Dining on a budget: L&L Hawaiian Barbecue in WC

By Eric Terrazas

I love the taste of barbecue! Every time I see the letters “BBQ” my eyes widen to the size of globes. Since childhood, I’ve enjoyed many kinds of barbecue, including Korean and several American variations.

Another barbecue that I like is Hawaiian. My first visit to this island style came when I decided to give L&L Hawaiian Barbecue a try at the Puente Hills Mall. If my memory serves me correctly, I ordered the tasty Hawaiian BBQ chicken meal.

Since that first visit, I have been an occasional L&L customer. On a recent Wednesday, I decided to spend my lunch at their West Covina location, a place that I have visited before.

I ordered the BBQ Mix, which costs $7.19. The meal features beef, chicken and short ribs. The plate also includes macaroni salad and steamed rice. 

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I thought it was a very good meal. The short ribs were especially delicious. While the chicken and beef was also tasty, I thought the short ribs were the best part of the meal.

I also finished off my steamed rice and macaroni salad, which served as nice complements to my lunch. I would definitely recommend the BBQ Mix.

My co-worker decided to order the Kalua and Lau Lau Combo, which costs $7.99. That meal includes a pork chuck wrapped with a steamed taro leaf, which is paired with smoked flavor pork. My co-worker offered me a sample of the smoked pork, which tasted pretty good.

In addition to beef, chicken and pork entrees, L&L offers seafood selections such as the Seafood Platter. The $7.79 meal consists of a combination of fried shrimp, fried mahi and fried scallops.

Another interesting looking meal is the Loco Moco, which costs $6.69. The Loco Moco plate features hamburger patties topped with brown gravy and eggs. A mini version of the Loco Moco costs $4.49.

Two other selections I wouldn’t mind trying are the pineapple chicken meal ($6.39) and a bowl of grilled Spam saimin ($3.59). The bowl consists of Spam pieces that are served with noodles.

L&L Hawaiian Barbecue is at 323 N. Azusa Ave. in West Covina. For information, call (626) 732-2221.

Dining on a budget: Bean Sprouts Vegetarian in Arcadia

By Evelyn Barge

I’ve been known to develop strange food obsessions.

Jellied cranberry sauce, at any time of year. Cheetos-brand bacon-cheddar crackers, which are less about cheese and more about a cheddar-flavored paste substance. Cottage cheese and sliced black olives – together.

But I recently had a food re-awakening and started forming some dietary habits that are actually good for me. And guess what? Healthy food is addicting, too.

Now I feel deprived if I don’t start my day with a banana, or if I forget to add avocado to my sandwich at lunch.

My desire for a healthy menu that, most importantly, tastes good brought me to Bean Sprouts Vegetarian Restaurant in Arcadia. It’s one of a limited number of veggie-friendly eateries in the San Gabriel Valley, and a popular one no less.

I’ve had great success with West Covina’s One World Vegetarian Cuisine, from which I frequently order take-out, but it was time to expand my horizons.

The offerings at Bean Sprouts trend toward a variety of Asian dishes, all vegetarian, with lots of noodle and rice plates to choose from.

Sitting down in the dining area, which is immaculate and modern, a menu on the table was placed with the lunch specials facing up. After that, there was almost no reason to turn the page, save for curiosity.

The lunch-hour specials are all $5.99, for a generous helping that comes with soup and a cold appetizer. For $1.99, you can add a side dish; For another 99 cents, a glass of the winter melon tea, for which people would willingly pay three times as much at Coffee Bean.

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As my main dish, I ordered the noodles with fermented bean sauce. It was an oversized portion of an average entree, anchored by (thankfully) above-average sauce. I wanted to eat the sauce and bean curd off the top, and leave behind the rather bland-tasting noodles.

The servings of fresh-steamed veggies like cabbage, carrots and celery along with the small side of rainbow rolls – all come included with lunch specials – played a bigger role in filling my contented belly.

In the past, tasteless and dry vegan sushi has scared me off from the genre as a whole, but since the rainbow rolls came as a package deal, it was a good chance to jump back on the horse.

Now I know what I’ll order next time. With carrot, lettuce and peanut powder wrapped in seaweed and rice paper topped with vegan mayonnaise, the rolls were crunchy clusters packed with plenty of flavor. I might have ordered another round, if I wasn’t already stuffed to the brim.

The side dish of pan-fried radish patties – made of shredded radish, rice flour and oatmeal – was also a stellar addition with a really unique, mild flavor. The patties held a similar consistency to scallion pancakes, but with much less sodium and much less guilt.

Bean Sprouts has its storefront on Huntington Drive in an extremely walkable part of downtown Arcadia. Next time, I’ll take advantage of its close proximity to the Arboretum and create a custom picnic bento box to bring along.

Bean Sprouts is located at 103 E. Huntington Drive in Arcadia. For more information, call (626) 254-8708 or visit www.beansproutsrestaurant.com

Dining on a budget: Hunan Chilli King in San Gabriel

By Emma Gallegos

By now, I’ve memorized the tics of the best restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. 

Sure, the best restaurants don’t have to be tucked away in unassuming strip malls with the kind of signage that necessitates illegal U-turns. The best food doesn’t have to be enjoyed over the strains of someone with Mariah Carey’s phrasing and penchant for swelling strings, if not her range. I’m sure the best chefs don’t necessarily request that the dining room decor resemble a garage sale.

But when I find myself at a restaurant like Hunan Chilli King in San Gabriel with menu items scrawled in magic marker on fluorescent posters, I’ve started to feel like I’m in good hands. (I thought I’d made it out of the woods because there was a satellite TV beaming from China instead of music, but by the time I got my food, live-recorded footage featuring one of Ms. Carey’s acolytes was rolling.) 

And I was in good hands. This was my first experience with cuisine from the Hunan province, which is the most famous for bringing the heat – if you don’t count Sichuan. 

All you true believers out there may be disappointed to discover that I didn’t try the dish the restaurant is known for. The Hunan steamed fish head was $16.99. True believers would call this a steal but it didn’t quite make the cut for a budget dining column. 

 

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Instead, I tried the pork in a Hunan brown sauce for about half the price ($8.99) – tender pork in a brown sauce with thin celery stalks, red peppers and almost translucent peppers that brought the heat. The vegetables were sauteed just long enough to absorb the chili and garlic but were still crispy. 

The waitress suggested “on choy” with a garlic and bean curd sauce ($7.99), a cooling vegetable that’s somewhere between spinach and bok choy. It took the edge off of the pork, though at a certain point nothing could really combat the heat.  

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I tied it all together with a heaping bowl of fried rice ($6.99). I’ve been so abused by fried rice at terrible Chinese restaurants. The rice here was delicate – flavorful, not too greasy or soggy with soy sauce or dried. It was a deep brown, almost charcoal color, laced with bits of egg.

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The restaurant was bustling at lunchtime with groups of twenty- and thirty-somethings, but service was swift and efficient. I did laugh that I had to ask for water at a restaurant with stuffed plush chili peppers hanging from the walls. 

Maybe I didn’t try the restaurant’s delicacy but I left the table impressed: tingling lips, ruddy face. I’ve heard that the sting of spicy food can release endorphins, which seems about right since I felt something akin to a runner’s high before I descended into an MSG daze. The daze and the restaurant’s “B” rating are the only facts that might have besmirched my experience. Then again, why does a “B” rating seem to be another one of those tics of the best food in the Valley?

By the time I paid for food, tax and tip, my meal came to $30. Going to a Chinese restaurant alone is foolish, but the meal I ordered would have served three easily. Next time, I plan on bringing my own twenty- and thirty-something friends in tow.

Hunan Chilli King is at 534 E Valley Blvd., San Gabriel.

Mini mission for buffalo ranch chicken sandwiches

After my sliders and mini sirloin burgers post yesterday, my boyfriend surprised me with an order of the mini buffalo ranch chicken sandwiches from Jack in the Box when I got home. And I didn’t have to mention anything to him – ain’t love grand?

He assumed I hadn’t heard about the sandwiches, knew my penchant for anything with buffalo sauce and decided he would grab some for me when he picked up his drive-thru dinner before the Lakers game.

It was a great surprise from him but unfortunately a not so good surprise from the sandwiches. I love the buffalo sauce but there wasn’t enough for me. The chicken patties were juicy, but they weren’t as filling as the mini sirloin burgers.

Also I would have preferred them with the ranch on the side instead of inside. Since there is really not many snack size buffalo sandwiches to go out there, I may try them again and ask for the ranch on the side and some more buffalo sauce to dip them in.

Sliders anyone?

Whether it’s because of the current economic downturn or more people favoring smaller meals to super-sized ones, many fast-food chains are adding smaller, quick and less-pricier items to their menus.

MINI MANIA

To add to their mini-sirloin burger craze, Jack in the Box has now added mini buffalo ranch chicken sandwiches - mini Homestyle chicken fillets topped with Frank’s RedHot sauce, ranch sauce and shredded lettuce on toasted mini buns.

I love buffalo sauce so these are on my list to try. I already love the mini-sirloin burgers, with a nice juicy thick mini sirloin patty, slice of cheese, grilled onions all sandwiched between two mini sweet buns.

 

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These are definitely not super-sized, but these three fill me up just fine. These mini’s start at $3.89 plus tax, for three burgers or sandwiches alone.

 

SLIDER SENSATIONS

Moving on from their not-so-difficult fight with KFC and their new grilled chicken, El Pollo Loco is adding more items to their tasty menu such as their new chicken sliders, chicken carnitas tacos, and bringing back barbecue chicken for a limited time.

I recently took a chance on their sliders which come in three ways – bbq, original and spicy all on a mini telera roll – and start at 99 cents each, plus tax.

The original and spicy come with lettuce and either a chipotle spicy sauce or a cool mayonaisse, and a breaded, crunchy, fried chicken patty.

The barbecue is shredded pieces of their flame-grilled chicken smothered in a slightly tangy barbecue sauce with coleslaw.

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I only tried the spicy and the bbq and they were pretty tasty for how small they were, but they’re not very fillin. Even after three I was still hungry. They should also still be a little careful when shredding the pieces of chicken for the barbecue – I bit into a small piece of bone in my slider.

Maybe they’ll try mini shakes and wings next.

Dining on a budget: Pho 2007 in Rowland Heights

I fell in love with banh mi sandwiches after I first tasted them at Xa Vietnamese Grill restaurant in Irwindale.

But sadly, Xa Vietnamese closed months ago and has left me longing for those tasty French Vietnamese sandwiches.

So I scoured the Internet and surveyed colleagues for nearby Vietnamese restaurants that served the baguette sandwiches.

Mr. Baguette in Rosemead was suggested plenty of times but it is not in the coverage area of our weekly community newspapers (I will give them a try later anyway).

After finding many pho spots on the Web, I hit on Pho 2007 in Rowland Heights. Though not really near the office, I thought I would give it a try since it is within our coverage.

As I drove up Colima Road toward a little side street called Otterbein, I knew I found the place when I was greeted with a large “Pho 2007″ sign over what used to be a Taco Bell restaurant.

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I was eagerly greeted as soon as I entered and was handed a menu, which varied from spring roll appetizers to banh mi sandwiches, and pho (rice noodle soup) to rice plate entrees, and more.

I took a chance on three original shrimp spring rolls for $4.50, and a banh mi sandwich with grilled pork for $3.25.

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The rolls come with about three medium-sized shrimp (cooked and peeled), small pieces of cooked chicken, cilantro leaves, lettuce and vermicelli rice noodles, all tightly wrapped in rice paper.

The rolls were nicely sized for their price (I only finished one) and the accompanying peanut sauce was a great complement.

The first thing I noticed about the sandwich was the size. It was wider than what I was used to. When I unwrapped the paper covering the sandwich, I found out why.

Pho 2007 used a bolillo (a thick and wide Mexican roll) instead of a baguette (long, thin French bread).

This made the sandwich a little difficult to bite into, but I knew my way around a bolillo so I dug into the thick crusty bread. 

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I liked that the sandwich had all the banh mi ingredients I was used to – sliced carrots and cucumber, cilantro sprigs, and sliced jalapeno with a light spread of mayonnaise. The sandwich also had a half-round slice of tomato, it was nice but a little too thick so it kept coming out. 

The pork was nicely seasoned with soy sauce and something a little sweet. The pieces were nicely sliced, not very fatty, which you may find with pork, and slightly grilled. 

For the price, I would say the sandwich definitely satisfied my craving for banh mi.

But I can’t say how often I will go out of my way from the northwest side of West Covina to the southeast end of San Gabriel Valley just to get to Rowland Heights. That would take up my whole lunch hour.

Of course, those cravings don’t go away forever …

Pho 2007 is at 19208 Colima Road in Rowland Heights and is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. They are closed on Tuesdays.

Be sure to have cash in hand as they do not accept any cards. $5 dollar dine-in specials are offered on Wednesdays. For information and to-go orders, call (626) 839-8100. 

Dining on a budget: Koba Tofu Grill in Diamond Bar

By Maritza Velazquez

Tofu. The first words that probably come to mind are bland and flavorless.  
 
But this healthy protein-packed food is not just for die-hard vegetarians. Nor does it have to be merely a meat substitute. 

At Koba Tofu Grill in Diamond Bar, you get both. 

This Korean eatery offers a dozen selections of soon, a type of Korean soup, which combines bold, spicy broth, soft tofu, and your choice of meat served in a boiling hot pot. 

I tried the Dumpling Soon Tofu, which features delicious beef dumplings and small slices of beef. Unlike many other soups I’ve tried, there’s no fishing through the broth to find the good stuff. It’s loaded with tofu.

My order came with six good-sized dumplings. Regularly $8.99, all of the soon varieties are now on special for just $6.99. To name a few, you have your choice of seafood, kimchi, seaweed, vegetable, curry, beef and octopus, or oyster soon tofu. 

28581-KOBATOFU_dining-thumb-300x225.jpgYou can order it mild, medium, spicy or very spicy, depending on your degree of chili tolerance. And I have to warn you, this stuff is hot!

The weather has been heating up too, so if you’re not willing to tolerate the spice amid 90-degree temperatures, you can also try some of the other dishes and specialties Koba has to offer.

The restaurant also offers dishes like tofu and vegetable salad, pork bulgogi, barbecue beef ribs and chicken teriyaki. 

All of the Korean soon come with a plethora of side dishes. When I ordered, I had no idea I would be getting a mini feast – bean sprouts in a sesame sauce, fried fish, kimchi, white rice, potato salad and garden salad were a few of the offerings. And for dessert, you get a tiny cup of tart frozen yogurt. 

I enjoyed most of the sides with a few exceptions – I hated the garden salad and spinach, and the kimchi definitely wasn’t up to par. 

The servers weren’t particularly friendly either, but they did bring out the food quickly, and kept it coming. Anything else I needed (like refills on water and the check) was promptly brought to my table after waving them down. 

All in all, I had a good experience at Koba, which also has locations in Irvine and Fullerton. For under $10, I got a huge meal, with more than enough food to spare. 

The decor is great, too. A very clean, modern restaurant with dark woods, soft lighting, and calming wall colors, this place was a great find. 

Koba Tofu Grill is at 2839 S. Diamond Bar Blvd. in Diamond Bar. For more information, call (909)839-2898.

Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger

The new Portobello Mushroom Six Dollar Burger at Carls Jr. is pretty awesome. If you like a nice thick 100 percent Black Angus beef patty smothered in mushrooms, then this burger is for you.

I’m partial to Swiss cheese, so the two slices this baby comes with is alright by me. I also like the red onion, though the lettuce was a little mushy for my taste.

It’s finished off with two slices of tomato and mayonnaise on a toasted Sesame seed bun. Yum!

I couldn’t even finish this behemoth, which might actually be healthier for me. There’s 870 calories packed in this burger, with 470 calories from fat and 53 grams of fat. Ugggghhh!!!

Sodium tops out at 1,730 mg. So I wouldn’t want to make a habit of this entree. But it sure tastes good.

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Dining on a budget: Los Gueros in Monrovia

By Lafayette C. Hight Jr.

The best way for a restaurant to develop a following is to wow you within the first few minutes of sitting down at your table.

I had such an experience at Los Gueros last week after happening upon them while strolling down Myrtle Avenue with a rumbling stomach.

I’ve actually known about the restaurant for years, however. They were located in a large, barn-sized building in Pasadena for such a short while – at least it seemed that way to me – that I didn’t get a chance to visit before they closed. I remember now that I was told of their Monrovia relocation, but it obviously faded from my memory.

So, a few seconds after being seated at one of their outdoor tables, I decided to order guacamole to complement the chips and salsa.

Literally, a few seconds after that, a guacamole cart was wheeled over and a staff member started peeling and mashing avocados, mixing jalapenos, onions, tomato, lime, salt and pepper into a healthy green mixture that doubled as a conversation piece, since everybody walking down the street felt compelled to comment on how delicious it looked. 

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It was so good, in fact, that I completely forgot about the menu, and wasn’t ready to order for a little while. But I eventually decided on carne asada enchiladas.

I wondered if the main course would arrive in the same three-minute window that the guacamole appeared, but it wasn’t quite that lightning fast.

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The best thing about their menu, whether lunch or dinner, is that the most expensive items are about $13. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner and have a bar.

I even tried a banana margarita, to satisfy my curiosity. It was just okay, and I wasn’t too crazy about it. But I think it’s because I generally think the only time bananas should be liquefied is when they are put into a smoothie.

I quizzed my server about the name, Los Gueros, which to those of us who speak Spanish, might seem an odd name. According to him, however, the Frenchman who started the business earned the moniker `Guero,’ which then led to the restaurant’s name.

But back to the food. Whenever I dine at a Mexican food establishment, I judge the meal by the quality of one simple element of the meal. (Interestingly enough, it’s the same for Chinese food.) 

The rice. It’s simple to prepare, but too many times in my dining experiences I end up at places that serve dry, hard rice, and I’ve had to write them off.

I’m happy to say that the beans and rice at Los Gueros were great. And the asada steak was well-seasoned and marinated. I’m looking forward to sampling more of their menu.

And ordering the guacamole again.

Los Gueros, located at 423 S. Myrtle Ave. in Monrovia, are open from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday an Saturday  and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

For more information, call (626) 358-0200.

Dining on a budget: Manny’s El Loco in Covina

By Eric Terrazas

As a lifelong enthusiast of Mexican food, I am always on the lookout for eateries that serve good Mexican cuisine.

One place I decided to sample was Manny’s El Loco in Covina, which I had never visited until a recent Friday.

After a quick look at Manny’s menu, I decided to order one of their several combination plates – the two cheese enchiladas plate, which came with rice, beans, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream. The meal cost me $6.75.

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I have tasted enchiladas at many different eateries over the years. Some of the fast food places that serve delicious enchiladas include Super Burrito, Hacienda San Isidro Grill and Los Sanchez, all located in Whittier.

After cleaning up my plate at Manny’s El Loco, I left a happy customer. I would rate Manny’s cheese enchilada meal among my favorites.

The enchiladas had a little spicy taste to them, which posed no problem with me. I also had no trouble finishing my rice, beans, lettuce and tomatoes. The sour cream also added to the enchiladas’ taste.

After finishing my meal, I cooled off my taste buds with a small horchata. It was a nice way to wrap up my lunch.

Other $6.75 combination plates Manny’s offers include quesadillas, two chile rellenos, chicken or beef fajitas, two sopes, steak picado, two beef tacos, and three rolled taquitos. All plates come with rice, beans, lettuce, tomatoes and sour cream.

If you don’t want the combination plate, you can order individual burritos or tacos. Several different kinds are available.

Manny’s menu also includes hamburgers, hot dogs and pastrami sandwiches. Being a big fan of burgers, I’m wondering what Manny’s take on the cheeseburger tastes like.

Breakfast choices are also available. Combination plates offered include huevos rancheros, machaca, chorizo and two eggs, two bacon and two sausage.

Now that I have tasted their delicious enchiladas, I definitely plan on returning to Manny’s. I might order one of their burritos, tacos or burgers on my next visit.

Manny’s El Loco is at 845 W. Cypress St. in Covina, and at 437 Glendora Ave. in West Covina. For information, call the Covina location at (626) 339-6025 or the West Covina location at (626) 814-3474.