Thursday, October 22, 2020

Popping Into Papo's Cuban Kitchen

Papo's Cuban Kitchen

2422 East Katella Ave. 

Anaheim, CA 92806

Longtime readers of this restaurant blog must know by now that I'm very fond of Cuban food. A quick check of the side of this blog confirms this. Under the types of cuisine tabs, this is the 14th Cuban place we have reviewed in the last 11 years, which makes Cuban food the third most popular national cuisine that we've been to, trailing only Italian and Mexican, which are far and away more readily available. 

Why my love of Cuban food? Two main reasons come to mind. One is that I love pork, and for some reason, Cuban people know how to cook it the right way. The second reason is my affinity for Cuban sandwiches. The ham, roasted pork, mustard, pickles, and cheese, all on toasted bread is probably one of the most balanced sandwiches you can find. If I see one on a menu, I'm almost always inclined to get one.  

So, with my love of Cuban food, I'm always on the lookout for a new Cuban spot to try. Papo's has been around since last July, and I'm ashamed to admit that I did not find out about them until recently. Partly because of the lockdown, but also because with the Duck season put on hold in mid-March, we really haven't been in this neck of the woods for some time now. Hopefully, the food here will help give us a reason to come back this way again soon. 

Papo's is situated right near the Honda Center, just across the freeway, in the same shopping plaza as Hooters. From what I've been able to gather, they are run by the Sosa family, which originally hailed from Matanzas, Cuba. They are serving food that has been served through the generations. This restaurant is a labor of love and one that they want to share with the people of Orange County. 

This is a quick-service restaurant, where ordering is done at the counter. The menu lists all of the greatest hits of Cuban cuisine. They have six appetizers, salads, sandwiches, and 13 entrees for their guests to choose from. Entrees will set you back right around $14, while no sandwich goes for more than $12, including the lechon sandwich that Brad Johnson, OC Register restaurant critic, called the best thing he ate during a week last year. I was excited to see if Papo's could climb into our Cuban restaurant rotation. 

Katie was doing some business up in Duarte, so it was the perfect opportunity for her to hop off the 57 freeway and pick up the food that I called in. The first thing that I opened and tried was the Lechon Asado ($13). I had meant to take just a few bites and then have it for dinner, but that did not really work out too well. The tender and delicious pork was addicting. I could not stop eating it. The savoriness of the pork mixed with the garlic and citrus notes of the marinade really made this dish a winner. I opted to get the congris, which is a mixture of black beans and rice, along with the sweet plantains. Both sides were excellent and rounded out the meal wonderfully. I only ended up having about a quarter of this left for dinner, as this meal really tested my willpower to its breaking point. 

Katie went with the Bistec de Palomilla ($14) for lunch. This beef dish utilizes skirt steak and comes with mojo sauce and grilled onions on top. She really liked the flavor of the steak, but it was not as tender as she would have liked. She claimed that she'd get something else the next time she was at Papo's. She also had the congris but got the tostones, which are a twice-fried plantain, instead of the sweeter version. Tostones are just okay in my opinion. I've never really been a big fan, as I like the sweeter version better. 

This Sandwich Cubano ($10.50) was supposed to be my lunch this afternoon, but since I could not really control myself with the pork, I only ate a few bites of this and kept the rest for dinner. This was another winner from Papo's. The same delicious slow-roasted pork that was used with the lechon dish was joined between two slices of grilled bread with some ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. I love the contrasts of this sandwich, between the meats, tang from the mustard, creaminess of the cheese, and the crunch from the bread. One of the better Cuban sandwiches available in OC. The fries were a little on the lukewarm side after their 20-minute car ride down the freeway. I have a feeling that they were going to be just average fries if I had gotten them hot anyway.  

Since Katie has been on her keto diet and she wasn't going to have the congris or the tostones, she opted to complete her meal with this Ensalata Mixta ($7). This basic mixed salad came with greens, tomato, cucumber, red onion, and sliced avocado. It was dressed with a Cuban vinaigrette, which only differed from a regular vinaigrette with the addition of some garlic. Katie liked the freshness of the veggies and the vinaigrette kept her interested. 

Papo's is a definite must for fans of Cuban food in OC. They just fail to eclipse my favorite Cuban sandwich at DeSimone Deli in Huntington Beach, but just barely. They do however make one of the better pork lechon plates I have had around these parts. I can see us eating here quite often when we are allowed to attend Ducks games, whenever that might be. Prices were on the fair side, with nothing on the menu setting you back more than $15. Cheaper than what you'd pay down the street at Felix in Orange, where you'd pay $5 more per plate, for not as good of food, at least based on my visits. I'm so happy that we have another Cuban food option available in OC, and it's also fantastic that it's so close to a freeway so we can stop by and pick it up whenever we are in the area. 

Out of five dominos, (because this tiled game is one of the national pastimes of this island nation), five being best to zero being worst, Papo's Cuban Kitchen gets 3 dominos. 

For some reason Papo's Cuban Kitchen got rid of their website, so to keep abreast of everything Papo's, head to their Instagram page here: 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Breakfast Burrito So Good It'll Make Me Sing With Glee?

Glee Donuts and Burgers

9475 Heil Avenue

Fountain Valley, CA 92708

I've gotten into quite a rhythm on Sunday mornings. I do a little light housework, hop on the computer to write a few paragraphs, do a Sudoku or two, check social media, and write my to-do list for the upcoming week. All of this before Katie even hits the first of her ten or so snooze buttons. 

Since I'm pretty much the best husband ever, (besides telling you all of her secrets), I also have been leaving early to go get breakfast and sometimes even making a Starbuck's run for her while she gets some extra sleep. Most of the time its breakfast burritos that I'm after, as I've been trying to knock some of them off of my list. On this recent Sunday, it was my turn to cross Glee Donuts and Burgers off of the list. 

Glee opened for business in 2015 and has now grown to two locations, this one in Fountain Valley and their other one is in Anaheim. They are a mainstay on many best donut, best burger, and best breakfast burrito lists in the OC Register, the now-defunct OC Weekly, and many other online publications. 

It's always intriguing to me as to how a place gets to be so popular in such a relatively short time. With Glee Donuts, you need to look no farther than their social media accounts to find that they have very large followings. They are approaching 2,000 followers on Facebook, but Instagram is where you will find their bread and butter, with 12,000 followers and growing. I was excited to see if they were just a collection of pretty pictures, or if their stuff was really that good. 

Since Glee is about a 20-minute car ride away, I ordered online before leaving my house. I was very impressed with the number of menu items that they offer. They have plenty of burgers, breakfast sandwiches, bagels, sandwiches, donuts, salads, and even fish and chips. When you click on the breakfast burrito tab, you then have the option of 17 different combinations of burritos. Finally, pick one, and then you are presented with a crazy long list of options to add or subtract to your chosen first meal of the day. 

After ordering and paying for the food online, I was quoted a time of 20 minutes, which was perfect based on the open and clear freeway that is usually found on a Sunday morning before nine. I arrived at the tiny strip mall on the corner of Heil and Bushard, a block west of Mile Square Park just in the time quoted as my order was going to be ready. I bought two extra donuts and was on my way back to sleeping beauty, who I'm sure was just starting to wipe the sleep from her eyes. Let's see if this will be added to my Mount Breakfast Burrito-More of OC breakfast burritos. 

Okay, I know that I promised a breakfast burrito, but Katie is watching her carbs, so she had to have a Ham, Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Bowl with Onions and Guacamole added ($10.25). I was really surprised by how generous they were with the amount of guacamole they put on here. She felt the bowl was delicious, and she loved all the customizations she could make.  

At the suggestion of one of my favorite food people on Instagram, Buddy from Foodieoc told me that I had to get the Burgerrito ($10.25). This hybrid burger and burrito came with a burger patty, cheese, egg, hashbrowns, bacon, and I added avocado at an additional charge. I did not take a picture of them, but you also get a side of salsa and the much better special sauce, which kind of resembles a slightly spicy version of thousand island dressing without the pickles. The burrito was really good, with plenty of meat in each bite, the hash browns were nice and crunchy, and the avocado added a nice creaminess. It was filling, but not overwhelming. The secret sauce really tied it all together. I'll make a few modifications next time, like a sunny side up egg and adding sausage, but a really good breakfast burrito. 

I was not too impressed with the donut selection at Glee on this particular Sunday at 9am. They only had one glass case with donuts, and I wasn't too enthused about any of them. I settled on the Blueberry Cake and Glazed Old Fashioned ($1.00 each). They were fine donuts, a little less greasy than most donut shops, but that's really the only thing I noticed different about them. I'll have to try more of them the next time I'm around this way. 

Even though the donuts at Glee failed to wow me, the breakfast burritos were exceptional. These are by far the most customizable breakfast burritos in OC and one of the tastiest as well. I look forward to coming back and perfecting my ultimate breakfast burrito here. As far as the top four in OC, I'd have to put them in my top 4, alongside Ham N Scram, Nate's Korner, and TK Burger. I have yet to have Nick's in Seal Beach and Athenian Burger's version, but there's always next Sunday. 

Out of five cars, (because the show Glee was set at fictional William Mckinley High School, and its namesake was the first president to ride in an automobile) five being best to zero being worst, Glee Donuts and Burgers gets 3.5 cars. 

For more information about Glee Donuts and Burgers, head to their website here:

Checking Out the Pace at Tempo Cantina


Tempo Cantina

1060 East Imperial Highway

Brea, CA 92821

My work life got infinitely better when my last boss waltzed into the retirement sunset with his way below average managerial and people skills. He not only killed morale, but he killed the business. Enter Melissa, who brought a new aura to our workplace. She made people actually want to work for her. This would be brown-nosing, but she very rarely reads my blog, preferring to just check out my Instagram feed. 

I bring this up because back in those dark times, I had pretty much checked out, and never would have imagined going out to dinner with coworkers. I basically could not stand anything about my workplace, even though I liked some of my coworkers. Fast forward a year into this new regime, and here I was finding myself having dinner with my coworkers/friends at Tempo Cantina in Brea. 

Much like my different feelings about my job, I'd say that Tempo has also gone through a metamorphosis since they opened back in 2014. Back then they were probably best described as a molecular restaurant, with a menu that changed very regularly. A lot of very popular OC chefs have been part of the Tempo team at one time or another. I think I'd describe their menu now as Mexican, with some fusion items thrown in from Asia, the US, and other areas of Latin America. 

The man behind this restaurant and his many other ventures is Jorge Cueva, known more commonly on social media as Mr. Tempo. He came to the US not speaking a word of English, and now helms a restaurant empire which includes three locations of Tempo Cantina, (Brea, Anaheim Hills, and Downey), and King and Queen Cantina, which boasts locations in San Diego, Valle De Guadalupe Mexico, and his newest spot up north a bit in Santa Monica. He also has plans for restaurants in New York, Hawaii, Miami, and other international locations in the works as well. 

Back here in Brea, our group of seven had reservations at 5pm on a recent Saturday evening. Tables have been moved outside into the front of the restaurant during these turbulent times. Tempo Cantina was packed this evening with very hefty wait times for tables. They had a 90 minute limit for each party, but they did not really seem to be inforcing this, as we were probably here a total of two hours. The vibe here was definitely a party atmosphere, which I have to admit was kind of refreshing, as it reminded me of what it was like pre-pandemic. To be clear, servers were wearing gloves, masks, and tables were spaced out rather well. 

The Tempo dinner menu was almost bordering on overwhelming. There were so many things to choose from. Tacos, burritos, and starters take up a whole page of the two-page menu. Seafood and meat entrees, along with fusion sushi rolls and meals for two people are included on the other. Prices range between $10 to $20 for most items, with the platters for two getting a little more pricey, like the ribeye for $60 or the forty-ounce tomahawk steak for $110. A little rich for my blood, but let's check out what we indulged in this evening.  

I did not partake in this Margarita Flight ($25), instead having my usual rum and coke, but I really liked this picture so I wanted to share it. This flight included flavors of cucumber, watermelon, pomegranate, mango, and Gardez, which is a mango-pineapple-Serrano mashup. All were garnished with Tajin around the rim. A perfect choice for those that are indecisive or want to try a little bit of everything. 

Mike and his wife Jessica started things off with this Guacamole and Chips ($12). The guacamole was made with some tomatoes, onions, and some queso fresco crumbles. It was definitely fresh, but a little more seasoning would have been appreciated to boost the flavor. I was also pretty surprised that the serving size was so small compared to the price. The chips were fresh and had a good crunch to them, while the salsa that came with this was fine, but really did not stand out too much from my memory or notes 

Katie must have been pretty hungry because she had a big meal coming her way, but she still wanted to try the Shishito Peppers ($9) at Tempo. These peppers were blistered and came with a soy glaze and were salted. There were also a couple of dots of lime crema for dipping. I liked this but did have some qualms with these. The peppers themselves were excellent and I really liked the kiss of soy glaze that each one had. I did not get any really hot ones, but Katie felt a little kick from some that she had. I had wished that instead of being so cute with the plating, they would have just put the lime crema in a dipping cup so it could have been used to its full potential. Still a solid starter

Sorry, it's not the best picture ever, but Melissa was very hungry and I did not want to lose a finger as she was very excited to dig into these Cueva Tacos ($15). Named after their owner, these three shrimp tacos came dressed with serrano sauce, lime crema, cabbage, micro cilantro, and a crispy cheese flour tortilla. I actually got to have one of these, and it was very good. The chipotle shrimp was tender, and the rest of the things in the taco complimented the shrimp well. I'm always a big fan of crispy cheese, and this version did not disappoint at Tempo. I'd like to try some of their other tacos next time I'm here, like their Mr. Tempo taco which is with pork belly and shrimp. It sounds delicious and rich. 

I'm not saying that Mike is cheap, but he probably spent his monthly food budget on this Sope Trio ($14) that he and Jessica split. This trio included one each of an asada, pork belly, and chicken sope topped with beans, lime crema, pickled onions, pico de gallo, and queso fresco. No complaints from the happy couple about their meal, probably because Jessica is used to having to split meals with him. Come on Mike, splurge a little. 

I told you that Katie had a big meal coming, and here it is. This Fajita Grill ($38) could feed two with no problem. This fajita platter came with asada and chicken, along with seasonal grilled veggies, including nopal, saffron rice, a side of beans, guacamole, and corn tortillas. Both proteins were pretty good, had enough seasonings to stand on their own, and went well with the provided accompaniments. A nice deviation from the tired fajitas with the boring onions and peppers you can get at almost every other Mexican spot in OC.  

Since Katie was going to need some help finishing her meal, I just got these Tinga Taquitos ($12). These came three to an order and were rolled with chicken and topped with pickled red onion, radish, and a sprinkling of pecorino cheese. They were fried nicely, but what made these for me was the trio of sauces that came with them. The serrano sauce, lime crema, and chipotle aioli were all pretty superb and was a nice change-up from bite to bite.  

Enrique is a big wing fan, as I've seen him have plenty of wings on his lunch break over the last year. So it was no surprise to me that he went with the Pow Pow Wings ($12) this evening. These six wings came with a garlic chipotle sauce, and I noticed no dipping sauce from my view from the other end of the table. The wings looked good-sized, but at $2 per wing, the price point is a bit too high, but Enrique is a big baller and probably just scoffed at the price. 

I liked this visit to Tempo even better than the last time I went to the Anaheim Hills location. Sometimes when the bar program seems like the focal point of a restaurant, the food sometimes suffers. That was not the case at Tempo based on this visit. The food was all really good and unique. Tempo Cantina is definitely not your typical Mexcian restaurant. Yes, the prices are a tad high, but I'd think of this restaurant more like a special occasion spot, instead of an every week place. I really feel that they are coming into their own after many incarnations of their food. Service was pretty good when you consider how busy they were. I'm so happy that my work life has turned around enough that I can go out to dinner with the people I work with, and even happier that I can call them friends.  

Out of five windshield wipers, (because the Ford Tempo was a car sold between 1984 to 1993, and if you still have one, you've probably gone through a whole bunch of windshield wipers), five being best to zero being worst, Tempo Cantina gets 3 solid windshield wipers. 

For more information on Tempo Cantina, head to their website here:

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Heading to South of Nick's for Breakfast

 South of Nick's

540 South Coast Highway

Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Every time I cross into the city limits of Laguna Beach, a vacation vibe instantly washes over me. Of course, being this close to the ocean could be a major reason for this, but it could also be all the summers that we spent here growing up. We'd stay at my uncle's house for a week, hang out at the beach, walk around the shops downtown, and ride our bikes down the big hills. 

Fast forward more decades than I care to mention, Katie and I are going a little stir crazy being cooped up at home. We decided to take advantage of a slightly overcast weekend day, and some free parking that my fantastic friend Darren had offered us. It's good to know people in high places. 

We stretched our legs a bit by walking the downtown area, where they have blocked off a portion of Forest Avenue to vehicle traffic and filled the street with tables and chairs to help the struggling local restaurants. They did a great job of maintaining social distancing, but none of the restaurants we walked by really struck our fancy on this particular late morning. That's when I remembered from my Instagram feed that South of Nick's had recently started serving breakfast. Sounding good to both of us, we walked the nearly two blocks at a very brisk pace to satisfy our hunger pains.  

I'm a little ashamed to say that this was my first visit to South of Nick's. I have heard such great things about their food, seen plenty of it on their aforementioned Instagram feed, but have yet to make it to this location, or their other location in San Clemente. We had been to this address before when it was House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, which incredibly was over seven years ago, which does not seem possible. 

We were seated on the patio overlooking busy PCH, and if you sit just upright enough in your chair you can just spy the ocean across the street. I was also focusing on the breakfast menu because I was a bit hungry. The one-page menu at South of Nick's is not going to dazzle you with its wide-ranging variety. There's six regular breakfast options and four south of the border selections to choose from. Prices range between $10 to $19 per entree, which in this high rent district is not totally out of whack. Let's see if this breakfast can compete with the wonderful view we had on this fine Saturday morning. 

Let's start off with Katie's first meal of the day, the very traditional California Omelet ($14). This omelet was filled with bacon and cheese, with avocado slices placed on top with a dollop of sour cream. Katie really liked the fluffiness of the egg and felt that the provided salsa and sour cream went well with the bacon and cheese filling. Due to Katie doing the whole keto thing, she was unable to enjoy her fresh-cut fruit or sourdough toast, which was a bonus for me, as I ate it happily to round out my upcoming meal. 

Not surprisingly, I went with one of the Mexican inspired breakfast dishes at South of Nick's, the Omar's Skillet ($15). I'm not sure who Omar is, but he enjoys two eggs, chorizo, poblano peppers, hash browns, jack cheese, black beans, onion, sour cream, avocado, and pico de gallo in his breakfast skillets. I thought this was just okay. I had wished that the chorizo was going to shine more here, but the eggs and black beans really overwhelmed the rest of the ingredients. I'll definitely veer towards either the chilaquiles or the breakfast burrito next time I visit for breakfast. 

Be advised that breakfast is only served at South of Nick's on weekends. With the food that we've had at Nick's on previous visits and the excellent things we've heard about South of Nick's, I expected a little bit more from the breakfast here. It was not awful or even bad, but I just expected the food to pop a bit more and be a little more memorable. Still, the service was wonderful and the view couldn't be beaten. This trip back to Laguna for those vacation vibes and is just what the doctor ordered. 

Out of five phone chargers, (because the most common item left behind in hotel rooms is the phone charger, and Laguna Beach boasts the most beachfront lodging accommodations in the entire state), five being best to zero being worst, South of Nick's gets 3 phone chargers. 

For more information about South of Nick's, head to their website here:

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Popping off About the Pop Pie Co.

Pop Pie Co. 

270 East 17th St. #17

Costa Mesa, CA 92627

I decided that I needed to get out of the rut I was in. On a normal day off I wake up early, do some work on this blog, eat some lunch, watch some TV, take too long of a nap, and then get back to writing more restaurant reviews until Katie gets home. Pretty exciting stuff, huh? 

Well, this particular day off I decided I was going to switch things up a bit. After Katie left for work, I made a beeline for Newport Bach and walked the entirety of the boardwalk between the Balboa Pier, all the way well past the Newport Beach Pier, a total of over six miles. It felt great getting out, getting some much-needed exercise, and some vitamin D from the sun, which was playing hide and seek with the clouds overhead. I made a decision that I deserved a good lunch after all this walking, so I elected to cross another spot off of my restaurant wishlist, and head to Pop Pie Co. in nearby Costa Mesa. 

Pop Pie Co. comes to us from the University Heights area of San Diego, where they opened for business over four years ago. Last year around this time Pop Pie Co. made their debut in OC, taking over for another pie-centric restaurant, Pie-Not. The men behind this venture are Steven Torres, who focuses on the business side of things, and his co-owner, Gus Suebsarakham, a Thai native who in his role as the executive chef creates globally-inspired savory and sweet pies. This pair also runs Stella Jean's, an ice cream spot right next door to here, but ice cream will have to wait for another time, as I'm deeply fixated on their pies right now. 

This menu at Pop Pie is definitely reminiscent of this location former tenant, but instead of the Australian influence I got with that place, here the pies draw from plenty of other corners of the world, instead of just the land down under. They offer six savory five-inch pies, two quiche selections, a trio of sides, and two items that are labeled on the menu as lighter offerings. The assortment of sweet pies totals seven, with the one I'm geeked up about trying soon being the Caramel Apple Piescream, which is an apple crumble with salted caramel and vanilla ice cream served in a cup. They say it serves one to two, but I'm willing to bet on myself to finish it all and still ask for more. 

Ordering is done at the counter in this very small storefront. Definitely more of a takeout spot, especially during these times. I was on my way home after no more than three minutes after ordering with my lunch in hand, and after a quick stop at Sidecar Doughnuts next door for a couple of doughnuts for the road. Let's see if this little reward for my long walk of six miles was worth the tears I shed doing it. 

Here's a quick shot of everything that I had at Pop Pie Co. this afternoon. No, I did not eat all of this in one sitting. I ate half of each thing for lunch and then had the second half for dinner later on in the evening. Such portion control by yours truly. 

So which one was my favorite? Without a doubt, it was the Green Hog and Cheese ($8.50). This Mexican inspired pie came with a very tender shredded braised pork mixed with tomatillos, poblanos, jalapenos, and some jack cheese. A really solid flavor profile which was not overwhelmingly spicy, but kept me interested from the first bite till the last. The cheese was not as pronounced as I thought it was going to be but added just a touch of moisture to the filling of the pie. The crust was very flaky and butter was very present in it. I'll definitely get this one again. 

The next pie I was not as excited about. When I was ordering, I was torn between the chicken and this Steak and Ale ($9.00) which as you can see is what I went with. It was filled with plenty of beef, carrots, mushrooms, butter beans, and a smidge of dark ale gravy. My problem with this pie was that it was a tad on the dry side. The filling was pretty solid with a good amount of tender beef and veggies, but this would have benefitted from some extra gravy added. I'll be trying the chicken next time for sure. 

The last of the trio of food that I consumed was this Sausage Roll ($5.50). Listed as one of Pop Pie's light snacks, this sausage roll came with ground pork, bacon, celery, onion, and a kiss of garlic all wrapped in a sesame seeded pastry shell. The flaky layers of this were a great vehicle for the insides of the mellow sausage wrapped inside. A nice side item to go along with any of the savory pies here, or if you are a lighter eater, this would go great with their mashed potatoes and gravy.  

Pop Pie Co. is a good choice if you are in the area and looking for something quick, and want to stray from the usual fast food options. I thought their price point was more than fair based on the sizes of the pies and how generous they are with the meats in both of the pies I had. It's also a little unfair to the rest of OC that this one street in Costa Mesa has added yet another place to grab some excellent food. Let's spread them out a little bit, okay. 

Out of five crocodiles, (because the sister city of Costa Mesa is Wyndham in Western Australia, which is home to a 60-foot long crocodile statue), five being best to zero being worst, Pop Pie Co. gets 3 crocodiles. 

For more information about Pop Pie Co., head to their website here:

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Crazy for Laotian Cuisine in Corona

Kra Z Kai's 

1218 Magnolia Ave. Suite 110

Corona, CA 92881

Time to get a little controversial. Coed baby showers are the worst. I swore that I would never attend another one after one of my friends roped me into one six or seven years ago. I was promised the guys would be hanging out in the other room, watching football, drinking beer, and eating pizza. What I got was a broken TV in the community's clubhouse, boring Costco sandwiches, no other men in attendance, and my friend telling me that he had to be here, so no football was going to be watched. Thanks a lot for the false illusions of grandeur guy. 

Fast forward to the present and my friend Ozker is having a baby any day now. Thanks to the pandemic though, the baby shower was replaced with a driveby baby shower. Not to be too glib on the subject, but that meant  no lame baby games, no making small talk with people I don't know, and best of all, it meant being back home way more quickly so we could continue binge watching Peaky Blinders. It also gave Katie and myself a chance to try a restaurant out in Corona. I did a little research and decided we'd give Kra Z Kai's a try. 

Kra Z Kai's is a Laotion barbeque spot. For those of you unaware, Laos is a landlocked country in Asia, which is surrounded by Vietnam, Myanmar, China, Thailand, and Cambodia. Probably not surprisig to any of you, but this wold be my first foray eating Laotian cuisine. Probably not a real surprise when you consider a quick Yelp search reveals that this is the only solely Laotian spot in Southern California that I could find. The other handful of spots that serve food from Laos usually also serve either Thai or Vietnamese cuisine as well. 

The Laotian food at Kai's is meat-centric, which I learned is what they would consider street food in Vientanine, which is the capital city, and other cities.throughout the country. The mneu here is pretty small, with seven entrees offered, two salads, and some ala carte items to choose from. Prices at this counter service spot are modest as well, as no entree will dent your wallet more than $13. This will be a very short review, as Katie got the same plate as me. You'd think that after 11 years of this blog she'd know better, or maybe it's just that I have such great tastes. Yeah, probably not. On to the Laotian barbeque. 

Since we only had one plate, I figured I'd just add all the photos that I took. This Lao BBQ Mix Plate ($12.99) is their most popular item on the mneu at Kai's, and it also gives you a taste of almost everything they serve. Kind of like a smapler plate, which is something I almost always gravitate towards when eating at a place for the first time. This meal includes one each of the following; a bbq chicken thigh, bbq pork rib, Lao sausage, a bbq beef short rib, rice, and a side salad to round it out. My favorite thing on the plate was the Lao sausage. It's a pork sausage with onion, lemongrass, and scallion added. The texture might be a little too coarse for some, but I found the flavor to really resonate with me. I liked the cotrast between the lemongrass, onion, and the rich pork. The pork spare rib was marinated nicely and full of meat that was very tender and flavorful. The chicken was juicy inside and had a nice subtle sweet glaze on the outside. The beef short rib was probably my fourth favorite, as it was a little too much work for so little meat. The bites that I had were fine, but it did not stand out like the rest of the proteins on this plate. I should have taken a picture of the sauces that came with this, but I was pretty intent on eating rather quickly after driving a half an hour with the aroma of barbecued meats wafting from the backseat. One of the sauces was a sweet and spicy chile sauce which packed a punch after you got past the sweet first part of each bite. The other sauce was Jeow Mak Len, which is a spicy tomato based sauce seasoned with fish sauce. This one was excellent as well, so I alternated between the two. The salad was a basic green salad, and I went with the fried rice option instead of the steamed or the sticky rice. This version of fried rice was a lot less greasy and lighter than what you'd normally get at your local Chinese restaurant. The added onion was a nice touch as well. 

This was a pretty good introduction to Laotian barbecue. It did not really remind me of Thai food, like others have said, but it was more like Hawaiian barbecue without the sweet teryaki covering the meats. I didn't really miss it, as these protiens could stand on their own. I do look forward to trying other Laotian favorites on their menu in return trips; sticky rice, pappya salad, the Lao beef jerky, and the Lao beef dip. Even better news, I learned that they have opened a bootht at the new food hall in Stanton, Rodeo 39, So the people of OC can now forgo the drive out the 91 Freeway and experience Kra Z Kai's Laotian cuisine closer to home. I'm still not into coed baby showers, but this driveby version wasn't awful and it got me to cross off another countries cuisine. Only about another 130 more to go, give or take.  

Out of five elephants, (because Laos is known as the Land of a Million Elephants, even though their numbers have declined to just 800 unfortunately), five being best to zero being worst, Kra Z Kai's gets 3 solid elephants. 

For more information about Kra Z Kai's head to their website here: 

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Oh Boy! It's Oliboli Donuts in Tustin

Oliboli Donuts

135 West First St. 

Tustin, CA 92780 

Donuts are a magical force. There's not much that can get me up and out of the house before 7am on a Sunday. It's not even just me, my parents, sister, and brother in law joined as well. Donuts can not only work miracles, but they can also bring families together as well. If a little donut shop could do all of this, it definitely gives me some much-needed hope. Especially when you are talking about Oliboli Donuts in Tustin. 

I've been a little donut obsessed lately, as I stumbled upon Brad A Johnson's recent article in the OC Register about the top ten donut spots in OC.  I had been to a few of them, but I felt ashamed that I had not been to Oliboli, which took up residence as the number one spot on his list. I immediately made plans to meet my family there the week that the article came out, and since they are all early risers, we deiced to attempt to beat the donut crazed crowds and hit this place a half-hour after they open. It turned out to be a great move. 

Oliboli Donuts is a family run business helmed by Brooke and Victor DesPrez, OC natives and high school sweethearts. If the name sounds familiar it's probably because you remember Brooke from her days when she was one of the founders of another donut powerhouse, Sidecar Doughnuts. Not sure what led to her leaving that venture, but I think a lot of people are pretty happy that she did not leave donuts behind. 

From what I can ascertain, Brooke is the in charge of the kitchen, and Victor, the more talkative of the two handles the front of the house. My dad and Victor struck up an instant conversation before we even entered the building. We could sense the pride that he has in his business and his energy, which is very impressive since it was before 8am. He did mention that since the article came out, which was a surprise to them, that they had been extremely busy and resulted in them selling out of donuts the day before. 

The gloominess of the morning overcast melted away once I walked inside and the sweet aroma of freshly baked donuts hit my nose. The inside of the shop was sleek and clean with single donuts displayed behind the glass case carefully labeled. The chalkboard menus hanging above the display lists classics and special donuts available for that day. 

Prices range between $3.50 to $9, so yes, these are not like the donuts at your local donut shop around the corner. They are freshly made to order, with terms like, "forty-hour yeast" and "freshly milled" listed prominently on the menu. There's also a pretty extensive coffee, tea, and beverage menu, but I'm not into those, I was here for one thing, what some have called the best donuts in OC. Let's see if they live up to the hype. 

With the five of us, we had the opportunity to try a good cross-section of the donuts offered at Oliboli. What I noticed right off was that these donuts were lighter than your normal fried donuts. They were a great vessel for the quality ingredients topping them. They make everything here from scratch. The graham cracker and marshmallow are housemade on the S'mores Donut ($6.50), and they actually use real crumbled bacon on their excellent Burnt Butter Bourbon Bacon Donut ($4.50). You can actually taste the real fruit used to top the Strawberry ($3.75) and the mixture of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries in the popular Bumbleberry ($3.75). The cake donuts are my favorite with a slight crunch to it when bitten into, while the inside is pillowy soft, and airy. The Spice Donut ($3.50) is an elevated crumb donut from your local spot, with its pecan crumb topping mixed with cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. The yeast donuts are even lighter than the cake ones, which does not seem possible. The Bavarian Cream ($4.50) features really good chocolate and a dollop of vanilla cream on top, much to my dad's consternation, as he really wanted the cream stuffed inside. Always the purist, he still managed to snag the last bite of this one with a stealth maneuver. Very crafty Pop.  

I wanted to highlight what I felt was the best donut of the day for me, the Banoffee ($6.50). This is listed as one of their specials, so hope and pray that it's offered when you visit. Ever since the pandemic started I have been on a banana kick. While others have perfected their sourdough bread, I've been making banana chocolate chip bread, thanks to my sister in law's overbuying of bananas. Thanks, Sara. Anyways, this donut is inspired by the English dessert, banoffee pie, which will be my next dessert to try to make at home. This one at Oliboli is a yeast donut with sliced bananas, toffee sauce, whipped cream, and streusel crumbs. The result was one of the best donuts I have ever had. It was like a banana cream pie but substitute the crust for a donut. Genius. I played this down while eating with my family, so I could get more than my fair share, but they didn't fall for it. I regret greatly not getting one of these to go.  

Oliboli not only has sweet but a few savory donuts options as well. You should not miss the Croque Madame Donut ($9.25). This puts most breakfast sandwiches to shame and proves that if chef Brooke had wanted to get into fine dining, she'd probably be a success there as well. With this one, she uses her yeast donut as a base and then layers comte and gruyere cheeses, a delectable mornay sauce, and prosciutto across the donut and tops it with a duck fat fried egg, chives, and black lava salt. It's as indulgent as it sounds. The egg was a tad too overdone on this one, as a runny yolk would have made this even better. Still, it was extremely satisfying. and a nice balance to the sweeter donuts that I highlighted earlier. 

Oliboli really blew me away. I'd go along with Brad Johnson on this one, these are the best donuts in OC, and I might even take it a little further. These are just as good as the ones I had at the Doughnut Plant in New York many years ago. It would be a tough choice between the two, so I'll take the easy way out and call it a tie right now. The high-quality ingredients, attention to detail, and the creativity show up big time at Oliboli Donuts, and I predict the crowds will follow and not diminish for a long while.  

Out of five wooden shoes, (because the name of this place is a spinoff of a Dutch-style donut, and one of the symbols of the Dutch is a wooden shoe), five being best to zero being worst, Oliboli Donuts gets 4 wooden shoes. 

For more information about Oliboli Donuts, head to their website here: