Banh Mi & Che Cali Bakery

It’s been a while since I’ve eaten Banh Mi…literally years.  Banh Mi is a Vietnamese sandwich comprising of a french baguette, meat, pickled carrots and daikon, cucumber, cilantro, jalapeño, mayo and sometimes, pate.  Mmm-yoso had several posts on this Vietnamese sandwich which started a craving.  Then I spotted someone at work chowing down on one a few weeks ago.  After reading Gastronomy’s post about Banh Mi in St. Louis, my craving got pushed into “must have one NOW” territory.  A quick Google and Yelp search revealed several places near my work.  Banh Mi & Che Cali Bakery (also referred to as “Banh Mi Che Cali”l) seemed to be a popular spot so I decided to go there on my lunch break today.

Located on Brookhurst and McFadden in Westminster, this little shop looks like an old Taco Bell that got taken over.  Inside are numerous Vietnamese ladies making sandwiches, taking orders and spooning various porridges into to-go containers.  The counter is overflowing with all sorts of things – leaf wrapped mystery items, rice with chicken, spring rolls, noodles, bread-y things….  It’s a very small space so most people take their order to go but there are several tables with chairs inside and outside in case you do want to dine in.  Also, they bake their own bread and sell long baguettes for $1/piece.

The first thing I noticed was the lack of order to ordering.  Basically, you just charge up to the front, kicking all concept of a line to the curb.  Little old ladies will cut in front of you without even giving you a glance.  The lady at the register quickly writes down your order, takes your money and moves on to the next person.  They don’t ask for your name or anything.  Somehow, they just know what order goes to which customer.  I wonder how many orders they’ve messed up.  In the time I was there, I never saw anyone come back in complaining of receiving the wrong items…

The next thing I noticed was the banh mi menu prices.  The sandwiches only cost $2.50 and they advertised a “buy two, get one free” deal.  Wow…that’s some cheap eats.   I decided to go with the 3 for 2 deal.  I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat all 3 sandwiches despite the fact that I was starving (no breakfast, bad me) but it was too good a deal to pass up.  I could always save the other sandwiches for later…  I ordered the BBQ pork (Thit Nuong), BBQ beef, and ham and meatloaf (Dac Biet Thit Cha).  $5 even at the register because they don’t charge tax for the sandwiches, apparently.

BBQ Pork Banh Mi

Inside the BBQ Pork Banh Mi

Back at work, I opened the first sandwich.  Nothing was marked so I had no clue which one I had picked.  It turned out to be the BBQ pork.  I chowed down.  The bread was soft on the inside and had a ok crust on the outside, though I wish it had a little bit more crustiness to it.  The bbq pork was good.  It wasn’t dry but some pieces didn’t tear easily.  The pickled vegetables added a delicious sour note but I noticed they don’t use cucumbers like other Banh Mi places I’ve been to.  There was just the right of amount of cilantro in each bite.  However, there was only one long slice of jalapeño which was disappointing.  Overall, this was a decent banh mi as far as I could tell and it satisfied my hunger.

Inside the ham & meatloaf Banh Mi

Ham and meatloaf Banh Mi

A couple of hours later, I was starting to get hungry again so I went for another sandwich.  I pulled out the ham and meatloaf.  Now, the meatloaf isn’t really “meatloaf” but more like a steamed pork patty.  This sandwich had pâté on it as well.  It was a little more sloppily put together as the pâté wasn’t evenly spread on the bread and oozed out of the side sometimes.  And they really skimped on the jalapeno…one lonely little slice.  The bread was even less “crusty” than the previous sandwich.  But the ham was nice and salty and overall, this was a good sandwich.  I don’t think it’s as good as the ones I remember getting from the little place in San Diego’s Ranch 99 but for $2.50, it was great.

I haven’t gone for the BBQ Beef yet as I’m still full so that may have to be saved for another time.  Hopefully, it keeps well…

Overall, these were decent Banh Mi and you can’t beat the price.  It did satisfy my craving but I was hoping for something more mouth-watering in flavor.

On a side note, driving from work to this place nearly cost me my life.  There was a section on Bolsa around Magnolia that was INSANE with the stereotypical Asian driver.  It looked like a lot of people were out gathering supplies for the Lunar New Year.  Either way, craziness…  I felt like I was on the road with clones of my mom and dad behind the wheel of the other cars.

Banh Mi & Che Cali Bakery gets 3 NOMs from the Catty Critic.

Bahn Mi & Che Cali Bakery
15551 Brookhurst St
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 839-8185
Banh Mi & Che Cali Bakery on Urbanspoon

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Kyochon Chicken

Kirk over at mmm-yoso blogged about chicken wings recently and mentioned Kyochon.  I realized I still hadn’t blogged about my experience with this place yet.

KyoChon

While exploring the new Zion Korean market off Beach Blvd (still labeled Fresia when I went)  in Garden Grove, I saw this place inside near the entrance.  Since I didn’t feel like cooking, I decided to give Kyochon a try.

All Kyochon does is chicken.  You can get chicken wings, chicken bentos, chicken chicken chicken.  I guess it’s sort of like a Korean Chik-fil-et but not sandwiches…okay, I’m stretching here with that comparison but you get the idea…

Anyways, the smell wafting from the kitchen was making my tummy grumble.  Looking at the menu, they offered up chicken with two different sauces – soy-garlic and spicy.  The option to place orders for half/half is available but you have to order at least 4 wings, if memory serves me correctly.  The prices were a little high, I thought till I saw I could get a “whole chicken” for ~$20 (tax included).  Now, I was thinking a whole chicken would be quite a lot of food and $20 wasn’t too steep for that.  I opted on half/half for the sauces since I  planned on sharing with my husband who doesn’t do spicy.

Packaging

When my number was called, I received these two boxes in a rather nice bag, the sort of bag you get when you shop at Banana Republic or Coach.  These boxes seemed a little small to each contain half a chicken, but they were crammed to the top with pieces of hacked poultry and taped shut so I guess it adds up.

I had to wait till I got home to munch on it.  While I was driving, I could smell the garlic coming from the soy-garlic sauce and let me tell you, it was pretty cruel since I was starving.

Soy-garlic chicken

Spicy chicken

Because they had been packaged hot, the steam made the skin on these a little soggy, though there was some crispness here and there.  Made me think that next time, I would have to eat some right when I got my order.  The meat was nice and moist and the flavor, intense.  The spicy really packed a punch for me.  Either the chef had it out or my tolerance is diminishing…  Looking inside, there really was quite a bit of food, enough that I had leftovers for dinner for the following two days after gorging myself on quite a bit that night (the Husband decided to forgo trying any for some insane reason).  They did reheat well, though they did start drying out.

While the chicken was really good, doing the math in my head, it was a bit pricey.  Still, I don’t think it’s enough of a deterrant for me to not eat at Kyochon.  I’d just do so only when I have a craving for them specifically. Maybe next time, I will try some of their more affordable bentos…

I give Kyochon 3 1/2 NOMs.  It would have gotten 4 if it was cheap eats!

Kyochon Chicken
12840 Beach Boulevard
Stanton, CA‎
(714) 891-2449
Kyochon Chicken on Urbanspoon

Sea Siam

I wouldn’t consider Sea Siam the best Thai restaurant; in fact, it’s just okay. But it’s a quick place to grab some Thai and one of the most awesome wonton soups I’ve tasted.

I had the green curry lunch special which was average but very heavy on the bell pepper and lacking in the zucchini.  However, the amount of chicken (can also be ordered with beef, pork or tofu) was decent and surprisingly, the chicken had a lot of flavor.  I liked that they used a peanut sauce as their salad dressing but the salad itself was just shredded cabbage with a slice of cucumber and tomato. The “fried wonton” that came with the lunch special ended up just being a fried wonton wrapper…no filling?!?!?! That was odd and disappointing.

A coworker ordered a pot of the wonton soup as her meal.  I tried a little bowl and it blew me away.  The broth was bursting with flavor which made me think that they made it from scratch and the dumplings were plump with filling.  Served hot (but not scalding) in the typical metal pot you see in most, if not all, Thai restaurants, this was a great dish for a cold rainy day.  I would come back just to order this.  And looking around at some of the other tables, it seems that the wonton soup is popular among customers.

The prices are fairly inexpensive. Lunch for 3 ladies (2 lunch specials, a pot of wonton soup, 2 hot teas) came out to $28 (including tax and tip). The service is good though our waitress seemed to have some trouble with her English.

I would come back here because it’s very close to where I work and the prices are good for the amount of food. And the wonton soup….soo good!

3 NOMs for Sea Siam.

Sea Siam
16103 Bolsa Chica St
Huntington Beach, CA 92649
(714) 846-8986
Sea Siam on Urbanspoon

Portugal Imports

On Saturday, my half-Portuguese friend, the ever-talented Tanya Bjork, introduced me to Portugal Imports in Artesia.

Olive oil, sardines, jellies...

Linguica, cheese...

It’s a small grocery shop/deli that serves up some pastries, bread, sandwiches and various imported items from Portugal and Brazil.  Here you will find cheeses, linguica, olives, wines and other specialty items.  And of course, port.

Since we got there in the early afternoon, most of the pastries were gone. I did get 2 natas (egg custard in a flaky cup) and 2 almond pastries.  The natas were decent but apparently, not quite authentic according to Tanya.  I enjoyed the almond pastries which was a cake-bread type thing with an almond filling and almond slivers on top.

There were only two pieces of bread left so we claimed those for our sandwiches.  I noshed on a delicious linguica (Portuguese sausage) sandwich.  This was a simple sandwich…bread and sausage which seems a little wimpy since we’re used to getting overloaded subs.  But it is surprisingly filling!  The bread was good but a little dry from sitting out all day.   The linguica was juicy and plump and really flavorful.  I wish there had been some cheese but I think you could ask for it.  Next time…  I did try a little bit of the Sao Jorge (St. George) cheese which Tanya told me only comes from the island of St. George…sort of how champagne only comes from that region in France.  The cheese had a mild nutty flavor.  I picked up a package of the linguica and some wedges of the cheese to bring home.

I also tried the bacalhao bolinhos (deep-fried potato cakes with salted cod) which were awesome.  Crispy outside, soft inside, it wasn’t overly salty or fishy which is a sign that the bacalhao (dried salted cod) was rehydrated correctly.  Bacalhao can be quite salty if it is not soaked long enough with regular water changes.   Also known as Pasties de Bacalhao, these are made in house and can be purchased frozen in boxes of a dozen.

The workers here are really friendly.  We chatted about various Portuguese dishes, alcohol and Rockband with the man and woman behind the counter.

If you’re in the Artesia area, I recommend stopping by just to see the shop and, if you get there in the morning, pick up some of the pastries!

I give Portugal Imports 4 NOMs for their food, grocery items and especially their service.

Portugal Imports
11655 Artesia Blvd
Artesia, CA 90701
(562) 809-7021
www.portugalimports.net

Portugal Imports on Urbanspoon

New Seoul BBQ

New Seoul BBQ

Over the Christmas break, the Husband and I met up with my parents for lunch in Orange County.  The last few times we’ve done this, we’ve gone to New Seoul BBQ, an all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ Buffet.  The reason…meat-fest!

Unlike Manna, the place we frequent up in LA, New Seoul is a self-serve buffet.  This is more convenient since there is no time wasted trying to flag down a waiter and put in an order for meat.  Also, New Seoul has a wider variety of choices than Manna’s all-you-can-eat menu.  I think the meat is better quality as well.  It is more expensive, though.  Since my parents always paid, I never got a look at the check but I’m guessing $20ish/pp for weekend lunch.

New Seoul BBQ - banchan

When you walk in, you’re greeted by a long bar.  On one side, various banchan and a salad bar await your consumption.  Different kinds of kimchi, spinach, bean sprouts, tofu are just some of the choices.  Overall, the banchan is of decent quality.  They have a lot of the things I like to eat, including pickled shredded daikon and almond jelly.

The other side offers up various marinated meats and seafood.  The usual suspects – bulgogi, kalbi, chicken and pork bulgogi – are present but so are pork belly, tripe, beef tongue, baby octopus, mussels, and whole shrimp.

There’s also stations offering up hot items like udon, fried rice, japchae, egg rolls, fried mandoo, steamed egg.  The japchae is average though the noodles are sometimes overcooked, maybe from sitting under the heatlamp for too long.  The steamed egg is not that great.  They also have a couple of types of nigiri sushi but I usually pass as the one time I tried it, the fish didn’t taste fresh; it had a strong fish taste.  For dessert, there’s fruit, jello and a yogurt machine as well as a persimmon-rice drink.

New Seoul BBQ - Various meats on the table grill

Whenever we’ve gone, the service has been good.  We seem to always get the same table everytime.  The booths are big and spacious, giving everyone a lot of elbow room but still keeping them in arm’s reach of the grill.  The waitresses bring the rice (white or “brown” (purple, actually)) to the table instead of us getting it ourselves and they also cut the meat. They are pretty good about checking in on us as well.

While the price may seem steep for a buffet, for our family it is a decent deal since we can pack away the Korean BBQ.  Just be careful as they will charge you for any meat you leave behind.

Everytime we have come here, the place has been fairly empty.  I don’t know if it’s the cost that’s prohibitive for lunch or if people prefer to come here during the dinner hours.  It works out nicely for us as we get good service and there’s no line at the buffet.

The Catty Critic gives New Seoul BBQ 4 NOMs.

New Seoul BBQ
9902 Garden Grove Boulevard
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 537-9292
New Seoul Korean BBQ Buffet on Urbanspoon

OC 2, LA 0 – The hunt for Messican goes on

Since I started working in Huntington Beach, I’ve discovered that there’re several hole-in-the wall Mexican places nearby.  Some of the peeps at work do a taco run on Thursdays to Taqueria Mexico.  It looked really yummy so I had to give it a try.

Well, so far this place is the closest I’ve gotten to matching what I can get in San Diego at Roberto’s/Sombrero’s/Cotixan.  While the menu isn’t as extensive as what I’m used to, the fact that I can get something resembling a decent carne asada burrito makes up for that.  They offer up tacos and burritos and you get to choose the type of filling.  Tacos offer up the usual chicken, carne asada and some more adventurous choices like beef tongue and head meat.  As for burritos, you can get meat & cheese, rice, beans & cheese, beans & cheese…well, you get the idea.  And just so you know, the beans here are pinto beans, NOT refried.  The husband was a bit miffed by this.  The thing to get here, though, is the tacos.  Carne asada, onion n’ cilantro, cheese and hot sauce form inside a little tortilla to become awesomeness in your mouth.

Taqueria Mexico is open 24hrs which is great for that late night drunken munchies.  Cuz y’know, nothing goes better with drunk than some awesome Mexican food…well, that or Denny’s.

Based on a friend’s recommendation, I also tried George’s Mexican Food.  Now this was more of what I was thinking.  The menu was extensive, offering combination platters, tortas, taquitos, etc.  Once again, I discovered that the carne asada burrito included beans (what is it with the beans?!?!?!).  I had them take it out and put in guacamole.  I also ordered a bean and cheese burrito for the husband and an order of rolled tacos with just meat and cheese.

The burritos were smaller than what we usually get down in SD joints.  The carne asada burrito was decent, about on par as the one I had at Taqueria Mexico though bonus pts for George’s for having the option of guacamole.  The only issue was the tortilla which was starting to rip in places.  The husband thought his bean n’ cheese burrito was just okay.  They got the rolled taco order wrong and gave me a taco instead.  Let me just say, this taco was a heck of a lot better than the crap we got at Tito’s Tacos.

Over all, I think if I was craving street tacos, I’d go to Taqueria Mexico.  For anything else, I’d hit up George’s…which also had breakfast burritos (OMG bacon n’ egg?).  However, they only serve them in the mornings unlike Roberto’s which offers them up 24/7.  Not quite up to San Diego standards but decent enough to satiate the cravings.

Oh yeah, George’s has a drive-thru which is convenient!

Taqueria Mexico gets 3 NOMs.

George’s Mexican Food gets 3 1/2 NOMs.

Taqueria Mexico
14022 Springdale St
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 894-5850
Taqueria Mexico on Urbanspoon

George’s Mexican Food
6581 Edinger Ave
Huntington Beach, CA 92647
(714) 892-5775

George's Mexican Food on Urbanspoon

Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen

It used to be Blue Bayou for lunch during Bat’s Day. But as their food quality went down and their prices went up + the lack of alcohol options for those who wanted to drink, it just wasn’t worth it anymore. So Jazz Kitchen became the next viable option. However, it seems like the quality and service of this restaurant is taking a hit as well.

The lunch menu seems pretty limited, especially when it comes to pescatarian/vegetarian options (read: NONE). And the service…meh. This year, our waitress, though really nice and accommodating, seemed to not quite know what was going on. And somewhere along the chain, there were order mix-ups and mistakes. And really, it shouldn’t take over 3 hrs to do lunch, even with a group of 12 people and when some of those people arrive a little late.  Also, they squished our party of 12 at a table that was really meant for 8-10.

The food is okay and the prices not horribly gouging given we were on Disney property ($10-14 for a lunch entreé). You’d probably spend about the same for food in the park at one of their places. And Blue Bayou would definitely cost a lot more…

Our resident pescatarian (the talented Miss Tanya Bjork) had a special-order catfish po-boy with avocado mayo and I decided to jump on the bandwagon as nothing on the menu was really calling to me. This consisted of some chunks of breaded n’ fried catfish in a sandwich roll. The fish itself was nice – not oily, not fishy-tasting and still moist. But it seemed…wimpy. Maybe it was the amount of catfish…or lack there of? Shredded lettuce, tomatoes, red onions and pickles were served on the side in a bowl. I ordered fries as my side and they were cold n’ limp. Some of them were coated in a yummy Creole seasoning while others were left out of the spice party. My friend ordered steamed veggies (green beans and carrots, completely unseasoned) but ended up with the jalapeno and bacon potato salad. That quickly got transferred to my place. It was not all that great of a potato salad. Very heavy on the mayo, absolutely no kick and while I’m sure I saw pieces of bacon, I couldn’t taste them. The steamed veggies (2 bowls worth for each of us even though I hadn’t ordered any) came out after everyone had pretty much finished their meals.

They still have the best mojitos, in my opinion, though. And mmmm…banana foster done the right way.  Really, the only reason why you’d come here to eat is because you want to drink and you want a good dessert.

They seem to do better with smaller groups or when it’s not prime restaurant hours. Perhaps next year, instead of doing a lunch thing at 1pm like usual, I’ll do a happy hour/early dinner thing around 4:30pm.  That way, the dinner menu is accessible.  There seems to be more appealing entreés and variety on that one.  I think the times that I’ve gone that I have really enjoyed my food was the evenings.  Only downside is that we’ll be spending more money on food.

I have heard that Blue Bayou is in the process of acquiring a liquor license.  If that’s the case, it may be worth going back just to see.  Though their prices are still a lot higher than Jazz Kitchen…

P.S. I also tried the jalapeño cream(?) cheese filled pretzels in the park and they weren’t bad but there was a strange under-taste to it that bugged me. But there was a definite jalapeño kick, unlike the sad potato salad at Jazz Kitchen.

I give Jazz Kitchen 3 NOMs.  This particular experience warranted 2 NOMs at best, but because I have had good food and service there before, I’m giving them an extra NOM.

Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen
1590 S Disneyland Dr
Disneyland Resort
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 776-5200
http://www.rbjazzkitchen.com
Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen on Urbanspoon