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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jersey Mike's Subs-Laguna Woods/Laguna Hills

24365 El Toro Road #A
Laguna Woods, CA 92637


A brand new Jersey Mike’s Sub shop opened near my office yesterday. I decided to head down there today to check it out. Jersey Mike’s boasts over 300 locations nationwide, but they have just started expanding into Orange County.

I walked into Jersey Mike’s and the place was packed. The crowd was due to many different factors. This was the second day that they were open, coupons for free and discounted sandwiches had been distributed all over, and Jersey Mike’s takes longer to make a sandwich than your average shop. They take longer to make a sandwich because they freshly slice all of the meat and cheese for every sandwich. This can take an almost unbearably long time if you order a sandwich that has a few different meats and cheeses in it.

The menu at Jersey Mike’s looks like the menu at any typical sandwich shop. After looking over the menu I decided to order the Italian sub ($7.75 for a regular size). Unless otherwise requested, all the subs here come “Mike’s Way” which means with onions, lettuce, tomatoes, red wine vinegar, olive oil blend and spices. The Italian sub comes with provolone, ham, proscuittini, cappacuolo, salami and pepperoni. That’s six different ingredients, or six different times I had to watch the guy making my sandwich walk back and forth between the deli case and the slicer. After the meat and cheese is laid down on the bread, some onions, a giant mound of lettuce and a few tomatoes are placed on top. The whole sandwich is then doused with a generous portion of oil and vinegar. Some herbs are sprinkled on top and the sandwich is sliced in half. I asked for pepperocinis to be added to mine.

I took my sandwich back to my office and unwrapped it on my desk. It was an oily mess. They put so much oil on the sandwich that it leaked out and covered the whole exterior of the sandwich with oil. I eagerly took a bite and was immediately disappointed. I thought that since Jersey Mike’s took the time to freshly slice their meat, that this would be a superior sandwich. In fact, it was a little bland. The meat was lacking in flavor and I mostly tasted lettuce. Don’t get me wrong, it was a decent sandwich. It just didn’t blow me away like I thought it was going to. The sandwich was an average sandwich but had an above average price. If I had to choose between an Italian sub from Jersey Mike’s or Quizno’s, I think I’d have to take the Quizno’s sandwich.


6/27/08-I went to Jersey Mike's again for lunch today because I had a coupon for a free sub. This time I decided to try their Pastrami Reuben ($7.75 for a regular). I ordered it with mustard instead of the thousand island dressing it usually comes with. This sandwich was much better than their Italian sub. Juicly pastrami was smothered in lots of sauerkraut and melted swiss cheese. I wolfed down the entire sandwich in just a few minutes. This Reuben was definitely a good sandwich, but I still think that $7.75 for a standard size sandwich is a little pricey. I think if I'm going to spend that much on a sandwich, I'd rather go get a super premium sandwich at Cornerstone Cafe. The line was also still very long and slow. It took me nearly 30 minutes to get my sandwich today.

Jersey Mike's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hokkaido Seafood Buffet-Newport Beach

Hokkaido Seafood Buffet Newport Beach
4200 Scott Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660
Near John Wayne Airport
(949) 851-5888

I recently visited Hokkaido Seafood Buffet in Newport Beach. This restaurant is located across the street from the Benihana's that appears to be under construction, in the building that I think used to be Marie Callendar’s. We went around 7:00 PM on a Saturday night and there wasn’t a wait. They have a lot of tables here so there actually seemed to be a lot of open seating.

Hokkaido advertises themselves as a seafood buffet with sushi, Chinese food and Mongolian BBQ. I was really excited to try this buffet because I really love all of these foods. They have a really great price for an all you can eat place like this too. Only $15.95 for dinner!

As soon as I was seated, I jumped up in eager anticipation and ran to go look over the buffet. This is what I saw…

Hokkaido Salad Bar
Salad Bar

Hokkaido Cold Seafood
Cold Seafood

Hokkaido Hot Seafood
Hot Seafood

Hokkaido Sushi

Hokkaido Chinese Food
Chinese Food

Hokkaido Chinese Food
More Chinese Food

Hokkaido Monglian BBQ Bar
Mongolian BBQ Bar

Hokkaido Monglian BBQ Bar
Some Kind of Raw Fish and Jalapenos

Hokkaido Mongolian Cook
The Mongolian BBQ Cook

Hokkaido Fried Food
Fried Foods

Hokkaido Desserts
Dessert Bar

I decided to start of my meal with some of their sushi. I sampled their Philadelphia Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Inari Sushi, Tamago and the Super Spicy Roll. All of the sushi tasted pretty bland and generic. It’s something I would expect to get from a grocery store. The best of the bunch though was probably the Super Spicy Roll that was filled with spicy tuna and fresh jalapeno and then topped with more spicy tuna and diced fresh jalapenos. It was pretty spicy.
Hokkaido Sushi

Next, I decided to get some Mongolian BBQ. They had some toppings that I don’t get at my regular Mongolian BBQ place like jalapenos and udon noodles. However, they didn’t have some of the toppings I’m used to like celery and tomatoes. I ended up getting a simple dish with beef, pork, udon noodles, onions and green onions. The cook stir-fried it up on the grill and added some brown sauce that I am assuming was soy sauce based. The Mongolian BBQ left something to be desired. It was very bland.

I decided to move on to the seafood and Chinese food. I got myself some steamed crab legs, salt and pepper frog legs, BBQ pork ribs and fried rice. Everything was disappointing. The crab legs were a waterlogged mess and they barely contained any meat. The frog legs were chewy and sticky. The fried rice was extremely bland and the BBQ pork was tough.

I pretty much got everything on the buffet that I was interested in but I was still hungry. Even though it wasn’t that good, I finally decided to go back and get another plate of Mongolian BBQ. I got the same limited ingredients, pork, beef, noodles and onions. The grill was a lot busier now though. The Mongolian BBQ cook was extremely busy. Not only was he in charge of cooking the food, but he was also apparently in charge of replenishing the food. He took turns tossing food on the grill and running back in to the kitchen to get more meat and various toppings. He was so busy that he was trying to cook too many orders at the same time on his small grill. This resulted in it being hard for him to keep everyone’s dishes separate. One lady that was clearly a vegetarian, (No CP, it wasn’t my wife) handed the cook a plate of vegetables and asked him to cook it on the other side of the grill away from the meat. He stared at her as if he didn’t speak English and then threw her food in the middle of the grill. He then grabbed a bunch of other orders and surrounded her food with meat. He was frantically cooking and tossing food everywhere. He was trying his best to keep all the food separate, but he wasn’t doing a very good job. I could tell the vegetarian was freaking out. He handed me my plate. I was disappointed that they didn’t have pocket bread, so I grabbed something called a “biscuit” that was next to the Mongolian BBQ.
Hokkaido Busy Mongolian Cook

I got back to the table and looked at my food. In addition to the ingredients that I originally had in my Mongolian BBQ, I now also had pineapple, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, jalapenos, bean sprouts and cabbage. The food was still bland. I added a lot of soy sauce and it tasted a little better. The biscuit actually turned out to be a fried sugar doughnut. It was actually the best thing I had tried, so I went back and got a few more of those and filled up on them. Maybe this place wasn’t worth $15.95 after all. This definitely wasn’t the worst buffet I have ever had, but I’m not jumping up and down to return anytime soon.

Hokkaido on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Carl's Jr. Prime Rib Burger

I got a coupon for the new Carl's Jr. Prime Rib burger, so I decided to go down there for lunch to try it. (For coupon, visit Griffin Eats OC Coupons) The coupon was valid for any size burger, so I decided to get the "six dollar" version. The menu board stated that this version was $5.79, but the cash register rang it up at $4.89. I then got $1 off.

The burger is served as a large beef patty covered in grilled onions, horseradish sauce, thinly sliced "prime rib" beef and swiss cheese all on a ciabatta bun. I opened the box and looked at my burger. It looked a lot smaller than it does on all the posters they have around the restaurant.

I picked it up and took a bite. This burger definitely lives up to the old Carl's Jr. motto, "If it doesn't get all over the place, it doesn't belong in your face." This burger is extremely messy. The juice from the prime rib soaks through the ciabatta bread and turns it into a soggy mess. The melted cheese and horseradish sauce then cause the onions to slide out all over the place. To top it all off, the burger wasn't even that good. It was extremely bland. The horseradish sauce was tasteless. I only tasted a faint hint of horseradish once. The swiss cheese might as well have been white american cheese, because it had no flavor. I found myself not even wanting to eat the entire burger, so I threw part of it away. I really love Carl's Jr., but I think this burger is lacking in the flavor department. My buddy also got one of these burgers. He didn't like it at all either.

The Prime Rib Six Dollar Burger
Calories: 1060
Fat: 70 grams
Saturated Fat: 23 grams
Sodium: 2940 mg

Final Verdict: So not worth it

Carl's Jr. on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Al Palace - Costa Mesa-Santa Ana Heights

270 Bristol St Ste 110,
Costa Mesa, CA
Tel: (714) 549-0653

There is already a review on this site for Al Palace, but since it is hands down my favorite Chinese place, I thought it deserved one more.

Al Palace is a small family run Chinese restaurant that shares a strip mall with a Denny’s and a Wienerschnitzel. The restaurant is fairly small with about a dozen tables, but the tables are almost always full. This is because the Chinese food that comes out of the kitchen here is some of the best you will ever have.

I recently visited Al Palace for dinner with a party of four. We are all big fans of Al Palace so there was a bit of arguing when we first sat down. Everyone seems to have their favorite dishes from here, and everyone knows that whatever we order, it will be good. “I don’t understand why you think 10 dishes is too much for 4 people!” I said to my wife. She finally convinces me that I was being unreasonable and we settled on getting five dishes.

We placed our order and got ready to feast. One of the best things about Al Palace is how lightning fast their kitchen is. Everything is made fresh and to order, but it is not uncommon for you to get all of your food 5 minutes after placing your order. They cook with such high heat though, that your food is often the temperature of the sun. Be careful.

The first dish to arrive was the Sweet and Sour Pork. This might be my favorite dish here. Big chunks of pork are battered and fried until they are perfectly crispy. The pork is then covered in a bright red sauce that is the perfect balance of sour and sweet.

The second dish to arrive was the Spicy Tofu, extra spicy. This might be my favorite dish here. Silky pieces of tofu are sautéed in a gravy-like hot sauce. Even though we ordered it extra spicy, it still wasn’t that spicy for me. You can ask for some hot sauce if you’d like to crank it up a little more. This dish is perfect over some steamed or fried rice.

The third dish that arrived was the Mandarin Chicken. To be quite honest, Isabel ordered this and I didn’t try it. I really wanted to, but I was too busy pigging out on everything else. She seemed to really enjoy it though.

The fourth dish to land on our table was the Beef Chow Fun. This might be my favorite dish here. Long flat ribbons of slightly chewy noodles are stir fried with green onion, beef and a delicious brown sauce. Once you eat these noodles, you’ll never want Chow Mein again. These noodles are fantastic with a little bit of hot mustard. Be careful though. The hot mustard here is hot enough to singe your nose hairs.

The fifth and final dish of the evening was the BBQ Pork Fried Rice. This might be my favorite dish here. The fried rice here is full of flavor, not bland like a lot of other places. This is the perfect side dish for every food item here.

I have never been disappointed with my food here. The prices can’t be beat either. I don’t remember the exact prices of everything because I don’t even look at the menu when I go here anymore. The items are all around $7.00. These 5 dishes (including free steamed rice and hot tea) came out to around $38.00 with tax. We also had plenty of food leftover. I guess my wife was right. A delicious Chinese dinner for less than $10 a person though, you can’t beat that!


7/2/2008 I've never been a really big fan of egg rolls. After "peekpoke" left a comment on this article telling me that Al Palace's were especially good though, I had to try them. I went down to Al Palace last night to get some. What arrived before me was a plate with 4 freshly battered and fried egg rolls sliced into pieces (Order of four for $5.55). These looked like no egg rolls I have ever seen. I picked up a piece and put it in my mouth. It was piping hot but amazing. This might just be the best egg roll I have ever had. There was no overly dry wrapper, just a perfectly crispy fried batter shell filled with cabbage and a little bit of pork. If you normally like egg rolls, you're gonna love these! Thanks for the recommendation peekpoke!

Al Palace Chinese on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Philly's Best-Foothill Ranch

26612 Towne Center Drive
Foothill Ranch, CA
Various Locations around California

Philly’s Best is a Philly Cheesesteak shop that boasts that all of their ingredients, even the meat, come straight from Philadelphia. They feature a lot of brands that are supposedly popular in Philadelphia like Amoroso’s rolls, Tastykakes, Wise Chips, Frank’s Soda, PA Dutch Birch Beer and Taylor Pork Roll. I guess getting all these ingredients direct from Philly makes the difference, because the cheesesteaks from here are delicious.

I went down to Philly’s Best with a friend of mine for lunch the other day. As I walked in to the restaurant, I saw a sign in their window that read, “It’s back! Try the Pepperoni Cheesesteak!” “OK!” I said. After I finished explaining to my friend why I was talking to a sign, I told him I had to try this pepperoni cheesesteak. He agreed that it looked good and decided to order one for himself as well.

We placed our order and watched as the man behind the greasy glass partition assembled our order. He threw some paper-thin steaks on the grill and chopped them up into little pieces as they cooked. He covered the steak with grilled onions and white American cheese and scooped it all up into a roll he had lined with pepperoni.

We sat down with our steaming hot cheesesteaks and stared at them with bated breath. I admired the sandwich from all angles, picked it up and took a bite. I burned the crap out of my mouth. Holy cow was this sandwich hot! I waited a minute, cooled off my mouth with some soda and took another bite. The sandwich was very good. I thought it needed a little more flavor though so I added some salt and some Old Bay Seasoning that they had. It made all the difference. The only bad part about this sandwich was that the steak and onions were so full of flavor, that you could barely taste the pepperoni. It was almost as if the pepperoni wasn’t there at all. In the future I think I’ll just go for the plain cheesesteak. I’ll save myself some fat and calories and the sandwich will taste just as good.

Philly's Best on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New Panda Chinese Fast Food -Santa Ana/Costa Mesa

(Image not affiliated with New Panda, I just forgot to take a picture of their sign. This is just a random panda photo.)

3814 S Bristol St
Santa Ana, CA 92704

(714) 957-1134

Near McDonalds, next to Games For Less

I used to have this fantastic place near my office in Lake Forest called China Express. They were pretty much a fast food counter service Chinese place, except they didn’t have any steam tables. They had gorgeous pictures all over their walls of the different culinary delights that they offered. You would place your order and the guy in the back would wok up your order hot and fresh just for you. Sadly, China Express closed. They left a phone number in their window to call for more information. I called the number and it just rang and rang. I called again, and again. Over the next couple of weeks I dialed the phone number repeatedly. I was in a panic. Would I never have the joy of tasting their delicious dishes again?!??! I called again……ring…..ring……ring…..ring…..ring…. and finally “New Panda, can I help you?” I was so excited that someone picked up the phone! I stammered out, “I’m looking for info on China Express! This phone number was left on the door!” I then recognized the voice on the other end of the phone. It was the very nice girl that always took my order at China Express. She told me that they had relocated up to a place near South Coast Plaza. She said they were now called “New Panda.” “I can still get my salt and pepper shrimp though, right?!?!” I asked. She laughed and said “Of course.”

All of the above events took place a couple of years ago. After I hung up the phone that day I immediately drove down to their new location and ordered me up a big plate of salt and pepper shrimp. Every time I want good salt and pepper shrimp, I make the drive again. It now takes me 20-30 minutes to get there from my office but it’s oh so worth it.

New Panda is more of your typical Chinese fast food place. They have scoop and serve steam tables and a combo plate will cost you about five or six bucks. Their fried rice is a little bland, but oddly good. The rest of their steam table items are about the same you would expect from any other similar place. What I really go here for is their wok to order food. Most people going to New Panda don’t even notice the cook to order menu on the back wall. They’re really missing out.

I like to start my meal here with some of their fried wontons. At $1.50* for an order of 6, these are a really great deal. They are fried up perfectly crisp and contain a hidden gem of glistening pork inside. I like to dip them in a little hot mustard. If you ask the lady behind the counter, she will give you some real hot mustard instead of that fluorescent yellow crap that comes in the packets.

The item I can never seem to resist on their menu is the Salt and Pepper Shrimp ($6.99* during lunch). I have taken many people here to try the salt and pepper shrimp and they have all fallen in love with it. The chef in the back takes some juicy shrimp, lightly batters them and then woks them up with some oil, fresh jalapenos and green onions. They are then sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper. The resulting dish is an explosion of flavor that is hard to describe. I find myself eating these shrimp so fast that sometimes I make myself sick. Even so, sometimes I’ll go back and order more once I finish my first plate.

New Panda is an ok place to go and get some Chinese fast food, but if you have a few extra minutes, take the time to look over their “cook to order” menu and get something made especially for you. I of course recommend the Salt and Pepper shrimp, but I have also tried many of their other dishes and I haven’t been disappointed in any of them.

* Prices are from memory, so they may be a little off.

New Panda Chinese Fast Food on Urbanspoon