Monday, July 23, 2018

Top Ten Burger? at Carnitas' Snack Shack

This past week was a big gathering of convention goers to the ever popular Comic Con, where all the comic book geeks, cosplay dressers, and weird sci-fi fantasy lovers convene in one big spot to express their love for all that is great with their world.

For me, I'm just waiting for the brand new movie or TV show trailers to pop up online after their conference. No lie.

I was careful to avoid all of them, so I made a rash decision in a quick pilgrimage down to SD as fast  as I can as I know traffic around convention center will be rough.


The menu by the one of ordering stations

One of my pit stop in San Diego was make a bee line to Little Italy where all the hip dessert places or well known eateries are at (see my Extraordinary Desserts review). Alas, I found no quick parking and needed to park near the train station parking lot.

Using my little quick map guide, I totally forgot that a brand new(ish) Carnitas' Snack Shack opened up a few block down near Little Italy joints I wanted to visit. Probably the best decision I had made in what was a regrettable trip down so far that day.

Personally, I didn't knew much about this little snack shop, other than a search of what's the best burger or hottest place in San Diego. This place always seemed to pop up on the search engine. Kudos to the web guy that is able to figure out the dynamics of SEO. To call it a snack shack is also somewhat misguided as well on my part because I found it to be a full course meals on hand as a standalone restaurant.

The tracker to find where you sit

In what disguised as a fast food take out place on a food stand near embacardero region of the city was a place-to-order restaurant with a full service bar attached to this quasi stand. It's a pretty much an order to go, where there are many benches and tables set up in a quad area for you to sit and dine. They pretty much handed a tracking buzzer after you ordered where the tracker is for them to bring out the tray to you if you wish to dine in near the stand (pretty sure it's only close proximity).

It was after I sit down at one of the communal table, I realized they are also a full service restaurant with menu to order in as well. Well, I'll be darn and learned that for next time.

Well, what's so special about the place that makes me wanting to come here out of the blue moon? Apparently this place was mentioned by USA Today as having one of the best 10 burgers in the USA.

Blow me down! This got my attention.

Triple Threat Burger

The Triple Threat burger with all its porky glory consisted of Pulled Pork, Bacon, and Pork Loin Schnitzel to confound anyone's imagination on how to proceed this eat this ginormous monstrosity. To put it mildly, it was insane to think you can gobble this down without the need of a drink, but I devoured this within a short amount of time as it was too good to stop and contemplate anything else.

Pork Belly

As I mentioned earlier, it's not just a fast food, but they also served some fine dishes with their careful salads to unique starters. One of the more popular requested order was the pork belly that was probably the best companion to the Triple Threat burger. It glistened on the hot sunlight, but melt tenderly right in your mouth when you tasted it. With some homemade cornbread and a side salad, this would have been perfect as a dish by itself.

This establishment had came a  long way and blew up in what I remembered from earlier this decade. I was quite impressed by my visit and wanted to try other pork oriented dishes that they may have in stock. I have heard they have other creations as well such as their beet dish, but has since taken out of circulation in the menu. Pretty much have to look out for the menu for any new additions in the future.

In what was a dreadful day getting stuck in traffic for me coming down from LA area. I probably can go to Las Vegas for the same amount of time to go to San Diego on that fateful afternoon. If there's a redeeming value, this place was it. Glad that I get to finally get my hands on that triple threat.

And yes... you won't catch me coming down for this crazy chaotic storm otherwise known as Comic Con. No shot! (unless I want to get stuck for 4 hrs of driving again)

Carnitas' Snack Shack
1004 N Harbor Dr
San Diego, CA 92101

Carnitas’ Snack Shack  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Treasure Found at BlueGold

Interesting of a thought. Not long ago I mentioned that I stumbled upon a back up option by chance.

Here we go again.

This time around, it was by mistake. Did I get lost and went to the wrong place? Yes and no on this. Let me somewhat explained on this.

Basically I wanted to go to a posh southeast Asian cuisine place called LSXO that was situated in a trendy shopping center/open air mall called Pacific City. This is where there's a huge food hall that is not far from this space (will touch that later). The restaurant itself was located on the 2nd floor in this mecca that included other restaurants and eateries, where first floor included casual fast food and shopping stores of all kind.

Jimmy Utah - Jim Beam, St. Germaine, Oregat, Citrus, Strawberry Shrub

What I didn't know was that LSXO's space was occupied with another restaurant called Blue Gold. Apparently it was two restaurants in one, which space split in half and have its own service staff. It's somewhat unique in that you walked in to the hostess stand and tell the host/hostess on which restaurant you plan to visit. LSXO is like a hidden speakeasy restaurant while Blue Gold faces the open space with an ocean view of Huntington Beach.

It didn't take long to see which place most people gravitate to if they just walked in to this restaurant space.

Since I skipped LSXO and wound up at Blue Gold. Why the different in two restaurants? Was there a different owners. How do they work the kitchen space?

Octopus Tonto - Slowed Egg and Pickled Veggies

First thing first, from what I can see and later discovered, the restaurant shared the same kitchen space and pretty much run by the same operator and chef. Whereas I had mentioned that LSXO is more geared towards Southeast Asian variety of Vietnamese, Blue Gold is more towards New American fare.

With the posh intimate setting for LSXO, Blue Gold has more of a look of a classier version of a contemporary seafood restaurant and also getting wood tables and bar to set up to make you feel that a hunch of a classy steakhouse if you dive right into it.

I decide to gather myself towards Blue Gold because the cocktail bar is situated on that side of the room whereas LSXO is more hidden. I know I know... pretty sure they share the same drink menu from the same bar.

Gin Blossom - - Damrak Gin, Apricot, Chamomile Tea, Citrus

Once I am at the bar, they only give you the Blue Gold menu, which I pursue the menu and found that anything from seafood (obviously with being faced with the ocean view), pizzas, pastas, and steak are prominently featured. There was no turning back now if I wanted to try the fame chef Tim Vuong's Vietnamese dishes.

Smoked kurobuta pork chop, Tokyo turnips, cracklings, tarragon jus, apricot mostarda & honey

Personally I am fine with my choice of this side of the room, as I was looking forward to brunch that day anyways and gotten a few items that matches with it. I was recommended to try the Octopus Tonto, which resemble a grilled octopus with Egg Benedict with a few greens on beautifully presented plate. I am sucker for octopus dishes these day and I actually love how this dish play out. Everything on this plate just screamed for you to have fun by poking this egg, but delicious at the same time.

The main course I chose was their interpretation of Smoked Kurobata pork chop, with just right amount of cooking and seasoning, was perfect for this satisfying meal. I was tempted to test out the pizza, but I'll save that for my next visit.

BlueGold Chocolate Pave - Candied Sour Cherry Syrup, Cocoa Crumble, Kirsch Vanilla Ice Cream, Chocolate Shaving

The one dessert I have noticed get tons of play here was a blue-goldish donut looking piece that pops up on both Yelp and Instagram caught my attention. I then realized it was a chocolate pave that playfully utilizes to match with the name of the place. With its vanilla ice cream and chocolate shavings and crumble, it rightfully ended the dining experience on a high note.

In a weird thought, why the name of Blue Gold you may ask. I did too for a moment. From a search it was mentioned in that the place was named for a point when the sunset hit the Pacific Ocean, you will see a beautiful blue gold.

Just like that view it was named after, the restaurant itself is elegantly beautiful as well. I am curious how the 2 restaurant operations can worked in a kitchen if both sides are busy. That's where I saw some of the past comments on various review oriented websites/blogs have mentioned. I lucked out that day on a slow late afternoon (before early dinner). I will test that venture when I come in for dinner on LSXO one of these days.

As in for this dining misadventure... lady luck is on my side again!

21016 Pacific Highway d200
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Blue Gold Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, July 13, 2018

Another Hainan Chicken Contender in Cluck2Go

Here we go again.

We got another situation at best age old question of where to go for that steamed chicken rice we recently talked about. I hated to do a similar cuisine post so close to each other, but I was done in by the request for that a better place for Hainan Chicken rice can be had locally near my work on the eastside.


The sign to let people know it's the same owner as Man Chan (down the street)

Since I did a post on Red Chicken which was a popular hang out among the nuevo cluck crowd that didn't want to go a high traffic dating place of Savoy that is down the street, I was recommended to try out Cluck2Go.

Why here you asked?

Apparently, for many years, a lot of Chinese compadres living on the east SGV (any Asian community east of 605 freeway) hated going to west SGV that consists of Monterrey Park to El Monte. Reminds of you transients that lives in West Hollywood not willing to venture out east of 405. In their mind, they found a groovy place for their fixings for this Hainan chicken....

The place they all have a hard on for the steamed chicken that I described in the Red Chicken post was a restaurant called "Man Chan". Not really a hidden gem as I remembered it fondly before and would recommended to people who stopped by here. 

However the good news was they decided to open up a scale down restaurant that focused only on their chicken dishes (steamed or fried) with a few sides. Hence, the Cluck2Go was conceived as Man Chan can be a full pledged Chinese restaurant with other rice dishes and different array of proteins than just poultry.

Hainan Chicken Rice

This location was a bit of a curse as i can remembered. In the beginning of the decade was a Flame Boiler outlet that gave way to a Korean Fried chicken joint. Sadly I never went to the latter and go to the former because of my co-worker fascination as a fancy healthy meal. 

I kid you not.

With this scale down version of the main flagship, Cluck2Go still maintained a fantastic juicy chicken that we come to expect for a good Hainan chicken that we all can craved. The minimalist vibe here gave it a Subway dining room kind of feel with a to-go mentality to match with it.

Fried Chicken Wings

I don't really know if this was a short term extension  or maybe this place can catches on where they can expand like Green Zone (another chain that catered to the nuevo cluck crowd). It's worth the quick meal like Flame Boiler? , but yet served the chicken rice dish on the fly.

*post note: I found out the answer after I wrote this*

To answer that question, this is the best Hainan Chicken rice I had on the eastside. The best thing about Man Chan or Cluck2Go was their tender juicy chicken. I do like the ginger dipping sauce for the chicken, but the spicy sauce needed a bit more kick to it. I also highly recommend to get the wings as well. That is better than the fried chicken as a meal.

This is good for work area meal, but I think I can travel farther distance for this dish if I am willing to be patient.

*ps. I found out that it is an expansion as there is another Cluck2Go in Pasadena. That location apparently was the first one.

17110 Colima Rd
Ste A
Hacienda Heights, CA 91745

Cluck2Go Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Excellent Interpretation for Phat Birds

Let the debate begin!

I think it was done many times before, but the question often tiredly get asked and always a new answer is given every so often. Let's ask it again shall we?

Where can you find the best fried chicken in LA?

The Front

You get that question a lot, don't you? Probably more times than you can remembered and I obviously changed my answer every few months when I visited a new place for fried chicken. One of the best spots that stuck to my mind since my initial visit sometime last fall was this quiet little place near a metro rail station in East LA called Phat Birds.

Pronounced like "fat", but slang translation meant "excellent" or "cool". Luckily they went PC and not called themselves Phat Chicks or a riot would have started for sure.

I think I have done a few chicken shack like Crack Shack and Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken. This unique spot was I discovered from a list belonging to a traveling "advisor" site.... ie Yelp for travelers. Pleasantly, it actually exceeded even my wildest imagination.

Usually on a boring weekend, I can make a trip and park it near residential area as parking lot does not exists. Keep on that in mind if you decide to come on a weekend evening where a party can happened and takes up all of the neighbors space as well. 

Outdoor Seating

Cute little remodeling of this shack where it showed what might be an older food stand that reworked into a subtle outdoor picnic patio for the masses. Another sure sign this is legit is the cooker in the back of the stand where I can see where the fryer are being kept for churning out these fried chickens.

The famous Honey Dipped Chicken

To the point, they offered three offers of flavor with two size orders. The flavors are either be traditional (original for most people), Honey Dipped, or Nashville Hot Fried. The sizes comes in a quarter size (legs and thigh / breast and wing) or half size (which include all four parts).

My favorite among what it was offered was the Honey Dipped flavor fried chicken. I think it's like traditional, but then dipped in their special honey with a side of fries and pickle with a slice toast. At my last trip, I was able to get their traditional without any sauce and still enjoyed this juicy tendered fried chicken that was in store for me. If it was up to me, I would choose the honey dipped.

Traditional Chicken

Somehow I liked the fries so much and got that again for the half chicken. If I get adventurous enough, Nashville hot would be next. That required gutsy move on my part.

There are also new items being introduced since my initial visit last year that made its way this year was the housemade chicharrones and corn fritters. Both of the items needs to be explored next time along with the Nashville hot version of their fine fried chicken.


East LA is a burgeoning area that is getting more popular as hipsters are making its way east past downtown and Silverlake. Not surprisingly.... you can guess a lot of people who don't live in this area are making a trip to get these chickens just like I'm doing on that warm afternoon.

One observation I have noticed is that many of the chicken places tends to be in a parking lot of a pre-arranged agreement with certain property owners to operate a limited hours schedule. We can named a few fried chicken specialists are doing this. This location gave a good blue print on how to grow the business without the need to have a brick and mortar retail space and still thrives.

Is this debate settled? This place is right up on the discussion and probably will outlive many others for the near future.

Phat Birds
4701 E. 3rd Street
Los Angeles, CA 90022
Phat Birds Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Get Extraordinary BLT Instead at Extraordinary Desserts

Is there ever a ballsy way of bragging than using the adjective "extraordinary"?

Apparently so.

You know only the naysayers and the pessimists would do the extra leg work of trying to debunk any hype. Ever seen restaurants maintaining a five stars rating on Yelp? Never. Because it will abruptly fail whenever people wanting to knock down a few peg.

I guess this was about to be the case at Extraordinary Desserts in Little Italy area of San Diego.

To be straightforward honest, I didn't have high hopes for cake or pastries at this place. A little birdie suggested to me to go for their underrated panini or their BLT. Their cafe supposedly has the perquisite to be a fantastic brunching experience on a warm weekend.

The Tea Set

Arriving hours later than planned was bound to get people riled up. Especially unhappy guests I was with. My colleagues and I were stuck in the 5 freeway for better part of 3 hours where the trip supposedly would be promised 96 minutes according to Google Map. Not their fault, but accidents do happened...... as in like 8 times.

Press "Play" to see the look of the crowd outside

Getting inside, we were looking at different cakes and pastries. For whatever reasons, maybe the cakes get changed quite often or selections are made on the fly, there was a sign posted said there's no printed menu for cakes or pastries. So they suggested you looked around and jotted down in the notes on a clipboard provided by the hostess stand.

Looking at the display for ideas on what to order

Of course, people wandered off like a mad men looking at cakes on the glass display. As we are looking at the name tags in front of each cake or pastries, people are just standing there blocking. No traffic control and no real organization as it was sh!tshow in the worst possible way. Yup, no happy campers in our group by the time we sat down.

Did we ever get calmed down? Fortunately yes. Once we gotten cooler and away from the heat, things started to simmer down a bit. Once we get over the silly things about looking for the cake we wanted, some of us started to enjoy the festive creation.

The famous Strawberry Shortcake

Some of those cakes were nicely presented with an eye for the roses. Thing of the movie "American Beauty" when these things come out. You can take a look at my Strawberry Shortcake to marvel at how it came out.

Oh, I had a running debate with some others when I posted the BLT on Instagram, I still think that was what separate this place from a few dessert places nearby was their cafe offerings. Especially the BLT. It didn't failed and was probably the saving grace for me on this visit.


In retrospect, looking over things after we got out, I think this place deserved some credit on what they were serving. Beautiful, creative, imaginative desserts. Do they tasted great as it looks? We had a split decision on that, but we did love the coffee, tea, and other sandwich servings.

Yes, the place should have been called "Extraordinary Cafe", just to be on the safe side. As we walked out the door, the chaos still persist on the glass displays and people lounges to block the view.

This place needs to militarized this line. Quick! Someone get the soup nazi from Seinfeld. He can solve this dilemma.

Extraordinary Desserts
1430 Union Street
San Diego, CA 92101

Extraordinary Desserts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Hawaiian Food Closer to Home at Coconut's Fish Cafe

Hawaiian food tends to stay with you even after your vacation is over.

Here's a thought, why aren't more transplants opening up more island influenced restaurants here in the southland? It would be a gold mine! ha

In front

I'm going to hear about there are few places in town and yet people will recite the same list over and over. Heck even a famous chain with the same two letters will get recited as well. Here comes the funny part: once you named it on one hand, it all becomes obvious that it's the same easy spam and eggs that get mentioned. Don't kill me, but I know people will quickly point to me about the massive headway that POKE has made in the mainland over the years.

Click on "play" to view the tables and interior

But when it's time to name a place that served seafood or moco loco, boy do we get a head scratcher because of specific this question.

By some luck, an establishment originated in Hawaii is coming over to LA to serve some of the best fish tacos and the ever popular coconut shrimps. Coconut's Fish Cafe that was started in mid 2000's in Maui quickly gain popularity with its island's signature ingredients of coconut, mango, pineapple, wasabi, and ginger that can be incorporated in part of their dishes.


With its local feel and vibe, the cute island decor with surfboard as a table top, this place has all the elements of inviting place.

The feast!

I was instructed not to eat these fish tacos with a fork, even though it was provided to me. The idea was to gobble this thing with your free hands and take it all in. I'll be straightforward honest, it took me about a good 20 minutes to finish one of these ginormous tacos. Yeah, it's hungryman sized tacos.

The famous Fish Taco

With this fish grilled to perfect and added in some of these tropical flavors like the mango, I can see how or why these fish tacos were a hit. The nicely battered coconut shrimps were a major winner as well. I especially love the tangy sauce that goes with the coconut shrimp, it was fantastic!

The Famous Coconut Shrimps

As in my question, was these well known cafe started by a transplant? Apparently, the founder was a northern California native who retired to the islands. Supposedly, I was given a story of this gent buying out a local restaurant when he found out his favorite Hawaiian restaurant was closing down, so he apparently he was learned from the closed establishment on how those ingredients worked and recreated them in his new restaurant in Maui he just bought.

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Soon enough, he took it back and opened up new restaurants in Sacramento and Scottsdale, where it was also highly received as the ones in Maui. With hits on his hand, it obviously in no time get to downtown Los Angeles as well.

Fish Tacos and coconut shrimps doesn't always required a plane ticket.... it might comes to that if our urges for Hawaiian food stretch long after our return from vacation.

Coconut's Fish Cafe
809 S Hill Street
Los Angeles, CA 90014

Coconut's Fish Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato