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: 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

Dining on a budget – Orchid Thai Cuisine

By Kevin Felt

Orchid Thai Cuisine in Arcadia wouldn’t be out of place in the trendy malls dotting the landscape of modern Bangkok.

As we thumbed through the long menu, filled with traditional Thai foods and a limited selection of Chinese-influenced dishes, we gazed at the comfortable modern decor and baby blue ceiling, augmented with wispy clouds and twinkling star lights, which would be right at home in the trendier parts of Bangkok.

The annotated menu includes more than 100 items with helpful descriptions, ranging from Satay Chicken, Papaya Salad and Jungle Curry to Panang, Pad Thai and Nam Khao Tod.

For most of the a la carte curries and main dishes on the menu, you can chose between beef, chicken, pork or tofu for $7.95, shrimp or squid for $9.95, or fish or scallops for $12.95. Most lunch specials, served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays, cost $5.95.

The generously sized $7.95 a la carte plate of Spicy Orchid Crispy Chicken was especially tantalizing. Small chunks of chicken were stir-fried to the perfect crispness in a tasty garlic glaze with slivers of carrot, green onion and cashews.

Though the menu labels the dish as spicy, the friendly waiter’s warnings convinced me to try a medium version. Although it did little to sizzle my admittedly high-tolerance palate, the dish, atop 50-cent sticky white rice, was delicious.
 
Next was the $7.95 Pad-See-Ewe with tofu.

Thin, inch-wide rice noodles were pan-fried in a sweet soy sauce with egg, firm tofu and Chinese broccoli to create the slightly sweet, slightly salty dish, served on a large platter. It was good, but slightly bland for my tastes.
 
As an added surprise, as we boxed up our leftovers, the waiter delivered small cups of dessert.

Every day, the restaurant provides patrons with a different Thai dessert, he explained. Today’s specialty was a surprisingly tasty soup of chewy green tapioca balls, corn kernels, coconut shavings and iced sweetened milk.

It will definitely be worth another visit to try the Eggplant with Basil Leaves or the Green Curry.

Orchid Thai is at 1311 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia.

Sir, there’s a fly on my salad

I can’t stand the idea of bugs, flies, spiders or any sort of insect near me, much less in my food. Fortunately or unfortunately, diners have no clue and no control of what goes on inside the kitchens of most restaurants. Who knows what the conditions are like behind the swinging doors. At a few establishments, however, the kitchen or prep area is out in the open. I’m referring to places like Subway, Quizno’s, taco stands, and to some extent, Panda Express and El Pollo Loco.

For lunch the other day, I stopped at O Salads, a restaurant in Irwindale that’s basically a large salad bar. The last thing I expected to see was flies buzzing around, but I saw at least three. One was a super plump fly resting on the counter. Another was flying wildly all over the restaurant. The third was crawling on the slices of carrots and cauliflower.

You might say that three flies is no big deal. I’m sure there are worse kitchens and more serious health violations at other restaurants. And really, O Salads seems like a very clean, well-run restaurant. But watching the flies buzz around made me lose my appetite for a salad.

I went next door to Xa Vietnamese Grill and ordered a plate of grilled beef over rice.

Sakura Ichi

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Power lunch, dinner date, happy hour. I tried out Sakura Ichi in Pomona a couple of weeks ago after a few recommendations. It’s a beautiful restaurant in downtown Pomona with good service and pretty good Japanese food.

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The inside of the restaurant is gorgeous. Modern Japanese. Dark wood. Red accents. Bamboo poles. Mood lighting. Large bar. Private rooms, including traditional Japanese dining rooms. It’s a great place for a dinner date or a business lunch.

The service is friendly and attentive. Our waiter explained the different dishes and made some very good suggestions.

While the food isn’t magnificent, it’s still very good. The menu includes pretty much everything you’d expect to find at a Japanese restaurant — chicken teriyaki, gyoza, California rolls, tempura, salmon teriyaki and lots of sushi. There’s even separate page dedicated to Chinese dishes. I also ordered a salmon collar (they also have yellowtail collar) that was soft, fatty and very tasty. I was disappointed by the tempura. The vegetables were a little hard, and the tempura batter wasn’t as light and fluffy as I would like it to be.

Sakura Ichi Japanese Restaurant
101 W Mission Blvd # 101
Pomona, CA 91766
(909) 865-2059

Red Brick Pizza no more

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Two locations of Red Brick Pizza in the East San Gabriel Valley have closed recently, and I can only guess why. There was one location at the Lakes in West Covina, close to Edward’s movie theaters, and another in Covina on Badillo and Grand, next to Von’s grocery store.

Neither of the restaurants had great business, and I’m not sure why. I have a few guesses.

First, let me start with what they don’t do wrong:
1. The pizzas taste good.
2. The menu offers a lot of a lot of variety and creativity. Toppings included prosciutto, pine nuts, ricotta cheese, sesame thai sauce, arugula, kalamata olives, and all the traditional pizza toppings.
3. They also have breadsticks, salads, sandwiches and gelato
4. They offer coupons and specials
5. Every booth has its own flat panel TV and remote control

Here’s what I don’t like:
1. It is expensive. Small pizzas cost about $7, mediums for $10.50 and larges for $17. Sure, the pizzas tasted good, but they weren’t that good. The pizzas didn’t feel like a good value for the money.
2. The pizzas aren’t filling. A medium pizza feels like a small pan pizza from Pizza Hut.
3. Service is slow. The restaurants can operate with just two people in font — one person making pizzas and another person taking orders and making salads.
4. The casual dining environment feels fast food restaurant, but the menu prices aren’t.
5. The restaurants don’t market themselves as a take-out pizza place, don’t offer delivery nor do they allow customers to order online. They want dine-in customers, but it’s not very enjoyable to dine there either.
6. You can’t control the volume level on the televisions.
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Pike Place Roast

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What do you think of Starbucks’ Pike Place Roast? Is it as good as anticipated? Do you think it’s better than some of their other blends?

My short view – Pike Place Roast is light, nutty and smooth. Starbucks must have listened to the complaints of burnt, bitter flavors in their other coffees because It’s not bitter. Although it could use a little more body, it’s a great every day coffee.

Other takes –

Pike Place delivers a pretty great cup of joe. It’s got
a light fruity and nutty aroma, a smooth feel on the tongue but nice
body and no wimpy finish. This lighter roast (clearly a response to
widespread complaints about Starbucks’s penchant for over-roasting)
allows a broader spectrum of flavors and aromatics to emerge, things
that can sometimes be burnt away in a darker roast. Starbucks might not
like this, but it kind of reminds me of Dunkin’ Donuts’ house coffee.

The Stew (Chicago Tribune blog)

Pike Place definitely went down better than the normal houseblend at
Starbucks. It was smoother and without the bitter aftertaste. Another
barista informed us it is lighter than Starbucks’ usual coffee.

The New York Observer

I’m surprised and pleased that the taste is friendly….there’s no
shock. The flavor may be easy on the tounge, but its also very
full….the boldness of a strong roast is not sacrificed…its pretty
darned good.

Inside KIRO Newsroom

It was anti-climatic.  The aroma was reminiscent of a more mellow
(generic?) coffee, which I think is good – the objective here should be
to provide a more universal coffee experience I think.  The taste is
citrus-like, with less of the bitter aftertaste that has become the
bane of many a coffee aficionado.  Im reminded of perhaps the Casi
Cielo.  Its good, but I dont see it as raising the bar so much: had
Starbucks put the same care into turning over the House Blend brew more
frequently and grinding the beans in-store, I think the flavor would be
close to par.

The Starbucksters Blog

Pikes Place Roast itself is REALLY good. It has some similarities
with house blend but is much deeper. The barista told me that when they
were choosing the beans they really focused on pairing the coffees
flavor with creem and sugar. This is a pretty ingenious, dont you
think?

My Starbucks Blog



the pike place
blend is a medium roast that i wasn’t too crazy about. it had a very
weak after-taste & it just felt to light.

Radar Hill