I’m not the biggest fan of Chipotle – mostly because it’s boring and expensive. I understand why people might seek it in places that don’t have a great taqueria (or taco truck) in every corner, but I fail to understand its appeal in California. Still, my daughter likes it, so we ordered it for lunch a few days ago.
This time I decided to try the quesadilla, which is basically a deconstructed burrito grilled enough to melt the cheese. It’s served with 3 “sides” which really mean the ingredients you’d otherwise have inside the burrito, things like rice, beans, salsas, etc. Burrito extras, like guacamole, are still extra for quesadillas.
The steak quesadilla was tasty, but it felt smaller than a burrito (probably just my imagination), and having the salsa/sour cream/guacamole (it came in a different container) outside the burrito only made it more difficult to eat. The shape of the quesadilla, and the fact that it’s cut in two diagonally made it even more impractical – the filling kept filling out as I tried to dip it.
At $11.40 (prices vary by location), it was a pretty poor value – though I’m sure no worse than anything else at Chipotle.
On the plus side, the ingredients were fresh and the beef has less gristle/fat than that at some local taquerias. Also on the plus side, Chipotle is very vegan friendly. Not only do they offer sofritas, a plant based protein, as a vegan alternative to meats, but their rice, beans, tortillas and chips are all vegan. Often times, Mexican restaurants use chicken broth for their rice, or lard for their beans and/or tortillas.
I have never been to a Sprouts in person, but I’ve become quite fond of the supermarket since I subscribed to Instacart during the pandemic. Still, I hadn’t ordered from there in long enough that I’d forgotten what things they had that I liked and disliked. Thus this post – to remind me of what to get again, and what to avoid. I’ll be adding items to this review as we consume them. Note that the prices are Instacart prices.
Sprouts Pastrami on Multigrain Bread Grab & Go Sandwich ($5 for an 8 oz sandwich)
I got this for my husband to replace a chicken salad croissant sandwich that wasn’t available. He thought it was “ehh,” the sort of pre-packaged sandwich he’d expect to get at a convenience store. He felt it was dry, probably as it doesn’t seem to come with condiments. He wouldn’t order it again.
Black Garlic Chicken And Mushroom Saute ($6/lb, tray was 1 3/4lb)
I bought this thinking it was a ready-to-heat meal, as others I’ve gotten at Sprouts. Instead, it’s a ready-to-saute meal which requires you to dump the ingredients on a saute pan and cook for about 10-15 minutes. The chicken is raw, so don’t be tempted to use your microwave.
While it was very simple, it was surprisingly tasty and served two people adequately. I’d get it again.
Chocolate Custard Twists ($4 for 6 small twists)
This has to be my favorite item from Sprouts. When we spent a month in Paris, a lifetime ago, my husband would go to the bakery every morning and get us a very similar pastry. These are just as delicious – which is amazing, giving how badly even the best American bakeries do at imitating French pastries. At 70-cents each for the pretty small pastries, this is not a cheap treat, but mostly because it’s just impossible to eat just one. Still, they are great so get them!
Lakewood Organic Pure Orange Fresh-Pressed Juice Not From Concentrate ($6.5 for a 32 oz bottle, on sale for $5)
I’m always in the quest for the best commercial orange juice – something that tastes as close as possible to fresh squeezed but that I can buy already squeezed. Unfortunately, fresh squeezed OJ is not available at any of my local supermarkets, though they do have it at the Saturday’s farmer market. Alas, we don’t always make it.
So far, my favorite commercial orange juice is Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic Orange Juice. However, the last two times I’ve gotten it, it tasted like it was already going bad – I’m sure you know what rotten oranges taste like, and this was half way there. So I’ve been looking for an alternative – I’ll give Kirkland another try in winter, but it’s obvious the OJ can’t handle the summer heat.
Unfortunately, Lakewood Organic Pure Orange Juice suffers from the exact same problem. The lid may say the juice doesn’t expire until 2023, but it already has the tell-telling bitterness of OJ going bad. It is also extremely sweet. I don’t know if this is a consequence of it being almost rotten, or if it’s made this way to hide the rotting flavor. Either way, it’s initial taste is disgustingly sweet, and its finish rottenly bitter. I would not buy it again and I have half a mind of writing to Lakewood and asking for a refund.
Clara’s Kitchen Chile Verde Breakfast Burrito ($5 for 10 oz burrito)
I had ordered the Clara’s Kitchen Cheese & Bean burrito but this is what Instacart brought me instead. My husband ended up eating it and he was quite disappointed. He felt it had very little flavor. He wouldn’t have it again.
Reds Organic Cheese Quesadilla Burrito ($3.3 for 5 oz burrito, on sale for $2.5)
I got this and other Reds burritos for my cheese-and-bean-burrito loving teen daughter and it was a bust. She liked the tortilla well enough, but didn’t like the filling, it just tasted wrong for her. Won’t get it again.
Sprouts Cheese Puffs and Cheese Curls ($2.3 for 6 oz package, on sale for $1 each)
Sprouts versions of cheetos are not bad. They seem to have less of an intense flavor than the brand name, and less annoying orange powder to get all over your hands, but they are tasty enough. The puffs are, IMHO, better than the curls. I’d order the puffs again, particularly at the sale price.
Roast Beef ($13/lb)
This was pretty generic deli roast beef, which means it was perfectly acceptable without being remarkable good. I’d buy it again.
As advertised, this pastrami comes in very thin, irregular pieces. It has a subtle flavor, with only a limited chemical pungency and tones of sweetness. Unfortunately, I can’t say how well it holds up to the rye bread as I opened up to taste it, and ended up eating half the bag on its own (and the next day, the other half). As half a bag ended up being my dinner, I’d say that the package ($11 at Safeway) should produce two generous sandwiches.
I was in the mood for BBQ sauce last week, and decided to give a new BBQ sauce a try. I’m a fan of sweet sauces, but dislike anything that tastes like Kraft BBQ sauce. My favorite bottled sauce is Everette & Jones, but I’m fine with Kinder’s and even Sweet Baby Ray’s.
Blakey’s Original was on sale at Safeway, so I figured I’d give it a try. All in all, I was pretty pleased. It basically tastes like a generic BBQ sauce, but it has a bitter/smokey flavor that makes it unique. The flavor does come from liquid smoke or something similar, but it’s not as blunt as liquid smoke usually is. Given that all the profits go to the California firefighters, I felt it was appropriate.
I used the sauce for meatloaves and it worked pretty well. The 18 oz bottle is regularly $6 at Safeway, but was on sale for $4. I wouldn’t buy it for $6, but it’s fine for $4.
In all, this corned beef tasted exactly as what it is: pre-packaged deli meat. It could have been corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, turkey for that matter – it just tasted like generic commercial deli meat. And flavor wise, the 6 ounces of this corned beef were overwhelmed by the two slices of rye bread in the sandwich.
Though Bara’s Deli has been in San Leandro since the ’80’s and we’ve lived here for over 20 years, I didn’t try it until recently. It’s not in “our” part of town – though it’s pretty close by -, and there were other closer sandwich places. Still, I’ve heard good things about them and when, a few weeks ago, I was looking to try a Reuben sandwich, I decided to give them a try. And then another.
So far, I’m fairly happy. These are not the best sandwiches I’ve ever tried (that distinction goes to Giugni’s Deli‘s in St. Helena where, granted, I haven’t eaten in a decade but whose sandwiches were great for the two decades before that), but they were very good anyway. The sandwiches look a bit small, but they are quite substantial and they definitely won’t leave you hungry – if you can finish the whole thing.
I’ve had the Reuben twice now, and while it’s still the only Reuben ($11) I’ve ever had, I liked it a lot. The meat to cheese to sauerkraut to bread ratio was perfect, it was a very well balanced sandwich, and made me a fan of Reubens. I just ordered the ingredients to make some myself. I’m actually not sure if this sandwich is meant to be hot – both times it came in the same bag with another hot sandwich, but it works well either hot or cold.
My husband had The Hangover from their specialties menu ($11.25), a sandwich consisting of “hot roast beef, Swiss cheese, red onions, jalapeños, mayo, BBQ sauce on Dutch crunch.” We both liked it very much, again the ingredients were well balanced.
I was less enthused by the meatballs. I had a meatball sub ($10) one time and a side order of meatballs ($6 for a small) another. The meatballs are small, are too salty and they otherwise have a very generic taste. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were commercial rather than made in house. They are a bit too dense and just not particularly tasty.
The caprese panini ($9) was better. Again, the ingredients were in the right amounts to balance each other and the bread, and the whole sandwich was tasty. My daughter – who ended up eating it – would have preferred fresh basil (in season now) to pesto, but that’s not a big deal.
A “make your own” roast beef sandwich ($10.50) was good and had ample meat.
The one real disappointment was a side of macaroni salad ($3.50) which was just a waste of calories.
In all, we’ll continue ordering from Bara and I look forward to trying other sandwiches.
This water smells exactly like lemon buttercream frosting. It’s hard to imagine how they were able to create that exact scent, but they did. As the sparkling water is not flavored, however, it does not taste like lemon buttercream frosting, but it leaves you with a weird buttery feeling in the back of your mouth. It’s pretty disconcerting.
While drinking it is an interesting experience, it’s not a particularly pleasant one. I’m slowly forcing my way through the 8-pack because I paid for it, but not because I enjoy them.
I’m ambivalent about hibiscus drinks, known as jamaica in Mexico and karkadeh in Egypt. I’m neither a fan nor a hater. But I was curious enough about this hibiscus sparkling water to give it a try. It’s somewhat better than the limoncello one, but still not my cup of tea – or sparkling water.
First, I don’t actually detect much hibiscus flavor. What I detect is a flavor similar to, albeit les pronounced than, the berry sparkling waters in the market. I completely despise those flavors, but I can bare with this one because it’s lighter. Still, I’m also only finishing the box because I don’t want them to go to waste.
I found this at Grocery Outlet and it sounded great. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. The cream cheese didn’t have much flavor at all, and couldn’t stand to the most insipid cracker. There was some sweetness from the blueberries, but the cashews didn’t add much. And the whole cheese just had no flavor. I wouldn’t buy again.
After a couple of months of not doing almost any cooking, I’ve decided to transition into cooking by going back to meal kits. I started with Home Chef, not only because I had a good “come back” promo, but because they now offer a wider variety of meals, including some that require very little work. None are particular good deals – you can definitely save a lot by buying your own ingredients – and none are particular exciting. But if you want something tasty, familiar and easy to make, they work quite well.
These are the meals I got:
Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli Bolognese with Parmesan
As far as value goes, this may be one of the most overpriced mealkits out there. it included a package of fresh (they say par-cooked) spinach and cheese ravioli (I think the brand was Rana), sauce, cream and Parmesan cheeses, fresh spinach and the tray. You mix them together and put them in a 375F oven for 15 minutes. BUT the great revelation for me here is that you can cook fresh ravioli in the oven in the sauce. I imagine the same would be true of frozen ravioli, albeit for some time longer. I am definitely going to try this some winter night.
BBQ Cheddar Meatballs with Bacon Potatoes
These meatballs were very easy to make and should be easily replicated at home – when I get the craving for something with BBQ sauce. Basically, they involved mixing the raw ground beef with shredded cheddar, seasoned salt and BBQ sauce (the one provided was Sweet Baby Rays, which I like well enough, but I used Everett and Jones’ BBQ sauce instead, as I had some open already that I wanted to use up. Then, I put the meatballs in one side of the prepared tray, and the potatoes and bacon bits on the other. Easy peachy and a tasty enough meal. Then again, this should be super easy and cheap to make with your own ingredients.
Note, Home Chef allows you to substitute impossible meat or ground pork for the ground beef in this meal.
Chicken Thigh Shawarma Wild Rice Bowl with Tzatziki Sauce
This recipe was easy and quick to make, and combined both pre-cooked, pre-made and fresh ingredients:
All I had to do was combine the raw, cubed chicken with the pre-sliced onions and the seasoning and bake – and later add the pre-cooked rice and fresh spinach leaves and bake some more. It came with tzlaki sauce to pour over. I made this for my husband and non-vegan daughter and they both liked it.
Creamy Truffle Steak Penne with Cheese and Garlic Croutons
This was another quick and easy meal that combined fresh and cooked ingredients. It involved sauteing the raw steak, adding peas and seasoning, then adding cream, Parmesan and pre-cooked pasta, and finishing it with truffle butter and crushed croutons. It wasn’t my favorite meal – the flavors sort of melded together – but it was tasty enough and very quick and easy to make.
Steak and Goat Cheese-Pecan Sweet Potatoes with roasted asparagus
While Home Chef seems to be concentrating on very quick meals right now, they do have some more traditional meal kits. For this one, I had to actually peel and cut the sweet potatoes, trim the asparagus and slice the shallot. Then I seared the steak on the stove and finished them, with the asparagus, in the oven. I boiled the sweet potatoes, mashed them and mixed them with the goat cheese and pecans, and made a sauce for the steak by mixing the pan drippings with demi-glace and shallot.
It was a pretty good meal, though I’m not a fan of sweet potatoes. The goat cheese certainly helped them. Note that at $26 per kit, this was a more expensive meal than the other ones (usually $20). This is usually the case for meals that include steak.
Steak Frites and Marsala Sauce with smoked almond and Parmesan salad
I got this meal but didn’t make it, as I ran out of time before the meat had to be used or frozen.
Note, you can use my referral link to save $35 off your first box. If I happen to be subscribed at the time (unlikely), I’ll also get a $35 credit for my next box.
Update – My last two experiences at El Torito have been less than stellar.
Since I wrote this post the fiesta/party packs – at least at my local El Torito in San Leandro, California – have both increased in price and decreased in quality. The packs now cost $5 more, and the last couple of times we ordered, they were missing some of the sides, we originally got. I’m not sure if this is because the fiesta packs no longer include them or our El Torito was particularly busy now that California has reopened, and the workers were careless with what they packed in our orders.
The Fajita Pack
The fajitas pack is now $45 and our last order included the beef fajitas (and we felt we got less meat than in previous occasions). Still, it was very tasty. In addition to the meat, we got rice and beans, warm tortillas, guacamole and sour cream and chips and salsa. What we didn’t get was the corn pudding we enjoy so much.
The Tacos Pack
We ordered the taco pack once before and in addition to the stuff shown in the photo (meal, rice and beans, tortillas, chip and salsa and corn pudding) it came with sour cream, pico de gallo, shredded cheese and shredded lettuce. This time, the last four listed items were unavailable. That made for very, very boring tacos.
That said, the beef for tacos is very tasty, flavor wise it’s better than the fajitas. The chicken, which we got the previous time, isn’t as flavorful and it’s a bit dry. They also offer carnitas.
El Torito, a California-based chain of Tex-Mex (or Cal-Mex, for that matter) restaurants, is offering a great take out deal during the pandemic. For $30-$40 you can get a tacos, carnitas fajitas or combo (enchiladas, tamales or chile relleno) deals that feed at least four people. Given that an order of steak fajitas for just one person is $21.50, $40 for four times that amount is as good a deal as you are likely to get. Indeed, at $10 per person (or less, depending on how hungry you are), it’s the same or lower cost than the mid-priced meal kits I’ve used so much. For $20 more, you can add a pitcher of margaritas (not my thing).
The fajitas pack comes with large containers of beef strips and onions, Mexican rice, beans (choose between re-fried or de olla), corn pudding, salsa and guacamole, a stack of warm tortillas (your choice of corn or flour) and a huge bag of tortilla chips.
They tell you at what time the food will be ready when you order (or you can specify the time), and it’s very, very quick. El Torito offers delivery (sans alcohol) for something like $3, as well as curbside and in-restaurant pickup. The food is ready when it says it’ll be.
I used to be a huge fan of Chevy’s back in the day. Then it declined, and then the one in San Leandro closed, and then most of them closed. At some point, the remaining ones were bought by the same parent company from El Torito, which carried Chevy’s influence into El Torito’s kitchens.
You can taste this influence in the fajitas pack. The beef marinade now resembles Chevy’s, as does the salsa – while the corn pudding is practically identical to Chevy’s sweet corn tomalito. The chips are still not as thin as Chevy’s, but they’re thinner than other restaurants.
All in all I’ve enjoyed their meals, and I think I will give their other offerings a try later.