While completing my weekend "honey doo" lists a while back; I decided to return to Pho Hoa. Man, it's been like three years since I last visited this City Heights institution. And while I think this place has slipped over the years; the parking lot was almost filled when I arrived at 0845 on a weekend morning. So it's obviously one of the top choices in the area on a weekend morning.
Pho Hoa is totally old school; from the paying at the register, to the banquet chairs and sticky tables, to the menu being tossed at you and the Server hovering over you like it's expected that you've been here before and already know what to order....the menu is merely a vehicle that symbolizes all that Pho Hoa has. And what Pho had on this day was the same item I had last time #4.....which is now $7.40. All my experiences with the "tai" here have not been pleasant; there's a tendency for the meat to have a metallic taste to it. So I stick with the flank, brisket, tendon, and tripe.
This time around, the broth was much more acceptable, slightly beefy, not too heavy on the MSG, perhaps defatted a bit too much for my taste. The tendon was also decent as was the tripe. For some reason the flank and brisket fell short on this visit, the flank too tough and dry and the brisket lacking flavor.
There's one thing that has never fallen short here...it's the basil, cilantro (Ngo Gai), and sprouts.....always a generous portion, always sparkling fresh. I didn't need the lime today to balance out the broth, a good thing.
The noodles were also perfect.
These days, I sometimes fall into the trap of waxing nostalgically about the borderline indifferent, perfunctory, and hovering service.......I've noticed that things have changed at some of these places like Pho Hoa Huong. Even here, the guy smiled when he delivered my bowl of pho. The guy running the cash register even told me "thank you", when giving me my change. Changing times, I guess. I'm not sure when I'll be back to Pho Hoa, but at least this time around I got a decent bowl.
Pho Hoa Restaurant 4717 El Cajon Blvd San Diego, CA 92115
A couple of weeks back, I ran into an acquaintance, it was nice catching up a bit, and of course the conversation eventually turned to food. He told me about his new favorite Chinese spot named Ma Noodles House. Now for some reason I had a slight malfunction, maybe flashing back to Mama's Lu, so I asked him what regional style of Chinese food this place made? And got the weirdest look.....mainly because he wouldn't know a "Baozi from Bao Bao".
This place did indeed make regional Chinese food, from that province 6600 or so miles east of Shanghai, "Ab-cee-dee". Yep, I should have known, Ma's is an ABCDE ("American Born Chinese Dining Establishment"). And he was more of a quantity over quality kind of guy. But he did mention enjoying the Salt and Pepper Chicken Wings here, which is a weakness of mine. So I decided to drop by and check them out.
Ma Noodles House is quite the hole-in-the-wall, quite tiny, and except for the kind of odd out of place swap meet "art" on the wall, could have easily been named something like "New Eastern Pearl Royal Golden Phoenix Panda Garden Restaurant".
The fryer and wok stoves on one side, a lowboy on the other with all the ingredients. For some reason, this place brought back memories of the "old" Noble Chef.
There's a prep area in the back, but this was a one man operation on my visit. The prices are very cheap; figures why "da guy" likes the place so much.
I went with the Pan Fried Crispy Noodle ($7.95) and an side of the Salted (Salt and Pepper) Chicken Wings ($3.50). I felt almost guilty paying so little. The gentleman working here was very nice, though they served me my food with a fork and spoon and had to go scrambling when I asked for chopsticks.
Since this was National City, I had visions of a nice Upside Down Pan Fried Noodle. But while the dish was humongous, it really didn't deliver.
The shrimp weren't bad, they dump them in the fryer briefly so it isn't over-cooked. The chicken, as is the norm with these type of places is quite dry. The "crispy noodles" were more crumbly, powdery, with a rather strong floury flavor. And let's not leave out the bland, gloppy, brown sauce.
For those who prefer large chicken wings; rejoice. I'm more about smaller wings with a great skin to meat ratio. These were pretty large wings; but the batter wasn't very good.
Thick, hard, and crumbly, it just isn't my thing. The flavor was too mild for this sort of chicken wing as well......on the bland side.
Man, I barely made a dent in those noodles. All of this for under $12. Still, I'm more of a quality over quantity kind of guy. So, in spite of the nice service and the cheap prices, this was going to be a one and done. Until one of the guys bought me lunch.....guess from where? You got it...... I got this; the Yang Chow Fried Rice ($7.95). Good god; this was basically three meals for me!
Again, the shrimp were nice, the chicken dry, and portion size huge. Unevenly cooked; the color wasn't uniform, there was no wok-hey, thank god for soy sauce.
And before folks start sending me angry emails again, we do enjoy certain ABCDE/Chinoy dishes, but it has to be done well. Though the prices are good here, there are places that just do it better. I hope they do well though.......this place would keep all those starving students out there well fed.
Ma Noodles House 3108 E Plaza Blvd National City, CA 91950
So for me this means; you don't come to Great Wow for Kung Pao Chicken, nor the XLB......it's about the noodles and dumplings they make in the glass room.....
Last week Candice and I were free for lunch, so we met up at Great Wow. The interior is fairly simple, plain wooden tables, and super hard and rather uncomfortable wooden chairs.
The menus are basically paper pinned together and even though they've been open only a short time looks worn. There's a ton of marks and writing on the menu. But my basic favorites were easily found....though they were out of the pork and celery jioazi.
Candice and I started with two of the liang cai; cold dishes.
Both were a bit disappointing.
The Jellied Pork was very hard and for some reason the black vinegar based sauce seemed watered down; weak and one dimensional. Sad, because jellied pork and jellied mutton are favorites of mine.
There should be a crunch that leads to a bit of meatiness.
The Bean Curd Skin was very bland at first, until we realized that we had to mix it with the pool of sauce on the bottom.
All of this would be forgiven if the jiaozi was any good. And would you believe it; these were pretty good!
The jioazi were on the large side, if this were Beijing where you order jiaozi by batches of 25 at some places, you'd be lying on the floor after one order!
The Pork, Shrimp, and Chive came out first. The wrapper was good, quite thin, though I think the dough has been over-worked a bit as it didn't quite have the tenderness and stretch I like. But that's really splitting hairs. Lot's of meat in the filling, I mean lots of pork. The filling in these were a bit heavy handed with regards to the salt/msg, but were far from bland.
I preferred the Egg, Shrimp, and Chive, which were a bit lighter and you could make out the shrimp flavor.
You could tell that while the dough was perhaps worked by machine, that the final rolling was done by hand...the seal where the wrappers came together were as thick as the rest of the dumpling skin. Overall, these were quite good; probably the best I've had in San Diego.
Funny thing, after getting back to the office, I received a text from Xiāngjiāo....guess what she was having? Then PeterL sent out a text, he was also eating at Great Wow...but of course, in the typical PeterL way, he ordered XLB.....sigh.....
Of course, I rarely do just one visit if doing a post, so I soon returned to Great Wow. The young man working remembered me!
I placed my order and sat back. Remember how rather tattered the menu looks? Well, check out the soy sauce and vinegar dispensers? Only open a week or two and the place already looks like it's in the SGV......are sticky tables around the corner?
I started with the pork hock. The nice young man told me I could do half an order.
This was quite good, not too salty, with decent pork flavor, and rather tender. Nice on a day where the temps were peaking in the low 90's.
This time they had the pork and celery jiaozi.
The wrappers were even better this time around. The filling was nicely seasoned, edging on a bit too salty, but very plump and moist. Lot's of pork; it could have used more celery in my opinion, but hey, it's a meat eater's world these days. The jiaozi here are quite large; I was stuffed.
The free dessert is the typical White Fungus Sweet Soup (冰糖雪耳糖水) with dates. On my first visit it was way to sweet...this time around it was a nice end to a meal on a hot day.
Do you notice something missing? The first thing both "YZ" and the Missus said when they saw this was "where's the lotus seeds"?
Later that day I found out that Candice had returned the day before! Then later in the day Xiāngjiāo sent me photos....she had ended up back at Great Wow. Having spent half a year in Beijing, I think she misses a lot of these type of dishes.
I found the service, at least from the young man with glasses and the young girl working to be very nice. There are quite a few grand opening kinks to work out, but I'm sure they'll get things in line. I'm also hoping they add some additional dishes....not kung pao ji or Xiao long bao, that have true roots in the region to the menu.
Oh and I got 20% off on each of my visits too.....grand opening discount perhaps?
There are a couple of dishes that are favorites of the Missus on the menu, like Xiao Mi Zhou (小米粥 - millet porridge) on the menu. So I'm thinking we'll return when things cool down a bit.
But for some reason, I just wasn't very excited about eating here. Perhaps it was the very lackluster visits we had at Qi Wei and the menu didn't seem that much different at all. What finally got me visiting was meeting up with Xiāngjiāo and her hubby MichaelFC. We had drinks at Poseidon and XJ brought this along for the ride.
This was actually pretty good! Decent spice, some definite numbing (麻) going on. Not too salty, loved the frozen tofu, and tripe and tendon just seemed a good fit for this. Nice job XJ!
They had me take the leftovers home; the Missus really enjoyed it!
So guess where we went a few days later?
The place looks pretty much the same as Qi Wei, except for all the "stuffs" on the walls. Also, it seems the cooks eat pretty well here.
So here's the drill for us; Large Dry Pot ($30.99), with Beef Tendon and Tripe (you get two "meats" - $10.99 for additional, not worth the upcharge IMHO), Medium Spicy, Ma-la, with frozen tofu ($2.99 extra). Delivered over a heating element, just like hot pot, you give it a couple of good stirs to mix all the flavors together.
Seems on the pricey side; but consider that it's 2-3 meals for us, which breaks down to $10-15 a meal and I'd say it's not priced too bad. This is a total 180 degree turn from Qi Wei, from the decent spice....medium isn't too much; you can still make out all the flavors, to a decent numbing from the Sichuan peppercorn. The tendon has a nice texture, as does the tripe. The frozen tofu soaks up all of that chili oil based sauce. For some reason, the Missus really likes the potatoes and cauliflower in this. I'd love a bit more celery though.
Still, not bad.
So basically, this has turned into a nice take-out option for us. I also took Calvin and JohnF to lunch here, and even though we had John who destroyed a Bandejas Paisa with us, there were left-overs.
I did also try the Won Tons with Hot Sauce ($5.99), which was fairly mediocre, slightly spicy, but quite one dimensional, lacking the rather nuanced flavors and the "kǒugǎn", the "mouthfeel" if you will of really good wontons.
The sauce was also a bit too thin for me; I'm still looking for a good version locally.
In the end; this is sort of like comfort food for the Missus and I. Nothing fancy, but good grub that's great take-out....it gets even better the next day as the spice settles and that frozen tofu sucks up all the sauce. I think tripe, tendon, and intestine are probably the best meats, since beef and chicken would tend to dry out a bit.
The service can be rather uneven, but one of the young men there is quite nice. Not sure about some of the other dishes as I've never seen folks ordering anything other than the dry pot.
Sizzling Pot King 8058 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92111
There were so many open parking spaces, and yet..... Go figure. Not even close to Paris Bakery, none of the other businesses open, just decided to park here. Actually saw the guy parked in the Handicap stall struggle a bit to get out.
This was kind of a spooky one. I drove by around noon this past Wednesday and noticed the place wasn't open. I went in and took a look. There was a hand written "thank you for the support" note. Kind of sad considering I first visited here back in 2001 and first posted on the place in 2005. Over the years they seemed to have changed hands not less than three times.
What really made it spooky was that an hour or so later, I had "FOY" Sage tweeting me, letting me know Do Re Mi House had closed down.
While I thought the quality of the food at Do Re Mi House had fluctuated over the years, they had always provided a reasonable lunch option. I'm sad to see them go.
Do Re Mi House 8199 Clairemont Mesa Blvd Ste M San Diego, CA 92111
Dede's Becoming "Facing East"......
Or Something like that. I went into this strip mall because I saw the Notice of Ownership Change posted for the former Convoy Noodle House. I was shocked to see that Dede's had closed.
While over the years; I thought the food at Dede's had really gone downhill....I'm more of a quality over quantity kind of guy; it was sad to see the windows papered over. then I also read Faye's post as well. It looks like this place will become a Chinese Restaurant named "Facing East"?
4647 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
Meanwhile Convoy Noodle House is Becoming "Submarine Crab":
Or at least that's what the sign says.....
Which is yet another, I think....crawfish chain from the OC?
4647 Convoy St San Diego, CA 92111
So 99 Ranch is really going into the old Haggen Site on Balboa:
In spite of what Eater San Diego said, I always had my doubts since it seems they would be competing with themselves. But on a recent (I really don't shop there enough these days) visit to 99 Ranch Market I saw this sign:
At least the SoCal stores. As of July first. They replaced my card with one that acts like the typical supermarket discount card, but also allows you to accumulate points. Not sure for what, but I guess I'll find out.
Also of note, I was told that Marukai in Hawaii will be using a different system....so we'll see what happens when I travel back "home".
Marukai Market 8151 Balboa Ave San Diego, CA 92111
I finally had a chance to have a day off; so things seem rather hectic this weekend. Last night I crashed and burned at 8pm. So here's a COMC post for you. I'll have someplace new tomorrow!
Shan Xi Magic Kitchen:
My first couple of visits to Shan Xi Magic Kitchen were pretty good. Our coworker Lily who has since transferred is from Taiyuan and she really wanted to have lunch at Shan Xi Magic Kitchen before I left on my trip. So the trio of YZ, Lily, and myself found a day where we all had times on our calendars. I gotta say, things weren't quite as good this time around, except for the Yang Rou Pao Mo, which was actually better. Some of the seasoning was out of balance and the service was rather slow.
The best items were the eggplant and the yang rou pao mo.
Shan Xi Magic Kitchen 4344 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111
It had been a while since I last at Spicy House, but my good friend Akira and his lovely wife Diana were in town. I hadn't seen them in nearly two years, when we all last ate at Spicy House, which Akira really likes, so why not? We made better choices this time, but I gotta say; even though I buy into the adage that "oil is the pathway to flavor", some of the dishes were borderline greasy. Especially that Shui Zu Yu (water boiled fish) and nothing really had enough zip.
I actually think the intestines with chilies might have been the best executed item as it had some of that "ma-la" thing going.
It could have been a bit crisper, and was slightly offal-y, but not bad.
I actually don't mind the Zi Ran Yang Rou (cumin lamb) here, but it needs a bit more cumin, is cut too thick, and needs a bit more of the nice flavor of the wok.
Still, it had been two years since I've seen Akira and Diana, whose wedding I attended in Ciudad Obregon and it was great seeing Akiko and her hubby, that food was really secondary. I truly had a wonderful time.
Spicy House 3860 Convoy Street #105 San Diego, CA 92111
Man, it's been quite busy since we've returned from our (all too short) trip. I've had to work everyday, so I'm starting to feel it. So here's another one of those COMC posts of places you already know.
The Missus requested Village Kitchen a few nights before leaving for Lima.
We tried a couple of the newer dishes like the "Green Vegetable Cooked the Old Way", which, in spite of the preserved vegetables was very bland, and the Intestines with Chilies and Bamboo Flavor, which tasted really good, but I'd have preferred the intestines being a bit more crisp.
There's an interesting story about the folks here.....one day I might get around to sharing it.
Village Kitchen 4720 Clairemont Mesa Blvd San Diego, CA 92117
Another favorite of the Missus, as long as they keep serving up the Som Tom Khai Kem; the papaya salad with Salted Egg, which the Missus pounced on so quickly, I never got the chance for a shot.
And the Spicy Thousand Year Old Eggs.
Another favorite of hers.
They actually had Roast Duck Larb on this visit.
Thai Papaya by Sab E Lee 2405 Ulric St San Diego, CA 92111
DW has been doing some great consulting work for us.....but she's from Missouri and had never had raw fish ever in her life. She does enjoy a bit of spice in her food and in spite of being terrified of some of the stuff I eat, is quite game....she had her first ramen that didn't come from a package a few weeks back, crawfish, raw oysters....but she was still terrified of raw fish. So I figured, since she loves rice, why not have same make her a Hwe Dup Bop. Knowing she was really nervous, he put the Makisu up around the prep area so she couldn't see anything, just to make her a bit more apprehensive.......you gotta love Sam!
Anyway, she really enjoyed her meal....though the look on her face when I had to explain what various things were....like masago; oh, and that cube thing was tofu. And that nice crunchy green vegetable was seaweed.
Aaah the things we take for granted. It's always nice to introduce folks to new experiences.
Kirk is on vacation, Cathy is doing bunches of things, so Ed (from Yuma) has today's post on an unusual eatery in San Gabriel Valley.
I had been researching restaurant possibilities for Tina and my trip to LA, and I was intrigued by a short post that Kirk had written back in August, 2009, about the Northern Chinese Restaurant. It was his second restaurant of the day, so he sampled only a few dishes, but hinted that he would be back. If he ever went back, he never told us readers about it.
Tina and I were looking for something different, something we'd never had before, so this place seemed intriguing and its location just down Valley Boulevard in Rosemead was close to our hotel:
The interior, with only about 14 tables, was clean and attractive. Of course, I wondered what a faux rococo pastoral tapestry was doing on the wall in a Chinese restaurant, but it’s certainly better than a bare wall:
We had arrived a little before 6 PM, by the time we left every one of those 14 tables had customers, sometimes large family groups. Tina and I were the only non-Asians in the place, and maybe the only people there who didn't have family ties to northern China. Nonetheless, we were treated well and the menu had clear translations for each of the over 200 dishes available. It was easy to point to what we wanted on the menu, so there was no confusion in the ordering.
The first dish to arrive was the Dried Tofu with Hot Pepper:
Talk about something different that we never had before! Those pale ribbons are not pasta, but strips of dried tofu. The light sauce had a mild pork flavor and the jalapeno slices added a nice spice and crunch to the dish.
Next was a huge bowl of Sour Napa with Pork Belly Soup:
In addition to the suan cai and pork, there were also chunks of frozen tofu and at the bottom of the bowl long transparent noodles.
For me and Tina, this was true comfort food. You can give pork and sauerkraut a different name and throw in some tofu and noodles, but it is still pork and sauerkraut, a combination that brings back memories of my childhood. The sour cabbage had been prepared perfectly so that the finished dish was sweetly sour, the mild tang cutting through the richness of the meat.
A cold dish, the Spicy Cucumber then arrived at the table:
This simple dish was a perfect palate cleanser – salty, garlicky, spicy, and crisp.
When I thought I was finished ordering, the young man wondered if we wanted rice, so I asked if there was something more typical of northern China that he would recommend, and he pointed to Smoked Meat and Pancake. So I ordered that also:
As soon as I saw it, I realized that this was a dish which Kirk had really enjoyed back in 2009. Of course he had called it by its real name, Xun Rou Da Bing, and of course we really enjoyed it in 2016.
The pancake was like a yeasty flatbread with a bit of chew and a nice crusty exterior. We happily would have eaten the bread by itself, but the dark bean paste sauce was wildly good and deeply flavored. The smoked pork was mild and okay, but if you put it and some scallion strips on top of a wedge of pancake slathered with sauce, you ended up with a very very tasty slice of Northern Chinese pizza: But we weren't finished yet. The last dish to hit the table was the one that turned out to be our favorite overall, Cumin Toothpick Lamb:
The numerous chunks of gamy lamb were all speared with toothpicks. Some pieces were very tender and some a little bit chewy and gristly. The meat, tossed with stir fried onion, was flavored by abundant chili flakes, ginger, cilantro, sesame seeds, and especially cumin seeds. The combination was masterful.
Of course, as you have probably already figured out, we ordered way too much food even for two hungry people. We joked that we needed some starving imaginary friends to help us finish. We did eat most of the smoked meat and pancake in the restaurant, but we still had tons of leftovers. The cold lamb was still incredible two days later.
For us, this was more than just a different and interesting meal, it was a real feast.
And a reasonably priced feast: The next day, we went to the Getty Museum and kept crossing the paths of a couple of young Chinese women. As we were leaving, we found ourselves waiting for the same elevator, and I asked if I could take their picture. Kindly, they said yes:
Afterwards, we chatted a bit and I learned that the young lady on the left was from Shanghai and the one on the right was from further north. "Beijing?" I asked.
"No, north from there." So I said that Tina and I had just eaten at a northern Chinese restaurant and had dishes like sour cabbage and pork.