Dining on a budget: China Islamic in Rosemead

By Emma Gallegos

I was initially interested in Chinese Muslim food as a curiosity. I knew there was a sizeable population of Muslims in China (China stretching pretty far west and the Islamic empire stretching pretty far east at one point), but I had no idea what they ate.

If China Islamic Restaurant in Rosemead is any indication, the answer is that they mostly eat the same things other Chinese eat but with a few restrictions.

The menu here doesn’t look a whole lot different than most Chinese restaurants. There are all the usual Chinese staples: wontons, egg rolls and dumplings.

But if you order moo shu, it’s going to have shrimp or beef or anything but pork. Pork is off-limits, and the meat is halal. You won’t find alcohol on the menu either, but that’s true at a lot of Chinese restaurants anyway.

There was beef and chicken and a healthy selection of tofu dishes (vegetarian friends won’t be left wanting) and quite a few fish and shrimp dishes, but I came here for the lamb.

I was glad to see lamb celebrated in its own section of the menu: lamb in chili sauce, Beijing-style lamb, moo-shu lamb, curry lamb and, my ultimate choice, lamb in sa cha sauce ($10.95).

21298-CHINAISLAMIC_DINING-thumb-300x300.jpg

 

I would never have guessed how well the thick, brown, slightly sweet, slightly spicy sauce – a kind of barbeque sauce, really – would work with lamb. Lamb is finicky – it has that distinctive, almost gamey taste that doesn’t necessarily work with whatever sauce you throw on it – it doesn’t taste just like chicken.

Most of the lamb I’ve eaten has been mostly unadorned with the exception of some pepper, onions and garlic. It tastes good roasted in its own fatty juices or as part of a bland stew.

But with sa cha sauce? I hadn’t ever thought of smothering lamb with any kind of barbeque sauce. Sa cha sauce also doesn’t play well with others, and it tends to take over the dish. Somehow the two on a bed of tender, wilted bok choy come together in a kind of meeting of the minds. The flavors remain distinct but they play off of each other nicely.

The pickled cucumber ($2.50) is the obvious side dish. The vinegar and chili-drenched cucumbers were what coleslaw is to barbequed pork (if the halal-minded don’t mind the slightly irreverent comparison): the right combination of light and rich, sweet and sour.

I had some Szechuan kim chi ($1.75), too, but you should skip that. They were just huge hunks of raw cabbage drizzled with some vinegar and hot sauce. It was similar to the pickled cucumbers, except the latter were chopped up into smaller bits that better absorbed the flavor.

Tip included, I spent about $20. Budget dining, it wasn’t, but I did it all wrong. I went alone, and, as at most sit-down Chinese restaurants, that was a mistake.

Most of the main dishes are around $11 and serve two to four people. Bring some friends, order more dishes, heat up the leftovers for lunch the next day (making your co-workers insanely jealous) and you shouldn’t stray too far from $10.

I’m already plotting round two. Having already tried the Chinese Islamic version of barbeque, I’m ready to try the Chinese Islamic version of another American Southern specialty: ox-tail soup.

China Islamic Restaurant is at 7727 E. Garvey Ave., Rosemead. For more information, call (626) 288-4246 or visit www.chinaislamic.com .

Dining on a budget: Lisa’s Coffee Shop in Covina

Lisa’s Coffee Shop catches my eye often, when I travel east on San Bernardino Road to an assignment or have lunch somewhere else.

I was in the mood for a warm American dish and decided to satisfy my curiosity for what’s inside this little diner that’s surrounded by auto shops and industrial buildings.

The cozy restaurant, with its small town 1950s feel, has lent itself to a few movies and commercials. The vintage Coca-Cola signs and the many state license plates hanging on the walls helps add to this old style diner.

Open everyday for breakfast and lunch only, Lisa’s menu offers a selection of classic American dishes, with some Mexican plates thrown in for good measure.

Although steak and eggs sounded good and Lisa’s serves breakfast until closing, breakfast for lunch didn’t feel right this time and I went for the Texas-style sirloin steak lunch instead.

My plate came with mashed potatoes and gravy and two halves of a dinner roll buttered and thrown on the grill for a bit, and a choice of cup of soup or salad.

21291-LISA'S_DINING1-thumb-300x225.jpg

 

I went with a cup of the soup of the day – albondigas, a Mexican meatball soup with chunks of potatoes and carrots. 

I can’t help but compare my mother’s Mexican cooking to other Mexican dishes, and though this albondigas was slightly different than mom’s, I liked it better.

Sorry, ma.

 

21294-LISA'S_DINING3-thumb-200x150.jpg

The broth wasn’t as greasy as I’m used to. It was very light and the meatballs were soft and seasoned just right. 

The sirloin steak can be rubbed with chipotle sauce or blackened for only 79 cents more. I love spicy food, so I went for the chipotle rub.

Now I can’t recall if I asked for a small cut of steak or a large cut, but if what I got was a small cut, the large cut could have fed me all day and then some. 

My large piece of steak came medium, just as I asked, juicy and colorful with the chipotle on top. 

From just a few bites of the mashed potatoes, I could tell they were freshly mashed with skin and all. They were great.

The gravy was good, not too syrupy and not too thick. But it was a little too salty for my taste. The soft dinner roll was perfectly buttered and toasted.

With the soup and a good helping of mashed potatoes and steak, I was full and had to throw in the napkin. 

But there was still plenty left for dinner, which is good since Lisa’s is closed for dinner.

There was only one waitress at the time and she patiently tended to the locals and regulars stopping in for a good hearty lunch, so be patient for her to come around and help you too.

Once she took our order though, my and my lunch companion’s meal were out in about ten minutes, fresh, warm, and just what we ordered.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be around the area early enough to have breakfast at Lisa’s, but I sure will be back sometime to have breakfast for lunch.

Lisa’s Coffee Shop is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily and located at 1530 W. San Bernardino Road in Covina. Visit www.lisascoffeeshop.com or call (626) 339-2014 for more information. 

It’s tamale time!

It’s that time of the year, where tamale making is in full swing and if you haven’t put your order in for yours, you might have an option.

I decided to give the El Pollo Loco tamale plate a try recently and was actually pleasantly surprised with the taste.

21305-tamales-thumb-300x225.jpg

Now, I’m not giving up convincing my mother every year right before Christmas to make tamales from scratch, (she makes great tamales), but if I was looking for a quick tamale fix, then I wouldn’t hesitate to head to Pollo Loco.

First, they do have chicken tamales on their regular menu, but the tamale plate consists of two chicken tamales, chopped slightly to expose the tender, moist chicken inside the corn masa, topped with a red chile sauce and Jack and cheddar cheeses, and a side of beans and rice.

I thought it was odd that they cut the tamales in pieces before giving it to you but I figured after I took my first bite that it just helps to spread the chile sauce and cheese all inside the tamales as well as outside.

The colorado chile sauce, as its called, is just slightly above mild but still tasty and there was plenty to cover both tamales.

The pinto beans and rice were good enough to accompany the tamales, but of course, don’t compare to mama’s.

For $5.99 a plate, it’s a reasonable alternative if you don’t have a mother or grandmother that makes tamales for Christmas or if you didn’t order any in time.

If you have a favorite place to get good tamales from, PLEASE SHARE. Post a comment or send me and email with your favorite places or recipes, at claudia.palma@sgvn.com , and I’ll post them here.

Dining on a budget: Chang Thai Bistro in Monrovia

By Lafayette C. Hight Jr.

I love soups – during all seasons of the year – but for me, especially during autumn and winter, there’s nothing more satisfying than a boiling pot of the good stuff on a cool afternoon or evening.

My top three soups of all time are: 1. Fil Gumbo. And I’ve never found an incarnation that tops our family’s more than 80-year-old recipe. 2. Clam Chowder. It’s gotta be New England Style. And 3. Thai-style Tom Kha soup, or one of it’s many variations.

I opted for the latter as an appetizer at Chang Thai Bistro in Monrovia, where it goes by the name Tom Kah Gai and is available with chicken, shrimp, vegetable or tofu.

About a quart of the soup arrived shortly – I chose chicken – which is an entire meal in itself for someone dining alone, but still makes a decent appetizer when split among as many as four.

20725-CHANGTHAIBISTRO2-thumb-200x150.jpg

Carrots, chili peppers, lemongrass, lime leaves and mushrooms all simmered in coconut milk never tasted so good.

Next I had the stir-fried Heavenly Pepper Garlic Chicken dish.

Now, for me, it usually takes about 13 cloves of garlic in a recipe before things get heavenly. Sadly, I didn’t really taste much garlic. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good. It was, in fact, a very tasty dish with a slightly tangy flavor, and served with lots of crunchy cabbage. My expectations from the title, however, had me expecting a Stinking Rose or Versailles Cuban Food kind of experience.

20727-CHANGTHAIBISTRO1-thumb-200x266.jpg

 

Finally, I had the opportunity to taste the Chicken Pad Thai, which was definitely up my alley, because it came from the kitchen exactly at the degree of spiciness that I love. Somehow, the chicken in the Pad Thai was super-juicy – much more than the other chicken dish and the soup – which is a conundrum I can’t exactly get my head around, but I’ll take it gladly.

Chang Thai Bistro is located at 614 S Myrtle Ave., in Monrovia. For information call (626) 357-9658 or visit changthaibistro.com.

Dining on a budget: Town Sent in Covina

By Eric Terrazas

You can never go wrong with a tasty Chinese food dish.

As a lifelong fan of Chinese food, I have visited several different eateries over the years. One of my favorite Chinese food places is Town Sent, located in Covina.

When I visit Town Sent, I always order the orange chicken lunch special, which costs $5.45.

Town Sent serves the best orange chicken I have ever tasted. The scrumptious chicken is covered with a sweet orange sauce. I especially like to mix the chicken with the steamed rice. All in all, it makes for a very delicious meal.

 

20722-TOWNSENT_DINING-thumb-300x225.jpg

A few years ago, I took my parents and my sister to Town Sent, and they all came away impressed with the fare Town Sent had to offer.

Lunch hours are set from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. seven days a week. Town Sent offers three groups of lunch specials. 

For $5.45, you can also order the Chinese Broccoli with chicken or beef, kung pao chicken or beef, sweet and sour pork or chicken, eggplant with garlic sauce, or bean curd with brown sauce.

Meals offered for $5.96 include chop suey chicken, beef or barbecue pork, mushroom with chicken or beef, squid or fish fillet with black bean sauce, shrimp with lobster sauce, or crispy fried pork chops with pepper spicy salt.

If you are willing to spend a little more, you can order one of several $6.98 specials. Those choices include steam whole fish, scrambled egg with assorted seafood, or clams with black bean sauce.

All lunch specials are served with steamed rice and the soup of the day. The soup is not included with a to-go order.

I also recommend the sweet and sour chicken special. Town Sent’s take on that dish is also delicious. Several fried rice dishes and noodle meals are also offered.

If you have room for dessert, you can order the almond Jell-O for $1.50.

Town Sent is at 1069 W. San Bernardino Road in Covina. For information, call (626) 915-8982.