Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lola's Kitchen

I recently asked some of my co-workers where I can get some decent mexican food at in Barstow. It seems that everyone in Barstow seems to have their own favorite joint that they will fight for until death. While a lot of my co-workers immediately recommended Plata's, a large amount of people pointed me to the direction of Lola's Kitchen. I had never even heard of Lola's before but my co-workers insisted that it's a tall step above the typical fast food Mexican joints that are flooding the streets of Barstow. I made the trip out to Lola's, first thing to note is that Lola's is a hole in the wall style restaurant located in a grocery store shopping center. There's no more than 20 seats in the restaurant and the outside is all but inviting. It turns out that I would in for a pleasant surprise once I opened the doors and stepped into Lola's Kitchen.
The first thing that caught my eye inside the restaurant was how beautifully decorated it is, there were beautiful paintings on the wall and a nice color scheme/decoration throughout the restaurant. From the front counter you can see the ladies in the back making your food fresh to order. My wife ordered the green enchilada plate, the sauce on the green enchiladas was simply amazing, everything about it screamed homemade and the enchiladas themselves tasted fresh and greaseless. The queso fresco on top of the enchiladas gave them a highly authentic feel and added an amazing texture to every bite. The beans and rice at this place are on point also. The refried beans had large chunks of bean in them that added a whole new texture element to the dish and easily set them apart from other restaurant's puree style beans. The rice tasted fresh, authentic, and perfectly cooked. There was a little bit of spice to the rice but it all balanced out to make an amazing spanish rice.
My first item I decided to try was the carne asada sope. A sope is kind of like a tostada but instead of a hard shell, a sope comes in a corn tortilla bowl. Everyone that sent me to Lola's told me that I have to try the carne asada, they definitely steered me in the right direction. The carne asada was extremely flavorful and extremely tender, I was able to cut through the meat with a fork. It's safe to say that this carne asada had been marinated over night and was given plenty of tlc before it hit the grill. There were shades of cumin, garlic, lime, and peppers in the carne asada and it kept my taste buds intrigued the entire time. I would easily go back to Lola's just to get a plate of carne asada, rice, and beans. This carne asada easily places in my top 5 best restaurant asada.
I also got a couple carne asada tacos to go with my sope, the tortillas weren't what I expected (pre-packaged tortillas) but it didn't matter because the carne asada stole the entire show. The rice and beans went perfectly with the carne and left me trying to find room in my stomach for more. The salsa at Lola's was also very tasty, it had a red chile feel to it but still had a lot of tanginess and heat to accompany. Lola's is definitely one of my best restaurant experiences iv'e had in Barstow to date. The food is out of this world and the prices are pretty reasonable too, for the above items and 2 drinks the total rung in at just over $20. Lola's Kitchen is located in Barstow at 1244 East Main Street inside the Von's shopping center.

Bob's Big Boy

If you've ever been to Barstow it's not too hard to notice the massive outlet center on your way into town. Those outlets include a plethora of dining establishments to pick from, from Chili's to Chipotle the choices are plentiful. On my stop in Lenwood I decided to give Bob's Big Boy a try.
Bob's Big Boy is your basic diner that serves burgers, sandwiches, and shakes. I wasn't really too sure what to order so I went with the item that said "famous" next to it. While Bob's classic burger looked like a Big Mac to me, the description said otherwise. I received the burger and at first bite this burger tasted exactly like a big mac, the only difference was the sharp aftertaste of relish that came on the burger. That relish saved Bob's from getting thrown into the category of "restaurant that ripped off Mcdonalds". The relish in the burger was actually pretty tasty despite the dull flavored burger patties and the fresh out of the can dressing on the burger. The fries were actually pretty tasty and the onion rings were cooked well and weren't drenched in grease. If you're looking for conservative diner food at a decent price, Bob's is probably a safe bet. While there are other restaurants in the area that are well above Bob's level, I still wouldn't detour you from going to Bob's even if those other restaurants had long waiting times. My burger meal and side of onion rings came in at just under $8 including a drink. Bob's Big Boy is located at 2860 Lenwood rd in the Lenwood area of Barstow.

Oklahoma Joe's - Round 2

In a recent work-related trip to Kansas I recently made a return trip to Oklahoma Joe's. On my last visit i regretted not trying the "Big Z Sandwich" after walking out of the restaurant and seeing another person getting ready to devour theirs. This time around I told myself that my only mission on this trip was to try a Big Z and live to tell the tale.
When ordering my Big Z I was asked wether or not I wanted it Jumbo or Regular, there was no doubt in my mind that I would be ordering the Jumbo version. The sandwich came with a pound of freshly smoked brisket, melted provolone, 2 large onion rings, BBQ sauce, and to top it all off it was sandwiched in between 2 slices of fresh baked butter bread. This sandwich is easily the best sandwich i've ever had in my life! I was able to watch them pull the slab of brisket out of the smoker and slice the pieces off that were on my sandwich, each piece melted in my mouth and tasted like dry rub, smoke, and great tasting meat. The bbq sauce was tomato based and had a perfect tang to it. The melted provolone and super crunchy onion rings took the sandwich into another realm. I honestly don't think that I will ever have a sandwich that tasty in my lifetime ever again.
Here's a look at the short end slab of ribs I also ordered with my sandwich. These ribs literally fell off the bone with the slightest tug. The dry rub was so good that sauce honestly wasn't needed. On a couple bites I put sauce on the ribs and it took them to another level of flavor. If you're ever in the Kansas City area, do yourself a favor and check out Oklahoma Joe's.

Vince's Spaghetti

I understand that this is a blog that is specifically supposed to cover the High Desert area, however some places are so good that they deserve to be mentioned and properly reviewed. The place i'm speaking of is actually a short drive for High Desert residents, located in Rancho Cucamonga is the spaghetti lovers paradise known as Vince's Spaghetti. Vince's is tucked in between The Magic Lamp and the Sycamore Inn on Foothill. Both of the previously mentioned restaurants are fantastic steak houses that would leave you no where close to even considering eating at the small italian joint in between the 2. Vince's is an establishment that has cut down the center divide and has made a name for themselves on the Foothill restaurant row.
Vince's pretty much offers only spaghetti, they have a couple other types of pasta and a sandwiches on the menu, but for the most part the menu revolves around their famous spaghetti. My wife and I ordered their simply put "spaghetti dinner". Each dinner was around $15 each and came with a boatload of food, the first out was the salad. The salad was nothing out of the ordinary other than the waiter suggesting that we order a bowl of shredded provolone cheese for the sake of "making it rain" all over our salads. Turns out the waiter was completely right, the freshly grated provolone kicked the salad up numerous notches and added a ton of character to an otherwise simple bowl of lettuce.
Along with salad we also received Minestrone soup, the soup came out piping hot and was the perfect remedy to an otherwise cold night in Rancho. The soup was a little on the watery side but it wasn't anything that some crushed saltine crackers couldn't fix. The soup was simple but had great flavor and plenty of fresh veggies.
It wouldn't be a Vince's review if I didn't talk about the freshly grated Provolone that Vince's sells by the bowl as an accompaniment to your meal. This cheese was fresh, creamy, mildly salted, and literally melted in my mouth. Every dish that was brought to me ended up being drenched with this cheese! Just when I thought the cheese couldn't get any better, I took a nice melted spoonful of it with my soup, with that bite I immediately realized why my wife and I had to wait 45 minutes to get a table for two.
Next up was the spaghetti that supposedly put this place on the map, I upped the ante and ordered a side of their homemade meatballs to go along with my spaghetti. The first thing I did was bomb my spaghetti with shredded provolone. At first bite I couldn't help but taste a certain simplicity in the tomato sauce, it tasted super simple but nothing like i had ever had out of a can or bottle. The sauce was so simple and so perfectly done that it completely hit me from left field, it felt like Vince's took everything that's missing from canned/bottled sauces and put it in their sauce. The pasta was cooked perfectly and easily wrapped around the fork for easy eating. The meatballs were another item that tasted simple but perfect. The meatball had a garlic aftertaste and was extremely moist on the inside.
With the dinner you also get a choice of garlic bread or cheese bread, my wife and I chose the cheese bread. The cheese bread was amazing, the crunchy and thick parmesan top perfectly accented the steamy, fluffy, and flakey fresh baked bread. The fact that the bottom half of the bread was fluffy made the bread that much more important to the meal as it served as a perfect vehicle for soaking up leftover sauce.

The best way to describe Vince's is "simple but perfect", there isn't anything over the top or exaggerated in their presentation or taste. There's simply well cooked spaghetti, tasty sides, and a romantic atmosphere that will have you planning out a return visit before the bill even hits your table. Vince's is a perfect date spot, the atmosphere is romantic and the booths are very private from others. The entire meal with 2 beers was just over $35, My wife and I also left with an entire basket of leftovers that kept us full the following day. If you're ever in the Rancho Cucamonga area and looking for a romantic evening of good eats and good times, give Vince's a try. Vince's Spaghetti is located at 8241 Foothill Boulevard in Rancho Cucamonga.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nikki's Cafe (R.I.P.)

This morning while viewing my Facebook news feed, an article by the Daily Press immediately caught my eye. The article stated that today would be the last day that Nikki's Cafe would be open for business (here's the article). Nikki's Cafe had been in business since 1983, any business that lasts that long deserves praise for their efforts. If you lived in Apple Valley, or any part of the HD for that matter, you most likely visited Nikki's at least once for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. When you find out that a place that's been around for over 20 years is shutting down, it feels like a piece of your hometown has died. I felt that it was only fitting for my Wife and I to pay Nikki's our respects and visit them for one last meal.
Every time that I went to Nikki's I usually ordered the Triple Nikki, the Triple Nikki is a simple turkey club sandwich with added avocado at request (I always added avocado). There's really not much that's special about this sandwich, it tastes great, but there's nothing that separates it from the crowd other than the fact that it will be the same sandwich every time you visit. The Triple Nikki has tasted the same ever since I first ordered it when I was 12 years old, the bread is the same toasted white loaf, the bacon is always crunchy, the turkey is always juicy, and the lettuce/tomato is always fresh. While there might not be much glam or glitter to this sandwich, I at least knew it would taste good and be served the same way EVERY TIME that I ordered it.
My Wife went ahead and ordered the cheese omelet with hash browns, the omelet was decent and the hash browns were properly cooked. This meal also offers nothing out of the ordinary other than the fact that it's cooked properly and is well seasoned. The breakfast at Nikki's is usually pretty good and never changed over the years, it's pretty hard to find a place nowadays that doesn't change with the trends.

While Nikki's might not have offered over the top food, the food was consistently decent and never tasted bad. I always knew that if I went to Nikki's I would not get burnt food, overly greasy food, or food that came out of a microwave. The down home country kitchen decor and knick knacks for sale at the front register was always extremely inviting. The food was always at a great price, and the portions were always big. Our meal today was just under $20 for 2 large plates of food.

The environment during our final meal at Nikki's was something I will never forget, in the background we were able to hear people talking about their first visits to Nikki's, parents telling their kids about how they used to eat here every sunday, and families reminiscing about previous visits together.

Over the years I can remember Nikki's being somewhere my parents and I would come for dinner if we were in the area, as I got older it eventually became a place where friends and I would gather in the morning to soften the blow from the previous night's hangover, towards the end it was still a place where my parents would sometimes take my Wife and I for dinner. With Nikki's leaving, it feels like a piece of the HD is leaving. Although we can't fight the uncontrollable, all we can do is hope the best for the owner and wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors and thank them for running a great restaurant since 1983.


In the HD sushi scene, it's extremely difficult for a restaurant to separate themselves from the pack unless they offer some sort of discount or daily special. Most places are starting to offer "All you Can Eat" specials and "Happy Hour" promotions to get people through the doors, Sushiaru offers both. On this particular night, we decided we would get together with friends and give Sushiaru's Happy Hour a go!
The menu showcased a pretty decent selection of rolls, sushi, and appetizers. The main perk to the happy hour looked to be the 2 for 1 specials on large beers and large sake.
The first item to come out was my baked mussels appetizer, keep in mind that the serving came with 3 mussels, I forgot to take a picture until there was only one mussel left. The mussel was topped with a creamy-mayo mixture and masago. The mixture was decent and the masago added great texture, but they accidentally left it underneath the broiler a little bit too long thus leaving some burnt strips on top of the mussel. My main gripe was that the mussel itself had a very strong fish aftertaste, i've never had a mussel before that had a strong fishy aftertaste like this one did. Unfortunately the strong aftertaste overshadowed the sauce and masago that topped the mussel. With a fresh mussel, this dish would've gone toe-to-toe with the baked mussels at Yoshi's, but unfortunately the quality of the mussel took the dish out of contention.
Our friend and fellow blogger Monique (A Profound Muse Poetry) ordered the veggie tempura roll (not on the happy hour menu). This roll was extremely tasty and included pieces of veggie tempura rolled just like a sushi roll. The roll was crunchy from the tempura, sweet from the carrots, salty from the teriyaki glaze on top, and tender from the rice. I would easily order this roll on a return visit to Sushiaru!
My first roll to come out was the Oceanite roll, the roll consisted of a california roll topped with baby lobster, served hot out of the broiler. The play of textures and temperatures is what made this roll incredibly fun to eat. The outside of the roll is hot, moist, tender, and covered in baby lobster with a spicy mayo sauce while the inside consisted of a cold california roll. The 2 opposing temperatures played well together and created a unique flavor and texture combination. The spicy mayo and baby lobster brought a quick flash of heat to the pallet while the cool and refreshing california roll extinguished the heat with cool flavors of crab and avocado. The Oceanite roll should not be passed up on any visit to Sushiaru.
Coming in at $1 a piece, I figured it was a crime to not order a couple pieces of Albacore off of the menu. The albacore came in a light-garlic vinaigrette and topped with a small dab of sriracha (Japanese hot sauce made with chili paste). The albacore tasted fresh and the vinaigrette was sweet, the icing on the cake was the dab of sriracha on top! It added a nice spicy kick and a huge flavor boost to the albacore!
I decided I would try something new on this trip so I went ahead and ordered the "Snowballs" off of the menu. I had no clue what they were and didn't even bother to ask the waitress, when the plate arrived it had 3 tempura balls soaked in oil. The suspense was already killing me so I immediately broke one open and discovered that they were just balls of crab meat that were battered in tempura and deep fried. I guess it's safe to say that I was a little disappointed due to the hopes of receiving something different, something more unique than tempura fried crab crakes soaked in oil. The dish itself didn't taste bad, it was just a little too greasy for my liking, it's a good lesson learned on my part to always ask the waitress what's in a dish if i've never tried it before.
For dessert my Wife and Monique ordered Mochi Green Tea Ice Cream. Mochi is basically an ice cream ball with a gelatinous outer shell which is made from rice starch and a Japanese ice milk. The Mochi balls were cut into 4 pieces and served with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. The Mochi itself didn't have much flavor and had a gelatin consistency which played well with the creamy green tea ice cream. The dish was very tasty and easily earned a re-order in future visits.

While Sushiaru provided very good deals on food, the prices on beer and sake were a little bit on the inflated side which made the 2 for 1 deal not as good as it could've been. The service at the restaurant was ok, but numerous mistakes made it questionable at times. The environment is fun and inviting, and the happy hour is definitely worth checking out! At certain times during happy hour they even invite guests to come to the sushi bar to do a round of sake bombs half filled beer with a shot of sake dropped into it) with the sushi chefs! The above items, plus a Large Beer (2 for 1), Large Sake (2 for 1), and an extra roll came out to $52. Sushiaru is located at 15683 Roy Rogers Dr. in the Home Depot shopping center in Victorville.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ala' Al-Deen

Culinary Diversity is something that I feel everyone in the HD should implement into their everyday eating experiences. The ability to try something new will open many new doors into a thousand new worlds that you never would've experienced otherwise. Middle Eastern food is something that doesn't really sound glamorous compared to Thai, Italian, Chinese, and French cuisine. The scary part about trying something new is finding where to go to get it, Middle Eastern cuisine isn't something that's on every street corner in the HD. This type of cuisine requires effort and a little bit of investigating in order to find a joint that serves the food the way it is meant to be served. Ala' Al-Deen sits on the outer part of 7th street in Victorville, overshadowed by Bakers and the almighty Los Robertos Mexican Restaurant. It's outside appearance is mediocre at best, but the gold-mine of culinary treats inside are undeniably the HD's best kept secret!
After getting over the dull outside of the building, stepping inside of Ala' Al-Deen is actually pretty inviting. Beautiful floor tile, clean tables/chairs, and a huge menu equipped with large pictures make your new culinary experience a whole lot easier to get used to. The last thing anyone wants to worry about is questioning the cleanliness of an establishment, Ala' Al-Deen immediately wipes those thoughts from your head, allowing you to concentrate on what meal you'll be sampling on your culinary adventure into a new world of food!
The lady at the counter recommended I try the "Large Meal Sampler" to get a feel of what the restaurant and the Middle East have to offer. Understanding what you're eating is usually the best way to get someone to try something new, I will go plate by plate in the picture and explain each item so you guys understand Middle Eastern Cuisine a little more before you go out there and dive head first into the culture.

The top left Item is a paste known as "Baba Ghanoush", a Lebanese originated paste made of cooked/blended eggplant, olive oil, and various spices. This dish is eaten with Pita bread, just dip the bread into the Ghanoush and enjoy! I thought that this dish was addicting and fun to eat, the pita bread acts as a soft vehicle for the pasty goodness of eggplant and dark spices. If you're a fan of Hummus, you'll most likely love Baba Ghanoush.

The next item in the picture is the green dish known as "Tabbouleh", Tabbouleh consists of Bulger (wheat cereal bits), Tomato, Onion, Cucumber, chopped mint, chopped parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. This dish is also eaten with pita bread. The Tabbouleh tasted like an Italian version of pico de gallo. The parsley added a darker kick to the dish that helped my taste buds absorb the bright flavors of the tomato, lemon juice, and mint. The taste of the bulger wasn't strong in the dish, it mainly added a soft texture to offset the crunch of the cucumber and onion. The whole dish came together perfectly and was even better when combined with the Baba Ghanoush, it gave the Baba Ghanoush a well needed crunch!

The third dish on the plate is called "Hummus", Hummus is another type of paste made from boiled chickpeas, Tahini (sesame paste), garlic, olive oil, salt, and lemon juice. Hummus comes in many different varieties and can be found at your local grocery store, flavored Hummus is starting to become extremely popular in almost all grocery store aisles. The Hummus at Ala's had a strong lemon and garlic flavor to it, it was extremely addicting and forced me to order another pack to pita bread so I could keep enjoying the flavorful paste!

Overall the 3 starting dips were amazing! The large amounts of lemon in all of the dishes did an excellent job in cleansing the pallet and providing a light appetizer to prepare me for my main course! I could easily see Hummus replacing salsa at any party in the near future, that's how good it is!
The next dish in the sampler was the "Arabic Salad", the salad consisted of romaine lettuce, tomatoes and cucumber in a parsley accented vinaigrette. The salad was a little on the oily side, but the freshness of the cucumber and tomato helped overshadow that with huge garden-picked flavor! I liked the pita concept so much that I even used pita bread over a fork to eat my salad!
The main course was a huge sampling of Chicken, Steak, and Kefta. Kefta is typically made with lamb or ground beef, heavily seasoned, formed into a meatball or cylinder, and grilled. All of the meat on the plate came in bite-size portions to allow the diner to use the pita bread as your main dining tool of destruction! The meat was accompanied by a grilled onion, tomato, and a savory/buttery rice. The first thing I tried was the chicken, it immediately melted in my mouth and left behind a huge explosion of flavors. The meat had numerous seasonings on it that provided layer upon layer of huge flavors, all finished off with a perfect char from the grill! The steak was seasoned similar to the chicken and was cooked to a perfect medium temperature. The steak also melted in my mouth similar to a steak that's been marinated for over 24 hours! The Kefta had a very distinct taste to it that kept it's flavors on the fence between an italian meatball and a polish sausage. It had light and dark flavors that had my taste buds constantly confused, but begging for more! The buttery rice added as a flavor enhancer and added great texture to accompany the pita bread.
The glory of this huge offering of food was that it allowed me to combine different items to create different flavors and combinations. The huge flavors and seasonings in every dish left me feeling like this food had a ton of care and preparation in it. Every dish felt like it was perfected and executed just how the cook intended. The staff was also very helpful in explaining each dish and even offered me a sample of Falafel (deep fried chickpea mash/hummus), the taste was very similar to a hush puppy (but way better than a hush puppy) and left me knowing exactly what I would be ordering on my next visit! Ala' Al-Deen is easily some of the most flavorful food in the HD and has opened a gateway to a new world of culinary experimentation. If you've never tried Middle Eastern cuisine before, I highly recommend you take a chance and immediately head over to Ala' Al-Deen's, they are most likely going to be your new favorite restaurant! The "Large Meal Platter" easily feeds 2 and could be stretched to feed 4 people and came in at just over $30 with 2 soft drinks (I also ordered an extra pack of pita bread). Ala' Al-Deen is located at 14303 Seventh St. in Victorville.