Dining on a budget: Searching for desserts in the SGV

By Emma Gallegos, Staff Writer



Monica Ulloa of La Mich Paleteria shows off some choice scoops at her Mexican ice cream shop in Duarte. (Sarah Reingewirtz / Staff)


No matter where I go, I find myself drawn to local frozen dessert favorites, from the frozen custards of the Midwest, the La Rosa bars of my hometown and the gelatos of Italy. Since I've moved to Southern California, I've eaten a lot more mochi, raspados and tart frozen yogurts.

My yen for ice cream means that I've found my way to some choice local spots. My coworkers came up with some of their favorites as well. These are just a few of the places serving cold treats.

We encourage you to tell us where you like to go when you have a sweet tooth on a hot day in the comments below.

Freshest ice cream

La Mich Paleteria's ice cream is eyes-rolling-back-in-your-head good. It's cursing-for-joy good. And while you're enjoying the ice cream, you're a stone's throw from the big box chain of your choice in a strip mall in Duarte. File this one under "strip mall epiphanies."

The ice cream comes in unassuming pastels - like espresso in a cappuccino, the rich color of real fruits and intense flavors is drowned out in cream. The flavor mamey was a winner, a customer favorite made from a mild Mexican fruit that tastes like papaya and was flecked with small bits of fruit.

It seems appropriate that you also can find La Mich Paleteria's fresh and fruity ice cream at the Monrovia Farmers' Market on Friday nights. The Mexican caramel, cajeta, was rich, not too sweet and there was a hint of salt - the way caramel should be.

I've tried two flavors, and I live in agony, knowing that there are so many more Mexican-inspired flavors I haven't tried, like the sorbets or the paletas that you can dip in toppings like nuts or chocolate.

La Mich Paleteria, 1026 Huntington Drive, Duarte, (626) 359-6333.

The one that started it all

Oh, how the tides have turned in the world of yogurt. The saccharine yogurt of chains like TCBY now seems like a distant, sticky memory. Tart is in, for better or for worse, and Pinkberry is the culprit. It's the kind of hyped-up place that people love to hate, but we have a feeling that more people love it than admit it: witness the sheer number of locations and thriving knock-offs.

We have to offer props to Pinkberry - not for inventing tart frozen yogurt, but for blowing open the market in the Southland and doing it well. Other knock-offs might be cheaper or offer more flavors but we still love its tart, creamy simplicity.

Pinkberry, 862 E. Alosta Ave., Azusa, (626) 691-0170; 19756 Colima Road #A, Rowland Heights, (909) 595-7612 ; 612 S. Myrtle Ave., Monrovia, (626) 359-9729.

Best old-school creamery

Fosselman's revels in its old-school status. There used to be others, but now the Alhambra location is the last one standing. There are even old pewter ice cream molds from an era when people cared about the shape of their ice cream.

But if Fosselman's prides itself on being old school, it's at least forward-thinking with its flavors and flavor combinations. I'm not usually a fan of throwing a candy bar on top of an ice cream to make it taste better - I'm all about premium ice cream that stands on its own - but the banana Heath bar combination is greater than the sum of its parts. I can't wait to try some of the sorbets, like Blackberry Cabernet or a frothy Pink Champagne. No matter what you pick, the ice cream has premium quality that stands on its own or makes a great base for a milkshake or banana split.

Fosselman's Ice Cream Co., 1824 W. Main Street, Alhambra, (626) 282-6533.

Best selection

Yogurtland is definitely not for the fickle-minded. There are at least 16 yogurt flavors and 33 toppings to choose from, plus everything is self-serve, which can be torture for the undecided. But it's, oh, so worth it. The franchise offers classic flavors, such as vanilla, chocolate, cookies `n' cream and cheesecake, and tart ones like strawberry, mango and green tea. But one really popular flavor among Yogurtland fans is taro, a sweet, purple concoction that pairs perfectly with the mochi bits topping. Die-hard fans also add lychee, coconut flakes and red beans to this combination, then top it off with condensed milk (yes, condensed milk. There are other liquid toppings as well: caramel, chocolate and strawberry).

At 30 cents an ounce, a regular cup will cost $3 to $6, depending on how much you pack in there. But two people can share that cup, which makes this dessert even sweeter.

Yogurtland, 100 W. Covina Parkway, West Covina, (626) 337-4800; 18253 Colima Road, #103, (626) 964-3405; 19755 Colima Road, Diamond Bar, (909) 859-8758; 633 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia, (626) 821-8723.

Most pounds of toppings

Cherry on Top takes the frozen yogurt concept and puts it in the customer's hands, literally. Choose from a selection of about 10 different yogurt flavors (including cheesecake, chocolate and Hawaiian delight), then dish up your own toppings (nearly 45 choices, from graham crackers to fresh fruit to breakfast cereal). The price is calculated by the total weight.

Cherry on Top, 1299 E. Green St. #100, Pasadena, (626) 440-1299; 2761 S. Diamond Bar Blvd., Diamond Bar, (909) 468-4884; 176 W. Foothill Blvd., D4, Monrovia, (626) 303-5600.

emma.gallegos@sgvn.com

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2705

Second day in the great chicken war

The second day of the great chicken war dawned under a sullen sky.  As they usually do, the conflict escalated quickly. Neither side blinked, it was the ultimate game of chicken.

On Monday, Kentucky Fried Chicken gave away a free leg of its new flame-grilled chicken. Today, El Pollo Loco retaliated by offering TWO FREE pieces of chicken PLUS TORTILLAS AND SALSA. At this rate, they’ll be giving away entire chickens free by the end of the week!

Lines began forming early in the morning, demonstrating either the state of the economy or the great lengths people will go to for FREE food.

As one might expect, both sides were badtalking the other.

“We know our El Pollo Loco flame-grilled chicken is the real thing, and
we will not let our ‘grilled’ chicken opponent pull the ‘feathers’ over
the public’s eyes with a product that is cooked in an oven with no open
flames. We can’t wait to prove which chicken has authentic grilled
flavor and which is all smoke and no fire,” fired off El Pollo Loco’s Chief executive Steve Carley in a bevy of television commercials.

KFC’s Colonel Sanders didn’t respond, mainly because he died several years ago.

We send our crack reporting team to report from the trenches. They were a little concerned by the giant yellow bird standing guard out front of El Pollo Loco on Azusa Avenue in Covina.

But after a half hour wait they filed this report.

We really like El Pollo chicken, but this time it did taste a little blander than yesterday’s KFC.
The KFC chicken has a distinctive smokey flavor, while the El Pollo birds have a light citrus touch.

The KFC also seemed a little greasier, but this wasn’t significant in our taste test. After a great deal of debate we split our vote. There was not clear victor in this chicken skirmish. We need to go back a few more times before we can call this war. IT’s that darn close! 

Let the chicken wars begin!!!!!

LET THE CHICKEN WARS BEGIN! baaaack, baaaack, baaaaack

Kentucky Fried Chicken came out swinging today with its new grilled chicken. Colonel Sanders would be proud as lines formed around the local KFCs to try the new bird.

People waited patiently under the red and white striped roofs for the free piece of chicken promised by the famous franchise. They all got a drumstick to sample.

Let’s just say that our crack reporting team was tempted by the free offer. We’re happy to report that we gave the new grilled chicken a thumb’s up, though one noted that it still had too much sodium.

The chicken is grilled with a slightly smokey flavor. Some thought the pieces looked awfully small, but we didn’t know if that’s because they were free sample sizes or they were swollen with the Colonel’s famous recipe.

Not to be outdone, El Pollo Loco hasn’t chickened out. Tomorrow it’s countering with TWO free pieces of their famous flame grilled chicken WITH TORTILLAS AND SALSA. So take that KFC.

Where will the great chicken wars of 2009 lead? Just remember the theme song from “Super Chicken” cartoon.

When you find yourself in danger,
When you’re threatened by a stranger,
When it looks like you will take a lickin’, (puk, puk, puk)
There is someone waiting,
Who will hurry up and rescue you,
Just Call for Super Chicken! (puk, ack!)
 

Dining on a budget: Walnut Tree Chinese in Walnut

By Claudia S. Palma

Walnut Tree Chinese Restaurant in Walnut offers your typical Chinese dishes.

But on my recent trip to this little spot, hidden in an industrial strip off Valley Boulevard, my visit was not very typical.

With my past experiences with Chinese food establishments, I know it’s a hit and miss to get good quality food.

In Walnut Tree’s case, it was a total miss. Not even some re-cooking the next day with more spices helped these dishes much.

I knew I had to try staples like fried rice, some type of noodles and orange chicken to get a good comparison with other Chinese restaurants.

I ordered a small plain fried rice for $1, vegetable pan-fried noodles for $8.50 and orange chicken ( $5.50 for lunch and $6.95 for dinner). 

I also wanted to try some spicy dishes like garlic shrimp at $9.95 and steak with black pepper at $9.95.

The fried rice was definitely plain, no vegetables or egg, and it also had no flavor.

The pan-fried noodles were not much better. The noodles that were not in the sauce were hard and chewy. Covering them all in sauce only helped slightly.

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The orange chicken was OK – it was nothing special either. It wasn’t spicy like the menu said it would be, but the pieces of chicken were slightly bigger than other orange chicken I’ve had.

The pieces of meat in the steak with black pepper were also bigger than usual but this “spicy” dish was also dissapointing in the heat factor.

The only dish that had some heat to it was the garlic shrimp. This dish did have a nice amount of shrimp and vegetables and the spicy sauce was decent enough. 

The garlic shrimp was the only dish I finished.  

I even tried re-frying the rice, noodles and steak the next day and added some more spices, but it was no use, these dishes were hopeless.

I’ve read from other online user reviews that this location has changed owners many times, changing the quality of the food.

Maybe they should try changing their menu or chefs, not just owners.

If you want to take your chances at Walnut Tree, they offer daily lunch and dinner specials starting at $4.50.

The combos include the soup of the day, egg roll, fried wonton, and fried or steamed rice. For dinner, the combo changes the fried wonton for fried shrimp.

Walnut Tree is at 382-A S. Lemon Ave. in Walnut, (909) 595-6026. Hours are from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, closed on Sunday. 

Dining on a budget: Banana Bay in Rowland Heights

By Maritza Velazquez

In Rowland Heights, there’s no shortage of great Asian cuisine.

Banana Bay is no exception. This popular restaurant has a huge menu, with so many offerings that anybody with a liking for Thai flavors is sure to find something. For me, it was difficult enough choosing just one dish.

That’s the beauty of eating with others. An acquaintance and I shared three courses, with more than enough left over to take home. For an appetizer, we ordered the Hand Rolls ($5.95), which had a great mix of tofu, sausage, crab, cucumber and bean sprouts. Wrapped in raw egg roll skin, it was topped with a very sweet peanut-based sauce.

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Although I enjoyed the mixture inside of the Hand Rolls, especially the Chinese sausage, the sauce that smothered the two huge rolls didn’t do a lot for the dish. I think it would have been much better without their “special sauce.”

The soup came out next. The Seven Sea soup ($13.95), served in a boiling hot pot, is a treat for any seafood lover. It has scallops, shrimp, king crab legs, squid, mussels, tender white fish and baby clams, all in a very spicy broth with lemon grass and lime juice.

With chunks of dried chili, this one is not for those with sensitive taste buds.

For the entree, I ordered the Continental Fried Rice ($7.95), a simple dish with fried rice and fried chicken topped off with a fried egg and a sweet and sour dipping sauce. Although this tasted like the least authentic Thai dish of the three, the chicken was both tender and flavorful. And the sweet and sour sauce made the perfect compliment.

The total came out to about $32, but three could have easily enjoyed this meal. There are some great entrees, though, that run under $6, and some that reach $15. 

The service here varies, as you’ll find if you decide to take a trip to Rowland Heights. I’ve been here several times, and my recent venture was definitely the most pleasant.

Although the server made no attempt to say hello or make conversation as he took our drink orders, at least we didn’t have to wait 15 minutes before a server came at all (yes, that has happened here a few times before).

Despite this, the atmosphere is fun, and the dining room big enough to accommodate large parties.

Banana Bay is at 18230 Colima Road, Rowland Heights. For more information, call (626) 839-5511.

Is there value in value menus?

Now that we’ve touched a little on bringing lunch from home in ‘Brown bagging it’, let’s talk about value menus.

With many people tightening their wallets, restaurants and fast food joints seem to be trying anything to get you to part with your money in increments of $1, $5 and $10 at some places, thinking that we’ll believe it’s a great deal if it’s on the value menu or the special of the day.

I like the new Sizzler commercial about getting great values that include chicken, steak and fish dinners, and the salad bar, all starting at $9.99. That’s the catch right there – starting at. I like Sizzler on occasion, if I’m in the mood to create my own monstorous salad my way, but I wouldn’t say it’s always a great value for what they have. Sometimes the meat or chicken can be a little plain and dry, and adding a drink or any sides brings your total lunch to about $15 or more.

Not necessarily value.

And I don’t know what it is, but I got over Subway sandwiches about a year ago. Maybe it’s the fact that I know I can get a better tasting, fresh sandwich at a small family-owned little shop for less than $5 – AND I get a drink and chips.

So when they try to tempt me with their $5 foot long specials, I am not enticed at all.

It seems that almost every fast-food place has a value menu now, even Pick Up Stix – go figure.

Here are my top 5 favorite value menus:

1. Wendy’s – Can you say baked potato, chili cup, original frosty, jr. bacon cheeseburger – all for about $1 each?? Now that is value. 

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2. Taco Bell - I can definitely fill up for $5 here with choices from soft and crunchy tacos, burritos, nachos and more. 

3. Jack In the Box – Make your own combo meal with choices of two regular tacos for $1, small fries, egg rolls, a good old classic Jumbo Jack and more.

4. Burger King – I must admit I’m not always tempted by new items the King has, but I like that their value menu has plenty of classic items like the Whopper and Whopper Jr., as well as new like the Spicy Chick’N Crisp sandwich, AND even breakfast items – score. 

5. Carl’s Jr. – I love Carl’s Six-Dollar burgers, as I have mentioned before, and the taco salad is pretty good too. But as far as a value menu, the only thing I enjoy there is the spicy chicken sandwich. It’s delicious but a little plain – there are a few Carl’s locations that will add tomato and/or lettuce for free, but others will charge an extra fee – ridiculous.

 

TELL ME WHAT YOUR TOP 5 ARE BELOW.

 

Dining on a budget: Something Healthy in Monrovia

By Lafayette C. Hight Jr.

Something Healthy does something simple in Monrovia.

The most expensive menu item is $7 and their fare can be summed into five groups: Panini sandwiches, wraps, soup, salad and fruit.

Located in a shopping center on Shamrock Avenue that seems to share the healthy-living philosophy – with a gym and health-food store (ignore that fried chicken place on the corner) – Something Healthy is a 10-table restaurant where everything is handmade.

On my first visit to the restaurant I decided to try a $7 tuna melt on whole wheat bread (sourdough is the second option). 

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I’ll admit that I didn’t read the fine print on the menu, so it came as a surprise when I tasted the very powerful flavor of rosemary. 

While unexpected, it wasn’t a bad addition to to the fish. Generally I’m used to the herb on poultry potatoes and other meats, but don’t think I’ve ever had it on tuna. On this sandwich, however, it was the perfect ingredient. 

And of course, as I looked closely at the menu, I noticed “smoky rosemary aioli” listed in the description.

I made my sandwich a combo by adding potato chips and homemade iced tea and it was then that I noticed that all of the chips available were baked varieties of popular brands. And the iced tea offered – that day the choices were Mango Lassi, Cherry Raspberry and Blood Orange – are bottomless, and served sweetened or unsweetened.

I had this fear that unsweetened tea from a healthy food place was the equivalent of water, with three drops of flavor, but I’m happy to say that I was proven wrong.

The Cherry Raspberry was my first pick – and probably my new favorite tea – and I had to try a second on the refill, which was the blood orange. Both were flavored very well, and though I ordered them sweetened, it wasn’t at all over sugared.

With each sandwich or wrap comes a side salad and it turned out to be a real salad – none of that non-nutritional iceberg stuff here – and dressing made from scratch.

The next dish I tried was the southwestern turkey wrap, which contained lettuce, onion, corn, tomato, hummus and salsa.

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The salsa was only slightly spicy in my opinion (to me it felt like 400 Scoville units) but there are some lightweights who might actually feel the burn. I did find myself wishing that there was less lettuce and more turkey, but that could be because I was hungry that day.

Next time I’ll have to try one of the soups. They were advertising some sort of southwestern chowder and I hope they have it the next time I visit.

Something Healthy is at 1014 S. Shamrock Ave. in Monrovia.

Dining on a budget: Moffett’s Chicken Pie in Arcadia

By Stacey Wang, Correspondent

If Little Miss Muffet tried Moffett’s, I suspect she’d throw out her curds and whey.

Moffett’s Family Restaurant and Chicken Pie Shoppe in Arcadia is the type of place locals seem to know about, but most who haven’t been there can’t remember seeing it.

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Although it has been around since 1975, the almost transparent American diner hides in the corner of a plaza with big names like CVS Pharmacy and Radio Shack.

The diner is nothing grand. It’s decent in size and has the homely feel a diner should have.

But what’s so spectacular about this place that attracts a constant flow of customers?

It’s chicken pies.

Ordering the popular chicken pie, I was initially disappointed by its appearance. A bland-looking meat pie covered in a hefty serving of gravy. No vegetables, no color. Just gray.

Reflecting on the hype, it was hard to think that this hamburger-sized plainness would be as good as many raved.

Taking a bite, I realized how wrong I was to prejudge it. Tasting the savory simplicity, its violations in visual pleasantness were forgiven.

It had a flavorful gravy-soaked crust, that didn’t taste soggy – and even if it was, it still would have been delicious.

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The pie was stuffed with chicken and more gravy. Although I would have prefered some vegetables in it, the pie was quite satisfying. It was filling, despite its size, and it wasn’t too salty.

Moffett’s chicken pie dinner includes soup or salad, whipped potatoes, vegetables, bread and a dessert for $9.65 plus tax. For big appetites, a chicken pie dinner combo comes with two pies and its extras for $12.05 plus tax. For the less ambitious, they offer the chicken pie ala cart for $4.50 plus tax.

Other than their meat pies, the establishment has options for a variety of diners, from a slim line section for dieters to a hearty selection of hamburgers and sandwiches.

Moffett’s has a mushroom melt hamburger that includes a 1/3 pound patty, topped with swiss cheese and mushroom on rye. It comes with soup or salad for $7.45 plus tax.

If there’s room, bread pudding or a slice of fruit pie can be added for about $3.

Moffett’s is at 1409 S. Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia. To contact Moffett’s, call (626) 447-4670.

Brown bagging it

Over the last six months or so, I’ve noticed there is a lot less room in the refrigerator in our office’s lunch room.

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It’s not surprising many of us know the importance of saving money any way we can and bringing your own lunch to work versus eating out every day is sure cheaper, if not healthier for you.

I am not much of a cook so I usually rely on someone else’s cooking for possible leftovers instead of making the same old sandwich or salad every time I brown bag my lunch.

But I’ve found other things to make brown-bagging a little easier and my lunches more exciting.

FRUIT - I love fruit, but I admit I am lazy to cut my own fruit to make a fruit salad. I also won’t eat an apple unless it is cut up. And really sometimes there isn’t time to do it in the morning before dashing off into traffic. I have decided though to buy fruits that are easier to grab and go, no dicing or peeling necessary, like grapes, strawberries, bananas, blackberries, pears, nectarines… and on it goes.

I also found prepackaged, sliced apples are easier to find and buy at the supermarket. At first it may seem as you’re paying more, but really it’s not much compared to the bags of chips or cookies you’ll be digging in through your change to grab from the vending machine, and you pay a little more for convenience. Time is money.

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I have also recently found a great little farmer’s market in East L.A. that has a nice selection of fruit for great prices. I picked up bosc and Asian pears, and strawberries there a few weeks ago for less than $10.

NUTS – I know there is a salmonella scare with pistachios recently, but there are plenty of other good nuts you don’t have to worry about – unless you’re allergic that is.

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Nuts are a great source of a variety of protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and good fat (those known to help lower your cholesterol.) And they are so filling, they make great in-between meal snacks or you can toss them into certain meals to feel full and satisfied faster.

Nuts are best in their natural state, but if you want to go with the roasted or salted kind, keep the portions small because of the salt content.

Keep a tight-sealed container in your desk drawer for a quick pick-me-up anytime.

FISH – Adding tuna to your salad or pasta, or even as a sandwich, is a good way to get more fish in your diet. But you don’t need a can opener and you don’t have to stick to tuna.

In sealed pouches and cups, tuna or salmon, can be a tasty lunch in minutes.

There is even smoked salmon found in pouches. Be careful with some pouches that still require a slight draining.

CHICKEN - Just like tuna, chicken can also be found in sealed pouches to easily toss into a salad or make a sandwich with.

My favorite way to have convenient quick chicken is the packaged, stripped or cubed, pieces of chicken in a resealable bag.

I like to warm up a few pieces in the microwave for a few seconds and toss them into a salad, or grab some salsa and tortillas and make your own little soft chicken tacos.

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If you want to save a little more money and have a little time, grab a whole roasted chicken from your local supermarket (Vons occasionally has sales on their chickens on Fridays), then take it apart yourself, getting rid of the bones and making pieces or shreds of chicken. Separate your chicken pieces into small portions in zippered bags or put it all in one bag to conveniently grab when preparing a lunch.

PACKAGED MEALS – Not all packaged meals are a great deal or healthy, but there are a lot more choices nowadays.

I like the new steamer meals like Healthy Choice’s Fresh Mixers that don’t require freezing or refrigeration - you add the water before microwaving – so you can toss some in your drawer or car for days you forgot to bring lunch.

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They have tastes such as rotini with zesty marinara sauce and sesame teriyaki chicken.

Supermarkets are always having sales on the frozen meals, rotating weekly through the different brands. Just wait for your favorite brand and stock up.

My new goal is to prepare staple items early in the week, such as rice, beans, vegetables, and refrigerate them so I can just add another item or two and have a nice lunch. For cheap.

Comment below with your suggestions and ways you save by bringing your brown bag lunch.