Needed: Wichita restaurant reviewers

Almost a year and a half ago, we assembled our inaugural Wichita Eagle Dining Panel.

We selected 12 local foodies whose knowledge about the Wichita restaurant scene was above average and asked them to begin visiting and rating older restaurants.

Since May of 2012, the panel has reviewed dozens and dozens of restaurants, and in the process has turned me on to places I didn’t know were so good – Paleteria La Reyna, Pho Chopstix and Little Saigon among them.

Now, it’s time to re-stock the panel. We’re keeping some of our most dedicated reviewers, including Philip and Stephanie Warren, Ching Brubaker and Brandi Koskie. But we’re also looking to add new ones.

If you’re interested in applying for a spot, please write a short review of any local restaurant and e-mail it to me by Friday, Nov. 1.

Give me a sense of what the restaurant was like, discuss dishes you liked and didn’t like, and include a description of the ambience and service.

Need an example to follow? Read some of my reviews in the “recent reviews” section of this blog, or check out some samples from other dining panelists by clicking on the names above.

Please note that if you have immediate family members who own local restaurants, we won’t be able to add you. The job is unpaid, but we do give our panelists $25 a review in the form of a gift card to reimburse them for the price of the meals. You can write as frequently as you’d like, but we do ask panelists to try to contribute a review every couple of months.

We’ll choose our panelists and try to get the new group up and going by early November.

Questions? Either e-mail me or call me at 316-268-6327.

Usuluteco Restaurant will double in size

A plate of pupusas, photographed by Andrew Gough

The pupusa business is good.

It’s so good that Usuluteco Restaurant, the popular El Salvadoran restaurant at 1714 E. Northern, near Hydraulic and Wassall, is about to double in size.

Owners have taken over and remodeled the space next door, which will increase the restaurant’s capacity from 49 to 100. The new spot is ready to go, but the owners are still waiting to clear up some red tape with the city. They hope to start using the space sometime in mid-November.

Pupusas, for those who don’t know, are dense, handmade corn tortilla shells stuffed with various meats, cheeses, beans and roasted peppers, then grilled.  They’re amazing and should be consumed regularly. You can read all about the restaurant in Wichita Eagle Dining Panel member Andrew Gough’s review, which ran in July.

Usuluteco’s hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays.  For more information, call 316-409-3820.

Three Vietnamese food headlines

My Tho's beef stew

Over the past year, I’ve realized something: My favorite food in Wichita is Vietnamese food.

I don’t know when it happened, but I think it was somewhere in between my discovery of the existence of banh mi sandwiches and my first bite of beef stew at My Tho. Now, I crave the fresh, basil-y, grilled meat fabulousness of Vietnamese food constantly. Lucky for me, there are plenty of places in Wichita to get it.

Today, I have three snippets of Vietnamese news to share.

1. My Tho update: A reader named Don wrote today to ask me when My Tho was ever going to reopen. The Vietnamese restaurant at 500 E. Central closed early this summer for remodeling, and although owners expected to have it reopen by June, they’re still working. They need about 10 more days, the owners’ son told me today. When they get back in, customers will find a repainted, refloored, rearranged restaurant with more room for seating. I’ll keep you updated.

The banh mi from Little Saigon

2. Little Saigon review: In case you missed it, Wichita Eagle Dining Panel member Sigrid Trombley this week reviewed one of my other very favorite Vietnamese restaurants: Little Saigon at 1015 N. Broadway. I finally got around to trying this place about a month ago, and now, it’s all I think about. The restaurant is big and bright and makes great food.

3. Saigon No. 49 recipe: A reader named Debbie wrote this week asking me to dig up the recipe we published for Saigon’s No. 49 back in 2004. Owner Hanh Bui provided the recipe for the dish, a favorite among Saigon’s customers, as part of a special holiday package in the paper. Here it is:

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into pieces about 1-inch by 1/2-inch by 1/4- inch thick
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 lb. rice vermicelli noodles
1 tablespoon oil
3 cups shredded lettuce

Saigon owner Hann Bui and his famous No. 49

2 cups bean sprouts
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup sliced green onion
4 tablespoons chopped peanuts

Sauce:
1/4cup lime juice
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 jalapeno, chopped
Shredded carrot, optional

DIRECTIONS
Mix hoisin sauce, soy sauce, garlic and pepper. Place chicken in marinade while preparing vegetables and sauce. Make sauce by mixing lime juice, fish sauce, water, vinegar, sugar, jalapeno and carrot, if using. When ready to cook, prepare noodles according to package directions. Heat oil in a skillet or wok. Pour chicken and marinade into the skillet and stir-fry until done.

Among four bowls, divide lettuce, bean sprouts, cilantro, noodles, onion and chicken. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and sauce and serve.
MAKES 4 SERVINGS.

Wichita Eagle Dining Panel review: Thai House

Deliciousness from Thai House. Photo by Ching Brubaker.

I’m continuing to love the work of the members of the Wichita Eagle Dining Panel. They’re enthusiastic, smart and — BONUS — it turns out they’re great food photographers.

Today’s Go! section was too full of River Festivalness to fit in Ching Brubaker’s first effort. We’ll publish her review of Thai House on Sunday. You can take a look at it now online, but I warn you, don’t read hungry.

I also failed to point out last week’s review of Paleteria La Reyna by Philip Warren and the previous week’s Pho Chopstix review by Natasha Creasman. These both are places I can’t wait to visit in the very near future. They sold me, for sure.

Also, watch the paper this week for reviews of River Festival food court food from panel members Warren, Andrew Gough and Jeff Christensen.