Progresso vs Campbell’s

Just like many, I’ve been trying to save money and eat healthier at the same time. But it is somewhat difficult to put together a tasty, healthy and quick lunch for work every day. There are only so many frozen food meals I can handle in a month, so I thought I would turn to something tasty and still simple – soup.

After watching those funny Progresso soup commercials, I decided to do my own taste test and compare the new Weight Watchers-endorsed Progresso soups with the Campbell’s Healthy Request line of soups.

I thought I would make it fair and choose a similar soup flavor so I went with Progresso’s Italian-Style Vegetables and Campbell’s Select Harvest Italian-Style Wedding.

 

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Campbell’s site says their “Healthy Request soups are 98% fat free, contain up to 50% less sodium than our regular soups and are made with high quality ingredients. And we’ve added lower sodium natural sea salt — so they taste great! All Healthy Request soups are certified by the American Heart Association.”

Campbell’s Italian-Style Wedding soup can said it had meatballs and spinach in chicken broth, with real parmesan cheese and no MSG added. One serving of about 9.3 ounces had 130 calories, 5 grams of fat with 0 grams of trans fat. It had 480 mg of sodium, 13 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber and 7 grams of protein. The ingredients were pretty basic and seemed all natural.

With all those natural ingredients, this soup tasted about as empty as its calories. The broth had no flavor and there wasn’t enough spinach and sausage meatballs to offset the plain taste of the little macaroni balls that looked like corn kernels. If I were at home, I would have added a little salt and pepper and probably some hot sauce, but I was at work, so I settled for what was quickly available – hot Cheetos.

The softened hot Cheetos helped me finish at least half the serving of soup before I just gave up on it altogether.

Progresso Light’s Italian-Style Vegetable soup said it had only about 60 calories per 8 ounce serving with no grams of fat listed, 700 mg of sodium, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein. It also had about 14 percent of the recommended daily value of potassium, 20 percent of vitamin A, 4 percent each of calcium and iron and 8 percent of vitamin C. Most of the ingredients made sense to me also.

One serving equals 0 points in the Weight Watchers point system and one package, about 2 servings, equals 1 point.

Though this soup didn’t have any meat, there was plenty of chunky penne pasta and vegetables like carrots, celery, green beans and tomatoes. The broth was pretty flavorful, it was hard to believe it had fewer calories than the Campbell’s soup. I didn’t even feel the need to add any hot sauce – or hot Cheetos – to this soup.

Maybe it was the vegetables adding some real flavor to the broth, but to me Progresso was the winner – by far.

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: Pho Minh in South El Monte

By Evelyn Barge, Staff Writer

The word’s trickled out – twice now – on a relative newcomer to Garvey Avenue’s pho-cluttered landscape.

The spotlight first fell on Pho Minh Vietnamese restaurant in December, when famed L.A. Weekly food critic Jonathan Gold heaped piles of praise on the eatery for outshining all its look-alike neighbors.

Then, in a front-page news story on May 1, the L.A. Times trained its eye on Pho Minh, where customers are quick to rave about the classic noodle soup but slow to make their way through the front door.

The consensus among interested parties? More people should be eating here. And now you can add me to that list.

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My small-bowl order of pho dac biet (No. 2 on the menu, $4.75) was without doubt the best I’ve ever noisily slurped in a San Gabriel Valley strip mall, and there have been plenty of those occasions, though last week marked my first at Pho Minh.

I’ve been a longtime fan of San Gabriel’s much-talked- about and always-packed Golden Deli, where I can order a feast for two for under $20, and the drive itself from Pasadena through San Marino’s upscale, winding roads is part of the joy.

But at Pho Minh the joy is concentrated – simply and richly – into what’s most important: the food.

Sailing down Garvey during the lunch hour, it’s easy to get distracted. With the concentration of Vietnamese signs increasing on the drive west, so comes the onslaught of pho stops. Without a destination in mind, each seems indistinguishable from the next.

“Is that one it?” “Wait, maybe this one?” “How about we just stop there; They’re all the same, right?”

A word to the wise: Don’t stray from the hunt. Buried in the back corner of International Plaza is your target – one that’s worth the series of risky U-turn maneuvers required to get there.

Here, the broth is mellow and exquisite; the jumble of meats, hearty and fresh. Pho zen is achieved with a scattering of both the tabletop fish and chili oil.

What’s more, this brothy concoction didn’t leave me in sodium-induced shock nor with an MSG hangover, both of which I’ve come to warily expect from hole-in-the-wall joints in the Valley. Leaving Pho Minh, I felt lightly energized with a warm, full feeling in my belly.

And did I mention free iced tea, tinged with jasmine no less? That’s no rotating special, either; It’s printed on the menu. One day after the L.A. Times article landed on front lawns and newsstands across the city, Pho Minh was packed, every seat in the house filled. The staff and servers were overwhelmed by the traffic, literally running to clear off one table to the next.

For me, that translated into an extra-long lunch hour with lots of waiting involved. It was my only disappointment.

But busy is not the standard fare. Though certainly a long-distance destination for foodies around L.A. and Orange counties, it seems Pho Minh isn’t drawing the necessary support from locals, the ones with the power to sustain its day-to-day business.

The dearth of diners probably has less to do with the recession (who would refuse a full meal for $5-$6 in this economic climate?), and more with the location and its dissonant chorus of equally-priced competition.

Save yourself the weeding process, and write this down:

Pho Minh is located at 9646 E. Garvey Ave., Unit 108, in South El Monte. For more information, call (626) 448-8807.

Hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.

Dining on a budget: Something Healthy in Monrovia

By Lafayette C. Hight Jr.

Something Healthy does something simple in Monrovia.

The most expensive menu item is $7 and their fare can be summed into five groups: Panini sandwiches, wraps, soup, salad and fruit.

Located in a shopping center on Shamrock Avenue that seems to share the healthy-living philosophy – with a gym and health-food store (ignore that fried chicken place on the corner) – Something Healthy is a 10-table restaurant where everything is handmade.

On my first visit to the restaurant I decided to try a $7 tuna melt on whole wheat bread (sourdough is the second option). 

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I’ll admit that I didn’t read the fine print on the menu, so it came as a surprise when I tasted the very powerful flavor of rosemary. 

While unexpected, it wasn’t a bad addition to to the fish. Generally I’m used to the herb on poultry potatoes and other meats, but don’t think I’ve ever had it on tuna. On this sandwich, however, it was the perfect ingredient. 

And of course, as I looked closely at the menu, I noticed “smoky rosemary aioli” listed in the description.

I made my sandwich a combo by adding potato chips and homemade iced tea and it was then that I noticed that all of the chips available were baked varieties of popular brands. And the iced tea offered – that day the choices were Mango Lassi, Cherry Raspberry and Blood Orange – are bottomless, and served sweetened or unsweetened.

I had this fear that unsweetened tea from a healthy food place was the equivalent of water, with three drops of flavor, but I’m happy to say that I was proven wrong.

The Cherry Raspberry was my first pick – and probably my new favorite tea – and I had to try a second on the refill, which was the blood orange. Both were flavored very well, and though I ordered them sweetened, it wasn’t at all over sugared.

With each sandwich or wrap comes a side salad and it turned out to be a real salad – none of that non-nutritional iceberg stuff here – and dressing made from scratch.

The next dish I tried was the southwestern turkey wrap, which contained lettuce, onion, corn, tomato, hummus and salsa.

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The salsa was only slightly spicy in my opinion (to me it felt like 400 Scoville units) but there are some lightweights who might actually feel the burn. I did find myself wishing that there was less lettuce and more turkey, but that could be because I was hungry that day.

Next time I’ll have to try one of the soups. They were advertising some sort of southwestern chowder and I hope they have it the next time I visit.

Something Healthy is at 1014 S. Shamrock Ave. in Monrovia.

Dining on a budget: Casa Del Rey in San Dimas

By Maritza Velazquez

Finally a Mexican restaurant with a little authenticity. 

I was in downtown San Dimas, looking for a place that would quiet my growling stomach, when I came across Casa Del Rey. It’s just a little further down Bonita Avenue, away from the cute Western-style shops.

I had never heard of the place, but what I found within was very surprising.  The dimly lit dining room was pretty empty, as it was well after the lunch rush. 

It was a beautiful day outside, so I opted to sit on the covered patio, which has heaters for the cooler winter days and is decorated with a line of pretty blue and flowered wall tiles.

I found that the service here was exquisite from the time I walked in. As soon as I took a seat, the server was already at work, taking my drink and meal order.

After scrolling down the expansive menu, I decided on the El Ranchero plate ($12), which comes with two enchiladas, one cheese and one beef, rice and beans and choice of soup or salad.

As I waited less than 10 minutes for my meal, I feasted on the fresh chips and salsa. My server dropped off both a mild and hot salsa, but I find my tastebuds always favor anything with more kick to it. 

And the hot stuff had just enough kick. 

My soup was just as good – albondigas – a small cup with thick pieces of tender meat, onions, carrots and celery. 

But what really impressed me was my entree, the enchiladas. Right when the hot plate was dropped off at my table, I knew I would enjoy it. 

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Both the shredded beef enchilada and the cheese enchilada, topped with a red ranchero-style sauce, a huge dollop of sour cream and lots of cheese, were as delicious as they looked. 

So were the beans and Mexican rice. 

According to its Web site, Casa Del Rey uses no lard in its beans and uses no trans fat oil in all of its fried dishes. 

And for those of you who want to spare your arteries further, this restaurant offers many vegetarian and low-carb options such as the vegetarian tacos and health-nut salad. 

When I find a good Mexican restaurant, I don’t hold back at all, and I will definitely be heading back to Casa Del Rey for more. 

Casa Del Rey is at 345 W. Bonita Ave. in San Dimas. The restaurant is open seven days a week. For more information, call (909) 592-2776.

Dining on a budget: Cafe Massilia in Monrovia

By Lafayette C. Hight Jr.

Things were going so well at Cafe Massilia until I made a terrible mistake.

I chose to visit this fairly new French restaurant in Monrovia early on a Sunday morning, which happened to coincide with the only day the restaurant serves breakfast, but opted to sample dishes from the lunch menu instead.

I decided to begin with the $7 Soupe de la Corniche, the restaurant’s onion soup (In a French restaurant, French Onion Soup is simply called onion soup) and it arrived in a ramekin with toasted French bread and parmesan cheese.

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This style of soup is one of my favorites and what I generally look for is the right type of cheese, which, for me, is the kind that doesn’t turn into a mile-long, unbreakable strand when eating it with a spoon.

Cafe Massilia’s version had the right amount of sweetness, and the cheese and French bread.

My lunch companion – the best part about doing reviews like this – chose the vegetable soup of the day, cauliflower soup, which I have to admit was very good.

Now I should probably point out that cauliflower is my second-favorite vegetable. My favorite? Every other one. 

I’m happy to report that this soup was seasoned so well that I wouldn’t have had any qualms about ordering a portion for myself on my next visit.

Before I get to the main course, and my grand error, I’ll tell you about the restaurant itself. Located near the corner of Myrtle and Lemon avenues, it has occupied the site of another, now-defunct French restaurant for the past six months.

The maitre d’/co-owner Chris Giovanelli keeps French music playing – everything from “La Mer,” to the French version of “How Much is that Doggie in the Window,” called “Le Chien Dans La Vitrine” – and during the course of the meal played a couple of classic French DVDs to show us, and the other patrons, his homeland and famous French actors.

I found it humorous that the table water was served without ice – exactly the same as my dining experiences in Europe – except that Giovanelli gladly gave us a couple of hi-ball glasses full of the stuff instead of turning his nose up at us and giving us one cube, like they do across the Atlantic.

For my lunch entree, I chose the $11 Baguette Pan Bagnat, a sandwich made with white tuna, a boiled egg and bell pepper, with a Caesar salad.

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The Caesar dressing was the best I’ve ever had. I thought there was a hint of horseradish, or cayenne pepper, because it had a degree of spiciness that I really loved, but after asking the chef, he told me that it was just a very large amount of garlic and anchovies.

I started eating my sandwich, which was made with chopped tuna and was enjoying it until I made the mistake of sampling my fiance’s $11 Crepe de la Mer.

It was this cheesy, creamy, buttery mix of smoked salmon and asparagus that was sauteed in white wine which made my sandwich pale in comparison.

And unfortunately I could only finagle a couple of forkfulls, so I’m going to be itching to go back and get my own crepe.

Cafe Massilia is located at 110 E. Lemon Ave., Monrovia, (626) 471-3588 or visit www.cafemassilia.com

Dining on a budget: Lisa’s Coffee Shop in Covina

Lisa’s Coffee Shop catches my eye often, when I travel east on San Bernardino Road to an assignment or have lunch somewhere else.

I was in the mood for a warm American dish and decided to satisfy my curiosity for what’s inside this little diner that’s surrounded by auto shops and industrial buildings.

The cozy restaurant, with its small town 1950s feel, has lent itself to a few movies and commercials. The vintage Coca-Cola signs and the many state license plates hanging on the walls helps add to this old style diner.

Open everyday for breakfast and lunch only, Lisa’s menu offers a selection of classic American dishes, with some Mexican plates thrown in for good measure.

Although steak and eggs sounded good and Lisa’s serves breakfast until closing, breakfast for lunch didn’t feel right this time and I went for the Texas-style sirloin steak lunch instead.

My plate came with mashed potatoes and gravy and two halves of a dinner roll buttered and thrown on the grill for a bit, and a choice of cup of soup or salad.

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I went with a cup of the soup of the day – albondigas, a Mexican meatball soup with chunks of potatoes and carrots. 

I can’t help but compare my mother’s Mexican cooking to other Mexican dishes, and though this albondigas was slightly different than mom’s, I liked it better.

Sorry, ma.

 

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The broth wasn’t as greasy as I’m used to. It was very light and the meatballs were soft and seasoned just right. 

The sirloin steak can be rubbed with chipotle sauce or blackened for only 79 cents more. I love spicy food, so I went for the chipotle rub.

Now I can’t recall if I asked for a small cut of steak or a large cut, but if what I got was a small cut, the large cut could have fed me all day and then some. 

My large piece of steak came medium, just as I asked, juicy and colorful with the chipotle on top. 

From just a few bites of the mashed potatoes, I could tell they were freshly mashed with skin and all. They were great.

The gravy was good, not too syrupy and not too thick. But it was a little too salty for my taste. The soft dinner roll was perfectly buttered and toasted.

With the soup and a good helping of mashed potatoes and steak, I was full and had to throw in the napkin. 

But there was still plenty left for dinner, which is good since Lisa’s is closed for dinner.

There was only one waitress at the time and she patiently tended to the locals and regulars stopping in for a good hearty lunch, so be patient for her to come around and help you too.

Once she took our order though, my and my lunch companion’s meal were out in about ten minutes, fresh, warm, and just what we ordered.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be around the area early enough to have breakfast at Lisa’s, but I sure will be back sometime to have breakfast for lunch.

Lisa’s Coffee Shop is open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily and located at 1530 W. San Bernardino Road in Covina. Visit www.lisascoffeeshop.com or call (626) 339-2014 for more information.