k’ya Bistro – Laguna Beach

My birthday was on a Wednesday this year.

Blood Orange Jalapeno Margarita - looked and sounded amazing, tasted quite sub-par.

Blood Orange Jalapeno Margarita – looked and sounded amazing, tasted quite sub-par.

So Amit decided to somehow make it a fabulous one anyway by taking me to The Rooftop Bar & Lounge in Laguna Beach.

After enjoying a sangria (red wine, with peach Schnapps, mixed berries, brandy, orange juice and ginger ale), which I didn’t like much, I ordered a champagne mojito (muddled mint and lime thrown into a glass of champagne) which I thought was, combined with the view of the sun setting over Laguna Beach, amazing!

An entirely separate post can be done on The Rooftop, however, so I will say no more. After the sun had completely set and our 8:00 pm reservation time approached, we headed down to k’ya Bistro for dinner.

Strawberry Mojito. I think I would have enjoyed this much more, had it not been for the rich foods that kept me reaching for nothing but water.

Strawberry Mojito.                                              I think I would have enjoyed this much more, had it not been for the rich foods that kept me reaching for nothing but wat

For those of you who haven’t yet heard of this gem, or, like most, who pass by it on your way up to and down from the rooftop lounge, k’ya is an experience worth having.

My favorite part of this place was the fact that I got to play food critic like the rest of their guests. That is, they serve teeny, sharable portions so that you can order quite a few different menu items and satisfy your hunger for variety along with, well, sustenance. To start, Amit had the Blood Orange Jalapeño Margarita, while I opted for the Strawberry Mojito.

As far as the drinks go, the captions say it all. For my next visit, I will definitely be ordering just water instead of drinks, unless the drinks are for consumption prior to our meal.

After looking at the menu for what felt like an eternity (there is just SO MUCH to choose from!), we decided on the following: the Sautéed Pesto Mushrooms to start with, followed by the Lobster & Crab Cake, the Three Cheese Macaroni, the Hibachi Salmon and the Braised Beef Short Rib. At this point I should provide you with the following disclaimer: when I first met Amit, I made it very clear to him that although I like experimenting with new foods for the sake of my adventurous palette, I am a red meat eater, born and raised. So, on my birthday, I got to make the big girl decision to not order any chicken.

Sautéed Pesto Mushrooms. Absolutely delicious! Amit hates mushrooms, yet couldn't deny how good this dish was!

Sautéed Pesto Mushrooms.
Absolutely delicious! Amit hates mushrooms, yet couldn’t deny how good this dish was!

The Sautéed Pesto Mushrooms are listed under the Snacks category on the paper (a.k.a. ever-changing) menu.

That’s a complete understatement. Don’t get me wrong, the mushrooms were absolutely delicious – says even Amit, who is known as a mushroom hater. However, a snack they were not! I was personally really happy with the decision that I saved some mushrooms to mix into my Three Cheese Macaroni ~ but you’ll hear more about that in a bit!

Lobster & Crab Cake. Clearly visible is the edamame succotash, as well as the Madras curry sauce the sea creatures were swimming in.

Lobster & Crab Cake.
Clearly visible is the edamame succotash, as well as the Madras curry sauce the sea creatures were swimming in.

The Lobster & Crab Cake was also a very rich dish. The Madras curry sauce it came with           was savory. I’d say this dish was pleasing for about 3-5 bites before kind of becoming a pain to finish. The large size of the cake, paired with dense Madras cream curry and protein-packed, filling edamame beans was a bit too much all at once.

That being said,  I think the curry sauce went really well with the fish we enjoyed later on.

I think the most frustrating part of this experience was how long the orders were taking to come out. We waited 40 minutes for any sight of our first dish.

For a Wednesday weeknight, it was as packed as you would expect any other establishment to be on a Wednesday. We were seated early (~7:40 pm), ordered everything by 8:15 pm, and still managed to be stuck there until 11:00 pm! It wouldn’t have been an issue if the portions were slightly larger, so that we weren’t left with awkward pauses in between dishes, wondering where our food was.

Braised Beef Short Ribs. Short ribs braised in a piscini sauce, on a bed of mashed potatoes, topped with crispy onion straws.

Braised Beef Short Ribs.
Short ribs braised in a piscini sauce, on a bed of mashed potatoes, topped with crispy onion straws

When the food wasn’t lagging, it was pretty good. I’m glad I was able to pull the birthday girl card and convince Amit to order the short ribs instead of the filet mignon. After he’d admitted he had never had short ribs, I decided to be the one to put an end to his misery. The braised beef short ribs, with mashed potatoes, crispy onion straws and porcini sauce were truly perfection. We finished the dish in minutes!

Trying to savor every bite was a little tough as small food portions can get cold very quickly. I did, however, enjoy every last second of the deliciousness that was mashed potatoes, beef short ribs, and crispy onion straws piled high into each bite.

Three Cheese Macaroni.  Wild mushrooms, pesto, truffle crust, Parmesan, Gruyere and Gorgonzola cheeses.

Three Cheese Macaroni.
Wild mushrooms, pesto, truffle crust, Parmesan, Gruyere and Gorgonzola cheeses.

Hibachi Salmon. A colorful, visually pleasing dish. Salmon sitting on a bed of roasted vegetable quinoa, with spicy coconut sauce.

Hibachi Salmon.
A colorful, visually pleasing dish. Salmon sitting on a bed of roasted vegetable quinoa, with spicy coconut sauc

The Three Cheese Macaroni was just as good. Enter the  sautéed pesto mushrooms – I found the thinly sliced mushrooms that came in the mac & cheese a little too, well, thin for my liking. So, I improvised and threw the mushrooms from our starter dish into our mac & cheese. I was quite pleased with the dish once that happened; the pesto complimented the cheeses in the macaroni dish quite well.

The Hibachi Salmon was…well, it just was. Amit really enjoyed it when he paired it with the Madras curry sauce from the Lobster & Crab Cake. I have to admit – this made it a much better dish. After trying that combination, I secretly did wish I hadn’t given up my half of the salmon to Amit!

Birthday creme brulee. Rich, creamy, wonderful goodness, topped off with a birthday wish on a lit candle? Yes, please!

Birthday creme brulee. Rich, creamy, wonderful goodness, topped off with a birthday wish on a lit candle? Yes, please!

So,  in retrospect, I guess combining some elements from previous dishes into the forthcoming ones is what made the experience much more palatable. As negative as that sounds, what I took from this experience is that the concept of k’ya bistro is done best by them – small bites of rich foods. Anyone can try their take and succeed on that concept, but the genuine appreciation for flavors that pair well together is what made this experience a great one, despite the wait and indecisive server.

We found ourselves completely on our own in regards to the menu – there is SO much to choose from! When asking for some help from our server, she did continue to reply repetitively that pretty much every dish is her favorite and a crowd favorite and really, really good. While that could very possibly be the case, it didn’t help us much with the decision-making! In the end, I did feel more satisfied knowing that everything we liked and didn’t and paired together from different dishes was all our own fault ~ and I enjoyed every last bite of it!

Although Amit says he didn’t really enjoy the meal, I couldn’t be happier about his choice for my birthday dinner. I fell in love with the concept and experience k’ya Bistro has to offer. Perhaps the execution could use some improvement. When the weather makes the leaves and skies change, however, you can be sure that I’ll be going back to see what the menu changes at k’ya Bistro hold in store for me!

Thank you, Amit!

Thank you, Amit!

k’ya Bistro is located at 1287 South Coast Highway in Laguna Beach, in the historic, coastal  La Casa del Camino hotel.


The Liebster Blog Award

I haven’t been blogging for a few months, I apologize ~ I was a little busy graduating! :] I came back to the very lovely surprise of being nominated by Kerbey at http://sanceau.com for The Liebster Blog Award! This is an award given to up-and-coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers – and I qualify for it!

I want to thank her SO MUCH for the kind words she posted about my foodie blog! I’m glad people still love to read and look at pictures of great foods from all over, it definitely makes my day when people are as passionate about their food as I am!

Now for THE RULES:

1. Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.

2. Link back to the blogger who awarded you.

3. Copy & Paste the award to your blog (I have provided choices in many united colors of Benetton).

4.  List 11 Random Facts about yourself.

5. Answer the questions asked by the blogger who nominated you.

6. Nominate 5 blogs that you enjoy to receive the award and who have less than 200 followers.

7. List 11 questions for your nominees.

8. Inform them of their nomination by leaving a comment on their blog.

Here are 11 random facts about me:

1. I just graduated from Vanguard University

2. I majored in Biology (minored in Chemistry)

3. I am getting ready to take my MCAT and apply to medical schools

4. I work in clinical research

5. I love trance music

6. I am 1/2 Indian and 1/2 Pakistani

7. I used to edit and proof the WordPress blog of a networking guru in Orange County

8. I’ve lived in a few parts of Southern California, along with Virginia and Maryland

9. My boyfriend Amit funds most of my food adventures ❤

10. I love volunteering, giving back and staying active in my community here in the city of Irvine

11. I am a dancer and choreographer

Now for Kerby’s questions!

  • How often do you blog and why? I haven’t blogged frequently as of late, because I was transitioning from full-time school to full-time work. Now I’m back! And I’m always instagramming my eats so you can find me under the username socaleats
  • How do you like your eggs? If you don’t eat eggs, what is wrong with you? My favorite style of eggs is over-medium, with lots of hash browns and hot sauce. I agree, there must be something wrong with a person who doesn’t like eggs!
  • Did your parents take enough pictures of your childhood? Too many.
  • Who was one of the first authors to impact your young life? My young life…hmmm. How young are we talking? Roald Dahl if we’re talking 3rd grade, or Dalton Trumbo if we mean middle and high school.
  • Do you own a Kindle or do you read books made of paper, as is the natural order of things? I own an iPad, which my boyfriend got me in hope of steering me away from my love of being able to fold back the pages and smell the scent of real books. I’m afraid it’s working!
  • How do you feel about magazines? I love magazines! they get me caught up on whatever goes on in the real world while I’m consumed by work here at the clinic.
  • You’ve just adopted a happy golden retriever and an arrogant, Siamese cat from the animal shelter.  What do you name them? The golden retriever’s name is Goldie Hawn, and the Siamese cat’s name is Oscar the Grouch.
  • Can you drive a stick shift? Yes.
  • If you become an award-winning writer and go on The Tonight Show to pimp your book, and companies start hounding you to endorse their product, which product would you choose to endorse?  (I have already disclosed that I would endorse Ross Dress for Less, pieces of gum stuck on dressing room stall doors notwithstanding.) In n Out burgers.
  • Does it bother you that Bart Simpson is voiced by a woman and Miss Piggy is voiced by a man? Definitely not, I was an alto on my high school show choir.
  • Should men moisturize, and have you ever met one that has? Yes and yes!

Nominating 5 blogs I enjoy:

1. Michael – http://pathofhealing.wordpress.com/   I enjoy reading his pre-med struggles as I prepare for my own

2. Shawn Vuong – http://websavvymedstudent.wordpress.com/ This is great! A blog by a medical school student that gives tips to healthcare professionals on how to catch up to the tech and social media-savvy world we live in! Having worked with many physicians, I feel like this is a big issue that needs to be tackled ASAP!

3. Renee – http://goosiegirls.wordpress.com/tag/bunny-hill-bom/ she’s a great diy instructor on this adorable blog

4. Magical Movie Reviews – http://magicalmoviereviews.wordpress.com/ barely making the cut for under 200 followers, this is one I greatly enjoy, especially thanks to the love of Disney movies! The tinkerbell “tink” ratings are so cute!

5. Yasi (and Hassan) – http://thetranceweekly.wordpress.com/ a great trance music blog for those who are into it! Hope Yasi (or Hassan, who seems to have inherited the blog) continue to update their stuff – I really enjoyed the random finds on their blog.

11 questions for these nominees:

1. What is your favorite type of food?

2. What is your favorite dish?

3. Any local eats that are near and dear to your heart?

4. Your favorite and least favorite movies of 2013?

5. Your favorite movie of all time?

6. What type of music do you enjoy listening to most?

7. Which candy is your guilty pleasure?

8. What is your biggest pet peeve?

9. When can we expect to enjoy your next post?

10. Do you blog while also managing full time work? School? (Children count as work)

11. What type of food can I post a review on here about for your enjoyment?

I have spent more time on this post by far than any other! Hope you enjoy my posts and those of the bloggers I’ve listed on here, and thank you once again to Kerby! :]

So, you’ve clicked that link to this page.

It’s very possible you’ve reached this page in error. I understand; the name Annum Zhara is quite common.

It’s also very possible that you know me, and I forced you to come to my page and check it out and like it and whatnot via several spam Facebook statuses begging people to come check out this page.

Or, lastly, you are sitting there, hungry and in the mood for either some good local eats or to get creativity flowing in the kitchen.

If you’re a part of that (very, very small) third audience – you’ve come to the right spot!

My name is Annum Zhara, and this isn’t just the WordPress version of Yelp. I’m here to show you the different local eats of Southern California ~ while catering to the different needs. Whether you’re looking for the perfect place to celebrate an occasion, or an affordable eatery on a college budget…adventurous cuisine, something you’ve never tried before, or something on the traditional side…looking to eat out tonight, or cook up some fun in the kitchen – you’ve come to the right spot!

I also get bragging rights to my first award on here, The Liebster Award:


Thanks to Kerby for choosing me as a nominee and for the cool award to post!

Enjoy. Feedback is always welcome! :]

– annumzie 


Extraordinary Desserts

I must admit, I walked into this place with some pretty high expectations.

A place called Extraordinary Desserts needs to be, well, extraordinary. Especially when you are taking the time to go out of your way to not have dessert where you possibly had your lunch or dinner, and to come to this restaurant solely for dessert.

Well, you can breathe a sigh of relief – Extraordinary Desserts delivers. My favorite part about this location was its atmosphere (read on, grasshopper!). We went to the Little Italy location on a Monday morning of a three-day holiday weekend to have brunch, and gosh, it was great! Walking into the place, I expected the staff to have a certain air about them, considering the name of the eatery (think: walking into Bloomingdale’s or Saks Fifth Avenue). They proved me wrong; our server came up, got us, sat us down at our table, and basically filled us in on how the whole thing works. That’s right, there’s an art to eating dessert here!

My Best Shot At Trying To Paint You A Picture

So there’s the pretty displays that have the pretty desserts. Then there’s the menu, with different cafe entrees and items other than desserts (drinks, appetizers, etc.) listed on there. Our server helps us figure out exactly what I want. What did that part mean to me? I get to ask my server every annoying question I could ever have about every annoying thing that comes across my mind as I go on this quest for the perfect brunch and breakfast.

While the menu can be ordered from staying table-side, the desserts are the fun part. The displays are in the front of the place, which has a half bakery/half restaurant feel. For lack of a better example at this ungodly hour, I’ll just say it – think of the way Corner Bakery’s or Panera Bread’s setup looks. But, well, SO much better.

Valrhona Mocha, Iced Coffee

Valrhona Mocha, Iced Coffee

Anyway, so you get out of your seats after ordering coffee or whatever you’d like to pair with your meal, and then go up and make direct eye contact with all the desserts they have to offer. I loved this! You get to see what your dessert will look like, so you know exactly what you’re getting before it has come out to your table. In a world filled with vague dessert menus and disappointing confections, this is the place to go if you have a certain picture in your head of what dessert should look like when it comes out to your table.

After making your selections, you sit back down at your table and inform your server what you’ve decided on. Your server will then bring your choices out, plated to perfection – drizzled mocha sauce, rose petals, the works! While waiting for your dessert to come out, take a moment to just let the atmosphere sink in – there’s a bar, for evening guests, high ceilings give a sense of openness to the inside seating area, and patio furniture adorns the outside patio seating area for summer days. The place has a laid-back feel to it, one of those rare spaces in busy cities that lets you forget that time even exists for a few precious moments. At the same time, we saw people run in to grab take-out before rushing off to work, and having their power-lunches on a workday with coworkers inside. The decor make a fluid transformation between quick-café style dining and relaxed social gatherings, depending on what your agenda calls for. My vacation mode with Amit was happening at the very same moment as our neighbor’s lunch hour alone to catch up with the morning paper.

In-House Menu Items

Goddess Granola, paired with almond milk

Goddess Granola, paired with almond milk

Since we went in for breakfast, I figured I could rid myself of a guilty conscience if I had at least some type of breakfast food before diving into dessert heaven. Under their “Not To Be Missed” part of the menu, the “Goddess Granola” sounded amazing. Organic dried strawberries, cranberries, apricots, and pineapples were served with granola, topped off with organic almonds and organic pumpkin seeds. I ordered mine with the organic almond milk – that’s just the way I prefer granola, either with soy or almond milk. Besides the different milk options that are usually available to you, you also have the option of ordering the granola with fresh berries and bananas on top, a scoop of ice cream, or even nonfat vanilla yogurt.

Paninis, omelettes, and other European breakfast and lunch items fill up the menu. They also hold a European brunch every Sunday, which costs about $22 per person, and includes different European breakfast classics. For that, Amit’s friend Ben (we’d never have discovered this place, had Ben not raved about it beforehand!), told us they strongly recommend reservations.

To drink, I had the “Valrhona Mocha,” which my server suggested after I told him my coffee preferences. It came out looking really pretty (see picture), and is apparently their most popular drink! It was a rich chocolatey-espresso drink, only to be enjoyed with something like dessert; if you’re getting a sandwich here, you might want to stick to an iced tea. They also have a “Valrhona Hot Cocoa,” if you want all the yum, but none of the caffeine. Amit got the iced coffee, which he said was the perfect strength when you’re trying to wake up on a lazy Monday (holiday) morning. The “Pink Hot Chocolate” seemed like a pretty fun drink too – it’s a hot chocolate with whipped cream and strawberry white chocolate sprinkles on top! The menu also has a couple of dessert drinks, items like the “Butterscotch Rootbeer Float,” and “Coconut Porter Beer Float,” as well as classics like the sundae.

Now for the good stuff – what you probably came to read about – DESSERT!

Dulce de Leche

Dulce de Leche

The dessert area is really easy to get lost in, unless you’re planning on getting one of everything! I had to narrow down my choices so that I could truly enjoy the desserts. My father always says, “it’s not an indulgence anymore if you’re over-indulging.”

The desserts that caught my eye were “La Bête Noir,” a series of dark chocolate cake layers stacked between crème brûlée, ganache, and mousse, the “Viking,” a chocoholic’s dream, composed of chocolate cake layers adorned with creamy (chocolate) crème brûlée and milk chocolate cremeuse layers, topped with crushed chocolate and almonds. The “Torta Misu” is a house favorite, with a slight twist on the Italian classic. The “Shangri-La” is appealing to the eye, made up of moist vanilla cake layers sitting between white chocolate mousse, guava mousse, and topped with fresh strawberries and house-made whipped cream. If I talked about every dessert that looked good here I could fill several paragraphs quite easily!



After sensing our indecisiveness, our server came up to cater to us at the front. After letting him know what we were deciding between and what kind of tastes we prefer to have that morning, I narrowed my choice down to the “Gianduia,” Amit to a slice of the “Dulce de Leche,” and we both figured we’d get a third since we wouldn’t be back for a while, so we settled upon the “Cream Cheese Brownie.” The Gianduia was not only our server’s favorite, but their top-seller! Chocolate cake layers moistened with rum were placed between layers of hazelnut buttercream, chocolate mousse, and boysenberry marmalade. The whole thing was topped with crushed almond pralines. The Dulce de Leche has been featured on Food Network’s “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and is another favorite of their regulars. Crunchy milk chocolate pieces are hiding among alternating layers of chocolate cake and chocolate mousse. After it was plated and served to us at our table, we couldn’t help but admire the homemade dulce de leche that essentially made this dessert so sinfully good!

We didn’t even touch our Cream Cheese Brownie – after the first two pieces, we were way too full! Amit suggested I have brownie boxed (they were careful not to crush the beautiful decor on top!) to take home for my sister. Later that day when she had it, she said it was really good but really rich, so she had half then and half the next morning. Before leaving, we also got a “Pecan Triangle” for my father, who prefers his desserts not-so-desserty, so if you’re looking for a pastry  to enjoy with your morning coffee, something simple, I’d suggest you go with this shortbread menu item. Petite cakes, cupcakes, scones, and bars are always fresh for their regulars who drop in for a cup of coffee and a pastry treat. Below, there are pictures of all the great things we didn’t get a chance to try!

Bread pudding, topped with lemon meringue

Bread pudding, topped with lemon meringue

Brownies, turnovers, and bars are apart of the daily pastry assortments made available

Brownies, turnovers, and bars are apart of the daily pastry assortments made available

More of the regular dessert menu items on the to-go side of the restaurant, such as petite cakes and cookies

More of the regular dessert menu items on the to-go side of the restaurant, such as petite cakes and cookies

So…Get Over There Already!

Extraordinary Desserts is located at 1430 Union Street, in Little Italy of San Diego. Their hours, at the time of this post, are as follows: 8:30-11am on weekdays, Fridays 8:30am-midnight, Saturdays 10am-midgnight, and on Sundays from 10am-11pm.

My suggestion is to make a reservation ahead of time if you’re going on a weekend or for dinner, especially if you’re only visiting SD for a day or two – I’ve heard it gets disappointingly busy during peak dining hours, especially on weekends!


Phở Ba Co

Here in Orange County, Westminster and its immediate surrounding areas are your best bet for Vietnamese food.

But when you’re farther south, in the Irvine region, it’s a bit difficult to make a weekday trip out there. Don’t let that stop you from having a good bowl of hot phở on your lunch hour during this winter season. Phở Ba Co is one of the better phở places I have been to around here!

This quick-service place is located in the same plaza that houses Lamppost Pizza, Thai Kitchen, and Philly’s Best, in the heart of Irvine, Woodbridge. Walking into the restaurant, you can always expect to be greeted by a man. I have been there at least fifteen times now, and I have never seen a woman working there. It’s an all-male waitstaff, as far as I know. Not that I mind – it spares me the mandatory polite conversation and gets me in touch with my food a lot faster.

They have various appetizers and drinks you can order. The lychee drink is one that Amit has gotten a few times, although I must say that its name is misleading, as it’s more of a slush with lychee pieces than a juice. I have gotten the Thai iced tea once, which tasted like a standard Thai iced tea…didn’t blow my mind, but I’ll probably order it again sometime.

Rare Steak Phở

Rare Steak Phở, assorted garnishes

Their appetizers, the spring rolls, are great. And so is their service. The menu doesn’t describe the spring rolls having pork in them, but as soon as it arrived at our table, Amit picked the rolls apart to find a combination of both pork and shrimp. I myself do not eat pork, and once Amit informed the waitstaff for me, they brought out shrimp-only spring rolls, and put both dishes on the house! I must say, the service is quick, but the standards aren’t lacking. Ask for something, and you shall receive…just a lot faster than you’d normally expect to. Don’t, however, expect polite conversation with your server. You definitely won’t have a waitstaff that introduces itself to you or cares to ask how your day is going here.

Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for. What about the phở, hmmm?

The phở is phở-tastic (see what I did there?). Really though, it’s absolutely delicious! The broth of their traditional Hanoi-style phởs is savory and flavorful, and the quality of the meat is pretty good compared to several other phở places. The usual garnishes are provided, but the green onions that your phở is topped off with before it’s brought out to you really add some great flavor. The picture I’ve put up of the phở shows the generous portion the regular sized bowl gives you. However, don’t over estimate the portions – on a hungry day, even I can finish a large bowl!

I have gotten a couple of different phởs here, the brisket being one of them. I’m not a huge fan. My personal favorite is in fact the rare steak. Thin slices of rare beef steak thrown in a bowl of boiling broth to become cooked to a medium-well state? Yes, please. My method of preparation? Tons of basil, some parsley, lots of lime, and chili sauce (not the oily, dark one, but its lighter, bright red vinegar-soaked alternative). You might enjoy some Hoisin sauce, or perhaps some Sriracha or fried chili sauce instead, and probably some bean sprouts. Not really my thing, but hey, that’s why they leave that fancy garnishing business up to you! :]


Mr. Ning’s Chinese Garden

Hot and Sour Soup

Hot and Sour soup

You couldn’t possibly be sitting there planning your Catalina trip and saying to yourself, “hey, I would definitely like to grab some Chinese take-out while I’m on an island.” And then you get there and encounter Mr. Ning’s Chinese Garden.

For those of us who head out to Catalina a couple of times (or at least once) a year, the activities are a priority, but the food is not. We spend a couple days planning parasailing, jet skiing, zip-lining, semi-submarine and biking adventures. We do not, however, sit there and map out all the places we want to eat. Sure, the nighttime dinner reservation at Steve’s Steakhouse or the Avalon Grille must be made, that’s a given – but what about the in-between time? The brunch time, the lunch time, the want-to-get-takeout-and-dine-in-the-hotel-room time? For that time, there is Mr. Ning’s Chinese Garden.

During the course of our entire meal, I noticed several (of who I assumed were locals that work in the surrounding area) people coming in and getting takeout they must have ordered in advance. The table we sat at had paper placemats that showed the Chinese New Year zodiac symbols and the characteristics and years they are associated with. I was born in the year of the snake, we found out, and Amit the year of the goat. It seems Mr. Ning’s has the stamp of approval from the locals…and now they have another tourist’s as well.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had proper Chinese takeout. The east coast is filled with several places that’ll deliver to you at hours of the night you shouldn’t be awake anyway. We’re talking the real deal here – no Panda Express, no Pei Wei, no establishment-style food. The real grease, the real spices, the real, authentic meals. That’s what Mr. Ning’s gives you.

Walking into the place, the first thing I noticed were the lunch specials. At an average of $8 a plate, I figured it was the perfect place for us to stop and have a quick lunch before moving on to the real events of the day. Seated at a table for four, I noticed that several diners had metal tea pots at their tables. Immediately, I knew we had picked the right place – I can’t remember the last time I went to a place that served green tea alongside the food.

Kun Pao Chicken lunch special, equipped with chicken wing and fried rice.Also in this view, you can see the empty bowl of wonton strips Amit finished when I was looking away.

Kun Pao Chicken lunch special, equipped with chicken wing and fried rice.
Also in this view, you can see the empty bowl of wonton strips Amit finished when I was looking away.

The server came out and served us their version of bar nuts or sourdough bread – wonton strips, equipped with a side of ketchup and wasabi mustard. We ordered the Kun Pao chicken lunch special (I thought of it first, really), and I got a Sprite. The meal started off with an amazing Hot and Sour soup, which is when I asked for hot chili sauce and some vinegar as condiments.

Next came our meal: I didn’t think the portions would be so big! The standard meal is as follows: chicken wing (apparently a side in Chinese foods, considered a meal though in my opinion), fried rice, and the entree. I’m sure you can order white rice if you’d like, but the meal comes with fried rice unless you request white.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the chicken. The only complaint I have is that I asked for the dish to be made as spicy as possible. Although it came out with full flavor, spice wasn’t its best quality, so I did ask for some extra chili sauce on the side after seeing that. We received our pot of what felt like endless green tea (how can so much tea come from such a small pot?!), our fortune cookies, and our barely-legible $18 check for two entrees and a soft drink. All brought to us by the sweetest old Asian ladies I’ve ever seen running an establishment.


The Lobster Trap

So here you are, in Catalina, wondering where you can find the best fish dish in town. Naturally, you look to Yelp, and you’re confused, frustrated, annoyed, because each post contradicts the one before it! Look no further than The Lobster Trap.

Hand-breaded Cod with French Fries

Hand-breaded Cod with French Fries

Their website says they are open from 11am to “late,” and they really do mean it – I was amazed that this place was able to accommodate our fish and chips craving at midnight! That’s right, you can order from their full menu at midnight, as diners around us ordered pastas, grilled items, and dessert.

The atmosphere of the place allows those drinking to do so without having to separate or wait on their friends who want a bite to eat. I’d like to say dive bar, but that term gives me dingy, alcoholic, pub-like place. This place is more restaurant, less bar – but still has such a casual, seamless layout that you can’t separate the two.

The hand-breaded cod loin fish was delicious. Eat it while it’s hot – fish, in my opinion, is never good lukewarm, especially not breaded and battered fish! The entree comes with either french fries or coleslaw. Although I have heard about the coleslaw, I opted for the french fries. It’s hard to please my french fry needs, but their shoestring fries hit the spot! The tartar sauce, in my opinion, was a little too creamy and not as tartary as I’d like.

The east coast girl in me asked for some malt vinegar for the fish and fries, and some Old Bay for the fries right away. I recommend this way of eating it; however, Amit did opt for Sriracha hot sauce instead.

Is this the best spot to get fish and chips? I’m not sure. Was it amazing and satisfying? Absolutely.


Original Jack’s Country Kitchen

This is officially my favorite Catalina spot for breakfast and lunch. If you’re looking for a breakfast place that’s on the cozier, small business side, and won’t break the bank, this is it!

Eggs Benedict with Crab Cakes

Dungeness Crab Cake Benedict

The atmosphere is amazing, and everyone is so friendly! Our server, Ana, was friendly, and quite helpful in narrowing down my breakfast choices, while Amit decided to have lunch food since it was ~11am. I had the “Dungeness Crab Cake Benedict.” The sauce had spinach, there were generous portions of crab cakes sitting under the eggs, and it all came with hash browns.

Their coffee – amazing, in my opinion. Amit wasn’t feeling well, so he decided to order a cold drink instead. And he was glad he did – the “Ricky Martin” was great! A blend of mango juice and raspberry iced tea – need I say more?

Chili Size with Fries

Chili Size with Fries

Amit, opting for a choice off the lunch menu, went with the burger special, “Chili Size with Fries.” This was an open-faced, double-patty burger, topped with all-meat chili (that’s right, guys), onions, generous portions of grated cheddar cheese, and jalapeños. The best parts about this entree were the all-meat chili, and the quality of the meat itself – no fillers, no preservatives, just good hearty beef patties with good hearty meat chili on top.

The portions were so generous, we didn’t have any room to try the dessert – although I’ve heard the pies are amazing, so if you leave more room than I did, go ahead and try it with the coffee!

– annumzie