Sunday, September 26, 2021

Hoping Fumo Will Be Smoking Hot for Breakfast



120 Country Club Drive Unit 61

Incline Village, NV 89451

Well, we made it to Lake Tahoe. After a long night of getting to meet all of Katie's coworkers, winning $4 in the casino, and having one or two adult beverages, we both decided to sleep in a bit before our noon boat ride on picturesque Lake Tahoe. This would be the only time that we'd be able to try any of the local restaurants, so I had to choose a spot wisely. 

Lucky for us, one of the highest-rated restaurants in Incline Village on Yelp was about a block away from our hotel. Fumo has a four-star rating with over 200 reviews written. From what I can gather online, they opened for business in February of 2019, and in that time have gotten a lot of love for their breakfast and dinner, but the main draw might be their snow globe dining, a heated plastic igloo type structure that allows them to have customers eat outside during the cold winter months. No need for that igloo when we visited here in late July, but the pictures of them look pretty cool. 

Fumo means smoke in Italian, but you'll be hard-pressed to find any Italian dishes on any of their menus. They serve breakfast and lunch from 7 to 2, and then they reopen again for dinner from 5 to 9pm. Make note that they are closed Tuesday and Wednesday. I'd describe the dinner menu at Fumo as upscale American, while the breakfast menu is a little more varied, with most selections setting you back $15 give or take a few dollars in either direction. 

We arrived at Fumo at just after ten and were seated right away, to the left of their patio in the front of their restaurant. I'm not sure if they had just not seen us off to the side, but it was about ten minutes before we were greeted. Not wanting to miss our boat ride, we quickly made our selections and waited about thirty more minutes for our food. This was fine because we gave ourselves plenty of time, but if you are in a hurry, be advised that based on our experience here, the pacing of our meal could be diplomatically called leisurely relaxed. Let's check out our meals. 

Katie went for the straightforward approach at Fumo for her first meal of the day with this Loggers Skillet ($14). Two scrambled eggs, four strips of bacon, roasted potatoes, and toast comprised this plate. She was pleased with this meal. The eggs were buttery, they were very generous with the amount of bacon included, and the cubed potatoes were nicely seasoned and fork-tender. 

Fumo has five benedicts available, and I was intrigued by the Bacon Avo Benny ($14) from the time I first saw it on their menu. This mostly traditional benedict starts with an English muffin on the ground floor and is then layered with a poached egg, bacon, avocado, and plenty of hollandaise sauce. This was executed well, with the egg poached nicely, but the hollandaise sauce was pretty overwhelming and did not share the stage with the bacon or avocado, both of which were lost here. Definitely not one of the worst benedicts that I've had though.  

Something that I've never seen and had to try was this Croissant French Toast ($12)). It's a very photogenic dish and tasted just as good as it looks. I liked that it was not overly sweet, had a pleasing texture, and was not as heavy as pancakes, which just sit in your stomach for the rest of the day. I also have to shout out to Fumo for having syrup dispensers, instead of just parceling out syrup in little containers, as I always have to end up asking for more. 

Last but not least, we had to give their Cheddar Cheese Biscuit and Gravy ($5) a whirl. I was expecting the cheddar cheese to be incorporated into the biscuit dough, but it was melted on top of this heap. The gravy had very big hunks of ground sausage included in it, which was an interesting component. The biscuit itself was fine, but I'd probably pass on this the next time I visited Fumo. It was stick to your ribs comfort food, but not at all what I was expecting. 

Fumo is a solid spot for breakfast, but it did not really blow me out of the water. It was nice to get out of the resort and eat where the locals eat though. Fumo is off the beaten track and if you are looking for a nice leisurely meal, this might be the place for you. The service was nice and personable, but it seemed like the kitchen was having a few issues on this particular morning. Just be patient. Prices are not too bad for breakfast or lunch, but entrees for dinner will set you back $30 or more, and $46 for the salmon. With a hearty breakfast, we were ready to tackle Lake Tahoe.  

Out of five elevators, (because Lake Tahoe is deeper than the Empire State Building is tall, and that building features 73 elevators), five being best to zero being worst, Fumo gets 3 elevators. 

For more information about Fumo, head to their website here:

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

An Afternoon Adventure in Auburn


13500 Lincoln Way 

Auburn, CA 95603

This is the start of our three-part adventure away for a quick weekend with Katie's work family. For me, working in the grocery industry for the last 33 years, the idea that a company would spring for a bonding experience to share their appreciation for all the hard work that their employees do is kind of a shock to my system. My workplace sometimes gets Dominos Pizza for a work party, we can receive a five-dollar gift card if our store has a clean safety record for a full year, and once we are employed by our company for twenty years, we get invited to an awards dinner every five years to receive our pin. Not exactly on par with an all-expenses-paid trip to a resort in Lake Tahoe, but I digress. 

We flew into Sacramento on a Thursday morning, grabbed our rental car, and headed out for the two-hour drive to Lake Tahoe. Since we skipped the obligatory McDonald's breakfast at the airport, I picked a place to eat and stretch our legs on our way to the resort. Ikeda's in Auburn felt like it would fit that bill. They possess a four-star rating on Yelp with over 1.200 reviews, so I felt pretty good about my selection. 

Ikeda's started as a small fruit stand on the side of the road. As the years went by, they expanded into a market and a restaurant. This is still a family-run business, going on their third generation of helping preserve their family legacy. Ikeda's has also expanded to Davis, California, which is 15 miles to the west of Sacramento. For longtime OC residents, Ikeda's reminded me a bit of the original Knowlwood's that was located off Imperial Highway many years ago. 

Much like Knowlwoods, Ikeda's is known for their hamburgers, but with their beginnings as a fruit stand, they are also famous for their pies, whether they are fruit, cream, or pot pies. The menu also features plenty in the way of sandwiches, including a crab sandwich which sounded pretty interesting to me. Ordering is done at the counter, and then your number is called out to claim your food. For a Thursday afternoon, it was pretty busy at Ikeda's. We had to wait only about ten minutes for our food, which was not too bad. Let's see if this restaurant was a wise place to stop on our way up to Lake Tahoe. 

Katie and I decided we would order two things and split them, a divide and conquer effort. The first being the Bacon Burger ($12.99). This burger came dressed with lettuce, tomato, onions, pickles, sauce, and two slices of bacon on a brioche bun. I should have opted to get this burger with cheese, which would have probably moistened things up a bit here. The yellow sauce that they use was tangy, and kind of resembled a thinner hollandaise sauce. I wish they had added a little extra to our burger because I like things saucy. The one-third-pound patty was fresh, cooked well, and went nicely with the excellent bacon. Included in the price are a drink and the fries above. The fries were solid, but there were so many, I kind of got bored with them as time went by. I'd definitely upgrade to curly, parmesan, or truffle fries next time I visit, and I'd ask for a side of ranch dressing.  

Part two of our meal was this Chicken Pot Pie ($9.99). This good-sized pot pie came out steaming and cooled down after a very long wait. Puncturing the crust revealed a good amount of shredded chicken, carrots, and other veggies. I usually like a saucier pot pie, but this one was a very nice effort. I kind of enjoyed that the chicken was shredded, and not in chunks. It made it easier to eat and incorporated the veggies easier. Very good sized for ten dollars, and it kept me full well past when we arrived in Lake Tahoe. 

Just like our meals, Katie and I split two slices of pie. We went with the Dutch Apple ($4.99) and the Chocolate Cream ($5.99). I enjoyed the rich chocolate cream one the best, although there was way too much cream topping this one. It detracted from the wonderful chocolate underneath. The apple was nicely done with plenty of crumbly goodness topping it, and it would have been made even better if we had gotten this one with ice cream perched on top, but we were trying to be good, even though we were on our mini-vacation. Maybe next time. 

Ikeda's is definitely a great place to stop on the way to Lake Tahoe, or even if you are just in the area. I'd like a do-over with my meal choices, like adding cheese to my burger and ice cream to my pie, but even though I missed out on these things, I was still pretty satisfied with our visit. This is classic travel food, and it makes me nostalgic for road trips with my parents growing up. There's also a pretty impressive little market here where you can stretch your legs before completing your road trip. On to our next adventure. 

Out of five running shoes, (because with so many endurance races taking place in the city of Auburn, many participants will go through plenty of running shoes in some of these events), five being best to zero being worst, Ikeda's gets 3 running shoes. 

For more information about Ikeda's, head to their website by clicking here:

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Satisfying Seafood at Hook and Anchor

 Hook and Anchor

3305 Newport Blvd. 

Newport Beach, CA 92663

My aunt Hiroko has converted to a pescatarian in the last few years. For those of you that unaware, a pescatarian is someone that eats fish, but no other kinds of meat. She did this mainly for health reasons, but it appears to have agreed with her. She appears to have stopped aging and has felt the best she has in years. If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you know I could never do what my aunt has done, but I'm very happy it has worked out for her. 

We were all getting together for a family dinner, and she was actually the one that suggested Hook and Anchor. Opened early in 2018, Hook and Anchor describe themselves as a fast-casual lobster and fish house, with a fine-dining touch. In the three-plus years, they have been in business they have gotten glowing reviews online for their food, and briefly opened another location at Rodeo 39 food hall in Stanton, but that spot recently closed this month suddenly. 

This Newport location showed no signs of having any trouble whatsoever. During our hour-long visit on an early Saturday evening at 5, there was a consistent crush of people filling in the rather small dining area, and the line to order grew at least eight parties deep once during our stay. We quickly snagged one of the larger tables available for our party of six. 

The menu here is pretty extensive for such a small spot. The menu starts off with a quintet of lobster dishes and then continues with various offerings of sandwiches, tacos, fish and chips, salads, and various fresh fish plates. There's also a small chalkboard with even more specials located right behind the cashier. We all made our selections rather quickly and waited for our food to be run out to us. 

Whenever I'm eating in a seafood restaurant for the first time, there's no question that I'll be trying the Clam Chowder ($6). This one was pretty impressive with its inclusion of clams, potatoes, carrots, and celery. For a thinner chowder, this was better than most. There were plenty of clams, the potatoes were not cut into large chunks, and there was a nice creaminess in each spoonful. Definitely worth trying if you like clam chowder. 

For part two of my meal, I went with this Lobster Quesadilla ($15). This was an unusual selection for me, and I'm still not entirely sure why I picked this. The ten-inch tortilla was filled with lobster, and cheddar cheese then topped with a lemon herb sriracha aioli, which did its job of boosting the flavor a bit. I liked that the tortilla was grilled on the flattop, which provided a nice crunch to each bite. I just felt this was not the best way to highlight their lobster. I'd probably try a lobster roll or maybe just get a surf and turf plate the next to I visit Hook and Anchor. 

If you know Katie, she's never really been described as crabby, unless she doesn't get one of her two Starbucks coffees a day. Here she is though, having the Crusty Crab Sandwich ($15) for dinner. This crab cake sandwich was dressed in shallot caper lemon mayo, lettuce, and tomato on a brioche bun. Katie was pretty pleased with this sandwich. The crab cake was nicely breaded but was not overly stuffed with filler. The crab was present, and you could actually taste it in each bite. The bun was spongy, but they could have used a little more in the way of the mayo to help moisten things up a bit.  

Both my cousin Chris and my aunt tried the Lobster Roll ($28.50 was the market price when we were here). There are two sizes, a four and six-ounce version of this roll filled with buttered claw and knuckle meat stuffed inside a brioche split-top bun with butter and herbs. This won rave reviews from both of them. I'm not sure if they got the four or the six-ounce lobster meat sandwich, but there appeared to be plenty of lobster on both sandwiches. This sandwich also came with a side of chipotle crema, but I did not observe either of them using it to any great extent. The fries were crisp and hot. A very rich sandwich for these two. 

My uncle had these good-looking Fish and Chips ($15) for his dinner this evening. At Hook and Anchor, they use Mahi for their fish and chips, which is a definite upgrade from the usual cod you get at most places. I was excited by the thick and crunchy batter used, as it looked delicious from across the table. No complaints about this meal from my uncle, who ate all of this at his usual leisurely pace. The fries were nicely seasoned. He also added a three-ounce side of coleslaw for an extra buck, which looked to be worth it for people that get excited by coleslaw. 

As we were walking out the door of Hook and Anchor we all found it necessary to thank my aunt Hiroko for suggesting this restaurant. I think we were all pleased with our meals this evening. This is another great option for a fast-casual seafood restaurant, joining the ranks of Slapfish, California Fish Grill, Santa Monica Seafood, FishBonz, and Bear Flag Fish Co. I do look forward to coming back and trying more of their menu, as the fish and chips caught my eye, along with the Lobster Cajun Fries, their fish plates, and the numerous other specials offered. With food this good, it might make it easier for me to convert into a pescatarian. Definitely not going to happen, I just wanted to make sure you were still paying attention. 

Out of five tattoos, (because one of the most popular tattoos that people get is an anchor), five being best to zero being worst, Hook and Anchor gets 3.5 tattoos. 

For more information about Hook and Anchor, head to their website here:

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Chicken Sandwich Review Number 379, (Or at Least It Seems Like It)


1948 North Tustin St. 

Orange, CA 92865

I feel that since the pandemic started I've written about 38 chicken sandwiches. It's of course not that many, but it's not that far off. My theory is that people want to feel comforted with all that's going on in the world. Just like the bacon craze that swept the land back in the early part of this century, fried chicken is here now to help make people feel good. 

When I let my parents know where we were going to be meeting for an early dinner on a recent Saturday, I had to repeat the name many times before they got it. Holdaak, which means madly in love in Korean, is the feeling that the people behind this restaurant have when they are preparing their fried chicken, whether it be in sandwiches, as strips, wings, or even a salad, as you'll see with my dad's meal. 

The madly in love feel about their chicken must be spreading quickly, because they now have four, soon to be five locations in operation. Fullerton opened first four years ago, and next came this one in Orange, then Highland Park and Northridge followed, and next up will be one in the City of Commerce. A pretty quick expansion is in the works, which will be interesting to see how it all works out for them. 

As I mentioned earlier, their simple and to-the-point menu is made up of strips, sandwiches, a salad, wings, and sides. Sandwiches come either original or spicy, strips come with either 3 or five pieces, and they have three flavors of wings; regular, spicy, and caramel soy. Almost everything on their menu is under the $10 mark, with the exception being the 12, 18, and 24 piece wings. 

Ordering is done at the counter, and your number is called out to pick up your order. The wait time between ordering and when our food was ready was not more than five minutes. We took a seat at one of their tables in their sparsely decorated dining area. Let's see if we fall madly in love with all things Holdaak. 

I'm not sure what got into my dad this evening, but he selected the Fried Chicken Salad ($9.50) as his meal. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but it was definitely out of character for him. This deceptively large salad came with fresh greens, cut-up fried chicken, corn, hard-boiled egg, pickled onion, and baby tomatoes. It was dressed with ranch dressing, but he got an extra one. He was pretty excited about this salad. It was a good value and he liked the contrast between crunchy fried chicken and the fresh greens. His only complaint was that they did not have blue cheese dressing, but a solid meal in his book. 

Here's a look at both the 3 Piece Chicken Strips ($7.50) and the Spicy ($8.50) version. I really enjoyed these. The crunch from the breading with each bite was pleasing and the chicken underneath was moist and tender. Not a dry bite to be had. The spice level at Holdaak is not as intense as other chicken spots we have been to. It was very tolerable, even to my mom. Sauces are pretty important at chicken restaurants, and here they only have two, ranch, and their signature sauce, which is called comeback sauce. The ranch was pretty standard, while the orange-hued comeback sauce is a spicy mayo with just a mild amount of heat. I liked the consistency of it. Not too thin, but not as thick as Chick Fila sauce. Be aware that each sauce costs you fifty cents, but they are pretty good-sized, so one of each will be enough for most of us. The fries were fine, fried well, and went nicely with both of the sauces. You can't see it from the picture, and I almost didn't see it at all, but there's also some Texas toast underneath everything. I know I'm in the minority here, but I'm not a fan of Texas toast, so I optioned that off to my dad. Thanks for taking it off my hands pop. 

Even though I had the three chicken strips, I definitely had to give their Spicy Chicken Sandwich ($7.95) a try while I was here. This was made up of two chicken strips, which made this a bit harder to eat, as one of them tried to escape as I had my first bite. Just like the spicy chicken strips, the heat on this was very manageable, in fact, it was definitely seasoned less than the strips that I had to start my meal. The sandwich was dressed with comeback sauce and Asian slaw made up of pickled veggies, which was a nice change of pace. Even though the toasted bun looked like it was stomped on, it held up to the insides of the sandwich the whole time. 

Last but not least were the Caramel Soy Wings ($9.95). I promise there were six here, but I was a little late snapping my picture and I guess my sister was hungry. These wings were nicely fried and came coated in the sweet caramel glaze, which was not over the top sweet. It was a nice contrast to the savory chicken underneath. The wings were pretty good-sized and the chicken was tender. 

I have to say that I was pretty impressed with the chicken I experienced at Holdaak. It had a different tint to it, which made it unique and stand out. The prices were very fair for the most part, but even though I was a fan of the wings, they should not be $1,65 per wing. Yes, they go down in price a bit the more that you order, but paying anywhere close to a dollar and a half per wing is a little too expensive, especially with as many wings as I can put down. I'd definitely make return visits to Holdaak, and I'm sure their expansion will provide many of you the opportunity to do the same.   

Out of five bottles of laundry detergent, (because in Korea when someone moves into a new house it's common for people to gift the new homeowners with extra household supplies), five being best to zero being worst, Holdaak gets 3.5 bottles of laundry detergent. 

For more information about all things Holdaak, head to their website here:

An OC Burger Week Experience at Whitestone Restaurant

 Whitestone Restaurant and Bar

34212 Pacific Coast Highway 

Dana Point, CA 92629

If you follow me on my Instagram page, you know that I am a big proponent of OC Burger Week. Last year my goal was to have seven burgers in seven days, which I can proudly say was no problem. This year I decided to do the same but needed to try seven different burgers than the ones I had last year. I ate light lunches, plotted out my route, and most importantly, picked burgers that sounded the best to me. For the most part, I took the burgers to go, when that option was available. 

For those of you unfamiliar with OC Burger Week, it's put on by the great folks at OC Foodies, who also promote Brunch Week, OC Restaurant Week, The Pacific Wine and Food Classic, and other restaurant-related events throughout the year. For Burger Week this year, 49 Orange County restaurants were participating, and they offered burgers and sides at different price points ranging between $10, $15, $20, and $25. Katie and I decided to turn one of my burger visits into an impromptu date night at Whitestone Restaurant and Bar in Dana Point. 

Whitestone has been open for two years now, and they took over the space that used to be home to Two Left Forks. I've read conflicting reports online about whether they were just rebranded or if this is a completely new restaurant. I'm still not sure, but I do know that Two Left Forks is still open in Irvine, and their menus do not match up too well, so I'm leaning towards this being an entirely new restaurant. 

I was here for the $20 90 Day Cheeseburger, which is offered on their daily menu at the same price. Katie was not interested in the burger, opting instead to select from other parts of their menu, which includes starters that range between $5 to $39 for a cheese and charcuterie plate and entrees that will set you back $18 to $55 for their lone steak offering. 

The dining room was pretty desolate, with most people opting to sit on their patio that overlooks PCH. We had a front-row seat to the happenings in the kitchen, which featured some big flames every once in a while. Our server seemed to be the only one working this Wednesday evening at 6pm. It also appeared to me that he might be the manager as well. It might be a sign of the times with restaurants still having a tough time finding help these days. Let's check out the food and see if this was one of the better burgers during my burger week experience. 

We both went without a starter, instead, opting for salads to start things off for us at Whitestone. As soon as our server rattled off the Burrata Special ($21) Katie was all about it. This off-menu burrata was one with a winkle to it. No sliced red tomato or basil leaves were strewn across the plate, as they used sliced beets, carrots, greens, sliced yellow tomato, vinaigrette, and rye crisps to build this unique version. Katie loved the melt in your mouth burrata and the way the items in this interacted with each other. She'd definitely look for this again on future visits. 

I usually trend towards a Caesar ($13) when I spy one on a menu like I did here. This whole heart of romaine was topped with sprinkles of smoked prosciutto, pecorino, and in lieu of croutons, bread crumbs. The salad dressing was placed underneath the greens. I was not thrilled with the presentation here. It was too much work to cut up the romaine, and the fact that the dressing was placed on the bottom of the plate, it was impossible to get it distributed evenly. On the positive side, the lettuce was fresh and the dressing was delicious, but I wished there was more of it.    

Our server must have been really dreamy when letting us know the specials on this evening because Katie also went with another special that our server let us know about, the Filet Tip Pappardelle ($36). Large pappardelle noodles were strewn around pretty good-sized chunks of filet, and a few peas, and carrots were thrown in for good measure, along with a very nice and flavorful sauce. Katie was very pleased with her meal. She threw out words like comforting, homey, and delicious when describing this plate with great fervor. 

Now the real reason we were here on this evening, the 90 Day Cheeseburger ($20). The burger is made using a three-month-aged Angus patty, then built up with sliced tomato, more than enough butter lettuce, a tomato jam, and chipotle mayo. The burger patty was very clean tasting and not overly greasy. If you like a natural, non-fussy burger, this is the one for you. For myself, I would have liked a little more chipotle mayo and onion jam on here to give this a flavor boost. The fries were fried well and you could tell they were freshly cut. 

There were a couple of desserts that sounded good to us, but we ended up picking the Brown Butter Cake ($12). The butter cake was drizzled with a small amount of red miso caramel, almond brittle, and vanilla bean gelato. The cake portion of this was not as rich as most butter cakes but was pretty good. They needed a heavier hand when it came to the caramel and the ice cream. We found ourselves fencing with our spoons over every ounce of the quickly melting gelato. 

Whitestone was fine but did not rock my world. Katie liked her food way more than I did, so it might have just been my selections this evening. I'd probably get something off of their seasonal menu next time, maybe their mole salmon or the maple leaf duck and strawberries, both of which sound very intriguing. Service was pretty solid, even with our guy pretty much the only one running food and checking on all the tables. As far as burger week went, this was my third favorite burger I ate that week, behind the one from Helmsman Alehouse and Champagnes, both located in Newport Beach. Keep an eye out on my social media for when next year's burger week rolls around. 

Out of five handcuffs, (because there's a residential area in Queens, New York named Whitestone, and it's where Harry Houdini is buried, and he was famous for getting out of handcuffs, among other things), five being best to zero being worst, Whitestone Restaurant and Bar gets 3 handcuffs. 

For more information about Whitestone Restaurant and Bar, head to their website here:

Friday, August 13, 2021

Do You Even Barbecue Bro? (Plus My Top Ten BBQ Spots in OC)

 Ribbro BBQ

2300 SE Bristol Suite C

Newport Beach, CA 92660

It can now be confirmed that we are experiencing a barbecue renaissance in OC. Up until the middle part of the last decade, we used to have maybe one or two spots that were creating exceptional barbecue. This is not the case these days. I think I can now fill out a top ten list for barbecue restaurants in OC and still have a few spots leftover. That's never been the case before, and I have to say this is what I've been dreaming of, especially after a long-ago trip to Texas to see what real BBQ was all about. My personal top ten list of OC barbecue restaurants will follow this review. 

It was a Saturday and Katie and I was looking to get out and maybe walk a few miles. We are big fans of the Upper Newport Bay Trail, which runs alongside San Diego Creek. It's a nicely paved and flat route, with a hint of getting away from it all with its stunning views and excellent people watching on this rather busy trail. Of course, we procrastinated a bit while leaving the house, and decided to have dinner before our supposed hike, which I kind of knew was not going to happen. 

I picked Ribbro BBQ, which is situated at the end of Bristol, right before it turns into the 73 Toll Road at Jamboree. I had not heard any buzz about this spot before, and to be honest, I was not expecting too much from it. When we showed up right around half-past five, there was not that pleasing bbq aroma wafting around outside that I've come to expect from really good barbecue restaurants. I also did not see any smokers on the side or the back of the restaurant. I was sure this was going to be a dud, even though their four and a half star rating on Yelp gave me a sliver of hope. 

I had secretly texted my friend Chris to meet us here since he lives nearby, and that would probably ensure that we would not be doing any walking on this evening. When the three of us walked into the tiny storefront, we were greeted by a husband and wife duo. They've been open for coming up on three years now. Their menu features, sausage, chicken, pulled pork, pork ribs, brisket, and a beef rib that requires a 24-hour notice. You can get these proteins in sandwiches, plates, or as a combo meal. We ordered at the counter and the food was brought out to our table which was situated under a canopy in the parking lot. Let's see if Ribbro would surprise us.  

Here's a quick shot of what Chris got for his meal. He opted for the Half Pound Brisket Plate ($16.50) and a Side of Cole Slaw ($3.50). Plates at Ribbro come with just the meat and no sides, except for a slice of cornbread, pickled veggies, and two sauces. It's definitely worth getting the combo plates which get you two sides and a free fountain drink included. 

Katie definitely knows how to order at a barbecue restaurant. She went with the 2 Meat Combo ($18.99 plus a fifty-cent upcharge for the pulled pork). She selected Louisiana Sausage, coleslaw, and potato salad to round out her meal along with the pulled pork. The pork was very solid with nice bits of bark included and a very pleasing flavor that was not overly smoky. Good texture to it as well, as it was not too dry and not mushy. I'm pretty sure that they don't make their own sausage, but it was good, with a nice snappy casing surrounding it. It went well with the mustard-based sauce that came with our meals. The coleslaw was okay, as I would have liked a little more dressing included. The potato salad was creamy with a little chunkiness to this mustard-tinged side item. Both Chris and Katie liked the cornbread here, but I would have liked it a bit better with some butter on the side.  

Since there weren't any ribs available of any kind on this evening, I also went with the 2 Meat Combo ($18.99 plus a $2.00 upcharge for the brisket option). The brisket at Ribbro BBQ really blew me away. I was not expecting it to be so good. It had a nice tiny ribbon of fat along one side of it, the outside had a nice flavorful bark, and the pink smoke ring was definitely visible. Everything you look for when getting brisket. No sauce was needed for this brisket, but I did enjoy their bbq sauce, which I found myself using sparingly, not wanting to taint the great-tasting brisket too much. The andouille was denser than the Louisiana sausage that Katie had, but had a nice pop of heat in each bite. The mac and cheese was just okay. The top layer was the best part with its crunchy topping and that seemed to be where all the cheese sauce was located. By the time I dug a bit deeper, it was just the shells. The cheese corn was basically kernels of corn topped with a light cheese sauce and sprinkled with parmesan. It was unique and something I'd have again. 

I guess you can say I was surprised with how much I enjoyed Ribbro BBQ. It didn't look like much from the outside, but I left here very impressed. I'm looking forward to returning visits when both the pork and beef ribs are available, and yes, I'll definitely still order the brisket. Prices were not that out of control here, but I do wish they would add a disclaimer to their menu that certain meats included with their combo meals included an upcharge. Not a big deal to me, but I'm sure some customers get a little perturbed about seeing it on their receipt. The lack of buzz about this very good barbecue restaurant has caused me to think about all of the other spots that serve just as wonderful barbecued meats like this, but they get overlooked. Luckily, there's still plenty of time for me to get around to trying them. 

Out of five burrowing owls, (because these particular owls use the bluffs of the nearby Upper Newport Bay for protection), five being best to zero being worst, Ribbro BBQ gets 3.5 burrowing owls.  

For more information about Ribbro BBQ, head o their website here:

Also, as promised, here are my top ten barbecue restaurants in OC so far with links to my reviews. Enjoy!

#10 Blake's Place - Anaheim

#9 Leadbelly's BBQ - Fullerton

#8 Fire Breather BBQ - Lake Forest

#7 Ribbro BBQ - Newport Beach

#6 Meat Up BBQ - Placentia

#5 The SmoKING Ribs - Garden Grove

#4 Sauced BBQ and Spirits - Orange

#3 Jav's BBQ - Anaheim

#2 Evan's Smokehouse - Yorba Linda

#1 Heritage BBQ - San Juan Capistrano

Thursday, August 12, 2021

A Meal Fit for a King at Royal Wok?

 Royal Wok

1868 North Tustin St. 

Orange, CA 92865

Birthday meal number two, and this time it's my parents' turn taking us out to celebrate. As usual, it's up to me to choose a restaurant to try. I have three criteria that I use when my parents are taking us out to dinner. One is that it should be centrally located between both of us, which means in Tustin or Orange. Two, it has to be something that they will like, and not too out of their comfort zone. Lastly, and most importantly, it must be moderately priced. Royal Wok in Orange was the perfect fit fresh from my restaurant wishlist. 

Royal Wok took over the space that was home to Yang Ming Garden, which garnered a lot of love from almost everyone in Orange. When they closed a few years back, and eventually moved on to a new address just across the city limits in Villa Park, many wished this spot would house an equally impressive Chinese restaurant. After reading a review in the OC Register about Royal Wok, I think those people might have gotten their wish. 

The Liang family has been in the restaurant business since 1993. They operated a Chinese restaurant in Longmont, Colorado, which is about 40 miles north of Denver. Replacing a favorite among people in the city of Orange was not an easy task, but they seem to be living up to this challenge. Besides the glowing OC Register review, they have garnered a very respectable four and a half stars on Yelp, with over 100 reviews. I was definitely intrigued to see how our early evening would turn out Royal Wok. 

We arrived just before 4pm on a recent Sunday in June. I had never been to this location when it was Yang Ming Garden, but what I found when walking into this space was a sleek and modern restaurant, with minimal Chinese decor, except for what was sitting on top of the bar area to the right of the entrance. The grey walls matched the tabletops, and there was a large row of half booths lining the far left wall, with a "good vibes only" sign painted above the booths, which was the only decor visible on any of the walls. 

I was definitely hoping for some good vibes from the food at Royal Wok. Their menu is just what you'd expect from a Chinese restaurant in the US. It was divided into appetizers, soup, different proteins, chow mein, chop suey, egg foo young, and fried rice. Entree prices hover around the $12 price point, with only a few seafood items exceeding this. There's also plenty of lunch specials to choose from, which will set you back $8 to $9. My family usually picks four dishes and we share them amongst each other. Let's see if Royal Wok is a worthy replacement for the beloved restaurant that graced this address for many years. 

We started off with an order of Egg Rolls ($5.95). They were filled with plenty of cabbage and shredded carrots and came with a sweet and sour sauce which boosted the flavor profile. I'm not a big fan of egg rolls, as I think they are usually quite bland, but at Royal Wok these were fried very nice and crisp but were not as greasy as others tend to be. Not a bad start to our meal. 

We did not order this, but they provided this Egg Flower Soup ($6.95) to the four of us. This was a pretty basic soup, with some carrot and peas thrown in. It was an okay soup, but more of a palette cleanser, as it was not too big on flavor. To be honest, this is not a soup I'd ever see myself ordering, as I'm way more partial to hot and sour soup when dining in Chinese restaurants. 

When Brad Johnson reviewed Royal Wok for the OC Register he raved about this Mongolian Beef. ($11.95), and I'm excited to report that he was correct in his praise of this plate. It was one of the best I've had. It had a large part to do with the very tender sliced beef that was the star of this plate, but the flavorful sauce, along with the sliced mushrooms and green and white onion combined wonderfully to make this dish a winner. I found myself trying to downplay how much I enjoyed this so I could maybe sway my parents and Katie from liking this too much, which in turn would mean more for me. No such luck, as they would not be fooled. 

I have a love-hate relationship with Orange Chicken ($11.95). I'm no fan of the one from Panda Express that most people enjoy way too much. I do find myself liking other versions of this cult favorite that is fried nicely, so each bite has a nice crunch when bitten into. This one from Royal Wok falls into that category. The sweetness was muted a bit too much, but each chicken piece was coated nicely and had a satisfying crunch to each bite. The veggies were prevalent, and the pineapple chunks helped bring up the sweetness quotient of this entree.  

Honey Walnut Shrimp ($14.95) can either go very wrong or be one of the best things you consume on a particular evening. This one unfortunately fell flat for me. The shrimp was overly breaded and the sauce lacked any real sweet tinge that you'd expect from this dish. All I really got was a heavy mayo flavor which was broken up a bit by the candied walnuts. I was also a little taken aback by the ring of broccoli surrounding this, which seemed like it was just there to bring a little color to the plate. We'd skip this on future visits. 

As we all pick at least one entree when the four of us go out for Chinse food, Katie always suggests something a little out of the norm for my parents. On this evening it was the Moo Shu Chicken ($10.95). This Chinese classic stirfry came with grated carrots, shredded cabbage, onion, and sliced chicken with the plum sauce on the side. We all enjoyed this very much. It was very comforting and not as salty or oily as others we have had at other places. I did not use the provided pancakes, but Katie liked them well enough. 

Even with a few minor missteps, Royal Wok was a pretty impressive Chinese restaurant. I really enjoyed most of the entrees that we had, with the lone exception being the honey walnut shrimp. Everything was fresh and came out of the kitchen piping hot. Even though they were not crazy busy at this early dinner hour, the service was very cordial, and we could feel that they really were happy that we were here. I felt the prices were very competitive and the portion sizes were large enough for the four of us to all be full walking out of there. Royal Wok hit all the right boxes for us and was a great place for my parents to take me out for my birthday dinner. 

Out of five minutemen, (because the largest wok of all-time was a 2,500-pound one that was used to make over 4,000 pounds of stirfry at UMass, and their sports teams are called the minutemen), five being best to zero being worst, Royal Wok gets 3.5 minutemen.  

For more information about Royal wok, head t their website here: