Red Chili

27 06 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 2/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  One   ♦   Will I Return?:  Maybe
___________

Red ChiliThis Thai and Vietnamese restaurant has been sitting in wait at the corner of Mission and Industrial in Hayward.  It sees us every few days as we pass by and watches intently as we frequent the gyro place next door.  It finally caught us; we gave the Red Chili a try.

The inside is very nice and totally isn’t what I expected seeing the outside (just like the gyro place).  It’s spacious and nicely decorated and has a nice feel to it.  And, surprisingly, it seems to draw a crowd, which is refreshing and reassuring at the same time.

Red Chili Restaurant

The inside of the Red Chili in Hayward.

The menu is a mix of Thai and Vietnamese just as the sign outside suggests.  There are Thai curries, Thai soups, Vietnamese soups called pho, Vietnamese vermicelli dishes, and standard Thai noodle dishes (ex: Pad Thai), fried rice and a variety of combo dishes including BBQ meat and rice dishes.  On many dishes you can choose the level of spiciness to suit your preferences.

During our visit, we ordered shrimp spring rolls as an appetizer, Pad Thai, the Yellow Curry lunch special, and BBQ Onion Beef Skewer over rice.  The appetizer was a little bit of a disaster; we thought it was only shrimp and no other meat, but in fact there was a slab of pork in each one.  This could be removed relatively easily for us half-veggos, but I think we were all envisioning the kind of spring rolls that are crispy and deep fried, not the fresh, cold ones.  I’ve made this mistake before and clearly not learned.  They were all right, but we weren’t exactly gobbling them up.  This was more of a personal preference though, they were made well enough.

Spring Rolls

Cold spring rolls appetizer at Red Chili, Hayward.

The Pad Thai was good (as it should be); sweet and yummy with bits of tofu and egg scattered throughout.  The Yellow Curry lunch was quite good but is always hard to eat as it’s a million degrees upon arrival.  I ended up dumping the cute little square bowl of food onto my plate to let everything cool off for a while.  I ordered the tofu version which added a nice texture to the accompanying potatoes and onions.  The BBQ Beef skewer looked pretty good and got decent reviews.

Pad Thai

Can't go wrong with Pad Thai noodles.

Yellow Curry

Yellow Curry Lunch Combo with tofu at Red Chili, Hayward.

BBQ Beef Skewers

BBQ Beef Skewers meal at Red Chili, Hayward.

My only complaint about the main meals (BBQ Beef and Curry Lunch special) was the way the included soup and salad were served.  I typically expect soup and salad to come before the meal and for them to come one at a time.  Some deviation from this is ok, but the salad was a very tiny plop of greens sharing the plate with our meals and the soup was actually brought after the meal.  Not way after, but still, I was already started on the main food and wasn’t really feeling soupish anymore.  Plus the tomato based, somewhat spicy soup that they serve isn’t something I really like–is it vinegar they put in it?  I’m not sure but I’m not a fan.

Thai soup

The soup looks good, but isn't my favorite at Red Chili.

Ok, now, the service.  This is really my only main complaint, but it’s a big one.  They were clearly understaffed for how many customers were there, which may or may not be a habitual occurrence.  It’s hard to judge that from one meal.  But the waiters and bus-people who were present were not very friendly, were inattentive, and were generally not very good at their jobs as far as I experienced.  When a good waitress walks down an aisle of tables, they are typically looking around to see if any of the customers are trying to catch their eye, seeing who’s ready to order, taking away finished plates, or checking drink levels. These folks were just walking around looking at the ceiling.

We were seated promptly, but the prompt-ness stopped there.  We had to flag down a woman to order from, we waited a while for our food, and each interaction with the wait staff was wholly unimpressive.  I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, but they made it very difficult here.  Overall, I’d try this place again, but if the service wasn’t any better I’d say it’s not worth the frustration.

Red Chile on Urbanspoon





Cafe Rehoboth

22 06 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited:  One   ♦   Will I Return?:  Heck yes
___________

Cafe RehobothStill haven’t been to Ethiopian food yet?  You’ve gotta do it.  And even if you’ve previously enjoyed scooping up the soupy goodness with your injera, Cafe Rehoboth is highly recommended as a new place to try.

Located just near Japan Town in San Jose, Cafe Rehoboth, though mildly unpronounceable, is a great place for Ethiopian fare.  We’ve become somewhat of Ethiopian connoisseurs over the past few years and find that Rehoboth fits the bill for standard atmosphere and service in an Ethiopian restaurant, while perhaps exceeding expectations in terms of menu layout and choices.

Ethiopian restaurants are to be judged on a different scale than other restaurants.  There seems to be something about them that just does not add up to any “normal” restaurant we’re used to.  I won’t harp on the differences, since I’ve done so before, but let’s just summarize and say that the decor is often stark, the seating is often empty, and there is often no music playing in the background.  This can sometimes be awkward: sitting in a silent, empty room, munching on your slop.  Once you know what to expect, however, you can focus on the food rather than the oddities of the atmosphere.

Cafe Rehoboth

View upon entrance to Cafe Rehoboth

Cafe Rehoboth

Rear dining room at Cafe Rehoboth

Cafe Rehoboth

Front end of rear room inside Cafe Rehoboth

Cafe Rehoboth had the same general lack of customers and background music upon our arrival, but that may have been because we arrived late on a Wednesday evening.  The atmosphere was actually quite nice compared to some of the other places we’ve been to.  The menu here was pro—it looked professionally designed and printed, and was clear and extensive.  This is sometimes hard to find at Ethiopian restaurants that we’ve frequented in the past.  We were hence able to decide our culinary fate with ease.

menu

Menu page at Cafe Rehoboth

I hate to say it, but I have literally found almost no need for other items on Ethiopian menus than sampler plates.  Samplers allow you to experience a variety of the foods offered without committing to any one dish.  It’s the best idea ever and every Ethiopian restaurant seems to be on board with it.  Only glancing over the menu, our table of 7 ordered veggie combos for 5 of us and meat combos for the other 2.

Injera

Injera bread at Cafe Rehoboth

When you order a combo plate (or any dishes) at an Ethiopian restaurant you will undoubtedly receive your meal(s) on one gigantic plate to be shared among up to 4 people.  Again, if you expect this, it’s kinda fun.  Our meals arrived after a bit of a wait (I gave them a break about this—we did order one of everything on the menu in the combos) and were delicious.  Instead of attempting to describe the different flavors of goo in uneducated jargon, perhaps the following pictures of our food can speak instead.

Vegetarian Sampler

Vegetarian Sampler plate for four people at Cafe Rehoboth

Meat Combo

Meat Combo for three at Cafe Rehoboth

The food was well received by all and the staff was kind and friendly as usual (Ethiopian folks seem to be very nice people, at least the ones that staff restaurants in other countries).  I not only enjoyed Cafe Rehoboth, I’d happily return for more anytime we’re in San Jose.





Emil Villa’s Hickory Pit

18 06 2010
Atmosphere: 2/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  A million   ♦   Will I Return?:  Probably at some point
___________

Emil Villa's HaywardAh, the Hickory Pit.  At least that’s what my family’s always called this Hayward Establishment on Mission Boulevard, just near the intersection of Jackson and Foothill.  If you look on the actual sign as it stands today, the words “Hickory Pit” do not appear.  It rather says “Emil Villa’s (world famous) California Barbecue”.  Did it used to say “Hickory Pit”?  I need some comments from the peanut gallery on this one.

Regardless, the Pit (that’s what Grandma used to call it) hasn’t changed a bit since it opened in who-knows-what decade.  It is yet another Hayward establishment that’s hanging on to the past with its tan vinyl booths, checkered tile floor, and old-fashioned food.

Booths

Seating area inside Emil Villa's, Hayward

Which brings me to my review of this place.  This is another one that’s hard for me to discuss fairly and honestly because I’ve been coming here my whole life.  It’s not the type of place I like at all.  In fact, I’d never ever go here, ever, if I weren’t already accustomed to it.  I haven’t been here in years but an out of town visitor wanted a greasy spoon breakfast the other day, hence I found myself once again inside Emil Villa’s.

 Counter Seating

Seating at the counter at Emil Villa's, Hayward

The menu is a diner menu (as in 50’s diner, not the evening meal of dinner).  Breakfast is heavy and huge (omelettes, eggs Benedict, massive amounts of hash browns), lunch is Swiss steak and roast beef sandwiches, and dinner is ribs and fried chicken.  I actually don’t have a copy of their menu on hand because they somehow don’t have a website, but I’m pretty sure this is the stuff you’ll find at the Hickory Pit.  There is no vegetarian section.  There are virtually no vegetarian dishes.  The menu itself has been copied so many times with whited out prices that it’s getting a bit hard to read.  Let’s just say their focus is not on ambiance here at Emil Villa’s.

We went for breakfast, which, despite my grumblings about it, wasn’t too bad.  I mean, it’s diner food — greasy, enormous portions, nothing green anywhere — but 40-some years of prep has given them some expertise on the creation of classic American breakfasts.  Don’t expect to leave feeling spry and ready to take on the day…you may in fact not need to eat again until tomorrow.

Grilled Cheese

My grilled cheese sandwich, fries, and a pickle at Emil Villa's.

The two boys had omelettes and I had a grilled cheese since breakfasts like that usually make me feel sick.  Aside from being hugely full and feeling like a french fry when I was done, everyone was pretty satisfied.  The hash browns and potatoes that came with the omelettes were pro and the omelettes looked more like 10-egg ones than 4-egg or whatever they said on the menu.  A grilled cheese is impossible to mess up unless American cheese is used in which case it’s inedible in my opinion.  I received cheddar as requested, and thoroughly enjoyed my steak fries and pickle.

Omelette

Omelette #1 - with cheese with potatoes

Omelette

Omelette #2 with cheese and bacon and hash browns

Their ribs are actually a signature dish, though I’ve never had them.  The word “barbecue” is in the title of their restaurant and they have a giant special rib-cooking machine that’s supposed to make really good ribs.  Again, I have no idea, perhaps said meat-eating peanut gallery can let us know what’s up with the ribs?  Yelp people talk about them quite a bit too.

Overall, the Pit offers relatively crappy yet inexpensive diner food served in a facility from the 1970’s (or earlier).  It’s not my favorite, but people do like the place.  And if you’re hungry for a greasy yet traditional breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it’s one of the few places left in Hayward that will dish one out to you any day of the week.  And if you’re lucky, the waitress won’t be surly either (ours wasn’t).

Emil Villa's California BBQ on Urbanspoon





Lanesplitter

12 06 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited:  Once   ♦   Will I Return?:  Sure
___________

LanesplitterThis pizza place and pub on San Pablo in Berkeley is a cute spot for a good slice of authentic New York pizza (or so they tell me) and a fancy glass of beer. It’s neat because you can actually order just a slice of pizza for yourself, and it doesn’t have to be one of the ones sitting out already made. You can order any slice you want and they’ll make it fresh!

They have a few combos (which don’t seem to be listed on their relatively limited website), one of which is a salad and slice combo. One slice of one topping pizza and a side salad was around $8 and was pretty good. You have to like NY Style pizza, which I have mixed feelings about*, but I think it was good for what it was.

Lanesplitter interior

Lanesplitter Pizza, Berkeley from the front door

The salad was pretty standard, but they do offer home-made dressing which gets bonus points. I’m not actually sure why every restaurant doesn’t do this; it seems so easy and is so much better than pre-made dressings. I digress. I had a slice of their “herbivore” pizza: mushrooms, spinach, olives, and onions. It was pretty good but didn’t really have a “wow” factor. I’d have it again though.  And with the salad, I didn’t feel all “ugh” afterward which can happen with some pizza meals.

Omnivore pizza and salad

Omnivore pizza and salad from Lanesplitter in Berkeley

Friend #1 had Gorgonzola on her pizza and I found myself having major pizza envy.  Friend #2 had one slice of a meaty pizza and one slice of a cheesy pizza–both of which looked pretty good.  We also ordered the breadsticks which I thought were sub-par save the excellent blue cheese dressing they came with to dip in.  My friends thoroughly enjoy the wide selection and relatively cheap price of the beer there, so that’s a draw for lots of folks as well, though it’s not something I’m particularly interested in.

Gorgonzola pizza and salad

Gorgonzola pizza and salad from Lanesplitter in Berkeley

Pizza slices

Meaty and cheesy pizza slices at Lanesplitter

Break sticks

Bread sticks were just ok...blue cheese was good though...

Additionally, the restaurant features art from local artists on the long walls of the main space.  The bartender lady who apparently is also part-owner or something asked me if I have a photography exhibit I’d like to display after she saw me taking pictures.  Actually, she asked me if I was a photographer, to which I was reluctant to answer affirmatively…I was thinking, “sure, if you don’t need any good photos”.  Regardless, she was nice and took my and my friend’s email address (he actually is an artist) and said they’d be looking for new exhibits for next year starting in the fall.  Neat!

Beer and Art

Beer on the bar at Lanesplitter with the current art exhibit on the wall behind.

Overall, I thought Lanesplitter was pretty average, but I liked the atmosphere, the food was pretty good, the bartender was nice, and the company was good.  I would return with no hesitation.

bumper sticker

Sticker on their bar cabinet says it all

*NY pizza seems to be the thin kind that isn’t piled extremely densely with toppings. While I do like thin crust, I do like way too much cheese, as discussed previously on many occasions. So, while I like NY style pizza, I often wish they had covered it more thoroughly with the toppings of my choice.

Lanesplitter Pizza and Pub on Urbanspoon





Honey Honey

6 06 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited:  Once   ♦   Will I Return?:  Would love to
___________

Honey HoneyHoney Honey is a crepe restaurant way out in SF on Post Street and has yummy crepes for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  The place is cute, the prices are reasonable, and the food is good.  I think there are a handful of crepe places around SF, but HH is certainly a great place to start if you’re feeling crepe-ish.

In addition to a huge variety of sweet and savory crepes including strawberry, apple, banana, or Nutella; Florentine, eggplant, pesto, or Mediterranean (respectively), they also serve pancakes, waffles, omelettes, bagels, sandwiches, burgers, soups, salads, and pastas, whew!!  The menu is enormous and posted on the wall as you enter the restaurant…fortunately (sort of) the line was long when we were there so we had adequate time to consider our options–it’s quite a read to get through the whole thing.

Honey Honey

Inside of Honey Honey in San Francisco.

I was waffling (no pun intended) between a few of the savory crepes for most of my line-waiting but switched to a strawberry and Nutella crepe at the last minute.  I didn’t know how I would fare having sugar with a side of sugar (and a coffee with extra sugar) for breakfast, but it ended up being a good decision.

Strawberry/Nutella crepe

My sugary breakfast: strawberry/Nutella crepe with fresh squeezed OJ and cafe au lait.

Also at the table was a Torino Crepe (feta cheese, fresh basil, tomato, mushroom), a Mediterranean (cheddar, onion, tomato, feta, artichoke, olives, avocado), and a croissant breakfast sandwich.  I’ll be honest and say that there was another crepe at the table but I have no recollection of what it was.  Regardless, they were all good and everyone was merry.

Crepe

Torino Crepe with potatoes: feta cheese, fresh basil, tomato, mushroom.

Croissant sandwich

Croissant breakfast sandwich with potatoes.

Crepe

Mediterranean crepe with potatoes: cheddar, onion, tomato, feta, artichoke, olives, avocado.

The place was completely packed and we feared that a spot for 5 people would not be found in time, but luckily staked claim to a table in time to flag down the waitress carrying out our orders.  Oddly, two of my friends got their dishes switched and didn’t realize it until about halfway through the meal, at which point they switched back.  Interesting, indeed.  They offer fresh squeezed orange juice and a variety of coffee drinks to go with any meal (especially breakfast crepes!).

I recommend Honey Honey and I’d go again if I were in the area; there is even metered parking just across the street that we utilized since it was a weekend!

Honey Honey on Urbanspoon





China Best Restaurant

2 06 2010
Atmosphere: 3/5   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited:  A million   ♦   Will I Return?:  A million more
___________

China Best HaywardChina Best is just up the hill from Cal State East Bay (formerly Cal State Hayward), up on the hill in Hayward.  It’s in a small shopping center with a quickie mart, a Subway, a pizza joint, a dry cleaners, and a rotating variety of relatively unmemorable shops.  China Best is by far the greatest thing about this shopping center; I’ve been coming here since they opened their doors in 1999.

CB is actually quite a disputed spot; I know people who do not like it there at all for a variety of reasons.  I, however, do like it.  It’s clean, the service is friendly and ridiculously fast, and the menu has a good selection of veggie and non-veggie items.  Patrons order at the counter where there are always the same two ladies taking cash and serving the food—literally every single day for 11 years I think these two ladies have been stationed in the same spot behind the counter.  I have never seen them missing; it’s almost eerie.

China Best

The inside of China Best Restaurant in Hayward.

The menu is divided up into sections: seafood, chicken, beef, and vegetables are the main items, in addition to appetizers, soup, rice, and noodle dishes.  They offer a “luncheon” deal that includes an entree, steamed rice, and a won ton, a “combo” meal that includes an entree, rice, and chow mein, or “a la carte” dishes that are just a huge plate of a single entree.  It’s a pretty good system; I always order the combo to get  a little bit of everything.

My old go-to was always the sweet and sour chicken, back in the day.  Shows you how long I’ve been going to China Best.  Since my veggie years began, I have typically ordered the dry fried string bean dish, which is green beans fried in a light, salty sauce, with plenty of garlic chips sprinkled throughout.  It’s delicious.  Other veggie dishes include string beans with tofu, mixed fresh veggies in black bean or curry sauce, garlic tossed fried broccoli, hot and spicy tofu, and eggplant, zucchini, or asparagus with tofu.  The variety of meat dishes is even more extensive; they certainly offer something for everyone.

Fish

Sliced Fish Fillet Cooked in Orange Peel Sauce Combo meal from China Best Restaurant in Hayward.

I’ve recently taken a liking to Sliced Fish Filled in Orange Peel Sauce; it’s tasty though not very sweet or orangy (in a good way).  Boyfriend orders sweet and sour prawns which are very generously covered in deep fried batter, slathered in sweet and sour sauce, and topped with veggies and pineapple.  It’s not health food, people, but it’s good.

Sweet and sour prawn

Sweet and Sour Prawns Combo meal from China Best in Hayward.

The chow mein is something of a contested item—you either love it or you hate it.  With a combo meal comes a portion of chow mein noodles with nothing in it.  No carrots, no meat, no bean sprouts (take a deep breath, Dad).  Just soft, delicious noodles.  If you like them, they’re great.  And I like them.  The rice is standard, not much to discuss.  With each meal also comes a bowl of hot and sour soup which is excellent.  I used to crave it when I was away from home.

Hot and sour soup

Hot and Sour Soup is delicious from China Best in Hayward.

Overall, I think China Best is great.  It’s not somewhere you go when you’re on a diet.  It’s not somewhere you go every night.  But now and again, for a quick (and I mean quick) bite of yummy Chinese, it certainly hits the spot.

China Best on Urbanspoon








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