Monday, October 28, 2013

A Glimpse Into Old Las Vegas

Ellis Island Restaurant and Casino
4178 Koval Lane
Las Vegas, NV 89109

The Strip in Las Vegas used to be all about buffets and cheap food specials. When I first started going to Vegas in the early '90s, I can remember having 99 cent shrimp cocktails, $4.99 steak and eggs, and buffets that were under the $10 mark. Now that all the big hotels have sprung up, well-known chefs are opening restaurants, and the general "Disneyfication" of the strip has taken over, the days of cheap Vegas eats are as extinct as finding a five-dollar blackjack table on a weekend night. There is a glimmer of the old Vegas that we found one block away from the strip, a place called Ellis Island.

I would like to take credit for being in the know about this place, but I have to give credit to my good friend Rebecca "Gilby" Anderson for telling me about it. She told me two years ago that I needed to do a review of the barbecue restaurant inside Ellis Island. After ignoring her pleas for far too long, I put this on my list for this visit to Sin City.

Ellis Island is located one block east of Las Vegas Boulevard, right behind the Flamingo Hilton. This is old school Vegas for sure. Ellis Island has been around for over 40 years, and it has that kind of feel to it. The casino is dark and dingy, the slot machines seem pretty old, and this place seems to draw the locals in, for being as close to the strip as it is. As per Gilby's instructions, we got a players club card as soon as we got here. This entitled us to a discount on our food, as well as some free slot play. This was already well worth the trip. After losing our twenty dollars in the slots, we made our way towards the BBQ restaurant here. The barbecue is only served in the BBQ restaurant, which is located right next to the small sportsbook. I have heard that the restaurant here serves some good food, at cheap prices as well. That will have to wait until our next visit though because we were on a mission to have some barbecue.

The BBQ restaurant is only slightly brighter than the casino. We got here at about 8PM on a Tuesday night, and still had about a ten-minute wait. I have heard that wait times can be much longer on weekend nights, so get your name on the list, and you'll have plenty of time to play the tables or the slots. The restaurant has a nice view of the guys working in the kitchen. I liked being able to watch the guys work to get the food out. Nice comfy booths line the walls of the restaurant, with tables dotting the center of the 40 seat eatery. The menu here is very limited. They offer two entree items, served in four different combinations. With such a small menu, it took us no time to decide what to order.

I knew Katie would probably get the Half Chicken Dinner ($8.99), and I was right. The dinners here are served with coleslaw, BBQ beans, corn on the cob, and garlic bread. A lot of food for under ten dollars. We both thought the chicken was tender and flavored nicely by the barbecue sauce. I liked that it was lightly coated with the sauce, and not drenched. They did provide squirt bottles of extra sauce if you needed them though. Katie enjoyed all of the sides and felt this was the perfect size plate for her.

When a half a rack of ribs costs ten dollars, and a full rack is only 4 dollars more, it is not shocking that I would get the Full Rack of Ribs ($13.99) here. These baby back ribs were very good. They were tender, fell off the bone easily, and had a nice easy flavor to them. Just like the chicken, these came out lightly sauced, but there was plenty of sauce on the table if you would like more sauce. Whenever ribs come out with too much sauce, I always think they are trying to hide something with the meat, this was not the case here, some of the best ribs I have had in a while. The sides were pretty solid as well. The coleslaw had plenty of a mayo-based dressing, which is my preferred version of coleslaw. The BBQ beans had plenty of flavors and little bits of meat in them. I am not really a big fan of corn on the cob, so I just nibbled at that. The garlic bread was probably the weakest part of this plate. It lacked any real garlic flavor, and the bread could have been softer.

Ellis Island was a real hit with both Katie and I. The food was well worth the trip, and as an added bonus, it was a great value. These meals easily could have been ten dollars more, and would still be worth it. I hope they don't read this and raise the prices though. A few things that you should take note of before coming here. For some reason, the restaurant is a 21 and older place, and the barbecue restaurant is only open from 4PM till 10PM. I have read some online reviews for this place, and there have been some issues with service, but we did not experience any problems on this night. Our food came out in a timely manner, we got refills, and our waiter was on top of his game. Glad we finally took Gilby's advice about coming to Ellis Island. Now it will be part of our regular Vegas rotation when we are in town. A nice little spot, that showcases what Vegas used to be like a few decades ago.

Out of five coin buckets, (because this place reminds me so much of old school Vegas, that I half expected them to have their slots pay you out in coins, and if that was the case, you would need coin buckets to haul your winnings up to the change booth), five being best, to zero being worst, Ellis Island Restaurant and Casino gets 3.5 coin buckets.

For more information about Ellis Island Restaurant and Casino, go to their website here:

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Stepping Back in Time at Emma Jean's

Emma Jean's Holland Burger Cafe
17143 D Street
Victorville, CA 92394

Driving to Las Vegas is something that everyone in Southern California has probably done numerous times. It is usually about a four hour trip on average. A lot of people are so excited to get to Vegas that they do not want to stop until they have to get gas or use the facilities. Driving home from Vegas, depending on how well you did at the tables, or how much you partied, you only want to get home as quickly as possible. Katie and I usually like to take our time getting to Vegas, finding little out of the way restaurants to hit up on our way out there. This trip I was particularly excited to try a spot that has been on my list of restaurants to hit up since the last time we drove out this way last year. We made sure not to miss our exit off the 15 Freeway, and found our way to Emma Jean's Holland Burger Cafe.

Emma Jean's is another place I had found out about by watching Diner's, Drive-Ins and Dives. Guy Fieri and the crew visited back in 2007. They do have funky hours and this place is cash only, so we have not been able to make it here until now. They are closed on Sundays, and only open until 2PM or so the rest of the week. Emma Jean's is about five minutes off of the freeway, kind of in the middle of nowhere, as the following pictures will show you.

Emma Jean's is the oldest standing restaurant in the Victorville area, with continuous service to Route 66 travelers since 1947. The original diner was built using cinder blocks made just south of here, by Bob and Kate Holland. In 1979 the restaurant was bought by a cement driver that ate here since the early days of the restaurant. His wife, Emma Jean, worked here as a waitress, thus he named it after her. The diner is now run by his son, Brian, and his wife Shawna.

From what we could gather during our just before noon visit on a recent Monday, their customers are mainly locals, with a small mix of people that heard about this place on TV. There is a poster of Guy Fieri in the corner, a couple of Route 66 signs hanging on the walls, and the small space is dominated by a counter that takes up the majority of the restaurant. There are about six small tables surrounding the counter, but we grabbed two seats at the end of the counter. Watching the two cooks work in the small area was very entertaining. They worked pretty fast, getting the food out quickly. Brian, who we saw on TV took our order, almost writing down what we wanted before we even said it. He must have known we were going to try what Guy ate here. He's probably seen it a thousand times. So let's see if this place is worth the stop on the way to Sin City.

It was past noon, but they still had some Biscuits and Gravy ($3.75) left, so we were in luck. This was the first thing they made on the show. Brian makes these every morning, at the same table that his Mom showed him how to make these biscuits. The biscuits were surprisingly light and fluffy when we finally broke through to them after digging through all the sausage gravy, not that I minded this very flavorful gravy. It was smooth, only broken up by the large chunks of sausage in there. A great plate to start off with, and a must-try when you make it to Emma Jeans.

Katie deviated from getting food from the Diner's, Drive-In's and Dives episode when she got this Club Sandwich ($7.00). She was pretty happy with this sandwich. It was served traditionally, cut into quarters. The turkey and ham were pretty fresh, and the crisp bacon pushed this club sandwich over the average mark. Katie had a hard time finishing this sandwich, (could have been that pastry that she got at Starbucks that I told her she did not need). This was served with fries, which had a similarity to the french fries that are served at Bob's Big Boy.

The most famous item at Emma Jean's is probably this Brian Burger with Fries ($7.75). For the same price as a value meal at Jack In the Box, you can have your own piece of Americana at Emma Jeans. This burger was delicious. It started with a great cheese bread, which not only provided extra cheese but a nice crunch as well. The juicy burger was topped with Swiss and American, and an Ortega chili. I was worried that the chili would get lost here, but it did come through in some bites. I used a good amount of their homemade salsa on this burger. The salsa could have used a little more heat, but the consistency of it was just right in my book.

We have had some good luck and some bad luck when it comes to going to restaurants that have been featured on Triple D, and this trip to Emma Jean's would definitely fall into the good luck category. We really enjoyed ourselves at this roadside spot. The food is done the old fashioned way. You could totally imagine they were serving this same meal 60 years ago. This is the kind of joint that time has forgotten, and that's a shame. A place where you are just not a number and sent on your way, but a friend and someone that they really hope comes back. This is classic highway food, served just off the beaten track. We are all in a hurry to get to or from Vegas, but Emma Jean's is definitely worth the slight side trip. We will definitely make the time to come back on our next trip out to the desert.

Out of five sleds, (because as I was writing this review, I learned that the iconic movie Citizen Kane was written in Victorville, and of course that movie featured the most famous sled ever), five being best to zero being worst, Emma Jean's Holland Burger Cafe gets 3.5 sleds.

Emma Jean's Holland Burger Cafe does not have a website, but you can find out more about them here:

Friday, October 25, 2013

Reeling In Another Great Dinner at Slapfish

19696 Beach Blvd.
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

After four years of doing this blog, I often wonder if the great restaurants that we have visited continue to churn out fantastic food. With a growing list of readers tips and critically acclaimed restaurants, it has become increasingly rare that we visit a restaurant twice. We were exchanging our Ducks ticket in Huntington Beach the other day, and I wanted to share one of our favorite seafood places with my parents. So we took a trip down Beach Boulevard, and introduced them to Slapfish.

Our first trip to Slapfish was only a year and a few months ago. It really does seem like it has been longer though. You can read about our first experience here. By now you probably know the Slapfish story. They are the brainchild of two guys, Chef Andrew Gruel and Jethro Naude. They started this business as a food truck, but graduated to a brick and mortar restaurant in the early part of last year. They are very passionate about serving sustainable seafood, claiming that it just tastes better, which they prove with almost every plate that comes out of their kitchen.

The big news at Slapfish is that they are expanding. Franchising is going to be taking place, and they hope to open 500 restaurants over the next ten years. Pretty lofty goals, but their food may warrant it. The first franchises are expected to open in of all places, the Middle East, early next year. A little closer to home, there are rumors that they have been looking at locations in Newport, Irvine, and Costa Mesa, all of which will help cut down on my drive time to their Huntington Beach restaurant, meaning more frequent trips to Slapfish.

Slapfish is located in the Newland Shopping Center, which is between Yorktown and Adams on Beach Boulevard. We got here just after 4PM on a Sunday, after watching my beloved Jaguars go down in defeat to a much superior team, (at this point, a high school team might be a more superior team than the Jags, but I am still going to stand by them, no matter how many ulcers they give me). So I was definitely ready to drown my sorrows with some great seafood. The guys at Slapfish keep things casual by having guests order at the counter, and then the food is brought out to your table. Let's see what this visit to Slapfish brought our way.

For as long as I can remember, I have always known my Dad to enjoy a good clam chowder. So, it was no surprise that he would start off with the Clam Chowder ($5.50) here at Slapfish. This creamy concoction is filled with nice sized clams, a very creamy and flavorful base, and just for good measure topped with bacon crumbles. I could tell he liked this, because it was hard for him to part with too many spoonfuls of this.

As much as my Dad enjoys clam chowder, my Mom loves fish and chips equally as much. The Fish and Chips ($9.00) here at Slapfish made her real happy. The fish here is not overly greasy, but does not sacrifice flavor. The breading was crunchy,, but not overly thick, making this a lighter than usual fish and chips plate. The fish inside was flaky and flavorful, while the fries were to her liking as well. She would not hesitate to get this again on future visits here.

Both Katie and my Dad got the Ultimate Fish Taco ($5.50), so that helped reduce my writing in this review. Thanks guys. At Slapfish they offer this taco with either seared or fried fish. Both of them got this seared. After trying the fish and chips, I would have gotten this breaded. I always like a little crunch to my fish tacos. The fish here was done nicely, with just a hint of spice. They were pretty generous with the amount of fish they place in the corn tortilla. Joining the fish inside the tortilla was cabbage, radish, a little cilantro, pickled onion, a light amount of avocado spread, and the requisite white sauce. All of this worked very well with each other, making this one of the best fish tacos either of them have had.

When I checked out the menu at Slapfish, one thing really jumped out at me, the Lobster Dog ($12.00). Yes, you read that correctly, lobster dog. When I ordered this, I did not know what to expect. I thought maybe they would place lobster on top of a hot dog or sausage, but no, this was a bratwurst made out of lobster. Very unique. This bratwurst was topped with onions, peppers and their awesome sauce, which is a chipotle aioli. The lobster did get a little lost here. I am more of a purest when it comes to lobster, just give me melted butter, and I will be a happy boy. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy this though. It was rich, with the majority of the flavor coming from the toppings on this. I would probably get their shrimp and lobster grinder on my next visit here.

One reason I am so looking forward to the expansion of Slapfish is that they are always showing off their specials on Facebook. It seems that almost every time I open Facebook, I come face to face with another special that they are running. During our visit, they offered these Surf and Turf Nachos ($12.00) as their special of the day. I am always a fan of nachos, and when I heard that these had pork and lobster, I was in. Along with the pork and lobster, was a cilantro lime cream, pickled habaneros, and a lobster sauce. These were so good. The pork was done right, for a place that specializes in seafood, the lobster was more plentiful than I would have thought, and the sauces and textures really came together nicely. I would have liked a few extra chips on the side, but other than that, I could find no fault with these nachos.

Our second trip to Slapfish was even better than our first. My parents really ended up enjoying this restaurant as well. We saw them the next day for our customary Monday night dinner, and they both brought up how much they enjoyed Slapfish. Whenever someone asks me about seafood in OC, I always ask if they have been to Slapfish. If they haven't, I tell them that they must get there as soon as possible. I really like that they change their menu up, depending on what's available, so you always know that you are getting the freshest stuff. Some may scoff at paying five dollars per taco, but these aren't chain fish place tacos. These are going to fill you up, and you know you are getting good seafood, which is done right. Glad we had the opportunity to visit Slapfish again. Now we are just waiting for their OC expansion to begin, and hoping that they pop up closer to us.

Out of five sugar beets, (because Slapfish is located in the Newland Shopping Center, which used to be part of the Newland Ranch, which grew sugar beets, among other things in the early 1900's), five being best to zero being worst, Slapfish gets 3.5 sugar beets.

For more information about Slapfish, go to their website here:

SlapFish - A Modern Seafood Shack on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Los Gallos Ruling the Roost?

Los Gallos Mexican Restaurant
1667 E. Orangethorpe Ave. 
Placentia, CA 92870

For the three of you reading this that do not know me, I grew up in Yorba Linda, and my parents still live in the same house that I grew up in. When I was growing up in the late 70's and early 80's, there was not much in the way of restaurants in Yorba Linda. It always seemed like we were driving elsewhere whenever we went out. I remember when Chili's and Mimi's Cafe opened, across from each other on Imperial Highway, it seemed like we hit the culinary jackpot. The restaurant landscape in Yorba Linda has gotten better, but we are still driving out of the city limits to hit up some restaurants. When we were going to meet up with my parents before watching my niece Kaylie, the best cheerleader for the Yorba Linda Chargers, we headed just over the city line, to Los Gallos.

I'm not sure how long Los Gallos has been around, but I am pretty sure they were in business when I was in high school. Not to date myself, but that was over 25 years ago. Los Gallos is in a little sleepy strip mall, alongside the railroad tracks in the Atwood neighborhood of Placentia. The inside of the restaurant is deceptively bigger than it appears from the outside. Not a fancy restaurant, it appears unchanged since my last visit a number of years ago. It's dark, with comfy booths dotted with what appears to be many regular customers. We walked in close to 6PM, and were directed to a booth near the back of the restaurant. After perusing the menus, this is what we decided to order.

Right after we ordered, they brought over some Chips and Salsa. The chips here are pretty standard. They were not too greasy, and had a nice crispness to them. The salsa could have been a little hotter, and it was a little too watery for my taste. It did have a decent flavor to it, and I liked the large hunks of onion in it.

Katie always wants to try the guacamole at any Mexican restaurant that we eat at. This was the case at Los Gallos as well. The Guacamole ($2.50) was pretty reasonably priced. This guacamole had too many hunks of tomato added, and lacked flavor. It might have needed more salt, but the guacamole was definitely freshly made.

My Mom is not a real big eater, so she only had the Cheese Enchilada Combination ($4.25). This enchilada, and the entire plate were drenched with red sauce. The enchilada was full of cheese, and my Mom seemed pretty pleased with the rice and beans here.

My Dad was also feeling the combination vibe here, with his selection, the Beef Taco and Chile Relleno ($6.45). He was pretty impressed with his dinner. He liked the light and fluffy chile relleno that was only weighted down by the more than generous amount of cheese placed on top of it. Even with all the cheese, he could appreciate the nice sear on this. The shredded beef taco was fried crisp, and provided a boatload of flavor in his opinion.

There was really not too much diversity on this night, as Katie had the Cheese Enchilada and Chicken Taco ($6.25). Again, the plate was topped with a hefty amount of cheese and red sauce. Katie liked her plate here, and would probably get the same thing again. The chicken inside the taco was not too plentiful, but was tender. The cheese enchilada was pretty solid, and she really liked the refried beans

No combination dinner for me, although I am not against combination dinners. I usually judge Mexican restaurants more on if they can make a really good carnitas plate. The Carnitas ($8.50) are a little different here at Los Gallos than I am used to. They use their special sauce, which is a red sauce with this dish. A little different since I am just used to having the carnitas served plain, or if they do have a sauce, a verde sauce usually comes with the pork. The pork itself was pretty good here. I would have liked it fried a little more, to provide the crispiness that I really enjoy, but it was still good swine. The beans were better than the rice, but both were passable.

Los Gallos was just as I remembered it the last time I was here a good many years ago. The food, much like the decor of the restaurant is the same as it was back then. The food is not going to blow you away, but it is not bad at all. With prices like these, it is definitely worth your time if you are in the area to try Los Gallos. No combination plate even comes close to the double digit mark, which makes this place a bargain. The service on the night we were here was very solid. The wait staff seem to know many of their regulars, so it is a warm, and inviting atmosphere. A real locals place. A good place to meet up with my parents before going off to watch some Pop Warner football.

Out of five foghorns, (because the name of this restaurant translates to the roosters, and the most famous rooster I could think of was Foghorn Leghorn, of Looney Tunes fame), five being best to zero being worst, Los Gallos Mexican Restaurant gets 2.5 foghorns.

Los Gallos does not have a website, but you can find reviews and other info about them here:

Los Gallos on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 18, 2013

Casting Our Line at California Fish Grill

California Fish Grill
23704 El Toro Road
Lake Forest, CA 92630

When we go out with our friends, it is almost always my choice to pick a place to eat. Usually this is no problem. My list of restaurants has all of a sudden ballooned to over four pages. I can almost always find a place that will satisfy my friends. My good friends Heather and Trevor threw me a curve ball when they wanted to meet up for dinner recently. They were on this health kick for the month of September. They requested something good for you, without breaking the bank. I immediately thought of seafood, but where to go? We all live in South OC, but did not want to drive too far. I had remembered seeing this place when we visited The Habit recently. So I told Heather and Trevor to meet us at California Fish Grill.

California Fish Grill has been in business since 1998. In those fifteen years, they have opened an additional seven stores, with six of those being in OC. Their concept all came about because the Surgeon General recommended that everyone get two to three servings of seafood a week. This can be a little tricky with larger families and dining patrons with a limited income. There was a time when seafood was only served in fancier restaurants, places where white tablecloths, restroom attendants, and fifty dollar plates are the norm. California Fish Grill strives to bring seafood to the masses, at a reasonable cost. Let's see if they accomplish this goal.

We got to California Fish Grill at about 6 PM on a Saturday night. There were plenty of people eating here, but we walked right up to the counter to place our order. Good timing for us, as the line got pretty long ten minutes after we placed our order. The menu here is just what you would expect. Fired fish plates, fish tacos, and a pretty large selection of charbroiled fish plates. They have a "Fixin's" bar, where they offer two types of tarter sauce, a cocktail sauce, and three kinds of salsa. We tried a few, and grabbed a table. It was not more than five minutes, and our food started to make its way to our table, which was good because I was hungry.

Heather and Trevor seem to really like ahi poke, and both Katie and I are getting more and more into it as well. We were pretty happy when they ordered this Hawaiian Style Ahi Poke ($6.99). I thought the serving size of this was pretty good for the price. The poke was fresher than I had imagined it would be from here, but I needed a little more pop of something out of this. The chips were an okay vessel for eating this poke, but the ahi could not stand on its own. It needed something else.

Katie and I had ordered poke as well, but we went with the interesting sounding, Ahi Poke Sliders ($5.99). I had envisioned that these would have been on buns, but of course I was wrong about that. Here they take the ahi and place it on top of a hard shell mini tortilla, and then add a cilantro dressing to it. This is just what the poke needed. I liked the crunch of the tortilla, and the richness of the poke was showcased well with the dressing used here. This would definitely be my choice of the two poke dishes we tried.

Sorry for the poor picture quality on this night, the lighting was playing tricks with my camera all night long. Anyways, we also tried another starter, the Crab Cakes ($7.99). These came two to a plate. I thought these were pretty mediocre. The breading was much too thick, and overpowered the crab inside the cake. The crab was fine, but was kind of boring. This plate only came to life when the sauce was used. Not sure what it was, but it helped breath some life into these crab cakes.

Here are two quick shots of Heather and Trevor's dinner selections. Heather got the Skewered Shrimp ($10.99). This dinner came with two skewers of shrimp, Cole slaw, rice, and bread. Heather had no gripes about her dinner on this night. She liked the way the shrimp was cooked, the rice was okay, and the Cole slaw was prepared well. Just like Heather, Trevor was also pretty happy with his food on this night. He went with the Swordfish ($11.99). I really liked the grill marks on the fish, it appeared to be seasoned well, and it tasted pretty good. This dinner came with fries, Cole slaw and bread. Both Heather and Trevor claim that they would come back here if they were in the area.

Katie's up next, and she had the Mahi Cajun Combo ($8.49). This combo came with two mahi Cajun tacos, rice and beans. She would place these tacos in the upper echelon of fish tacos that she has had. She really liked the flakiness of the fish, the Cajun seasoning added a decent pop of spice, and the tortilla did its job of keeping everything together. On the negative side, Katie felt the beans and rice were very average. Just looking at the beans, I felt they were too watery. Katie still likes Baja Fish Tacos better, but she would not hesitate to get this plate again.

I did not want to get left out of trying one of their tacos, so I got their Fish Taco ($2.69) to start off with. At California Fish Grill they use a battered Pollock in their tacos. This was a big hunk of fish used here. I have been ruined for fish tacos by our many trips to Baja Fish Tacos, which I consider to be the gold standard up until this point as far as fish tacos go. This one was good, but not Baja Fish Tacos good. I really liked the fish used here, but there was too much cabbage, the tortilla was a little on the rubbery side, and the cream sauce was not as good as it could have been, it was too thin. Not a bad fish taco though, and I can see why this is one of their most popular items.

I have been on the hunt for a real good fish and chips dish around OC, but have had no luck so far. This Fish and Shrimp Plate ($8.99)  is not going to make the top of my list either. It was okay. The breading on this was not very good, as it was too heavy. The shrimp reminded me of the frozen shrimp my Mom used to make us for dinner. I'm not saying this was frozen shrimp, but it just reminded me of it. The breaded Pollock was okay. It did not really knock my socks off. The one thing this did have going for it was that it was not a very greasy plate. In fact it was pretty much grease free, which probably means it is better for you. Boo! The french fries were okay, but I really liked the Cole slaw here. It was not mayonnaise based, but it still had a good amount of flavor, with the added texture from almonds.

Okay California Fish Grill, I think you achieved your goal of making seafood affordable, so people can get their two to three servings of fish a week. Mission accomplished. If you go into California Fish Grill and just expect average seafood at an affordable price, you will leave happy. Besides the ahi sliders, nothing we had on this night was very memorable for me. For a quick service restaurant, they got the food out real fast. The service was pretty solid on the night we were here. There seemed to be a lot of employees at this location, behind the counter, out in the dining room, and in the back. I'm glad it's a new month, so the next time we go out with Heather and Trevor, they will not be eating healthy again. Bring on the bacon!

Out of five golden trout, (because it's the state of California's official freshwater fish), five being best to zero being worst, California Fish Grill gets 2.5 golden trout.

For more information about California Fish Grill, go to their website here:

California Fish Grill on Urbanspoon