Neither has much in the way of decor and both look like they are this close to collapsing, but the food is good. Other non-franchise (or local chain) favourites are Eskamoe's (frozen custard, yum!), Jade Garden (Chinese buffet), Pickle Barrel (lunches a specialty), Bubba Luigi's (semi-fine dining), and La Bella Vita (which may actually be part of a larger chain). Because it was so expensive we've only gone to the Tokyo Steakhouse once, but it was worth it. Our favourite pizza place is Johnny's, a local chain found throughout northern Louisiana.
Like most places in the U.S., most of the popular restaurants are franchises. You have your Olive Gardens and your Red Lobsters. Our favourites are Lone Star and Logan's for steaks (though Lone Star has gone downhill recently, and for over a year now has been plagued with skunky-tasting Diet Coke), Corky's for barbecue, and Olive Garden (tied with La Bella Vita) for Italian. A southern chain called Copeland's does wonderful cajun food. The best chicken fingers, without a doubt, are from a New Orleans based restaurant called Raising Cane's, which is good because chicken fingers is all they sell.
In spite of all these restaurants, there are some gaps in the culinary landscape. There are only a smattering of doughnut shops, and none of them are as good as Canada's Country Time doughnut stores (and I think Country Time takes a back seat to the ubiquitous Tim Horton's!). You'd think someone would bring in a Crispy Creme at least, but the only time you can buy those in Monroe is on special occasions when grocery stores ship them in from Shreveport. As such I've gone from a serious doughnut addiction to one every two or three months. There are a few fish places that are heavily into catfish and shrimp, but none that do Canadian/British style fish and chips. The local Chinese places are almost all buffet style, and Chinese take-out consists of pulling items from the buffet table. Aside from Mexican, Asian and Italian, there are almost no ethnic restaurants in Monroe. A Greek place opened, then closed, and is now a Mediterranean restaurant.
With so much to choose from, it's depressing to see people lined up at the local Cracker Barrel, Outback, or (*shudder*) Hooters, but they do! I really don't understand it. Okay, I admit to having a craving for Outback, but only because they are one of the few places that serve lamb and I love lamb. But the others don't make sense to me. There's better food at better prices elsewhere in town, if they'd only look. Most Americans (and, to be honest, most Canadians) have an obsession with "safe" eating establishments. They'll stand in line outside of Cracker Barrel when they could be sitting down to eat in La Bella Vita a short distance away.
I can't complain about the food choices in Monroe. Alana tells me there are more restaurants in Monroe per capita than in any other city in the state (Monroe may be number one if the city beating it out was New Orleans *sigh*). Still, if we ever win the lottery we're opening up a Tim Horton's franchise!
4 Good Years
9 months ago