U2 Cafe: Hong Kong Style Pancake

Eye Candy: 3/5 Stars
Smelloscope: 4/5 Stars
Taste Test: 4/5 Stars
Wallet Breaking: $
Recommend-ability: 3/5 - Give it a Go

It's been a little while since I've been back to U2 Cafe. This used to be one of my favorites. But since I was so disgusted by my last experience I stopped going there on a regular basis. The quality of their food just went way down. A huge part of it is simply an inconsistency, and my experience with their Hong Kong Style Pancake today was the case and point.

(Bad Batch of Hong Kong Style Pancake - $3.75)
I had dinner with my parents, my brother and my sister-in-law today. My brother got there early so he went ahead and ordered the Hong Kong Style Pancake. I arrived around five minutes after my brother ordered the dish and we discussed what else we should order. The process took another ten minutes or so. After we finished ordering, it took another five minutes or so for the pancake to arrive. It didn't look appetizing. It was a bit darker than usual and I've had U2's version before to know this is not normal for them.

I took a piece to try and it was a bit on the crunchy side and cold. My brother and my sister-in-law both took a piece to try and had the same reaction and were not pleased. So I asked the waiter to take it back and make us another batch. We've tried a few other places like Cafe Spot and we know U2 has the version we prefer the most and this was not it.

The waiter was kind enough to take it back and make us a new version. This new version didn't take long to reach our table, approximately five minutes. Which made me wonder why it took so long for the first batch to get to our table. It made perfect sense. They over-cooked it which meant it took longer than usual. Then they left it on the counter for it to chill before taking it to our table, which was why it took nearly twenty minutes after ordering for it to get to us.

(U2 Cafe Menu)
This second batch was totally worth the $3.75. This is my favorite snack as a boy, and I'm partly eating my childhood nostalgia. It's similar in texture as a waffle except it's slightly crunchier on the outside and softer and less thick on the inside when done right. The individual eggs should break off easily and the inside should be slightly warm.

As soon as the waiter placed the basket on our table, I knew instantly this was warmer and better. I could smell the fresh cooked dough drifting upwards into my nose. The color was much lighter than the first batch and looked softer as it should be. My brother and my sister-in-law wanted to just rip a piece right off, but I had to grab a picture of it before they could consume it.

(Hong Kong Style Pancake - $3.75)
This was the way it was supposed to be. It's slightly crunchy on the outside while the inside is moist, warm, soft and a bit hollow. The dough is slightly sweetened, but the whole thing is light enough to have as appetizer without having my appetite ruined.

There are no sauce to dip the pancakes in. They were originally served on the streets of Hong Kong by street vendors in small paper bags. Since the dough is slightly sweet, it can be treated as a dessert. But to me it has always been an appetizer. The Chinese name for it literally translate to "little eggs." The little sphere-like pieces are attached to each other by a very thin and crunchy paper made with the same dough. There's a little bit of flakiness like in a Chinese egg roll dessert from the thin crust. The combination between crunchiness and softness rounds out the dessert to appeal to my entire texture palette of my taste buds.

$3.75 is a lot more than what they used to go for on the streets of Hong Kong, and certainly way more than the cost of the ingredients. Even as a snack, it actually isn't a cheap snack compared to some of the other things I can get in the area. But a good version of it isn't easy to find even in the San Gabriel Valley. In fact not every cafe even serves this. Even at U2, it wasn't until we asked them to remake it when we actually got a good version of the relatively unknown snack that satisfied my cravings. If it wasn't for this, I honestly don't know if I would ever go back to U2 Cafe again after the horrible curry fish ball with pork skin I had two months back. Consistency please!

U2 Cafe
1200 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 282-1800

Hong Kong Style Pancake - $3.75

Sinbala: Pork Chop Rice

Eye Candy: 3/5 Stars
Smelloscope: 2/5 Stars
Taste Test: 3/5 Stars
Wallet Breaking: $$
Recommend-ability: 3/5 - Give it a Go

I originally wanted to actually write about Sinbala's sausage rice since they are supposed to be famous for their sausage. This was the second time I've been to Sinbala and I'm still not impressed or interested at all in their original sausage. I just didn't want to write about it, so I decided to write about their pork chop rice.

Honestly I am not the biggest fan of Sinbala, it really doesn't do much for me. But a few of my friends today from the west side wanted to have Chinese food, more specifically Taiwanese food, so I happily obliged. I'm a team player when it comes to dinning. I will join anyone anywhere if they say they want it with very few exceptions.

(Sinbala: Pork Chop Rice - $6.25)
I do like pork chop rice and I've had a lot of pork chop rices around the valley. Sinbala's pork chop rice is authentically Taiwanese. It's deep fried and a little on the sweet side. Taiwanese food tends to be slightly more sugary than Cantonese foods.

The pork chop itself is half sliced up to both keep the piece of pork chop intact, as well as to make it easy on the customer to rip out individual pieces to eat. No knife is present so my friends and I had to resort to our fingers to tear apart the pork chop. The pork chop was thin and so was easily torn apart. There really isn't a more civilized way of eating this dish unless if we ask for a knife. I suppose, when in rome...

The batter on the pork chop was crispy and hard, similar to the crunch on most popcorn chicken and pork chops in the area. The only notable difference is that Sinbala's version is definitely sweeter than most pork chops I've had around town. I personally am not a big fan of this blatant use of sugar, but I'm certain many others feel otherwise making Sinbala a rather popular joint.

(Sinbala: Pork Chop Rice - $6.25)
The dish also came with rice, broccoli, scrambled eggs and mixed peas, carrots and corn. The scrambled eggs felt homemade. It felt like something I would scramble at home but yet done perfectly. It was crude but yet tasty. It felt like something out of a mother's kitchen. Though it certainly wouldn't be my mother's kitchen since she doesn't cook. Come to think of it, it felt more like it's from my grandmother's kitchen instead. It just had a homemade aura.

The eggs and the broccoli were lightly flavored, which was great in countering the sweetness of the pork chop. It helped lightened up the dish, especially for a hot summer day. The rice was mushy as expected for a Taiwanese restaurant. The sweetness and the usage of Japanese rice is a reminder of the influence of Japanese culture in Taiwan.

The look of the dish is simple. There's nothing fancy, but the giant pork chop is beautifully laid over what would otherwise be a boring dish. There's not much of a strong smell coming from this dish. With the combined smell of all the other dishes served in the restaurant, it's hardly noticeable.

It certainly is not the best pork chop rice I have had in the San Gabriel Valley. I am certain I will be writing soon about what I believe to be the best pork chop rice in the valley. It does however cater to the niche market of those who like a slightly sweeter version of deep fried pork chops. It is inexpensive and will fill you up. The only catch to the whole experience is the long wait on a weekend lunch hour.


651 W Duarte Rd, Ste F
Arcadia, CA 91007
(626) 446-0886

Pork Chop Rice - $6.25

Beto's Grill: Camarones Al Mojo De Ajo

Eye Candy: 5/5 Stars
Smelloscope: 4/5 Stars
Taste Test: 4/5 Stars
Wallet Breaking: $$$
Recommend-ability: 4/5 - Mouth Watering Goodness

It wasn't only two or three years ago when I first stepped foot into Beto's grill. An out-of-state friend came and visited me and was in the mood for Mexican food. I personally rarely suggest Mexican food myself. I remember a time when I was younger when I occasionally craved a taco. But since that craving was rarely fulfilled because my mother disliked Mexican food, it never grew on me.
Beto's Grill Menu

I literally live three blocks from Beto's Grill for nearly fifteen years. I've seen this festive looking mom and pop joint every time I drove down Las Tunas Blvd. The first time I had a fried Tilapia and I immediately fell in love with the place. Though I still don't go as often as I should, every so often I would suggest to meet up there, and today I had a lunch meeting there with George, a member of the board of director of my High School Alumni Association, in which I'm the president of.

George does frequent Beto's, so I asked for his recommendation. He said his wife loves the shrimps, so I got the Camarones Al mojo De Ajo. I don't even know where to begin in understand what that is. The direct translation fortunately was provided in parenthesis under the Spanish name, Shrimps in garlic butter sauce. I initially was debating whether to get this one or the chipotles. I asked the lovely waitress how spicy was the chipotle sauce. She said though she enjoys a bit of spiciness in her dish, she finds is a little spicy. So opted out of that and went with the garlic butter version.

Camarones Al Mojo De Ajo - $13.95
 Am I glad I did. This dish was beautiful to look at. The shrimps were split in half with the tail still intact. The dish was garnished with some colorful squash, carrots and red onions, giving it a vibrant color. The tomato rice added even more color. Finally the 2 slices of lime contrasted the rest of the plate with a little green. This was a perfect summer dish, festive and light.

Holding my nose close to the dish, I could smell the shrimp covered with butter. I would have given this dish a perfect 5/5 for both smell and taste if it was just a bit hotter. It felt as if the plate sat on the counter just a bit too long and it got slightly chilled. Since it wasn't hot enough, the smell wasn't as strong as I wanted. It also took the taste slightly down. I like my grilled food fresh off the grill, not five minutes after it's been grilled.

Nevertheless, the butter, garlic and salt combination was perfect. It was never too buttery, nor too salty. There were actual chunks of garlics over the shrimp, but yet their flavors never over powered the dish like those I would find at The Stinking Rose. When the shrimp entered my mouth, I got a bit of the salt off the shell and the taste of the butter gradually blossomed inside. The lime juice gave the shrimp a little bit of the freshness necessary to counter the heaviness of the butter. The crunchy vegetables contrasted with the soft shrimp meat. The shrimp themselves were also fresh and grilled to a slight brownish color, just enough to give a little hint of the flavor of the grill without blackening my mouth. Everything about this dish just worked together for me. The best part was the generous portion of shrimps. I didn't feel like I needed more by the end of the dish. It had just enough to satisfy my taste buds and not too much to sicken me.

There are some nice hidden Mexican food gems in the San Gabriel Valley despite being dominated by the Asian cuisine. And the clientele of Beto had a few Asian families as well as various ethnicities. Asians do actually eat non-Asian foods, contrary to what some of my friends would believe. And now no one can say that I only eat Asian food.

Beto's Grill
510 E Las Tunas Dr
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 287-0399

Camarones Al Mojo De Ajo - $13.95

Face Cafe: Plain Steamed Rolls

Eye Candy: 4/5 Stars
Smelloscope: 3/5 Stars
Taste Test: 5/5 Stars
Wallet Breaking: $
Recommend-ability: 4/5 - Mouth Watering Goodness

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm a Cantonese Cafe fanatic. I can't seem to get enough of my own heritage. Perhaps a lot of it is due my childhood nostalgia. Nevertheless, Cantonese Cafe is probably one of the most affordable cuisine to be obsessed over.

There is one big drawback for Cantonese Cafes in the San Gabriel Valley, their lack of consistency. One day a dish may be fantastic, but a few months later, it may turn up disgusting. It's happened to me so many times. My favorite has also moved from one cafe to another. Lately I seem to have moved on from the few that I've been deeply into the past couple of years. Fortunately for Face Cafe, it's moved slightly upward on my list of cafes after they increased their health inspection grade, not that it means much to me to begin with.

Originally I was going to blog about my Chicken Steak and Pork Chop, but that dish was highly disappointing. I remembered it to be much better the last time I had it. No cafe seem to be able to keep the quality of that duel right. Fortunately my parents decided to order the plain steamed rolls as a part of our meal.

Steamed rolls are made of vermicelli noodle wraps. There's nothing inside these rolls at all. They are steamed and then served with two or three sauces. Face Cafe's version came with the standard three sauces: Soy, sweet soy paste and sesame paste. All three were mild in flavor, perfect for the steamed rolls.

The presentation of the rolls were nicely organized. There really isn't anything fancy about it, but it's not a fancy dish. It's a simple common man's food, street food at its best. I had them literally from little carts off the streets of Hong Kong when I was a child. There isn't a whole lot of smell to them either, since they are plain. The sauces emitted a light aroma if one stuck their nose close enough. It's a bit difficult to smell when the restaurant is filled with so much stronger smelling foods. But I suppose no smell is a good smell when it comes to steamed rolls.

The rolls themselves were very smooth, just the way I like it. They were freshly made and very soft as they should be. It can be a little tricky picking them up cause they could break in half if you squeeze too hard with your chopsticks. You can dip each individual piece in one, two or all three sauces and they all taste just fantastic. The portion was also big enough to satisfy my whole family of 4's craving. I didn't feel like I didn't have enough by the end of the meal which can be rare when it comes to steamed rolls.

Good steamed rolls are hard to come by. A lot of dim sum restaurants serve semi-hardened rolls that ends up on the dry side. Face Cafe did a great job keeping them moist and soft. When they finally end up inside my mouth, they just kind of melted and then slipped down my throat smoothly.

I personally think steamed rolls are among the best simple foods out there. But I have taken a friend once who found the texture disturbing. I suppose the slipperiness of it could seem wacky if your mind took you to that place. But if you like soft textured foods, this plain steamed roll will certainly satisfy your cravings. It may not be the absolute best steamed roll I've ever had, but it's certainly good enough for me to go back for more.

Face Cafe
301 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 282-8899

Plain Steamed Rolls - $2.95

Half & Half Tea House: Strawberry, Pudding, Honey Boba Milk

Eye Candy: 4/5 Stars
Smelloscope: 2/5 Stars
Taste Test: 5/5 Stars
Wallet Breaking: $
Recommend-ability: 4/5 - Mouth Watering Goodness

I live literally two blocks away from Half & Half. Though it wasn't until recently did I go there on a semi-regular basis, mostly because my friend Kenneth is a big fan. I remember having gone there more than a year ago and thought it was totally overrated and overpriced. But I realized that was because I ordered food and the wrong drinks. That is not the reason to go to Half & Half. The one and only reason to go to this tea house is not for their tea at all, but for their milk.

It's a bit ironic for a restaurant to be named a tea house when their best and most popular item isn't even their tea. Perhaps that's why it's also named half & half for their milk products. Sure technically the place is really famous for their boba, but if it's not placed in their milk but in their tea, it's really no more impressive than what one can find at Tea Station.

(Strawberry, Pudding, Honey Boba Milk - $4.35)
Today I ordered my usual, Strawberry, Pudding, Honey Boba Milk. It was still around eighty degrees out at eight-thirty at night. I needed to get out of the house and a cool drink to chill me. The milk is blended with the ice while the strawberry syrup, pudding and honey boba sat on the bottom of the cup. Seeing a white drink always pleases me on a hot summer night, as it almost feels like I'm about to consume some snow. Although the drink really has no smell to it, I gave a smelloscope rating of 2 stars rather than a 1 because feeling the ice old drink on the top half while the bottom was still warm is a fantastically chilling yet comfortably warming experience.

Like all boba drinks, this one came with a boba sized straw to allow for the boba and the pudding to be sucked up with the milk. The first time I had this drink, I made the mistake of mixing everything together before consumption, turning the drink into more of a strawberry flavored iced milk drink. Later I realized that they syrup was meant to be drank in its dense form, and the flavors and the textures of each of the components of the drink are to be experienced separately but still in conjunction with one another. This is NOT a drink to be mixed.

In some sense this is a dessert all on its own accord eaten through a straw rather than with spoons or forks. The alternation between the sugarless iced milk, the ultra sweet syrup, the honey sweetened boba and the mild flavored pudding creates a freakish cluster of taste inside the mouth, all balancing one another. It is never too sweet as a whole to feel heavy, but the tongue was indulged in some super dense sweet sensation in the process. The pudding kept my tongue working to dissolve them, while the boba gave my teeth something to do in the process. There was something for every part of my oral senses in this drink.

Certainly for those who still cannot get over the idea of having things in your drinks will never find this treat enjoyable. But if you are open to such an experience, this is certainly a drink you mustn't pass up and try at least once. I personally prefer the San Gabriel store because I like the tall cups rather than the bowl-like cups in the Monterey Park store. The San Gabriel store also has a dine-in option where you could enjoy your drink and even some food. I however wouldn't give the same review for the food at Half & Half than this drink.

The drink is on the high end in pricing for a boba drink. But if you treat it more as a dessert, it's rather reasonable. Just be certain you work off the enormous amount of energy you would consume with this drink. Also be weary that Half & Half has the notorious reputation to be the new king of slow service in the San Gabriel Valley. That is not an easy "accomplishment" as service at drink places has always been horrifically slow to begin with. My suggestion is to get here earlier in the night before their peak hours of 9pm to 12am every night.

Half & Half Tea House

120 N San Gabriel Blvd, Ste H
San Gabriel, CA 91778

(626) 309-9387
Strawberry, Pudding, Honey Boba Milk - $4.35

Banh Mi Che Cali: Chicken Rice With Steamed Eggs

Eye Candy: 3/5 Stars
Smelloscope: 2/5 Stars
Taste Test: 2/5 Stars
Wallet Breaking: $
Recommend-ability: 2/5 - You Got Anything Better?

This summer, I've been teaching everyday at a Glee Summer Camp. I don't really work that often on an everyday basis where I have to bring my own lunch. This has been a crazy couple of weeks for me so I have been going to Banh mi Che Cali to get my lunch in the morning before I headed to camp.

I've been alternating getting different dishes each morning and I'm sure I'll be blogging about the other ones soon enough. Today I had the Chicken Rice with Steamed Eggs. Everyday when I bring my food to the camp, the director of the camp Cass would comment on the fact that the food looks very delicious, the proportion looks huge. When I tell her the price of the dish, her jaw drops at how cheap it is.

Today I ended up getting the Chicken Rice with Steamed Eggs. The chicken drumstick was glazed over with a semi-sweet BBQ marinate before it was grilled. The skin retained most of the flavor while the meat also absorbed a portion of it. It was a bit on the dry side, but that also had to do with the fact that it sat in my room for four hours before I ate it. Nonetheless the meat almost came off feeling like jerky at times.

The vegetables were freshly prepared and lightly seasoned, a welcomed compliment to a giant piece of meat. I did have to remove the peppers from the top of the dish since I'm not a fan of spicy food. Sorry, I won't be posting too many spicy dishes on this blog.

So you may be wondering why I would even bother writing about a dish that doesn't seem to be all that interesting and good. Aside from the fact that this lunch was only $3.25 and filled my stomach, the steamed egg was actually very well made. For the value, the egg was a great bonus. In fact it was the sole reason why I picked this plate over the other plates on the counter this morning.

The steamed egg had vermicelli noodles, meat and mushrooms mixed inside. It almost tasted like a quiche, Chinese, Vietnamese, Asian style. Though the restaurant is Vietnamese, this dish wasn't quite a Vietnamese dish. It almost is a generic Asian dish that I may even make sometimes minus the egg. Certainly I could make an even better drum stick if I had more time. But I'm uncertain if I could make the same dish for the same price mainly because I wouldn't be able to get ingredients in that small of a portion.

I wouldn't stop by Banh Mi Che Cali just to eat this dish, or most of what they serve if I didn't live a few blocks from it. But if you happened to be in San Gabriel and needed a quick bite to eat and didn't want to spend a fortune, this is certainly way better, way faster and way cheaper than even McDonald's or most other fast food joints out there. You got anything else better to eat for this price? By all means go for it.

Banh Mi Che Cali
135 San Gabriel Blvd, Ste A
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Chicken Rice With Steamed Eggs - $3.25

Spring Wave: Braised Pork with Deep Fried Stewed Eggs

Eye Candy: 3/5 Stars
Smelloscope: 3/5 Stars
Taste Test: 4/5 Stars
Wallet Breaking: $$
Recommend-ability: 3/5 - Give it a Go

I didn't have anything to do for lunch on Independence Day. When my friend Christine texted me that morning to see what I was doing before the BBQ I had at my friend's place later in the evening, I decided to hang out with her. Of course our definition of hanging out in San Gabriel is basically eat.

Spring Wave had a new owner, who was a friend of her boss. Christine had to pick up a to-go order for her boss, so we decided we may as well eat there out of convenience.

The owner happened to be in today because she forgot it was a holiday and was understaffed. She was kind to give us suggestions to eat. She eventually recommended me to try the Braised Pork with Deep Fried Stewed Eggs. This was a very Shanghainese dish, which I don't eat on a regular basis unlike my friend. So I said why not, let's give it a go.

The pork was fatty pork, beautifully marinated and braised. Each piece was diced into small square chunks and the five layers of color of the pork were very clearly defined. The sauce as sweet. The little bits of chive garnishing gave what would be an all brown dish some brightness and color. The stewed eggs were deep fried and covered with the same sauce.

I'm not a big fan of sweet entrees, but fortunately the braised pork was well marinated and not overtly sweet. When eaten with white rice, the pork had just the right amount of flavors and a good balance between the fat and the meat. Certainly this is not the healthiest dish around, but it was the forth of July, and my system deserved a bit of indulgence.

I was good to only eat a few pieces of the pork since I knew I had a BBQ coming at night. I also only ate one egg since egg yolks are so high in cholesterol. The eggs had a slightly chewy skin from having been deep fried then braised with sauce. The marinate did penetrate the egg lightly and reached into the whites and even the yolk. I personally like my eggs just a tad bit more flavored on the inside, but the heavy sauce on the outside more than compensated in flavor for the inside.

It's really a dish I wouldn't mind having again, but only on special occasions if I happened to be around here. In the end there's no avoiding the fact that this is a heart attack on a plate. So once in a full moon a year, it's ok to indulge into so much fat and cholesterol.

Spring Wave
140 W Valley Blvd, Suite 209
San Gabriel, CA 91776
(626) 571-1178
Braised Pork with Deep Fried Stewed Eggs - $9.95