Friday, December 30, 2011

Food truck rally!!!

I had the pleasure of recently discovering the Gateway to LA food truck event:

It is every Tuesday from 11 AM until 3 PM in the parking lot behind the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Century Blvd.  I am a big fan of the gourmet food truck concept but too lazy to keep track of when any particular truck is going to be in the area and where to find it.  With this event you just show up on Tuesday for lunch and there is a half dozen trucks to choose from.  If you want to know in advance what is going to be there, you can add the schedule to your Google calender.  When I went I got a Bahn Mi sandwich from the Nom Nom Truck.  It is a spicy Vietnamese sandwich stuffed with succulent grilled pork and pickled vegetables on a wonderful French baguette.  The bread makes or breaks a sandwich and the baguette did not disappoint.

This is a great event and I can't wait to get back!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Arcense Restaurant and Pupuseria

5119 W. El Segundo Blvd
Hawthorne, CA 90250

Rating: 4.5 stars
Typical cost for lunch: $$ ($6-10)
What was ordered: Mojarra Fritta (Deep Fried Fish) & Pollo Encebollado (Chicken and Onions)
Date of visit: 2 August 2011 (1st visit)

Review:  On the way back from our most recent visit to Rosy’s Cuban Café I spotted a small Pupuseria tucked in on El Segundo Blvd right next to the 405.  I’ve only eaten Pupusas once, at a farmers market, but that was enough to know I wanted to try it again.  For the uninitiated, I would describe pupusas as a thick tortilla stuffed with meats, beans, cheese, and other items.  It is the national dish of El Salvador.
Mojarra Fritta

We went for the pupusas but we both ended up ordering a combination plate instead.  I got the Mojarra Fritta which is a whole Tilapia fish deep fried served with rice, beans, salad, and tortilla’s (thick Salvadorean style).  The fish was the daily special and only $8, but even at the normal menu price ($9.25) it is ridiculously cheap.  You get the entire fish (head and all!) and it was delectable and juicy.  There was no strong fish smell so you know it was fresh.  It was deep fried so I wouldn’t call it health food, but it was fried well and wasn’t greasy.
Lunch with a view

The Pollo Encebollado my friend got was a good deal too.  It was a huge pile of bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces stewed in a spicy, onion sauce.  The sauce was tasty but a bit too greasy for my friends liking.

Both plates came with rice, beans, salad, and tortilla’s.  The rice was tasty.  The salad was… salad.  The beans were smooth and soupy, refried pinto beans.  They were a bit too salty on their own but excellent when combined with the other items.  The tortilla’s were thick and dense.  I definitely prefer them with other items like a pupusa.  On their own they were heavy and intimidating.
Pollo Encebollaro

There were some things we didn’t like about our meals, but overall it seemed like a very authentic experience and definitely not the typical lunch you get at one of the thousand Mexican restaurants in the area.  We both were left with a strong desire to go back and try one of the many other menu items.  Next time I will be sure to get some pupusas and maybe some of the other tipicos that are available a la carte.  The sopas (soups) also look delectable and the lady running the register recommended the Carne Guisada (a beef stew with potatoes).  One thing is for sure, we will be back.  4.5 stars.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Sorry about the lack of updates :(

Sorry I haven't been posting new reviews lately.  My second son was born at the beginning of June and things have been hectic (to say the least).  I am now back to working full time (and eating lunch!) and will hopefully have some new reviews up shortly.  Thanks all for reading.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hummus House

12211 Hawthorne Blvd
Hawthorne, CA 90250
(310) 675-3400

Rating: 4.9 stars
Typical cost for lunch: $$ ($7-9)
What was ordered: Chicken Shawarma & Greek Salad
Date of visit: 31 May 2011 (3rd visit)

Review:  I had the hankering for some pita and grilled meat, but we couldn’t decide where to go.  We’ve been to various Middle Eastern restaurants in the area, but none has ever stood out.  Al Hamra isn’t filling; The Hummus Factory has a pretty limited menu; Chicken Maison is a little pricey (but has delectable garlic sauce); Open Sesame and Sabra are down-right overpriced; Hummus House is… hmmm… maybe the best of the lot.  With that we set off for the restaurant with 8 types of hummus!
Chicken Shawarma

If nothing else, Hummus House is known for its wide variety of hummus options.  They include: Traditional, Jalapeno Cilantro, Roasted Garlic, Roasted Red Pepper, Artichoke Pesto, Kalamata Olive, Habanero, and Sun Dried Tomato.  When I think of hummus, I think of garlic so I usually end up getting the Roasted Garlic.  It sounds a bit odd, but the Jalapeno Cilantro is actually probably the tastiest option.  The Artichoke Pesto sounds flavorful but is actually a bit bland.  I don’t think I’ve ever tried the traditional (who would choose plain when you have so many options?) or the Habanero.  The rest are pretty tasty but not exceedingly distinctive.  Most of the lunches come with your choice of hummus.  I recommend you coordinate within your group so you can try a couple different ones.
Greek Salad

As far as entrees, the Shawarma is my favorite (and most popular according to our server).  It is a big pile of juicy marinated meat (beef or chicken), next to a scoop of rice, and a sizable salad.  With the pita and hummus it is a filling lunch.  I’ve had the Kabob (skewers of grilled meat) and they are excellent, too.  The pita wraps are a little bit smaller but still filling.  During this visit, my friend ordered the Greek Salad.  It was huge and stuffed with grilled chicken breast and feta cheese.  Unfortunately the salad doesn’t come with hummus.

Based on my previous two visits that would be my review and I would have given Hummus House 4 stars.  However, on this visit I found something I don’t remember previously.  When we sat down there was a big pot of creamy garlic sauce ready for us to add however we like to our meal.  It is the same sauce that drives my back to Chicken Maison like a fly to light.  However at Chicken Maison, you get a small plastic cup.  Here they give you a big pot of the stuff!  I looked up a recipe online for this sauce and it is basically: garlic, garlic, and more garlic.  Add in a bit of olive oil and salt and blend for an eon.  After some time the oil must start to emulsify to give it that creamy texture.  It doesn’t have a strong bite when you first taste it, but before long you realize how much garlic you just ate.  I don’t recommend this stuff before an important meeting with the client, but other than that I can’t think of too many items that wouldn’t be tastier with a little bit of this sauce.
Garlic Sauce!!!

The only downside to Hummus House is that it is right next to Rosy’s Cuban Café and Bakery.  Hummus house is great but it is tough walking past Rosy’s.  4.9 stars.


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Indian Buffet Round-Up Super Post!!!

Akbar Cuisine of India
1101 Aviation Blvd
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254
(310) 937-3800

Priya Indian Cuisine
15651 Hawthorne Blvd
Lawndale, CA 90260

Indian Summer
219 Main St.
El Segundo, CA 90245
(310) 322-7550

India Grill Express
11918 Aviation Blvd
Inglewood, CA 90304
(310) 725-9842

Rating: Akbar – 5 stars
            Priya 4.5 stars
            Indian Summer 3.5 stars
India Grill 3 stars
Cost for Lunch Buffet: Akbar – $8
                                    Priya $9
                                    Indian Summer $10
                                    India Grill $8

Review:  We recently found ourselves at Priya Indian Cuisine enjoying the lunch buffet.  I wanted to blog about our experience, but I would have to discuss it in relation to the other Indian buffets in the area.  Instead of blogging about each one separately, I thought I would put together a round-up of all the Indian buffets in the area (all the ones I’ve been to at least).

Akbar is my gold standard for Indian buffets.  It’s actually quite small (about 3 vegetarian and 3 non-veg. dishes) but what they have they do well.  The standard dishes on the buffet include Dahl (kind of like a lentil stew), Gobi Aloo (gobi means cauliflower/aloo means potato… it’s the standard Indian dish cooked with plenty of spices), Sag (spinach stew… with paneer – Indian cheese – if you are lucky), Tandoori Chicken (BBQ’d chicken pieces – without a sauce), Chicken Tikka Masala (boneless chicken in a creamy tomato curry sauce), and either a Lamb or Chicken Curry.  All of the vegetable dishes are excellent with plenty of Indian spice; the Tandoori Chicken is juicy and fresh from the Tandoor (Indian clay oven); but the Chicken Tikka Masala is the star of the show.  The secret is, they use the Tandoori Chicken to make the Chicken Tikka Masala, and so the chicken by itself is a wonderful dish.  Then they bathe it in this rich, creamy tomato sauce… I have dreams about that sauce.  Together they are a truly spectacular dish.

The lunch buffet comes with Naan (Indian flat bread) fresh from the oven that is crispy and blistered on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.  If you ask (which I suggest you do!) they will give you Garlic Naan.  The freshly chopped garlic is an excellent addition to the delicious Naan they serve.  In full disclosure, my Indian friend is not as high on Akbar as I am, though I chock that up to his well documented love affair with boneless, skinless chicken breast.  The Chicken Tikka Masala is made with dark and white meat.

Priya (pronounced pre-ya), is my new addition to this list and I have to say it makes a decent challenge to Akbar for top spot.  What makes Priya unique is that they serve southern Indian cuisine on their buffet.  Almost all Indian restaurants in the US, outside of Little India, serve Northern Indian cusine (Korma, Saag, Tandoori, Aloo Gobi…), which is a real shame because Southern Indian food has great flavor and tends to be a little bit healthier.  What tips you off right away that they are serving Southern Indian Food is the Idli.  Idli is a steamed rice cake that sops up the flavor of Sambar and Rasam to make a wonderful dish.  Sambar is a thick vegetable soup made with yellow split peas (dahl in Hindi).  Rasam is a thin spicy, sour soup made with tamarind.  Sambar and Rasam are a requirement for any Southern Indian meal.   I’ve eaten at a lot of Indian buffets in my life and I’ve never seen Idli, Sambar, or Rasam on any of them.

If you like heat, you should try Southern Indian cuisine as it tends to be a bit hotter than their neighbors to the North.  Case in point, they had a dish called Chicken 65 on the buffet.  It is chicken pieces marinated in yogurt and then bathed in tons of chili peppers.  It was hot, but the reward is worth the pain.  They also serve many of the standard Northern Indian dishes.  These are pretty good too.  I would say a step up from what you get at India Grill.  The lunch buffet does come with Naan, but they were the biggest disappointment for me.  I thought they were greasy and lifeless.  Why should baked bread have pools of oil on it?

Indian Summer is located in downtown El Segundo and is the biggest buffet I have found in the area.  The main selling point here is variety and they have it in abundance with many vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.  The quality is pretty good and they tend to have a sizable lunch crowd.  That means high turn-around on the buffet and fresher dishes on your plate.  There is one dish on the buffet that looks like chicken meatballs.  I can’t recommend staying away from it enough.  It tastes like a watery sponge to me.  Naan is included on the buffet (versus being made fresh and brought to your table) which means it is usually pretty rubbery and lifeless.

India Grill is your standard Indian buffet.  It is a little bit larger than Akbar’s buffet with all the typical dishes you would expect to find.  They have a Goat Curry that is quite good and they deliver freshly baked Naan to your table.  Also, they ask you when you place your order if you would like Garlic or Plain Naan (again, I recommend Garlic).  A year or so back, a couple took over management of the restaurant.  They are quite friendly and service tends to be a step above what I normally find at Indian restaurants.  The biggest selling point for me (which I didn’t include in the rating) is that I can walk here from my office.

In terms ambiance, Indian Summer is in the nicest part of town (picturesque Main Street, El Segundo).  Akbar is the nicest on the inside and they even have cotton tablecloths.  Priya and India Grill are both in strip malls in rougher parts of town. 


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Big Mike’s Philly Steaks and Subs


Rating: 5 stars

Typical cost for lunch: $$ ($7 - 9)
What was ordered: Cheese Steak, Chicken Mushroom Steak, and Garlic Fries
Date of visit: 25 March 2011 (multiple previous visits)

Review:  I’ve never been to Pat’s or Geno’s in Philadelphia, but this is the best Philly Cheese Steak I’ve ever had.  They start with ribeye steak, slice it thin, and grill it up to order (without oil).  That gets piled into a freshly baked, soft and chewy, hollowed-out steak roll along with your choice of extras (grilled onions, hot peppers, sweet peppers, tomatoes, pickles, lettuce, and cheese).  For a little bit more, you can add pizza sauce or grilled mushrooms to the cheese steak.  Your cheese choices include Provolone, Cheez Whiz, or white American.  I usually get Provolone but if you’re feeling authentic, I have to admit Cheez Whiz (a poor excuse for cheese) is pretty tasty on there.
Lunch Combo: 6-inch Cheese Steak and Garlic Fries

If you are looking for something a little healthier, the Chicken Philly is the same thing made with thinly sliced chicken breast.  Big Mike’s also has subs, hoagies, and salads on their menu, but I have never been able to get past the cheese steaks.  They have lunch specials; for around $8 you get a 6-inch cheese steak with a soda and chips, fries, or garlic fries.  It’s a good deal - and the garlic fries are superb – however, if I’m feeling hungry for about 50 cents more you can just get the 12-inch cheese steak.  I don’t care much for the soda, so I figure I’m trading the garlic fries for another 6 inches of sandwich.  The garlic fries are tasty (lot’s of fresh garlic), but it’s a good trade-off in my book.

12-inch Cheese Steak
Now, you should only go to Big Mike’s if you have a big appetite.  The place is usually filled with El Segundo PD, TSA officers from LAX, and men from the surrounding companies eating big hearty sandwiches.  It is hard to daintily eat a cheese steak.  If you do have a big appetite, Big Mike’s is a great place to fill it.  5 stars.