Is money tight at your house after the holidays? It seems to be the American way, so I’m usually on the lookout for some value restaurant options in January, and we have a couple here today: Caesar’s Deli on Wilson Road and the new Ruby Thai Kitchen in the Valley Plaza food court.
A few months ago Caesar’s Deli in the southwest extended its hours, staying open for dinner until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday (they’ve since added Sundays). I know what you’re thinking: Sandwiches are a lunch thing (Subway begs to differ). But considering the consistently full parking lot at Chuy’s just a few yards to the west, Caesar’s probably figured it was worth a shot.
We visited on a Monday night while NFL football was still in the regular season and were the only customers, so we got to watch the game on the flat-screen TV while sitting at picnic tables with red and white checkered tablecloths. The regular sandwich menu is available and the pastas (reheated in a microwave) but no particular new dinner items. Beer is available, no wine, but it can only be consumed off premises. We ordered the lasagna and the beef-spinach ravioli ($5.99 each) as well as a side of toasted garlic bread made with their trademark sesame-seed French rolls.
Don’t expect al dente pasta — I believe the microwave heating process destroys that — but both were particularly cheesy choices and we got away without spending $20, with enough for leftovers. A bargain dinner option indeed.
Not bad for a place whose slogan is “You’ll love our tongue!” (I’m sure you can see why using that as the centerpiece of an ad campaign would give me pause.) Like Firehouse and Costco, they offer Splash Café clam chowder.
On to Ruby Thai Kitchen, which moved into the old Dairy Queen space at the Valley Plaza food court. Since opening in December they’ve been aggressive at offering samples of both the Thai barbecue chicken and the mango chicken, possibly copying neighbor Sarku’s longtime practice of luring customers with free food on toothpicks.
(They sometimes seem so insistent that you try their teriyaki chicken that walking away is probably a social insult.)
This stuff is pretty good in a China Bistro way, though the variety is more restricted and the noodles need more vegetables in them to rescue them from blandness. (I watched the chef preparing them while waiting to pay, and it was captivating to watch his motions.)
The stars to me were the jalapeno shrimp ($1.50 extra) and mango chicken, which had the sweet-hot combination that is the cornerstone of Thai cuisine as well as an exterior crunchiness that added a special punch to the appeal of the flavors.
My companion got the mango chicken as a chef’s special ($6.29) with fried rice, which isn’t much better than the noodles — passable but undistinctive, and steamed vegetables (surprisingly firm, not steam-table mushy).
I chose the two-item entrée ($6.79) and really appreciated the mix of vegetables. The shrimp, for example, had white onions, zucchini and green and red peppers.
I didn’t see jalapenos, but you could sure taste them and they hadn’t fished out the inedible dried red peppers.
If you like spicy and the shrimp is available, this is a must order. My other entrée was the beef basil (pork basil is also available) and this was a respectable version with tender, flavorful beef.
The Valley Plaza food court is totally packed on weekends, even though the old Schlotzsky’s space is still looking for a tenant.
One thing we did notice is that most of the restaurants are putting the calorie counts on the menu (Charley’s Grilled Subs, Sarku, Subway, Panda Express, even Hot Dog on a Stick), though Ruby Thai is still working on that.