Mountain Mike’s Pizza

27 12 2009
Atmosphere: 2/5   ♦   Service: 1/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: Once   ♦   Will I Return?: Probably will do “to go” next time
___________

Mountain Mike’s is a franchise – but most pizza places are nowadays, it seems.  Though MM’s appears to have dozens of locations throughout the state and a few scattered stores reaching into neighboring states, I don’t really ever remember having Mountain Mike’s particular brand of pizza pie before.

Let’s face it, it’s not one of the massive chains with corner shops on every block.  And I’m not sure if they’ve had a lot of growth recently, or if there just haven’t been any MM’s in my immediate vicinity until now, or if I’m just completely blind, but there seems to be a few around now.  And now that I’ve had a Mountain Mike’s pizza, I may take notice when one of the stores is quietly tucked into the strip mall where I’m buying pot holders or popsicle sticks.

Empty Mountain Mike's in Hayward.

The location we patronized today was probably not the best, I’ll admit.  This is the store in the Fairway Park Shopping Center on Mission Boulevard in Hayward.  We went at 1pm, and there was no one in the vast expanse that is their dining area.  It was a bit creepy.  In fact, there wasn’t even anyone behind the counter for about a minute.  The three of us just stood alone at the counter and scrutinized the menu until a tiny woman sauntered out from the “back” and decided to take our order.  I’ll admit it, she was a bit surly.  But she did take our order and she did deliver us a delicious pizza pie, so I won’t condescend too terribly much.

Boyfriend and I don’t eat meat, so dad relinquished and we got a mushroom and cheese pizza.  Judging from the rest of our dining experience so far, I was not expecting much from the pizza.  But it was actually very good. It was cooked perfectly – crispy but not burned – and had an appropriate amount of sauce (red), cheese, and very thinly sliced mushrooms.  Something in it had a tinge of garlic which made me happy (though probably smelly) and the sauce was just a tiny bit sweet, which was refreshing and uniquely tasty.

Mushroom and cheese pizza from Mountain Mike's - delicious.

They do have a variety of specials which include daily all-you-can-eat lunch and dinner buffets for under $7, buy one specialty pizza get one 1-topping pizza free (M-Th), half price pizzas on Tuesday, and very generous fundraiser opportunities.  And this particular location certainly has the space to house large parties, though I’m not sure if the staff would be game for it.  All I know is that next time I head to Mountain Mike’s, I might just call in the order and get some free delivery or pick up to avoid the aloof staff.





Naked Fish

22 12 2009
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: One   ♦   Will I Return?: Probably
___________

This tiny shop on Jackson Street in Hayward (in the Safeway shopping center) looks very unassuming from the outside.  I’m not sure if I would have ever gone in if my mom hadn’t recommended it (and if I didn’t have this blog).  But mom speaks highly of the food, so we gave it a try.

The atmosphere inside is surprisingly nice.  It’s nothing super special, really, but it’s quaint and clean and has a theme that isn’t just “unpainted walls”.  The menu selection was extensive, creative, and well-organized, and it took me some time to decide between the dishes.  I chose the Naked Fish Don which is teriyaki white fish and tempura veggies over rice, while boyfriend had a bento box of salmon teriyaki and California rolls.

Teriyaki salmon and California roll bento box at Naked Fish.

The service was quick for us – we received our miso just after ordering (and it was good) and then our meals just after that.  The servers were polite and efficient to us.  The tables on either side of us, however, both had problems with timing and receiving their order correctly, so I’m not sure which is the norm.  As for the food, it was good.  I was (and still am) pretty excited about my dish, so I will tell you all about it.  The teriyaki fish was good, but the tempura veggies were super exciting!  Eight different types of vegetables were battered, cooked, and lovingly placed in my bowl for me to enjoy.  When have you ever seen eight different types of veggies on a tempura plate?  They were: mushroom, broccoli, eggplant, zucchini, carrot, sweet potato, bell pepper, and asparagus, oh my!  It was fabulous.

Naked Fish Don: Teriyaki white fish and tempura veggies over rice.

My dish was far too big for me, but that’s ok I just gorged myself.  I realize it’s a Japanese place, but I’m an American, dagnabit.  Boyfriend’s bento was good but he suspected the salmon was a bit older than he’d like, which didn’t stop him from eating all of it.  The salad dressing was too mayo-y for his taste, but I liked it just fine.

And that was it – this was a nice, easy place for lunch; it was fast, yummy, and well priced.  I’ll go again (especially since I don’t yet know another Japanese place in Hayward that is better) and I’d recommend to friends.





Don Jose’s

21 12 2009
Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 5/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: Lots   ♦   Will I Return?: Yes
___________

Don Jose’s is an age old Castro Valley delight.  It’s been here since before I was, proudly heading up the ever-changing lineup at Castro Village shopping center on Castro Valley Boulevard in, yes, Castro Valley.  I’ve been frequenting DJ’s since I was a kid on-and-off with my family.  It’s a solid restaurant, and my most recent visit has left me intrigued and wanting more.

The shopping center where Don Jose’s is located houses dozens of shops and restaurants.  And though I often overlook the rest of this area, relying only on DJ’s and Loard’s, there actually appears to be some other interesting restaurants sharing the space, and I hope to try the good-looking Indian place next time around.

Don Jose’s is really quite a large restaurant, though you can’t really tell from the front.  Its high ceilings, open dining room, dedicated bar area, and two large banquet rooms make it a great hang out for all sorts of occasions.  We were there for dinner last week on a Monday night, and I was pleasantly surprised to see a good number of customers present on this famously slow weeknight.  It makes me happy to see good businesses doing well.

Chips and salsa at Don Jose's.

And our visit was no exception, the service was extremely attentive (as evidenced by the four baskets of chips we devoured), and the food was excellent.  The menu is extensive, offering a huge variety of all the Mexican favorites, plus some less traditional fare for the people who are dragged to the burrito shop when they really only wanted a hamburger.  Not feeling like something heavy, I ordered the mesquite salmon salad off the menu insert, which consisted of a grilled slab of herbed fish over a bed of lettuce and a side of creamy, Italian-ish dressing.  Squeeze a tortilla between the salad and the plate and – voilà! – it’s south of the border-style.

Mesquite salmon salad.

My fish was very good and the whole salad completely hit the spot.  Boyfriend ordered nachos that were pretty good, but were really nothing terribly special.  The price was right though; they’re technically an appetizer (he filled up on chips and salsa anyway).  Mom ordered the winning dish of the evening: a shrimp dish doused in a creamy barbeque sauce with rice and veggies.  I don’t know what that sauce was made of (and, incidentally, the head chef was on a break when we asked the waiter to find out for us…) but it was fabulous.  A little sweet, very creamy, potentially good on just about anything.

Delicious shrimp in bbq-cream sauce, with rice and veggies.

Mom’s boyfriend’s super burrito was a hit; he had a doozy of a time finishing the thing since it was so huge.  Though something didn’t sit quite right because he was awake that night with some indigestion – but Mexican food can do that to a person from time to time.

Generally, it was a great night and great food and I’m excited to see that Don Jose’s is keeping with the times and continuing to be a quality restaurant in the area.  And they even have some fun promos – happy hour from 3-6, margarita night on Tuesdays, and mojito specials on Wednesdays.  It’s true that there are many Mexican restaurants in the area, but few are the calibur of Don Jose’s.

Don Jose's on Urbanspoon





Hs Lordships

19 12 2009
Atmosphere: 5/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: One   ♦   Will I Return?: I’d be happy to
___________

Hs Lordships is an enormous restaurant and banquet facility out on the Berkeley marina, situated happily on a tiny sliver of land next to the Berkeley pier and surrounded by water on three sides with views of the City, the bridges, and Berkeley.  Their main deal is a surf and turf sort of situation, but during this visit I didn’t even lay eyes on the menu for one moment.  That’s right, we went for the Lunch Buffet.

This place has a lunch buffet to end all lunch buffets.  According to my family, the place is usually really quiet on weekdays, despite the amazing spread of food available Monday through Friday for an extremely reasonable price ($17 or so a person).  The day we went, however, must have been “work Christmas party” day or something because the place was packed.  There must have been hundreds of people in the restaurant, parked in front of their white tablecloths in packs of 4, 6, 10, and 20.  It was a bit of a madhouse.  And like amateurs, my party of six walks in with no reservations at 12 noon.

I was extremely impressed with how well the staff was handling the immense volume of people – we were seated with a waterfront view in under 15 minutes, as they shuffled us in gracefully between reserved parties.  After we were seated, we immediately proceeded to the buffet.

Table at Hs Lordships

Ocean view table at Hs Lordships.

Side note – I love buffets.   And not because I like to “get my money’s worth” – which I rarely do.  What I like is that: a) I can get whatever I want; b) I can get however much I want of whatever I want; and c) there’s a certain mysteriousness to a buffet.  It’s like opening a present – you just don’t know what’s going to be under those shiny silver platter lids!  And, like a present, once they’ve been opened some of the excitement is surely lost, but then it’s time to move on to decision making and prioritizing, both of which I love almost as much.

I digress.

The buffet at Hs is excellent in all respects.  And my mom tells me that this day was no special day for the selection; it’s always this grand, even when the population is far more sparse.  I’ll give a (sort of) brief rundown:

Hot foods: herbed catfish, rice, mashed potatoes, something chicken-y that I didn’t pay attention to, mixed veggies (they were good), bread rolls, roast beef and turkey at the carving station, and two chef-manned (or womanned) stations that will make omelettes or pasta on-demand (awesome).

Buffet

The bay-side buffet at Hs Lordships.

Pasta/Omelette station - the chefs will custom make them for you!

Cold foods: green salad with choice of dressings and toppings, other cold salads (shrimp, pasta, potato), fresh cut fruit (cantaloupe, pineapple, watermelon, honeydew), fresh whole cooked shrimps (the kind you have to peel out of the shell), and the reason my family attends: crab legs.

Salad Bar

The salad bar at Hs Lordships.

Dessert: I can’t even begin to name all the cakes and tarts available for dessert but it was a beautiful thing.  See?

Dessert bar at Hs Lordships buffet. Excellent.

The choices were plentiful to say the least, and I’m sure I didn’t even remember everything.  I only had a fraction of what was on offer, but it was really good.  Everyone else was mmm-ing and ohh-ing at the freshness of the seafood and the appeasing taste of all the dishes.  I did not hear one complaint from any of the six of us.  Except from me: I have discovered that crab legs are not my thing.  I don’t want to have to (wo)manhandle my food to coax out a tiny bit of meat.  I tried it, I washed my hands, I’m not doing it again; it’s gross.

Buffet plate

My plate filled with delicious buffet foods at Hs Lordships.

Dessert was also well-received; the plethora of sweets on offer left no one wanting. I had the creme brulee and a slice of chocolate cake (what can I say, I’m a dessert traditionalist) and they were both very fine.  I had to make an effort not to gorge myself.  Some of my other family members did not make this effort and I commend them for making up for what I didn’t eat.

Dessert

Chocolate cake and creme brulee at Hs Lordships.

I would have to say that between the seaside views, expansive and delicious buffet, great service, and perfect location, this place is a real find.  Only real complaint?  There are a couple of beams in the restaurant that are a bit low – boyfriend got a mighty smack on the forehead for not realizing this (he’s 6′-5″, so I realize it’s partially his fault for being so tall, but still) and wasn’t terribly happy.  But for normal sized people, this place is fabulous for a fun mid-week buffet lunch.  And, glancing at the typical menu, I bet it’s great for a regular meal as well.  Plus they cater to huge banquets – up to 500 people!  Surely a real nice place for any occasion.





Yanagi

17 12 2009
Atmosphere: 5/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 5/5   ♦   Value: 5/5
Times Visited: Lots, but first time in this location   ♦   Will I Return?: Most certainly.
___________

This branch of Yanagi can be found on Dublin Boulevard in Dublin, far from the center of trade for the rest of the restaurants in this small chain.  We were first introduced to Yanagi in San Luis Obispo, where my boyfriend and I went to college.  Yanagi is our favorite restaurant in SLO and we make a b-line for the front doors every time we visit.  To our delight, the Dublin location left us just as happy as our much beloved Central Coast counterpart.

I’ll cut right to it – the best part of Yanagi is the menu.  This place is first class in so many ways, but it really shines through when you open the giant leather bound book to select your dinner of choice.  Firstly, the menu is huge.  I don’t just mean for selection (which is also plentiful), I mean physically huge – the thing is a monster.  You know they’re serious when they hand you a menu that weighs more than the chair you’re sitting on.  Next, there are pictures of each dish on the menu.  Not crappy, unappetizing pictures, but real, professional, make-you-want-to-order-one-of-everything pictures.  Everything looks fabulous, and, having tried nearly everything, I can tell you that pretty much all of it is.

The epic menu at Yanagi.

After you finally manage to pick just one thing (or a few) from the expansive menu of tantalizing appetizers, elaborate sushi rolls, rice bowls, and dinner combinations, you are left to wait for your meal with a tiny, free bowl of warm, salted edamame.  Yummmm.  When your dish arrives, everything looks just as good as it did in its professional portrait – right down to the fresh cut tropical flower perched on the edge of the oblong plates of sushi rolls.  The food is fabulous.  I often crave the Hungry Roll that I am wont to order, and boyfriend is a stickler for the Sunshine Roll, swiping at my chop sticks when I steal a bite.  Last night, my mom and her boyfriend had the teriyaki chicken over sizzling veggies, which they both loved.

Teriyaki chicken over veggies.

Sunshine roll at Yanagi.

The service at this new Yanagi was good, but the owner didn’t come chat to us like she does at the SLO location (sad face) – but we’ll give it some time.  The decor is elegant and beautiful – it’s quite a find tucked into a random, unassuming commercial strip on Dublin Blvd.  And this location even has teppanyaki (or as my mom calls it, Benihana) where you can watch your dinner be prepared right on the table in front of you for a fun night out.  This place really does have it all.





Ratings

16 12 2009

So, what’s all this business with the ratings on every post?  Excellent question, fair reader, not that you asked.  I’ve made the executive decision to add a “rating summary” to the top of each post to give you the low-down on what I thought of my dining experience overall.  They go a bit like this:

Atmosphere is all about the feel of the place. I’m pretty forgiving, so I’m not looking for white table cloths and “yes madam” waiters.  I like clean, I like nice, but most of all I think the atmosphere should match the vibe of the food, the clientele, and the surrounding area.  Run down or wacky can work well in certain places.

Service is relatively self-explanatory.  If the staff is attentive, helpful, friendly, and my order is done correctly (or, like, at least three out of four) then the service is good.  You’ve been to a restaurant, you know what I mean.

Food quality is pretty obvious too – I don’t ask for “traditional” food or fancy displays necessarily, I just want the stuff to leave me wanting more.  Whether it’s a veggie hot dog or a three course salmon dinner, I just want it to be tasty and well made.

Value is a bit trickier, but I think it’s an essential evaluation criteria.  Not just how good is the food/atmosphere/service, but how good is all that with respect to the price.  A restaurant can be excellent with a poor value because it’s simply too expensive for what you get.  Conversely, a place can be very mediocre but have good value because it’s so darn cheap.  This way I can comment on the cost of the place without discussing it directly.

And that’s about it.  High score of 5/5, low of 1/5, and then a couple extra bits of info so that you know where I’m coming from with my comments: how many times I’ve been to the place, and if I would go back again.  That way it gives more or less credibility for places I’ve been to lots or just once, respectively, and you get to know, in a word, if I liked it enough to go back.

So there you go.  Quick summary at the top of every post, then a full-blown review of the place and my experience, photos included!  Thanks for tuning in, hope you enjoy!





Tacos Uruapan

15 12 2009
Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 5/5   ♦   Value: 5/5
Times Visited: One   ♦   Will I Return?: Almost went back for dinner.
___________

My dad tells me that Tacos Uruapan, on the corner of Industrial Parkway and Huntwood Avenue in Hayward, used to be just a little taco stand.  For years, it was just one of those vans stationed on the same corner where the restaurant is now, selling tacos and other delicious treats all day long.  Apparently they were more than a bit popular.

And I see why.  Their food is delicious.  I never patronized the place when it was solely a taco stand, and, frankly, taco stands in general turn me off so I may never have gathered the courage.  But, according to their website, they finally saved the money to build a full-blown restaurant after almost 20 years working just out of the taco truck.  And it appears that the place is flourishing.

Let’s take a run through the place, shall we?  First of all, it’s a nice looking establishment, inside and out.  It’s new, the facility is modern and even has a bit of architectural imagination, and it’s gloriously clean.  Walking in, I noticed that many other customers were perched at the dozen or so tables; a full house is always a good sign.  The menu is fast food style – a big poster board over the cooks’ heads listing all available choices in a savvy, eye-pleasing manner.  The setup is such that you scrutinize said menu as you approach the counter to order – the layout has a good flow to it.

Part of the menu board at Tacos Uruapan.

But let’s go back to the menu for just a moment.  It really is a beautifully made item – colorful, clear, descriptive, and well organized.  The choices are plentiful and include just about any item you could want – burritos, tortas, quesadillas, tostadas, enchiladas, flautas, seafood, and, of course, tacos.  Additionally though, they have a section labeled “Vegetarian”.  Not to say that everything else could be overlooked after seeing a veggie section on the menu, but my eyes may have bulged a bit (ah-oooo-ga) at the sight of that beautiful line of text.  A veggie friendly Mexican place?  Please, take my money.

We ordered with the  friendly cashier, obtained our fountain drinks and found a table at which to wait out the three minutes until our order was called.  After the cooks were done, we happily dug into our lunches: beef burrito for dad, veggie burrito for boyfriend, and a fish taco with a side of rice and beans for yours truly.  After that, everything is a bit of a blur because rainbows began shimmering through the air and tiny unicorns started to gallop across the tabletop.  And I don’t mean this to say that they spiked my food; it was just that good.

Without question, that was the best fish taco I’ve ever had.  A hearty slab of white fish slathered in delicious spices and a bit of sauce, covered in a modest but appropriate amount of greenery (chopped cabbage, tomatoes) all wrapped in a soft, warm, double corn tortilla.  I have not had a taco in Mexico.  But I challenge anything to be better than what was placed on the sheet of wax paper in my little red basket this afternoon.  It was simple, it was well-executed, it was mouth-wateringly perfect.  Dad and boyfriend had similar reviews of their food: excellent.  My side of rice and beans could have been crafted in heaven, though it probably would have cost more that $3 had that been the case.  The chips were good (and included, as they should be) and the salsa may be the only thing that comes close to a complaint – it was a bit bland.

Fish taco, rice and beans (with choice of salsa) at Tacos Uruapan.

Oh yeah, the name.  Uruapan is the city in Mexico where the owner is from – my dad asked the cashier, and the website confirms.  It’s a cute idea – back to the roots and all – but I find the name a bit hard to pronounce out loud.  Say it to yourself.  We don’t have the “ua” combination in English and it’s a doozy.  Fortunately, Spanish is mercifully phonetic.  And even more fortunately, it’s commonly accepted for us gringos to mispronounce anything that has origins from absolutely anywhere else.  I’ll just shorten it to “Tacos” in my own household now.  As in, “meet you at Tacos at 1:30″.  You deal with that however suits you best.

But, overall, I (obviously) liked this place.  It was tasty but not too expensive ($20 for the three of us!), the service was quick, the workers seemed confident and friendly, the place was clean and well tended.  It basically had everything that I could possibly ask for from a order-at-the-counter lunch restaurant.  I will, without a doubt, be coming back to Tacos Uruapan.





Loard’s Ice Cream

4 12 2009
Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 5/5   ♦   Food Quality: 5/5   ♦   Value: 5/5
Times Visited: Lots   ♦   Will I Return?: Have to restrain from going every day.
___________

Cue heavenly sounding boys choir.  (Halleluja…)

Loard’s is an Establishment as far as I’m concerned. Capital “E” and everything.  The decorations are from a decade when my parents roamed the play yards (and I mean that they were children, not just really creepy adults) – pink and white stripes installed with enough vigor and enthusiasm to last a century.  And boy do I hope it does.

I have frequented this shop pretty much since I was a kid but became especially attached after obtaining my driver’s license and being miraculously allowed to chauffeur myself down for a sundae anytime I darn well pleased.

Pink stripes aside, Loard’s ice cream is legendary.  It is deliciously creamy and the choice of flavors is unrivaled (that is, I think there are more than 31 flavors, right?).  There’s a menu filled with fabulous concoctions to get you started on choosing your after-dinner (or pre-dinner, after-lunch, first thing in the morning…) delicacy , but anyone working there is happy to substitute butterbrickle ice cream for vanilla, add extra caramel or hold the whipped cream (though I’m not sure why you’d want to).

Coffee ice cream sundae with chocolate syrup, toffee bits, whipped cream and a cherry.

As long as I’ve been frequenting Loard’s, I’ve experienced superb ice cream, exceptional hot fudge, professionally constructed desserts, friendly service, and reasonable prices (although it isn’t cheap, but that’s because it’s so good!).  I bring friends, family, visitors, strangers…anyone who wants dessert, I always know where to point them.  And supposedly, as the back of the menu informs me, there are many other Loard’s locations around the bay – San Leandro, Oakland, Alameda, Livermore, Danville, and Alamo to name a few – though I’ve never been to or even seen these other stores.  But, I have faith that Loard’s tells no lies, so I will believe them that the stores are where they say and that they are equally as yumalicious.

Writing this is giving me quite a hankering for some frozen delights – see you at Loard’s!








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