Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Baja Fish Taco's Salsa Bar - Santa Ana

To me, Baja Fish Tacos isn't about the fish tacos; it's all about that salsa bar, especially the pico de gallo, which is free for the taking for anyone who eats there. But the reason I ALWAYS spring a few bucks for the chips is that they provide an extra big bowl for the salsa so that I don't have to make multiple return trips.

Years ago, in leaner times, I would go to Baja Fish Tacos, buy a bowl of their rice and beans and then go loco at the salsa bar. I'd pile the pico de gallo so high, what I end up with looked like a monument made of chopped tomatoes. But I can tell you now, that lunch was as satisfying as anything with meat and cheese. Who needs carne asada when all the flavor and freshness comes from the salsa anyway?

Even now, after I finish a meal there, I always bring a little bit of extra pico de gallo home to make the next morning's eggs extra delicioso!

Baja Fish Tacos
3664 South Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704

Nishi Poke & Ramen - Buena Park

Friday, May 10, 2019

12 Years At OC Weekly!

Today marks 12 years since I became the food critic at OC Weekly.

But did you know that along with writing weekly reviews of restaurants, I also drew cartoons when a special issue calls for it?

Here's all four I did for OC Weekly from 2013-2016.


I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow Weeklings, especially Cynthia Rebolledo, Lisa Black, Nick Schou, and Mercedes Del Real for everything. Also a big "thank you" and "I love you!" to my life partner, dining companion, and wife, cookiemonster, for her support and encouragement.

Last but not least, I'd like to thank you all who are still reading this blog and my OC Weekly reviews for sticking with me all these years!

Clyde's Hot Chicken

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Ted's Bakery - Oahu, Hawaii

I like pies more than cake, and the pie that I like best is chocolate haupia. So while I was on Oahu, I knew I would have to go in search of a slice. After some online research, I found more than a few bakeries on the island that make it. But according to many sources I read, the one I wanted is Ted’s.

As luck would have it, I didn’t have to go far. I stumbled upon the brand in the bakery section while shopping at Foodland. And when I took my slice back to the hotel and ate it, I realized Ted’s makes the chocolate haupia of my dreams.

Existing in stratas of salty pie crust, not-too-sweet chocolate mousse, creamy coconut pudding, and fluffy whipped cream topping, this is a perfectly constructed pie. Every layer correctly proportioned and complementing the next.

Ted's Bakery
59-024 Kamehameha Hwy
Haleiwa, HI 96712
(808) 638-8207

CdM - Corona del Mar

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Chun Wah Kam - Oahu, Hawaii

Ask a local where to get the best manapua on Oahu and they’ll likely tell you to go to Libby’s. But this chain called Chun Wah Kam seems to be the most accessible from wherever you happen to be on Oahu.

And the manapua it steams is fluffy, sweet, and filled with some things you’d expect to be in a steamed bun, like red bean; and some things you never thought could be, like curry.

The most popular is the char siu, which is chopped to hash, food-colored to a rosy shade of pink, and tastes like pork candy. Eating one is a good snack. Eating two counts as a meal. And if you’re planning for a day at the beach, I would argue there is no better picnic food in Hawaii.

Chun Wah Kam
885 Kamokila Blvd
Kapolei, HI 96707
(808) 693-8838

Qin West Noodle - Irvine

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

McDonald's - Oahu, Hawaii

On the mainland, I am averse to McDonald’s. But when I’m in Hawaii, McDonald’s is a required stop. It’s as important to me as the beach because of two reasons: the Local Breakfast Platter and the fried haupia pie.

The local breakfast is something you can only enjoy at the McDonald’s here in the Aloha State. It consists of steamed rice, an omelet, and your choice of Hawaiian breakfast meat: either Spam or Portuguese sausage.

On Oahu, a platter of this breakfast with one meat costs about $6, or you can have both for a dollar more. And now because of the company’s All-Day Breakfast push, the Local Breakfast can be had for lunch or dinner.

The all-day availability, as I discovered on this trip, seemed to have only improved the quality. My platter tasted like everything was cooked to order. The Spam had that just-from-the-griddle crust, the Portuguese sausage was juicy, and the egg was creamy. All of it, of course, was perfect with rice, which I promptly seasoned with a packet of Aloha, a locally-produced soy sauce.

This brings me to the haupia pie, which is so good and unique to Hawaii’s McDonald’s that I always buy a bunch to bring on the flight home. It is simply a marvel of the old-school McDonald’s fried pie crust filled with the light, clean-tasting Hawaiian coconut pudding oozing from the inside.

4600 Kapolei Pkwy
Kapolei, HI 96707
(808) 674-4010

La Super Birria - Santa Ana

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Zippy's - Oahu, Hawaii

I wish Zippy’s existed in my neighborhood on the mainland. I found multiple locations of this Hawaiian fast food chain in Oahu and it is the kind of eatery I would frequent everyday if I was given the chance.

The food is reasonably priced. A small bowl of saimin with real Chinese BBQ pork and chewy noodles ticks at under $3. And a so-called “Zip Pac” meal is about $11 and contains the following proteins in a sort of nod to all the cultures that have come to define modern Hawaiian cuisine:

- Fish katsu
- Korean BBQ beef
- Fried chicken
- And a slice of Spam.

It’s all served on furikake-showered bed of rice, which is, come to think of it, also how I wish all bowls of rice are served on the mainland.

806 Kamehameha Hwy
Pearl City, HI 96782

Il Palco - Buena Park

Monday, March 25, 2019

Molokai Burger - Molokai, Hawaii

Compared to the overwhelming variety of food options in Oahu, the choices you have when visiting Molokai are extremely limited. This, however, doesn’t mean there aren’t great places to eat.

One is Molokai Burger, found in the middle of Kaunakakai, the island’s main town.

They make a decent burger of the smashed variety, served in a dining room that looks suspiciously copied from In-N-Out.

But the real attraction is the fried chicken plate lunch, where you get two gigantic pieces of hen—one drumstick and a meaty breast—paired with a scoop of rice and mac salad, all for about $9.

The chicken skin is rendered perfectly to a crispy fleck; the meat is juicy and seasoned; and you’ll end up spending less here than at the other 12 eating establishments on the island.

Molokai Burger
20 Kamehameha V Hwy
Kaunakakai, HI 96748
(808) 553-3533

Utopia Euro Caffe - Tustin

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Poke at Foodland - Oahu, Hawaii

I’ve been to the Hawaiian islands a total of 11 times now, and from those trips I’ve learned that when you want poke, you don’t buy it at a restaurant or the resort. You need to go to a supermarket. And if you can find a Foodland, all the better.

There’s a Foodland in virtually all the islands I’ve visited (at this point, I’ve been to each of the inhabited ones except Niihau), and without exception, each bowl of poke I’ve had there is not just exemplary, but also cheap.

$6.99 gets you a poke bowl brimming with pre-marinated cubes of ahi (not the build-your-own stuff you see on the mainland) in at least a half dozen different flavors. That price would be a good deal for mediocre poke, but it’s a complete steal when you consider how fresh and vibrant Foodland’s always is.

4850 Kapolei Pkwy
Kapolei, HI 96707

Steel Pan Pizza - Santa Ana

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Matsumoto Shave Ice - Oahu, Hawaii

Matsumoto Shave Ice has changed somewhat since the last time I had it. It’s now been remodeled and doesn’t look like the relic that it once was.

But what’s important has stayed the same: the shave ice itself. A solid block of ice is turned into white fluff by a whirling metal contraption. Then a soup ladle molds the snowy substance into spheres before being doused with three syrup flavors of your choice.

I opted for the “Tropical” which is a set combo of lilikoi, guava, and coconut. And of course, just like a decade ago when I was here, I also asked for ice cream and azuki beans to be added as a base, because the more things change, the more I like it to stay the same.

Matsumoto Shave Ice
66-087 Kamehameha Hwy
Haleiwa, HI 96712

Woodfire Kabob - Laguna Hills

Friday, March 22, 2019

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck - Oahu, Hawaii

I don’t know why Giovanni’s, arguably the most famous shrimp truck found on the North Shore of Oahu, gets all the attention when there are so many other shrimp trucks on the island. But we couldn’t not get in the long line at this makeshift outdoor food court made up of at least three other food trucks.

And the shrimp scampi here is undeniably good if not something I can conceivably make at home with some fresh shrimp, olive oil, minced garlic, and lemon. Let’s face it: all there really is to this dish is just those things. But I know that when I do attempt to recreate it in my own kitchen, it won’t taste the same. It will be missing an essential component: the experience of eating it in Oahu’s North Shore and then bragging on social media to say that I did.

Giovanni's Shrimp Truck
66-472 Kamehameha Hwy
Haleiwa, HI 96712

Heirloom, a Modern Farmhouse - Huntington Beach