Dining on a budget: D.J. Bibingkahan in West Covina

I don’t know the history of Filipino food but after my first visit to D.J. Bibingkahan in West Covina, it wasn’t too far from Mexican food.

It made me wonder, who inspired who?

This little bake shop is a spacious restaurant and bakery in what is locally known as Little Manila, or the Seafood City shopping center off of Amar Road and Azusa Avenue.

On a recent lunch hour, playing on televisions throughout the dining area was a Filipino version of “Ugly Betty,” an American television show that is a version of the Mexican soap opera show “Betty La Fea.”

The cheesy over-acting and camera work immediately reminded me of Mexican “telenovelas” or soap operas.

Ordering food here required a quick lesson. First of all, I didn’t understand the menu, and not because of language barriers, but there also isn’t much clarity as to how to order food.

Luckily, I was well accompanied by two fellow foodies who were familiar with the way of the D.J. Bibingkahan.

It actually reminded me of how one may typically order food at a fast-food style Chinese restaurant. The food is spread across a long counter behind glass and you can just point to what you want.

34189-DJBIBINGKAHAN_dining-thumb-250x187-34185.jpg

Easy for me since I didn’t know what items were what, let alone know how to pronounce it properly in Tagalog. 

Much of the food in front of me looked very good but so as not to be sorely disappointed with my lunch I went with a couple suggestions made by my companions instead of following my hungry eyes.

Everyone mostly orders combos which come with steamed white rice and an optional cup of soup, but you can order items a la carte.

With everything from a side spinach with coconut milk dish, beef boiled in blood stew to fish dishes, there was plenty to choose from.

I decided to go with the beef barbecue on a stick and a beef stew called beef kaldereta. I didn’t get to try the soup this time which had pork in it.

I did try the chicken adobo off of a lunch companion’s plate though. The chicken is cooked for hours in a soy sauce and vinegar mixture, making the chicken tender and juicy and the mixture a little more sweet than salty.

The beef barbecue was perfectly cooked, not too tough, and had the nice barbecue taste and not just the marks of a grill.           

34188-DJBIBINGKAHAN_dining1-thumb-280x192-34187.jpg

 

The beef stew tasted so close to a Mexican dish my mom cooks. The spices in the stew and the juicy, chunky cut of the beef are almost exactly the same as the Mexican version, though the color is a little different.

I didn’t taste them at first but the stew also has potatoes and carrots, much like the Mexican dish. My mom’s dish also has peas and squash though.

My mom serves the dish with rice as well. It’s a great way to absorb the stew and flavor the rice.

This D.J. restaurant is actually one of six chains with another in Las Vegas.

D.J. Bibingkahan in West Covina is at 1515 Amar Road, (626) 581-4682.

(NOTE: After this article ran in print and on the Highlander website, there were many commenters helping me out with a little history lesson on Filipino and Mexican food. And others commented on Spanish soap opera history. Feel free to join in on that discussion by clicking on the link above or start a new one here – Comment away! Thanks.)

Dining on a budget: Beijing Cuisine Garden in WC

By Emma Gallegos

If it’s lunch hour, my coworkers and I are probably at Hong Kong Plaza in West Covina, even though the plaza has gotten emptier and emptier over the course of the year.

It’s been a trying year for restaurants and anyone else angling for customers’ waning expendable income. The year was especially tough for businesses at Hong Kong Plaza, which is awaiting the arrival of a new supermarket called HK2 owned by a younger generation of the family that owned the Hong Kong Supermarket that used to fill the gaping vacancy in the middle as the plaza’s anchor.

But we still have a few expendable dollars, so at least once a week we’re back at the plaza visiting old favorites like Krua Thai or the 1+1 Dumpling House. 

It helps to plan ahead and figure out what we’re doing, but we still feel confident winging it and driving around the empty parking lot blindly and picking our next culinary adventure: Should we try Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean or Thai?  

Beijing Cuisine Garden exemplifies the spirit of Hong Kong Plaza adventure: quick, reasonably priced, fresh and intense flavors. 

None of the dishes’ flavors are bland or halfway: They’re spicy, salty, oily and sometimes tinged with a splash of wine. When the food went wrong, it went too far in this direction.

There was a BMW parked out in front of Beijing Cuisine Garden and men in business suits inside the restaurant, but for those of us in a different tax bracket there are lunch specials, ranging from $4.95 to $6.95, that include rice and a soup of the day.  

The waiter recommended the dishes in kung pao style, and, indeed, the dish that blew me away (and made me forget subsequent mediocre dishes) was the Kung Pao Shrimp ($6.95). Fresh shrimp tossed in with a flaming mix of bell peppers, onions and red peppers. 

The Kung Pao Beef ($5.95) had the same addictive spicy sauce, which would have been a recipe for success except that the beef was a little tough.

30395-BEIJINGGARDEN_dining2-thumb-150x112-30394.jpg

 

There’s nothing that cools the palate like a plate of spiced cucumbers – unless of course you decide to add some jalapenos, as was the case with the Peking Cold Cucumber with Parsley and Hot Pepper ($2.95).

The dishes that had enough liquid to qualify as stews were weaker bets.

30397-BEIJINGGARDEN_dining1-thumb-200x179-30396.jpg

I mostly enjoyed Fish Fillet in Hot Bean Sauce ($6.95), juicy medallions of white fish and strips of tofu submerged in a red hot sauce with a hint of a rice wine. It could have stood to have a little less oil and salt.

My coworker could barely eat the Hot and Spicy Vegetable with Beef ($8.50), which came in a thick, brown broth that she said was also just too oily and salty.

Avoid the submerged dishes but try something new in Hong Kong Plaza. You don’t have to have a BMW. All you have to do is literally go the extra mile from the Westfield West Covina for something that won’t be bland, boring or overpriced. And, for now, there’s no traffic.

Beijing Cuisine Garden is at 965 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina, and can be reached at (626) 851-8875.

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. 

L&LHAWAIIAN_dining.JPG

 

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.

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.

26005-brown_bag440-thumb-200x136.jpg

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.

26007-fruit-thumb-250x187.jpg

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.

26009-nuts-thumb-200x170.jpg

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.

26013-chicken-thumb-250x221.jpg

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.

26011-HEALTHYCHOICE-thumb-200x106.jpg

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.

Dining on a budget: Victor’s Villa in West Covina

By Eric Terrazas

I never shy away from a good hamburger.

Over the years, I have eaten at many different burger joints. And on a recent afternoon, I made my first visit to Victor’s Villa in West Covina.

I decided to order the quarter-pound cheeseburger along with a side of onion rings. The burger cost me $3.15 while the onion rings are priced at $3.19.

After taking my first bite, I was impressed with the burger’s fresh and tender taste. My cheeseburger came with lettuce, tomato and thousand island dressing, which all added to the burger’s goodness.

 

22350-VICTORS_BURGERS-thumb-300x225.jpg

The onion rings also did not disappoint. They especially tasted good after I added ketchup. All in all, it made for a nice lunch.

If you are not a fan of cheese, a quarter-pound hamburger is available for $2.85.

The Victor’s Villa menu should also delight bacon and chili lovers. For $3.20, you can order the quarter-pound chili burger. If you’re in the mood for bacon, the quarter-pound bacon burger can be had for $3.99.

Since I’m a fan of both bacon and chili, I would be willing to try the Victor’s Villa take on both the chili and bacon burger.

For those with slightly bigger appetites, the quarter-pound Onasis Special burger is available for $4.85.

Victor’s Villa also offers a good Mexican food selection. For $2.99, you can order a taco asada. Burritos, taquitos and quesadillas are also offered.

Several different sandwiches are also on Victor’s menu. Selections feature pastrami, rib-eye steak, chicken breast, roast beef, turkey breast, fish, tuna, club and patty melt.

In addition to the onion rings, other side orders offered include fries, hot dogs, zucchini, corn dogs, rice and beans.

Patrons with hearty appetites can check out the dinner plates, which come with salad, fries, onion rings, zucchini and garlic bread. Dinner selections include the New York steak, pork chops, rib-eye steak, fried chicken, shrimp, fish and pastrami.

Victor’s Villa also serves breakfast from 7 a.m. to noon. Selections include pancakes, omelettes, eggs, steak, chorizo, sandwiches and burritos.

Victor’s Villa is located at 2201 W. Francisquito Ave. in West Covina. For information, call (626) 338-1129.