Category Archives: Frugal Finds

The Salt Lick: Hill Country’s Best BBQ

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With this being my last year as a student, and by extension my last spring break EVER, I decided to go big–Texas style.  I spent one glorious week in Austin, enjoying the warm weather and exploring the city’s incredible food scene.  Of course, no trip to Austin would be complete without sampling the Lone Star State’s most famous dish: BBQ.  I stopped at The Salt Lick and Franklin Barbecue, two of Austin’s most famous BBQ joints, and am happy to report that both lived up to, and went far beyond, my wildest BBQ dreams.

The Salt Lick, located about 45 minutes outside of Austin in Driftwood, TX, is a Hill Country institution.  For over 45 years, The Salt Lick has been serving its signature BBQ, cooked over a legendary open pit.  The meat smokes for hours atop a low fire of oak wood and pecan shells.  The mouthwatering aroma hits you about a mile away, as you drive up the highway and arrive at The Salt Lick’s idyllic grounds.

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My friends and I went to Salt Lick on a Saturday afternoon, and had to wait for an hour (which turned out to be nothing compared to Franklin–more on that below).  By the end of the hour though, we almost didn’t want the wait to end!  It was absolutely beautiful weather that day, perfect for walking around the expansive grounds or listening to the awesome live band playing outside.  The Salt Lick certainly knows how to keep guests entertained and play up its Texas charm.

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After the hour lapsed, we were promptly seated in one of the many dining rooms.  I appreciated that the hostess did not force us to share a communal table with strangers, instead giving our small group of 3 a huge table all to ourselves.  Our waiter, Matt, was also awesome, accommodating our many photo requests and menu questions.

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We ordered an all-you-can-eat family style meal ($19.95 per person) and a double beef ribs plate ($19.95).  The family style meal came with unlimited brisket, sausage, pork ribs, potato salad, coleslaw, beans, bread, and housemade pickles.  I can wholeheartedly say that I loved everything on my plate.  The brisket was fall-apart tender, with just the right amount of fat that instantly melted in my mouth.  While I am not a big sausage fan, I could not stop eating Salt Lick’s; it was spicy and smokey, with a nice bite to it.  And everything was doused in Salt Lick’s famous BBQ sauce, made with a secret recipe rumored to have 32 ingredients.  I literally could drink the sauce–it was sweet and mustardy, without being pungent or sour.

Surprisingly, another favorite was the sides. The coleslaw had a clear Japanese influence, perhaps from the owners’ mother, who was Japanese-American from Hawaii.  Flecked with sesame seeds, the coleslaw had a mild rice vinegar flavor and had just the right acidity to counterbalance the meat.  I also could not stop eating the bread, which was not your traditional white sandwich bread.  This bread was fluffy, light, and slightly sweet, almost like Hawaiian bread.

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The beef ribs were almost comical in how large they were!  The meat was very rich, and intensely beefy.  I could only eat one bite, but that bite was magical.

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For good measure, we decided to order the BBQ chicken ($10.95), which is only available “when in season.”  It turned out to be a good decision, because that was possibly the best BBQ chicken I’ve ever had.  The smoke completely penetrated the chicken, leaving the meat moist and flavorful.  The skin was completely coated in that luscious sauce, some of which caramelized over the grill.

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As if we weren’t full enough after our BBQ feast, our awesome waiter Matt brought over a complementary peach and blackberry cobbler for us to try.  Topped with vanilla ice cream, the cobbler was comforting and tasted like it had been made with love.  I especially loved the topping, which was more cake-like and not the more traditional biscuit or crumble topping.

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And obviously, I couldn’t leave Salt Lick without trying a slice (read: a SLICE, not a whole pie) of pecan pie ($4.95).  In contrast to other pecan pies I’ve had, Salt Lick (or maybe Texas in general?) tops their pecan pies with a layer of whole pecans, rather than mixing pieces of pecans with the filling.  The pie was delicious, with the thick crust offsetting the sweetness of the filling perfectly.

The Salt Lick was overall, the best BBQ experience I’ve ever had.  Every detail, from the rustic setting to the gracious service to the stick-to-your-ribs BBQ, added to our memorable experience.  The Salt Lick is certainly a tourist trap in every sense of the word, but it is a tourist trap well worth going to, and can’t be missed on any trip to Austin.  I would go back in a heartbeat.

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The Salt Lick
18300 FM 1826
Driftwood, TX 78619
(512) 858-4959
Open everyday 11am-10pm
Cash only and BYOB

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Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun Beats the Heat

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This weekend’s derecho wreaked havoc on DC, leaving thousands of people without power amidst a sweltering heat wave.  I am fortunately not one of those people, but am still melting in this oppressive heat.  While contemplating ways to beat the heat, I remembered an ice-cold bowl of naeng myun that I had at Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun in Los Angeles, the thought of which is instantly cooling me off.

Naeng myun is a Korean cold noodle dish, which actually originated in the mountains of North Korea.  Chewy buckwheat noodles are served in chilled beef broth, with shards of shaved ice still floating in the bowl.  Sitting atop the noodles is usually a perfectly hard boiled egg, julienned cucumbers, slices of lean pork, pickled radishes, and a dollop of punchy gochuchang (Korean fermented red bean paste).  Everything about the dish–right down to the silver metal bowl that it’s served in–is cool and refreshing.

I ate naeng myun a lot when I visited Seoul last summer, but had yet to find an adequate replication of the dish in the States.  That is, until I visited Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun in LA’s Koreatown, where virtually every customer in the restaurant was slurping a bowl of naeng myun.  Submerged in an ice bath of savory beef broth, the noodles were long and elastic, with a slightly nutty taste.  The gochuchang, and perhaps the addition of rice vinegar, added a refreshing tang and depth that cut through the savoriness of the broth.  Even 20 minutes after my bowl had arrived, as I continued to eat my way through the dish, the shaved ice in the broth remained in tact, showing no signs of melting anytime soon.  It’s a hearty yet refreshing dish, that gives you the strength and sustenance to withstand a hot summer day.

I’m not sure where to get the best naeng myun in the DC region (perhaps readers can point me in the right direction?).  But until I find out, I’ll be fantasizing about Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun, in hopes of alleviating this sweltering heat wave.

Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun
3185 W Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90006
(213) 382-3815
Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun on Urbanspoon

P.S. If you’re still in doubt about Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun even after my glowing review, go see Jonathan Gold and Anthony Bourdain wax poetic about the place here and here.

ShopHouse & BONMi: Southeast Asian Wave Hits DC

Photo credit: flickr user tedeytan 

I’m a total sucker for Southeast Asian cuisine, especially banh mi–Vietnam’s ingenious interpretation of a sub that combines its French colonial history with indigenous Vietnamese flavors and ingredients.  Encased in an unbelievably crispy, porous baguette made from rice flour, banh mi usually features various meats and offal (like pate and head cheese) as fillings, topped with slices of pickled carrots and cucumber for sweetness, and cilantro and jalepenos for heat.  The combination is beguiling, with each bite revealing different flavors and textures.  Best of all, banh mi definitely qualifies as a cheap eat; I’ve seen it as cheap at $2.50 in some places, but never more than $6.  In short, it may be the best sandwich ever invented.

So imagine my delight in finding out that two new restaurants, specializing in banh mi, recently opened in DC:  ShopHouse in Dupont Circle and BonMi in downtown.  Prior to these restaurants’ arrivals, banh mi fans like myself would have to travel all the way to the Eden Center to get a authentic version.  I set out to try both, in hopes that I would finally get a decent banh mi fix in the District and save myself the pain of 30+ minute WMATA ride to Virginia.

ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen

ShopHouse got a lot of buzz prior to opening, as the first new concept from Chipotle owner Steve Ells.  Media and bloggers descended on ShopHouse as soon as it opened, and greeted it with mixed reviews.  The set-up is very similar to Chipotle, with its signature quick assembly line filled with Southeast Asian ingredients such as long beans and eggplant with Thai basil, rather than guacamole and corn salsa.  Diners start by choosing a noodle bowl, rice bowl (brown or white available), or banh mi, and then continue down the line choosing their toppings and sauces.

My boyfriend and I shared a steak noodle bowl with spicy red curry sauce ($7.50) and a grilled chicken satay banh mi ($6.59).  First, I must say that I was particularly impressed with the quality of ingredients: everything looked very fresh, with toppings on the assembly line constantly being replaced with fresh-made batches.  The dishes themselves, however, disappointed a little.

The steak noodle bowl was intensely flavorful, in a not-so-pleasant way.  There was no balance to the dish; everything from the charred (albeit chewy) steak, to the pickled veggies, to the salted peanuts, to the fiery red curry sauce, seemed to compete with, rather than complement, each other.  My bowl was also doused in the red curry sauce, which even for a spice fiend like myself, was just too much–I ended up drinking about a quart of water throughout the rest of the day.

We liked the grilled chicken satay banh mi better than the steak bowl, but it still wasn’t great.  The chicken, pickled veggies, and herbs on top were all tasty, but the main problem was the bread–a limp and lifeless loaf of white monotony.  Fans of banh mi know that the baguette can make or break the dish; it needs to be crispy, airy, and golden.  ShopHouse’s version was none of these things and proved to be the downfall of an otherwise passable banh mi.

1516 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 232-4141
Open 11am-10pm
ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen on Urbanspoon

BONMi

DC foodies, as well as office workers tired of the usual ho-hum delis in downtown, greeted BONMi with open arms when it arrived in Farragut Square.  Touted as a “Vietnamese inspired fast casual restaurant,” BONMi was started by the JBH Advisory Group, a restaurant consulting firm in NYC.  The restaurant definitely seems geared toward the global-minded downtown DC elite, as evidenced by its proximity to the World Bank, commitment to sustainability, and clean sleek interior.

In addition, BONMi’s appeal extends to foodies as well.  Traditional meat fillings are updated with interesting spices (think five spice chicken and garlic black pepper pork) and prepared sous vide–the Top Chef/Wiley Dufresne-approved cooking technique of the moment.  BONMi did not leave out vegetarians either, offering chile garlic tofu or butternut squash dipped in a coconut curry sauce as well.

On my visit, I ordered a lemongrass chicken banh mi and Vietnamese iced coffee ($8.75 total).  The Vietnamese iced coffee was bottled, which I have not seen before, and tasted more like milk than coffee.

Whereas I faulted ShopHouse for their bread, BONMi definitely hit the mark spot-on with its crackly, airy baguette.  Each bite left tons of crumbs all over the table–a mark of a good banh mi.  BONMi put a lot of effort into sourcing its bread, working directly with Lyon Bakery in Virginia to find the right batch.

The other ingredients, however, missed the mark for me.  Like ShopHouseBONMi also has an assembly line-style ordering system, but none of the meats looked very appealing or fresh.  I had my heart set on the five spice chicken, but the murky greasy-looking juices the chicken had been sitting in scared me a little, and I decided to go with the lemongrass chicken instead.  While the lemongrass chicken was tasty, it had a rubbery texture.  And whatever lemongrass flavor the chicken had was drowned out by the bright orange-spicy mayo slathered on top of it.  That said, I still enjoyed BONMi and judging from the sizeable crowd even at 1:30 in the afternoon, others feel the same way.

900 19th St. NW
Washington, DC 20006
Open Mon-Fri 11:00am-7:00pm
BONMi on Urbanspoon

The Verdict: Though not the best or most authentic (or cheapest) banh mi’s I’ve ever had, both ShopHouse and BONMi do the trick if you’re in serious need of a banh mi fix but don’t feel like metro-ing all the way out to NoVA.  However, if you’re looking for a traditional, top-notch version, you’ll probably still have to travel outside the District to find it, since both restaurants must adapt and appeal to more mainstream American palates and prices.

Winner Winner (Fried) Chicken Dinner

Happy (belated and/or Chinese) New Year, readers!  Apologies for being M.I.A. the past couple months.  After law school finals, holidays, and a much-needed vacation, I am back and ready to blog–with lots of exciting new content!

It seems both apropos and ironic that my first post of the year is devoted to fried chicken.  Of course, one of my many New Years resolutions is to eat healthier and I really am trying to stick to it.  But after watching an episode of “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” about fried chicken, I knew I had to splurge a little.  The episode featured two places that I am fortunate to have visited in the past couple months: Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken in Memphis, and Ms. Tootsies Soul Food Cafe in Philly.  While the two restaurants couldn’t be more different, they do have one thing in common: serving damn good fried chicken.

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken 

Gus’s definitely lives up to its name, serving world famous hot and spicy chicken for over fifty years.  The original location that started it all is in Mason, TN, about 40 miles outside of Memphis.  Since opening back in 1953, the fried chicken recipe has remained a closely guarded secret, and to this day, the Bonner family still delivers its secret batter to franchisees rather than release the recipe.  According to Food Network, the Bonners have been offered up to $1 million for their recipe, but they haven’t budged.

If you’re in Memphis and don’t feel like driving 40 miles to the original Gus’s, head to the downtown location, just a few blocks from the infamous Beale St.  While the other businesses seem eerily deserted, Gus’s is the exception on the block, as hungry diners pour into the one-room restaurant.  It’s definitely no-frills, with picnic-style gingham tablecloths and plastic plates and silverware.  But what Gus’s lacks in ambience, it more than makes up for with its fried chicken (pictured above: 3 piece white plate w/ beans and slaw, $8).

Though perfectly crisp on the outside, what stood out most about Gus’s fried chicken was the meat itself.  The spices of the marinade permeated the meat, with just the right amount of heat in each bite.  The light exterior also managed to keep the interior incredibly moist, sealing in the juices and flavor.  Wash it all down with some of Gus’s equally infamous sweet tea, and you’ve truly got yourself a piece of heaven.

If you can manage to save room, definitely order dessert!  Gus’s bakes all of their desserts from scratch, including this decadent pecan pie.  Served warm, the filling was gooey in the best way, with the crust balancing out the sweetness.

Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken is seriously the stuff of legends–even sparking a feud between Serious Eats founder Ed Levine and Bon Appetit!  I have to agree with Ed Levine on this one, and declare my absolute love, devotion, obsession, addiction–whatever you want to call it–for Gus’s.

310 S. Front St.
Memphis, TN 38103
(901)  527-4877
Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon

Ms. Tootsies Soul Food Cafe

Well-known as a casual spot for satisfying soul food, owner Keven Parker has completely revamped Ms. Tootsies, aiming for a swankier lounge feel.  Black, red, and white seem to be the dominant color scheme throughout the restaurant, with large black and white photographs of African American celebrities hanging on the walls (be sure to check out the [unisex] bathroom, where there is a particularly sensual photo of Janet Jackson covering the entire wall).  While I appreciate Ms. Tootsies’ efforts to go more upscale, but I’m not entirely sure it works with both the surrounding neighborhood or the food.

While the ambience has changed a lot, fortunately, Ms. Tootsies seems to be sticking to its successful soulful cuisine.  My friend and I started with Sadiki’s catfish fingers and fries ($8) appetizer.  The thin breading on the catfish fingers was well-seasoned and flavorful, even better when dipped in tartar sauce. I also enjoyed the fries, which were crispy and coated with a similar seasoning as the catfish.  In addition to the catfish, Ms. Tootsies serves complimentary cornbread muffins with homemade strawberry butter as a starter to the meal.  Despite being a bit burnt from the toaster, the warm cornbread muffins were delicate and cake-like, sweetened just a touch with the strawberry butter.

For our main course, of course, we had to order the infamous fried chicken basket, with mac and cheese and collard greens ($26 w/ 2 sides).  The chicken arrived fresh from the fryer, glistening and golden brown.  Ms. Tootsies batter was much thicker and crunchier than Gus’s, but nonetheless delicious.  The interior was juicy and tender, and we found ourselves devouring the entire basket in a mere ten minutes.  The mac and cheese and collards were also respectable, and we managed to polish off those as well.

And of course, I could not eat a fried chicken dinner without….sweet tea!  Thought Ms. Tootsies sweet tea is far from traditional, and pricey at $5, it was a pleasant and surprising change from the norm.  Instead of black tea, Ms. Tootsies uses tropical iced tea, and tops it off with a slice of watermelon.  Her upscale version of sweet tea definitely worked, and was refreshing even on a cold winter night.

For dessert, we ordered the sweet potato pie ($4), one of my favorite soul food desserts.  The pie had a nice cinnamon flavor, but would have been ten times better heated up, or even served at room temperature.  Our slice seemed like it had come directly out of the fridge, and the filling was very cold as a result.

Despite some small flaws, I really enjoyed my meal at Ms. Tootsies.  The fried chicken definitely rivals some of those I’ve had in the South, and I can see why Chef Robert Irvine dubbed it one of the best he’s ever eaten.

1312 South St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 731-9045
Ms. Tootsie's Soul Food Cafe on Urbanspoon

Ethnic Eats in the OC

As the weather progresses further into fall here in Philly, I still find myself backed up on blog posts and reminiscing about summer meals in warmer climates.  But fear not readers–this will be my last summer installment and I will finally be caught up on writing.  (Eating faster than blogging is certainly a flaw of mine. )

As a native Los Angelino, I never spent much time in Orange County.  My perception of the region was less than flattering: suburban sprawl, Real Housewives, and chain restaurants.  But after spending more time there over the summer, I realized there is much more to the OC than meets the eye.  Hidden among the generic strip malls and bland chain eateries are terrific ethnic restaurants serving interesting cuisine worth driving for.  Here are 3 of my favorites.

Del Tomate

Located in a sleepy Tustin strip mall, Del Tomate gained some buzz after the LA Times gave it a rave review.  My boyfriend and I stumbled upon it when we were looking to grab a late lunch on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  It was one of the few places open that day, and boy, were we glad to have found it.

The allure of Del Tomate is in the attention to detail.  Owners Guillermo and Giacobbe, the husband and wife team behind the restaurant, don’t cut any corners when it comes to their rustic Argentinian-Italian fare.  Pastas are all handmade and made to order.  Empanadas and desserts are baked on the premises.  And the Argentinian style sandwiches are packed with fresh ingredients and high quality meats.

Del Tomate’s attention to detail is highlighted in the complimentary bread.  Crusty on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, the bread is served with homemade chimichurri that is best slathered on.  Bright, tangy, and punchy, I could literally eat a whole bowl full on my own.

Next, we tried the empanadas, baked daily at the restaurant.  Both the chicken and the eggplant empanadas were flaky, flavorful, and fresh–and a steal for $1.60 each.

For our mains, we tried one dish each from the Italian menu and the Argentinian menu.  I couldn’t resist the cannelloni alla Rossini ($13)–homemade cannelloni wrapped around ground beef, argentinian sausage, bacon, ricotta cheese and spinach, topped with  a spicy pomodoro and bechamel sauce, and baked until it is melty and divine.  It was definitely cheese overload, but in a fantastic way.  The quality and care put into the ingredients really shined through, as all of the flavors were well-balanced and greaseless.

The finale of our meal was the Entrana sandwich ($9).  Thin slices of smoky grilled skirt steak piled on top of the freshest lettuce and tomato you could imagine, all sandwiched between a fresh baguette smeared with mayo and that amazing chimmichuri.

Needless to say, we were waaaay too full to eat dessert–though we were certainly tempted by the full dessert case, displaying homemade cakes, cannolis, and cookies.  We’ll definitely return to Del Tomate to try these, and for the rustic and refined Italian-Argentinian cooking.

137 W. Tustin St. Suite A
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 731-1738
Del Tomate on Urbanspoon

Siam Taste of Asia 

It takes a lot for me to be impressed by a Thai restaurant, especially when Jitlada (of Jonathan Gold acclaim) is just a few blocks from my house in LA.  But Siam Taste of Asia, tucked in yet another generic strip mall in Santa Ana, is turning out reasonably priced, fiery Thai cuisine that rivals its more famous counterpart.

The restaurant’s most popular dish is its deep fried tofu ($6.95), which even the staunchest of carnivores rave about.  Crisp on the outside, light and airy on the inside, the dish shows deep frying at its best, transforming otherwise bland cubes of tofu into bite-sized nuggets of joy.  And don’t forget to dip them in the garlic chile sauce, which adds a subtle sweet-spicy note to the dish.

Siam Taste of Asia also executes classic Thai dishes well.  The chicken basil ($7.95) gradually built up heat, eventually making my eyes water in that pleasantly spicy way.  My favorite, however, was the tom yum goong soup ($8.95).  The soup arrives at the table steaming hot and fiery red, and looks like it will literally set your tongue on fire.  That it does, but the spiciness is also tempered by earthy lemongrass, fresh scallions, cilantro, and the occasional shrimp, making the flavor profile more sophisticated and layered.  Served with a refreshing salad topped with a mint dressing and rice, the tom yum goong will certainly satisfy any spicy food craving.

3520 W. 1st St.
Santa Ana, CA 92703
(714) 418-9678
Siam Taste of Asia on Urbanspoon

Dx Peruvian Restaurant 

Peruvian food is so hot right now in LA, but the cuisine has held steadfast in the OC for years.  Dx Peruvian Restaurant, located in (of course) a strip mall across from South Coast Plaza, offers classic Peruvian dishes in a surprisingly intimate setting.

One of the most well-known Peruvian dishes is lomo saltado ($14.95), and Dx serves up a quite tasty version.  The classic dish reflects Peru’s history as a destination for Chinese immigrants, melding Chinese and Peruvian cooking techniques and ingredients.  Lomo saltado is thinly sliced steak, onion, and tomatoes, stir fried with soy sauce and french fries, and served over rice.  Though it sounds like a strange combination at first, the ingredients actually work quite well together; think of it as Peru’s version of meat and potatoes.

Another classic Peruvian dish is aji de gallina ($12.95): shredded chicken slowly cooked in a blended bread, milk and walnut sauce.  Though not the most visually or texturally pleasing dish, the flavors were earthy, mild, and satisfying.  It was quite a large portion, so I would recommend sharing this with someone.

Finally, don’t miss out on the homemade lucuma ice cream ($6.00).  Lucuma is a sub-tropical fruit native to Peru, and tastes similar to maple and sweet potato.  The ice cream is pleasantly fruity and subtly sweet, with a unique flavor that I’ve yet to taste elsewhere.

Dx Peruvian Restaurant offers a relaxing atmosphere that will rejuvenate hungry shoppers and give a tasty introduction to Peruvian cuisine for foodies and novices alike.  So next time you are near South Coast Plaza, forego Maggiano’s and head to Dx!

3930 S. Bristol St. Suite 108
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 424-0014
DX Peruvian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Ode to Baja Fish Tacos

One of the things that I miss most about Southern California is fish tacos.  Before leaving the West Coast, I thought fish tacos could be found everywhere in the US, or at least on the East Coast as well.  But, after countless fruitless searches, I soon realized that fish tacos were a purely SoCal specialty, and on every trip home to Los Angeles,I  have made sure to satisfy my craving.

I’ve always been a faithful Senor Fish girl, but when my boyfriend mentioned that he’d found an even better fish taco place in Santa Ana, I hesitantly decided to try it.  Since then, fish tacos have never been the same for me.

Baja Fish Tacos is located in a strip mall, just down the street from South Coast Plaza.  This unassuming spot always has a line out front, no matter what time of day.  And yet, service is always friendly and efficient, as a seemingly endless number of diners place their orders at the counter.

After placing your order, take a seat either in the surprisingly spacious indoor seating area, or if it’s a sunny day, at one of the outdoor tables.  While you’re waiting, help yourself to the fresh salsa bar, featuring 3 different types of salsa, sliced limes, peppers, and onions.

It doesn’t take long for the food to come out, always served hot and fresh off the grill.  My go-to order at Baja Fish Tacos is the two taco combo ($7.60), with one carne asada taco, one blackened fish taco, rice, and black beans.  The carne asada taco is excellent: tender steak cooked lovingly on the grill, topped with freshly chopped romaine lettuce and pico de gallo salsa.

But the real star of the show is the blackened fish taco.  Marinated in a killer spice rub, the fish is bold yet subtle, slowly building up heat in your mouth.  As the heat builds, take a bite of the fresh cabbage on top to cool you off.  Or, if you’re a spice addict like me, add some more salsa and Cholula hot sauce for a more fiery effect.  Either way, it’s delicious, and better than any fish taco I’ve eaten before.

With fresh ingredients, affordable prices, and a friendly atmosphere, it’s no wonder why Baja Fish Tacos is so popular, and has people singing its praises all over town.


Baja Fish Tacos
3664 South Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 641-4836
Other locations throughout Orange County, CA

Baja Fish Tacos on Urbanspoon

Stay Simple at Sabrina’s

I’m really a simple girl at heart.  Though I am always up for trying the newest dining trend, I am not really one for haute cuisine.  What I really love is simple, down-to-earth comfort food—food that reminds you of home, family, and friends.  So when my good friend Erika came to visit me in Philly, I recommended we try Sabrina’s Cafe—a place known for their fabulous brunch menu, featuring comfort food dishes kicked up a notch.

Because we had been forewarned of the notoriously long lines, we decided to wake up early and arrived at Sabrina’s around 10am on a chilly Saturday morning.  Though not terribly crowded, there was already a 30-minute wait.  None of us minded though, as we spent the entire time perusing the voluminous brunch menu.

Sabrina’s has two locations: the original is located on South St. and its second, slightly larger location is near the Art Museum.  While I can’t speak to the South St. location, the Art Museum location is warm and friendly.  It had a retro coffeeshop vibe to it, with wide counter seating, large booths, and a bright interior.  The crowd seemed to be very family friendly, with lots of strollers and high chairs being toted around.

Even after 30 minutes, my friends and I were at a loss when our waitress seated us and came to take our order.  The menu had so many appealing options, from stuffed French toast with bananas and vanilla bean syrup to sandwiches to omelettes galore.

We finally settled on huevos rancheros, a tofu scramble, and two of the (many) specials: French toast stuffed with cream cheese, nutella, and hazelnuts with a peach syrup on the side and a sweet potato-corn pancake wrapped around chicken, black beans, plantains, and peppers topped with a cilantro sour cream.  We also ordered La Colombe coffee (a local Philly roaster known for its dark roasts), which arrived in adorable oversized coffee mugs.

My friends and I really enjoyed the huevos rancheros and the tofu scramble.  The huevos rancheros ($10.99) included two fried eggs sitting atop 2 crispy blue corn tortillas, topped with a spicy chorizo sauce (which, in my opinion, could have been spicier), avocado, cheese, and pico de gallo salsa, with rosemary potatoes on the side.  All of the ingredients were fresh and well-prepared, making this a memorable version of huevos rancheros.

The tofu scramble ($7.89) was also excellent and flavorful.  The texture was strikingly similar to scrambled eggs (which most tofu scrambles don’t get right).  I was also impressed with—of all things—the toast!  Sabrina’s serves Le Bus multigrain bread, another local Philly establishment.

On the other hand, we were not so impressed with the specials.  The French toast itself was tasty: a rich, slightly chocolate mascarpone filling slathered between two huge slabs of brioche.  However, the peach syrup that accompanied the dish was a mystery to all of us.  It did not enhance the dish at all; in fact, it didn’t taste good at all.  And thank goodness our waitress warned us to order it on the side!  Even on the side, we received a behemoth bowl of sweet, fruity syrup that, had it been dumped onto the French toast, may have made the entire dish inedible.  I would have much preferred some good old-fashioned maple syrup, and perhaps less of the mascarpone filling.

The sweet potato corn pancake dish was also a letdown.  It was kind of a bizarre burrito, wrapped in a pancake instead of a tortilla.  But there were so many ingredients to the dish that they all seemed to overpower one another: heavily seasoned chicken, sweet plantains, zesty peppers, black beans, and cilantro sour cream.

One thing that I can’t complain about, though, is the portions.  You certainly get your money’s worth at Sabrina’s, even if the dishes are not spectacular.  Overall, I enjoyed my meal at Sabrina’s: the friendly atmosphere and appealing menu made for a lovely brunch.  The classic dishes seem to be Sabrina’s strengths.  It’s when the kitchen tries to do too much that the dishes lose their appeal.

Sabrina’s Cafe
(Fairmount/Art Museum)
1804 Callowhill Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
(215) 636-9061

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