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


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).


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.


Four Seasons Cafe & Deli – San Leandro – Review

Four Seasons Cafe & Deli is the latest incarnation of the cafe and sandwich bar that was once Mr. Bagel and, before that, Planet Coffee.  The cafe has been remodeled a little bit and the menu has been updated.  The Middle Eastern owners, for example, have replaced the Vietnamese sandwiches with me Middle Eastern equivalents.  You can order chicken, lamb, falafel or hummus plates for $8, lamb or chicken shawarmas, falafel, chicken or turkey wraps and traditional sandwiches for about $6.  Vegetarians will have plenty to chose from, including a Mediterranean veggie sandwich that comes with fresh mozarella, Kalamata olives, spinach, tomatoes, red pepper pesto and balsamic vinaigrette on toasted focaccia.  I haven’t had it, but it sure sounds good 🙂

What I did have was the lamb shawarma.  It was good without being extraordinary.  Pretty much what you would expect a lamb shawarma to be.  The portion was pretty large, in particular considering the $6 price.  I’d have it again.

Four Seasons also offers breakfast bagel and croissant sandwiches, fresh orange and carrot juice and your basic coffeeshop drinks.  I had their coffee once and it was pretty good, but I’m not demanding coffee wise.

The new menu seems to have quite a few fans, in my last visit, the place was busier than it used to be.  The service was good and the cafe still a great place to meet up with friends – as well as have a cheap lunch in San Leandro.

Four Seasons Cafe & Deli
1423 E. 14th St.
San Leandro, CA
510-667-1004
Free local delivery with $20 order
M-Sa 6 am – 6 pm
Su 7 am – 5 pm

Marga’s San Leandro Restaurant Reviews