Willow Ranch Restaurant – Buttonwillow, CA – Review

We were driving back home to the Bay Area, after my sister’s wedding in LA, and we were all starving by the time we hit Buttonwillow.  Choices for lunch here are pretty limited.  You have a Dennys and a couple of fast food joints, a taco truck or two, an Indian restaurant and Willow Ranch.  We had stopped at Willow Ranch once before, for breakfast, and had left unimpressed.  However, Yelp reviews promised something better for lunch, and we’re always up to trying some BBQ.  Willown Ranch did not disappoint.  They probably served the best bbq I’ve had outside E&J’s for a long time.

Willow Ranch is a simply, homey, coffeeshop/family restaurant style place.  They have a cool statute of a cow in the front, which the kids loved, and a western motif, but it’s not a place where you come for the decor.  The menu is extensive, but it caters to meat eaters (vegetarians should probably head for Taste of India).  That was perfectly fine with us.

Mike had a 1/2 rack of baby back ribs ($15). They came with coleslaw, corn-on-the-cob, baked beans and onion rings.  We both felt the ribs were excellent. I liked the flavor and the fact that they didn’t taste boiled, they had texture.  The BBQ sauce was also excellent, highlighting sour and sweet notes. Those who like a kick on their BBQ would be disappointed, but I don’t.  I had the tri-tip sandwich with onion rings ($10).  The beef itself was sort of blah, but the sauce was good enough to make it shine.  All in all, I was quite happy.  The onion rings were very good as well, make sure to ask for ranch sauce to go with them.

My oldest daughter was quite happy with her California Chicken Burger ($8) and the little one was quite happy with her mac & cheese.  The kids’ size dish was cheap at $4, but it did leave her hungry (she’s 9).   The rest of us had more than enough food together, however.

Drinks were about $2.50 and the whole lunch for the four of us came to about $51 after tax and before tip.

All in all, it was a great lunch and I look forward to stopping there in the future.

Update May 2014

We stopped again at Willow Ranch, again coming back from LA.  It was earlier in the day, so two of us had breakfast.

Mike had the Western Style Omelette ($9). He was not too happy with it.  It was described as ‘Shredded deep-pit Certified Angus Beef®, diced bell pepper and onions topped with Cheddar cheese and served with your choice of homemade BBQ sauce or salsa”.  He had expected that the beef and veggies would have been incorporated into the omelette.  Instead, an egg & cheese omelette was just served on top of the beef.  I just didn’t work for him.

Camila had some pancake combo from the kids’ menu which met her 9 year-old expectations.  The toast, however, was very hard and she did not like it.

Mika once again enjoyed her California chicken burger, sans bacon, and I had the kids’ BBQ ribs & fries ($6). I wasn’t very hungry, and as Mika was ordering from the adult menu I felt justified.  The entree came with four spare ribs, which was just the right amount for my hunger then and should satisfy a child’s appetite.  Again, they had a nice texture and a good sauce.  The fries were crispy and fine, but unremarkable.

In all, a good experience, but I think lunch rather than breakfast is the winner here.

Original Review, Breakfast, July 2009

We were on I-5 again, returning home from LA, the kids were hungry and the next stop was Buttonwillow so we headed there. We hadn’t been to the Willow Ranch restaurant before, and we figured it might be better than the other choices. In reality, it was not – we only had breakfast, but their breakfast left some to be desired. I’m rating it a solid “D” for Dennys-like quality.
I had the French toast (2 bread slices for $6) that came with a side of bacon or sausage. I got the bacon and it was overcooked and tough. The French toast was OK but not exciting, a rather small portion for the price (but I wouldn’t have wanted more). It was served with regular syrup.
Mike had the “hearty” breakfast ($8) which included pancakes, 2 eggs, sausage, and I think bacon. The pancakes were fine, but his eggs over medium were actually runny. Without any potatoes or bread to soak the yolk, they were a waste. The kids had the pancake and egg breakfast ($3) and were both happy, but they are easy to please. With 3 hot chocolates and a glass of milk the bill came to $30 after tax, expensive for a very mediocre breakfast.
The Willow Ranch is a modest, western-style restaurant and I think they specialize in BBQ foods, so their BBQ may be good – but I wouldn’t be rushing back in in any case.
Willow Ranch Restaurant
27770 Lagoon Dr.
Buttonwillow, CA
(661) 764 – 6605
http://www.willowranchrestaurant.com/
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Looney’s Southern BBQ – San Leandro – Restaurant Review

UPDATE May 2014: Looney’s has been sold.  The new owner will open a Mexican/American restaurant.

We had returned to Looney’s back in February and had a pretty good dinner. I liked my tri-tip quite a bit, Mike was enthused about his ribs, but they were good enough, and Camila was happy with her French bread pizza. We all loved being able to try all the sauces.

 

We love BBQ.  More to the point, we love Everett & Jones BBQ.  We want our ribs slowly smoked for hours and presented with a complex and exciting BBQ sauce.  We don’t want uniformity and we want a good value.

Looney’s can’t offer any of it.  To be fair, I think new environmental regulations do not allow for the type of commercial smokers that make E&J’s BBQ as amazing as it is.  But, well, that just means we have to drive a bit further.  We got the spare ribs at Looney’s and were pretty disappointed.  They were tough, uniform in texture – which suggests they had been boiled – and pretty tasteless.  The BBQ sauce was pretty generic, somewhat vinegary but also just blah.  For $20 for a half-rack we expected more.

In addition to BBQ and BBQ sandwiches, Looney’s offers burgers (~$10), stuffed potatoes ($6 + $2-$3.50 for toppings), steaks ($18-24), jambalaya ($15), catfish ($20)  soups and salads and pizzas.

Looney’s Southern BBQ
14680 Washington Ave
San Leandro CA
510-969-8889
http://www.looneysbbq.com/
M-Th 11am-10pm
F-Sa 11am-1am
Su 8am-10pm

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Closed restaurants


Buckhorn Grill Review (@ Stoneridge Mall, Pleasanton)

buckhornsandwichWhen my kids were younger, I used to take them to Yerba Buena Gardens and we’d often had lunch at the Buckhorn Grill in the Metreon.  I wasn’t super fond of that restaurant, but it served food they would eat.  So when my husband suggested that we had lunch at the Buckhorn Grill at Stoneridge Mall, after a visit to the Apple store, I wasn’t extremely enthusiastic.  But food options were limited and it was Father’s Day, so he had the right to pick the place.  I have to give him credit, he picked right.  Not only was the food at this Buckhorn Grill excellent, but it was reasonably priced.

I had the “bacon cheddar buck” ($8.50) and it was pretty much the perfect sandwich.  The roast beef itself was delicious, and the bacon and cheese complimented rather than competed with the meat.  Mike liked his “big buck” ($9), which came with caramelized onions and he also thought it was great, at least until he tried my sandwich.

My daughters had the burgers, and while the old one was pleased with hers (at least until she tried my sandwich), the younger one didn’t like it at all.  It was a plain burger, so my husband, who finished it, didn’t find it particularly exciting.

In addition to sandwiches, Buckhorn Grill offers platters of their BBQ meats.  A whole take home tri tip (feeds 5 to 6) is $25.  You can even order online.

Buckhorn has ten restaurants in the Bay Area/Northern California.  I think they would do great if they came to San Leandro, and if our business development unit at City Hall wasn’t so lame, they would be trying to entice them to come to town.

Buckhorn Grill
Stoneridge Mall
2245 Stoneridge Mall Rd.
Pleasanton, CA
925-463-2825
http://www.buckhorngrill.com/

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Tim’s Backyard BBQ – Medford, OR – Restaurant Review

We went to Tim’s Backyard BBQ for dinner on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  We had seen the restaurant as we drove to our hotel, and Mike is pretty much always in the mood for BBQ.   While we liked the down home vibe of Tim’s – it’s larger and not as divish as our favorite BBQ places back home, but still very modest -, the food was somewhat disappointing.

We ordered a lot of food, and we got a lot of food.  The food was somewhat expensive, but you did get quite a lot of it.  Unfortunately, it all tasted absolutely the same.  That’s because all items came drenched in BBQ sauce, and you could taste little of the meat itself.  The BBQ sauce (no choice as to spiciness) was nice enough, but I prefer to taste my meat as well.

Of the stuff we had, the ribs were by far the best.  They were fall of the bone tender, though we would have preferred a more smokey flavor.  The pulled pork and the brisket were almost identical, both were shredded and dry (perhaps that’s why they were drenched).   The links were perhaps the most disappointing.   Links are generally Mike’s favorite, but at Tim’s they tasted/felt like store bought sausages with sauce on them.

On the plus side, the onion rings were good.  Then again, I’m pretty sure most restaurants buy the onion rings pre-made and just dump them into the deep frier.

In all, if we were in the mood for BBQ in Medford, we’d probably head somewhere else.

Tim’s Backyard BBQ
1605 West Main Street
Medford, OR
(541) 499-0707
http://timsbackyardbbq.com/

Marga’s Restaurant Reviews – Outside the Bay Area


Bar-B-Q Bills Restaurant – Bishop – Review

We stopped in Bishop for the night during out trip from Las Vegas and Death Valley to Mono Lake and saw Bar-B-Q Bills when we drove into town.  We love BBQ so we decided to have dinner there.  We got there around 8:15 PM on a Sunday evening, and as they close at 8:30 PM we decided to get our meal to go (our hotel room had a small kitchen we could eat at).  There were still people in the restaurant and coming into the restaurant at this time, so I think we could have eaten there as well.  The restaurant itself is your run-of-the mill American restaurant. It looks more like a pizzeria than a restaurant and sports a poorly lit dining room, a counter where you order your meal and a small salad bar (almost depleted by closing time).

We all ordered the ribs, so that’s pretty much all I can talk about food-wise.   The girls had the “Little Wrangler Rib Dinner” ($4.75) consisting of 2 spare ribs, baked bans or French fries, garlic bread and a soft drink.  Mike and I had the rib dinner ($15), which was basically the same except for more ribs (I’d say about 6).  It also included a bowl for the salad bar.  In addition we got the onion rings ($2.60) and a side order of mashed potatoes (~$2.50), as Mika has been in a mashed potato kick.

The ribs themselves were OK. They were very tender, but too dry for our taste.  The BBQ sauce they came with was too vinegary for my taste, and I thought the ribs were better without it (even though they definitely needed the moisture).  The onion rings were quite good, it was a nice size portion for the price.  The french fries were your standard battered type, tasted OK if you like that kind of French fries.  The garlic bread, on the other hand, was pretty inedible. It was very soft (microwaved?) and tasted nothing of garlic.  Nobody touched it.  The mashed potatoes were also just OK.

The salad bar, even though depleted, was OK for our purpose. Mike got some potato salad (don’t know if it was any good), and I stocked up on hard boiled egg bits, chick peas and mini corn for Mika. She was happy.

I have to say that while the kids portions were fine, Mike and I should have shared a meal rather than have each of us get our own.  As it was we only ate one portion of ribs, couldn’t finish the onion rings and left one portion of French fries untouched.  We had the ribs the next day for a mid-day snack, but the other food was wasted.  So if you go, order less food than you think you’ll want.

I don’t know if we’ll find ourselves in Bishop again, but if we do I’ll probably skip Bar-B-Q Bills.  Those ribs were just too dry.

Bar-B-Q Bills
187 S Main St
Bishop, CA
(760) 872-5535

Marga’s Restaurant Reviews – Outside the Bay Area


Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ at the Alameda County Fair

We’ve been going to the Alameda County Fair every year since our oldest girl was born. The kids love seeing the animals and the rides, and we all enjoy the concerts.   Some highlights have been  The Village People, K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Smashmouth and Weird Al.

We haven’t been particularly impressed with food at the fair, however. It’s expensive, of course, (drinks in particular), but it’s also not that great. The funnel cakes are OK – but not worth the calories, and the hot dogs are just hot dogs, edible but safe. Among the poor choices, Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ seems like the best.

We’ve tried their BBQ beef and their Tri-Tip sandwiches and grilled chicken. None of these items have been remarkable, and the chicken can be particularly dry.  The pork ribs are a better choice, with tender, smokey meat.  Their mild BBQ sauce is quite good.

Big Bubba’s Bad BBQ
Alameda County Fairgrounds
4501 Pleasanton Ave
Pleasanton, CA
http://www.bigbubbasbadbbq.com/

 

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