Tag: chinese food

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.


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

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.

Contessa frozen “On the Stove” meals – Product Review

For the last month or so, Grocery Outlet has been carrying three of Contessa’s frozen “On the Stove” meals ($4), out of the 20 or so that Contessa makes: Orange Beef, Crispy Pork with Tangerine Sauce and Crispy Chicken with General Tsao Sauce.  I’ve finally tried them all and while I really like the Orange Beef, the other two are not nearly as good.

These meals consist of a package with four different components: a bag of  white rice, a small bag of meat, another bag of sauce, and frozen vegetables .   To prepare, you stir fry the meat  for 5 minutes or so, add the veggies for another 3-4 minutes and then the sauce for 30 seconds.  You microwave the rice for 3 minutes, put it all altogether and you are done.  Note that there is too much rice for the amount of meat/vegetables/sauce included – I ended up discarding about 1/3 of it.

One package is supposed to have two and a half 1-cup servings.  Now, if you are a child or on your deathbed maybe 1 cup of food (mostly rice) may satisfy your hunger.  Personally, I’d say it serves one adult – maybe you could share it with a younger child, but not more.

Now, as for the food itself.  The meats were generally good, tasty and tender, and they brown nicely.  The rice is as what you could expect from something that comes from a bag.  The sauces were generally good; I particularly liked the orange sauce that came with the beef, it was dark and intense and not overly sweet.  The General Tsao sauce was a bit too spicy for me, but it was still pretty good.

Where the problems come are with the vegetables.  The orange beef came with onions, leeks and red peppers and these were all very nice, they kept their flavor and went well with the sauce.  The tangerine pork, OTOH, came with onions, water chestnuts, carrots and scallions and these were less than tasty.  I actually disliked the bell peppers, carrots and water chestnuts that came with the chicken, they had such an “off” taste that I couldn’t make myself eat them.

In all, I’d say that the orange beef is restaurant quality (well, Chinese restaurant quality) and I would definitely buy it again (and have).  I wouldn’t say the same about the other two meals.  If GO offered other flavors, I would probably try them as well.

I hadn’t been able to figure out how much these meals sell in regular supermarkets – perhaps they don’t have much distribution yet -, but I definitely wouldn’t pay more than $4.

 

Island Wok Steamed Pork Buns – product review

Today I found a package of Island Wok brand steamed pork buns at Grocery Outlet and decided to give them a try. I LOVE pork buns, and while these were a bit expensive ($4 for 6 3.5 oz pork buns, about the same price you can get freshly made ones at your local Chinese restaurant), I liked the convenience of having them in my freezer. They also seem to be made with natural ingredients.  Unfortunately they weren’t very good.

My main complain is the filling. I like my pork buns at least a little bit sweet and these ones are not. Probably the most notable flavor is that of the soy sauce. Mika thought that there was too much bread for the amount of filling, but I don’t think they’re more unbalanced than most pork buns. In all they weren’t bad, and they microwave very easily (1 minute each), but given their price I think I may just stick with the ones from New Hong Kong.

Island Wok is a brand of Harvest Food Products, a Hayward based Asian frozen food company.  One of the things I do like about GO is that they give small producers a chance.  While I didn’t love these pork buns, I will try other Island Wok/Harvest Food products.

 

Oriental Tea House – San Leandro – Updated Reviews

Update 12/11

As you can see by the updates below, it’s been our custom for many years to go to to the Oriental Tea House for dinner on Christmas day.  This year it was just Mike and I, my sister and the kids having left earlier in the afternoon.  The food was good, as usual; the service just as frantic.  I had the crispy chicken, which I usually like here and it was good.  First they gave me the crispy duck, and as the two look alike I took a couple of bites.  It was so fatty that it was almost inedible.  Fortunately they realized their mistake and brought the chicken.  Mike had the kun pao chicken which he didn’t feel tasted like that, but I thought it was good. We got there around 5:30 PM and we were able to get a table for 2, but I don’t know if there were any larger tables available.  By 6 PM the placed was packed.

One thing to note, the Oriental Tea House’s menu is pretty prosaic, filled with the typical dishes at Chinese-American restaurants. However, on Christmas, at least, the restaurant is packed with Chinese and Chinese Americans. The people managing the restaurant as well as the waitresses are also Chinese (some have a very rudimentary understanding of English). This suggests to me that the OTH may also have one of those Chinese-only “secret” menus that many Chinese restaurants have (the idea is that they include dishes that Americans would not be interested in eating).

Update 12/10

Another year, another Chrismas, another dinner at the Oriental Tea House. This Christmas day we got there around 5 PM, and the place was completely empty. It started filling up around 6 PM, but there were still a couple of large tables empty by the time we left (6:20 PM or so) – so next year we won’t go as early. As we did go when the place was empty, service was more relaxed. The food has increased a bit in price, but it’s still very affordable. We got 6 dishes plus fried wontons for 5 adults and 4 children and we ate everything! I was happy with all the dishes (beef chow mein, Mongolian beef, chicken with two mushrooms, kun pao chicken, sweet & sour pork, veggie platter) my favorite was probably the kun pao chicken, the Mongolian beef was a close second. In all, another good meal.

Update 12/09.

As usual we went to the Oriental Tea House, in San Leandro, for Xmas dinner; this time with my sister Kathy and my brother and his family. Once again, service was hurried – the Oriental Tea House is very popular on Xmas day – but efficient. Food came on time (except for the sweet & sour pork which was delayed) and it was generally good (and cheap). Mike was happy with his beef with snow peas, as was my sister-in-law with her broccoli beef. My brother David ordered the beef curry, not on the menu, and his dish was pretty good, though very mild. I’m not sure if that was because the waitress misunderstood that he wanted his dish spicy (the English language skills of the workforce at Oriental Tea House are very limited), or because they just have a different understanding of spicy than we do. In any case, it was mild.

I ordered the roast duck, having liked the roast chicken in the past, which was a mistake. The duck was nicely cooked and very flavorful – but it had the obligatory thick layer of fat and my chopstick skills are not advanced enough to allow me to get to the meat between the fat and the bone. I had a fork, but without a knife it was an impossible endeavor. Next time I’ll stick with the less fatty chicken, which is also very good.

Finally, Kathy had the sweet & sour pork, which she liked but Mike and I thought was quite unappetizing – with fat pieces of pork and a slimy sauce. To each its own.

In all, it was a good meal and we’ll definitely be going there again next Xmas.

December 2008

We celebrate Christmas Eve rather than Christmas itself, so in the past we’ve found ourselves at a loss as to what to do for dinner on the 25th. After a huge Xmas Eve dinner, and a kitchen full of dirty dishes, the least I want to do is cook again. So some years ago we started a tradition of going out to the Oriental Tea House, in San Leandro, for Xmas dinner. The Oriental Tea House has pretty good American-style Chinese food (though given the large number of Chinese that eat there, I suspect they may have a second menu as well), it’s cheap (most dishes are around $7), and most importantly, it’s actually open on Xmas.

This year was no exception. We probably got there around 6 PM or so – I recommend you go early as the place gets packed by 7 (on Xmas, at least). Service was rushed but attentive, and the food was up to standard.

I liked the roasted chicken quite a bit. The skin was impossibly crispy, and the meat was nice and moist. It’s rather bland by itself, but add some of the accompanying seasoned salt, and it’s delicious. The beef with oyster sauce was pretty good as well – nothing extraordinary but competently executed. I liked the thick-noodle chicken chow mein, it was flavorful and devoid of too many bean sprouts (I’m not a fan). I wasn’t thrilled about the doughy sweet & sour pork, however, but then again, I wasn’t in the mood for anything sweet. I thought the pieces of pork were too chewy and the sauce too sweet.


In all, it was a good Xmas Eve experience, and I look forward to going there again for our next Xmas dinner.

March 2007

Last night we went to the Oriental Tea House with a bunch of our friends (for memory’s sake, they were Donovan & Parker with Luther and baby Will, Regina and Boris, and Eddie and Arthur with Laurel, Bailey and Dee). We ordered a bunch of dishes: fried calamari, friend wontons, chicken chow mein, vegetable chow mein, lemon chicken, kun pao chicken, half a roasted chicken, beef with some sort of green beans and a couple of shrimp dishes. I was amazed at how good everything was. It was great to be able to savor so much variety – and to be with so many friends – but the actual food was all very good. And the bill was terribly cheap at $86 – which fed an army of 8 adults and 6 children.

We were all able to fit at one, very crowded, table – larger parties or those with more adults, would have to split in two.

We are now planning on getting together for dim sum some Sunday morning. If any of my friends are reading this, and want to come along, just e-mail me.

March 2005

Today we made it to the Oriental Tea House for dim sum. We liked it much better than East Village, though we didn’t get to taste the baked pork buns as they were out of it by the time we got there around 1 PM. The steamed pork buns were excellent, however, the bread was moist, the pork succulent and not too sweet. I got an additional order to go. The fried chicken was also very good, crispy and moist and wonderfully spiced. We also found a winner in the paper wrapped chicken – moist and delicious – and on the shrimp dumplings. We were less fond of the sesame balls and the deep fried meat balls, I’d never had those before and the thick pastry wrapping had a strange consistency that I did’t find appealing. Egg custards were OK, but not sweet enough for my taste. Lunch, including 3 canned sodas, came to $24 before tip. It’s pretty crowded on Sundays, but I’m sure we’ll be going again.

Oriental Tea House
604 MacArthur Blvd.
San Leandro
510.562.2828

Original Review

San Leandro Restaurant Reviews

A guest review of Panda Express

Today I took my daughter to lunch at her favorite chain restaurant, Panda Express (783 A Street, one of *three* locations in Hayward). It was much better than I expected. For $5.50 you get your choice of fried rice or a simple chow mein, and any two of about a dozen entrees.

All the meat is tender and seems to be of decent quality.

I didn’t try the fried rice, but the chow mein has “wok hei” – the smoky aftertaste of a properly made stir-fry. The orange chicken (my daughter’s favorite) was tangy and not over-sweet; the crust was not mushy at all. The sweet and sour pork is – well, inoffensive.

I had broccoli beef and black pepper chicken. The broccoli was cut a little too large to be convenient to eat. It would have been more manageable either cut smaller or cooked a little longer. Mind you, it was delicious. The pepper chicken was aromatic with black pepper, but not hot, and strewn with slivers of onion and green pepper.

Very little of the food is prefab; we were able to see a huge glass-fronted refrigerator filled with trays of raw vegetables.

I don’t know that it’s a particularly child-friendly place: most of the chairs and tables are tall, like bar stools, which would be risky for small children. (My daughter’s an adult, so that wasn’t an issue for us.)

There are banners hung from the ceiling proclaiming “Gourmet Chinese Food.” I wouldn’t go that far, but Panda Express presses most of the Chinese-American-cooking joy buttons.

Michaele Maurer

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