Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Take-Out Review: Discounted Bentos at Tokyo Central - Costa Mesa

If you stand near the boxed food display case at the Costa Mesa Tokyo Central at around 7 pm, you’ll inevitably hear someone say with disappointment “Oh no! There’s nothing left!” as they approach the dwindling supply. 

7 p.m. is the golden hour here. It’s when the supermarket marks down all remaining inventory of their bentos and sushi boxes with a 20% discount. But by then, you’d be lucky if there’s much to buy other than the sushi hand rolls. 

Most nights, what you see pictured—delicately cooked salmon steaks atop fried rice and served with an immaculately curated array of side dishes—have already disappeared. 

If you’re here for discounted karaage, or actual nigiri and sashimi, forget it. They never make it past the lunch rush. But it speaks to the quality of the food that customers snap them up even before the clearance sale starts. 

These days, I’ve learned that the woman who applies the 20% off stickers actually starts between 6:30 and 6:45 p.m., which is probably why most of the items are gone by 7 p.m. But even then, the pickings are slim. 

Still even if you find that the only things left are those sushi hand rolls, get them. They’re wonderful. 

My favorites are the California roll and the salmon with Sriracha, both packed with flavor I associate with a proper trip to a sushi bar. The best part is that the nori is sealed from the rice so that it retains its crispiness right until you decide to unwrap it and eat.

Tokyo Central
2975 Harbor Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Take-Out Review: Taco Tuesday at Ponchos Tacos - Santa Ana

When the weekends feel like weekdays and the weekdays feel like weekends, Taco Tuesday has become a welcome diversion from the Möbius strip monotony of our pandemic lives. 

For me, the sheer act of driving to get the tacos from this truck in Santa Ana on Tuesdays has become a highlight of my week. 

Perhaps it's because the experience would've been no different pre-Covid. Or maybe it's because of the promise of a discount, even if it's a measly 25-cents per taco. (The asada, chicken, al pastor, lengua, and chorizo tacos are normally $1.50 on any other day.) 

Or maybe it's because I just need an excuse to get out of the house. 

So I raise my dripping pineapple al pastor--which I swear almost tastes like Chinese char siu--to you, the genius who saw the alliteration in the words "Taco" and "Tuesday" and used it market meat wrapped in a tortilla. 

Send me your favorite Taco Tuesday deals or what other diversions you found during these quaran-times! 

Poncho's Tacos
271 N Bush Street
Santa Ana CA, 92701

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Take-Out Review: Dim Sum at Lucky 1 Restaurant - Rosemead

What restaurant experiences do you miss most during these quaran-times? 

 I have many, but on top of the list are Korean BBQ and dim sum. More than the food, I miss the communal aspects of both. 

Whether it’s plucking a perfectly grilled piece of meat from a smoky grate, or pondering what steamed dumplings to take off the cart next, there’s nothing like sharing Korean BBQ or dim sum with those you love and cherish. 

But while the full KBBQ restaurant experience has been mostly out of reach these past few months, I’ve still been consuming a lot of takeout hargow and shumai. Unlike KBBQ, dim sum is eminently portable. 

And right now, my go-to to-go dim sum joint is Lucky 1 Restaurant in Rosemead. 

Pre-Covid, this modest restaurant had a small dining room. Now it’s blocked off and used as storage space. But the restaurant’s original, no-frills way of offering its dim sum--a display counter filled with all manner of delicacies baked, fried, and steamed--still feed people like me who think that consuming this food (even alone in front of the TV) can bring back some normalcy during times that are decidedly abnormal. 

Lucky 1, as you can see by the pictures, is a hole-in-the-wall. It stands in stark contrast to the palatial dim sum banquet halls across town. But the har gow here is surprisingly delicate, the shumai is light and mousse-like, and the enormous baked BBQ pork bun counts as a light lunch onto itself. 

I’d even go so far as to say that the dim sum here is better (not to mention orders of magnitude cheaper) than those that I’ve had at the last proper sit-down dim sum house in the “before times”. And these days, I think getting the most out of your money is almost as important as staying healthy. 

Don’t you agree?

Lucky 1 Restaurant
7637 Garvey Ave
Rosemead, CA 91770

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Take-Out Review: Xiu Mai at Banh Mi Che Cali - Westminster

If all meatball subs had a per unit price of $2.83 (after the buy-2-get-1-free deal) and tasted like this xiu mai banh mi from Banh Mi Che Cali, I’d eat more meatball subs. 

Banh Mi Che Cali 
15551 Brookhurst St. 
Westminster, CA 92683

Friday, September 04, 2020

Take-Out Review: $1 Slice at Big Parm - Tustin

After learning to bake a pretty decent homemade pizza from scratch during the lockdown, I told my wife, “I don’t think we need to buy pizza ever again!” 

That, however, was before I discovered Big Parm at the Mess Hall Market offered $1 slices. 

For that remarkable price, you get a satisfying triangle of molten cheese, sauce and pepperoni that not only beats the Costco food court pizza on taste, but also on cost, which is really saying something. 

Also, when you consider that a crowded Costco is a pretty scary place right now, Big Parm at Mess Hall Market—a food hall that wasn’t very busy even before the pandemic—becomes a more attractive lunch option. 

And it has to be lunch because Big Parm is only open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Actually, it’s so slow in there that sometimes they don’t actually get to making the pizzas until about noon...or until someone shows up hungry with a buck. 

Big Parm 
1705 Flight Way #2
Tustin, CA 92782

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Take-Out Review: Stonefire Grill - Irvine

I’ve done a lot of take-out over the past couple of months. This chicken and ribs meal from Stonefire Grill is one of my favorites. It’s something I’ve ordered more than a few times for two reasons.

First reason: it’s good. The roast chicken is moist and tender, soaked in a tangy sort of vinaigrette packed with garlic; the BBQ ribs are textbook; and the breadsticks are addictive. I also love that the salad is teeming with roasted corn and cheese and other things that make it like a meal on its own.

But the second and perhaps most important reason: all of this retails for $20 right now, which is a great deal for something that can easily feed a family of four (even though the menu says it’s designed for two). And if I’m being honest, I’d much rather spend $20 on this than 4 footlongs at Subway, which if I’m really being honest, I’ve also done more than a few times too.

Stonefire Grill
3966 Barranca Pkwy
Irvine, CA 92606

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Take-Out Review: Tendon at Sushi Damu - Tustin

Do you miss gorging on all the deep-fried foods at the OC Fair? The tendon, or tempura rice bowl, at Sushi Damu is your ticket to reliving that indulgence.

It is a decadent bowl of oily, crispy goodness that lodges itself in your gut and your heart—a dish that simultaneously reminds you of those tangled battered zucchini curls and onion rings at Chicken Charlie, but also makes you feel better about consuming it since this deep-fried feast at least comes on a bed of rice to counteract all the grease.

You can even try to kid yourself that you’re eating your vegetables. The bowl is packed with two pieces each of onion, broccoli, carrot, green beans, and sweet potato, except that, you know, they’re all covered in batter and plunged in hot oil until everything is uniformly golden brown and crispy.

Eating this bowl, however, is going to make you realize that you’re only paying a fraction of what you would have been charged for a similar pile of junky fried food at the fair, had it not been cancelled.

In fact, right now, since it’s half price for take-out, this bowl is one of OC’s best bargains, especially when you consider that it also includes two shrimp and a whole soft shell crab, which also get the deep-fried treatment.

And if you’re still missing the queasy feeling you get at the end of the night after being tossed around in a creaky carnival ride, just turn on the news.

Sushi Damu
13962 Newport Ave D
Tustin, CA 92780

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Take-Out Review: Zankou Chicken's Kabob Combo Plate

I’d eat Zankou’s kabob combo plate every day if I could. It’s a meal I’m always in the mood for; a meal that doesn’t make me feel like crap after I eat it.

In this Styrofoam box is everything I need and nothing I don’t. There’s karmic balance in its components. Every texture, taste, and temperature complement each other so that not one thing dominates. Because of this, there’s no chance of flavor fatigue.

And when Zankou’s chefs season or marinate, the seasoning or marinade doesn’t overwhelm the essence of the main ingredient.

What I get, then, is shish taouk that tastes like the very best BBQ’d chicken can be, every morsel juicy and rimmed with charred crispy edges.

The chicken, in turn, elevates the rice, which is as fluffy as it is moist, especially when I smoosh the roasted tomato into it, releasing a torrent of juice that almost turns it into an entirely new dish.

Together with the sides--the raw crunch of the cucumber salad that plays against the silken base-notes of the hummus--and the condiments that include the high-octave zing of Zankou’s famous toum, the free-if-you-ask-for-it radish pickles, and sumac-dusted sliced onions, everything exists in perfect harmony--utopia on a plate.

Zankou Chicken
2424 W Ball Rd
Anaheim, CA 92804

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Take-Out Review: Thai Nakorn

What does Thai Nakorn do to its food to make it so good? Is it some secret technique? A well-seasoned wok? A particular seasoning? Incantations sung during a full moon?

Whatever it is, there must be a reason why every Thai dish I try to make at home can never taste as good as theirs.

The pad see ew recipe I stir-fried after researching just the right kind of soy sauces to use? It lacked their flavor.

The nam sod I carefully assembled with what I thought were the same exact ingredients? It was missing their je ne sais quoi.

On the latter, I actually did a side-by-side taste test of their nam sod with the one I made from scratch (see my version in the second picture). Their nam sod still won by a wide margin, even though it was from two-day-old leftovers and cold.

This is why I hope Thai Nakorn survives these trying times and why I continue to support it by getting my Thai food take-out there. If they go away, those secrets go with it.

Thai Nakorn
12532 W Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Take-Out Review: Hoedoepbap at Misoya - Garden Grove

Psst...You like poke? Chirashi? Bibimbap? If so, you’re going to love hoedoepbap. It’s as if all three entered a teleportation machine, got merged molecularly and came out the other side looking like Jeff Goldblum.

No, not Jeff Goldblum in The Fly; Jeff Goldblum in Thor Ragnarok—a hyper-colorized and heightened version of Jeff Goldblum who eats up every scene he’s in.

He’s what I liken hoedoepbap to. It is rainbow-hued, charming, and you love it because it’s more fun than anything else in the room.

Think of a poke bowl but spicier, sweeter and more garlicky. Picture chirashi but with crunchy vegetables. Imagine the Korean sesame-oil scented aroma of a bibimbap, but with chilled pieces of raw fish instead of beef.

Hoedoepbap is all these things together, and at Misoya in Garden Grove, it is on special right now for $7.99, which, I don’t have to tell you, is cheaper than most chirashis, pokes, and bibimbaps.

And the take-out price includes a miso soup, as if this Jeff Goldblum of dishes even needed a sidekick.

8893 W Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92844