Thursday, July 31, 2008

Go Go El Borrego!

What you are seeing here is a taco I put together at El Borrego, a restaurant off of El Cajon Blvd in City Heights that specializes in Lamb Barbacoa. (Part Two can be found here.)

Although I've had and enjoyed their Barbacoa Tacos in the past, what I like the most so far is their Mixiote - $12. (Update 06/09: Menu uploaded here.)

The Mixiote is a Lamb Shank slow cooked with Mexican herbs and spices. Comes with all the condiments seen and a hot stack of handmade tortillas.
Pictures can say a thousand words but in this case three will do.

Fall Off the Bone. (ok four)

Great to share but a hungry adult wouldn't have much trouble finishing an entire order. A hungry adult = Me, btw..

Especially when you consider the different variations of tacos you can make.
The very first large picture with the fresh Salsa Rojo and a generous amount of chopped onions and cilantro; directly above was with the extremely fresh Salsa Verde; and the third, with only the Lamb Mixiote and a drizzle of its own drippings. Mmm.

I've heard many mention the meats here come unseasoned with salt which I find true. I think that's why a large metal salt shaker is provided at every table. An easy remedy.

I really enjoyed my Apple Soda ($1.99) in between breaks. But it wasn't for long until I was back creating more tacos. Another "Wish you were here.." shot.

The Bean Soup with Tortilla Strips I had last was surprisingly good. This day I had the Lamb Broth ($2.25).

You can't see but it has Garbanzo Beans, Rice, and Chunks of Barbacoa. As I was finishing my soup I browsed the menu again to see what I can have my next visit.
The Lamb Especial sounds fun.. 1 Lamb Taco, 1 Rolled Taco, 1 Quesadilla with Nopal Salad and Rice.

The El Borrego Restaurant. Great Lamb dishes that never make you say
"ba-a-a-ah". :)

El Borrego Restaurant, 4280 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Lunching @ Sammy Sushi

A sign reads "Sammy Sushi is open for lunch!" Not sure how long it has been but in any case that's a really good thing for me.

I find Sammy's sushi simply fresh and never over-embellished. The way I like. And on top Sammy is just the most easy going fun Itamae that makes visiting always a pleasure.

When I think of Sammy Sushi, I probably think of Ahi Poke the most. I'm a Sammy Poke repeater.

Sometimes I seriously just wanted to put it over a bowl of steaming white rice and make a Sammy Poke-don.

And so on one of my visits I came up with the courage to ask and I did!

The Sammy Ahi Poke-don..

Hope Sammy didn't mind my odd request. An inspiration I would casually do at home but in a proper sushi restaurant it honestly felt a little naughty. It was really good though as I imagined with every ounce of Poke goodness captured by the bed of plain rice.

Another repeat of mine is the Sushi Combination ($12.99). A sampling of the freshest Sammy has to offer with 5-pcs of California Roll. So naturally what you get slightly changes day to day.

Although I do have favorites, I would say my most favorite sushi is usually the freshest sushi so the combo is always a hit.

When you order from the Lunch menu you can get one Hand Roll for only $2.50!

I like when Sammy hands it to me over the counter. I feel like a kid at an Ice Cream Truck being handed a treat. Big smiles.

The Miso Soup is just perfect, and I really enjoy the starter salad too.

I'm still relatively a Sammy Sushi newbie but to think more Sammy Surprises awaits to be discovered, that's not a bad thing. :)

Sammy Sushi, 7905 Engineer Rd, San Diego, CA 92111

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Poached Egg Sandwich @ Cafe 2121

I really like poached eggs. If I didn't order my usual Eggs Over-Easy for breakfast my next choice would probably be a Bennie of some kind. So I was pretty excited when I found Cafe 2121 a few months back and their Presto Pesto Eggs Sandwich. Two poached eggs between a Toasted French Roll with some Roasted Red Bell Peppers, Spring Greens, Pesto Sauce and Feta Cheese.

This day was my second visit and I had to order it again..

You can imagine it would be a bit messy (I bit the other end..).

But to me just perfectly yum-awesome in its simplicity.

Why can't I have a Breakfast Burrito like this? On a previous visit to Roberto's off El Cajon, my simple request of asking if they would cook my eggs over-easy instead of the usual scrambled was denied by a quick "Sorry, we don't cook it that way.." reply.

In contrast the owners of Cafe 2121 seemed genuinely interested in what would make me happy. A free sampling of Russian Pretzels? Sure!
The place is located in a rather dry strip of Adams Ave (University Heights/Normal Heights border) but quickly becoming a destination for me for what they offer.

Handmade meals like this hearty soup with nice flavors that only something made from scratch can have.

All sandwiches here come with a side choice of Spring Mix Salad with Strawberries, Fruit, Homemade Potato Chips or Soup of the Day. Today it was Lentils and Potatoes (just missed the last order of yesterday's Chicken Dumplings..).

Good food takes time so you might wait a bit but for me a small price to pay.

And fortunately only a small price you will actually pay with the complete meal you see below for $7.50. What a bargain. :)

Cafe 2121, 2736 Adams Ave, San Diego, CA, 92116

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Fiori's, The Anti-Bronx

Fiori's Pizza & Deli, Fiori's Liquor & Pizza, Fiori's Deli & Spirits. I haven't figured out the official name of this place but I've always known it as Fiori's, the liquor store with the adorable Pizza Paddle Sign.

Pizza and booze go together and if you happen to smoke you're in luck cause they would deliver that too.

The affordable Pizza here comes whole or by the slice. Every one tossed and twirled and made by hand.

The pizza is greasy, that's no secret. But it's the type that is good with a brewsky or two.

The type that remains good when cold the next day..

And for some, the type that is good eaten while riding a bicycle. :)

Fiori's, 3981 Eagle St, San Diego, CA, 92101

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tioli's "Spike Burger." And Other Teriyaki Talk..

This post is a tribute to L.A.'s Spike's Teriyaki Bowl (R.I.P).

While their product wasn't exactly of gourmet standards, for a starving student they sure had a mean Teriyaki Burger. The Spike Burger was huge, had no grilled pineapple but sliced Avocados.. and was smothered in sauce. Mmmm, think Dragon Sushi Roll. Whether the founder of Spike's - Bob Takeuchi came up with this concept or not, I consider him a genius for knowing what is good.

After experimenting with some local eateries I'm glad to know that if I ever craved the good days Spike Burger, I can have one re-created in my own backyard burger joint Tioli's. And since the quality is of sit down, it is better than the original.

There's nothing to it really. You basically order Tioli's Aloha Burger ($6.49) and opt Avocados (+$1) instead of Pineapple.

Tioli's Crazee Burger, 4201 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104

So what's so hard?
Well, another neighborhood burger place, Western Steakburger, also has a Teriyaki option on their menu that is killer grilled but unfortunately did not have a lot of Teriyaki flavor.

While it was a good juicy burger, it wasn't a great Teriyaki Burger, and therefore will not make a good starting point to transform into a Spike's.
I'll eventually have a post dedicated to Western Steakburger (as well as Tioli's). It's a neat place with a lot of charm and good burgers to be had if you're in the area. It seems to be a favored spot by local law enforcement as well. :)

Western Steakburger, 2730 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92104

So I was content with my Tioli's Spike re-creation until my recent visit to The Flame Broiler got me thinking about Teriyaki Burgers again.
I would happily spend $7 at Tioli's when I get another craving but I just maybe felt good Teriyaki Burgers should be something more easily accessible, like what Bob Takeuchi did with Spike's (not what Carl's Jr. does as a seasonal promo).

If you don't know, The Flame Broiler is a straight up Teriyaki Bowl place. They flame broil meat and serve it over a bed of rice. It doesn't seem to try connecting itself with any particular culture or ethnic food either. It is simply, The Flame Broiler. I don't go around preaching for the place but I just enjoy coming here time to time because it's quick, relatively inexpensive, and the food is decent.

My regular size Chicken Bowl ($5.75).

Tender chicken with some nice grill char. Although marinated you get a shot of Teriyaki sauce on the side. Chopped scallions are a must for me but you can have it without.

While they do not offer Teriyaki Burgers here my thought after my meal was why not? With the existing equipment invested and trained staff I'd imagine it wouldn't be too hard. They can even put what they already serve between buns and some crisp lettuce. A Short Ribs Burger? Yess.

Ok I admit, I'm the worst backseat Restaurant Conceptualizer..

The Flame Broiler, 8867 Villa La Jolla Dr # 606, La Jolla, CA 92037

Why not just make my own? Well I can't honestly remember the last time I cooked up any kind of burger at home. For a friend's BBQ maybe. But while browsing through Marukai Market last week, I came across something that really sparked an interest..

Are these the smooth-textured blended Aibiki Patties that I've strangely sought after recently??
Any form of deprivation does weird things to a person I guess, and I've really been missing generic Japanese-style hamburgers. These are a different Burger Category on their own. The ones my old pop would make fun of where 100% beef was always considered the best. After reading the ingredients it doesn't seem to be a Pork/Beef Aibiki but a flavorful Asian inspired blend that I'm willing to try. Vicmont, DomDom, Lotteria, First Kitchen, the original MOS Teriyaki Burger.. I need to go find suitable spongy buns and creamy mayo!

Marukai Market, 8151 Balboa Ave, San Diego, CA 92111

Another burger re-creation project has been born. I should really say "reborn" because it's not my first time trying to re-create a MOS Burger with local ingredients. My first attempt failed miserably but I think I now have a few more ideas.

To be continued..

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Street Food Vendors Making Flat Round Things..

..Around The World!

I really love watching people with great technique cook. Street vendors are just the best. So efficient and usually with some pizazz which doesn't hurt for business.

Here are a few samplings I've found. Always too many more to list!

China: JianBing Breakfast Crepe
There are many but this couple had just amazing teamwork!

Another must see Giant Simple Crepe being made. Can I get Nutella on that?

Thailand: Koh Tao pancakes
Great technique, and I think he's sitting on his scooter!

And another.. He's certainly up there with anyone at Benihana.

India: Masala Dosa
Mmm, a visit to Surati Farsan soon will be inevitable..

France: French Crepe (Bananas and Chocolate)
I've found almost every clip having highly annoying chicks in them. This was the least annoying.

Mexico: Tacos
Well they start out as tortillas.. and I just had to include tacos.

Here's another and although not a street vendor, handmade tortillas somewhere in Mexico.

Japan: Okonomiyaki
A good time-lapse of how a mile high mound of shredded cabbage eventually condenses into okonomiyaki goodness.

And not flat but here's one on Takoyaki for my not so fond memory of a summer job in Junior High.. Actually I take that back. It was good times.

My friend is right. YouTube isn't only about videos of kids being kicked in the groin for sure! They're also great for the food curious.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Dinner Shapes

My dinner at Izakaya Masa tonight had a strange elemental shapes theme..

Jumbo Ebi Shumai ($5.95)

Steamed cylindroids packed with shrimp.

Takoyaki ($4.95)..

Perfect octopus filled spheres.

Ok maybe I'm stretching this concept a little but there were cubed Tofu in this Miso Soup ($1.80)..

Fun pub grub. Can't we all use a neighborhood izakaya?

And now I must go work on my shapely figure.. *ding ding*

Izakaya Masa, 928 Fort Stockton Dr, San Diego, CA 92103

I Can't Believe It's Not Post-it..

Maybe I also like to think my blog as the comics section of a Sunday paper. Comics are like visual Bento Boxes.

I credit my friend R.K. for finding this for your enjoyment..

I just love the Post-it butter scene!

And do check out their other works. I didn't know candy corn and pretzel sticks can be so versatile..

Monday, July 7, 2008

A Taste Of China, San Clemente

San Clemente is my usual pit stop for drives up to L.A.
Caffeine to be had, gas tanks to be filled, and sometimes a quick bite. I've passed by this place many times, chuckling every time. Do you blame me? Very curious, I finally made it to check it out.

Having a Hot Dog Bun filled with Chow Mein isn't exactly a strange concept (yakisoba pan) for this junk food lover. And the possibility that a spirited entrepreneur had come up with some fun tasty grub for the San Clemente beach goers was pretty darn exciting. Taco Rice? Puka Dog? Spam Musubi? What awaits next?..

As you walk in you are greeted with this mustard-wave surfing Hot Dog.

Very awesome.

But the counter and menu seemed rather normal Chinese take-out.

Hmm. So I naturally asked about the Hot Dogs..
The nice and gentle lady smiled with an apologetic head shake and simply said ""
Me: Really??
"Sorry, we only have Chinese food.."
Me: Really??

I was pretty bummed to say the least. I reluctantly ordered a one-item-combo. BBQ Chicken, half-and-half..

The food was actually pretty good. A good notch above P-Express for sure. I enjoyed the BBQ Chicken which had a nice unexpected curry rubbed flavor and both rice and noodles were fresh tasting. Definitely would be back if I were in the mood for Chinese take-out and in the area again.

So no Hot Dogs eh..? They must get that like, a lot.

A little more Q&A and it turns out the current owners purchased the place 11~12 years ago when it was a Hot Dog business. They served both Chinese and American early on but the dogs and burgers didn't sell well and not long after they started to only serve Chinese food.

I still wished they retained something on the menu that was hot dog related. My Chow Fun was good but I was more in the mood for a Fun Chow.. ;)

Taste of China, 1101 S El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA, 92672