Category Archives: San Leandro Eats

Chain Restaurant Reviews: Black Angus Has Gotten Expensive

Then again, so has every restaurant.

I’ve never been one to go to steak houses. Cooking a steak is among the easiest and quickest things in the world* and it’s far, far cheaper to do so at home. Still, after years of getting Black Angus flyers in the mail, I finally decided to give it a try and was surprised that I liked it. The steaks were fine, nothing special, but the advertised Campfire Feast came with plenty of other food that I was far less likely to cook, and was overall a good deal. Over the years before the pandemic, we visited the Black Angus in San Lorenzo many times, then the pandemic came and I pretty much forgot about Black Angus – as our local one doesn’t have outdoor dining.

For some reason, I’ve been having a hankering for food from chain restaurants lately. I can’t explain it, but just in the last week or so I’ve ordered from Panera and Panda Express and got a craving for Black Angus. Nothing specific, just the whole experience. I looked up the Campire Feast and was somewhat amazed at seeing that it now cost $69 ! That’s a 40% increase over the 2020 price ($49). Yes, I know that both food and restaurant prices have gotten ridiculous – but I thought this increase really exemplified how inflation has hit lower middle class Americans – the ones that will eat at Black Angus as a special treat. Salaries most certainly have not gone up by 40% since.

But I digress. I found a Groupon that had the meal for $54, and decided to head there a Thursday night in April, with my husband and younger daughter. I was not overly surprised at how empty the once viving restaurant was. In our pre-pandemic days, there was always a wait and it was always full. No longer.

I don’t think I like Black Angus as much when it’s so sleepy – I think perhaps some of the attraction of chains is the energy you get from other people -, but besides that, it hadn’t change much. Service was good and friendly, and the food was very close to what I remembered.

The Campfire Feast includes a single appetizer, two entrees, four sides, and a dessert. There are several options to choose from within each category, some at a premium, usually $2 to $10. My daughter is not a big eater, so she decided she’d share with us and only order a side salad.

We started with their warm molasses bread which is served with whipped butter (photo taken after we’d consumed most of it). My daughter is particularly fond of this and she enjoyed it as usual. I think the main thing this bread has going for it is that it’s served warm, but different strokes for different folks.

As an appetizer, we all shared the steak quesadilla ($15, $2 supplement to Campfire Feast). I think they might have changed the cut of steak they use in the last few years, it was tougher than I remembered and less juicy. But the quesadilla was fine. It no longer comes with guacamole, which is an additional $2.

I ordered the ribeye steak ($33, $5 supplement to Campfire Feast) with a side of mac & cheese and a side of au gratin potatoes. The au gratin potatoes were pretty good. They were cooked in a thin cheese sauce, and while I’d had preferred a stronger cheese flavor, there was enough of it to cover the potatoes.

As for the steak, it was on the thin side. I was expecting this based on reviews I’d read, and would have preferred a much thicker one (and it’s definitely not worth the $33 full price), but it was OK. It was cooked medium rare as I ordered it, it didn’t have an inordinate amount of grizzle, and it was pretty tasty. It made me think I should consider cooking my steaks on herbed butter (though to be honest, it can be a bit too rich). It was large enough that on top of the potatoes and part of the quesadilla, I couldn’t finish it and I took about half of it home.

Mike ordered a full slab of BBQ pork ribs ($33, $6 supplement to Campfire Feast) to share with my daughter, and two sides of broccoli (given that each one is only a couple of florettes). They both were happy with both choices, though the ribs had too much sauce for their liking. Solid food, nothing amazing.

My daughter also ordered a Caesar salad as a side ($7 as an extra side). She liked that the croutons were made from the molasses bread and overall liked the salad.

My daughter wanted the Chocolate Chip Cowboy Cookie ($9) and really, it’s delicious. It’s hot out of the even, with melting, gooey chocolate chips. It needs perhaps a little bit more of ice cream, as without it it’s too sweet. There was enough of it to satisfy the three of us – though only because Mike only had a bite. It’s more of a two-person dessert.

My daughter had the pomegranate lemonade ($5) and she liked it. It comes in a very large glass and tasted quite fresh to me.

Service was fine, and friendly, and the whole meal ended up costing around $100 after tax and tip – not bad for these post-pandemic times, but not a bargain either.

Black Angus
15800 Hesperian Blvd
San Lorenzo, CA
(510) 276-1400
M - Th 3 PM - 10 PM
F - Su 12 PM - 10 PM

* How to cook a steak: Heat up a skillet to medium high. Trim the steak. Place the trimmings on the pan, allow to melt, and then coat the bottom of the pan with the melting fat. Add the steak and cook for a minute, turn and cook for another minute. Turn heat to medium and cook for 3-5 minutes, depending on thickness. Turn and cook for another 3-5 minutes. You’re done.

Chain Restaurant Reviews: Panda Express is Fast, Good and Cheap

In the post-pandemic world, Panda Chef still delivers an affordable family meal.

Restaurant food has become crazy expensive, and we’ve been eating out a lot, so I wanted someplace cheap to go for Mother’s Day. Well, not as much go – because Mother’s Day is too crazy a day to actually dine out – but get take out from. Enter Panda Express. They have a family meal that consists of 3 family size (26 oz) entrees and 2 family size sides for $35 (some entrees were an extra $5) And they had a $5 off coupon for mother’s day. And let me tell you, 78 oz of food is a lot of food, more than enough for four people. I don’t know that you can get a cheaper meal anywhere anymore.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, they also had a deal that gave you a free bowl of your choice ($9) if you bought $30 in gift cards. You can’t use more than one coupon at the time, so I had to order the bowl separately. That required a $10 minimum purchase, so I added a $2 egg roll. All in all, for under $40 tax included, we had a pretty good meal.

Now, Panda Express food is not extraordinary – but it’s consistent and fine. This is what we got:

Orange chicken has been one of Panda Express’ most popular dishes forever. It’s highly breaded, with a thick sticky sweet-spicy orange sauce, and it’s pretty tasty. Of course, you’re eating mostly breading.

Beijing beef is actually pretty similar to orange chicken, but has a slightly less orangey taste and the pieces are smaller. it also comes with slices of onion and red pepper. It consists of breaded beef in a tangy, sticky, sweet and spicy sauce. Also pretty good, though both of them were too much.

The Honey Walnut Shrimp is, once again, sickingly sweet, but Mike liked it. It’s an additional $5 if you order this.

As my first side I got the chow mein. It consists of very thin wheat noodles, with a nice chewiness, a lot of shredded cabbage and some onion slices. In all, the chow mein isn’t very flavorful and it’s in need of something else – soy sauce? They forgot to add some to my order, unfortunately. There is also way too much cabbage. It’s a cheap filler, I guess.

The second side was the “super greens“. On the website it looked like it would be steamed broccoli. Instead, it was a combo of cabbage leaves and broccoli, heavy on the former. Yes, I know, cabbage is cheap. But it’s definitely not a super green. The veggies are steamed and made up for the very sweet entrees.

I also ordered a chicken eggroll ($2) and it was pretty good. It’s rather large, so well priced, and while the flavor is mild, it’s pretty good for an egg roll.

Not long after this order, my daughter had a hankering for Panda Express again, and given how affordable this deal is (particularly if you first buy a gift card and get a free bowl out of it), I decided to go for it.

I got the Grilled Teriyaki Chicken, and I think this will probably be my to-go choice in the future, because it does seem to be the best value. Unlike the picture in the website, this consisted of grilled chicken thigh, coarsely cut into pieces and mixed with their mandarin teriyaki sauce. The chicken itself lacked seasoning and there wasn’t enough sauce, but that was simply remedied by adding salt and more teriyaki sauce. It was good. Not great, but good for the price.

I can’t say the same about the Broccoli Beef. The dish consisted mostly of large broccoli florets with very few thin slices of beef – I think there might have been a dozen and a half in this family portion. Most importantly, the sauce was very milk and lacked flavor. You get a much better beef with broccoli from your local Chinese joint.

Panda Express
1271 Marina Blvd
San Leandro, CA
(510) 667-9585
M-Su 9 AM - 10:30 PM

Chain Restaurant Reviews: Nation’s Giant Hamburgers

One of the best fast foods burgers out there

The other night I had a craving for a burger, which had me thinking: where can I get the best burger in San Leandro? We are not a city known for burgers. There are lots and lots of places to have burgers here, to be clear, but none that are particularly noteworthy. Still, I haven’t visited many of those places for years and I thought trying the different burgers available in San Leandro might be a fun project for the upcoming year (or two). I had planned to start with Rocky’s Charcoal Grill – a place beloved by many in San Leandro. I have not liked their burgers in the past, but it’s been fourteen years since my last visit, so they may have changed. My old review is definitely ready for an update. Alas, Rocky’s wasn’t open (it was a Sunday) and Nation’s is very close by, so Mike went there instead.

I like Nation’s burgers. As far as fast food burgers go, they have always been my “default” for over three decades – though they now share this “honor” with Habit Burger. At 1/3 lbs, the burgers are fairly large, they ooze with American cheese and they are very generous with veggies and toppings – though I always get mine with just tomatoes, while Mike prefers his with lettuce and onions. The burgers are smothered in mayo, probably enough to cause a heart attack to someone with cardiac issues. For this reason, I feel that they mostly taste of mayo and American cheese, though enough to not really be able to forgo it. But I like them. If I had to grade them – and I do, because this is a project about finding the best burger, I’d give them 8/10 as far as “fast food burgers” go, and a 5/10 as far as all burgers go. Indeed, I will make Nation’s my standard for an average burger, and grade others accordingly.

In addition to burgers, Nation is known for its pies. These are of a similar quality to their burgers: enjoyable. On this occasion we got the blueberry pie which was on season, and we liked it.

Nation also has breakfast items, which also are totally fine as far as a fast food place goes.



San Leandro Bites: Shef

The tastiest ready-to-heat meal service I’ve found so far.

If you are on Facebook, chances are that you’ve seen ads for Shef*. It’s a ready-to-heat meal delivery system, where the catch that the meals are individually made by home cooks in their own homes, rather than in large industrial facilities. That can have both pros and cons, but it’s quickly become my favorite of the ready-to-heat meal services (I’ve also tried CookUnity, Thistle and Freshly) .

Shef works similarly than other meal kit services, though it has a much clunkier website. In order to use it, you need to enter your zip code and then create an account. You will choose your delivery date and how many meals you want to get, as well as how many servings each meal should be. You will then get a list of chefs – including a small photo, first name and surname initial – and a list of the dishes they offer. You then select which dishes you want to get. You are then prompted for side dishes and finally for your credit card information. You will get e-mails and texts the day your order will be delivered mentioning the time period (something like 3 hours) where the meals will arrive. So far, all of mine have arrived within the promised time.

Shefs are local to you, and what they offer will thus depend on where you live. I’ll be reviewing the dishes served by my local shefs, but obviously they will be different for you if you don’t live in San Leandro or nearby. Shef has made a particular effort to recruit immigrant cooks – and originally, immigrant women cooks, thus the name -, and they have been particularly successful with Indian and other Asian cooks. If you love Indian and/or Asian cuisine, Shef is definitely the service for you. If you don’t, this is your opportunity to learn to love it. There are a few other cuisines represented, though not many (so far, at least).

One of the things I love about Shef is that the food is delivered in reusable cold bags with frozen water bottles instead of freezer packs. As far as I can tell, the bottles are sealed so you can drink them. But it also means no waste. Dishes do come in plastic containers (the same type used for take out food), though one of my shefs uses compostable containers (but plastic lids). Of all the services I’ve used, I’d say this is the greenest one.

The HUGE disadvantage of Shef, is just how clunky their website is, and how difficult to use. As I mentioned, you have to sign up to even be able to see the menu. Once you choose a plan, there is no way to change it. You basically have to cancel it, and then re-subscribe. This is true even if one week you want to order side dishes, and the next week you don’t. If you order then once, you are stuck ordering them again unless you cancel and resubscribe. Fortunately, subscribing and unsubscribing is easy.

Another disadvantage of Shef is that because the dishes are cooked in a home kitchen and cooled in a home refrigerator, they really need to be seen as leftovers – so you should eat them within a couple of days of getting them. I have frozen two in their containers so far, and they defrosted in the fridge quite well, and were pretty good when heated.

There is no way to review individual dishes – you are prompted to review your whole order, and then the scores apply to each dish in that order! That makes absolute no sense – just don’t rely on the scores as they mean nothing.

I haven’t had to contact customer service yet, but I’ve read it’s pretty clunky as well. I will report more when I try it.

So far, I’ve gotten the following dishes. The checkmarks are to remind me which to order again (blue ones to get for Mike)

AMERICAN

Shef Stacy L.’s Crispy Southern Fried Chicken

Shef screwed up for me this week and sent me two dishes I didn’t order instead of two I did. One of these was what I presume is Shef Stacy L.’s Crispy Southern Fried Chicken. It came with mashed potatoes and corn.

The dish didn’t work for me. I found the chicken was nice and crispy but the piece of chicken I ate had a disconcerting sour taste. I’m not sure if it’d gone bad (I didn’t have intestinal problems later, so I’m going to guess it didn’t), or if it’s something in the ingredients. In any case, I wouldn’t want to eat it again. My husband had the other piece and didn’t find it sour.

I was hoping that the mashed potatoes would be the saving grace, but they were impossibly salty. My husband agreed. The corn was just corn. I would definitely not order this again, as you can get better fried chicken at the supermarket for less.

Shef Stacy L.’s Fried Bbq Chicken Plate

This dish I actually ordered. I was intrigued by the idea of both frying and bbq’ing chicken. As it turned out, the extra step of frying was unnecessary. The chicken was moist, so there is that, and it had a nice flavor – but nothing to write home about. It was just a little bit spicy. It came with overly salted mash potatoes and corn. I don’t think we’d order it again.


BURMESE

Shef Thazin H.’s Burmese Style Lamb Curry With Potatoes

This was a fairly generic meat and potatoes stew. I wouldn’t call it a “curry” per se, in the sense of the spices and flavor profile that the word “curry” usually alludes to. However, according to my notes from when I cooked this dish myself years ago, this is precisely what it’s supposed to taste like: homey. As someone who likes meat and potato stews, I was pretty happy with it. The portion was generous.

Shef Theint E. Basil’s Lemongrass Chicken

This dish was OK. I enjoyed eating it, though I don’t see myself craving it. I think it might be better at a different time of year when basil is brighter/fresher – as it had a slightly bitter taste. It could have used a tad more sweetness, but the spiciness level was good, medium-mild, I’d say. It was an adequate portion. I might order this again.

CHINESE

Shef Mak M.’s Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice Bowl

This was really a very simple dish, just ground (or maybe chopped) pork on a bed of white rice, but boy, was it delicious. The pork had been braised in a delicious sauce (though none of it was in the dish), and it had a very intense, well balanced flavor. I couldn’t really distinguish any of the flavors (soy? five spice?), but it was just good. The flavor was intense enough that it married very well with the plain rice. I’d order this again.

Shef Victor S.’s Chinese Cured Pork Belly And Sausage With Jasmine Rice

This dish was OK. Half of the tray was cabbage, which is not my thing. The sausage and pork belly were fine, not exciting, and there was something crunchy, brown and weird that neither I nor the dog liked. I wouldn’t order it again.

ETHIOPIAN/ERITREAN

Shef Frehiwot K.’s Meat Combo ✔✔

This plate of food was absolutely delicious. It didn’t taste that much like the Ethiopian food I’ve had at restaurants or cooked myself, perhaps because I asked for “mild” (and yes, everything was mild) – but it was very, very good and addictive. So much so that I had it again the next week.

Shef Frehiwot K.’s Beef Stew (kay Sega Wot) ✔✔

After getting the combo twice, I decided to go for the kay sega wot by itself. It was delicious, but spicier than the meat combo. I actually think I prefer it mixed in with the chicken. This one did remind me far more to the Ethiopian food you get at restaurants. Still, it was sooo good.


EUROPEAN

Shef Izabela P.’s Beef Stew (Polish Goulash)

This beef stew tasted exactly what you expect beef stew to taste. It was meaty and rich and very homey. The meat was a little chalky, but I have the same results when I make stew, so I’m not going to blame the cook for this. The portion was fine, though it could have used a couple more pieces of meat. There was a lot of sauce, so get some rice to soak it up. I’d order this again.

Shef D C.’s Pollo Al Ajillo – Spanish Garlic Chicken ✔✔

This was a delicious, homey dish. It consisted of three drumsticks, deliciously garlicy, in what I think was a sauce that was thickened with flour, giving it a smooth texture. Not that there is much of a sauce, but whatever remains from it. I ordered it again and enjoyed it just as much.

Shef D C.’s Beef Osso Buco

Another winner from Shef D C. The osso buco meat was extremely tender and the dish was very flavorful. It was, perhaps, too intense, but I had frozen it previously and was heating it up from a semi-frozen stage and overheated it a bit. The sauce really needs a starch to absorb it, so plan on eating this with something.

Shef D C.’s Irish Guinness Beef Stew

This was a good, basic beef stew. Not as good as a tomato based stew, but that’s not the chef’s fault. The meat was tender but a little chalky (typical for beef stews). I’d order it again.

INDIAN

Shef Geetwani R.’s Butter Chicken

Our second attempt at butter chicken was more successful than the first. This was a spicy dish, what one would normally call “medium” at a restaurant. Mike ate it and liked it, though he didn’t think it was restaurant quality but he’d have it again.

Shef Sukhdeep K.’s Butter Chicken ✔

Our third Shef butter chicken is, so far, the winner. While the sauce was on the thin side and the dish could have used a little more chicken, it was very tasty – almost restaurant quality. It was mildly spiced. You definitely need rice to eat this with. Most importantly, my daughter liked it and would want it again.

Shef Vanita Yadav M.’s Andhra Chicken Curry (Kodi Kura)

I gave this curry the old college try, but after a few bites, I just had to abandon it. It was way, way too spicy for me. In a restaurant, it would probably be described as somewhere between medium and hot. This is a pity, because the curry was very good. The chicken was so moist and tender that I actually thought it was lamb, and there were lots of it. I tend to prefer sweeter curries, this definitely was not that, but the flavor was complex and developed. It did not taste of curry powder, garam masala or anything of the sort. In all, a very successful dish even if I couldn’t eat it.

Shef Amit R.’s Pahadi Chicken Curry

This was a nice curry. I tasted like your regular Indian curry – made from spices, not curry powder. It didn’t have any sweet notes, so given a choice, I’d go for a korma or a tikka masala (or a pasanda!). But as far as regular curries goes, this is a good as you can get in a restaurant. It was very mildly spiced.

Shef Balihar S.’s Tari Wala Chicken

I haven’t had this Punjabi chicken curry before, so I can’t make any comparisons, but it tastes like a pretty generic Indian curry. It’s clearly made with whole spices, rather than garam masala or another such mix, and I appreciated the balance and fresh flavor of the sauce. I’m less fond of the bone-in chicken. It was on the lower side of medium spicy, which meant that it had some heat but I could deal with it. Still, I wouldn’t order it again, simply because I prefer sweeter, creamier curries. But this one is perfectly well made.

Shef Shilpa P.’s Kolhapuri Sukka Chicken

This was a very garam masala forward dish, slightly spicy – in the way garam masala is – but not particularly complex. The chicken was tender but also very bony, so a pain to eat. I’ve made Kolhapuri lamb before, and this dish reminded me of that. Mike liked it, though he wished the chicken was boneless. I’m not huge on garam masala, so I wouldn’t order it again. Mike probably wouldn’t either.

Shef Wayne F.’s Butter Chicken

This plate came in a 16 oz container, which is the container size you get at most local Indian restaurants when you order take out. The dish, however, contained relatively little chicken – it was mostly sauce. The chicken came in large chunks, but was tender enough that it came apart when cut with the fork. Unfortunately, the chicken itself lacked seasoning.

The sauce was just OK – somewhat better than jarred butter chicken sauce or the ones that come in frozen entrees, but not nearly as good as the best butter chicken sauces from our favorite Indian restaurants. It had some disconcerting bitter notes, that I couldn’t quite place, and it was a bit too acidic. It was only slightly spicy, which was to my taste. I wouldn’t order it again, but I didn’t mind eating it.

While I’d say there is only enough chicken for one meal, there is enough sauce for another half-meal if you eat it with rice or naan bread. For the price, I think I’d order it at a restaurant instead.

KOREAN

Shef Aejung S.’ Bulgogi Korean Ribeye Beef With Rice

I was very disappointed on this dish. I love bulgogi. I make bulgogi frequently (at least, when I’m cooking). It’s a pain to cut the meat (though you can buy shaved beef, and this is clearly what Shef Aejung has done), but it’s otherwise not too laborious to make. You let it marinade and can pan fry it as you go – or just cook it all at once, and then reheat it. But the secret, the basis of bulgogi is the marinade – and this marinade just wasn’t there. The beef barely had any flavor. It also had barely any veggies – some shredded carrots but maybe a couple of onion strips. Not that more would have improved things, as either the marinade he used was flavorless or, more likely, they were not marinated for very long. The portion had a fair amount of meat and it came with white rice, but without any sauce, there was little point to it. I wouldn’t order it again and neither should you – just your make your own bulgogi.

LATIN AMERICAN

Shef Joina L.’s Arroz Con Pollo

This was a solid, tasty dish. The Spanish rice could have used a little more seasoning, but I liked the notes of tomato and sausage. The chicken was tasty. The portion was on the small side, so this should be seen as a lunch dish for smaller appetites.

Shef Joina L.’s Roasted Chicken With Cilantro Garlic Crema

This was another very tasty dish. The chicken was moist and nicely seasoned, and the accompanying crema was absolutely delicious. Alas, the portion was also skimpy and not enough to fill you up for dinner. They really need to add an extra chicken piece.

Shef Ruben & Nucha G.’s Mushroom & Gorgonzola Empanadas

As an Argentinian who loves to make empanadas myself, I’m particularly picky about empanadas, so you shouldn’t be surprised about how critical I am of these ones. The main problem was how small the portion was. You only get 2 empanadas, which is fine as a snack, but not enough for lunch, much less dinner. As a child, I used to get 3 empanadas for lunch – you need at least 3 or 4 for an adult, particularly when they have a light filling such as mushrooms and gorgonzola. The filling was actually pretty good, not great, but good enough. The shells, however, needed more salt. They came with a little tub of chimichurri, which was good by itself, but didn’t compliment the flavor of the empanadas. I wouldn’t get them again.

Shef Ruben & Nucha G.’s Traditional Beef Empanadas

I had the same issue with these empanadas than the ones above. Two empanadas are just not enough and the shells are not that great. I did like the knife-cut beef, which was nicely flavored. It had that briny undertone of olives and a note of sweetness – though I didn’t see any raisins. I also loved that it didn’t have any hardboiled egg. But I wouldn’t order them again, mostly because they are a poor value.

MEDITERRANEAN / MIDDLE EASTERN

Shef Quynh Sophie E.’s Kafta Potato Stew

This was a very homey dish, just kofta and large chunks of potatoes in a thin tomato based sauce. It was good and very satisfying. Not something you’d have at a restaurant, but that’s the point of Shef – homefood. I’d get it again.


VIETNAMESE

Shef Victoria S.’s Caramelized Spare Ribs

This dish came in several containers, and I didn’t realize that I was supposed to put them together into one until after I had eaten the actual spare ribs and looked at the picture of the dish online. Basically, it comes with a tub of spare ribs, one of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, another with two hard boiled eggs and a final one of rice (white, not seasoned as in the website photo), and you are supposed to put it together into a plate. Together, they form a substantial plate of food – the ribs alone might be too little for a meal, though they are so rich, that I wouldn’t have been able to eat any more of them.

The ribs were very tender and tasty, but only slightly sweet and they had a tad too much fish sauce. Each bite is mostly bones or tendons which makes it a bit difficult to eat. But the flavor was there. Mike, in particular, really liked them and would want to order them again.

Shef Phuoc V.’s Garlic Honey Glazed Grilled Chicken And Garlic Rice

This was a pretty basic dish, but very homey and tasty. The flavors were not gourmet, but they were pleasant, and garlic rice is addictive. I’d have it again.

WEST AFRICAN

Shef Sarjo B.’s Peanut Butter Stew (Domoda)

Mike liked it. He thought the sauce was very peanut buttery and the meat was tender and moist. He’d have it again. I just tasted the sauce and I felt the one I’d made was better, this one was missing some umami flavor.

I also got the naan and the chapati side dishes. The naan wasn’t very good – it tasted like not-very-fresh white bread. Frozen naan is preferable. The chapati was fine. Chapati is not my favorite kind of flat bread, but at least this one tasted like what you get from restaurants.

Shef Sarjo B.’s Yassa Bone-in Chicken

This dish was absolutely delicious. Yassa is one of my favorite dishes, and I have made it many, many times since I first started cooking over three decades ago – but this one was far better than any of mine. I don’t know what the secret is, though I did think I distinguished some mustard notes, and when I make it again I’ll see about adding some mustard. In any case, I really enjoyed it. There were a few problems, however.

First, as you can see from the photo, the chicken wasn’t cooked through. While chickens today are safer than in the past, there is always the risk of salmonella, and home cooks, as well as professional ones, should make sure the chicken is fully cooked. Second, the portion only came with one chicken drumstick – that was definitely not enough protein for a meal, even a lunch. The cook should add a second drumstick or a thigh. Third, the dish was too spicy for my taste. At an Indian, Thai or BBQ restaurant, this dish would be characterized as “medium spicy” and it’s just at the edge of what I can stand. To eat the onions – and boy, were the onions delicious – I had to add some rice. So when I order it again (and I will, despite these caveats), I’ll have to make sure I either order a side of rice or that one of the other meals comes with some.

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Chain Restaurant Reviews: Taco Bell

BOYCOTT!

Taco Bell, like sister companies Habit Burger, KFC and Pizza Hut are on the boycot list, as their parent company, Yum brands, invests in Israel. Please help stop apartheid and genocide by Israel by not doing business with companies that financial benefit from the killing, torture, maiming and oppression of Palestinians and who de facto support crimes against humanity.

More information as to why you should boycott Taco Bell.

San Leandro Bites: Mochinuts

Crispy Corndogs and Mochi Donuts, what is not to like?

Mochinut is a newish chain fast food restaurant/bakery that serves just four products: Korean-style corn dogs, mochi doughnuts, canned drinks and soft serve ice cream. Their concept reminds me of Hot Dog on a Stick, a chain of food stands serving corndogs and fried cheese that was very popular at malls in California when I was a teenager. Mochinut already has over two dozen stores in seven states and continues to expand. It opened in San Leandro a few months ago.

I hadn’t been super-impressed the first time I got donuts from them, but decided to give it another try and try their hot dogs as well.

Their hot dogs look similar to corndogs, which is why I’m tempted of calling them that, but they are encased in a batter made from Korean rice flour. This results in an extremely crispy exterior – though it also means the dogs are very high in carbs, about twice as much as what you can expect a regular corndog to have.

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We got both an original hot dog ($5) and a half-and-half ($5.50) one. The latter was half hot dog and half cheese (rather than hot dog surrounded by cheese). The cheese wasn’t very flavorful, but the hot dog itself was tasty. I’d order them again. In addition to these rather plain dogs, they also have some covered with crunch cereal, hot cheetos, takis and even ramen. You can get just a fried mozzarella stick, but they also seem to have a hotdog with cheddar that I might try next time.

Of course, Mochinut is mostly famous for its mochi doughnuts, and my reviews of these are pretty mixed.

I love how elastic the dough is, which gives them a pleasant, light chewiness. But they are overwhelmingly sweet. The churro donut was, perhaps, my favorite simply because it wasn’t as sweet as the others – but I’m not a huge fan of cinnamon and it’s messy to eat. Both the original glaced and the mango one were too sweet for my taste.

That said, I do look forward to trying other flavors, thought for about $10 for a box of three, this is a very occasional treat. They are served beautifully, though.

Mochinut
Pelton Shopping Center
185 Pelton Center Way
San Leandro, CA
(510) 969-7247
M-Su 12-7 PM

San Leandro Bites: A1 Pho

Standard Vietnamese fare close to our house

A1 Pho is the latest iteration of a series of Vietnamese restaurants that have occupied the same space on the corner of East 14th and Estabrook for the last decade and a half. The space, which hosted a video store when we first moved to town, is large, with windows looking onto the sidewalk plus two different parking , and features flat ceilings. The atmosphere never managed to be anything above cafeteria-style dining. The big TVs, often tuned to sport shows, don’t help with the ambiance. Mostly, these restaurants serve as utilitarian stops for hearty, not very expensive meals. The menus doesn’t seem to change as frequently as the ownership and names of the restaurant, and features pho, grilled meats with noodles or rices and Vietnamese shakes.

We have visited these restaurants from time to time, but as it’s never the sort of food I crave nor is the place nice enough for a dinner out, we frequent them less often than you would imagine, given the location so close to my house. After getting takeout from A1 Pho, I don’t think this will change much. The food was good but not particularly compelling.

Mike ordered the Bánh Mì Bò Kho (beef stew with bread – $16). It came with a small loaf of French bread, similar to the one in the bánh mì sandwich below. He enjoyed the stew very much. He thought the broth was rich and tasty. The beef was tender and fatty, though you expect that from stew meat. The portion was very generous and he was quite happy with the dish.

I had the Bánh Mì Bò (beef sandwich, $9). The flavor of the beef was good, though it was a little overwhelmed by the vegetables. However, as is the problem with most bánh mì sandwiches, the real problem is the bread to filling ratio: there was just too much bread. The bread itself, while very light, felt dry and wasn’t particularly tasty. I’m not sure I’d order this again.

We also shared an order of Chả Giò (fried egg rolls, $9). These were OK, pretty average and unremarkable.

I had a Sinh Tố Dâu & Xoài (strawberry and mango shake, $7). This was also tasty, but not compelling and I wouldn’t rush to order it again. It seemed a bit overpriced – but then again, everything is nowadays.

A1 Pho
2089 E 14th St #A
San Leandro, CA
510-357-6888
M-Su 10 AM - 8 PM

San Leandro Bites: Chicago Pizza

There is something comforting about a solidly average American-style pizza

First, let’s get this straight: Chicago Pizza in San Leandro does not serve Chicago-style pizza. Not even close. What they do serve is very typical, American-style pizza. Their “deep dish” pizza, which is available only in a 14″ size, what I prefer, is only slightly thick. But the dough is pretty spongy and flavorful, and while it won’t win any contests, it won’t be at the bottom either.


This time I got a mushroom and Italian sausage deep dish pizza ($24). It was pretty good. The sauce was there, but did not overwhelm the other flavors. It had plenty of cheese and a good amount of mushrooms and sausages. The pizza, dough, as I mentioned, is not particularly thick, however. I enjoyed it for what it is, your typical American pizza.

Chicago’s deep dish pizza used to be thicker, this one seems more like their “hand tossed pizza” of yesteryear. But the store was sold several years ago, the menu changed (some Indian toppings have been added) and their plethora of coupons and deals went away.

Chicago Pizza is a take-out/delivery joint, I don’t think they have seating though there might be a couple of odd tables around. They have been around since I first came to San Leandro, 24 years ago, and I used to order frequently back in the aughts when my husband still liked pizza. I do appreciate that Chicago pizza continues to have its own delivery ($3), so that you don’t have to order through one of the apps.

Chicago Pizza
14278 E 14th St Ste D
San Leandro, CA
510-357-2415
Su-Th 11:00 AM - 10:00 PM
F-Sa 11:00 AM - 11:00 PM

San Leandro Bites: Indian Grill

Our closest Indian restaurant is usually a good bet.

For many years, really the first decade and a half of our life here, San Leandro was an Indian food desert. We had the best Indian grocery store ever – Santos Spice Market -, and yet somehow we didn’t have even a single Indian restaurant. That started changing when Bella Italia (now closed) started serving Indian food, in addition to Italian fare, but their heart really wasn’t in it and it wasn’t that great. Fortunately, in the last decade several actual Indian restaurants have opened both in San Leandro and nearby localities, and most of them have been quite good.

I’m really surprised I haven’t reviewed Indian Grill before, as we’ve been satisfied costumers ever since it opened at the old Ploughman’s space back in 2019. The food, if at the time slightly more expensive than its competitors, was consistently among the best Indian-American food I’ve experienced. We visited the restaurant itself a couple of times before the pandemic, and I’ve been there a couple times since – it’s done a good job of looking classy in a coffeeshop space -, but mostly we get take out from there.

Last week, it was just Mike and I so we only got a couple of dishes, and the results were unfortunately mixed.


I had the Lamb Korma ($19), and it was as delicious as ever. Their korma is not particularly sweet or nutty, but it has a fairly deep, complex flavor – albeit milder than the tikka masala sauce -, that I enjoy. The lamb was tender and not particularly fatty. I enjoyed it very much.

Mike, meanwhile, ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala in butter chicken sauce ($17) and this was a dud.

Chicken tikka masala, at least in local restaurants, refers to usually boneless chicken, cut in large bite-size pieces, that is seasoned with tikka spices and grilled or cooked in a tandoori oven. It’s then immersed in a curry/masala sauce, invented in England, that is reminiscent of the curry from butter chicken. The chicken in butter chicken, on the other hand, is usually shredded or cut into small pieces and is cooked in the sauce. This is meant to be a combination of both dishes: grilled chicken tikka served in a butter chicken sauce.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good. I don’t know if the sauce was off that day, or the recipe doesn’t quite work, but the sauce had an off flavor, while lacking depth. The rich tongue feel was there, but not the flavor. We both agreed we didn’t like it. Indian Grill has one of the best tikka masala sauces out there – with a very intense, bright flavor – so we’ll continue ordering that in the future.

Rice is not included in the meals, and it’s an extra $5, which seems excessive. Still, when eaten with rice, there is enough food on each other fort two meals. I usually prefer to eat it with naan ($3 each), which are good, but not remarkable.

Food is usually ready on time and is still hot by the time it arrives – and my husband usually walks to get it.

Indian Grill
1600 Washington Ave
San Leandro, CA
(510)-878-2704

W 10:00 am - 9:30 pm

Th-Tu 10:00 am - 3:00 pm, 4:30 pm - 9:30 pm