Tuesday, March 21, 2017

13 Things You Should Know About Banh Mi Che Cali's Sandwiches

I've written about Banh Mi Che Cali since this blog began. After all these years, it is still my favorite banh mi purveyor. So rather than rehashing what I think of the sandwich or reemphasizing that it's possibly the greatest food deal in Orange County, here are 13 things you should know about Banh Mi Che Cali's banh mis if you haven't been before.

1. The banh mis at Banh Mi Che Cali are constructed from two kinds of loaves: a hoagie-shaped French bread and a slender baguette.

2. Other than the size and shape, both breads are born from the same mother dough.

3. As of this writing, when bought individually, all sandwiches, regardless of bread type, are $3.25 each, tax included.

4. The best deal is the "Buy-2-Get-1-Free" offer on the "French Bread" banh mis, which effectively means $6.50 for three sandwiches (or $2.16 per sandwich).

5. The offer does not apply to the baguette banh mis, which are $3.25 each no matter how many you buy.

6. Cash is the only form of payment accepted.

7. This particular Banh Mi Che Cali bakes their bread in-house, and smells great because of it.

8. The building, as evidenced by the arched windows, was once an old-school Taco Bell.

9. There are multiple outlets of Banh Mi Che Cali, but this one is the only one that's open 24 hours.

10. There are 12 kinds of filling, as shown below, but also a Teriyaki beef and a Vietnamese ham with egg baguette, both of which cost a little more than the original 12.

11. When you go up to the cashier to order, she (and it's always a she) will ask whether you want your veggies "inside" or "outside". "Inside" means you want the lightly pickled carrot and daikon, jalapeños, and cilantro tucked into the sandwich during assembly. "Outside" means it will be set aside for you in a plastic baggie.

12. If you reheat your sandwich in a toaster oven (even a day-old one), it will bring back the crunch on the crust.

13. Some sandwiches contain a smear of an excellent homemade chicken liver pate and mayo, both which you can choose to leave out. But why would you?!

Banh Mi Che Cali
15551 Brookhurst St.
Westminster, CA 92683
(714) 839-8185

Mr. G's Bistro - Newport Beach

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Brunos Italian Kitchen - Brea

If you're reading this and it's not yet March 11, you should know that right now--yes, RIGHT NOW--a near majority of our county's fine dining establishments are offering discounts via specially priced prix-fixe meals for OC Restaurant Week.

This review is about one of them: Brunos Italian Kitchen in Brea, which I can say unequivocally, is one of the better deals.

I picked it out of the bunch and, as I do every year, did the math. I took the most expensive items on the prix fixe list, found out what they cost on the regular menu, added up the total and compared it to the OC Restaurant Week price. This year I even made a spreadsheet to compare it to other restaurants' specials.

I found that Brunos' offering not only fulfilled my criteria that the savings must exceed 30%, but also, it didn't just include a wedge salad or a cup of lobster bisque as the first course.

These were quality appetizers.

There was a hot-from-the-fryer fritto misto with delicately battered shrimp, perfectly cooked squid, green beans and deep-fried lemons. It was a full-sized portion, too, served with a perky fresh herb and lemon aioli.

Also offered: an olive-oil poached tuna plated with sugary fire-roasted peppers, crunchy green beans, olives and boiled potatoes dressed in a preserved lemon vinaigrette. Each of these two apps are normally $14 each.

The main course we chose--a seafood linguini and the Duroc pork Porterhouse--would've been $22 each at regular price. And they are certainly already worth that.

The linguini swam in a light tomato-and-herb broth that reminded me of cioppino and contained trawler's worth of shellfish.

The pork Porterhouse was as thick as the last Harry Potter book, good and juicy if a little chewy, but served with a creamy polenta and whole roasted carrots that could not have tasted more comforting.

Dessert would normally retail at $7.50 and included a wedge of lemon-and-olive-oil cake, draped in fresh zabaglione, berries and crumbled amaretti cookies.

Best of all was the budino al caramello, a cocktail glass filled with layers of caramel pudding and rich chocolate ganache that's topped with whipped cream and nuts.

To paraphrase Orwell, not all OC Restaurant Week deals are created equal, but some are more equal than others...so make like an entitled pig and go to Brunos before the deal ends!

Brunos Italian Kitchen
210 W Birch St.
Brea, CA 92821
Phone: (714) 257-1000

Halves Boiling Pot + Grill - Foothill Ranch

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Breakfast at Norms - Costa Mesa

I don't think anyone who goes to breakfast at Norms is doing it apprehensively. No one's thinking, "I wonder if I'm going to like what I ordered."

Old people. Kids. Asians. Latinos. Whites. No matter who it is, they're there because they know what they want and are going to get: Eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, and a stack of pancakes to drowned in syrup.

There are no surprises at Norms. What you see in on the picture menu is exactly what comes out of the kitchen. The hash browns are crisp and so is the bacon. The pancakes are as fluffy as cotton. And the steak in the sirloin steak and eggs is actually flavorful, not to mention reasonable at $8.99. This is morning coffee shop fare at its best and most consistent.

The servers are awful nice, too. They greet the regulars by name--"Hey, good morning, Stan! See you next week, Doug!"--and as efficient as they are acrobatic at carrying multiple plates of food on their arms.

No, there are no surprises at Norms. It's one of life's constants. What happens with the rest of your day after you leave is, however, still a crap shoot.

2150 Harbor Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
(949) 631-0505

Puesto - Irvine

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Landini's Pizzeria - San Diego

When it comes to pizza, I've decided I like it good and thin. Chicago-style? It's fine if you want a cheese casserole disguised as pizza. But for me, a good pizza is one that hews close to the Neapolitan original. And a great pizza? Well, it's gotta be a New York-style slice.

A New York pizza, in my opinion, possesses the perfect balance of the thin, hand-formed dough of a Neapolitan, but also the uniform amount of cheese and sauce that I fully recognize as the American contribution to the pizza arts.

While I've not made the pilgrimage to the New York pizza temples in actual New York to eat an actual New York pizza, some of the best pizza I've had in my life has been in this style. The two at the top of my list are APizza Scholls in Portland, Oregon and Home Slice in Austin, Texas--cities where I would not have expected to find great pizza.

So far, in Southern California, the closest to the ideal I've found is a pizza parlor called Landini's in San Diego's Little Italy.

We decided to try it out one day simply because we were down there, craving pizza, and happened to have a San Diego Restaurant Gift Card we got last Christmas burning in our pocket. Landini's happened to accept the card.

So we ordered a whole pepperoni pie, made-to-order for about $20. Having it made-to-order--I have to tell you--is the best way to eat this pie. It came out fuming from of the oven, served on the warped aluminum pan I assume it was baked on. And when we took our first bite, the molten cheese and hot pepperoni grease burned the roof of our mouths. But it also put us into a pleasure-induced trance.

Here was the optimal ratio of tart sauce, creamy cheese, and crust that was neither too thick nor too thin. It was uniform all the way to the edge. If I had only one complaint about this pie, it's that the dough might have been slightly overworked. Jaw fatigue set in after I finished my second larger-than-my-face slice. But then, maybe it's good that it did, because I would've eaten two more slices, which would've meant eating half the pizza.

Native San Diegans might want to tell me right about now that I may have missed out on Little Italy's other pizza temple: Filipi's, which is located directly across the parking lot from Landini's. To that I say that Filipi's did not accept my San Diego Restaurant Gift Card.

And you know what's better than a great New York pizza? Not having to pay for one!

Landini's Pizzeria
1827 India St.
San Diego, CA 92101
(619) 238-3502

Eight Korean BBQ - Buena Park

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Monster Munching now on Instagram!

Cafe Hiro's Valentine's Day 5-course prix-fixe. $49 per person. Worth every penny. #cafehiro #food

A post shared by MonsterMunching (@monstermunching_oc) on

My dear readers: Monster Munching is now on Instagram.

(Well, actually, it’s just me. Who are we kidding. This blog has always been just me.)

And the minute I signed up for IG (I'm told that’s what the hip kids call it), I realized that nearly all the food bloggers I know such as Chubbypanda, Brekkie Fan, Dylan & Jeni, Eddie Lin, and Daily Gluttony have been there for what looks like years.

So I’m late to the party, again. So late, in fact, that it seems everyone’s already drank the punch and told all the good jokes.

But in case you still want to find me as I stand alone awkwardly in my little corner of the room, here it is:


Seasons Kitchen - Anaheim

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

When is the best time to go to Cafe Hiro?

There's never a bad time to go to Cafe Hiro. If I could, I'd eat there daily.

But if there's an absolute best time to come, it's when Chef Hiro Ohiwa offers his special prix-fixe dinners. To my knowledge, he does it only twice a year: Christmas Eve and Valentine's Day. And ever since I found out about these dinners nearly ten years ago, I don't think I've missed one.

In my opinion, it isn't just a great way to spend Christmas Eve or woo a date on Valentine's; it's also the best way to experience Ohiwa's cooking in all its creative glory...not to mention that it's a great deal when you do the math, especially when you consider he's using ingredients such as scallops and sushi-grade ahi.

What follows are the pictures of the 5-course, $49 per person prix-fixe I ate two months ago on Christmas Eve, which I only post now because the Valentine's prix-fixe is less than a week away.

As you look over these pics, know that though Ohiwa is, once again, going to be doing a 5-course prix-fixe for the same price for Valentine's, it's likely that you'll see an entirely different array of dishes than what you see here.

What will it be? Will it be like this or like last year's Valentine's prix-fixe? I can't wait to find out!

Cafe Hiro
(714) 527-6090
10509 Valley View St
Cypress, CA 90630

Bluegold - Huntington Beach

Friday, February 03, 2017

Summer Roll at Brodard - Garden Grove

Going to Brodard without ordering one of their signature nem nướng cuốns is like going to Disneyland and not riding Pirates of the Caribbean. This signature item, which I've described before as "a spring roll to end all spring rolls" is an inextricable part of Brodard's DNA as the pirate ride is to the Magic Kingdom--it will never, ever go away.

So you can bet that even as Brodard is set to close its original restaurant to move to better digs in Fountain Valley later this year, the nem nướng cuốn and its secret sauce will go with it.

But this post is about the other Brodard roll that I love almost as much as the nem nướng cuốn. It's called bò bía and contains sauteed carrots and jicama, lettuce, fresh basil, peanuts and roasted shallots. The English translation is "summer roll", because, well, "spring roll" was taken and "fall roll" sounds like something you do when your clothes catch on fire.

The most defining thing about Brodard's summer roll, though, is the dried shrimp, sweet Chinese pork sausage and shreds of omelette, which I would argue make it the closest thing you can get to a breakfast burrito in Little Saigon.

I eat mine with a dip--no, make that multiple dips--in the plum sauce and in between bites of Thai chili peppers.

And since an entire serving has a tendency to disappear before my eyes like an apparition, you could say that the bò bía is like the Haunted Mansion to the nem nướng cuốn's Pirates--but that would be carrying the Disneyland analogy a bit too far.

Mall of Fortune
9892 Westminster Avenue R
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 530-1744

Salerno's - Laguna Beach

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Champurrado at Cancun Juice - Santa Ana

It’s been so long that I’ve had champurrado, I’d forgotten how good it is, especially when the weather is as cold and wet as it has been.

So what is a champurrado, you ask? If you looked it up on Wikipedia, it’s a “traditional corn- or masa-based beverage of Mesoamerican origin”.

Not to be reductive, but to me, champurrado is what happens when a mug of hot cocoa gets it on with a warm bowl of oatmeal.

It’s a meal that you drink (or is it a drink that’s also a meal?) and it's the only thing you need in the morning.

Cancun Juice’s rendition is pretty wonderful--the real breakfast of champions, which actually has the word "champ" already in it.

Cancun Juice
2302 S Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704

Mighty Kitchen - Los Alamitos

Monday, January 16, 2017

Hanna's - Rancho Santa Margarita

This was one of the last meals we ate in the waning days of December, before the New Year dawned.

Why? Well, because sometimes all you need in life is a big, bloody top sirloin (Wagyu, no less), a mess of crispy fries served in a cone, and one of the best, most understated beef Stroganovs in OC.

We consumed it all with reckless abandon under an oversized American flag and as out butts sank slowly into a soft leather booth.

And for dessert, since we were already a few thousand calories into it, we capped off the night with a hunk of dense butter cake, which was basically an oversized Danish butter cookie topped with ice cream.

It was a good introduction to Hanna's, arguably the best steakhouse in Rancho Santa Margarita, if not South County. Our good friends who live in the area have raved about it for years. They finally took us as a last hurrah to 2016.

So I thank them, but I should mention that this meal was one of the reasons I started using the treadmill again.

22195 El Paseo #110
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688
(949) 709-2300

Mix Mix - Santa Ana

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Frozen Banana at Sugar 'n Spice - Newport Beach

"There's always money in the banana stand."

If you know where that quote is from and what it's referencing, then congrats, you're a real Orange Countian!

It's from Arrested Development, one of the best TV shows ever produced about OC, and what it's referring to is a peculiar speciality of Balboa Island: the frozen banana.

There are two places within feet of each other on Balboa Island that sell frozen bananas, both claiming to be the "original". The real story is a bit more complicated. But on this particular Sunday, Sugar n' Spice had the longer line.

The recipe for a frozen banana is quite simple--take a skewered frozen banana, dip it in melted milk chocolate, then roll it in whatever topping your customer wants, be it crushed Oreos, almonds, peanuts, chocolate sprinkles, Heath Pecan Crush, rainbow sprinkles, "Sweet 'n Salty" (crushed pretzel and chocolate sprinkles)...or what you see in the picture above: all of it in the "Everything".

Right now you might be asking: "So what distinguishes frozen bananas at Sugar n' Spice or Dad's Donuts from those you get at a theme park?"

The answer is that they're not rock hard; they melt in your mouth like actual ice cream. Also, they were part of the lore of Orange County way before Arrested Development made the world aware that Balboa Island was the place to get them.

Sugar 'n Spice
310 Marine Ave
Newport Beach, CA 92662
(949) 673-8907

Northgate González Market - Anaheim