Goodbye Tampopo Ramen

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Last week, I visited Tampopo Ramen, a Japanese restaurant in the food court-like Plaza Walk building in Rowland Heights. Last night, I happened to wander by the area again and saw a sign in front of the restaurant that announced its closure on June 2.

Today, I called up the restaurant to confirm it was actually closing forever, not just on one day.

Yes, it’s true. They’re closing.

The person on the phone, who sounded like the owner, said he’s received many compliments about the food and condolences about their closing. The man said operating costs are high, as are the rent and parking fees. There’s another Tampopo Ramen in Gardena, although he’s not the owner-operator. The man says he doesn’t have any plans to open at another location this year. Their last day is June 1.

If you have time before June 2, check it out. I really enjoyed it, and even started writing a review for it for the Highlanders…
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Dining on a Budget: Stars Burgers shine bright

By Daniel Fritz, Staff Writer

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The unassuming red, white and brick building
on the corner of Ramona Boulevard and Maine Avenue in Baldwin Park is
the home of Stars Burgers.

While the venue may be a bit harsh on the eyes, customers’
undoubtedly happy palate will most likely forgive the visual
shortcomings of what is essentially a hotdog stand.

On first glance, it appears Stars Burgers only has outside
seating, however, there is a small inside seating area attached to the
building. There’s even a few prehistoric arcade machines inside.

However, the restaurant makes sure to cater to the diverse Baldwin Park demographic by not just sticking to one food genre.

Stars
Burgers has a huge menu, ranging from hotdogs to Mexican food to all
sorts of sandwiches. The marquee even states that “Shish-k-Babs” are
sold, however upon further inspection, they’re no longer on the menu.

Not only is the menu far-reaching, but the vast operating
hours make Stars Burgers a place where, if one were so inclined, one
could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. They’re open from 8 a.m. until
11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight on Friday and
Saturday.

There’s even a few breakfast specials, like the two pieces
of bacon or sausage, two eggs, hash browns and toast combo for $3.05.
Several lunch combos exist as well, none of which will set you back
more than $5.

In fact, pretty much everything on the menu ranges between $2 and $5.

During my visit, I had a hamburger and a hotdog for $4.87, and took a seat at a patio table outside.

While
the dining experience was pretty much what you’d expect from sitting on
a corner in Baldwin Park (I had a woman try to sell me Chicklets while
I was eating and a pigeon got a little too friendly), it was enjoyable
nonetheless.

The hotdog, which came loaded with onions and mustard, was clearly of the footlong variety as it had outgrown the bun.

The
hamburger came medium well (I wasn’t given an option) and was tender
and juicy. Thousand island dressing and shredded lettuce came standard
on this one.

Both were satisfying, and I cleared my plastic basket from the table feeling heavy in the stomach and light in the wallet.

Stars Burgers is located at 14351 Ramona Blvd. in Baldwin Park. For information call (626) 337-7777.

daniel.fritz@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2201

Dining on a budget: El Gallo Pinto

By Evelyn Barge
Staff Writer

Sometimes the best meals are discovered behind the most unassuming of storefronts.

That’s certainly the case with El Gallo Pinto, a Nicaraguan and Mexican restaurant tucked away in an unremarkable Azusa strip mall.

Named for the traditional Nicaraguan dish of beans and rice, El Gallo Pinto is a gem of an eatery that serves up a hearty dose of authenticity with each of its delectable dishes.

The extensive menu is protein-heavy with options like broiled steak ($10.99), fried marinated pork ($10.99) and beef tongue ($12.99).

All entrees are served with – you guessed it – gallo pinto. Or you can substitute salad and tortillas or fried plantains.

If you want to mix and match, try a few selections from the a la carte section of the menu.
The nacatamales ($4.99), much bigger than Mexican tamales, are mouth-wateringly delicious and provide more than enough food for a wholesome lunch or dinner.

Round off the meal with plantain slices ($2.50) or fried cheese ($2.00), just two of the tasty traditional sides available for a very affordable price.

I found the atmosphere inside the restaurant to be warm and inviting.

The wait staff was especially friendly, as the server greeted each customer and offered up helpful recommendations, even while busy during the lunch-hour rush.

El Gallo Pinto is a fairly small operation, so be prepared to settle in and enjoy the experience.

On the day I visited the Azusa Avenue restaurant, just one person was serving the lunchtime crowd in the dining room, while a single chef was preparing all the dishes in the kitchen. Still, the relaxed environment and easygoing pace just mean you have more time to take in the decorations and savor your meal.

After leaving the restaurant quite satisfied, I called my younger sister, Gail, to chat about my first foray into Nicaraguan cuisine. Gail traveled to Managua, the capital of the Central American country, in the spring of 2006 on a weeklong mission trip, and I asked her what she remembered about the country’s traditional diet. We compared our separate experiences with the local style of cooking and found many similarities, despite the hundreds of miles and years that separated our meals.

She described the scene in Managua with its open-air markets, street vendors and fresh produce, meats and seafood as impoverished yet beautiful, and complemented by a rich culinary tapestry.

“The food is amazing,” she said, “better than I ever eat here (in the U.S.)”

True to those roots, El Gallo Pinto carries on that tradition, serving up spectacular Nicaraguan cuisine from inside a rather simple strip-mall unit that’s certainly worth walking into.

El Gallo Pinto is at 5559 N. Azusa Ave., Azusa. For information, call (626) 815-9907

evelyn.barge@sgvn.com
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2472

Dining on a budget: Jojo’s Lechon

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By Lafayette Hight

My knowledge of Filipino culture isn’t
incredibly extensive, but as I drove by Jojo’s Lechon I instantly
recognized the word for roasted pork and decided to give it a try.

Jojo’s is a fast-food restaurant on Huntington Drive, with
about a dozen tables and a similar number of prepared dishes in a
display case.

The dishes weren’t labeled but the type of food was pretty
easy to identify. Unfortunately, the menu wasn’t too helpful. Jojo’s
has a lot of items available for catering but the menu doesn’t exactly
correspond to what’s available.

I decided upon a three-item combo meal for $6.25, and then
began to browse the food choices which included fried fish, stir-fried
squid, a few varieties of chicken and red meats.

I selected a chicken dish I later learned was Chicken
Adobo, a mix of stir-fried shrimp with vegetables and then began
looking for a pork dish. After all, going to a restaurant called
lechon, and not trying the lechon would have been like going to the
former Pup ‘N Taco restaurants and ordering a hamburger. Or dining at
Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles for the first time, and eating a steak.

One of the largest trays in the display case had meat in a
dark colored sauce, so I asked my server what it was. He told me the
traditional Filipino name, but it flew past me so quickly that I asked
him to spell it for me.

Instead, he said, “Some people call it chocolate pork.”

Excellent, I thought, since I was looking for a pork dish to try.

I
tried the Chicken Adobe first and it was excellent. It appeared to have
been made from a whole chicken, chopped into pieces small enough to
handle as finger foods. The combination of spices in the gravy was
amazing. I enjoyed it so much that the first thing I did when I got in
front of a computer was do a Google search for a recipe.

It’s that good.

Second, I tried the chocolate pork, which I liked as well, but the spices weren’t as vibrant as those in the chicken dish.

As I was eating the pork I noticed that the consistency of the gravy was similar to a roux, the base of most French cuisine.

You
may know that a roux is simply cooking oil and flour which are stirred
in a pot or skillet over a low heat until the flower is a dark, rich
brown – similar to the color of mahogany. I usually make one for gumbo,
or other French stews, and when a freshly-made roux is added to the
final dish it tends to clump up at first, and needs to simmer for
several hours before it becomes a uniform consistency. Until then,
however, the roux is a thin layer on top of the dish.

This is how I interpreted it.

And I couldn’t have been more wrong.

But
first, the shrimp with vegetables dish. Like in many Asian cuisines,
the shrimp are whole. It was simple and good. The combination plates
come with steamed rice.

Now back to the pork. About an hour after my meal, I
learned that “chocolate pork” is actually called dinuguan, which means
pork blood stew. It is a dish made with pork blood, entrails and meat.

So now I’m on the fence. On one hand, if my server had told
me, I probably wouldn’t have ordered it. On the other hand, who knew
that blood and entrails could taste so good?

Jojo’s Lechon is at 1112 Huntington Drive, Duarte.

lafayette.hight@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2764