SL Bites: Lotus Leaf

A not-so-great meal at this usually reliable Vietnamese restaurant

Last Sunday, my oldest daughter graduated from college – and them promptly left for a camping trip with her father. My other daughter had plans with her boyfriend, leaving my friend Elektra and I to celebrate the graduation on our own. I suggested lunch at Lotus Leaf for the most trivial of reasons: it has parking. Finding parking in downtown San Leandro on a Sunday which also happened to be Father’s Day can be pretty challenging.

Beyond parking, Lotus Leaf tends to be a pretty dependable place for lunch. It’s nicely appointed, it’s one of those “Asian bistros” that appeared in California in the early ’00s, offering classy, minimalist and yet still somewhat-ethnic decore and nicely presented dishes, and a comfortable place for a nice-but-not-extravagant meal. You could have a business meal here, a celebration or just a casual lunch. I’d been several times in the last year or two, precisely for this reason and because the food is generally very solid. They also have an extensive vegetarian menu. After this experience, however, I doubt I’ll be rushing back.

First, service was problematic. The waiter was a young man who seemed to have very little experience serving tables. He forgot my drink, our main dishes came only a few minutes after our appetizers had arrived, he never checked on us and we had to chase him to get us the bill. Of course, this was Father’s Day, so perhaps he was covering for someone else – and he was pleasant.

We started with the grilled lemongrass pork spring rolls ($10.5), which are served with peanut sauce. These were very good. The lemongrass pork itself was very flavorful, and it went well with the lettuce, mint, lemongrass and carrots. The peanut sauce was also very flavorful. I’m not a fan of bean sprouts myself, but I didn’t mind them in these rolls. These, I’d order again.

More problematic was my grilled beef short ribs with pineapple rice ($18). The ribs were very tasty, they had a good marinade with bold flavors. Unfortunately, they were extremely chewy and fatty. That meant that I couldn’t eat much of it. The pineapple rice had such tiny pieces of pineapple that you couldn’t taste it at all, it was just bland. And the same can be said for the vegetables. I was left hungry, which I shouldn’t have been given the hefty price of the meal.

My friend Elektra had the ginger salmon ($16.5), which also came with pineapple rice and steamed veggies. She agreed with me as to the sides, and liked the sauce on the salmon. However, it was dried and overcooked. It was also too small a portion to warrant the price.

Elektra had a fresh squeezed limeade ($5.5) which she liked, as it wasn’t very sweet.

In all, we were disappointed, with so many other restaurants in San Leandro, I don’t think we’ll rush to Lotus Leaf again, unless we have a vegetarian on tow.

Lotus Leaf
277 Parrott St
San Leandro, CA
(510) 877-2601
M-Th 9 AM - 9 PM
F-Su 9 AM - 9:30 PM

Ready Meal Services Reviews: Locale

Locale is a new-to-me meal delivery service operating in several areas in California. Their hook is that the meals come from well known restaurants in the area and that at $11 each, plus $5 delivery fee, they are more affordable than actually getting take out. They are priced, however, to compete with other similar services like CookUnity and Shef. They only deliver on Mondays, but you are able to order up to the Friday before, which is nice. I subscribed to Locale with a discount offer I found on Facebook and later got a discount for a second week.

Like the other services, meals come in an insulated bag, this one with cooling packs, and they will pick them up when they deliver your next order. They are very diligent about texting you with updates on delivery.

Each meal comes in a cardboard tray, sealed with a transparent plastic film. The meals are usually good for 5 to 6 days, which gives you some flexibility on when to eat them. Most can be microwaved, but some need more laborious heating.

You can’t really see how many restaurants Locale has available to you until you sign up, but I was disappointed both on how few there were for me in the East Bay – and how few dishes each restaurant offered. In all, they only had 29 restaurants available and several only offered 1 to 3 different dishes. Those who had more often presented different variations of the same dish (e.g. a chicken or a beef dish, otherwise identical). I don’t know that I could order a third time without repeating some dishes, though some dishes are worth repeating. Still, there is simply not enough variety to stay subscribed long term.

I got discounts for my first two deliveries, but future ones will have to be at full price. My meal reviews, however, assume that I’d paid full price for the meals (around $12+tax).

These are the restaurants I ordered from and the dishes I got. Those that I’d order again have a checkmark.

Asian Box, Bay Area

Asian Box is a small chain with seven restaurants in SF and Silicon Valley, including one at the airport, and one in LA. They specialize in “choose your ingredients” bowls (but in rectangular containers, thus called “boxes”), where you choose a base (e.g. rice or salad), a protein, toppers (e.g. peanuts or pickles) and a sauce. Boxes start at $14 and go up depending on your protein, they also have some “signature boxes” at varying prices. Locale offers 4 boxes from Asian box.

Chicken Curry Bowl with Potatoes and Jasmine Rice ✔

This dish was described as having comes rice, six-spice chicken, potatoes, carrots and yellow coconut curry and being topped with herbs, scallion oil, peanuts and shallots but instead of the “herbs and scallion oil” it came with a spicy red sauce which might have been the “fiery red curry”. The bowl was very good. The star of the show was the six-spice chicken, which did remind me of five-spice but also had a nice acidic flavor and tasted grilled. It was just very good. The yellow curry was a standard coconut curry, a bit on the spicy side and competent but not great. The portion give was just enough to moisten the chicken, rice and potato – so make sure to scrape it all off. The peanuts were chopped too finely to add much texture, but the occasional piece of shallot gave it a nice crunch. The portion made for a filling dinner. I’d certainly have it again. This same dish sells at the restaurant for $15.50

Burritos La Palma, Southern California

La Palma is a small restaurant chain in Southern California which gained famed when the Michelin guide gave it its “Bibi Gourmand” designation in recognition of its Zacatecan style burritos, which seem to be tortillas rolled around meat and salsa, with no other additions. They’ve become famous enough to sell their burritos frozen through Goldbelly.

3 Birria y Queso Burritos

burritos
Two of the three burritos – delicious!

Quesobirria tacos are all the rage in California these days, and I can see why this burrito version has become so popular. I loved the softness and elasticity of the tortilla after microwaving it. The filling was tasty, and the cheese worked well to mellow the strong flavors of the birria. My daughter also really liked them. I can see ordering this time and again. The burritos are $5 each at the restaurants, so you get a small discount ordering through here (plus you don’t have to go to LA to get them).

Comal, Oakland

Comal is a well known Mexican restaurant with locations in both Oakland and Berkeley. It’s a favorite place for events, and we’ve gone to a few there. I’ve very much enjoyed their tacos in the past.

Carnitas Burrito with Pinquito Beans, Rice and Salsa Verde

My daughter enjoyed this burrito. The carnitas were flavorful and the whole combination worked well. It was a pretty substantial meal, which my daughter couldn’t finish. Burritos retail for $13.75 at Comal, but they didn’t list this particular one, so it might be a cheaper version than their normal semi-gourmet offerings.

Dumpling Time, Bay Area

Dumpling Time has five locations in the Bay Area. They specialize in Chinese dumplings. They only offer two dishes through Locale. The one we got is no longer available.

Dim Sum and Garlicky Green Beans with Wakame Seaweed Salad

This dish consisted of one pork bao (aka pork bun), 2 shrimp & pork siu mai and 2 shrimp har gow served with green beans and sea weed salad. Unfortunately, it’s no longer being offered by Locale (nor is this combo in he menu at Dumpling Time). My husband really liked this offering and would have liked it again but it’s no longer available.

El Farolito, San Francisco

El Farolito is a run of the mill taqueria in San Francisco, best known (in Yelp, at least) for its cheap burritos.

Mission Style Chicken Quesadilla with Crema and Salsa

This was an overall good quesadilla. It had a nice taste and it was more flavorful than I expected. The portion was probably the right size for lunch. However, I wouldn’t order it again. The first issue was the heating. It requires that you take out a pan, melt a tablespoon of butter and then heat up the quesadilla for a minute on both sides. This gives you a crispy tortilla, but the heat doesn’t go through enough to melt the cheese. I fixed this by microwaving for an extra 30 seconds. I didn’t like, however, that I had to dirty a saucepan to heat this up. I do take responsibility for not reading the heating instructions before I ordered it, they were right there on the page. I also didn’t like that it came with a green sauce instead of guacamole. Price was, it was a tad cheaper than what I can get at my local taquería for a similar size quesadilla, but I can choose steak and get guacamole if I order it there, which I prefer.

Hard Knox Cafe, San Francisco

This is a soul food restaurant with two locations in San Francisco which seems to get mostly good reviews. Locale only offers this dish and mac & cheese from this restaurant.

Southern Style BBQ Pork Rib with Collard Greens and Mac and Cheese

This consisted of just one spare rib with BBQ sauce, mac & cheese and collard drinks. My daughter enjoyed both the rib and the mac & cheese, she felt they were very good – she didn’t try the greens. It was enough food for her, but she is a girl who can never finish any meal – it really should be two ribs to satisfy a normal appetite. She wouldn’t have it again, however, because most of the meal was the mac & cheese and it wasn’t good enough to be a whole meal. The dish is $21 at the restaurant, but it looks like they serve at least 3 ribs.

Hawaiian Drive Inn, Bay Area

Hawaiian Drive Inn seems to be a 5-location Hawaiian BBQ chain in the Bay Area, serving standard Hawaiian BBQ fare.

Hawaiian Chicken Katsu with Steamed Rice and Green Beans

This was a pretty average Hawaiian BBQ chicken katsu, and there is nothing wrong with that. The green beans, however, lacked all seasoning. The heating instructions also had us using the oven for the chicken and the microwave for the beans which is too much trouble – we just heated the whole thing (minus the sauce) in the microwave. The portion size was similar to the mini-meal size at my local Hawaiian joint which is $12, so this is not a great deal.

Mela Bistro, Oakland

Mela Bistro prides itself on serving “Modern Ethiopian Food”. From its website, I can see that the restaurant forgoes the traditional art and trappings from many local Ethiopian restaurants and it has more sleek surroundings. The menu is short and filled with traditional items. That said, this is the one restaurant we are happy Locale introduced us to and the one we re-ordered from our second week.

Ethiopian Style Beef Tibs with Brown Rice and Green Split Peas ✔

This was a very good version of beef tibs. Flavor wise, it was pretty much on point for beef tibs but it felt less greasy than usual – quite an achievement for a dish cooked in ghee. It was medium spicy. It’s served with turmeric rice. This dish is $18 at the restaurant, so it’s actually quite a bargain to get it through Locale. The portion was enough for one meal without leftovers.

Ethiopian Beef Stir Fry with Spiced Turmeric Rice ✔

These seem to be just beef tibs, but served with turmeric rice instead of brown rice and split peas. Once again, they were very tasty, only a bit spicy, and less greasy that beef tibs usually are. Once again my husband was happy. It was a good sized portion. He thought the rice was fine, but would probably get it with the brown rice and peas next time for a somewhat healthier option.

Peaches Patties, San Francisco

Peaches Patties is a Jamaican restaurant operating from the Ferry Building in San Francisco. The owner previously ran a catering business. It specializes in Jamaican patties, which is their version of empanadas. They get great reviews from these, but they are not available on Locale. They have a few other dishes, including two new ones that don’t appear on their menu. Locale has four dishes from this restaurant.

Ginger Tamarind Chicken with Fried Plantains, Kidney Beans and Jasmine Rice

This dish was described as featuring “tender chicken infused with bold ginger and tangy tamarind, served alongside crispy fried plantains and fragrant jasmine rice.” I can’t say it was a success. The chicken was tender, but the thigh meat felt dry. I usually like sweet-savory flavors, but the sweetness here felt out place, it fought, rather than blended with, the spiciness and the smokiness. My favorite part were the pieces of the chicken that tasted charred, unfortunately there were few of them. I usually don’t mind soggy chicken skins, but I felt this one could be crispier. The plantains were definitely not crispy either and they needed more sweetness. I don’t know, this just didn’t do it for me and I wouldn’t order it again. While this dish is not on Peaches Patties current menu, a similar jerk chicken meal that also includes veggies sells for $20.

Perilla, San Francisco

Perilla is a casual Vietnamese restaurant in San Francisco. It offers three dishes through Locale, each consisting of garlic noodles, broccoli and either pork, crab or five spice chicken. At the restaurant, these dishes are priced at $14.

Five Spice Chicken with Garlic Noodles and Broccoli ✔

This dish was pretty good, the boneless chicken was was sweet and savory with light soy sauce overtones, and the noodles were quite good, not too garlicky. My daughter, who had it, enjoyed it and would have it again. The portion was more than sufficient for dinner, though not quite enough to have much in the way of leftovers.

Sumac, San Francisco

Sumac describes itself as a “modern Mediterranean street food” restaurant and has locations in both LA and SF. They serve wraps, salads, rice bowls and hummus bowls with your choice of grilled chicken, meatballs, red lentil balls or felafel. Seven of these combinations are available at Locale.

Turkish Kofte Bowl with Basmati Rice and Chickpea Salad ✔

These are lamb and beef shoulder meatballs served with rice, chickpea salad and a labneh sauce. The same bowl sells for $18 at the restaurant. This was a good, filling and satisfying meal. The meatballs had that chewy texture of kibbeh – I think it’s achieved by over grinding the meat -, which I’m not super fond of, but they were well seasoned and very tasty. The buttered basmati rice reminded me just how nice buttered basmati rice is on its own. The chickpea salad was fresh and piquant, and I enjoyed it even though I’m not a fan of chickpeas. And the yogurt sauce was thick and refreshing. Everything was slightly spicy, however, But overall a very good meal that I’d have again.

Chicken Hummus Bowl with Roasted Veggies ✔

Both my husband and I loved this bowl of grilled chicken, roasted veggies and hummus. – so much that we had it a second time. The chicken was tender and well seasoned, and worked well both by itself or dipped in the hummus. It was a little weird to eat warm hummus, though. Next time I might scoop it out before reheating. My husband was actually surprised at how much he liked the veggies, but we both skipped the pickled beets. The restaurant version sells for $21, but it also comes with an arugula salad.

Tenderleaf (Ghost Kitchen)

Tenderleaf is described as a “a beloved Bay Area gem, is a cozy, locally-owned restaurant” located in San Francisco. As far as I can tell, that is a lie. A google search failed to find any restaurant with that name anywhere in the Bay Area, much less a “beloved one”. Instead, it seems that Tenderleaf is a ghost kitchen operated by the owners of Locale. To me, this seems extremely deceitful. I don’t have a problem with ghost kitchens myself, but I do have a problem with dishonesty.

The address that Google has for Tenderleaf is in the San Leandro industrial area, and I’ll probably drive by and check it out some time.

Tenderleaf offers 9 dishes through Locale, the most of any restaurants.

Mom’s Meatballs in Marinara Sauce with Italian Sausage and Parmesan

This dish consisted of four medium-size meatballs and 2 sausages, topped with tomato sauce and a little Parmesan cheese. I warmed it in the microwave. There was definitely plenty of food. I liked the meatballs. They tasted very much like the meatballs you can get at your average pizzeria – I’m thinking of Porky’s Pizza Palace in particular. They had a good texture, they weren’t too soft and not too gritty, and a nice flavor. I would imagine that these are not “homemade”, but it’s not like I can get meatballs that taste like that at the supermarket. The sauce was pretty standard marinara, a little on the acidic side. A bit more cheese would have been better, but you can always add your own. I also liked the sausages, which were pretty dense, and smooth, and tasted primarily – but mildly – of fennel. Obviously this would have been better over some pasta, and next time I might just boil some myself.

Vik’s Chaat, Berkeley

Vik’s Chaat is a very well known Berkeley Indian restaurant. It’s a casual eatery, meant for college students. It’s been there for decades and has always been very popular. I went there once, over a decade ago, and I don’t remember loving it, but I didn’t write a review. Locale offers 3 dishes from Vik’s Chaat.

Tandoori Chicken with Spiced Chickpeas and Basmati Rice

This dish consisted of a chicken leg – separated into thigh and drumstick – served with basmati rice and spiced chickpeas. I wasn’t super fond of it. It tasted like the sort of tandoori chicken you can make it at home, in your own over, with tandoori masala. The masala sauce, which was a bit spicy, clung to the chicken, which I don’t particularly like. I much prefer the tandoori chicken found at most restaurants where the chicken skin has been died and the flavor has been absorbed by the meat, rather than resting on a marinade outside. Still, it wasn’t bad, just not as good as the Americanized versions of tandoori chicken you usually get at restaurants. It did remind me of why I didn’t like Vik’s when I went. A similar tandoor chicken dish at the restaurant which is served with dal, instead of chickpeas, and with naan and raita, costs $18.

Zareen’s, Silicon Valley

Zareen’s, along with Burma Superstar, are the only restaurants Locale mentions on their Facebook ads and comments. This seems to be because they were listed in the 2020 Michelin guide. It’s an Indian/Pakistani restaurant with locations in Palo Alto, Redwood City and Mountain View. Locale offers 7 dishes from this restaurant, though two are tikka masalas and three spinach curries.

Chicken Tikka Masala with Basmati Rice

I was underwhelmed by this dish. It consisted of shredded chicken tikka in a masala curry and yellow rice. The chicken was tender and had a nice smoky flavor but was otherwise very underseasoned. The sauce lacked the complexity you look for in a tikka masala sauce. It wasn’t bad, but it was underdeveloped. The portion was adequate for a single meal. In all, I think I rather pay more at my local Indian restaurant but have a better curry and leftovers for a second meal. This curry is $16.25 at the Zareen’s restaurant, though I’m not sure if the portion is the same size.


San Leandro Bites: Moana Hawaiian BBQ

This newish Hawaiian BBQ restaurant in San Leandro has some hits and some misses.

My youngest daughter, Camila, had had a pretty tough day so when she asked that we get Hawaiian that evening, I was willing to go along with it, even though we’d eaten out a lot that week. She had specifically asked that we go to Ono Hawaiian BBQ, our closest Hawaiian joint and one we frequented when she was younger. For one reason or another we stopped going and I think it’d been several years since we’d had Ono or Hawaiian at all. So, before I ordered, I decided to look at reviews. Alas, recent ones for Ono weren’t too encouraging.

Moana Hawaiian BBQ, on the other hand, was getting great reviews – plus it was near Ono, so not that much further from our house. Reluctantly, Camila agreed to order from there. Overall, I was happy with the meal, but there were some misses. I wasn’t too comfortable ordering online, so I sent Mike to do so at the store. It was a pretty quick trip.

Moana’s menu seems to be very similar to Ono’s, even to the name of some dishes, for example, they both feature “island white fish”. They both have a family meal ($43) consisting of three meats and two sides: rice and macaroni salad. That’s what I decided to get and it turned out to be a good deal, it was a lot of food.

Camila wanted the chicken katsu, which is also one of my favorites. It consists of fried, breaded chicken served with katsu sauce. The chicken was tender and flavorful, and appropriately cooked. There was plenty of it and Camila made three meals out of it.

Mike decided on the island white fish, fried fish fillets. The fish itself was nicely seasoned, as was the breading. Mike felt the breading was too thick, though that didn’t bother me as much – and I appreciated it when I microwaved the left overs: the breading held up fairly well. I did feel the fish was crying for some lemon juice – fortunately, a few years ago a lemon tree just started growing in our side yard (I suspect a lemon from our neighbor’s tree fell there and eventually it turned into a tree), so now we have fresh lemons whenever we want them. With the lemon juice added, the fish was just delicious.

I also enjoyed the kalbi beef ($3 supplement). Restraint was clearly used in marinating them, so that they still had a grilled beef flavor, rather than just a teriyaki or similar sort of flavor that overwhelms the meat at Ono. Teriyaki sauce was served alongside them, but I felt I didn’t need it. They were also very tender and not too chewy. I very much enjoyed them.

The white rice was exactly that, rice. It serves as a conduit for the katsu and teriyaki sauces, but I see it as wasted carbs – particularly when we had so much other food.

The macaroni salad, unfortunately, was a big miss. It just lacked the flavor that the the one at Ono has. Camila definitely commented on it – and Mike had to agree it wasn’t that great. They still ate it, though.

I also ordered the malasadas ($5.50 for 10), Hawaiian donuts with a Portuguese ancestry. It’d been years since I last had one and I didn’t remember how I felt about them. It turns out, I’m not a big fan. They were lighter than a beignet, but still denser and heavier than a donut and the salty dough wasn’t particularly flavorful. I did like the crystalized sugar on top which is a big improvement over powdered sugar. Reading back on my blog, it seems like I wasn’t too fond of malasadas when I had them in Hawaii almost 20 years ago, so it’s not Moana, it’s me.

In all, it was a good experience and if it’s up to me, we’d go back. Alas, the substandard macaroni salad might make Mike and Camila prefer we go elsewhere when we next want Hawaiian.

Moana Hawaiian BBQ
14966 E 14th St
San Leandro, CA
(510) 274-5777
Daily 10:30 AM - 8:30 PM

A foodie in San Francisco: House of Prime Rib

It’s a three quarters of a century old, but can it satisfy modern palates?

House of Prime Beef is a San Francisco institution. The busy restaurant has been serving slabs of beef, sides and desserts for generations – it turned 75 years old this year. And yet I hadn’t heard about it until a few years ago, when photos of decadent dinners there started showing on a local foodie Facebook group. Surely, I must have come across mentions of the restaurant before, as I have been patronizing Bay Area food newsgroups since the 90’s, but I probably just never paid attention. Given how easy it’s to cook steak at home, I’ve never seen the point of paying many times more to visit a steakhouse. So when my non-vegetarian daughter mentioned she wanted to go to a steakhouse for her birthday, House of Prime Rib is what popped to mind.

Alas, House of Prime Rib is not the kind of restaurant where you can make a last minute reservation – and by “last minute”, I mean “with less than six months notice.” House of Prime Rib opens its reservations a year in advance, and prime spots are taken pretty much immediately. You can go when they open and hope you get lucky and get a table, but I’m too old for that. Instead, I made reservations for her birthday at Bix (lovely place, great for a special meal) but also took the first available reservations at House of Prime Rib for a weekend night at a reasonable time. That turned out to be almost seven months later. We had a good enough experience that I already made reservations to return next year.

Despite the difficulty in getting reservations, House of Prime Ribs is a rather large restaurant, boasting several dining rooms in addition to the crowded bar area. They serve 600 people every evening. Each dining room, however, feel rather intimate, like a restaurant in itself. I loved the atmosphere of the one we were in, it looked like dining in someone’s old fashioned library. It was darker than this photo suggests, but light enough to be able to see our meals. It was busy but not terribly noisy, we could hear each other well. Dress was business casual – most men had collared shirts and, this being chilly San Francisco, long pants. The restaurant was a nice temperature but you do have to walk outside.

The menu at House of Prime Rib is quite limited, your choices are Prime Rib or, as a concession to those who absolutely can’t eat red meat, fish. You can choose how your prime rib is cut and how well it’s cooked, whether you want salad, or whether you want your potatoes mashed or baked. Otherwise, your only choices are of drinks and of desserts. Service is by old time professional waiters who bring you back to another age and make you feel special. Indeed, feeling like you’re back in the 50’s is a big attraction of this place.

We started our dinner with cocktails. They bring you both the glass and the mixing bottle – which has enough for another cocktail. As the cocktails are not very big, this is a good thing. I got a Cosmopolitan ($15.5); I asked for it to be made weak and it was. It was delicious, particularly at the bottom where I could really taste the Triple Sec. Next time, I’ll order it normal. Both Mike and Camila thought it was very sour, but it didn’t feel like that to me. Mike had the Lemon Drop ($15.5). He liked it very much and would have it again. Camila had a couple of Shirley Temple mocktails ($3) and we both thought they were very good as well.

The meal itself started with white bread and salted butter. The bread was served warm, it tasted fresh, and it was very good. It took effort to not fill ourselves with it. Later, they brought us little warm corn breads which I thought were delicious, though I’m a huge fan of warm cornbread in general. Camila, who is not, gave me hers.

After the bread, the waiter brought a cart featuring a large bowl with ice and a large salad bowl inserted into it. I thought that the salad would be mixed tableside, but it comes already mixed, all the waiter does is very ceremoniously add the salad dressing, spin it and toss it. It’s sort of a show. Unfortunately, the show was better than the salad. I was concerned that the salad had beets and chopped eggs, two things I disliked, but fortunately those ended at the bottom of my plate. Unfortunately, I found the dressing too acidic for my taste and just not very tasty. Camila agreed – we both barely ate any a few lettuce leaves before deciding it just wasn’t for us.

You can only omit the salad by ordering your Prime Rib a a la carte, but you currently you can only get Prime Rib slices if you do so.

I knew that I wanted to get dessert, and that meant that I would not be able to eat a steak by myself – thus I decided to share a King Henry VIII cut ($68) with Mike. The sharing fee is just $10 and they bring you your own plate with salad and sides. The King Henry cut is thick and includes a bone. It was the perfect size for two not-too-hungry people. It was also delicious, perfectly cooked medium rare, juicy with a melt-in-your-mouth feel. I’m not a particularly big fan of Prime Rib – give me a grilled or pan-seared steak any day – but you could feel the quality of the meat as well as the expertise in cooking it and cutting it. I’d clearly have it again.

The steak comes with creamed spinach and we asked for mashed potatoes. Mike loved the creamed spinach, he actually made us try it, though to me it tasted just like the abomination that creamed spinach is. But hey, if you don’t think cream spinach is Satan’s own invention, you might like it too. The mashed potatoes were great, though a bit too runny. I’d have wanted a spoon to eat them with. I did love the gravy they came with, it had a deep meaty flavor that I’ve seldom actually encountered in gravy. If I could have eaten any more, I’d have asked for more mashed potatoes. I don’t think the sauce the steak came with was the same gravy, however, as I was less fond of it – it lacked that meatiness and had little depth.

The meal also came with a Yorkshire pudding and this was a revelation. I’d unsuccessfully tried to make them myself once, but I don’t know if I’ve ever actually eaten them at a restaurant (surely when I went to England? but I can’t remember). In any case, they weren’t at all what I expected. One flattish Yorkshire pudding, cooked in a small pan, was cut in three and served to us. It had an airy but very eggy consistency, sort of like a very eggy crepe. I’m not a fan of egg myself, but I liked the silkiness of the texture and the subtle egg flavor. I just wish I had liked the sauce the meat came with better.

Camila had the City Cut ($59) which is their smallest serving, and had it well done. She only ate about 2/3rs of it as it was. She thought it was very good; I thought it was dry – but that’s what you get for ordering “well done” beef. She was underwhelmed by the baked potato, however. It had sour cream and chives but no other seasoning, so she mostly left it uneaten. She also skipped ordering the spinach.

House of Prime Ribs has a long list of delicious and very classical sounding desserts, but I had decided on the Strawberry Shortcake ($12.5) in advance. Though the desserts are listed as single serving, this one, at least, was large enough to share. It was delicious, but mostly on account the of the strawberries and cream. I don’t think the cake was a shortcake, it was too sweet with an annoying vanilla flavor, and too light. I daresay it may be the same sponge cake they use in the trifle. Still, the strawberries were fresh, ripe and sweet and the natural syrup from them was delicious. Back in Argentina, strawberries and cream is a common restaurant dessert and I really don’t know why it’s not in the US. It really doesn’t get better than that.

Mike had the Creme Brulee ($12.5), which was also a very generous portion. It was also very good, but not spectacular as I think there isn’t much that can be done to improve creme brulee from its classical presentation. Still, as far as creme brulees went, this was very well executed.

In all, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the meal. These were all American classics, not gourmet food in the least, but well executed and very universally appealing. I also really enjoyed the atmosphere of the restaurant. The one minus is that the whole meal went very fast. We were in and out in just an hour. Now, it’s not that we were rushed – though it’s obvious the name of the game for them is turning tables – but that the dishes were cleared so quickly (albeit after we’d finished) and new ones were brought right away. As we were with an impatient teen this wasn’t totally a bad thing, but if I went there with adults, I’d like to enjoy a more leisurely meal – which I guess we’ll have to force ourselves through pacing our own eating.

House of Prime Rib
1906 Van Ness Avenue
San Francisco, CA
1-415-885-4605/6
M - F 5 - 10 PM
Sa - Su 4- 10 PM

A foodie in San Francisco: Juniper

Is this award-winnning San Francisco bakery worth the hype?

Juniper is a relatively new bakery and café in San Francisco which gained fame a couple of weeks ago when it won a croissant competition. It made the papers and my husband, a croissant lover, decided he had to cross the Bay and try them himself. When he first went, the day after the newspaper article came out, he had to wait 45 minutes in line before getting the goodies – he just went back yesterday, early on a Saturday morning, and the wait was gone. The stuff was just as good, however.

Order with chocolate croissants, butter croissants, Cubano croissant, chocolate brownie and black sesame kouign amann

Butter croissant.

These are large, airy but still very buttery croissants. The outside is flaky – too flaky, really, they’re a mess to eat – and the inside soft and buttery, and rather insubstantial. It didn’t need any extra butter. We enjoyed the croissants very much.

Butter Croissant Loaf

We got this our first time. It’s basically a loaf of very airy/light croissant dough topped with either crystalized sugar butter or black sesame. We got the former and I also enjoyed it a lot – I loved the sugar. I prefer it to the croissants themselves.

Chocolate croissant.

These were also great, made with high quality dark chocolate and not too much of it. Specially after reheating it, it just melts in your mouth. And a little croissant goes a long way.

Black Sesame Kouign Amann

This is similar to a cinnamon roll but with a black sesame paste instead of cinnamon (or in addition to?). I loved the butteriness and caramelized sugar, both in flavor and texture, and the black sesame paste was pretty good too. The pastry wasn’t as sweet as I feared. I’d definitely get it again.

Chocolate Brownie

In my old age, I’ve lost much of my taste for chocolate so I no longer gravitates to brownies. Still, this one was pretty good. It was lighter/airier than ordinary brownies without sacrificing the chocolate flavor. For that reason, it was also less sweet. I would have preferred some nuts or something else to add to the smooth texture, however. I probably wouldn’t get it again for myself, but that’s just because I’m no longer a chocolate fiend.

Hazelnut Florentine Choux

This was basically a cream puff with a crust atop the cream. This one had “rum diplomat creme, hazelnut toffee crisp” and it was good but not great. The flavor was more sweet than anything else and I didn’t like the crust. We wouldn’t get it again.

Juniper Lemon Choux 

This one had “lemon curd, juniper berry, meringue, mint”. It was better than the hazelnut, as you could actually taste the lemon flavor, but also not compelling. It really felt like a generic dessert. I also wouldn’t order it again.

Cubano Croissant  

One of the awards Juniper won was for their Cubano croissant, which comes with “mojo pork, ham, pickle, whole grain mustard.” We enjoyed this very much. The light, airy croissant worked well as a base for the fillings. The mojo pork in itself was very tasty and had a melt-in-your-mouth texture I enjoyed. However, I actually preferred the croissant without it. The flavor and mouthfeel of the ham and cheese was too perfect and did not need the pork. The mustard could be a little overwhelming in some bites, they should use less. Still, I’d definitely order this again.

Juniper
1401 Polk St,
San Francisco, CA
Daily 7:30am to 3pm

Oakland Eats: 9 Julio Empanada Kitchen

An Argentine opines!

9 Julio Empanada Kitchen could be described as the epitome of cultural appropriation. This Oakland restaurant is named after the Avenida 9 de Julio, the main thoroughfare in Buenos Aires and the widest avenue in the world, and serves Latin American styled empanadas. Owned by an American couple who fell in love with empanadas while studying in Costa Rica, the restaurant feels more like an ode than a theft. Plus, as someone who loves to cook all sorts of cuisines, I’m not a believer in cultural appropriation in the first place.

Empanadas seem to be having a moment in the US right now. They are basically round pastries filled with savory or sweet filling, folded in half and either fried or baked. They are a cousin to South Asian samosas, Central Asian samsas, Middle Eastern/East African sambusas and a sibling to Levantine fatay. Andalusians introduced them to Latin America and the rest of the Spanish empire, and you now can find them as far away as Guam. No country, however, is as fond of empanadas as Argentina, and most Argentinians would consider them – along with asado and milanesas – to be our national dish. You can find them at practically every bakery in Argentina – and there are bakeries in almost every block – and in specialty empanada stores. The latter are also showing up in the US. The Bay Area has long had several Argentine empanada shops.

9 Julio, however, is going for more of a fusion concept. They use the wheat flour, saucer-sized empanada shells most common in Argentina but with fillings inspired by the cuisines of the other Latin American countries. Their selection of empanadas is rather limited – they had six savory and two sweet when we visited -, but they do have a couple of other entrees as well. The empanadas are baked, rather than fry, and you can buy them uncooked and bake them yourself. If you do, I recommend that you brush them with egg wash and sprinkle some sugar on them. Empanadas are $4 each, $2 for the small dessert ones. I think 3 empanadas make a meal, but my friends all ordered just 2 each.

9 Julio is a smallish, very casual place. You order at the counter, get your sodas from a machine and wait for your name to be called. Most people seem to get their empanadas to go, so it’s easy to find seating, at least for dinner. Counter service was very friendly, and the owner checked on us at some point. Of note: 9 Julio doesn’t accept cash – you must pay with a credit or debit card. I’m personally bothered by businesses that don’t take cash, as I feel they discriminate against people who don’t have credit or debit cards , a group that includes younger people, low income people, immigrants and the unhoused. Given that they sell a rather low-priced product that would likely be popular with those of lower income, I can only think that they are purposely trying to limit who shops at their shop.

The shells

9 Julio has pretty standard white flour empanada shells, which they say the make in house. The shells are fine, but I think they need a tad more salt. I found them to not be as flavorful as I prefer them. Consistency wise they are pretty typical; I personally prefer the more phyllo dough one which La Salteña introduced now decades ago.

It tried the following empanadas – in addition to the ones I ate at the restaurant, I got a few to take home. Empanada shells lose their flakiness when microwaved, but these ones held up pretty well.

Cuban Picadillo

Cuban picadillo is very similar to the traditional Argentine ground beef empanada filling but is more flavorful. It’s indeed very similar to the filling I use myself for empanadas. 9 Julio’s Cuban picadillo empanadas were described as having “ground beef, tomatoes, green bell peppers, onions, green olives, golden raisins, & capers.” They were quite good – even if not as good as mine. I felt the filling was missing some umami, perhaps they need more tomatoes? Still, they’re perfectly acceptable empanadas – which is quite a lot for me to say as an Argentine.

Jamaican Beef

This empanada had “ground beef, onions, scallions, scotch bonnet peppers, & yellow curry.” I didn’t feel it was very different to the Cuban one, but it was spicier. My husband particularly liked it as he dislikes both olives and raisins and appreciates spice. He thought it was very tasty.

Chicken Rojo

This was described as having “braised chicken, onions, red bell peppers, tomatoes, & guajillo chili sauce.” I was quite good but I also felt the filling was missing something, perhaps as simple as more time to rest or a bit more reduction time. Or who knows? Maybe just a tad more salt. The umami component was almost there, I could feel it on the back of my tongue but not quite making it to the forefront. Still, it was perfectly acceptable.

Mushroom & Onion

I liked this “wild mushrooms, caramelized onions, & fresh herbs” empanada, but I felt it needed more caramelized onions. The mushrooms were quite good and only a little rubbery. It’s a great option for vegetarians.

Apples & Dulce de Leche

The sweet empanadas are about half the size of regular empanadas and cost half as much. I didn’t have much hopes for the apples and dulce de leche empanada, but it was recommended by the cashier. Alas, I was right. Apples and dulce de leche don’t work well together. The flavors don’t combine at all. To make it worse, the apples had cinnamon in them, a flavor that definitely doesn’t work with dulce de leche.

Pineapple Rum

I liked this empanada better. The pineapple wasn’t too sweet and it was overall a tasty bite. Still, I didn’t like it enough to order it again.

Most of us just had water or soda with dinner, but my friend Elektra ordered the Guava Beer and she liked it. I thought it tasted like beer mixed with guava juice, and it definitely wasn’t my thing.

In all, we had a really nice experience. The empanadas are not mind blowing, but they are competent and I’d have them again. That said, 9 Julio’s anti-cash policy lives a very bitter taste in my mouth and that alone might prevent me from returning.

9 Julio Empanada Kitchen
5239 Claremont Ave, Suite A
Oakland, CA

L.A. Chow: Erewhon Tonic Bar

We tried the Hailey Bieber smoothie. Is it worth the hype?

If you are not on TikTok, you might never have heard about Erewhon, the pricy “health food” store in Southern California, which has gone viral for its smoothies. That’s where my daughter heard the super-expensive Hailey Bieber smoothie, which she sort-of-but-it’s-too-expensive-but-if-you-pay-for-it wanted to try. I was game. Sure, the 20-oz smoothie was nineteen-dollars-plus-tax-and-tip, but I figured we weren’t paying for the smoothie, we were paying for the experience. And really, an experience for three people for a fifteen minute drive and a bit over $20 is not bad.

The Erewhon in Calabazas was buzzing at mid-morning in a Wednesday. Apparently, everyone who wasn’t stuffing themselves at Porto’s, was getting some pretend healthy food and expensive smoothies here. Or, really, being seen. While middle age women shopped inside, the outside patio was filled with the young-enough-to-be-carded crowd. Beautiful people, because everyone is beautiful when they’re young.

I only had a quick look at the Erewhon market itself as my too-ashamed-to-be-with-mom daughter rushed us into the Tonic Bar at the far side of the market. The market looked like a smaller version of Sprouts. The Tonic Bar, like your typical cafe counter at any supermarket. I didn’t get a chance to look at prices, but looking at them online, they seem in line with Whole Foods or even the organic produce at Safeway.

Even the smoothie, which seemed outrageously expensive at $19, didn’t end up being so. Or rather, it turns out that all smoothies everywhere are outrageously expensive. Smoothies at Jamba Juice are $10 each – which is the same price as the 20-oz basic smoothies at Erewhon. The Haley Bieber smoothie is so much more because it has a lot of very weird ingredients, plus a famous name attached to it.

Ingredient wise, the Haley Bieber smoothie has “Malk almond milk, organic bananas, organic strawberries, organic avocado, organic dates, organic maple syrup, Vital Proteins vanilla collagen, vanilla stevia, sea moss, organic coconut creme, Driscoll’s Organic Strawberry Glaze”. The smoothie was originally released in conjunction with Haley Bieber’s skin product line and it’s suppose to help you achieve better skin – I’m guessing through its minute quantities of collagen and sea moss. Erewhon seems to keep the nutritional information of its smoothies a secret, but this one seems to have about 700 calories. With sugar from the maple syrup and the strawberry glaze in addition to that naturally occurring in the fruits, it’s also not fit for those in a low-sugar diet. It’s an unhealthy treat, and that’s how it should be seen.

But ultimately, it’s all about the taste and this smoothie is… not bad. Actually, I enjoyed it. It tastes like very light, not too sweet strawberries and cream ice cream with a ‘green’ undertone – I’m guessing from the sea moss. I liked how smooth and not-icy it was. It made me realize that what I dislike about smoothies is how icy they are, and what I dislike about shakes, is that they are too thick and not cold enough. This one had a thin, cold, smooth mouthfeel I really enjoyed. I also liked the strawberries and cream flavor and the fact that despite it having lots of sugar, it didn’t taste too sweet. Now, the colder something is, the less sweet it tastes, so that makes sense. And I liked the green flavor in the background. It wasn’t too forward but it gave it an ‘adult’ bitterness that made it feel more refreshing. I don’t make smoothies myself, but I was thinking about trying to make one by combining ice cream, milk (or almond milk), ice and some matcha powder and blending it very, very well.

Would I get it again? Not for $19 and 700-calories, but I’m glad I tried it once – and shared it with two other people.

L.A. Chow: Porto’s Bakery & Café

This Cuban Bakery is All the Rage in Southern California

Judge by the hype Porto’s has been getting in recent years, you would never guess that Porto’s Bakery has been around at its original location in Echo Park since 1976. Perhaps its expansion into six locations hit the Southern California zeitgeist at just the right time. Affordable prices at a time of high food inflation is certainly a draw. All I can say, is that when the co-founder died a couple of weeks ago this was news worthy of a “have you heard?”.

This was my second time at Porto’s. The first time I was less than impressed. Don’t get me wrong, I loved their prices but the baked goods? Not so much. Camila got a cinnamon coffee cake ($10.25 a small ring cake) that was quite good, mostly because of its cinnamon pecan streusel, and I’d had high hopes for the guava strudel ($1.25), but it turned out to be no better than what I could make myself with some puff pastry and guava jam. Later, my sister got the refugiados ($1.35) for her baby shower, which are guava strudels with the addition of cream cheese, and these were marginally better. Still, this is the one place my mother will go out for breakfast to, and I was happy to oblige her.

We hit the Porto’s in Northridge mid-morning on a Tuesday. I thought this would allowed us to beat both the breakfast and lunch crowds, but apparently everyone else thought the same, as the place was packed – just as packed as when I went for the first time earlier in a weekend morning a couple of months before. It is, fortunately, quite a large locale, so we were able to find a table to accommodate the four of us (+ newborn baby) fairly easily. This was also my opportunity to learn how Porto’s actually works.

You see, Porto’s has four different counters, and you have to go to the correct one to order what you want. At the Cafecito counter, which is located to the far left of the entrance, just next to the dining room, you can order coffee drinks, smoothies and juices – they do have fresh orange juice. They also have a small selection of baked goods. After you order, you need to hang around as they will call your name when your drink is ready.

I ordered a dulce de leche latte ($5 for a small), and I liked it quite a bit. For me, it had the perfect amount of sweetness and coffee flavor. It tasted as caramel rather than dulce de leche, however. My daughter also had one and she didn’t like at all – she thought it was too strong and not sweet enough; adding more sugar didn’t help. She is not a coffee drinker, however. My sister had the passion colada smoothie ($5.5), “mango and passion fruit ice-blended with a touch of coconut cream” and it was quite good, it did taste strongly of passion fruit.

At the Café counter, along the main wall facing the front door, you can order food, pastries and drinks. They have a breakfast menu, salads, sandwiches and main dishes as well as cold drinks. If you order a food dish you can also order any drink from the Cafecito offerings. If you just order a pastry, you’ll have to go to the Cafecito for your drinks (except for the beverages in the Cafe’s menu). The line here was quite longer than at the other counters, but they will bring your food to your table (as well as any Cafecito drink you order here). They give you an electronic device which allows them to locate you.

If you are only interested in getting pastries, then just head to the Bakery counter. The lines are shorter here and they go faster. You will be able to eat your goodies in the dining room, or any of the tables along the wall or in the patio outside.

Finally, at the end of that counter, you’ll find the Cakes counter, where you can pick up their cakes. They have some coffee cakes, loaf cakes and portioned caked desserts at the other counters, but round, decorated cakes are the Cake counter.

I wasn’t extremely hopeful about Porto’s, after my experience last time we visited, but I was willing to give it another college try. As it was mid-morning, neither breakfast nor lunch time, I decided to hit both at the same and get a little from each menu. Thus I ordered a croissant chocolate twist ($2.75) as it sort of reminded me of the wonderful torsades-aux-pepites-de-chocolat we used to breakfast with in Paris a whole lifetime ago. I won’t say it was that good, it lacked the wonderful pastry cream for one, but they were better than I expected. I appreciated the small chocolate pepites, much smaller than chocolate chips, and the dark chocolate flavor – which contrasted nicely with the mildly sweet pastry. It’s served cold, so it was better when I microwaved it later. I’ll definitely get this again.

I also got a baked ham & cheese croissant ($3.25), which I left for breakfast the next day as I wasn’t hungry enough for that and the rest. It’s also served cold so it does need to be microwaved, but it stood very nicely to the microwave and the pastry didn’t get too chewy, as often happens. I liked it even more than the ham & cheese croissant I get at my local bagel shop, and those are $6. This illustrates why Porto’s is so popular.

Finally, I got a ropa vieja sandwich ($8.7), which comes with crispy fried plantain slices. I was a little afraid when I ordered it. Ropa vieja – shredded beef cooked in a tomato sauce flavored with onions and bell peppers -, is one of my all-time favorite dishes. It’s a pain to make (well, to shred the beef), but it’s absolutely delicious. I got my recipe from a Frugal Gourmet cookbook ions ago, and I was a bit afraid about just how it would compare to the “real thing” – assuming that the ropa vieja at Porto’s would be that. And I was also afraid that Porto’s ropa vieja would just not be that good. I needn’t had worried. Porto’s ropa vieja was almost exactly like mine. It had a subtly bitter element – perhaps a different choice of wine? -, but it could have fooled me. So the ropa vieja sandwich was absolutely delicious. The soft bun had the right amount of filling and was a bit hard to maneuver, but I managed not to spill any on myself (a huge accomplishment). For less than $9, this was also wonderfully priced and oh, so delicious. I had the other half the next day for lunch, and it held up very well to the microwave. I’ll certainly be ordering this again. They also serve it as a plate, and I might do that instead.

Camila, had a chicken milanesa sandwich ($9.6), which comes with mozzarella cheese, tomato, smashed avocado, and spicy jalapeño spread, all in a Medianoche roll. She was quite happy with it, strange given everything the sandwich had inside it. But then again, this girl just loves milanesas.

My mother tried the Napoleon slice ($4.45), a cake consisting of layers of puff pastry covered with vanilla pudding and topped with puff pastry crumbs and powdered sugar. This is a pretty mild tasting dessert, which somehow manages to be more than the sum of its two parts. I think it’s because it’s comparably light and not too sweet, thus appealing to both the very young and the middle aged or older. Now, it won’t win any bakery awards, but it was pleasant enough.

My sister ordered the fresh fruit tartlet ($4.45), which was a little unwieldy and broke when she tried to take it out of the box, but she otherwise liked. It has a lot of fresh fruit, including apple slices. This is a good bet for people who are pretending to be healthier.

Given that Porto’s is the one place my mom will go ut to for breakfast, I will no doubt be returning. But I would return anyway after this experience.

Porto's Bakery & Café
19467 Nordhoff St
Northridge,
(818) 534-5210
Daily 6:30 AM - 8 PM
Part of a Southern California chain

Chain Restaurant Review: Popeyes Chicken

Good chicken, but skip the biscuits

I like fried chicken. As I mentioned in a recent review, I had my first taste of it at Bob’s Big Boy restaurant my first evening in America. It wasn’t at all what I expected – breading?! – but I quickly became a fan of it. My mother doesn’t eat any poultry – her father, a doctor who served a low income population was often paid in live chickens, and she has terrible memories of having to clean them -, so it was a special treat to have it when I was growing up. After we came to America, once in a blue moon my dad would bring home a bucket of KFC, and I just swooned.

Over the years, however, I stopped being as much of a fan and fried chicken buckets did not really feature in our family dinners for the last couple of decades. So when my sister, whom we were visiting, suggested we get some Popeyes for dinner, my reaction was to look into alternatives. But it was a Monday, memorial day, and I didn’t want to go through the trouble of finding a restaurant that was open, so I acquiesced. I’m glad I did.

We ordered fried chicken for us, a chicken sandwich for my daughter and chicken strips for everyone else. My usual problem with commercial fried chicken is that it’s too salty, but this one was OK. It probably hit my personal limits for saltiness, but it didn’t go over it. The chicken itself was flavorful, and the breading was nicely seasoned and mostly stuck to the chicken. I’d probably would have waned it to be thinner, but it wasn’t too bad. The chicken was very crispy and remained that way. I didn’t eat the leftovers, so I’m not sure how it microwaved the next day. I also didn’t try any sides, so I can’t comment. My daughter liked her chicken sandwich ($6).

We were all far less fond of the biscuits. They, fortunately, didn’t have that metallic flavor of the bake-at-home biscuits, but they had a similar consistency. They were too flat, too crispy on the outside and not flaky enough. They were also too salty. KFC’s are far superior.

I was intrigued by the strawberry biscuit ($2) in their dessert menu. I had visions of a drier version of the biscuits in strawberry sauce I made years ago. Unfortunately, it was a complete bust. They use the same, overly salted biscuit butter that they use for their regular biscuits and they just include strawberries inside. It doesn’t work at all. I only took a couple of bites and threw it away.

Popeyes, like most chains nowadays, has a their own app and you can get promos with significant discounts – though I think you can only use one promo per order. We got a promo for 10 pieces of chicken, 2 sides and 5 biscuits for $26. Choosing mac & cheese as a side cost an additional $1 (!). Note, however, that you can’t specify all dark chicken if you order via the app – you need to go in person for that. We did, and had the weirdest experience. We ordered at the drive, which is “manned” by what appeared to be an Artificial Intelligence order taking program. It had the voice and speech mode of an AI tool. However, if that’s what it was, it had the best speech recognition system we’ve ever used. My daughter ordered using casual language, changing her order mid-sentence and adding specifications as we went along. And yet the AI understood exactly what she wanted – it repeated it afterwards. Could it really be AI? Let me know of your own experiences.

Now that “fried chicken” is back in my mind, I’ll likely order it again some time.

Popeyes
7635 Winnetka Ave
Los Angeles, CA 91306
(818) 338-2502
Daily 10 AM - 10 PM

San Leandro Bites: Porque no? Tacos

This restaurant-within-a-bar is popular in town, but did it impress me?

I’ll admit it. Until a minute ago, I thought the name of this restaurant was “Por qué no? Tacos” or “Why not? Tacos” which made quite a bit of sense to me. Why not have tacos tonight? Really, why not? Alas, after visiting their website I realize it’s actually named “Porque no? Tacos” which translates to “Because no? Tacos”. What exactly does that mean? Your guess is as good as mine. Not that any of this matters, but my daughter thought the name sounded like one that gringos would give to a Mexican restaurant, and now I have to wonder if that’s indeed the case.


Be that as it may, I wasn’t there to research the ownership of the restaurant but to have some tacos. Or rather, I had intended originally to get some tacos, but after perusing their menu and reading some reviews, I was actually more interested in a couple of other dishes – though I still had to try a taco. My experience was sort of mixed, as you can read below.

Porque no? Tacos is the “grill” part of Frank’s Bar and Grill on Marina Blvd. The restaurant part takes up most of the space. You order at the counter and food is brought to you to the table. The problem with Porque no? Tacos being located in a bar was that the music playing was extremely loud. We could hold a conversation without quite having to shout, but we did have to raise our voices. For old folks like us, that was pretty uncomfortable. If I returned, it would be for take out.

Indeed, Mike reminded me that he had gotten me take out from this restaurant some time before, but I forgot all about it. I do remember, that this place was much hyped a couple of years ago and that I had been very curious to try it. I guess it neither met my expectations or disappointed me enough to register in my memory.

The first thing I got was a grilled steak street taco ($4). This consists of two small corn tortillas filled with chopped steak, chopped onion and chopped cilantro. They have bottles with somewhat spicy green and red sauces that you can put on it. I enjoyed this taco quite a bit. The filling was abundant, and the beef was tasty, particularly after I squeezed the lime on it and added some of the sauce. I did think it needed some sort of crema, however. Maybe a lime crema? Still, I’d have it again.

The All Day PQN? Chilaquiles ($20) had gotten great reviews, particularly when combined with al pastor pork, that I had to order them, despite the fact that I much prefer those with green sauce, and these came with red sauce. I wasn’t thrilled with them when I tasted them. First, I didn’t really like the al pastor pork, which had a sour-bitter though not quite burnt taste, and none of the sweetness I expected. All I can say, the marinade just didn’t do it for me. I also didn’t like all the raw red onions. When included in a bite of chilaquiles, they totally overwhelmed the other flavors. I would have preferred that they had used guacamole instead of fresh avocado. The avocado wasn’t quite fully ripe, so it made it hard to mash without breaking the tortilla chips further – plus the dish needed more acid. And it really needed some sour cream. In all, this dish was not as good as the sum of its parts.

I had the leftovers the next day – with some cream cheese, as I was all out of sour cream – and they actually were better, the flavors had combined by then and developed umami.

I was very intrigued by the Torta Jalisco ($15) consisting of “three day marinated Aguascalientes style pulled pork, tomato, lettuce, onion, avocado, house cheese and jalapeños,” so I ordered it for Mike. It came with fried potato chips. Mike liked it quite a bit – aside from the ingredients he dislikes and took off. He liked the flavor of the pork and the level of spiciness. He’d have it again. I, however, was a of a different mind. To me, the pulled pork had a similar flavor profile to the al pastor pork, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they used the same marinade. It had those bitter undertones. I wouldn’t order it again. The chips were OK, too hard for my taste but the flavor was fine.

Service was cordial and quick. I might go back for tacos and even try a burrito – and might even get the chilaquiles again, but all with steak.

Porque no? Tacos
2014 Marina Blvd
San Leandro, CA 94577
(510) 984-9711
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