Monday, December 21, 2020

Take-Out Review: Handel's Ice Cream - Lake Forest

I discovered something amazing at Handel’s Ice Cream in Lake Forest.

It’s not that this enormous tower is what they consider a “single”.

It’s not that the flavor I tried, called Monkey Business—banana ice cream with a caramel ripple and brownie pieces—was wonderful, like something out of a county fair. 

It’s not even that I got another cone just like this for free using their Buy-One-Get-One deal, which continues until the end of the year. 

No, the amazing thing I discovered about Handel’s Ice Cream is that with its freshly-made, soft-serve-like texture—scooped to order from bins in a storeroom dedicated to ice cream—it’s the closest I’ve gotten to Strickland’s, which I still sorely miss. 

Handel's Ice Cream
23615 El Toro Rd
Lake Forest, CA 92630

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Take-Out Review: Yummy Banh Bao - Westminster

Ah, steamed buns. Fluffy like pillows, sweetly fragrant of yeast, hiding fillings of savory meat or something sugary like red bean paste. 

I love the stuff--everything from the Chinese original, called bao, to Japan’s nikuman, to Korea’s wang mandoo, to The Philippines' siopao. They’re all wonderful, each one more comforting than mother’s milk, especially when they’re hot and fresh, and the weather is cold. 

Lately I’ve been eating a lot of the Vietnamese variant, called bánh bao. It’s primarily because Yummy Bánh Bao, a bánh bao specialist located in the heart of LIttle Saigon, makes it so darn easy and cheap to buy enough to last almost an entire week. 

$10 gets you a box of 9 bánh baos stuffed with a quartered half-boiled egg and piece of Chinese sausage embedded in a pork-and-chicken mousse. 

Yummy Bánh Bao offers six other fillings, but the one I just described is #1, literally and figuratively. There’s something about how the combination of hard boiled egg yolk, chewy sausage, and meat works together. 

Eating them fresh is ideal, but I’ve kept these buns under refrigeration for a few days without any loss in quality. They reheat well in the microwave when wrapped in a damp paper towel. 

But if you want to revive it to its optimum fluffiness, you should trot out your steamer basket and do it properly. All you need after that is a bottle of Sriracha at your side.

Yummy Banh Bao 
15041 Moran St #106
Westminster, CA 92683

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Take-Out Review: 4-Course Thanksgiving Dinner from Norms - Santa Ana

This year’s Thanksgiving dinner was from Norms. 

But so was last year’s, and the year before that. 

So other than getting it to-go, a slight increase in price, and a pandemic that’s curtailed all other plans and adversely affected all our lives, nothing’s changed.

102 17th St.
Santa Ana, CA 92706

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Check Out My Latest TimesOC/LA Times Story!

Read my latest story for TimesOC on how, what, and where I ate out these past eight months. 

Click the link below! 

TimesOC: How an OC food critic navigates takeout and drive-throughs during the pandemic

Monday, November 02, 2020

Take-Out Review: Kiko's Lechon Manok - Artesia

THUNK THUNK THUNK. It’s the sound of a cleaver chopping a big hunk of crispy pork belly into smaller hunks. I find comfort in its rhythm. It’s my idea of ASMR. Whenever I hear it, I know I’m in the kind of place where the thing to order is cha siu, siu yuk, or a mahogany-skinned duck hanging in the window. 

But this, my friends, is not a Chinese BBQ joint (there’s no duck or cha siu). It is a lechon manok specialist, the Filipino analog. But that same comforting chopping sound and the promise of a good meal is also here. 

The specialty of the house is a beautiful rotisserie chicken that gives Costco’s a run for its money. But the purpose of my visit to this walk-up window is the lechon kawale, deep-fried pork belly with luscious layers of meat and fat, and a noisy, crunchy skin that rattles my skull when I chew—CRACKLE CRACKLE CRACKLE. 

It’s an even better ASMR sound than that chopping cleaver. 

Kiko's Lechon Manok
18915 Norwalk Blvd.
Artesia, CA 90701

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