Dining on a budget: Tortas Sinaloa in Baldwin Park

By Claudia S. Palma

I’ve passed by Tortas Sinaloa plenty of times as I drive through Baldwin Park and it always catches my eye, mainly because of the name.

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My mom and many of my family are from Sinaloa, Mexico. Even though I lived there for a few years when I was younger, I don’t recall much about the city, especially its food.

I visited Los Mochis, Sinaloa, for a few days a few years ago but mainly ate at my uncle’s house and at the neighbors’. It was neat to see how many households set up little shops selling various types of small food plates – such as tacos, rice and beans, tortas and more – right from their front door. No license or grading from any governing body needed.

But tortas as I thought I knew them were not the same in Sinaloa.

It all depends on the ingredients. Tortas are usually made using a telera bread, which is thinner and wider than a bolillo, another Mexican bread. 

In Los Mochis, my aunt would make me a sandwich using a telera and fill it with beans and maybe sprinkle some queso fresco, a crumbly, mild, unaged white cheese. This sandwich was called huaraches or sandals. Before that visit, I would have just thought it was a torta with beans and cheese.

I was very curious to see what served as tortas at Tortas Sinaloa.

The restaurant, situated in a little strip of shops in the Home Depot lot right off the 10 Freeway, had a simple yet roomy interior.

The tabletops are embelisshed with a colorful fruit design and the walls are decorated with beautiful murals.

The counter to the right was lined with a row of large plastic containers filled with agua fresca, freshly made water-based fruit beverages.

The tortas menu had several choices, from the simple ones with meat and avocado or meat and cheese to combos and specialties, each with its own special name.

The Cancun torta ($4.99) was a chicken milanesa (thinly sliced and breaded) with ham, cheese, avocado and a slice of tomato. The Hawaii ($3.99) comes with ham, pineapple, cheese, avocado, tomato, onion and lettuce.

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I decided to go all out and try the Sinaloa Especial ($5.99), which came with ham, milanesa, salchicha (sliced and grilled hot dog wiener), shredded chicken, cheese, avocado and tomato.

The soft, grilled telera bread was thin enough not to take over the sandwich and thick enough to hold everything in. 

I loved the combination of meats inside, though the grilled greasy taste of the milanesa and the salchicha overpowered the chicken and the ham.

Next time I think I will try one of the more simpler tortas like the pastor con aguacate, which is marinated pork meat and avocado with lettuce, tomato and onion for $4.75.

I also had to try one of the aguas frescas, sitting there all nice and cold. I had a choice of lemon, horchata, watermelon, a fruit blend, melon, jamaica and tamarind. I went with the refreshing melon or cantaloupe melon. Kid’s size is 99 cents, medium $1.99 and large for $2.35. It totally hit the spot on a hot day.

Tortas Sinaloa also offers tacos, burritos, quesadillas, chimichangas, and other side offerings like the molletes I ordered for $2.99.

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Why they are called molletes I don’t know, but they are half slices of telera bread grilled and topped with beans, chorizo or sausage and cheese.

There is also sweet molletes, which my brothers and I used to make as kids even though we didn’t know what they were called at the time. We would just get some teleras or bolillos, slice them, grill them, smear some butter and sprinkle sugar on top – delish and cheap!

They also offer smoothies, mixed juice drinks and other desserts like flan and banana split.

Tortas Sinaloa has two locations in Corona, another in Fontana and one in Tijuana, Mexico, if you ever travel that way. 

I don’t know when I’ll make it to Los Mochis again but now I have another point of reference for tortas.

Tortas Sinaloa is at 14510 Towne Center Dr., S-C, in Baldwin Park. For information and to-go orders, call (626) 338-9555.

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: Claro’s in Covina

By Emma Gallegos

At the intersection of Italy and Americana (specifically, the intersection of Citrus and College), there’s Claro’s.

The market, deli and bakery in Covina is the latest addition to the Claro’s empire that got its start in San Gabriel and now includes outposts in La Habra, Tustin, Arcadia and Upland.

Browse the aisles and you’re sure to find a healthy mix of devotion to the homeland and imports from the homeland. 

There are T-shirts and keychains and caps and vanity license plates proclaiming love for Italy or Sicily right alongside some of the imports that are trickier to find at, say, Ralph’s. There are chocolate hazelnut “Baci” and “Kinder” candies or the menthol cough drops that Italians suck on in sickness and in health. There’s dark, bitter chinotto soda and light Italian beer.

But, if you are truly dining on a budget, I’d advise you to skip most of the imports. Undoubtedly, the weak dollar and the fuel it takes to bring Italy to Americana contributes to a ridiculous mark-up on some of the items. I found myself unknowingly shelling out $4 for an Abbondio Rossa soda – a bitter, subtly sweet Italian soda that would have tasted less bitter without the aftertaste of sticker shock.

Penny-pinchers should stick to the deli on one side of the store and the bakery on the other.

For only a few dollars more than Quizno’s foot-long special ($6.99), you can order a sandwich and watch the meat being sliced right in front of you. 

Or you can wander over to the other side of the market and salivate at the sight of so many beautiful loaves of bread and cornettos (Italian croissants) and a broad selection of other freshly baked goods to dunk in your morning coffee. 

I opted to try their take on a cannoli ($2.49). I’ve never met a cannoli I didn’t like and this one wasn’t any different. The ricotta filling was rich and fresh but not too sweet. The ground pistachios at either opening of the crispy shell was a nice touch.

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Back at the deli counter, the man who made my prosciutto sandwich warned me that the Canadian kind would be a little saltier, a little less tender than the imported Italian kind. To his credit, he was right. The budget diner in me didn’t want to spring for the imported kind that would cost an extra $2.

The domestic prosciutto was as delicious as any I’ve tried, but the stack of so many slices of salty meat was overwhelming. Savory Italian prosciutto crossed with the all-American love for sky-high stacks of meat isn’t exactly a match made in heaven.

Next time, I’ll skip the bitter soda and splurge on the saltier, tender meat or I’ll tell the man slicing my meat “when” midway through. A little goes a long way, as they say.

But I’ll be coming back. All the ingredients in my sandwich were fresh and high-quality. The bread was firm and flavorful and the mustard was sharp and tangy.

And I know that even in such a small grocery store, I hadn’t even scratched the surface. It might take a few tries, but if there’s anywhere that will hit the sweet spot where Italy meets Americana (on a budget and around the corner), Claro’s will be it.

Claro’s Italian Market is at 159 E. College St., Covina,  (626) 339-3333.

Dining on a budget: Gene’s Grinders in Monrovia

By Lafayette C. Hight Jr.

In different parts of the country, these sandwiches are known as hoagies, submarines, bombers, heros, wedges, cosmos, zeps, and spuckies.

But in Monrovia, they’re just grinders. And Gene has a knack for making them.

I’ve driven past Gene’s Grinders nearly a hundred times over the years and I finally got the chance to step inside.

The menu is incredibly simple and straightforward. With the exception of french fries, potato chips and beverages, grinders are all that they do.

It was a hot grinder that I opted for – one of a half-dozen offerings that include a roast beef dip, meatball and kielbasa varieties – pastrami, and an order of $1.50 french fries.

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It’s a good thing I chose the $5.50 small sandwich, because when it arrived it was much larger than I expected, at nearly 12 inches.

I can’t imagine how big the large grinders are, but I was impressed at how lightning-fast my grinder was prepared.

Now, in Los Angeles, there is a sandwich stand, not too far from the corner of Pico and Olympic boulevards, that serves pastrami that is so greasy, that if you were to place the wrapped sandwich on a copy of this newspaper, both would be soaked in about 45 seconds.

I’m so glad Gene’s isn’t that type of place.

The pastrami sandwich – which is different than the pastrami dip that is also offered – is prepared with lettuce, tomato, cheese and the meat was very lean. 

All of their small sandwiches fall into the $4 to $5.75 range, while the large sandwiches are between $5 and $7.50.

Now, the one thing that I got from Gene’s. that I didn’t expect, was a lesson in horse racing.

The placemats list the Santa Anita Park schedule, there are about 900 photos of different horses and races on the walls. A pair of horseshoes hang not too far from the door, and one of the many tidbits of information I picked up is that Sunday Silence and Easy Goer were the horses battling for the triple crown in 1989.

For a moment, after I first walked in, I though the restaurant was owned by the folks at the racetrack, as a kind of off-campus Frontrunner Restaurant.

But, I now know that Gene, who works in the kitchen regularly, is just a horse racing aficionado.

On my next visit I plan to try one of the cold sandwiches, like salami or tuna. Or maybe on a Friday, I’ll try the sandwich of the day: Italian sausage.

Gene’s Grinders is located at 800 S. Myrtle Ave. in Monrovia. For information, call (626) 358-8016.

Dining on a budget: Old World Deli in West Covina

By Claudia Palma, Staff Writer

WEST COVINA – We have so many choices to get a fresh sandwich nowadays – Subway, Quizno’s, and even Vons – but I still like giving the little family deli shops a try.

I’ve seen the Old World Delicatessen hidden in the expansive Eastland Shopping Center in West Covina before and thought I would see what they had to offer.

The old-Italian style storefront nicely welcomes you into the shop, which offers both a sit-down and take-out restaurant and a deli shop where you can buy your own meats and cheeses to take home and cook with.

As much as I would have loved to stay in and enjoy the fresh and tasty-looking all-you-can-eat salad bar, I needed to get back to the office and ordered to go instead.

The menu features a variety of cold and hot sandwiches, New York-style hot dogs, soups, broasted chicken meals, pizza, and pasta dinner combos.

I chose the Brooklyn Bridge Grinder cold sandwich. It has a combination of Italian cuts – mortadella, coppocolla, dry salami – with provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, bell peppers, and topped with a special blend of Italian dressing, on a six-inch Italian roll.

 

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The sandwich alone is $6.85, but I made my order a combo with a drink and a side order of potato salad for a couple bucks more.

Everything in the sandwich tasted fresh and cold, the way it’s supposed to be. The meats were not too salty and had a nice kick of spices of their own.

The dressing was perfectly seasoned, not too overwhelming, and covered the vegetables in the sandwich enough to make them a little soft.

The potato salad definitely had to be freshly homemade and not the mass-produced buckets you can get at the supermarket. It had just the right amount of mayonnaise and seasonings. I even detected a little mustard which I usually don’t like but it blended in well. 

The size of potatoes varied from small to large round slices and had the right amount of pickles thrown in.

The shop, which has been in the deli business since 1969, offers daily dinner specials and catering. They also have another location in Upland.

Old World Delicatessen is at 2649 E. Workman Ave. in West Covina, (626) 967-6307; and 281 S. Mountain Ave. in Upland, (909) 608-0418. The deli’s Web site is www.owdeli.com.

Dining on a Budget: Vietnamese Sandwiches

I love Vietnamese Sandwiches so much that my first taste of those French baguettes topped with meat and pickled Asian vegetables is a warm memory. Probably just as good as the satisfying taste is their insanely cheap prices — most of these sandwiches run in the $2 range! You can always find a decent Vietnamese sandwich, or banhh mi, at Lee’s Sandwiches, the McDonald’s of Vietnamese sandwiches. With a wide selection from grilled chicken, barbeque pork to ham, these surprisingly filling meals run as low as $1.95 to $2.75. You can also buy spring rolls or fried egg rolls as appetizers for just as cheap.

Lee’s locations in the Valley:

Alhambra
1289 East Valley Boulevard @ Valley Supermarket Center
Alhambra, CA 91801
Phone: (626) 282-5589

Rosemead
8779 East Valley Boulevard @ Muscatel Avenue
Rosemead, CA 91770
Phone: (626) 291-2688

Rowland Heights       
18194 Colima Road
Rowland Heights, CA 91748

There are few other places in Orange County, especially in OC’s Little Saigon, that I actually prefer over Lee’s (their baguettes are not as fresh as I have tasted elsewhere), so I am always on the look out for other places in the Valley serving my favorite sandwich.

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I recently discovered Mr. Baguette in Rosemead, a Vietnamese sandwich shop just down the street from a Lee’s Sandwiches. While the place boasts a pleasant outdoor patio area, I was immediately disappointed as soon as I stepped to the counter to order. The cheapest sandwich — the Special with ham and salami — was $3.35, almost a dollar more than most Vietnamese sandwiches! I certainly hoped that the extra dollar made the sandwich far superior than any other sandwich I had before. To my dismay, the bread was not as fresh as I had hoped and the portions of meat and toppings were a bit skimpy. So, for Vietnamese sandwiches in the Valley, I’m sticking to Lee’s.

Dining on a budget: Unexpected delicacies at Vons Supermarket

Rarely does one get convenience and quality: Its usually one or the other.

However, at the Vons supermarket in Glendora, I found that these two traits have apparently united at the deli counter.

As a former Azusa Pacific University student, Ive been going to the Glendora Vons deli for years, finding it to be a local, quality meal even on a student budget. In those days, a Vons sandwich was a decadent treat enjoyed during my weekly trips to buy Top Ramen in bulk.

So, for the discriminating eater on the go, this may be the ideal solution.

One of the great things about the Vons deli is their sandwich ingenuity, something you wouldnt expect to find on a toilet paper or dish soap (or Top Ramen) run.

For $4.99, the deli offers a variety of interesting and unique sandwich creations.

In my younger years, I never did branch out all that much, sticking mostly to turkey sandwiches on whole wheat bread. For this review however, I decided to go nuts or at least my version of nuts.

I ordered the Hail Caesar, described as having Primo Taglio pan-roasted turkey, Primo Taglio havarti, green leaf lettuce, garlic spread and tomatoes on rustic Italian bread.

Sounds fancy, right? It tasted pretty fancy too.
 
The combination of the havarti cheese, fresh lettuce and tomatoes was entirely refreshing. And while the garlic spread was a bit strong, it served as a nice counterpoint to the rest of the sandwich.

My only complaint, however, was the rustic Italian bread. Im not entirely sure why a bread that shreds the roof of ones mouth is being widely used on sandwiches, but it shouldnt be. It hurts. I recommend staying far away from the rustic Italian, and instead perhaps opt for a nice sourdough or wheat roll.

While the sandwich alone was $4.99, Vons will make it a meal, which means add chips and a medium drink, for $1.50 more. However, the chips can be substituted for fresh fruit or soup.

California Dreamin is a pan-roasted turkey sandwich with avocado, bacon and ranch spread, also on the painful rustic bread.

These are just a few of the many culinary Frankensteins available for the adventurous palate.

Gourmet soups, rotated from day to day, are also another feature here. For a $3.29 small, or $3.99 large, customers have the choice between broccoli and cheddar, minestrone, chicken noodle or clam chowder. And that was just on Friday. Couple a half sandwich with the small soup and pay only $4.99.

Finally, hot paninis are available in turkey and havarti; ham, swiss and cheddar; pastrami and swiss; three cheese; or philly cheesesteak.

I personally wouldnt touch those greasy nightmares with a 10-foot pole, but for the seemingly ubiquitous price of $4.99, you, too, can look like you were recently dipped in oil.

I guess my favorite part about all of this is that, while theres a Starbucks four doors down from Vons, theres also one about 20 feet from the deli counter.

So, why not substitute that soda for an iced coffee? It goes great with a turkey sandwich!

Super Bionicos in Baldwin Park

Dining on a budget:

Craving a fresh lunch one day, I decided to go Super.

Super Bionicos in Baldwin Park is a little shop along a small strip mall on Ramona Boulevard that offers a variety of fresh fruit items, smoothies, sandwiches and, of course, bionicos.

Bionicos are a Mexican specialty dessert that features a mix of fresh cut fruits topped with a sweetened

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condensed milk and cream mixture, shredded coconut, granola and raisins.

They are made to order if you prefer just one type of fruit, and if you would like cottage cheese or yogurt instead of the cream mixture.

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Quizno’s – the longest line in the world

I think I’ve reached my breaking point. As much as I love the flatbread at Quizno’s (you can order two pieces on the side for just $1), the long line at Quizno’s isn’t worth it. Today, I waited nearly 30 minutes for my food.

12:43 p.m. – Walk in, stand in line to place order
12:47 p.m. – Place order for two orders of flatbread (YUM!)

waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting waiting

1:10 p.m. – Pay
1:11 p.m. – Walk out with food

I noticed on my receipt that Quizno’s has a customer comment line (1-866-4TOASTED) that, surprisingly, is manned by an actual person. Thanks, Quizno’s!