Restaurant Challenge: El Caballo Wraps

El Caballo Wraps

El Caballo Wraps


I’ve seen this place many times but never thought to try it because A) the entire point of this restaurant challenge is to break our taqueria pattern and B) I was biased. Sorry, but it has the word “Wraps” in its name. It just reminds me of those chains that wrap things like rice, broccoli, and teriyaki chicken in a sun-dried tomato tortilla. See, now, that’s a wrap. But I was wrong. That’s not what this place has. This place has burritos and other delicious Mexican foods.

To be fair we didn’t pick this out of the bucket. The kids and I went with some friends a few weeks back at their recommendation. BUT we couldn’t count it towards the restaurant challenge until we went as a family. So tonight we returned and it was good for a second time, and we’ll most definitely be back. In fact, I think this might be my favorite Mexican food on the island.

Tortilla Soup & Papusa goodness

Tortilla Soup & Papusa goodness


For me, it was all about the Chicken Tortilla Soup. On this cold night a few weeks before Christmas, this perfect bowl of soup paired with a pork papusa and a plastic bottle full of their amazing smokey hot sauce made for happiness. A few weeks back I tried a carnitas taco and some nachos. Both very tasty.

Here’s what the others thought…

Hoodie and Burrito... Just like his Dad in college.

Hoodie and Burrito… Just like his Dad in college.


Jack: Thumbs up for a bean and rice El Nino (kids) burrito, guacamole, chips. Learning experience: He thought he’d like black beans but tried them and has decided pinto is always the way to go. Agreed.

Elise: Bean (pinto) and Cheese El Nino Burrito and side of rice. She ate it all but said she didn’t like it. Standard mixed bag reaction. Remember Thanksgiving?

Mike: Burrito Al Pastor which he thought was just ok. I took a bite and liked it.

Bottom Line: We’ll return. Super friendly owner and staff, great food, DELISH Chicken Tortilla Soup.

El Caballo Wraps
1108 Lincoln Ave
(between Bay St & St Charles St)

It's cold out!

It’s cold out!


No pictures!

No pictures!

Restaurant Challenge: Sampaguita Fil-Am Cuisine

Sampaguita Fil-Am Cuisine

Sampaguita Fil-Am Cuisine


Nestled next to a laundromat on a quiet strip in the middle of the island is Sampaguita Fil-Am restaurant. I’ve been wanting to check this place out since spotting it way back. These types of unassuming, out of the way spots always intrigue me in a treasure hunt type of way. So when it got pulled from our restaurant challenge bucket I got excited by the possibilities ahead. Like this could be the hidden gem on the island! The kind of place I’ll kick myself for not having come to sooner. The underdog waiting for it’s moment.

Oh boy… it kills me to say it, but it just wasn’t it.

And it’s even harder to say that after we were greeted so warmly by the lovely ladies who worked there. But I just didn’t really like the food. And I kinda like most food. But not so much this time around. Sorry nice ladies!

BUT there’s a silver lining here… I am just one opinion amongst a family of four. The typically picky one in our group (ahem, Jack) threw a curve ball when he said he would go back FOR SURE and rated his meal with triple-quadrupal thumbs up. Elise seemed indifferent though mowed down her Adobo and Mike said “Yep, just like the cafeteria at our Manila fab.”

So really, what do I know.

our MO, sample a little of everything.

our M.O., sample a little of everything.


My Thoughts:
Everything was lukewarm at its hottest. Cold Chicharones are kinda gnarly. Lots of the dishes were swimming in grease. Overall most of the dishes I tried tasted kinda bland.

Jack:
Jack loved the Nilagang Baka (Beef Stew in Clear Broth). In typical Jack style, he gravitated towards: beef, potatoes, rice. He gets a variation of this at most restaurants. He liked this version more than most. The Halo Halo dessert was also a hit.

Halo Halo Dessert

Halo Halo Dessert

Elise:
Pork Adobo and rice were her favorites. She also loved the act of eating the Halo Halo. She kept calling it fishing as she searched the dessert with her spoon for beans and pieces of coconut.

Mike:
Mike travels to the Philippines often and has eaten many a meal just like this. The choices, the flavors, even the small white plastic bowls used to serve the meal all felt familiar. He liked it ok, a similar feeling he has when eating in the Philippines. It’s ok.

So, and please no offense to my Filipino friends, it did get me thinking why this cuisine just hasn’t taken off like other Asian foods in our area. California has one of the largest Filipino populations in the country yet you rarely see or hear of Filipino restaurants. Why is this?

This isn’t the end Filipino food, I don’t give up that easily. I do want to figure you out. I’ll be seeking out answers (and further attempts) to find what I like about you.

Sampaguita Fil-Am Cuisine
1216 Lincoln Ave
(between Bay St & Sherman St)
Alameda, CA 94501

Restaurant Challenge: Sidestreet Pho

Mike & Elise

Mike & Elise


OK people, dreams have come true this time around on the restaurant challenge. My children actual begged to return to a Vietnamese restaurant we recently picked from the bucket. Never mind that it’s mostly due to a dessert piled high with mango shaved ice, bits of marshmallow, and tapioca pearls.

I love Vietnamese food. I am glad it’s now a part of our regular rotation of restaurants. I am glad that my kids have found new foods they like even if it was a dessert that got ’em in the door.

Overall Thumbs Up

Overall Thumbs Up


SIDESTREET PHO
http://sidestreetpho.com/
Since pulling this from the restaurant challenge bucket we’ve been here a couple time. The restaurant is simple and nicely designed. The food is good and the service is friendly. In our various trips we’ve tried the following:

Elise:
Pho Ga but with Egg Noodles: Thumbs Up!

mmm, soup.

mmm, soup.


Jack:
Com Tam Bi Bo (Grilled Beef with Rice): Thumbs Up for the rice (as usual). Thumbs medium for the steak, although I thought it was delicious. Thumbs way up for the pickled daikon, cucumber, and carrot salad.

Mike:
Banh Mi Bo Kho (Beef stew with french bread): Thumbs medium, he liked it ok but not overwhelmed.
Bo Luc Lac (Beef stir fried with egg noodles): Thumbs up, tasty.

Me:
Cha Gio Heo Nuong (Rice Vermicelli Salad with imperial roll and grilled pork.) MMM, one of my favorites and this one didn’t disappoint.

Pho Ga: Thumbs Up, the broth was really flavorful and good.

Vermicelli with Pork and Egg Roll

Vermicelli with Pork and Egg Roll


                                                  
And then there is this magical snow ice dessert…
WARNING: Fingers could get accidentally bitten off during the feeding frenzy this causes.

Mango Snow Ice Dessert.

Mango Snow Ice Dessert.

Sidestreet Pho: Now in our regular restaurant rotation.

Restaurant Challenge: 1400 Bar & Grill

The Restaurant Challenge continues, our latest pick: 1400 Bar & Grill.

Typically we pick from the slips of paper in the pot but tonight Jack preempted this with his own suggestion. See, recently 1400 got a stamp of approval in Jack’s mind because he ran into a friend who had just finished dinner there. His friend was still standing and looked relatively happy so I guess this was enough for Jack. Never mind that his friend didn’t utter one word about the experience directly. Attendance was all it took.

Works for me so we headed for a family dinner there Sunday night.

Ready, set, eat.

Ready, set, eat.


1400 Bar & Grill
Walking in here it looks much like a pub which is a nice change from the very kid-friendly places we typically frequent. But don’t be fooled by the long wooden bar and large number of beer taps, this really is a family friendly place. The minute we sat down we were greeted with a smile, some crayons, and some kids coloring menus. Off to a good start.

Then I saw the large Pink Floyd poster front and center amongst a group of other vintage concert posters. One of my favorite bands of all time. I continued to scan the room and see hand written specials boards, old baseball gloves as decor, a beautiful stained glass ceiling, and lots of other details that made the place lovable, not the least being the neighborhood friendliness.

As usual, we ordered a ton of food…

Kids Burger & Fries

Kids Burger & Fries

Ellie rubbing her belly in approval of the kids mac n cheese.

Belly-rubbin’ good kids mac n cheese.

Fish Tacos with yummy fried jalapenos.

Fish Tacos with yummy fried jalapenos.

Fish, Chips, & Beer.

Fish, Chips, & Beer.


As if this wasn’t enough food, we ordered TWO desserts, a banana split and a slice of carrot cake. A man I assumed to be the owner came over to say hello and fill us in on the carrot cake’s old-school Alameda roots. The cake was almost more spice cake than carrot and not too sweet. It was really delicious.

Really though, it almost didn’t matter how good the food was because the overall neighborhood vibe and friendliness of the waitstaff and owner were enough to bring us back.

After dinner we rolled ourselves over to Crab Cove to walk off some of our gluttony along the shoreline…

beach

1400 Bar & Grill
http://1400barandgrill.com/
1400 Webster St. Alameda

Jack’s Review: Thumbs Up for hamburger, fries, atmosphere.
Elise’s Review: Thumbs Up for the banana split and coloring sheet.
Kristin’s Review: Thumbs Up for the friendly neighborhood pub vibe and the carrot. cake
Mike’s Review: Thumbs Up for the vibe & Jack’s leftover hamburger.

Restaurant Challenge: Hang Ten Boiler

I’m sure there are lots of kids out there who embrace new foods and don’t crumple to the ground in a pile of defeat at the suggestion of trying a new restaurant. Those are not my kids.

Well, a few months back I hit a wall. I literally could not walk through the taqueria door one more time. I mean, I love a good taco but I was desperate for variety. And then it hit me, I knew what to do.

If you recall, my son is a gamer. He is also super motivated by rewards… especially shiny, gold trophy types of awards. It was clear what needed to be done, a restaurant challenge…

Bucket of Restaurants

Bucket of Restaurants

THE CHALLENGE:
Try every restaurant in town and win a trophy.

There’s only one rule: At least try something new while there.

I live on an island which somewhat contains this, but it’s still a lot of restaurants. It’s gonna take awhile. This dawned on Jack so he suggested an amendment to the challenge: Half way through you get a medal, all the way through you get a trophy. Seems fair so that’s what it is.

Setting this up was pretty easy, I wrote down every restaurant on a piece of paper (cross checking yelp/phone book) and put it in a pot. We then pull from it when we are burnt on the old standbys. We’re a couple of restaurants into this challenge, but this is the official first post on the subject.

TONIGHT’S PICK: HANG TEN BOILER
This is a new Cajun/Creole/Hawaiian restaurant. Yes, interesting combo. The space previously had a Hawaiian BBQ so it actually makes more sense, they seemed to have just changed their business model. It must have worked because the place was packed.

Box of Meat

Box of Meat

Lumpias & Garlic Noodles

Lumpias & Garlic Noodles

They have bowls of shrimp, crab, mussels, and other seafood options which looked awesome but we decided to try meats and sides this time around.

We ate: Steamed Broccoli, Garlic Noodles, Rice, Macaroni Salad, Lumpias, and a mixed BBQ plate with Eggs, Pork Chop, BBQ Chicken, Teriyaki Steak, Kalbi Short Ribs… it was a ridiculous amount of food, I’m still full.

OUR REVIEWS:
Mike & Me: The food was pretty good, very friendly waitstaff, and a fun vibe for the kids. It’s hands-on eating so they give you waxed paper tablecloths, a roll of paper towels, and crab bibs if you’re eating seafood. We would definitely try the seafood next time, it looked great.

Jack liked: Broccoli. Rice. Steak. (in that order)
These are also Jack’s favorite choices at all restaurants so he had to choose one new thing to try. He tried Lumpia. He didn’t make it beyond the first bite but at least he tried.

Elise liked: According to her, nothing. According to her empty plate, the egg and noodles.

Giving Lumpia a try

Giving Lumpia a try

What's in this?

What’s in this?

Slurpin' 'em up

Slurpin’ ’em up

HANG TEN BOILER
2306A Encinal Ave
(between Park St & Oak St)
Alameda, CA 94501
http://www.hangtenboiler.com/