I Love Tacos, dog bars and Chicago-style pizza

So I have something to admit, and I’m guessing you already know this. I haven’t been getting out as much as I’d like to, because I REALLY don’t want this nasty Corona-cock virus, especially when the vaccine is so close. I feel like I’m letting you down as the Bar Belle of Louisville, but that’s where I am.

The other day, however, armed with a mask and an appetite for discovering new places, I managed to get to two bars and a pizza place (later in the week).

I Love Tacos — 1534 Bardstown Road

Margarita at I Love Tacos
Ernesto’s Passion Fruit Margarita

I not only love tacos, I’m obsessed with tacos. I want to eat them every day. I want to bask in all their folded-up glory. I want to be a taco.

So naturally I figured I’d love this new restaurant and bar that opened recently in the former Panera Bread location in the Highlands, which used to be the world-renowned ear X-tacy before that. In fact, I never frequented that Panera Bread because I felt like it was spitting on the X-tacy legacy, but now that something local has moved back in, I’ve let that guilt go — and it has nothing to do with tacos being in the name, I swear.

Anyway, this place is awesome! It’s colorful, spaced out, friendly and quite delicious. And the tacos are fairly authentic — as in Mexican-style tacos, not the Americanized version that comes with mounds of cheese, lettuce and tomatoes.

I had one asada (steak) taco ($3.75) and one tinga taco ($3.50), which featured chicken, and both were tasty and flavorful. The asada was cooked to crispy perfection, with just onions and cilantro added to the meat. And the chicken on the tinga was juicy and flavorful as well, and it was more like pulled chicken than pieces or, well, chicken finger-style. Both were served on homemade corn tortillas (you can also ask for a flour).

Now, my girlfriend and I are regulars at El Mariachi in Lyndon, and while we loved these tacos and admired their authenticity, we still think Mariachi serves up slightly better tacos. This is no knock on I Love Tacos, because I’ll definitely be back for more.

My friend who joined us also ordered the queso dip ($4.99), and it was quite amazing, as most queso is. On my next visit, I’d like to try the nachos, and on my visit after that, I’d like to get a burrito.

So what did I drink, you ask? You think I would have started with that! Duh. I had Ernesto’s Passion Fruit Margarita ($5.99), the frozen version, because the menu stated it was a People’s Choice Champion in 2019. It was fabulously sweet but not overly sweet, and the passion fruit tang played well with the tequila.

On my next visit to the bar area, I’d like to try the sangria ($4.99) as well as the raspberry margarita ($5.99) and blueberry margarita ($5.99).

I see that there’s also a location in Jeffersontown, so if you’re out that way, give it a try!

PG&J’s Dog Park Bar — 800 Baxter Ave.

PG&J Dog Bar
Lots of room for the dogs and the drinks!

If you like to drink with your four-legged friends, then this new Highlands dog bar is for you! And if you just want to be around dozens of dogs that are romping around a room for hours, then you’re welcome to perch at a table to watch (and drink).

The space used to be a car repair shop, so it’s big and airy and concrete from wall to wall, with garage door-styled windows and doors that’ll open up when it’s nice out.

Dogs at the bar

There’s also a dog park out back, and the bar offers various membership options for this area.

The menu is fairly small, with just a handful of beer (craft and domestic), wine and cocktail options. But there’s also local coffee and cold brew served, so that’s a nice option if you want to bring your laptop and get some work done while your dog frolics around the joint.

I don’t want to paint the picture like it’s a wild, free-for-all dog party going on. There are actually “park rangers” armed with squirt guns and tin-can shakers patrolling the area to make sure all the mutts are behaving.

Plus, your dog has to be updated on all its shots before entering, and there are forms to fill out. But you filthy humans can come right in and partake in the festivities.

Jake & Elwood’s Pizza — 2230 Frankfort Ave.

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I blame the worldwide pandemic for that. This is Chicago-style pizza in the former space of the beloved Clifton’s Pizza, and it was nice to see that they actually cleaned and spruced things up!

Not only that, but the beer taps were clean and had to be new, because my Bud Light was ice cold, crisp and crazy delicious as I was stuffing my mouth with deep-dish pizza. Yes, I know Bud Light isn’t local, but sometimes I slide back into the tastes of my college days and partake in a guilty pleasure. Leave me alone!

Jake & Elwood's pizza

Jake & Elwood’s only serves beer and wine, and since it’s a Chicago-themed place, there’s plenty of Old Style and 312 on tap as well, plus an assortment of cans and bottles.

But let’s get to the pizza! You can get either thin crust or deep-dish Chicago-style, and the toppings are all the usual suspects. The menu also includes hot dogs (another Chicago staple), french fries — loaded or naked — as well as appetizers and salads.

I had a 10-inch cheese deep-dish pie, and my friend had two slices of thin-crust. We both enjoyed what we ordered and had plenty to take home.

I just had one criticism, since I have actually eaten a Chicago-style pizza in Chicago, and it’s about the amount of cheese that was used — or lack thereof.

The pizza came out with 2- or 3-inch-thick crust, per usual, but the middle part should be so heaving in cheese that it’s almost like a lasagna. This was not — it was actually thinner (since I didn’t add any toppings) than my friend’s thin-crust pizza.

That didn’t stop me from eating it, of course. And next time I’ll just ask for extra cheese. The sauce is spot-on, and overall it was a fun dining experience. I’ll definitely be back for more beer, too.

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