Sunday, June 21, 2020

Getting a Little Dizzy on My Birthday


Dizz's As-Is
2794 South Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Way too many things have been postponed from March til now. At first, I was pretty excited to be staying home. You might think that since we eat out so often that I love being out amongst the people and staying out until all hours. I like it in doses, and of course, I love to try restaurants, but I find myself just wanting to head home to relax, watch tv, and get a jump on heading to dreamland after a big meal. Yes, I suppose I'm getting old.

As with many during this pandemic, I had my birthday recently, just as the restrictions on restaurants were being lifted. We waited a week until Katie was a little more comfortable eating at a restaurant in a confined space. Even though we have both been working away from home during these crazy times, we, for the most part, have stayed in only going to get takeout or drive through somewhere. We only recently have made a few trips to see family and friends, with social distancing protocols of course.

Part of the reason I picked Dizz's As Is for my birthday dinner on this early Sunday evening was because of the safety measures that I knew they were following. Masks had to be worn to enter the restaurant and when you were walking about the space. Servers would be wearing masks and gloves, and they were spacing tables six feet apart. In the dining room we sat in, they easily could have squeezed in another four tables. The extra space felt wonderful, as being sat on top of people is one of my biggest pet peeves in restaurants. 

Dizz's has been around since 1977 and has been run by the Pitz family all of that time, making this the longest-running establishment with the same ownership in all of Laguna. The unusual name of this restaurant was coined when Owner and Founder Marcel Pitz bought the place alongside busy Pacific Coast Highway from a couple that could best be described as dizzy from all the self-prescribed happy pills they had taken over the years. The as-is portion of the name was added when the Pitz family grew an affection for the mismatched dishes that were left behind by the couple.

The menu seems to go along with the old fashioned vibe of the place. The food here could best be described as classic European, with stalwarts like escargot, stroganoff, and cornish game hen offered. Options that you don't seem to find at many places these days. Appetizers run between $6 to $15, ala carte options for the lighter eaters among us go for $20 on average, and entrees range between $24 to $46 for their surf and turf option. Both Katie and I zeroed in on what we were going to be having on our return to dine-in service. Let's see how it all turned out for us.



Right after we were seated we were given this complimentary Duck Pate and a shot of Vermouth. I guess this is their version of chips and salsa. A very nice touch. The vermouth was to be used as a palette cleanser. The pate was very earthy and had a tinge of smokiness to it. It spread with a little effort on the provided butter bread. This was fine, but I'm not the type to order pate on a regular basis, but I did enjoy the opportunity to have it gratis.


None of the appetizers really were in Katie's wheelhouse, except for the Garlic Bread ($6). The quartet of sliced bread was topped with garlic butter and parmesan cheese. This was fine but did not blow me away. There was very little garlic on here and a little more cheese would have been appreciated.



Both of our entrees came with either a soup or salad. I went with my usual Caesar Salad to start. This was a fair version. The dressing had a definite anchovy undertone which I liked, but the salad could have benefitted from a little more of it added. It was nice to have a salad that did not come out of a bag, like the ones I've had during our quarantine time. The fresh greens made a big difference. I don't recall what the soup of the day was, but Katie tried their French Onion Soup (a $5 upcharge) instead. This soup had a rich onion flavor to it. There was just a little bit of cheese topping this. I admit to missing the thick layer of Gruyere that blankets most versions I have had. Katie ended up liking this version a lot because it was lighter than most.



Katie was captivated by the Chicken Du Jour, which just happened to be Chicken Cordon Bleu ($25) this evening. This chicken breast was butterflied and filled with cheese and prosciutto, then served with a brown sauce covering it. Again, this was not as heavy as the fried versions I have had. The chicken was remarkably tender, but the bite I got from Katie only had chicken. Selfish. She was a pretty big fan of this plate.


I've been let down quite a few times when I 've ordered veal out recently, but this Veal Marsala ($32) helped restore my faith in veal a bit. The veal was incredibly tender and came with plenty of mushrooms and a sauce made up of marsala wine and a touch of cream. The parmesan was a nice surprise and went well with the veal. Both the vegetables and rice were just okay on their own but made better when I used them as a vehicle to sop up the extra marsala sauce.


The seven-item dessert menu was intriguing, but we went with our standard Creme Brulee ($9) as our grand finale this evening. Topped with some raspberries, the crystalized sugar crust was easily one of the most sturdy we have encountered. After a couple of taps of the spoon, it gave way to a custard base that was creamy but lacked the sweetness I was looking for. It was fine, but we should have gone with the chocolate rum mousse or the Belgian chocolate sundae. Next time.

Dizz's As-Is had a few highlights for us on this visit. Both our entrees were well executed, but the rest of the meal was on the average side. It was nice getting back out and doing some normal things for a change. The menu here, like the decor, seems a little dated, which I do not mean in a bad way. We need places like this to help us remember where we came from culinarily, and to help us realize that kale and quinoa are not essential ingredients. Even with the reduced numbers in the dining room, service was a little sporadic on this evening. Our server was MIA for some stretches of our meal, and the people that were nearest to us had not even gotten their food by the time we left, and they were here before us. Glad we could make it out for a birthday dinner.

Out of five binoculars, (because David Bushnell, who founded an optics company that brought binoculars to the average person at a reasonable price, made his home in Laguna Beach), five being best to zero being worst, Dizz's As Is gets 3 binoculars.

For more information about Dizz's As Is, head to their website here: https://dizzsasis.com/

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Breakfast at Cappy's a Capital Idea?


Cappy's Cafe
5903 West Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663

Well, we finally made it inside a restaurant after a long three months, kind of. After nearly 90 days of takeout, failed cooking experiments at home, and lots of bagged salads that I consumed trying to keep the 10 pounds off that the quarantine added to almost everyone, we sat on the patio of a restaurant. Katie was still a little skittish about being sat inside, so the patio was a great first step in our return to a little normalcy.

We parked just past the Newport Beach Pier and decided to walk the nearly 2 miles each way to Cappy's Cafe on PCH. For years I have wanted to give this place a try. This blue painted restaurant has stood out to me the numerous times I have driven by it since it opened for business in 1982. What also stood out to me was the numerous mentions I had read about this diner in the dearly departed OC Weekly, OC Register, and their Yelp reviews, which give a glowing 4 stars with close to 700 reviews.

Cappy's is only open for breakfast and lunch. Their menu is predictably breakfast-centric, but they do have burgers, sandwiches, wraps, and salads for late risers. The breakfast options are plentiful, with omelets, skillets, breakfast burritos, and other egg specialties taking up two whole pages. Mostly everything on the menu will set you back near or around $14, with only the two steak and egg plates going over the $20 mark. There's also a full bar menu for those that want to start their morning with a mimosa, bloody mary, or any other cocktail to keep the party going. I was looking at a two-mile walk back to the car, so it would be iced tea for me, but let's see if the food at Cappy's is truly the best breakfast in town, like they proclaim on the side of their building.



I was a little taken aback by Katie's selection of the Avocado Toast with Lox added ($14). She's nowhere close to being a millennial and usually likes a more substantial breakfast. She later claimed that she got this on a whim, and it was better than what she thought it was going to be. Toast is used as a base and then layered with slices of avocado, salmon, an over-easy egg, and sliced tomato is the topper. She was a little skeptical that the salmon was going to be fresh, but it was, and the rest of the meal was more substantial than the usual humdrum avocado toast. She opted for the loaded potatoes for the extra $2, which meant that their homefries are topped with melted cheddar cheese, peppers, and onions. This breakfast got an enthusiastic thumbs up from Katie and gave her the energy to walk the remaining two miles back to our car. 



I've been on a real Country Fried Steak ($16) kick lately, and that's the way I leaned on this particular Sunday morning as well. This one has been the best I've had recently. The steak was breaded nicely, with a slight crunch to the outer crust. The steak inside was fine, but the gravy provided much of the flavor here. The scrambled eggs were fine, while the potatoes were pretty solid with the added cheese. Definitely worth the two extra dollars. With my meal I went with the biscuits and gravy, since I walked here, I figured I might as well treat myself. The biscuits were pillowy soft and the gravy was a nice accompaniment. Way better than sliced toast.

I haven't eaten at all of the breakfast spots in Newport, but out of the ones I have; The Galley Cafe, Haute Cakes Caffe, and Wilma's Patio, to name a few, I would say that Cappy's is right on par with all of them. So when they claim to serve the best breakfast in town, they just might. I do know it was great being able to get back inside a restaurant, even if we were seated on their side patio. It was a pleasure to be waited on by their very capable staff. Their youthful exuberance and safety measures that they employed throughout the restaurant were a welcome alternative from getting food to go, and having it require slight reheating in the microwave after arriving home. In case you were wondering, face masks and gloves were worn by all staff we came in contact with, there was a  section of their parking lot used for additional outside seating, and each party was spaced at least six feet apart. It really helped to put Katie's mind at ease. I'd classify Cappy's as good diner food, which along with us getting some much-needed exercise made this one of the better Sundays we have had in months.

Out of five cans of fruit juice, (because Cappy's is also a brand of fruit juice served in 25 countries and is owned by the Coca Cola Company), five being best to zero being worst, Cappy's Cafe gets 3 cans of fruit juice.

For more information about Cappy's Cafe, head to their website here: https://www.cappyscafe.com/

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Can't Fly to Hawaii? Head to Da Hawaiian Kitchen Instead


Da Hawaiian Kitchen
9842 Adams Ave. 
Huntington Beach, CA 92646

You can only be cooped up for so long before you need to break out to spread your wings a bit. That was the feeling both Katie and I had last weekend. We were going to be dropping off a gift to Katie's brother and our future sister in law on the day that they were to be married. Of course, due to the Corona Virus, their special day has been postponed. After that brief stop, we went walking in nearby Fairhaven Park, a great spot to get some much-needed vitamin D and try to get our muscles moving.

After our three-mile walk around the nearly deserted park, we were ready to pick up some food and get home to prepare for the work week ahead. As Katie rehydrated, I went to Yelp to find a spot that both of us would enjoy. One of the first spots I found was Da Hawaiian Kitchen, which just happened to be about 6 minutes away. We made a quick call to order and have the food ready for us when we arrived. They quoted us that it would be ready in twenty minutes, so we took our time getting over there.

Da Hawaiian Kitchen is near the Target on the corner of Brookhurst and Adams in Huntington Beach. It's hidden between a dental office and Great Clips. In the eight years, they have been open for business they have a very impressive four and a half star rating on Yelp, with over 800 reviews registered so far. As of just recently, they had another location near the Newport Beach Pier, which was recently shuttered during these trying times.

This is a very small storefront with maybe three four-person tables during non-Corona Virus time. The menu is pretty ambitious for what I imagine is a small kitchen behind the register. They offer seven Hawaiian breakfast staples all day long, along with plenty in the way of the plate lunches that you'd expect to see at a Hawaiian restaurant. Most prices hover right around the $12 mark, with only the Local Boy Loco Moco going for $18, but that big meal includes three beef patties, three eggs, two scoops of mac salad, and three of rice. That was a bit much for me this afternoon, but I'd love to tackle it maybe next time. For now, I grabbed our bag and we were on our way back home rather quickly. Let's see if the food will sweep us away to an island paradise, at least in our minds.



When you are paying at the register at Da Hawaiian kitchen there's a small refrigerated section on your left with some side selections which are sold by the pound. If the picture above does not push you to order it, I'd definitely suggest getting some Spicy Garlic Poke ($17.99 a pound) to start your meal off with. We only got a half-pound and should have gotten more. The cubed pieces were some of the freshest we have had and the spicy garlic flavor really popped. This poke was mainly for Katie, but I should have really gotten my own. Don't sleep on this poke.




Since Katie did not share nearly enough poke with me, I dove right into my Combo Plate ($14 with a $1 upcharge for the beef). With this plate, you get to pick two kinds of meat, and you also get two scoops of rice and one of mac salad. I went with the Teriyaki Beef and the Chili Peppa Chicken. The beef was a little on the fatty side, which some might find not to their liking, but I didn't really mind as the meat had a great sweet flavor and was more tender than I was expecting. The star of the plate was the chicken thigh. This was a bigger thigh than I was expecting and the meat underneath the breading was moist and juicy. The best part was the breading, which had a nice spice to it which gave way to the garlic in bursts. It's easy to see why they get so much love for their chicken. It's really excellent. The rice was okay, but their potato mac salad was another favorite. A delicious hybrid of both macaroni and potato salad that I should have gotten more of, and will next time by substituting one of the scoops of rice for it at an additional charge. A move that is totally worth it. 




Katie was feeling the Combo Plate ($13) vibe as well this afternoon. She had the teriyaki chicken and the Kahlua pork. She was impressed with both but loved the shredded pork better. It had a real depth of flavor that was highlighted by an undertone of sweet overlayed with a kiss of Kahlua. I will be honest, I snuck a few pieces of this while she was not looking. The chicken was boneless and skinless thighs, that might have been pressed together to form one large piece of chicken. The chicken had the same ginger teriyaki sauce used on my beef and the result was still very good, although some extra teriyaki would have been appreciated. Maybe next time.

There definitely will be a next time. In the last week, Katie has mentioned our lunch from Da Hawaiian Kitchen numerous times, which indicates to me just how much she really enjoyed this meal and wants to come back sooner, rather than later. I concur with that. I've thought about it quite a lot as well and am coming up with reasons that we could be close enough to the restaurant to swing by and grab more of their poke, chili Peppa chicken, Kahlua pork, and mac potato salad. So, where does Da Hawaiian Kitchen rate among the Hawaiian restaurants we've eaten at so far? I'd describe them as a higher quality L and L Barbecue, but with smaller portions. Not as high brow as the excellent food that comes out of the kitchen at Ai Pono in Costa Mesa. Right on par with my experiences at Hapa J's in San Clemente, but at a much more reasonable price point. I guess what I'm trying to say is that the food here really capped off a really good day. Just what we needed in these trying times. 

Out of five billboards, (because when you visit the Aloha State, you will not find any billboards lining any highways or anywhere else in Hawaii), five being best to zero being worst, Da Hawaiian Kitchen gets 3.5 billboards.

For more information about Da Hawaiian Kitchen, head to their website here: https://dahawaiiankitchen.com/

Friday, May 29, 2020

Gus's Fried Chicken Comes to Roost in Santa Ana


Gus's Fried Chicken
102 North Sycamore St.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

I admit that chicken is not my favorite protein. I shy away from it in most cases. Chicken tacos are almost always bland. Chicken baked in wine was one of my least favorite things my mom made when I was growing up. Sorry, mom. I also had a math teacher in elementary school, Mr. Taravella, who always incorporated chicken into math problems. My low math grade more than likely added to my distaste for this choice of poultry.

One kind of chicken that I do seek out is fried chicken. It seems that whoever you talk to, they have their favorite spot to head to. I hear lots of love for Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant,  Popeye's, Two Birds in Irvine, and Holdaak, a spot in Orange, which I have now added to my list of places to try due to their glowing reviews on Yelp and other spots. For the record, before this visit, my top three fried chicken spots are Buttermilk, Crack Shack, and Reunion, which has locations in Laguna and Anaheim Hills. I was hoping that Gus's Fried Chicken could supplant one of these. Let's see if that would be the case.

Gus's started out modestly off  Highway 70 in Mason, Tennessee as Maggie's Short Order in 1973 with founding owners, Ms. Maggie and Napoleon Vanderbilt. After their passing in the early '80s, the restaurant was run by their only son, and his wife, Gus and Gertrude Bonner, who renamed it Gus's in 1984.

By the late '80s, the restaurant gained a lot of notoriety when it was listed as some of the best-fried chicken in the country by major magazines and news outlets. A second location in Memphis opened in 2001, and from there Gus's spread like wildfire. By my count, they now have 28 locations in 14 states, and they have no plans to stop there.

We decided to take advantage of the light weekend traffic and called in our order to the Santa Ana location while en route. We were quoted a time of twenty minutes, which would put us here right on time to get our food and head back home. This downtown Santa Ana outpost is located on the corner of First and Sycamore, right across from Original Mike's.

During regular times they offer waiter service, but with the current situation, we just paid for our meal at the register. The restaurant seemed a lot bigger than what I assumed from the outside. The menu at Gus's is pretty straight forward. A trio of starters, chicken plates, six sides, and five pies that you can get by the slice or have the option to buy the whole pie. We grabbed our food and headed for home as fast as we could because the aroma coming from the bags was so intoxicating. Let's see if the taste was as good as it smelled from the bags in the backseat.



We started off with Fried Pickles ($5). They were heavily breaded with a dill spear buried underneath and came with ranch dressing for dipping. I found the breading a bit too heavy and I think they were left in the fryer a minute or two too long. Not anything I'd probably get again. 





Katie will start off the entree portion of this review with her selection, the Four-Piece Tender Plate ($14). Katie has an issue with eating items off the bone, so I was not surprised she went with the tenders. These tenders were good-sized, made fresh, and were a nice departure from the overly processed ones that we have come to expect when getting tenders. They were juicy and had a tinge of spice to them, but nothing that would overpower. She opted to get honey mustard as her dip of choice. Plates come with coleslaw and baked beans as your sides but you can swap out your sides for a 50 cent upcharge. The baked beans were fine, a little on the sweet side which I guess is meant to counteract the slightly spicy batter of the chicken. The best of the sides that we tried was the Potato Salad. This was a very creamy version of potato salad, with big notes of dill and mustard coming through in each bite. This is the side to get here.




Now for what Gus's is famous for, their fried chicken. I went with the Three-Piece Dark Meat Plate ($12) which consisted of two thighs and a leg. The thighs here were very big with lots of meat on them. Like the tenders above, the meat was very juicy without being greasy. The breading had a nice spice to it and the crunchy texture was very pleasing. After a few bites, I could see why they get so much love for their fried chicken. I had wanted mac and cheese and greens for my sides, but they were out of greens on this early evening, so I went with double mac and cheese instead. The mac and cheese was sprinkled with plenty of paprika, but it could not spark anything flavor-wise for me. It's kind of what I imagine Kraft Mac and Cheese to taste like, a bit boring. Yes, I know, it's weird that I've never had the mac and cheese out of the blue box.



Out of the five varieties of pies that Gus's offers, the most interesting to me was the Chocolate Chess Pie ($5). This would be my maiden slice of chess pie, which is popular in the south. I'd describe it as very brownie-like, with a cracked top. Good, but not earth-shattering to me. I'd like to try their pecan pie with ice cream when I can eat here, so I won't have to worry about it melting on the way home.

The chicken at Gus's takes one of my top three spots for fried chicken in OC, joining Crack Shack and Buttermilk. The fried chicken is really that good, and I'd probably get a half chicken the next time I'm here so I can sample their white meat as well. The sides, with the exception of the potato salad, were all kind of just average. Prices were more than fair, with no plate going over the $15 threshold. If all chicken tasted like this, I might become a chicken fanatic after all. 

Out of five Blow Pops, (because this restaurant started in Tipton County, Tennessee, which is also home to where they make one billion Blow Pop's and other candies a year), five being best to zero being worst, Gus's Fried Chicken gets 3 Blow Pops.

For more information about Gus's Fried Chicken, head to their website here: http://gusfriedchicken.com/

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Trying Taquiero Taco Patio in Irvine


Taquiero Taco Patio 
4517 Campus Drive
Irvine, CA 92612

It's been a little dodgy being a restaurant reviewer during these crazy times. I have found myself to be a bit depressed and uninspired to write very much during these unprecedented times we are living through. A large part of the restaurant experience is actually being inside the restaurants, experiencing the environment, and the way the food is presented. Seeing the pride that the servers and other employees have in the place that they are employed.

It would also be unfair and kind of mean to write a really scathing review of a place in these challenging times for restaurants. Restaurants are struggling financially, and one report I saw claimed that a quarter of restaurants are not going to make it through this. That's a lot. This is my 872nd different restaurant review, and if that report is to be believed, it means that 217 of the restaurants I've visited in the last ten plus years, will cease operations. Unbelievable. 

During this quarantine time, Katie and I have been getting a lot of takeout from the restaurants around where we live. It's probably no surprise to anyone, but we don't really cook too much at home. I make an odd meatloaf sometimes, or if Katie prods me enough, I make her favorite pasta carbonara, which is what I made for her on one of our first dates. We had grown a bit tired of our local places, and we decided to branch out a bit by getting some takeout from Taquiero Taco Patio in Irvine.

I had heard some good things about this place that opened in the Campus Plaza, which is tucked inside UC Irvine. In just over a year of being in business, they get a very respectable four-star rating with over 600 reviews on Yelp. They have been mentioned in quite a few best-of lists in Irvine and were featured in the OC Register as helping to end the taco famine that has plagued the city for a long while. Most impressive to me though was that after eating here, one of OC's original food bloggers, Griffin, from Griffin Eats OC was so inspired by the food he consumed here that he wrote a restaurant review after five years of radio silence on his blog. This spoke volumes to me, and I decided we'd give them a try while taking advantage of the light freeway traffic.

Taquiero Taco Patio was started by two guys, Sean and Roberto. Roberto was born and raised in Tijuana and from what I can tell, he's the food guy. Sean grew up in Irvine but lived in Mexico for ten years. Both men saw a need to bring the tacos they loved south of the border back to Sean's hometown. They are doing things the right way, with house-made tortillas, salsas made fresh daily, and meats prepared to honor their Tijuana roots. Let's see if they accomplished their mission.



All of this talk about Tijuana and we start off with something that is more a specialty of San Diego, rather than Tijuana, Al Pastor Fries ($10). This starts with a serving of french fries and is then topped with marinated pork fresh from the trompo, cheese, chipotle sauce, sour cream, and avocado sauce. This was a pretty solid effort, but I think it was the item that suffered the most from our 20-minute commute back home. The first few bites were magical, with the very good pastor pairing nicely with the other toppings and fries. Then the fries got a little soggy and all of the toppings were on the top layer. As we dug deeper we only had fries left over, which were getting less crisp by the minute. I look forward to trying these again when we are allowed to eat inside the restaurant, hopefully soon. 


During the pandemic, Taquiero Taco Patio was offering their tacos at Taco Tuesday prices, which is a dollar off from their usual $3.50 price. A nice touch and an added incentive to try them out. I got the Conchita Pibil Taco and a Carne Asada Taco. I liked both of these, but I'd give the edge to the Asada taco slightly. It came with onions, cilantro, and guacamole, which is always a bonus. The beef was tender and they did not really skimp on the amount that they included in this. The pork taco came simply dressed with pickled onion and plenty of Yucatan styled pork. The pork was very tasty but went up a level with the addition of their green salsa. The tortillas did a great job of holding everything together. They were thick but did not get in the way of letting the contents become the star of the show. I'm intrigued by their fried cheese tortilla option, which I will definitely try on my next visit.


If you are new to Mulitas ($6.75), they can best be described as an unfolded quesadilla. Think of it as a sandwich, but instead of bread, two corn tortillas are used to create it. The inside of this one was filled with chicken, onion, cilantro, and cheese. I've had quite a few mulitas, and this one wins the prize for being stuffed the most by a long shot. The chicken was nicely seasoned and the cheese was present but did not overpower like a traditional quesadilla would. The price might be a little steep, but this will satisfy most appetites.

Taquiero Taco Patio really reminded me of the Taco Stand in Orange. Their menus are both very similar, both specialize in al pastor which they cook on the vertical spit, and their price points are nearly identical. The Taco Stand does have a few more options with proteins, sides, and breakfast is available. I really liked our takeout meal at Taquiero Taco Patio, it helped break the monotony of the places we have had over and over the last two months of sheltering in place. I do look forward to coming back here again to enjoy a meal inside the restaurant and see how the food holds up without the twenty-minute drive home.

Out of five digital thermometers, (because this restaurant is trying to emulate the food from Tijuana, and that city produces 80 percent of the world's digital thermometers), five being best to zero being worst, Taquiero Taco Patio gets 3 digital thermometers.

For more information about Taquiero Tao Patio, head to their website here: https://www.taquierotaco.com/

Monday, May 18, 2020

Hammering Away at Burgers in Orange


Hammer Burger 
Pop Up Event
Orange, CA

The times have definitely changed over the first part of this year. To say that the restaurant industry is facing some uncertain times would be an understatement. There's talk about closures, twenty-five percent capacities, and safety for employees and customers alike. Things I never thought I'd be writing about on my little restaurant blog.

I also never thought I'd be writing about pop up restaurants. To be honest, I find them to be a little too much trouble. Much like the food truck craze of the early 2010s, I find pop up events to be inconvenient. When I feel like I want to eat something, I just want to go and have it. Instant gratification is what I want. With pop-ups, I have to wait until they are serving, there are usually long lines, and there's almost always crowds present at these events.

So why am I writing about a pop-up? I changed my tune after having Heritage Barbecue a few months ago. Even though it took nearly three hours of my day to get my food, it was so worth it. It's also satisfying to get in on the ground floor before a place really takes off. That barbecue was the best I've had in OC, and I look forward to Heritage Barbecue opening in San Juan Capistrano this June. Fingers crossed.

Back to Hammer Burger. It was the perfect storm. I was off work for a week and saw on their Instagram page that they were going to be serving up burgers the following Saturday. I instantly went to get my credit card so I could reserve mine. This was on Monday. By Wednesday most of their slots had been filled and I think they were sold out the next day.

I tortured myself that whole week while I waited for Saturday to come by checking out their pictures on Instagram. I don't really know the whole story behind Hammer Burger. I know that when I ordered my burger I had to go pick it up in a residential area of Orange, near the 22 Freeway. Their barebones menu consists of a single, double, and triple cheeseburger, chips, Mexican Coke, and Topo Chico, which is a sparkling water from Mexico. That's it.

With my trusty GPS as a guide, I pulled into the dead-end residential street. I saw the easy up in the driveway, and a couple working feverishly behind the flattop smashing burgers. There was a table set up at the end of the short driveway with bags all ready to go. One had my name on it, and as quickly as it had taken me to get here, I was off with the aroma of my burger quickly filling my car. I knew I wouldn't be able to make it all the way back home to South OC, so I pulled over in a nearby industrial area to snap a few pictures and indulge.



This Double Burger ($8) came dressed very simply with two slices of American cheese, some translucent onions, house-made pickles, and Hammer sauce, which I'd describe as a light mustard sauce. Because this was a smash style burger, it was not as heavy as other double burgers. Due to the increased surface area of the patty to the heat source, the edges are crisped a bit, which is my favorite part of the smash burger experience. All aspects of this burger really worked well together. The cheese and beef patties melded together nicely, while the onions, pickles, and Hammer sauce were all mellow enough to allow the beef to be the star of the show. The bun was nice and soft while doing its job of keeping everything together. A very well put together burger.

As I inhaled my burger on the side of the road, I realized two things. One, I should have gotten two burgers, which I could have eaten very easily. Two, and more importantly, I do not need bacon or any other add-ons to enjoy a classic, well-made burger. This was a well-executed burger made from high-quality ingredients. Not to be corny, but you could taste the care that went into it. It really reminded me of the burgers from LA favorite, Burgers Never Say Die. The only distinguishing factor between the two is that these burgers only use their sauce, while Burgers Never Say Die adds ketchup and mustard. With the system that Hammer Burger has set up, it didn't take as long to get our burgers here as it did at the always busy BNSD. I guess I also learned one more thing from this burger experience. I'm now way more willing to go through the hassle of pop-ups, as long as the burgers taste this good. 

Out of five bald eagles, (because the city of Haines, Alaska is home to a Hammer Museum, and that city also has the highest concentration of bald eagles in the world), five being best to zero being worst, Hammer Burger gets 3.5 bald eagles.

For more information about Hammer Burger and when you can get yours, head to their website here: https://www.hammerburger.com/

Sunday, May 3, 2020

An Anniversary Dinner From Descanso Five Years in the Making


Descanso - A Modern Taqueria
1555 Adams Ave. #103
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

I've come to the conclusion that Katie and I are not, "make food at home people". This is probably a good thing considering that I love to go to and write about restaurants. Before the stay at home order, we probably would run our dishwasher about ten or so times a year, if that. To emphasize that we like to eat out, we still have multiple kitchen wedding gifts unopened in their original boxes. Yep, home cooking is not something that we do too much, until the last month.  

We were coming up on our fifth wedding anniversary, and instead of making another boring meal at home, fate stepped in. Descanso in Costa Mesa reached out to see if we wanted to give their Family Taco Meal ($45) a try. A night that I did not have to do dishes and Katie did not have to pretend to like what I made for her? I could not say yes fast enough. 

For those of you that are not familiar with Descanso, they are located in Costa Mesa near the corner of Adams and Harbor, in the same shopping plaza as Vons and CVS. They've been open for business for one and a half years now. When we are in more normal times, they have quite a unique concept. They cook your meal right in front of you, on a traditional plancha, think of it as a Mexican style Benihana, but with way better food. Sorry to all you Benihana fans out there. 

Anyways, back to the present. The planchas are all sitting silently, along with all the dining rooms in this and all other restaurants for as far as the eye can see. That's why it's so important for people to get out and support the local places that have provided us with great food and drinks, along with giving back to communities whenever we ask them, whether it be sponsoring our kid's sports teams, donating gift cards or food to charitable causes, and providing excess food to our local food banks to help feed the hungry in our communities. 



It could not be easier to get food to go from Descanso. They are operating with the limited hours of 4pm - 8pm Monday thru Thursday, and 2pm - 8pm Friday to Sunday. Ordering is done by calling or texting 714-486-3798, or if you would like, online ordering is available here: https://www.toasttab.com/descanso-restaurant-1555-adams-ave-suite-103/v3  They also are on Doordash if you are inclined to order through that third-party app. 

The food menu is pared down a bit, but plenty of your favorites remain. They have appetizers, salads, tacos plates, quesadillas, alambres, a California burrito, and others. specialties, including the aforementioned Family Taco Meal which you will see upcoming. There's also a beverage takeout menu with assorted beer and wine, margaritas, cocktails, and a tequila bottle special. Lastly, with Cinco de Mayo only a couple days away, they have family platters of wings, nachos, alambres, and margarita specials. They're going to be open from noon to 9pm on Tuesday, May 5th for all your Cinco de Mayo needs. Enough info for ya so far? Let's see what the family taco meal we had was all about. 






Here it is, in all of its glory. The Family Taco Meal ($45). With this kit, you get two pounds of meat, and you can choose from carnitas, chicken, steak, or al pastor. We went with the carnitas and steak. You also receive a quart of each refried pinto beans and Mexican fried rice, 15 tortillas, a pint of pico de Gallo, and a half-pint of salsa Verde, salsa frita, and lime wedges. We also made the very wise decision to add the Clasico Guacamole ($10). 

Both types of meat were good, but I'm always partial to carnitas, which I enjoyed better on this evening. There was a great variety with this shredded pork. Some pieces were crispy, while others had a little bit of fat incorporated into some of the bites. It made for a flavorful experience. Katie and I had a difference of opinion when it came to whether the beans or rice was better. I liked the refried beans, which I added to all of my tacos for a little moistness. Katie loved the rice, which was a departure from the Spanish rice that is served at almost every other Mexican food restaurant around the county. I would have liked to have tried this with the spicy mayo sauce that they usually put on during regular service. Salsas both had rich deep flavors to them but lacked a kick of spice I was hoping for. The guacamole is definitely worth ordering here and went way too quickly between Katie and me. 

The Family Taco Meal from Descanso was a great option for our 5th wedding anniversary dinner. We both ate way too much but had plenty left over for the next nights' dinner. I've even used the salsa with other things we have eaten since our anniversary. Not only was this a great deal, but it's a great chance to support local restaurants, which is more important than ever during these times. 

Thanks so much to Owner Rob Arellano, Chef Sergio Ortega, and all of the essential workers at Descanso who are coming to work to feed the community. It's much appreciated. 

For more information and updates about Descanso, head to their website here: https://www.descansorestaurant.com/