Restaurant Review: Joe’s Pho, San Leandro

This is not as much a restaurant review, as an overall praise of Joe’s Pho, a year-old restaurant located near Bayfair mall. I had never even heard of it until my friend Parker suggested we go there for dinner, as our old friend Eddie was back in town. I’m not a huge fan of pho (or soup in general), so I was reluctant at first – but Parker mentioned it had other food.

God, I’m glad we went. Joe’s Pho not only has an extensive menu, but the food we tried was delicious. Alas, I didn’t want to inconvenience everyone by asking specifically about their dishes – but everyone agreed they liked the food, including my vegetarian and vegan friends (there are plenty of choices for vegans).

Personally, I ordered the basil popcorn chicken appetizer ($9), and was very happy with how tender and flavorful it was. I’ll definitely order it again in my next visit. I also had the grilled beef banh mi ($6.50), a Vietnamese sandwich, and loved the marinated beef. The proportion of beef to veggies was also quite good, and I liked that the bread was a soft bun.

The place itself is large and informal. They have long tables, so it’s perfect for groups. Service was friendly and attentive.

I can’t wait to go there again with my family, at which point I’ll take pictures and write a better review.

Joe’s Pho
15070 Hesperian Boulevard
San Leandro, CA
(510) 363-9691
https://joespho.com/
M-Su 10 AM – 10 PM


Restaurant Review: Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles Has What It Takes

The Ethiopian Feast

Los Angeles has several Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurants. Unfortunately, they are all on the same street, South Fairfax Avenue near downtown. That means that if you live in the San Fernando Valley, as does my family, you have to trek all the way to Los Angeles if you want to have some of this delicious and very unique food.

So that’s exactly what we did last month when I went to visit my family down south. My sister read of bunch of reviews and decided on Little Ethiopia (also the name of the neighborhood) – all in all, it was a good choice.

We were a large group, as quite a few of my family members went, including two babies. Fortunately, the restaurant was rather empty. We made a lot of noise! The staff was extremely accommodating and friendly. It’s definitely as family friendly a restaurant as you are likely to get.

The menu is pretty typical for an Ethiopan restaurant. We shared both the meat and the lentil sambusas as an appetizer ($8 for 3) and they were very tasty – though a bit too spicy for some of us (to be expected, this is Ethiopian food, after all). The 2-year old in our party really liked them, spice and all.

As an entree, I shared the $40 Ethiopian feast (pictured above) with my husband and daughter. It was probably not enough food for 3, but my daughter is a light eater and there was more food at the table. It comes with doro wat, alicha wat and tibs. They were all very tasty.

My vegan daughter shared the vegetarian combo ($15), which is vegan, and thought it was pretty good. She particularly liked the kik alicha (a split pea stew) and also ordered it as a side ($6).

Meanwhile, the spaghetti with tomato sauce ($11) satisfied the picky older child in our party, it was a large portion with plenty of leftovers.

While the restaurant is comfortable and very affordable, it’s probably not the most elegant restaurant on the street. If you’re in a date, one of the other ones may be better. But if you’re after good Ethiopian food in a familiar atmosphere, this will do it.

Little Ethiopia
1048 South Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
(323)-930-2808
http://www.littleethiopiarestaurants.com/
T-Th, 11 AM – 9 PM
F- Su, 11 AM – 10 PM


Costco Has the Worst Burger EVER

My husband went to Costco the other day and I asked him to get me a BBQ brisket sandwich for lunch. Unfortunately, our local Costco in San Leandro (at least) no longer carries them. Instead, they have added a burger to their menu and my husband figured he’d get me that instead. Bad, bad move.

He said he had an inkling that the burger wouldn’t be good when he saw the patties coming out of the steamer. And he was right. This has to be the worst burger I have ever eaten, bar none. And I’ve eaten many bad burgers in my time.

The meat (and I’m assuming it’s meat) was so incredibly dry, that I have to believe it’s mostly filling. It also tasted just like the burgers they used to serve in middle school when I was a kid – not a good memory. Except these were drier.

The patties are enormous, which in this case it’s just not a good thing. It only means you have more unappetizing food to get through.

I didn’t want to waste food, so I ate through almost half of it until I decided that I just couldn’t do this to myself. The dog ate the rest. She, at least, did not complain.

But you are warned: stay away from these burgers.


Restaurant Review: Kabob Express – San Leandro

Kabob Express is, apparently, a food stand at Bayfair Mall in San Leandro. I say apparently because I’ve never actually been – I’ve just ordered take out a couple times. The most recent one was a couple of nights ago, and I was very satisfied with my order.

My order this time was just for my vegan daughter and I. She got a felafel wrap ($11.50), which comes with hummus, tomato, lettuce, cucumber, grilled onions and tahini sauce. You can specify for it to be vegan and it comes with a side of vegan tahini sauce. My daughter was very pleased with this wrap, and particularly liked the tahini. She’d order it again.

Mantu – Afghani dumplings with beef sauce

I had the mantu ($8), an Afghani dish of dumplings with a meat sauce. While this is listed as an appetizer, the dish is large and heavy enough that it can qualify as an entree. It is also absolutely delicious. The steamed pasta is very soft and has a consistency that I just loved, and the beef is intensely spiced. My only complaint is that it didn’t have enough yogurt sauce to balance the richness of the beef. I made up for it by adding some sour cream.

I also ordered a lamb gyro wrap ($12), which I ended up eating the next day. Once again, I was very happy with it. It had thick lamb cubes, tender and perfectly seasoned (in the past, it was a bit too salty). It was a little bit on the small side, however, and given the price I’d been happier if it came with a side.

I also ordered a mint lassi, but got a mango lassi instead. It was good, thick and very sweet. The mint lassi I’ve had in the past was a bit thin, but also tasty.

In the past, I’ve also ordered the samosas, which were very crisp and had a slightly spicy potato filling.  They were very small, maybe half the size of a regular one.  They didn’t taste like regular Indian samosas but were good.

I’ve also had the lentil soup, which was chunky and tasty. It did seem to contain meat, but it’s now listed as vegetarian, so they may have changed the recipe.

I didn’t order the hummus this time (which, beware, comes without pita bread, you must order that separately) because last time around it had a very mild flavor, more tahini than chickpeas. Beware that as with the other items, they might have changed how they make it.

Finally, I was disappointed to not find the bolani in the menu any more. This is an Afghani flatbread stuffed with potatoes, onions and herbs. I really liked it when they had it.

Prices at Kabob Express have gone up pretty radically since last year. The mantu, which was just $6 a year ago, is now $8 while the lamb gyro has gone up a full $4.50, from $7 to $11.50. Still, their prices seem in line with other local restaurants.

You can order Kabob Express through Grubhub ($5 delivery fee) or Doordash (free deliver if over $35, but a $4-5 fee). Doordash prices are slightly higher on some items. Delivery took a little over an hour, apparently because my order wasn’t ready in time (or so said the driver).


Vegan Options at Favorite Indian – Hayward

Eating out – or getting take out – with a vegan is no easy matter, at least here in San Leandro (L.A., though, is another matter altogether). So I’m starting to ask restaurants what vegan dishes they offer previous to taking my daughter to the restaurant.

These four dishes are always vegan at Favorite Indian, Hayward. I’m sure that’s true too at the other branches, but you may want to confirm.

Vegetable Pakora, veggies coated with seasoned chickpea flour and fried.

Dal Curry, a yellow lentil curry. I tried this at the buffet, and it was pretty good.

Aloo Gobi, potatoes and cauliflower cooked with spices.

Bhindi Masala, okra cooked with spices and onions.

Chana Masala, chick peas cooked with spices. Alas, my daughter is not too fond of this.

In addition, Favorite India can make the following dishes vegan. Simply ask them to make them with no cream when you order them:

Baingan Bharta

Eggplant roasted in tadoor and cooked in a cream and tomato sauce

Navratam Korma

Vegetables, nuts & cheese cooked in a mild sauce (asked them to hold both the cream and the cheese/paneer)

Mushroom Matar

Mushroom & green peas cooked with onion & tomatoes

Dal Makhani

Whole black lentil & red kidney beans cooked in a creamy sauce.

They may have other vegan dishes at their buffet, so it doesn’t help to ask. The restaurant manager/owner – the young woman who is often at the reception desk – is very knowledgeable as to the ingredients.


Restaurant Review: Xiang Yuan Xiao Long Bao, San Leandro

The other night I decided to take Mike out to dinner. One of our daughters didn’t want to go out and the other one was out, so it seemed like a great opportunity for a date night – and for trying a new restaurant.

After our first choice didn’t work out, we ended up at Xiang Yuan Xiao Long Bao – which occupies the space that Ming Tasty had for many years. It was an inspired choice, as neither of us had ever had Shanghainese food per se, and we love trying new things.

Given the name of the restaurant, we of course had to try the Xiang Long Bao (also known as XLB) from the Dim Sum menu (which seems to be available at any time). We ordered both the pork ($7) and crab ($8.5) versions. Not having XLBs before, we were unprepared for what we got: a steamed dumpling filled with both meat and broth! To accomplish this, cooks add pork skin to a broth and allows the collagen from the skin to melt into the liquid. The pork skin and veggies are discarded, and the now collagen-rich broth is refrigerated and allowed to solidify. It’s then chopped and added to the dumplings along with the filling. Ingenious and delicious.

I wasn’t sure how to eat the dumplings, so at first I broke them with my chopsticks and just ate each part separately. Later I adopted Mike’s method of just putting the whole thing inside my mouth (make sure they cool down before you do this). They were much better that way, as flavors and textures are allowed to combine in your mouth. Apparently, the proper way to eat them (or at least the way used by the restaurant reviewer at the East Bay Express) is to bite off the top, allow the broth to cool, and then to sip it, before eating the rest of the dumpling. I think I like Mike’s way better, though they are a little bit big (and I have a small mouth).

We also ordered the green onion pancake ($4). This was very oily, and therefore pretty filling. It was a bit bland, but it was great with the broth from the dumplings. I’d order it again, but would want some sort of tasty sauce to go along with it.

Finally, we had the pan friend pork buns ($8). These were unlike any pork buns I’ve had before. Instead of bbq pork, they had the same soupy filling as the dumplings, though with less liquid. Once I abandoned my expectations that they be sweet, I found them very good. They were also easier to eat, and I’d definitely order them again.

The restaurant itself is in a good location in downtown San Leandro, but suffers from a very generic building. Still, it’s nicely decorated with photos of Shanghai at the turn of the 20th century – I was somewhat surprised of how western it looked.

Image result for shanghai 1920s

Service was competent and polite.

All in all, I look forward to returning.

Read the East Bay Express review for more suggestions on dishes to try.


Ethiopia Restaurant Review (Berkeley, CA)

Last week my 16-yo daughter actually got a craving for Ethiopian food. We don’t eat Ethiopian food very frequently – maybe once or twice a year now -, so it was a surprising craving in her part. And as she said, how privileged is she that she gets to have a craving for Ethiopian food and have it satisfied.

We decided on Ethiopia Restaurant in Berkeley because they have a great Groupon deal: two appetizers, four entrees, two desserts and four glasses of wine for just $40. You need to add tax and tip, but I can’t imagine anywhere else you can get a deal anywhere as good as this (if you know of one, let me know!).

We had been to Ethiopia Restaurant before, and this time it didn’t disappoint either: the food was just delicious. We started with the sambousas, the Arab/African version of Indian samosas: triangles of phillo-dough style pastry, filled with either lentils or meat, fried and served with a red sauce. They were pretty good.

My 16-yo ordered the nene’wee, a sampler of 5 vegetarian dishes you pick from 12 choices. She absolutely loved the yekik alicha, a yellow split pea dish that they also serve as a side for other dishes. Next time, she may just order this. She was happy enough with the kinche (bulgur), but the other three dishes she chose were too spicy for her. The engudai we’t, a mushroom “stew” (actually mushrooms cooked in a butter or oil based sauce), tasted very much like t’ibs wet, its beef version. The sauce was exactly the same. The yemisier we’t (red lentils) and shiro we’t (garbazo beans) seemed to have different sauces, but they were equally spicy.

The meat-eaters among us ordered the yebeg alicha (lamb “stew”), yebeg t’ibs (sauteed lamb) and the meat combo which comes with doro we’t (chicken “stew”), t’ibs wet and yebeg alicha. They brought the first two dishes in a huge tray, on top of injera, but they forgot to add the third – so the tray looked very empty. It wasn’t until we were finished with the food that we were able to reach out to call the waitress and have her bring the meat combination (we were still hungry, so we needed it). I got the distinct impression that you get more food by ordering your meal individually rather than family style, so next time we’ll do that.

All of us really liked the yebeg dishes, though one of us had to be told it was beef for her to try it (here is hoping she doesn’t read this review). We particularly liked the sauteed lamb dish. The t’ibs and doro wet dishes were both spicy, though my husband enjoyed them. The rest of us are wimps.

Whether individual or family style, dishes are served with the split pea stew outlined above and a simple salad of lettuce, tomatoes and onions. We ordered a bowl of rice which my daughter didn’t like (my husband tasted it and said it had butter in it), but which they didn’t charge us for. The injera is made with teff and was cold, but otherwise good.

For dessert, one of my daughters had the baklava, which was a pretty small piece, and the other the chocolate mousse pie. They both seemed happy.

I had a glass of the chardonay, which was sweet but good. My daughter had a sparkling apple cider – they didn’t charge us for that either, but we declined the 3 other glasses of wine.

Service was good and friendly, but the two waitresses were overwhelmed with the full dining room – that’s why it was very difficult to get their attention during the meal.

Groupon says you can buy a voucher for this deal every 30 days, so I’m planning to go again next month.

Ethiopia Restaurant
2955 Telegraph Ave
Berkeley, CA
(510) 843-1992
M-Su 11:30 AM – 10 PM
http://orderethiopiarestaurant.com







Review: Angelina’s Pizzeria, Las Vegas

I ordered pizza from Angelina’s Pizzeria while staying at The Signature in Las Vegas.  It was an OK experience.  The pizza is thin crusted and pretty generic.  One of my daughter’s loved it, the other one wasn’t happy with it.  I thought it was OK.  I also got a meatballs sub which was very generic as well.

Delivery was $4 and it took over an hour – but they delivered all the way up to the room.

I would probably try a different place next time, but this was one was adequate enough. Angelina’s has five restaurants in Las Vegas.

Angelina’s Pizzeria
5025 S Eastern Ave
Las Vegas, NV
(702) 597-9056
http://www.angelinaspizzalv.com/


Review: India Oven / Indian Masala, Las Vegas, NV

We stopped by India Oven / Indian Masala for lunch on a Thursday night in late July, 2017 and enjoyed their lunch buffet.  It was pretty generic as far as Indian lunch buffets go, which is not a bad thing.

The restaurant is a fusion of two different Indian restaurants, Indian Oven and Indian Masala, and it does not seem to have decided upon a name so it’s using both.  Hey, it’s Vegas, why not?  It sits in a small strip mall but the inside is rather nice, it could even pass for elegant if it didn’t have a buffet.

The buffet included a small salad bar, made-to-order naan (choice between plain, butter or garlic), had a couple of appetizers (vegetable pakoras and samosas), soup/daal (if I remember correctly), rice and vegetable rice and four each vegetarian and meat entrees.  It most certainly did not have all the dishes they claim to offer in their website, not even close.   I tried the four meat dishes and was fairly pleased.  The chicken tikka masala had a very nice flavor, slightly spicy, but deep.  I enjoyed it.  The goat and chicken curry both seemed to have the same sauce, it was good but not a favorite.  The chicken tandoori was juicy and very flavorful.  My daughter was less happy with the paneer dish she had, but it wasn’t one she usually eats (there was no paneer tikka masala).

The buffet also includes drinks, and my daughters liked the lemonade and the mango lassi, which was more like a thin mango drink than a lassi.

Service was fairly good, though they initially tried to charge my husband for a buffet even though he had clearly not eaten anything (he was sick).  Dinner for the four of us (I was there with three tweens), came up to a little over $50 after tax.

Given the plethora of Indian restaurants in Vegas, I’d probably try a different one next time, but this is certainly good enough to visit again.

India Oven Restaurant
India Masala & Bar Grill

1040 E Flamingo Rd
Las Vegas, NV
http://www.indiamasalalasvegas.com
Open 11.30am to 3pm –  5pm to 10pm


Review: Paradise Garden Buffet at The Flamingo, Las Vegas

Every year we get a Buffet of Buffets deal when we visit Vegas, and it’s become our costume to go to the Paradise Garden Buffet for a light lunch.  I like visiting the Flamingo Habitat, and the buffet overlooks it.  Really, the view is the best thing about this buffet.  The food is terrible.

The Flamingo is now offering a weekday brunch buffet, instead of separate breakfast and lunch buffets.  The offerings are mostly breakfast stuff, pancakes and eggs, sausages and breakfast meats (ham, turkey and sausages – no beef) but they do have made-to-order omelettes and pancakes as well as one cold-cut sandwich, which was rather good. They also have pizzas, which my youngest daughter absolutely loved, and not-bad fried chicken and pork loin.   They have made-to-order crepes, but they only offer sweet crepes and the quality of the ingredients left much to be desired. They cannot be compared to those at the Paris’ buffet.

The Flamingo no longer offers a chocolate fountain.  It was awful and my daughter doesn’t like chocolate, but she loved seeing it.  She wasn’t happy it was gone.

All in all, this is a buffet I would not pay to go to.

Paradise Garden Buffet
3555 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV
website
Weekday/Weekend Brunch 7 AM – 2 PM daily: $22/25, Children 4-9 yo: $11
F-Sa Dinner Buffet 5-10 PM: $30

Marga’s Restaurant Reviews

 This review is from our trip to Las Vegas in August 2014.

The Flamingo hotel is one of the cheapest of Caesar’s properties, and its buffet gets some of the worst reviews.  However, it has large windows with views of the flamingo habitat outside, and who doesn’t love flamingos? So armed with our buffet of buffet passes, we headed there – via taxi – a Friday around 3:30 PM in August 2014.

The restaurant was open (it now closes at 2 PM), but the server in charge of the section by the windows had not shown up and they didn’t want to seat us there.  After quite a lot of pleading and a request to speak with the manager, they made do and sat us in that section.  Given that we had come specifically for the flamingo experience, I really was not willing to accept anything else.   The first dining room – the closest to the entrance -, where we were seated, has the best view of the habitat as that’s where the flamingos hang out.

Other than the view, there is absolutely nothing to recommend this buffet.  First of all, it’s fairly small consisting mostly of American fare.  Nothing looked particularly appetizing to me, so all I got was some prime rib and a cilantro chicken wing.  The beef was surprisingly good for a buffet – better than the one served at the Paris and Planet Hollywood – in that it wasn’t dry.  The chicken was also tasty.  So if you do go for the flamingos, these two items are safe to eat.

One of my daughters did enjoy the sushi and the cold shrimp and the other one did fairly well with the pasta, but they are kids.  My dad, found both the roast turkey with gravy and the fried chicken very dry.

Desserts were a little better.  Skip the chocolate fountain if it’s working. It may look cool but the chocolate syrup tastes like cocoa powder.  The cupcakes weren’t a big hit, but the little pudding cups were good.  Some of the pastries were also OK.  My youngest daughter liked the cotton candy.

All in all, we wouldn’t go back for the food, but the view made it worth it – at least as part of the buffet of buffet deal. I would not pay for it otherwise.