Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Come Home to Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails


Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails
11122 Los Alamitos Blvd. 
Los Alamitos, CA 90720

It used to be that after graduation from high school, friends you had been with for all those years would scatter, and most you wouldn't hear from again. If you were lucky you'd maybe see one of your childhood friends by chance at the mall, or maybe every ten years at high school reunions. Now with social media, for better or worse, we are now more connected to the people we grew up with more than ever. It was through social media that I ended up reconnecting with a childhood friend and trying a restaurant that I've wanted to go to for a while now.

It had been about thirty years since I had last seen Steve. He went to my elementary school from third grade on and we worked together at the supermarket during our high school years. He, fortunately, was smart enough to get out, while I am stuck there at least for another four years before retirement calls my name. Steve went on to college in Ohio, became a doctor, got married, and has two kids. He lives in the South Bay area and works in Los Alamitos, an area we do not frequent nearly enough, so when he reached out for a long overdue meetup, I knew I wanted to meet at Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails.

If this place sounds a little familiar, it's because this is the sister restaurant to Mamas on 39 in Huntington Beach. Opened in late June, this outpost of Mama's was not situated on Highway 39, also known as Beach Boulevard, so they had to rename this Los Alamitos location Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails. Even though I have not been to the Huntington Beach spot, from what I can ascertain, the menus at the two sister restaurants are similar, with both serving Thrifty brand ice cream, but more on that later.

This location has had a recent string of failed restaurants, most recently Spin Pizza and Mighty Kitchen. If the overflow crowd on this Thursday evening we were here is any indication, that streak of failed restaurants will be halted by Mama's Comfort Food. This restaurant features large garage-style windows on each wall providing plenty of natural light, a U shaped bar in the center of the restaurant, and TVs festooned to every corner of the place.

The menu at Mama's is as big and vibrant as the dining room. Plenty of starters, burgers, sandwiches, and entrees to choose from. Pretty much any item that comes to your mind when you hear diner food is available here. Another perk is that you can get breakfast any time of the day here, and the breakfast items I have seen online look pretty stellar. After catching up with Steve for a half hour or so, we made our selections, and this is how everything came out for us.


I've really become a big fan of cauliflower after many years of avoiding it on veggie trays and salads. Now when I see it on menus, I gravitate towards it, like we did by ordering this Buffalo Cauliflower ($9.99). This generous portion was lightly fried and tossed with a slightly spicy buffalo sauce and came with a side of ranch dressing for dipping. Just like buffalo wings, but without the messiness and the bones. Some of the pieces could have been cut up a little smaller, but a very satisfying start to our meal.



I could tell that Katie was really contemplating what to get off the rather large menu at Mamas. She finally went with the Mama Maria's Tuna Melt ($14.99 with avocado added) and could not have been happier. She threw out words like, "best ever", "delicious", and "excellent comfort food" to describe this tuna melt. She loved the addition of the creamy avocado to the well-done tuna salad and the crunchy toasted bread. If she had to pick out a weakness with this it would be her fries, which she claimed were just okay. Still, she would have a hard time passing this sandwich up on her future visits to Mamas.


I did not know this going in, but Steve is a practicing vegetarian. I guess I'll still keep him as a friend after finding this out. He's pretty much a regular here, as he knew a couple of the staff and ran into other patients, even though he was trying to stay incognito. For his meal, he got the Cayla's Vegan Sam-Wich ($12.99). This veggie lovers sandwich included marinated tomatoes, arugula, red onions, avocado, basil aioli, and a balsamic vinaigrette reduction on a ciabatta roll. He also went for the dollar upgrade here and got the tater tots, which they topped with cheese. No complaint from the good doctor, as it appears that this is his go-to order when having lunch at Mamas. He had no problem putting this sandwich away but left half of the tater tots. 





So many good choices to choose from here, but if I'm eating in a restaurant that specializes in diner food, I almost always veer towards a patty melt, so that lead me to this All-American Beach Melt ($15.99). This double-decker patty melt came with plenty of melted American cheese, onions, pickles, and Mama's sauce, which was a thinner thousand island dressing. The good toasting of the bread along with the insides of this sandwich made this one of the better patty melt I have had. I might next time go even crazier and add bacon to this to bring it up to an even better level. Unlike Katie, I liked the fries here, which had a good amount of garlic and parmesan flavor to them, and they were bottomless, but I only went through one serving. I know, I've turned into a lightweight.



When you walk in a joint and they have a Thrifty ice cream stand right next to the hostess desk, you know you are definitely going to save room for dessert. They offer eight flavors for you to choose from at Mamas, and you can get your ice cream in a cone, cup, milkshake, or as we got ours, in a Toasty Hot Giant Waffle ($10.99). This folded over waffle was filled with Nutella, sliced bananas, and candied pecans and then topped with a classic barrel-shaped scoop of vanilla ice cream in a cone. Of course, I liked this dessert, but I would have liked it better if the ice cream was inside the waffle and if the waffle was a little softer. It was kind of hard getting our forks through it. We ended up cutting this up with a knife. I'd probably get a Chocolate Malted Crunch milkshake next time. Man, that sounds good right about now.

It's no secret that diner fare is one of my favorite genres of food, and Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails is an excellent choice for this. The things we had on this evening with our good friend Steve were all pretty stellar, and my only wish was that they were closer to where I live so I could try more of their menu, including their breakfasts and their more substantial dinner entrees like their meatloaf and the beer can chicken. Service was warm and friendly, even when they were busy earlier in the evening. Prices were a tad on the high side, but portions are big, and you can stretch your meal to have half for lunch the next day, which is what I ended up doing. Mamas was a great meetup spot for us catching up with Steve. This dinner proves that Facebook and other social media can be useful for more than arguing about politics, posting memes, and trying to entice your friends to join your pyramid scheme. It can also help you stay friends with great people that you grew up with, that you might otherwise have lost touch with.

Out of five cottonwoods, (because in Spanish Los Alamitos translates to little cottonwood trees, of which there are numerous in the city), five being best to zero being worst, Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails gets 3.5 cottonwoods. 

For more information about Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails, head to their website here: http://www.mamason39.com/

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

You Might Want to Skip the Parkway


The Parkway American Grill
22411 Antonio Parkway
Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688

Rancho Santa Margarita always has an isolated feel to me. It kind of feels like its cut off from the rest of the world. It sits out there at the base of the Cleveland National Forest, with only the toll road used for a quick exit back to the real world. I lived here for five years and during that time I was always looking for places and things to do in RSM so I did not have to battle the traffic and many signals on Alica Parkway. I never really found that one hangout spot that I felt comfortable in before I moved closer to civilization. 

My in-laws, after being longtime residents of Laguna Niguel, sold their big house and got a more manageable condo on the golf course at Tijera Creek Golf Club. Perfect for the two of them, but now they are trying to do what I did when I lived out this way, find some places nearby to eat, so they don't have to leave the peace and serenity of RSM.

One place that they have eaten at frequently is The Parkway American Grill, which was not here when I lived here 15 years ago, of course not much was out here that long ago. I'm not entirely sure, but I think this used to be where Ruby's was situated when they had a location in RSM. Parkway has been host to my in-laws a handful of times now in the last month, and after I got to check out their new abode, they wanted to introduce me to what they hope will be their go-to restaurant in their new city.

Much like my in-laws, Parkway American Grill is new to this area. Opened for only seven months now, this restaurant comes to us from Steve and Laura Michalopoulos, Boston transplants who lamented the fact that there were no upscale-casual dining experiences in the area that made families feel welcomed. They decided to change that and open a place where pre-packaged foods would be replaced by scratch-made ingredients in a family-friendly environment. With all the raving that my mother in law has done about this place, I was definitely intrigued to give this restaurant a try.

We arrived at Parkway on a recent Thursday evening around 6pm. They have a nice patio out front, which was not in use on this evening due to the Holy Jim brush fire going on, so we grabbed a table for four near the front door. There was a guitar player in the far corner of the restaurant, near the long bar, which stretches the length of the back wall. The dining room felt pretty spacious, with maybe 20 or so standard tables and high tops.

The dinner menu features American favorites, with plenty of appetizers,  grinders, burgers, salads, entrees, and pizzas to choose from. Most items hover around the $15 mark, with only a few entrees breaking the $20 barrier. After some inner debate going on inside my brain, I finally made my dinner selection, and here's how everything worked out for us on this evening.



Deep fried food is not just something you can get at the OC Fair every summer, restaurants are now starting to fry everything from corn on the cob to Oreo's. At Parkway they have Fired Avocado ($12) on their starter menu. Not sure why they call it fired avocado, rather than fried, but that's what they call it so we'll stick with that. Avocado spears are breaded and fried and then served with chipotle aioli and ranch dressing. These were fine, but the breading was kind of bland and did not have the big crunch I was hoping for. I thought this would have been better with a crunchy exterior and the creamy heated avocado inside. Did not happen with these, but when they were dipped in the provided sauces they were much better. 


One thing I have learned about my father in law in the nine years I have known him is that he's a big fan of soups. He gets a bowl almost everytime he goes out to eat, and he held true on this early evening by getting the Clam Chowder ($6). Knowing that the owners of this restaurant hail from Boston, I had great hopes for this. After my one bite of this, I should not have gotten my hopes up. The chowder was kind of bland, did not really have any clams in it, and was made up of mostly cubed potatoes. It definitely needed the pepper that the waiter ground on top of it.


Loaded Potato Skins ($10 were the last of the starters to come before our entrees hit the table. These come three to an order at Parkway and are topped with Guinness braised pork belly, a white cheese blend, creme fraiche, and chives. The potato was fried nicely, but they did something here that I thought I would never experience during the run of this blog. They made pork belly taste dull. If the menu had not said that pork belly was on these, and I was blindfolded, I never would have known that one of my favorite ingredients was included here. These are definitely misnamed, like the fired avocado, because these were not even close to being loaded, as they only had a few cubes of pork and a dusting of cheese on them. Disappointing. 




I was hoping things would turn around for me here when I ordered this Steak Bomb ($12.50) off of their grinder area of the menu. Again, this sandwich should have been called a dud instead of a bomb because it put me to sleep. The menu made this sandwich sound like it was going to be like a Philly cheesesteak, but with lettuce and tomato. Shaved ribeye, provolone cheese, grilled onions, bell peppers, and mushrooms have never tasted so dull. They really skimped on the cheese (were they running out or something?), and this only had a couple of mushrooms included. I made the underseasoned meat a little better by asking for a side of ranch dressing but ended up only eating half of this, which is definitely a sign that I did not enjoy this flavorless sandwich. This came with a side of chips, which might have been made here, as they were almost as bad as the sandwich. Some were burnt while other were limp, with no crunch to them. Maybe pay an upcharge to get fries next time.


Katie has been here a couple of times with her parents and has gotten the chicken alfredo on all of her previous visits. She changed it up this trip by trying the CBA Pizza ($13.95). CBA stands for chicken, broccoli, and alfredo sauce, and is joined on the pizza by some garlic, mozzarella, and parmesan. Finally, something had some flavor to it. The crust was very crisp and thin, while the toppings reminded me of a casserole my mom used to make. Maybe the pizzas are the thing to get here. 



Dennis was not overly full from his chowder, so he got this Cobb Salad ($14) as well. This salad included chicken, bacon, hard boiled egg, bleu cheese, tomatoes, and a house vinaigrette. Looking from across the table I thought this was a pretty puny sized salad for the price, but no disappointment from Dennis about this salad. He finished this salad rather quickly and has gotten this frequently on his previous visits.


I was not really feeling like dessert after my rather lackluster sandwich, but we decided to give it a try. They must be in the middle of switching their dessert menu, as we were given a handwritten list with three options crossed out. We settled on this Tiramisu ($7). I'm not usually a big fan of this Italian dessert, but this was the best thing I had here all night. It was well made, not overly soggy, and did not overpower with a coffee flavor. This should make the cut on their upcoming dessert menu.

I left Parkway very disappointed with almost everything I experienced on this evening and was left wondering why my inlaws like this place, and why people on Yelp have given this restaurant a four-star rating with over 150 reviews. Maybe I caught them on an off night, or maybe I ended up getting the wrong things. The burgers do look good in the pictures I have seen online and might be the way I go if I come back here. Service was very spotty on this evening and our food often came out without dressings, sauces, and sides. Maybe all the love for this restaurant is because they have a captive audience of residents who don't want to drive a half hour out of town to a better restaurant.

Out of five picnic tables, (because the longest parkway in the US is the Blue Ridge Parkway, which spans two states, and has many picnic tables alongside it), five being best to zero being worst, The  Parkway American Grill gets 1.5 picnic tables.

For more information about The Parkway American Grill, head to their website here: http://www.parkwayamericangrill.com/

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Angling for a Good Meal at Coast Fish Company


Coast Fish Company
9543 Irvine Center Dr. 
Irvine, CA 92618

It seems you can't turn around without hearing about a new seafood concept opening up. My Instagram feed is filled with new fish restaurant concepts almost daily. It almost seems like seafood is the new obsession, just like the burger explosion we had about two or three years ago, and the bacon mania we had at the start of this decade. Yes, a seafood option can now be found in almost every retail center throughout our great county.

One of the great parts of this is that seafood is now available at any price point. Food from the sea is affordable to everyone, instead of just from fancy restaurants, as it once was. It used to be that you had to dine at one of the overpriced restaurants with a view of the ocean or get a table in a fancy steakhouse to enjoy some seafood. Sure, there was H. Salt or if you were like my family some frozen fish sticks when my parents were going out for the night and did not want to dirty up the kitchen.

Nowadays we have a wide selection of seafood options available. There are the fast casual options, lead by my favorite Slapfish, there are oyster bars, raw fish bars, sushi restaurants, fish taco joints, Mexican restaurants that specialize in shrimp and ceviche, and you can't drive more than a block without finding a new poke spot to try. Those things have multiplied like rabbits in the springtime.

Coast Fish Company opened in the Los Olivos shopping center last year. This fast-casual restaurant comes to us from the owners of the legendary Cannery Restaurant in Newport, who also happen to own the El Cholo chain of Mexican restaurants. With a pedigree like that, we were pretty excited to see what Coast Fish Company had in store for us on this early Monday evening.

Sandwiched between a Starbuck's and one of my favorites, Burnt Crumbs, Coast Fish Company had a larger than I had anticipated dining area. It was light and open, with plenty of booth and table options for their guests. The nautical theme was apparent with the fish stenciled on the ceiling, lighting fixtures that resemble lobster baskets, and decorative ropes that you can easily imagine being used on a fishing boat.

Ordering is done at the counter, which has the menu located behind the cashier. The menu includes seven appetizers, taco options, nine entrees, and side items. With most items, you have the option to choose what kind of fish you want your meal to be made from with their seasonal fish offerings. Prices range between $9 to $14 for their entrees, while appetizers will set you back under the ten dollar mark. We made our selections, grabbed our number and waited for our food to arrive.



Even though it has been one of the hottest summers recorded, I could not resist trying a bowl of their Clam Chowder ($6.30). Not sure why I thought this chowder was going to be the exact same as the much better one I had at The Cannery last year, but I was not totally disappointed about this version. It had more potato and crab than its cousin at The Cannery but was not nearly as creamy and flavorful as that one. There was no grittiness to the clams and this one came in nice and hot. Not bad clam chowder, but nothing earth-shattering either, it just needed a little more depth to the chowder portion of this.



Poke and Chips($9) is one of Katie's guilty pleasures when she spies it on restaurant menus, so it was no surprise that she gave it a try here. At Coast Fish Company they have either salmon or tuna poke to choose from, and Katie went with the tuna version. This was not the most tender of pokes she has had, but she liked it well enough. We were not sure what the yellow item was under the ginger, but Katie discarded it after a few bites. The tuna was dressed simply but lacked that spark which made it pop. Maybe some diced avocado would have helped this out a bit. The chips were run of the mill tortilla chips, which were okay to go alongside of this. Katie ditched the chips after a few bites and finished this starter with a fork.



Fish and Chips ($9.79) a lot of the time is hit and miss, and a lot can go wrong with them. It's difficult to get them perfect. These at Coast Fish Company were good, but not perfect. To be honest, I have no idea what the fish was that they used here, but it was flaky and good. The breading was not greasy and had a good crunch to it, but was light on flavor. I thought the serving size of this was more than generous for the price. I alternated between both sauces and liked the slightly spicy aioli a bit more. Both sauces were a bit on the thin side, especially if the white one was supposed to be tartar sauce. The fries, or chips, in this case, were well-seasoned fries that reminded me of a straighter curly fry from Jack in the Box. Not too bad.




Katie came in here knowing she was going to be getting one thing and then ended up changing her mind by getting this 2 Taco Plate ($10.95). She got one of her fish tacos made with mahi-mahi which was blackened and the other was fried white fish, which was topped simply with both shredded cabbage and pico de gallo. She felt both tacos were not earth-shattering, but she liked them well enough. There was nothing here that made them stand out from other fish tacos she has encountered. This plate also came with black beans and rice as side items. Not sure if you get to pick your sides or not, but Katie liked the rice here, but left her black beans pretty much untouched.

I left Coast Fish Company feeling like it was fine, but not anything here would make me return. Maybe if I was in the Los Olivos Shopping Center, and did not want to drive somewhere else, I'd come back and try something else. The prices were not so bad, especially for this area, but nothing really popped for me on this visit. Slapfish still reigns in the fast-casual fish game, but as is the new norm, there's always a new seafood-centric place opening up somewhere.

Out of five mushrooms, (because the city of Irvine, Kentucky hosts a mushroom festival every April), five being best to zero being worst, Coast Fish Company gets 2.5 mushrooms.

Amazingly, Coast Fish Company does not have a website. They have one, but it has no information on it. So instead head to their Yelp page for more information: https://www.yelp.com/biz/coast-fish-company-irvine

Monday, September 3, 2018

Keep Your Friends Close, but Your Pizza Closer


Wise Guys Pizzeria
4957 Yorba Ranch Road
Yorba Linda, CA 92887

My parents are pretty much creatures of habit when it comes to the restaurants they frequent. They have lived in Yorba Linda for over 40 years, but are reluctant to stray from their favorites in the area. Mimi's Cafe, Chili's, Habit Burger, Ruby's, Chick-Fil-A, and Polly's are some of the places that they hit up in a heavy rotation every week or so. One of the major reasons for this is that all of these places have a loyalty program that they have joined and they get coupons and other specials offer on their birthdays and such. Almost every phone conversation I have with them includes a briefing on what deals they had gotten the week prior.

I bring this up because I have made it my mission to break them out of their comfort zone when it comes to restaurants. Whenever we come up to North OC, we try to eat at a restaurant that they haven't eaten at yet. Pretty crazy that after 43 years there are places they haven't been to yet, but we are working on it. Pizza for my parents is usually Costco or Pizza Hut. These were not going to happen on my watch, so we met the family at Wise Guys Pizzeria.

This local pizza place is situated in the same shopping plaza as OC Wine Mart, The Wild Artichoke, and Domino's Pizza. Back in the day, this used to be the home of The Ranch Enchilada, and before that, when I was in high school, The Whole Enchilada. Wise Guys opened in 2015, and they have two other locations, one on Chapman Avenue in Orange and another in Grapevine, Texas.

Wise Guys is pretty much unrecognizable from the old days when this used to be a Mexican restaurant. They darkened it up a bit, added a bar to the left-hand side of the restaurant, and put up six large TVs on the walls. There's a patio to the left-hand side of the restaurant also, which might be a better option than the rather cramped and loud quarters of the inside of this restaurant. Ordering is done at the counter and the food is brought out to you as it's ready. The menu features many Italian appetizers, salads, pasta dishes, sandwiches, calzones, and of course, pizza. The nine of us quickly made our food choices and waited patiently for our food to come out to our table. Here's how it all worked out for us at Wise Guys.




Between all of us, we tried three of their eight salads that are offered at Wise Guys. Katie had the House Salad ($4.49). This base model salad included chopped romaine, pepperoncini, tomato, mozzarella, and your choice of dressing. My dad went a little crazier here trying this Antipasto Salad ($7.95). This one had a whole cavalcade of the ingredients in it. Sliced up hard salami, pepperoni, and capicola, chopped romaine, tomato wedges, radishes, olives, and pepperoncini, and was finished off with plenty of grated and sliced mozzarella. My dad was pretty pleased with himself that he ordered this one. It was good sized, had plenty of items included in it, and filled him up, which was a good thing for me since we were splitting a pizza, it meant more pizza for me. Bonus. My sister was equally over the mon about her salad selection, the Candied Walnut Salad ($7.49). I have always asserted that women love salads with fruit in them, and my sister added to my theory by loving this salad that contained sliced apple, dried cranberries, red onion, candied walnuts, and gorgonzola all bathed in a balsamic vinaigrette. She loved the texture of this and the wide-ranging flavors. It kept her interested throughout the short life of this salad. Salads are fine and all, but I was ready for some real sustenance.



I've become a meatball maniac all of a sudden, and could not resist the chance to try the interesting sounding Spicy Chorizo Meatballs ($2.29 each). I zeroed in on this appetizer when I checked out the menu the week before coming here. The chorizo meatball came in a very well done hatch chili cream sauce. I thought the chorizo was going to be too greasy, but it was not overbearing, held together well, and was made even better with the chili sauce, which was plentiful, and I used it to dip into the garlic knots below. Not sure why they call these spicy because they weren't, but still a nice change of pace from the usual meatballs you get in pizza places.


If you go anywhere near the Yelp page for Wise Guys and read the reviews, you'll see a flood of admiration for their Garlic Knots ($6.49). These are littler than a lot of the ones I have had at other places, but they did give you plenty. These knots are made from the pizza dough, brushed with garlic and sprinkled with parmesan, and then served with marinara and ranch dressing. Not bad, but I thought they were baked a little too long. I like a softer, more doughy garlic knot. Everyone else seemed to like them though.



I had a feeling that we were going to be having a lot of food on the table between the nine of us, so my parents and Katie and I decided to split pizzas. Katie and my mom went with the Personal sized Pepperoni Pizza ($7.68). This four sliced pizza was perfect for the two of them. They both really enjoyed this pizza. Katie liked the cheesiness of the pizza, while my mom was fond of the crust. My dad and I split a small The Don All Meat Pizza ($9.95). This carnivore's favorite included all the meats from behind the counter; pepperoni, sausage, Canadian bacon, meatball, and bacon. I liked this pizza but had wished that the meats were baked into the cheese more, as they fell off rather easily when I picked up my slices. The cheese to sauce ratio was pretty good for me with this and I liked the thicker than usual crust. A solid pizza that I'd probably get again if I was in the mood for a meat lovers pizza.


My sister and her side of the table tried these Italian Hot Wings ($9.95) to start out with. I believe there were ten to an order. I got to try one, which I found to be just okay. The chicken was overly fried with not a lot of meat included on these pretty puny wings. The sauce was okay but needed to be a tad thicker and spicier. The ranch dressing used here was above average.


My brother in law was eager to give the Raging Bull Meatball Sandwich ($6.49) a try on this early evening. This half sandwich came with two meatballs on this, which were covered with plenty of marinara sauce and mozzarella. They use Amoroso rolls, so the bread was sturdy and made to hold plenty, just like they do at any good Philly cheesesteak place. The sandwich was good according to Jarrod, he liked the melting cheese and marinara sauce, but felt they could have snuck another meatball in this half sandwich to make it even better. This also came with your choice of potato chips or the pesto pasta salad he selected. With the addition of the pesto in this pasta salad, it kicked this up a few notches in my book. Pasta salad can sometimes be boring, but this one was flavorful with well-made pesto.


I also wanted to share a picture of their larger pizzas. The other side of the table got this Large Pepperoni Pizza ($19.24) which they all seemed to enjoy but did not finish. I thought nearly twenty dollars for this pizza was a little over the top, but I hear that Wise Guys frequently dispenses coupons to locals in the mail and they also have family specials that are offered at the time that you are ordering, which would help cut down on the price. This ended up being a good solid pizza, made with better ingredients than you can get through any delivery pizza.

Wise Guys Pizzeria ended up being a great meeting point for the nine of us. even though the restaurant is a bit compact, we made it work and it helped that we got here before the big rush of people that came after us. The pizza here was good, but not noteworthy. It's not going to blow your mind, but it's slightly above average and if you are in the area Wise Guys would be a good place to try. The food runners and people running the registers were all awesome, and really were working pretty hard clearing plates, getting refills, and fetching my mom an endless supply of ranch dressing. Guess you can never have enough ranch dressing. Glad I could break my parents out of their Pizza Hut and Costco pizza rut by having them try this place. Hopefully, they will be back.

Out of five toy soldiers, (because the 80's TV show Wiseguy featured Martika, who famously sang the song Toy Soldiers), five being best to zero being worst, Wise Guys Pizzeria gets 3 toy soldiers.

For more information about Wise Guys Pizzeria, head to their website here: http://wiseguyspizzeria.com/

Monday, August 27, 2018

Ruling the Roost at El Pico De Gallo Grill


El Pico de Gallo Grill
901 West 17th Street
Santa Ana, CA 92706

I get my restaurant tips from a lot of sources; the newspaper, magazines, OC Weekly, other blogs, reader tips, friends, social media, and doing my own research online. This is the first restaurant tip that I have gotten from a podcast. My commute to work is only about ten minutes, which is not much time in the car to listen to a podcast, so I have not really gotten into the podcast craze.

The only one I have listened to with some semi-regularity is the I Know But...podcast and the only reason I started listening to that one is that I know the guys that are on it. They are both great guys and people I have had the wonderful pleasure of meeting while writing this restaurant blog, Niyaz Pirani and Jeff Fliegler. They talk about what is going on in their lives, have some solid guests on their show, and occasionally drop some great places to eat that I may have missed. That's what has brought us to El Pico de Gallo Grill.

I believe it was Niyaz who mentioned this restaurant, which is located on the corner of 17th Street and Flower on the podcast. If not, my apologies Jeff. Anyways, this restaurant has been in business since 2008, and before that this location used to be a restaurant named Nachos Supreme. I'm not sure what was the downfall of that restaurant, but I know people have enjoyed El Pico de Gallo for the last ten years. They have a mighty respectable 4-star rating on Yelp with over 200 reviews, so that along with the recommendation I got from the podcast was good enough for us and our good friends Angel and Rebekah to give it a try on a recent lazy Sunday early evening.


I had a feeling we were going to be in for a treat when we were walking into the restaurant and saw this delicious spinning al pastor being tended to near the entrance of the restaurant. Another plus was seeing a lady making tortillas just as we walked in. Man, I was getting excited. Ordering is done at the register, and then the food is brought out to you. The menu at El Pico de Gallo has a little bit of everything. Tacos, burritos, Mexican breakfast specialties, tortas, and entrees can be found on the menu here. We quickly made our selections, found a table in the very comforting dining room, and waited for our food to arrive.



True to form, Katie started us off with a side of Guacamole and Chips ($4.99). This was an excellent guacamole. Very fresh with a great texture to it. It had the right consistency of creaminess and chunk to it. A very delicate balance to achieve. It also had a little kick to it, as I think they might have added some chili to it. Not overwhelming, but just enough so you could get a hint of it. The chips were solid, but not over the top great.


Not sure what made Angel get this Crema Poblano Soup ($4.99) to start with, but he's always been a little odd. I tried a spoonful and thought it was okay, but a little on the drab side. Before I knew what it was, I thought this was a cream of asparagus soup. I wouldn't have had any idea that this was a poblano soup, as it had no spice to it, even though poblano chile peppers are very mild. Interesting soup, but nothing I would probably try again here. 



When tortillas are made right in front of you, it's hard not to order tacos. Because of this, Katie could not resist trying the Chicken Taco Plate ($8.99) on this early evening. She went with flour tortillas for her chicken tacos and could not have been happier. The chicken was seasoned well, tender, and made even better with some of their mild salsa from the salsa bar by the register. The beans and rice were pretty stellar as well. You could tell that the refried beans were made with lard, but they did not leave a gritty residue after eating them. The rice was nice and light as well. One of the better taco plates Katie has had in some time.


One of the most comforting foods in the world is a good Quesadilla ($6.99). Again, because the tortilla was made right in front of me, I could not say no to ordering this at El Pico de Gallo. Slightly grilled on the flattop, this quesadilla had just the right amount of cheese, so it did not overshadow the very well made tortilla. There was also not a lot of greasiness, which was much appreciated. It went well with the extra guac that we had left over. 



Here's the first of the two items I ordered at El Pico de Gallo, the 2 Taco Plate ($8.99) with a Pastor Taco and a Carne Asada Taco.  Both were excellent, but I'd have to give the edge to the carne asada, which was marinated well and made it stand out a bit more than the pastor that I saw spinning on the trompo outside when we walked in. The tortillas were superb, soft and pliable, but did a great job of holding everything together. The beans and rice were good as well, and I enjoyed my tacos even better when I added some of their beans to the tacos.



I finished off my meal at Pico de Gallo with this Carne Asada Burrito ($6.99). The guys on the podcast had talked about their carne asada, which made me want to try it in a burrito. Great choice. The same flavorful and tender carne asada that was on my taco was in this burrito with rice and refried beans. Next time I'll get some guacamole on here to make this burrito even better. Good sized too, I took half of it home for lunch the next day.


Both Angel and I were blown away by the Carnitas ($14.99) that would be his meal. Even though this is not the most photogenic of dishes, it put a smile on both of our faces. The cubed pieces of crisped pork were a little fatty, full of flavor, and meaty all at the same time. The carnitas here rocked my world and has gotten me excited to come back here again real soon to have these in a burrito. Angel went for double beans with this because he's not a fan of rice. These are some of the best carnitas I have had in OC up until this point.


Last but not least, Rebekah, Angel's much better half finished up our meal at El Pico de Gallo with her dinner selection, this Carne Asada Torta ($9.99). This was a pretty good sized torta and definitely filled Rebekah up. The sandwich contained plenty of beef, shredded lettuce, and a smear of refried beans. The bread was very soft and pliable. I have never really gotten into tortas, but maybe one with carnitas will be in my future. 

The boys on the I Know But... podcast definitely steered me in the right direction by recommending this restaurant. El Pico de Gallo is in the upper echelon of Mexican restaurants we have eaten at in Orange County. Very unassuming and low key is how I'd describe this restaurant. All the food was good, and I look forward to making return visits frequently. If I did have to ding them on something, it might be that the prices might be a tad too high, but I'm willing to pay a little extra for food that gets me this excited. Service was nice and cordial, and the food runners made sure that we had everything that we needed and were quick to clear our table when we were done.

Out of five rooster beaks, (because pico de gallo translates literally to rooster beak in English), five being best to zero being worst, El Pico de Gallo Grill gets 3.5 rooster beaks.

El Pico de Gallo Grill does not have a website, but you can find plenty of info about them on their Yelp page, which you can access here: https://www.yelp.com/biz/el-pico-de-gallo-grill-santa-ana-2