Tag: Vietnamese

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).

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 ✔

My husband loved this bowl of grilled chicken, roasted veggies and hummus. He was actually surprised at how much he liked the veggies. He’d definitely order it again. 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: Shef

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AMERICAN

Sheff Kelly L.’s Salmon Caesar Salad

My husband overall liked this salad. It wasn’t made with iceberg lettuce but with another leaf, and he was a bit iffy about it, and it had tomatoes he doesn’t like, but otherwise it was just a Caesar’s salad. The very top of the salmon was sort of crusty and it seemed dried out, but when you got past that, it was fine. He’d have it again, but it might be better to just buy a Caesar salad at the supermarket and add some salmon – it’s not like grilling some salmon takes any time.

Shef Stacy L.’s Crispy Southern Fried Chicken

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

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

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

Shef Stacy L.’s Fried Bbq Chicken Plate

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

ASIAN

Shef Victor S.’ Chicken Adobo With Pickled Leeks With Jasmine Rice

My husband really liked the chicken, it was very tasty and it didn’t have the skin on, which is a plus for him.

BURMESE

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

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

Shef Theint E. Basil’s Lemongrass Chicken

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

CHINESE

Shef Mak M.’s Taiwanese Braised Pork Rice Bowl

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

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

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

ETHIOPIAN/ERITREAN

Shef Frehiwot K.’s Meat Combo ✔✔

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

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

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


EUROPEAN

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

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

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

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

Shef D C.’s Beef Osso Buco

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

Shef D C.’s Irish Guinness Beef Stew

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

INDIAN

Shef Geetwani R.’s Butter Chicken

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

Shef Sukhdeep K.’s Butter Chicken ✔

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

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

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

Shef Amit R.’s Pahadi Chicken Curry

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

Shef Mandira D.’s Rui Macher Kalia (Rohu Fish Curry)

My husband loved he taste of the curry, it was delicious. However, the fish had too many bones, making it vey difficult to eat. For that reason, he probably wouldn’t get it again.

Shef Balihar S.’s Tari Wala Chicken

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

Shef Shilpa P.’s Kolhapuri Sukka Chicken

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

Shef Wayne F.’s Butter Chicken

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

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

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

KOREAN

Shef Aejung S.’ Bulgogi Korean Ribeye Beef With Rice

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

LATIN AMERICAN

Shef Joina L.’s Brazilian Chicken Pie ✔✔

My husband thought this was delicious and enough for two servings for himself. The crust didn’t maintain too well, it got sort of mushy, but the flavor was amazing.

Shef Joina L.’s Arroz Con Pollo

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

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

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

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

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

Shef Ruben & Nucha G.’s Traditional Beef Empanadas

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

MEDITERRANEAN / MIDDLE EASTERN

Shef Quynh Sophie E.’s Kafta Potato Stew

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


VIETNAMESE

Shef Victoria S.’s Caramelized Spare Ribs

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

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

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

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

WEST AFRICAN

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

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

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

Shef Sarjo B.’s Yassa Bone-in Chicken

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

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

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San Leandro Bites: A1 Pho

Standard Vietnamese fare close to our house

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

San Leandro Bites: Joe’s Pho

I’m leaving the review below in place for memory’s sake – but Joe’s Pho is in my BOYCOTT list. The owners abuse and mistreat workers. Please read about it.

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

Li Do Vietnamese Sandwiches – San Leandro – Review

UPDATE: THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED

You get what you pay for.  At Li Do, that’s a lot of bread and very little meat in your Vietnamese sandwiches.

It’s been a while since we got there, so I don’t quite recall what we got.  I think one of us had the grilled pork and the other the BBQ pork sandwiches ($3.50). Whatever filling was there was good, but I rather pay twice as much and have a sandwich with a filling I can taste.

They also have noodle or rice plates for about $5

We haven’t return and won’t bother to.

Li Do Vietnamese Sandwiches
1338 Fairmont Dr
San Leandro, CA
M-Sa 8 am – 6:30 pm

San Leandro Restaurant Reviews

Vo’s Restaurant – San Leandro – Review Update

Vo’s has closed. Lotus Leaf has opened in its space.

January 2011
I just went to Vo’s for a late lunch with my friend Elektra. I hadn’t been there for a while, and once again I was not overly impressed. The food was fine but not exceptional, and even at discounted prices sort of expensive for what it was.

Elektra and I shared the chicken wings appetizer ($3.50, usually $7). There were five or six lightly spiced wings, deep fried, that were well cooked but completely unremarkable. They came with a very nice peanut sauce which was better by itself than on the wings.

Elektra had the Vietnamese peppered beef sandwich ($4). It was described as beef sauteed with green peppers and onions, so she was disappointed that most of what she found in the bread was cucumber and other light veggies. She also wasn’t fond of the cheap-tasting baguette the sandwich came with. I got a chicken sandwich for Mike and he had similar complaints, he found there was too much bread, too little chicken and not enough flavor.

Elektra had the banana and mango dessert ($5, I think) and she thought it was pretty good, she liked the tapioca sauce which had a generous amount of coconut milk. I had the fried banana with ice cream (also $5 or so) and while it was good, it wasn’t exceptional. There were two pieces of banana wrapped in eggroll skins and a very so-so ice cream. I’ve had a much better version of this dessert at other restaurants.

In all, it was a nice lunch, but not good enough for $40 after tax & tip.

Nov. 2008 Review

Last night, Mike took me out to dinner at Vo’s to celebrate our brief childless status (we do miss the kids, though). I had been there last a few month prior with the girls, and I’d had a pretty good meal. This one, however, was lackluster – the food seemed tired and lacked shining flavors. Part of the problem may be that Vo’s seems to specialize on seafood (its specials menu featured only one meat dish), and that the choices for non-seafood eaters are very limited. After a few visits to the restaurant, you would have tried them all. I think it’s time that they revamp their menu, at least vis a vis meat choices.

Mike started with the crab puffs ($8, I think) – five or six little purses fried and filled with crabmeat. He liked them, but in particular enjoyed the mustard sauce. I had the crispy rolls ($8), an old favorite. I had loved the very light and crispy skins and the flavorful filling. This time, the rolls tasted like egg rolls in any other restaurant. They lacked flavor, and even the dipping sauce couldn’t help them much. I wouldn’t order them again.

My main dish was the caramelized pork & shrimp ($14). I’d had this dish before, and I think I’d enjoyed it, but this time it was pretty average. The caramelization hadn’t added much sweetness to the dish, and I think the meat was underseasoned to begin with. The sauce was very one-dimensional. It wasn’t bad, indeed it was perfectly acceptable – but there wasn’t much of a reason to eat it other than being hungry and having ordered it. I wouldn’t do it again, either. Also, the portion was on the small side (something I’ve noticed to be an issue with Vo’s from the start) – if you came in moderately hungry and haven’t had an appetizer, you’ll still be hungry after eating it.

Mike had the lemongrass catfish filet ($16) from the specials menu. He didn’t think it was that great. The sauce was too viscous and bland, but at least the catfish was properly cooked. He wouldn’t order it again.
Probably the worst part of the meal, however, were the desserts. Mike had the caramelized bananas with ice cream ($7, I think), and the dish consisted of perhaps half a banana sliced and covered in caramelized sugar, it was served with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream. The banana slices were nice, but again, nothing special. And given how small the portion of bananas they serve was, the dish was grossly overpriced.

Worse still was the cheesecake ($8). I knew that they didn’t make the deserts on site (with the exception, I imagine, of the two banana dishes) – but they really need a better dessert provider. This cheesecake ($8) was flavorless and had been badly defrosted. While part of the cheesecake had the unpleasant texture of ice crystals, the other was thawed to the point of almost melting it. I’m not sure if they did it in the microwave, or how they managed to mess it up so much. The portion was pretty small for the price, but in this case it really didn’t matter as the whole thing was a waste of calories. If I do eat at Vo’s again (and I may very well do so, if I go out with friends who insist on going there), I will make sure to avoid dessert here.

Service was adequate (though the waitress did not ask how our meal was), but the timing of the dishes was off. Our entrees came before our appetizer dishes had been removed from the table. In all, it felt like it was a pretty rushed meal. Which is strange, as the restaurant was almost empty on a Friday night.
Dinner came to about $82 after tax and tip. I used a $25 gift certificate that I got at restaurant.com for $3 (they are usually $10, but they were running a special) – but I felt that even at $60 the dinner was overpriced. Too bad, because I like Vo’s, or at least the concept of Vo’s – somebody just needs to get back in the kitchen and shake things up a bit.

Vo’s Restaurant
277 Parrott St.
San Leandro, Ca.
510-357-6600
Original Review

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