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Eat This Now: Pho at Saigon de Pho

Categories: Eat This Now

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Dave Lieberman
Decent Vietnamese inside a mall? Are you phở-king kidding me?
It was with great trepidation that I sat down at a table at Saigon de Pho, a new Vietnamese restaurant in the Santa Ana Mainplace mall. It had all the hallmarks of a mistake in the making: the location in a mall so soulless that it could literally be in any city in America; the fancy décor with the wall of running water; the IKEA-chic tables and chairs; the American-style service.

I very nearly abandoned the effort to attempt it; I had already composed a snarky introduction to this place, this soup den in the extremely non-Asian wolf's lair.

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Eat This Now: Spinach Delite At The Snooty Fox

Categories: Eat This Now

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Edwin Goei
Spinach for breakfast!
The Snooty Fox in Laguna Hills seems to come from the era when The Velvet Turtle was on top of the food chain. These days, the outdated furniture looks like it's from your grandma's dining room, and the servers are, if I'm not mistaken, actual grandmas. You'll notice that the place is not unlike those Midwest diners where the regulars are accosted by politicians for campaign trail photo-ops--you know, to show they're men of the people.

The kind of meals served at The Snooty Fox is the kind it's served for decades. It's made with care and from scratch, every plate still garnished with a sprig of parsley and an orange wedge because, well, that's the way they've always done it.


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Eat This Now: Kampot Pepper Sauce at C4 Deli

Categories: Eat This Now

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Photo by The Mexican
Pepper up!
Hot Sauce Rarity
Kirum Kampot Pepper Sauce at C4 Deli

So you've known and loved and gotten blotto at Chapter One: The Modern Bistro and its sibling C4: Cure for the Common Deli. But what you might've not realized in your itis haze is co-owners Jeff Hall and Jeff Jensen also stock one of the rarest spices in the United States: the Kampot pepper of Cambodia. They've worked alongside The Pepper Project to introduce the once-threatened plant to American audiences, incorporating it into dishes, cocktails and selling seeds, with a big portion of the proceeds going to Cambodian nonprofits.

And now, the boys are stocking the pepper in hot sauce form via Kirum Kampot Pepper Sauce. Don't think El Scorcho or Sriracha: this hot sauce is more like a thick Tabasco, made not just with the pepper but also palm vinegar. There is no heat to this at all--it's all about the pepper, bright and effusive and slightly fermented to accentuate its assertiveness. I see the Kirum perfect as a steak sauce (it has that umami-ness of a Worcestershire sauce) or for kabobs. Kudos to Hall and Jensen for stocking Kirum--and how long until they start working it into a magnificent dessert?

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Eat This Now: Chorizo Burger at Civic

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Photo by Niyaz Pirani
Yum!

Those cabrones at Civic in SanTana sure stick to their local-local-local mantra. Not only do they do a lot of their produce shopping at the Thursday downtown Farmer's Market, they source their chorizo from the legendary Ochoa's Chorizo in the city. Mild, spicy, even the green kind, the links pop up in different dishes, none better than in their wondrous chorizo burger.


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Eat This Now: 10-Item Plate at Thuan Kieu Noodle & Grill

Categories: Eat This Now

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Edwin Goei
A plate? Or platter?
If you're familiar with the venerable Com Tam Thuan Kieu in Little Saigon, you'll hardly recognize the new Thuan Kieu Noodle & Grill in Irvine. It's owned by some part of the original the family, connected by its shared recipes; but the new place (and the other Thuan Kieu Noodle & Grills scattered throughout the county) seems geared for a neighborhood that expects pho from a Vietnamese place. And because of this, these new Thuan Kieu's dutifully pours good, satisfying, steaming bowls of the Vietnamese noodle soup. The original Thuan Kieu's do not.

But the restaurant is, at its heart, a Com Tam Thuan Kieu. It even says so in big bold letters on a wall inside the restaurant itself. So do yourself a favor: only try the pho after you attempt the rice plates, especially the one that's surrounded by 10 different toppings. Yes. 10 toppings.

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Eat This Now: Lunch At Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue

Categories: Eat This Now

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Anne Marie Panoringan
AYCE chow in Frontierland

Purchasing a Disneyland Annual Passport was like investing in a small car, but we did it. The goal this year: Hit every ride. Unofficially, it's to also chow at every outlet. And despite summers and some seasonal employment via the Disneyland College Program (it exists!) a long, long time ago, there are still a few regions of the Magic Kingdom I have yet to conquer. One of them was Big Thunder Ranch.

Not to be confused with the recently renovated ride attraction or THE RANCH off Ball Road, this is the dead zone between Fantasyland and Frontierland. Somewhere in between is a spot where you can pet (and later feast on) farm animals. The only food I used to remember in that 'hood was the shack sponsored by McD's serving fries and Cokes.

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Eat This Now: Greek Lemon Potatoes From Surfin' Souvlaki

Categories: Eat This Now

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Anne Marie Panoringan
More than meets the eye

I was hankering for a burger, but I couldn't commit to a drive-thru or a full-service eatery. So I switched to the one protein that trumps my meat/bun cravings: gyros. The past couple of times I was south of El Toro, there was one place on my radar. Situated across the street from Saddleback College, this corner storefront appeared as run-of-the-mill as its neighbors. But that was not the case inside.

Best known for hearty breakfast burritos served all day, Surfin' Souvlaki is (just as with a Bay Area joint's tagline) a good place for a diet and a bad place for a diet. The latter is due to the belly-busting portions of such dishes as the Super Colossal Gyro Burger and My Big Fat Gyro Wrap. Kobayashi-style dining wasn't my goal today. All I required was some shaved lamb, a pita and a side of fries. Of course, things never go quite as planned.

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Eat This Now: Cemita de Milanesa from La Cemita Poblana

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Dave Lieberman
One of the many glories of Puebla-style cuisine
Non-Mexicans (including non-Mexican Latinos) tend to call Santa Ana "Mexican". Those who delve a little deeper, though, discover that the majority of Santa Ana Mexicans are from Michoacán, with vocal minorities from Mexico City, Nayarit, Morelos and Oaxaca. The people of Puebla, though, tended to head to other parts of California and to New York, and the result is that Santa Ana has few places for comida poblana.

La Cemita Poblana, then, is one of just a few places in OC to get a real cemita, a giant sandwich on a sesame seed-studded roll. There are a dozen kinds at La Cemita Poblana, including a nod to Michoacán with queso de puerco (head cheese), but the best is the original: milanesa.

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Eat This Now: Everything at Rocharin Thai Bistro

Categories: Eat This Now

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Edwin Goei
Not so shrimpy shrimp!
OC doesn't have its own Thai Town, but this doesn't mean that we don't have great Thai restaurants. It only means that the ones we have are scattered throughout our fair county--the proverbial Easter eggs waiting to be found. Some of the greatest--Coconut Rabbit in Los Alamitos, Sutha Thai in Tustin and Tasty Thai in Lake Forest--are still waiting to be discovered. And then there's Rocharin Thai in Seal Beach, which isn't hard to find if you've ever decided to take the PCH scenic route instead of the 405 from Long Beach to Orange County.

The interior design is straight-up Pier One. At sundown, they dim the lights low for a romantic mood, candle lights flickering on each table. Like Coconut Rabbit, Rocharin Thai is one of a handful of Thai restaurants that could conceivably and capably function as a first-date place. Wine and fruity soju-based cocktails are served. The shareable sticky rice with mango comes with two kinds of sticky rice.

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Eat This Now: French Toast at James Republic

Categories: Eat This Now

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Edwin Goei
French by way of Memphis.
James Republic is the kind of restaurant that can't sit still. It's a constantly moving target. The menu doesn't just revolve; it evolves. You go there, enjoy a dish and when you come back, it is entirely possible that dish is either gone or tweaked into something unrecognizable. I once had a perfectly cooked Pacific Walu there, raved about it to friends and when I brought them there to try it, it was replaced by another fish that wasn't quite as good. But then, the next week, they cooked something that was even better. James Republic makes my job as a reviewer both hard and easy. Hard because whatever I write can be rendered out-of-date by the time you read it. Easy because there's always something new to review. Like the Jungle Cruise ride at Disneyland, it's never the same experience twice.

What I can say with certainty is that you will never be bored at James Republic. So this week I'm recommending the French toast it's currently offering on its brunch menu. It's got a peanut butter foam, bacon jam, and slices of banana, an homage to The King of Rock and Roll's favorite foodstuff--except it doesn't resemble any sandwich he or anybody ever ate.

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