Dining on a budget: Johnny’s Shrimp Boat in WC

By Eric Terrazas

For variety’s sake, I attempt to mix some fish into my diet at least once a week.

Though I’m more of a meat eater, I could always go for a good seafood meal. And if that meal consists of shrimp, my mouth especially waters.

Since I have always been a big fan of shrimp, I decided to give Johnny’s Shrimp Boat in West Covina a try recently.

I am no stranger to Johnny’s Shrimp Boat, which also has locations in Whittier and East Los Angeles. I have visited the Whittier location a few times over the years.

When I made my first visit to Johnny’s Shrimp Boat in West Covina, I decided to order one of their four $5.95 specials. I selected the four-shrimp meal, which includes rice, pinto beans, gravy and a soft drink.

I thought the shrimp tasted good – it was one of the better shrimp meals I have tasted.

The rice, which was doused with gravy, and the pinto beans both added to an already scrumptious meal.

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Three other $5.95 specials are also offered, and those include the following combinations: two shrimp and two short ribs, two shrimp and one piece of fish, and two fish tacos. All meals come with a soft drink and rice, beans and gravy, or French fries.

For those with slightly bigger budgets, there are $6.95 specials available as well. Those include the six shrimp meal, and the two shrimp, one hamburger steak combination. Those selections also include the soft drink, rice, beans and gravy.

If you’re not in the mood for shrimp, however, Johnny’s Shrimp Boat offers other options.

Johnny’s menu features hamburger choices such as the double burger, bacon, avocado, pastrami and chili. Sandwich choices include chicken, club, fish, Philly cheese steak, grilled cheese, pastrami and tuna. Fish tacos, and beef and chicken teriyaki are also featured on the menu.

If you’re craving a salad, your choices include green, chicken, tuna and chef.

Johnny’s Shrimp Boat is located at 803 S. Glendora Ave. in West Covina. For information, call (626) 813-3818.

Dining on a budget: The Green Banana Leaf in Duarte

By Lafayette C. Hight Jr.

During the 90 seconds between the time I left my car until I entered The Green Banana Leaf restaurant in Duarte, I tried to guess what type of cuisine I was about to experience.

My first thought was Puerto Rican food, since I know banana leaves are used in pasteles – like tamale cakes – and other dishes native to the island.

Then my mind jumped from Mexican food, where the leaves can be used to wrap tamales, grilled meats and other char-broiled dishes, to Hawaiian food, where banana leaves are even used to cover meats in the imu, the underground oven where pigs are traditionally roasted whole.

In the end, I decided that there are far too many types of cuisine that use the leaves – African, Malaysian, Indian. After I asked, I was told that it was Filipino food.

Browsing the menu, I was delighted to see that the most expensive combination plates were $7.50. The only exceptions were for family meals and the special on Mondays, where two whole fried chickens can be had for $10.99.

The sweet and sour shrimp, seafood combination, breaded pork chops, and rice bowls all seemed appealing. But in the end I decided to try calamari as an appetizer and the BBQ Mix combination.

When the seafood arrived, it looked good, but after I tasted a few pieces I was a bit disappointed. It was slightly greasy and it seemed like it had been in the deep fryer for one or two minutes too long. 

I’m not sure if it was the “Monday, one hour before closing time” factor but it seemed like the seasoning was right and it would have been perfect with a little less time in the oil. A bit worried, I watched as my BBQ mix arrived, hoping that this trend didn’t extend to the main dish. My fears were soon eliminated.

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Both the beef short ribs and the chicken had been seasoned in a delicious marinade that I really enjoyed. The chicken was amazing and the ribs were prepared similar to Korean kalbi.

All of the special combinations come with a soup, and on this day it was Crab and Corn Soup, which was very similar to Chinese Egg Drop Soup, but with those two added ingredients. 

Also complementing the meal were egg rolls, steamed rice and pancit, which I had for the first time. 
 

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The restaurant serves two types of pancit, and I had a bit of both. To me, the major differences between the two varieties of stir-fried noodles were the type of pasta: One thick like chow mein, and the other made with really thin rice noodles.

I look forward to going back and trying some of the other dishes. I’m a huge fan of places that serve breakfast all day, like this one, and am particularly interested in the bangus (milkfish) dishes, tocino, which I’ve heard is similar to bacon, and longanisa, which are supposed to be amazing sausages.

The Green Banana Leaf is at 1740 Huntington Drive, Suite 304, Duarte. It can be reached at (626) 301-9541.

Dining on a budget: Senor Baja, aka Taco Nazo in B.P.

By Emma Gallegos, Staff Writer

It’s not even fair – some restaurants have me right out of the gate. When I walked into Senor Baja, I could immediately smell the grease. It was the smell of so many flaky fish fillets being freshly but lightly batter-fried to a golden brown.

The sign out front still says El Taco Nazo, which is a familiar chain throughout Southern California.

I haven’t eaten at any of the other locations, but in Baldwin Park it is blissfully apparent that no one ever asked a focus group for their opinion. There is a shelf of model cars, gigantic close-ups of shrimp cocktails framed on the walls and a picture of Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. The specials are hand-written on those pre-printed cardboard signs you see at garage sales or used car lots.

From the smell of grease to the eclectic decor, the message here is clear: it’s all about the food. Who needs to worry about the subconscious signals you’re sending with decor, when you can lure people – especially in this economy – with the thrill of 99-cent tacos every Monday and Wednesday? (And if the economy has really got you down, on any day of the week there’s a well-stocked refrigerator of cold beer – domestic and Mexican – behind the counter for $3.75 each.)

The only hint of a focus group on the horizon is the name change in the works. The sign on the outside still says El Taco Nazo, but the eatery’s Web site said the name will be changed to Senor Baja, so that people will more readily associate their restaurant with Baja California. The Web site also notes that they will be remodeling their stores and going through a “re-imaging” process. We’ll see if Zapata – who isn’t from Baja – will survive the focus group.

There are few things about the restaurant I’d like to see changed. The whole restaurants hums with energy and efficiency. Waiters sailed around the corner to music that sounded like ABBA from warmer climes. A few waiters sang along. A sign on the sneeze guard suggests kindly that you take only what you’re going to eat. And by the time I got my utensils, a straw and napkins, they called my number. I’ve waited longer for Happy Meals.

I opted for the fish taco combo, which came with beans and rice and a drink ($6.49). I splurged with some flan for dessert ($2.31), but even with all that, I only broke $10 by two pennies because they tacked on an extra 50 cents for using my debit card.

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Fish tacos are their specialty and they hit it out of the park. The fish was hot, fresh, golden and not that greasy. The cabbage was crunchy, the tomatoes ripe, the cilantro fragrant and there was just enough sour cream to keep the taco from being dry. The flan wasn’t made on site, but it was creamy and had absorbed the not-too-sweet caramel sauce. The only true disappointments were the rice and beans, which were probably made en masse early on in the day and were cold and bland by the time I got there.

It’s best to forgo the combo. Opt for a few 99-cent fish tacos on Mondays and Wednesdays, you might even be able to get a beer without breaking $10.

Senor Baja is at 14343 Ramona Blvd., Baldwin Park, and can be reached at (626) 338-6420.

www.senorbajarestaurant.com