Sizzler’s $9.99 Cheeseburger and Endless Salad Bar

I didn’t grow up eating at fancy restaurants. The first time I stepped into a Denny’s I thought it was fancy because we had to be wait to be seated.

So when I first went into Sizzler and saw it’s salad bar I thought I was in heaven. I love creating my own salads and when I was younger I used to eat almost everything in sight. (Can’t really do that now that I’m not as active.)

After high school, I really found out what a fancy restaurant really is but I still love having the freedom of creating my own salad every once in a while, so I made a lunch trip to Sizzler in West Covina with some colleagues recently.

I think Sizzler’s steaks are decent and I definitely loved when they had all-you-can-eat ribs, but I never tried a cheeseburger there.

I took a chance on it this time since the restaurant chain’s promotional commercials of a cheeseburger, side of fries and endless salad bar for only $9.99 had me brainwashed.

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I ordered my burger medium raw, I would usually go raw on meat but I didn’t want to take that much of a chance this time. The burger comes with your choice of cheese, I went with Swiss, lettuce, tomato and sliced red onion, which is my fave. Of course I like a little kick so I added some steak sauce and jalapenos.

After a cup of clam chowder soup and a nice helping of salad, complete with mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, bacon bits, sunflower seeds, and drenched in ranch, I dug into my burger.

The toppings were fresh and the meat was cooked the way I ordered, not too raw or too cooked, but the meat didn’t seem to be the best quality of beef used.

I know I’m spoiled because I have a chef at home who makes amazing burgers, any way I want them, but I was dissapointed with the quality at Sizzler. Even Carl’s Jr. and Burger King burger patties taste better.

So finally, I will still be going back to Sizzler for the endless salad bar, including frozen yogurt, but I’ll stick to other menu items I’m more familiar with like steak and lobster next time.

But since I don’t have much room in the belly anymore, the salad bar hits the spot all on its own.

Dining on a budget: Sakura of Tokyo in West Covina

By Maritza Velazquez

The sushi may not be spectacular, but the price is just right. 

Sakura of Tokyo in West Covina probably has the best lunch specials of any Japanese restaurant I’ve ever frequented.

My lunch companions and I pondered over the expansive menu that included more than 35 lunch combination specials for at least 10 minutes before making a decision. 

After members of the attentive wait staff returned to take our orders more than once, I finally settled on a combination plate of sushi, sashimi and tempura for $8.50. It included salad, rice and a serving of miso soup. 

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Probably the biggest disappointment was that the five pieces of sushi on my plate were really only just three. Two of the pieces included only egg and rice. The shrimp sushi wasn’t the most fresh seafood I’ve ever tasted either.

But the sashimi (sliced raw fish without the rice) consisted of a good-sized helping of my two favorite fish – salmon and tuna.

The tempura, a popular Japanese dish of battered and deep- fried meat, included both shrimp and vegetables. 

If you’re not familiar with sushi, or Japanese cuisine in general, Sakura of Tokyo is a great place to start. Every menu item has an accompanying photo, and each booth has a poster of the names of all the different kinds of fish.

Lunch specials range from $5.75 to $8.50 and include many different options, such as California rolls, gyoza (fried chicken dumplings), beef and chicken teriyaki and even egg rolls. 

Dinner specials at Sakura aren’t too shabby either. All priced at $8.25, there aren’t as many options as the lunch specials, but you can still order some of the same fare – teriyaki, sesame chicken and sushi. 

The whole staff at Sakura of Tokyo is friendly from the get-go. It was great that we never had to wait, and even our food came out in less than 10 minutes.

The restaurant is adorned with random trinkets consisting of both Japanese and ocean themes. My aquaintances and I enjoyed observing all the fun decorations – like the blow-up oversized Sapporo bottles and killer whales, combined with faux cherry blossoms and Japanese lanterns.

Sakura of Tokyo is at 533 S. Glendora Ave., in West Covina. It’s open seven days a week, and closes between the hours of 3 and 5 p.m. On Sundays, it’s only open for lunch from 4:30 to 9 p.m.

For more information, call (626) 960-7155.

Dining on a budget: Mediterranean Garden Grill in Monrovia

By Lafayette C. Hight Jr.

After a visit to the Mediterranean Garden Grill in Monrovia, I believe I’ve found a new favorite location for Middle Eastern food in the Valley.

While I often find myself dining along Myrtle Avenue, or Huntington Drive, I drove around town, looking for something new and exciting, and happened upon this restaurant, located next door to the Aztec Hotel.

At first I was a bit confused after walking inside. The dining room is designed to look like an anteroom and has the feel of a large covered patio for outdoor dining. The ceiling is even covered with faux grape vines. And when I tried to walk in the direction of what I thought was the “indoor dining” section it turned out to be the kitchen.

But after I recovered from my discombobulation, I did make it to a table where I ordered the $6.50 fried kibbeh appetizer.

When it arrived – along with some piping hot pita bread – garnished with lemon wedges I decided to accept the invitation to sprinkle lemon juice over them, despite the fact that I can’t recall any other ground beef dishes that work well with added citrus.

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I’m glad I did, though. The kibbeh (pronounced kib-bay) was seasoned well and the meat tasted more like ground steak.

Deciding on an entree, however, was harder than I thought. My first instinct was to go for the $22.00 Sauteed Frog Legs, however my dining companion would have had a conniption watching me eat a green amphibian. Next time I think I’m going to go alone, or find a kindred who wants some “ribbet” satisfaction.

They also offer $22.00 Sauteed Quail, in a recipe that seems like the Cajun-style, chardonnay-sautee’d version I’m familiar with, kebabs and shawarma that can be served as a sandwich, or an entree in the $6 to $10 range, as well as salads, falafel and other standard Mediterranean fare.

I settled on the $12.99 pan-flamed salmon served on rice, though for an extra $2 the rice may be substituted for marinated spinach.

The salmon arrived with an abundance of garlic and lemon, which is just the way I like it, and though it was a thin fillet it was very juicy, which to me, signified that the folks in the kitchen know what they’re doing.

The vegetables and rice that accompanied the salmon were good as well and I thought that the latter was buttered rice. But after inquiring with the staff, I learned that the restaurant doesn’t use butter and it had been cooked with olive oil.

I later found out that the restaurant’s many windows, and patio-style atmosphere are conducive to hookah, which is available for $15 with a dozen or so different varieties of honey and molasses flavored tobacco.

Mediterranean Garden Grill is located at 335 W. Foothill Blvd. in Monrovia. They are open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday and from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, closed from 2:30 to 5 p.m each day except Sunday which is open from 11 am. to 8 p.m. For information, call (626) 301-0555 or visit www.mediterraneangardengrill.com .

Middle Eastern culinary adventures in Montebello

With the new arrival of Zankou Chicken in my city on the south western edge of the San Gabriel Valley – Montebello – I thought I would start a new culinary adventure in my own town.

Zankou just adds to the various Middle-Eastern cuisine offered in the city, of which many focus on chicken.

Off the top of my head I can think of Ani’s Chicken right across from the Mart on Montebello Blvd.

On a recent Tuesday, with my chef taking a night off, (my boyfriend), we headed out to one of his favorite places to grab a Middle-Eastern meal, Garden Grill.

Garden Grill, competing with Subway and Pizza Hut on the same corner of Beverly Blvd. and Maple St., is a little food stop which is also a small market selling food items like Nutella and pasta to home decorations.

I must admit even though I’ve had kabobs and hummus for years, I’m still a little new to the variety of Middle Eastern offerings. I recently tried beef shawama for lunch at a new spot in Irwindale (keep an eye out for a future review), and I’ve only tried a gyro once.

The menu at the Grill was pretty easy to figure out for a newby like me, and there were lots of photos to help, with everything from sandwiches, salads and combination plates.

I had to try one of the special combos named after streets of Montebello, just because I’m a native. There was the Maple combo, Beverly combo, Montebello and Poplar combos.

I went for the Beverly which came with a piece of grilled chicken, beef shawarma (thinly sliced pieces of beef), and kafta, a ground beef patty mixed with parsley, onions and spices.

The combo plate comes with rice, salad, hummus and a fresh pita bread and a small soda for $6.99. My boyfriend went for the Maple combo with a beef kabob, chicken and kafta for $7.99.

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Of course I started with the salad and hummus. When I first tried hummus years ago I couldn’t imagine how it could be messed up  because of it’s simple ingredients, but I have had some that was pretty bad and not fresh.

Garden Grill’s hummus was good and fresh especially with the warm pita bread. The salad dressing was tasty as well, though I’m not sure what it was exactly, It tasted a little like vinaigrette.

I tried the shawarma first since I felt I could now compare it witht he other I tried recently. I liked that it was thinly shaved but not too dry. It was a little on the salty side for me but I don’t like much salt at all.

The chicken was nice and moist and grilled with the right seasoning. The spices in the kafta were tasty like meatballs even though it looked like a hamburger patty. The rice was not dry either and there was some cooked noodles thrown in the mix which was a nice surprise.

All in all, the chicken was my favorite part of the combo. I also loved that they threw a pepperoncini in there, for those like me who liked to add a little kick to their meal.

I was pretty full and didn’t even finish the entire combo but it served for nice leftovers the next day. 

Next time I’ll try one of the kabob plates or a sandwich, which looks like a pita wrap. And of course some baklava – I love baklava!

Garden Grill is at 1501 W. Beverly Blvd., Montebello. Open from 9 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., 7 days/week. Phone number is (323) 888-2054.

GOT ANY OTHER SUGGESTIONS FOR MIDDLE EASTERN FOOD IN MONTEBELLO? PLEASE SEND THEM. 

Dining on a budget: Quiznos Torpedo’s in Irwindale

By Eric Terrazas

In these tough economic times, I am always hunting for good food deals.

One offer that caught my eye was Quiznos’ Toasty Torpedoes, which cost only $4. On a recent Tuesday, I decided to spend my lunch hour at the Quiznos in Irwindale. 

The Torpedo is a foot long and is served on thin ciabatta bread. Five different Torpedo sandwiches are offered: Italian, pesto turkey, big kahuna tuna, turkey club, and beef, bacon and cheddar.

I decided to try the beef, bacon and cheddar, which featured roast beef, bacon, cheddar cheese, chopped lettuce and tomato, mustard and mayonnaise.

When I took my first Torpedo taste, I felt a satisfying feeling from my taste buds. 

I thought the beef, bacon and cheddar version of the Torpedo had a nice mixture of tasty ingredients. The ciabatta bread also enhanced the meal.

Satisfied with my Torpedo experience, I decided to head back to Quiznos the next day. This time, I selected the turkey club Torpedo.

The turkey club consisted of turkey, bacon, mozzarella, chopped lettuce and tomato, mayonnaise and red wine vinaigrette dressing. The red wine vinaigrette dressing gave the sandwich a nice, tangy taste.

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The Toasty Torpedoes I haven’t yet sampled also sound scrumptious.

Since I’m a longtime fan of tuna sandwiches, I’m probably going to next try the big kahuna tuna, which consists of tuna salad, cheddar cheese, banana peppers, chopped lettuce and tomato, and red wine vinaigrette dressing. I will probably order it without the peppers.

For those with lighter budgets, Quiznos also sells Toasty Bullets, which cost $3.

The five selections available for the Torpedo are also offered for the Bullet, which is a smaller version of the Torpedo.

Quiznos has several locations in the San Gabriel Valley, including: 15660 Arrow Highway in Irwindale, (626) 851-3611; 465 N. Azusa Ave. in West Covina, (626) 732-9836; 14510 Baldwin Park Towne Center in Baldwin Park, (626) 480-0464; 1407 N. Azusa Ave. in Covina, (626) 633-1800.

Dining on a budget: Valerie’s Crepes in Arcadia

By Evelyn Barge

There’s an erudite Greek term for people like me: turophile, or one who fancies cheese.

No strange epicurean trend has thrilled me more than the growing prevalence of cheese cake – that’s not the dessert cheesecake, mind you – towers as an alternative to a traditional wedding cake. If I ever tie the knot, you can bet I’ll say “I do” to that option.

So, knowing that about me, it’s no wonder that my first dining experience at Valerie’s Crepes in Arcadia was such a disappointment.

I stepped up to the free-standing crepe kiosk in the food court of Westfield Santa Anita Shopping Center tempted by the promise of great things. The staff was busy preparing several orders ahead of mine, and the crepe batter was being skillfully poured and thinly spread on the griddle.

Jars of Nutella stacked high behind the glass counter gave me a visual cue to go for a sweet selection, the apple brie crepe ($6.29), which is billed to include apple slices, brie, walnuts and raspberry preserves.

The crepe that I was handed, and for which my receipt shows I was clearly billed, did contain a bunch of fresh apple slices – but that’s about it.   

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In lieu of the handful of unaccounted-for elements, the preparer had sprinkled on some cinnamon. A healthy dollop of ice cream plopped on top of the folded crepe did very little to combat the overwhelming affect of a dry, powdery mixture.

When planning to eat dinner at any mall, there are few things I expect less than a peaceful mealtime. Obviously, the folks at Valerie’s can do little to alter their surroundings – mine involved being sandwiched by a giggling clique of teenage girls and a family with clunky stroller in tow.

But Valerie’s staff could at least make an effort to counteract the enveloping chaos by living up to their promise of a “gourmet menu” with “mouthwatering ingredients.” (Hint: Ingredients can’t cause your mouth to water if they don’t exist.)

After slogging through five bites of my apple “brie” crepe, a brilliant solution came to mind. I plucked up and asked for a to-go container and made my escape from the shopping complex.

From there, I proceeded to drive home to my apartment, open up the refrigerator and retrieve the sole thing that could rescue this remainder of crepe from further humiliation: brie, obviously.

Hey, Valerie’s, ever heard of it?

Valerie’s Crepes is located in the Westfield Santa Anita Shopping Center, 400 S. Baldwin Ave., in Arcadia. Hours are Mon.-Fri., 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

For more information, call (626) 821-6504 or visit www.valeriescrepes.com.

The battle’s over but the lunch wars are not

So here’s my final installment in the $5 lunch wars.

For the last battle I thought I would put the tuna sandwiches head to head.

I started with Quiznos Big Kahuna Tuna Torpedo for just $4. I had a coupon for a torpedo meal for $5 so I scored with a bag of chips and soda for just a buck more.

The Big Kahuna Tuna has tuna salad, cheddar cheese, sliced banana peppers, lettuce and chopped tomatoes in a foot-long warm and toasty ciabatta bread.

 

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The tuna salad alone was tasty. I don’t know if there was something other than mayonnaise in there but there was some type of seasoning that really brought out the tuna.

The peppers were a perfect addition as well. I sometimes add pepperoncini’s or jalapenos to make things spicy but didn’t want to ruin the sandwich really so I left them out.

At Subway, I had to get a six-inch tuna sandwich, on wheat bread, because the foot-long was more than my $5 budget.

I thought I would take a cue from Quiznos and keep it simple by just adding a few items on top of the tuna.

What I do like about Subway lately is the toppings menu has expanded. I can now get sliced cucumbers and spinach instead of plain iceburg lettuce. And I can add red wine vinaigrette instead of only having mustard and mayonnaise to choose from. 

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I must say I was impressed with the taste. I think mostly because of my combination of ingredients but I must also admit, the couple Subway’s I’ve been to since this little project of mine started have been cleaner and fresher than I last remembered, and the reason I stopped going to Subway.

So I think in total, Quizno’s tasty torpedoes and bullets have won the battle for my taste buds and my wallet but Subway was not as far behind as I expected.

But I’m pretty sure the lunch wars are not over yet.

Check out Staff Writer Eric Terraza’s own take on Quizno’s in Thursday’s Highlander edition at www.sgvtribune.com/highlanders.

WHO WON THE BATTLE FOR YOUR TASTE BUDS AND WALLET?