Restaurant Roundup: Viva Chicken. Herban Legend. Firehouse Subs. {Charlotte, NC}


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.

1011019_533378376698672_513073774_nWhen 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.

Viva Chicken on Urbanspoon



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!!!

Herban Legend Chicken Shawarma

Herban Legend on Urbanspoon

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My first roast chicken

I thought about doing it for months.  It’s just one of those things — a kitchen right of passage of sorts — that everyone has to do (at least once).  Of course, I didn’t want to do it just to do it–I wanted it to be the juiciest most flavorful chicken EVER.  So, I researched.  To truss or not to truss?  Butter on the skin or under?  Which herbs?  Breast side up or breast side down?  I had this feeling in my gut that I was on the road to cosmic alignment—that somehow I’d channel the kitchen gods and miraculously stumble upon the “secret” to the perfect bird that I could then share with my friends and family and all those other folks on the interweb.

my first roast chicken

In actuality, the fact that I’d mustered the courage to even attempt roasting a whole chicken was somewhat of a miracle.  Of all the meat phobias I’ve fostered over the years, chicken is the one animal that consistently causes me to question being a carnivore.  Just the words “chicken skin” make my upper lip curl.  So when I picked up the whole bird at Whole Foods, one handed, like I was palming a basketball, and felt the bird’s ribs, solid under a squishy layer of skin and flesh, I nearly gave up on the whole idea.  I nearly gave up on eating meat, for that matter.  Yes, my resolve was tested at the meat case and again, later that day, when it was time to give the bird its last bath.  I used tongs to discard the white bag of parts-that-shall-not-be-named, but I had no kitchen contraption large enough to hold the carcass under the cold running water, that is, of course, except for my hands.  As I rinsed the cavity out, I waited for the water to fill the bird to the tippy top, like a drinking glass does when you’re washing it, and it took me a minute or two to realize my approach was faulty due to the GIANT HOLE in the other end where the animal’s head and neck once were.  I had a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza.  A hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

I put the buttered bird in the oven, lemon rind and rosemary peeking out between the legs, and got to washing my hands (and arms) for the 57th time.  my first roasted chicken

When all was said and done, the chicken turned out ok.  Not miraculous, but glistening brown and cooked all the way through.  (Success.)  And I realized, as I was eating it, that perhaps the reason I’d never roasted a whole chicken wasn’t because of my kitchen inferiority complex;  I just don’t like chicken.

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Bruschetta Chicken Pasta

The process of planning out a dinner for the BF and I usually involves 1-3 hours of research, googling, cookbook flipping, blog reading and a substantial amount of quality time spent on  This will result in a list of 3-6 options with corresponding website links and/or attached photos, which I will then email to the BF for his consideration.  If I’m lucky he’ll rule out 1-2 items on the list that aren’t striking his fancy and then leave the final decision up to me.  More often than not, he’ll respond that all the items on the list in question look fabulous and that “everything you cook turns out delicious” (LIES!!!!!) and then leave the final decision up to… you guessed it.  Moi.   This is a little game I like to call For the Love of God Will You Make a Decision, Man, or FTLOGWYMADM, as we say.

I wouldn’t say I’m indecisive.  The problem is my decision making abilities are clouded by my gluttonous desire to eat the world once over.  When I do finally reach a decision I stick to it with a supernatural stubbornness, but getting to that point can be a wee bit exhausting.  Decision making on an empty stomach is horrid after all, and I’ve mentioned a time or five before that bad things happen when I don’t eat.

All I want is a plate full of deliciousness.

A mound of this, perhaps:


After playing our normal round of FTLOGWYMADM and going through the subsequent mental debate, I decided to go with this recipe for Bruschetta Chicken pasta I saw on Iowa Girl Eats.  It’s really not much of a recipe, and that makes me love it all the more.

This pièce de résistance of this dish is the balsamic drizzle.  Simply simmer a cup of balsamic vinegar over medium heat for 15 minutes.  The vinegar will reduce by about half, and once removed from the heat it will continue to thicken as it cools.

While I waited for the balsamic vinegar to reduce, I got to prepping my veggies.


The asparagus was for the pasta and the sprouts were our side dish.  Love me some veg.


Jarred bruschetta sauce is the secret behind the simplicity of this pasta dish.  Thank you Trader Giotto 🙂


This pasta was so simple, in fact, that I decided to squeeze in a little nap.


Before I fell asleep at the pan, I cut the chicken into big chunks, seasoned with S&P, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder and tossed into a saute pan with 2 tsp olive oil.   Then I dropped 6 ounces of penne pasta into boiling water.

Once the chicken was cooked through, I sautéed the veggies with garlic salt, black pepper, and 1 tsp olive oil.


When the pasta reached al dente, I combined the chicken, asparagus, jar of bruschetta, and penne in the skillet and sautéed until everything was heated through.

Last but not least, I topped the pasta with a little balsamic drizzzzzzle:


This pasta was DELICIOUS, filling, and balanced, and the tangy balsamic drizzle wowed my tastebuds.  I will definitely be adding this recipe to the playbook.


Bruschetta Chicken Pasta Ingredients List (serves 4)

Recipe from Iowa Girl Eats

  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 6 ounces penne pasta
  • bunch of asparagus, trimmed
  • 1 jar of tomato bruschetta
  • 12 ounces chicken breast
  • 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • Seasonings of your choice (S&P, garlic salt, Italian seasoning, garlic powder)
Step One:  Simply simmer a cup of balsamic vinegar over medium heat for 15 minutes.  The vinegar will reduce by about half, and once removed from the heat it will continue to thicken as it cools.
Step Two:  Cook pasta to al dente as per pasta box instructions.  Meanwhile, cut the chicken into chunks, season with S&P, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder and saute with 2 tsp olive oil until no longer pink.  Remove from pan.  In the same pan, saute asparagus until crisp tender.
Step three:  Combine cooked pasta, chicken, asparagus, and bruschetta mix in the pan and saute until heated through.  Serve with balsamic reduction drizzled over top!


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Chicken Larb

Reasons why you should never judge a recipe by its cover.. err title:


Chicken Larb!

Say whaaaaa?  What the crap is “larb”?  Google tells me “larb” is a type of meat salad.  Good to know, Google.  Good to know.

Had I known this fun fact, I might not have hesitated to clip the recipe for “Chicken Larb” out of one of my issues of Cooking Light.  But lucky for my belly, I looked past the gag-reflex-prompting title and filed this puppy away in my big black book.

I tweaked the recipe slightly and scaled it down to one delicious serving.  First up, toss the following in a food processor:

  • 4 ounces chicken breast
  • 2 tsp red curry paste
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp minced garlic
  • sprinkle of black pepper

Give it a quick buzz in the food processor, and you’ll end up with this crazy orange colored ground chicken:


I’m still amazed that I can make my own ground meat at home.  It’s the little things, I guess!

Saute the chicken in a pan coated with nonstick spray over medium heat.  I occasionally added a tbsp of water to the pan to help moisten things up.

Meanwhile, combine the following:

  • 1/2 cup diced cucumber
  • 1 tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbsp minced shallot
  • The juice of 1/4 of a lime

Thing of beauty:


Once the chicken is cooked through, combine the chicken with the cucumber mixture and then spoon onto romaine lettuce leaves, and juice a quarter lime over top:


Looks crazy good, am I right?  I had a big serving of roasted broccoli on the side:


This was super tasty and SUPER healthful.  I decided mid-meal to grab a tablespoon or so of fat-free plan Greek Yogurt to dollop on top.  It really was the icing on the larb 😉

This was my first time using red curry paste, and the paste along with the cilantro really made for a tasty combo.


There’s a recipe on the back of the paste bottle for Red Curry Shrimp.  I need to try that STAT!

Roasted broccoli Smile


A delicious dinner enjoyed on my newly assembled patio furniture:


It’s nice to have a little helper.  Or a 6’4” helper… either way Smile

Stats on the Chicken Larb + 1.5 cups broccolee broccolye brocco-lee-hee:  221 calories, 19g carbs, 1g fat, 27g protein, 4g fiber

I can’t believe how outrageously low cal yet still tasty that meal was – next time I may beef it up with some beans or avocado.

Soooooo did you catch the broccoli reference?!?!  PLEASE take 4 minutes and watch this.  You won’t regret it.  And as an added bonus you will now know the song I sing to myself every time I chop up broccoli Laughing out loud


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Faux Chicken Parmesan

Do you guys every go through phases where you just don’t want anything to do with certain foods?  Lately, that’s how I’ve been feeling about meat. I just have not been craving it! 

While at Target over the weekend, I picked up a box of Morning Star Chick Patties.  I think I’ve contemplated buying these dozens of times before, but never sealed the deal.


Over the weekend, I cooked one of these patties up in the oven and had it on a Pepperidge Farm 7 grain deli flat.

No sauce.  No veggies.  Just the faux meat and bun.

It was glorious.  It seriously reminded me of the chicken pattie sandwiches from high school.  I know that sounds disgusting, but in this instance it’s actually a very very good thing. 

Then, the other night I had a VISION: Faux Chicken Parmesan… Healthified, no less: 


Shut the front door!!!!

First up, grab a spaghetti squash and halve it…


I swear, every time I try and halve a squash I have flashes of severing a finger.  I think to myself, “is this it?”  Is this the day that I lose a finger in the name of squash??


Once it’s halved, scoop out the seeds, and pop this puppy onto a cookie sheet into a 415 degree over for 30 minutes.  I ‘m no fan of mooshy squashoodles.

Next, I grabbed some leftover pasta sauce from the freezer.  This was Nature’s Basket Roasted Garlic:


Why do I get such joy from stock piling individual servings of goods in the freezer?  It’s uncanny really. 

I defrosted the sauce a bit in the microwave, then tossed in a pan and added a hodge podge of seasonings including:  red pepper flakes, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, parsley.


Once the squash was done, I pulled it out of the oven and used a fork to scrape out the innards.  Then popped 1 chicken pattie and some broccoli into the oven to do their thang.

Once the pattie was cooked through, I combined all my delicious and oh-so-easy ingredients:


Faux-chicken-parmesan MASTERPIECE.


I am in love with these patties… seriously, if you haven’t tried them DO IT.  Just make sure you cook them in the oven (and not the microwave) and you’ll get a crispy delicious bit of faux-meat-heaven.


Mmmm hmmmmmmmmmmm….


This WILL be making frequent appearance in my tax season dinner diet.  For sure.


Stats on 1 serving faux chicken parmesan (1/2 squash, 1 pattie, 1/2 cup sauce):  274 calories, 44carbs, 7g fat, 12g protein, 8g fiber

Lest we not forget….. the winner of my Luna Bar giveaway is…….


Meagan!  Yay!!!  Email me with your mailing adddres and I’ll get the bars to you ASAP!


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How to make your own ground meat

So, did everyone else know how crazy easy it is to make your own ground meats?  I had no idea until I saw a blurb in Cooking Light about putting chicken breast in a food processor.  Sound odd to anyone else?  I was intrigued so I decided to give it a go over the weekend.

Take a looksie at these chicken tacos I made!


I don’t mean to brag, but that may be the most beautiful taco I’ve ever laid eyes on.  What’s even more beautful was how super easy it was to make.  First I started by tossing 1 jalapeno and 2 tsp minced garlic into a food processor:


I gave that  a good pulse:


Then added 8 ounces chopped chicken breast:


And literally 10 seonds later I had my very own homemade (slightly green tinted) ground chicken breast!


Isn’t it funny how something so simple can give you such a great sense of pride and accomplishment?  😀

I threw the ground chicken into a pan and seasoned with S&P and some cayenne pepper:


The meat cooked up in no time!


Next I sliced up some fresh avocado.  Delicioussssssssnesssssss:


I used some Tumaro’s Low Carb tortillas (only 60 calories a pop) for my taco base, then added 2 ounces of the chicken, some chopped red onion, tomato, shredded cabbage, chopped cilantro, a little dribble of fat free sour cream, about 2 tbsp of avocado, and a little drizzle o’ lime:


A little overboard on the toppings?  Perhaps…

I also added some Frank’s red hot for good measure (its hiding under the veggies)


8 ounces of chicken made me enough for four tacos.  I ate two for dinner, and wrapped the remaining two up in plastic wrap for dinner the next night (by the way, the tacos were equally delicious cold 🙂 ).


So tasty and SO colorful!

Stats on 1 taco:  194 calories, 21g carbs, 7g fat, 19g protein, 10g fiber

Stats on dos tacos:  388 calories, 42g carbs, 14g fat, 38g protein, 20g fiber

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Couscous Crusted Chicken

Talk about a happy accident!


Once I got home from the grocery store, I was on a mission:  to make the couscous stuffed chicken featured in this month’s Cooking Light.  I had even pre-snipped the recipe out and hung it up at the stove:


Hard core.


I was pretty excited to try this recipe for a few reasons.  First, I have a giant tub of Rice Select Tri-Color couscous in my cabinet that has been begging to be used.  Second, I love any excuse to use my meat mallet. 


Let’s  be honest… I like any excuse to type “meat mallet” Smile with tongue out 


Even though the ingredients list is fairly long the dish came together pretty easy.  First, I pounded the chicken breast out to about 1/4 inch thickness and sliced in half.  For the couscous mixture, I brought 1/4 cup of fat free low sodium chicken broth to a boil then added 1/4 cup of the couscous.  Then you cover the couscous, remove it from the heat, and let it hang out for about 4 minutes.

Then add in the flava:

  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp Athenos Feta Cheese
  • 1 tbsp chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced spinach
  • 1 clove minced garlic


The Cooking Light recipe called for olives (BLEGH!) and olive oil, which I omitted and instead subbed in sundried tomatoes and spinach.  Divide the couscous mixture between your chicken breast halves:


And them roll them up jelly roll style….  Easy right?


Ummm not so much.  I had a couscous blow out and half of the filling fell out!  So, I went with my guts and seared the chicken on all sides, then plopped into a baking dish and kind of mashed the extra couscous mix on top of the chicken.

Then I popped it into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes.


Couscous crusted chicken!


The couscous got a little crispy in the oven, and it reminded me a lot of breaded chicken!


Of course I had a salad on the side.


Overall, the couscous crusted chicken idea is AMAZING.  Now I just need to come up with some sort of sauce to go along side… Hmmmmm……


Stats on 1/2 of the Couscous Crusted Chicken Recipe:  203 calories, 16g carbs, 4g fat, 26g protein, 1g fiber

Couscous Crusted Chicken Ingredients List (Serves 2)

  • 8 ounces chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup couscous – I use Rice Select Tri Color Couscous
  • 1/4 fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp Athenos Feta Cheese
  • 1 tbsp chopped sundried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced spinach
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 clove minced garlic


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White Chicken Chili

Last night was my first night back from Charlotte, AKA my first night home alone.  I knew I needed something healthy after the Charlotte Restaurant Binge but I was really craving comfort food.  Soooooo, I decided to go with a healthified version of the white chicken chili the BF made a few months back.

I started off by heating 1 tsp of olive oil in a large pot.  Once hot, I added 1 large chopped up onion (the larger the better.. I’m talking softball size).


I tossed four cloves of minced garlic on top (to keep the garlic from burning), and once the onions were soft and translucent I added:

  • 2 4 ounce cans chopped green chilies
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 32 ounces reduced sodium free-range chicken broth
  • 2 cubed up grilled chicken breast
  • 1 diced jalapeno
  • 3 cans great northern beans, rinsed and drained

Chopped up chickies!


I let everything simmer for 15 minutes or so:


Thennnnn I stirred in 3/4 of a cup reduced fat Mexican blend cheese.  (I probably could have got away with 1/2 a cup of cheese—ohhhhh well)


How easy is this by the way????

Once the cheese was melted, I divided the soup up into 6 even portions:


I popped a couple of the portions into the freezer and some into the fridge for lunch this week.  And of course one was for dinner tonight!  I poured that lucky portion into a bowl and topped with some sliced jalapeno:


Dinner is served!



Stats on 1 Serving White Chicken Chili:  277 Calories, 37g carbs, 5g fat, 29g protein, 11g fiber

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Things I’ve learned over a week in Charlotte

  1. The people in Charlotte are nice.  Like SUPER nice.  Like almost weirdly nice.  I love them.
  2. Carwashes in Charlotte are a whole heck of a lot cheaper than in Ohio… 30% cheaper, to be exact.  Though, they will look at you funny when you ask to stay in the car as you go through the carwash.  Apparently, that’s not how they do it here in Charlotte.
  3. Everyone is really nicely dressed.  Not in a I’m-better-than-thou sort of way, but in a I’m-putting-my-best-foot-forward-today (and every day for that matter) sort of way.  I’m a fan.
  4. Chicken paws are not the same thing as chicken breasts!
  5. Speaking of chicken, why is the chicken breast at the butcher counter at Harris Teeter only $1.99 a pound???  That’s cheaper than the stuff they have on the shelves.  Mystery.
  6. Either u-turns are legal here or we’ve broken the law 7 times in the past week.  I’m hoping for the former.
  7. North Carolina is part of the South.   People actually have accents here.
  8. A Charlotte native can spot an Ohio accent a mile away… I didn’t think there was such a thing as an Ohio accent.  I was wrong.
  9. Public transportation is awesome.
  10. People are young here.  Like a city chock full of Doogie Howsers. 
  11. I’m pretty sure it’s possible to eat at a different delicious Charlotte restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for a whole year without having any repeats.  I may have to try that sometime.  Charlotte knows a thang or two about food. (Stay tuned for more on that topic!)

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Some like it hot

There is a small portion of the population out there that crave heat in their food.  These are the people who actually enjoy the runny nose you inevitably get when eating something hot.  The people who know when others say something is “hot” it won’t even phase them because of their extreme tolerance for heat.  The people who’ve contemplated carrying around a bottle of hot sauce in their purse/bookbag/car.  The people who have found a way to incorporate buffalo sauce in to breakfast, lunch, AND dinner.  The people who constantly get asked “you put hot sauce on that?!”

You know who you are.

This recipe is for you.

I bring you slow-cooked buffalo chicken sandwiches:


When I first stumbled upon this recipe, I KNEW it was destiny.  Buffalo chicken dip is a staple in my circle of friends and family, so how could a buffalo chicken sandwich NOT be amazing?

Simple answer.  If you like hot food, you will love this sandwich.

The recipe was very easy to throw together. 

Throw the following into a plastic baggie to marinate overnight:

  • 4 raw skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 3/4 of a Quart (24 ounces) buffalo wing sauce (use your favorite brand–we used Gionino’s, of course)
  • 1 package dry ranch salad dressing mix

The next morning toss the marinated chicken into a crockpot, and cook on low for 6 hours.  Once the chicken is cooked, pull the breasts out of the crockpot and shred them up with two forks.  Toss the meat back in and then add:

  •  2 tablespoons butter
  • 8 ounces of buffalo wing sauce (which is the remainder of the quart)

Cook for one hour more, and then serve on top of a toasted kaiser roll. 


To make the sandwich even more amazing, add some pepper jack cheese. 

Awwwwww yeeahhhhhhh.


WARNING:  Things may get a little sloppy.  But true hot sauce lovers like to become one with their food, am I right? 😀

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