Obsessed. That about sums up my thoughts on Viva Chicken. Located in Elizabeth (on the charming Elizabeth Street), Viva Chicken is my go-to spot for fresh, great tasting food that’s actually healthy. I’m sure some people go there for the chicken–they do specialize in Peruvian Rotisserie, after all. But me? I go there for the Aji Amarillo sauce. It’s one of their three hot sauces, the mild one, and (to quote the Frank’s Red Hot Granny) I’d put that **** on everything. And that includes the awesome sandwiches at Viva Chicken, which they make with chewy grilled ciabatta bread. My favorites are the Butfiarra (roasted pork with lime marinated onions and smoked rocoto (hot pepper) mayo) and the Wow Lomito (char-grilled sirloin with peppers and onions). You can add sliced avocado and provolone to any sandwich, and I highly recommend you do.
When I’m looking to keep things a little lighter (read: no carbs for the carb monster), I opt for the Viva Chicken Salad, which comes with large slices of avocado, tomato, cucumber, and feta. It’s served with their house balsamic dressing, but more often than not, I substitute the mild Aji Amarillo sauce instead.
There’s also the quinoa stuffed avocado, which is quickly becoming a Charlotte legend. You get a whole avocado, loaded with a fresh quinoa salad, topped with balsamic dressing and a drizzle of rocoto mayo, and you have the option of adding pulled rotisserie chicken (do it.).
The Sopa De Pollo is a mild tasting soup, with lots of cilantro and a simple chicken broth. It’s not the most exciting dish on the menu, but (speaking from experience) it’s great to slurp on when you’re sick.
Given the presence of animal protein in the restaurant name, I was surprised to see there are quite a few vegetarian options on the menu (in addition to the quinoa stuffed avocado), like the Naked Peruvian, a ciabatta sandwich with lots of veggies and avocado, and the Inca wrap with Peruvian canary beans. The menu also includes some Asian-inspired dishes, like strip steak stir fry and soy ginger noodles.
Viva is a fast casual place–you order at counter, grab a number, and the food magically appears mere minutes later. They have an iphone app(!) that lets you order and pay right from your phone, if you so choose. The only thing I don’t love about Viva Chicken is the music in the dining room–it’s a little too loud and a lot too clubby.
When people ask me what the best food trucks in Charlotte are, the Herban Legend is always at the top of my list. Owned and operated by Chef Brian Seeley, the Herban Legend truck specializes in fresh American and international street food, and the menu reflects the period Chef Brian spent living in the Persian Gulf area. The rotating specials have cross-country flair and include Arabic shawarma, Fillipino pork belly, Sri Lankan curry, Carribean jerk chicken, pork and chorizo tostados, and duck ramen, plus Chicago dogs for an American throwback. Chef Brian does a great job of posting the daily menu on the truck’s Facebook and Twitter pages–so be sure to check them out.
Let’s get back to the food. There are LOTS of great things on the truck, but my absolute favorite (the one food I’ve tweeted, texted, and raved about most in the last year) is the chicken shawarma. It’s a warm, chewy flatbread, loaded with grilled chicken, tomatoes, tabouleh, french fries (yep, they’re inside the wrap), a slathering of tzatziki, and a secret (at least to me) spicy sauce. I’ve enjoyed the surf and turf burrito a handful of times, which has coffee-seared steak, baja shrimp, guacamole, chimichurri, and chipotle sauce, and their black bean burger with chipotle aioli is a solid meat-free option.
Here’s a shot of my beloved chicken shawarma… cue the shawarma happy dance!!!
Last month, I met Robin Sorensen, firefighter turned entrepreneur and co-founder of the Firehouse Subs chain. Hearing people speak about their paths and passions makes me immensely happy, and when you throw food into that mix, I just melt. For Robin and his brother, Chris, their food story started with the days they spent at the firehouse with their dad. When the boys weren’t tagging along to respond to a call, they were hanging with the fireman thinking about FOOD and what they’d be cooking next. It took two full years from the time the Sorensen brothers came up with the idea til the doors of their first Firehouse Subs location opened in 1994 in Jacksonville, Florida. Their focus was on finding the best meats, toppings, and cheeses they could get their hands on and incorporating them into toasty specialty subs. From day one, they were steaming their meats and cheese (NOT microwaving them like the other guys) before loading them up on soft toasted rolls.
Today, there are over 600 Firehouse Subs locations, and the focus is still on doing it better than the other guys by serving up hearty, flavorful food. This means Texas brisket hickory smoked for sixteen hours, pickles from the Bronx, Sargento cheese, Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce, bread baked fresh in Atlanta, and whole-muscle, never frozen, USDA choice meat. At Firehouse, they load the subs up with two times more meat than those at other sub chains and serve them “fully involved” (with mayonnaise, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion and a dill pickle spear on the side).
I had the opportunity to sample a variety of subs, and my favorites were the #1 selling Hook & Ladder (smoked turkey breast, honey ham, and melted Monterey Jack) and the NY Steamer (corned beef brisket, pastrami, melted provolone, mustard, mayo, and Italian dressing).
Courtesy of the folks at Firehouse Subs, I’m giving away $30 worth of Firehouse Subs gift cards to one reader!
To enter, simply leave a comment below! I’ll announce the winner on my Facebook page Friday 11/15/2013!