Tag: San Leandro Eats

SL Bites: Lotus Leaf

A not-so-great meal at this usually reliable Vietnamese restaurant

Last Sunday, my oldest daughter graduated from college – and them promptly left for a camping trip with her father. My other daughter had plans with her boyfriend, leaving my friend Elektra and I to celebrate the graduation on our own. I suggested lunch at Lotus Leaf for the most trivial of reasons: it has parking. Finding parking in downtown San Leandro on a Sunday which also happened to be Father’s Day can be pretty challenging.

Beyond parking, Lotus Leaf tends to be a pretty dependable place for lunch. It’s nicely appointed, it’s one of those “Asian bistros” that appeared in California in the early ’00s, offering classy, minimalist and yet still somewhat-ethnic decore and nicely presented dishes, and a comfortable place for a nice-but-not-extravagant meal. You could have a business meal here, a celebration or just a casual lunch. I’d been several times in the last year or two, precisely for this reason and because the food is generally very solid. They also have an extensive vegetarian menu. After this experience, however, I doubt I’ll be rushing back.

First, service was problematic. The waiter was a young man who seemed to have very little experience serving tables. He forgot my drink, our main dishes came only a few minutes after our appetizers had arrived, he never checked on us and we had to chase him to get us the bill. Of course, this was Father’s Day, so perhaps he was covering for someone else – and he was pleasant.

We started with the grilled lemongrass pork spring rolls ($10.5), which are served with peanut sauce. These were very good. The lemongrass pork itself was very flavorful, and it went well with the lettuce, mint, lemongrass and carrots. The peanut sauce was also very flavorful. I’m not a fan of bean sprouts myself, but I didn’t mind them in these rolls. These, I’d order again.

More problematic was my grilled beef short ribs with pineapple rice ($18). The ribs were very tasty, they had a good marinade with bold flavors. Unfortunately, they were extremely chewy and fatty. That meant that I couldn’t eat much of it. The pineapple rice had such tiny pieces of pineapple that you couldn’t taste it at all, it was just bland. And the same can be said for the vegetables. I was left hungry, which I shouldn’t have been given the hefty price of the meal.

My friend Elektra had the ginger salmon ($16.5), which also came with pineapple rice and steamed veggies. She agreed with me as to the sides, and liked the sauce on the salmon. However, it was dried and overcooked. It was also too small a portion to warrant the price.

Elektra had a fresh squeezed limeade ($5.5) which she liked, as it wasn’t very sweet.

In all, we were disappointed, with so many other restaurants in San Leandro, I don’t think we’ll rush to Lotus Leaf again, unless we have a vegetarian on tow.

Lotus Leaf
277 Parrott St
San Leandro, CA
(510) 877-2601
M-Th 9 AM - 9 PM
F-Su 9 AM - 9:30 PM

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.


San Leandro Bites: Moana Hawaiian BBQ

This newish Hawaiian BBQ restaurant in San Leandro has some hits and some misses.

My youngest daughter, Camila, had had a pretty tough day so when she asked that we get Hawaiian that evening, I was willing to go along with it, even though we’d eaten out a lot that week. She had specifically asked that we go to Ono Hawaiian BBQ, our closest Hawaiian joint and one we frequented when she was younger. For one reason or another we stopped going and I think it’d been several years since we’d had Ono or Hawaiian at all. So, before I ordered, I decided to look at reviews. Alas, recent ones for Ono weren’t too encouraging.

Moana Hawaiian BBQ, on the other hand, was getting great reviews – plus it was near Ono, so not that much further from our house. Reluctantly, Camila agreed to order from there. Overall, I was happy with the meal, but there were some misses. I wasn’t too comfortable ordering online, so I sent Mike to do so at the store. It was a pretty quick trip.

Moana’s menu seems to be very similar to Ono’s, even to the name of some dishes, for example, they both feature “island white fish”. They both have a family meal ($43) consisting of three meats and two sides: rice and macaroni salad. That’s what I decided to get and it turned out to be a good deal, it was a lot of food.

Camila wanted the chicken katsu, which is also one of my favorites. It consists of fried, breaded chicken served with katsu sauce. The chicken was tender and flavorful, and appropriately cooked. There was plenty of it and Camila made three meals out of it.

Mike decided on the island white fish, fried fish fillets. The fish itself was nicely seasoned, as was the breading. Mike felt the breading was too thick, though that didn’t bother me as much – and I appreciated it when I microwaved the left overs: the breading held up fairly well. I did feel the fish was crying for some lemon juice – fortunately, a few years ago a lemon tree just started growing in our side yard (I suspect a lemon from our neighbor’s tree fell there and eventually it turned into a tree), so now we have fresh lemons whenever we want them. With the lemon juice added, the fish was just delicious.

I also enjoyed the kalbi beef ($3 supplement). Restraint was clearly used in marinating them, so that they still had a grilled beef flavor, rather than just a teriyaki or similar sort of flavor that overwhelms the meat at Ono. Teriyaki sauce was served alongside them, but I felt I didn’t need it. They were also very tender and not too chewy. I very much enjoyed them.

The white rice was exactly that, rice. It serves as a conduit for the katsu and teriyaki sauces, but I see it as wasted carbs – particularly when we had so much other food.

The macaroni salad, unfortunately, was a big miss. It just lacked the flavor that the the one at Ono has. Camila definitely commented on it – and Mike had to agree it wasn’t that great. They still ate it, though.

I also ordered the malasadas ($5.50 for 10), Hawaiian donuts with a Portuguese ancestry. It’d been years since I last had one and I didn’t remember how I felt about them. It turns out, I’m not a big fan. They were lighter than a beignet, but still denser and heavier than a donut and the salty dough wasn’t particularly flavorful. I did like the crystalized sugar on top which is a big improvement over powdered sugar. Reading back on my blog, it seems like I wasn’t too fond of malasadas when I had them in Hawaii almost 20 years ago, so it’s not Moana, it’s me.

In all, it was a good experience and if it’s up to me, we’d go back. Alas, the substandard macaroni salad might make Mike and Camila prefer we go elsewhere when we next want Hawaiian.

Moana Hawaiian BBQ
14966 E 14th St
San Leandro, CA
(510) 274-5777
Daily 10:30 AM - 8:30 PM

San Leandro Bites: KoolFi Ice Cream @ the Cherry Festival

KoolFi Ice Cream is a local favorite, but does it live up to the hype?

Saturday was the Cherry Festival in San Leandro. Now that my children are gone, I don’t feel the need to join the crowds in watching a parade and listening to music, so I happily stayed home. My husband, however, is a huge fan of festivals and local activities, so not only did he go, but he brought me some ice cream from KoolFi Creamery, the Indian ice cream shop that all my friends rave about. KoolFi was having a special cherry flavor for the festival, and though Mike doesn’t like cherries, he had to try it.

This was not our first time trying KoolFi ice cream. My wonderful friend Elektra had gotten me a sampler for my birthday (I think) last year, which I’d much appreciated, even if I hadn’t been a huge fan of any of the flavors – I guess Indian flavors are not my thing.

The ice cream was, as you can expect, somewhat melted by the time Mike got it home, but I don’t think that affected it much. He had the cherry with chocolate flakes and was quite happy with it. I tried it, and frankly the chocolate flavor predominated. It was good. I had the mango lassi flavor, and I enjoyed it as well. I particularly liked the smoothness, even silkiness of the ice cream. I didn’t think, however, that it was so much better than other ice creams as to justify the steep price – I think it was $7 for a rather small scoop. The ice cream is organic, however.

KoolFi Creamery
599 MacArthur Blvd
San Leandro, CA
415-390-6210
W - Su 3 PM - 9 PM

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: 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:  Tapsilog Express

Bay Area Restaurant Reviews

I’m a big fan of Filipino food, a very successful fusion of Asian and Spanish/Latin American cuisine, but we seldom get it because Filipino restaurants don’t really cater to vegetarians or vegans, and one of my daughters is one. So when we were kidless a few nights ago, it was a great opportunity to try one of the local Filipino restaurants. It was a wonderful night, so we figured we’d get take out and eat it in the patio, and Tapsilog Express seemed best suited for an easy take out experience. It was.

Tapsilog Express has some indoor seating, in a pleasant though not particularly alluring room, but it’s mostly a take out place. They have a simplified menu of meat mains served with rice and a fried egg, as well as some appetizers, drinks and a couple of desserts. We got two orders of lumpia, the tosilog and the chorizosilog . I also got the pineapple cooler and flan for dessert. The food came out very quickly, about 10 minutes after ordering.

The lumpia ($7.50 per order) were small, 1 1/2″ pieces, but there was a good amount of them per order (the picture shows two). They were tasty by themselves, which is a good thing as the sweet and sour sauce they came with was overwhelmingly sour and not very tasty. I’d only get these again if I had sauce at home.

Tosilog ($11) is described as Filipino bacon, but it’s more like pork strips marinated in a sweet sauce. It lacks the crispiness of bacon. It was pretty good, though I felt it lacked “umph”. Still, I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed mixing the egg yolk with the rice.

My husband similarly enjoyed his chorizo ($11). It was slightly sweet and very tasty. He’d get it again.

The flan itself was pretty standard, but the caramel sauce was tastier than usual – probably because it was cooked to perfection. I’m a big flan fan and I’d have it again.
I seldom get juices/fountain drinks at restaurants (other than soda), but their pineapple cooler ($3) had good reviews so I decided to give it a try. It was actually very good, a great proportion of pineapple juice to water, so that it had a nice pineapple taste but it wasn’t overwhelmingly sweet or heavy. I’d have it again.
Tapsilog Express
14843 Washington Ave.
San Leandro, California
(510) 878-1232
M-Su 11:30 am – 07:30 pm

Christmas Eve Dinner 2021: Moussaka Mediterranean Kitchen + Luke’s Grill

A wonderful Christmas Eve Dinner with some help from Luke’s Grill

This year, probably for the third time in two decades, I didn’t cook Christmas Eve dinner. I’m going through one of my anti-cooking spells, and the thought of making course after course of food I’d barely have time to eat before getting up to prepare the next one just wasn’t appealing. Plus, after the fiasco that was Thanksgiving Dinner, I wasn’t eager for a repeat. Moreover, with another COVID wave hitting us, we had decided that once again it would only be us having dinner.

So, I decided on take out – but what? This shouldn’t have been that hard a question, but I wanted something “special”. That meant something that we didn’t usually get for take out, something that I wouldn’t be able to make easily, something that could be eaten family style and something that would satisfy all our individual food issues. Deciding on a specific cuisine, much less a restaurant, was hard.

Ultimately, I decided upon Greek because it’s homey, it’s somewhat Christmasy and it can be served family style. We actually have two pretty good Greek restaurants in town, and rather than decide between them, we tried them both.

Items from the Zeus Platter from Luke’s Grill.

We ordered the Zeus Platter ($20) from Luke’s Grill. This appetizer combo came with Greek sausage, meatballs, tiropita, spanakopita, dolmades, tzaziki and abundant pieces of pita. Though it was a bit cold by the time we started eating it, I was quite pleased with both the sausages and the meatballs. The tiropita, phyllo dough cooked with herbed cheese, was also quite delicious, and I enjoyed the pita with the tzaziki. Unfortunately, my vegetarian daughter wasn’t in the mood for dolmades or spanakopita, so those went uneaten. NOTE: since this blog post, Luke’s Grill has closed. Nick the Greek, a chain, has opened in its place.

We got all our mains from Moussaka. I particularly enjoyed the Hunkar Beyendi or Sultan’s Favorite ($28), apparently an Ottoman specialty. The dish consists of a smoked eggplant and mozzarella puree topped with braised lamb and tomato sauce. It’s served with a rice/orzo combination. By the time I transferred it to a serving dish, the whole thing was mixed together but that’s how you are supposed to eat it anyway. It was delicious. I’m not a particular fan of eggplant, but it provided an amazing smokiness to the dish. The lamb was tender and flavorful and the whole dish just came together with homey umami. And it was just perfect for Christmas: it has too many elements for me to easily replicate and it’s too expensive for a regular take out meal, and thus provided the “specialness” I wanted from a Christmas Eve meal.

Manti

I was far more disappointed in the manti ($18), pasta filled with spiced beef and supposedly served with a garlic yogurt sauce, brown butter and fresh mint. The little dumplings were tasty, but they were very lightly sauced, and therefore way too dry to really enjoy. They quickly became monotonous. I wouldn’t order them from here again.

Two portions of the combo kebap (one kofta already eaten)

In order to get a good sampling of their offerings, we ordered the combo kebap ($29), which came with a meat skewer, a chicken skewer, a single kofte, a mixture of beef/lamb gyro meat, rice and a salad. The meat skewer was listed as a lamb skewer, but it was actually beef. It was very tender, very nicely spiced and just delicious – often times kebabs are dry, but this was not the case even when the leftovers were reheated.

The same cannot be said for the chicken kebaps. They were very tasty, but dry. Fortunately, the kofta was delicious.

Beef/lamb gyro meat

I’m totally in love with the beef/lamb gyro meat. I couldn’t tell a difference between each slice of meat, so I’m going to guess it was all lamb, but whatever it was was delicious. Also very tender and not dry, and perfectly seasoned.

Chicken shawarma

A dish of chicken shawarma ($20), also served with rice and salad, was equally delicious. Again, they seasoned it perfectly and managed to not make it dry.

Finally, I ordered a felafel wrap ($13) for my vegetarian daughter, and she was happy enough, though wouldn’t elaborate about it.

In all, it was a great meal and I’d order from here again for a special occasion meal.

Gateau Basque, perspective from above

We had two desserts, though we were too full to eat more than one that night, and then well after the meal. Early in my meal planning, when I still thought I’d actually cook Christmas Eve dinner, I had proposed making Gâteau Basque for dessert. My first trip with Mike after we got married was to Spain, where we spent several days in the Basque country. We had enjoyed an amazing gâteau basque at a restaurant in Aoiz, my great-grandparents’ hometown and the memory has lingered with Mike ever since. However, in the decades since, we’ve been unable to find a cake that matched those memories, either at a restaurant or at home. It’d been many years since our last try, so I was game to do it again.

This time I decided on a well reviewed recipe that I found on the internet. I was quite pleased with the flavor, both of the cake and the pastry filling, but I felt that the dough needed more flour – my daughter preferred the soft texture, however. In all, it was good but not as sublime as our memories of that cake in Aoiz.

I also bought a Tres Leches cake from Safeway, a favorite of all of us. I was lucky to get to eat a slice the next day.

Moussaka Mediterranean Kitchen
599 Dutton Ave, San Leandro
‭(510) 850-5020
Closed Mondays

Luke’s Grill
1509 East 14th St, San Leandro
510-614-1010
Closed Sundays

San Leandro Bites: Bara’s Deli

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.

Chain Restaurant Reviews: El Torito’s Fiesta Packs Are Back to Being a Great Deal

Update 2 – May 2022

We’ve continued to get these fiesta packs every once in a while over the last couple of years, and right now they’re back to being a good deal. That’s because while inflation has hit the US hard, the prices have not gone up significantly. The fiesta fajitas are now $48 while the fiesta tacos are $38 (note that El Torito charges a $2 surcharge on all online orders – and maybe in person as well). Given that they offer enough food to feed 6 people (and even more if they fill up on rice and beans), they’re pretty much the best deal in town. For now, I’m sure prices will go up soon.

What hasn’t changed, at least at El Torito in San Leandro, where we get take out from, is the randomness of the included side dishes. I truly don’t think they can remember which sides are supposed to go with the fiesta fajitas and which ones with the fiesta tacos. This last time we got the fiesta tacos and they came with a lot of meat, large trays of rice and beans and the big bag of chips, plus shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, salsa, pico de gallo, guacamole and tomalito. We didn’t get the sour cream that’s supposed to come with this pack, but the guacamole and tomalito are supposed to come with the fajitas one. So all in all we scored 🙂

And the food was very tasty, the meat was tender and not too fatty. I’m sure we’ll order again soon, at least if they don’t raise the prices.

Update 1 – 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 Fiesta Pack

The fajitas pack is now $48 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 Fiesta 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.

Photo shamelessly stolen from El Torito website

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.

El Torito
5 Monarch Bay Dr,
San Leandro, CA
510.351.8825
M-Th 11 AM - 10 PM, F 11 AM - 11 PM, Sa 8 AM - 11 PM, Su 9 AM - 10 PM

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