Saturday, May 19, 2012

Taste of the Himalayas: Terrific Indian food on Midway

Toni and I found this place by accident. We were buying her tires down the street and decided to have lunch while we waited. We spied the Taste of the Himalayas restaurant, tucked away in an unassuming strip mall and decided to try it. We were amazed by what we discovered.

The place was small. The decor and music were peaceful. The staff, foreign and friendly; they gave the impression of valuing everyone who came in, even though the place does steady business: it isn't unusual for there to be a line out the door, though after a few visits we've seen it but have not had to wait ourselves. If we had to, I would happily wait. The experience is that good.

Today, I'm going to focus on TotH's great lunch special. I didn't take notes, so best memory goes like this. For approximately $8.00, you get soup, bread (naan), and two dishes (one of which is about $11 during dinner.) Toni and I have tried several items now. Some of our faves are papad for an appetizer ($1.95), which is just crispy thin bread with a mint chutney, chicken tikka masala, chicken vindaloo, kukhara ko masa, daal soup, Deena liked the lamb kabobs, the tandori chicken was good. Everything has been good--light, flavorful, and filling. Toni got some Chiya, Nepalese hot tea, and seemed to really enjoy it. They also serve beer and wine, including some good Indian beers.

Give this place a try. So far, it is the best Indian (if not strictly Indian) food we've had in San Diego. Their motto is, "Atithi Devo Bhavah," or, "the guest is truly your god." They are at 3185 Midway Dr. San Diego, CA 92110. And their number is 1- 619- 866-6922.

Erik gives Taste of the Himalayas a rating of GREAT. Toni gives it a rating of GREAT!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Khyber Pass - Awesome Afghani food in Hillcrest

Toni and I are back after our seven continent tour of the underbelly of world cuisine. We studied food with the great chefs of Paris, Addis Ababa, Ankara, Changsha, Florianopolis, and the Ross Ice Shelf. We spent six months with the biscuit guru of Mobile. Now we are back and ready to review the heck out of San Diego. Toni and I have moved into a restaurant heavy part of town and are excited to get at it.

Tonight we ate at Khyber Pass, a Hillcrest restaurant featuring Afghanistan cusine. (523 University Ave.
Hillcrest, San Diego,CA 92111,619-294-7579, ) Right away we noticed that the place was nearly empty. Unusual, as Hillcrest has about five restaurants per block and they're all always pretty busy. But Toni and I thought it looked clean, the hostess was friendly, and the menu looked pretty good.

Neither of us had eaten Afghani food before. We noted a lot of lamb, kabobs, curry, and many dishes of which we had never heard.

The decor was fairly minimal. A blown up photo of the famous shot of Sharbat Gula, named 'Afghan Girl,' and an evocative wall painting featuring  a woman, a man on horseback, and a stone city in the mountains, was about all there was. The music was native and was surprisingly engaging.

We started with bolani (bulanni) or awasana, as an appetizer. This is leeks, potatoes, in a yogurt sauce, wrapped in a delicate fried pastry ($3.95). It came with three sauces--chatni sauce, a hot green sauce made of cilantro, mint, green pepper, and garlic; a pink yogurt sauce that tasted a bit like French dressing; and a hot pepper sauce. Toni found out that this is a common party food in Afghanistan, and served often during Ramadan to break the fast. It was delicious! And such a bargain, I'm telling you, we got about eight of them for under four bucks!

Then we got our main courses. Toni got the karahi chicken ($18.95) off the kabob menu; I got the sweet and sour apricot chicken ($14.95). Toni's was chicken stir fried with bell peppers, spices (I hear some turmeric and coriander might have been involved.) with a side of basmati rice. Toni described it as spicy, but not really, tender, and said "it was really good." Toni as research girl, learned that a karahi is the pan the dish is prepared in--picture a middle eastern version of a wok. My food was just how it sounded, good cuts of chicken covered in a mouthwatering apricot sauce, with big chunks of apricot, and a side of rice. (Toni was making me go less spicy tonight.) Sweet, not spicy, and very satisfying.

For dessert we ordered the rice pudding, and as the server recognized us as internationally famous food bloggers, she threw in some pistachio pudding for good measure. Neither was as ordinary as they sounded. The rice pudding had definite cinnamon overtones. We could not identify the flavor in the pistachio pudding; Toni said it was like "a spicy flower." We asked and were told that it was cardamom. Research girl found out that it is related to ginger, is smoked, chewed, and is used as a medicine to treat infection as well as snake and scorpion bites!

We did not order drinks, though the restaurant does have beer and wine and some Afghan teas.

Total damage for 1 appetizer, 2 entrees, one dessert, and two pops - $54.00. I gave Khyber Pass a very solid GOOD all around, while Toni gave it an enthusiastic GREAT!

There you have it. It feels good to be back home writing. Look for weekly posts!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Miguel's Cocina--Old Town, San Diego

Miguel's Cocina, 2444 San Diego Ave., San Diego.  (619) 298-9840, Website:

On Thursday night, Toni and I wanted Mexican so our natural choice was San Diego's Old Town, which boasts several Mexican restaurants, a Cajun restaurant, Italian, and a few others all within two or three blocks.  We arrived in the area at about 6:00 and there was lots of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, typical of the neighborhood.  Old Town seems to always have a lot of tourism, creating parking problems and large packs of people on foot.  However, there is a public lot that has a lot of turnover--one can usually get a spot after no more than ten minutes of circling.  All of the tourists have the benefit of making you feel like you're on vacation whenever you're there.

We were undecided as to where we would eat.  We picked Miguel's Cocina primarily based on the attractive facade and pleasant looking patio dining room.  Miguel's is part of the Brigantine chain of restaurants, a small, local, corporate chain that consists of seven Brigantine restaurants, five Miguel's restaurants, Miguelito's in Coronado, and The Steakhouse at Azul La Jolla.

There were a few people in line ahead of us, one was the scout for a large party.  Because of the large party, we could not sit in the dining room and had to settle for the lounge.  Toni liked the lounge more because it was inside and warmer, but spacious and relaxed.  The lounge was mostly full but we saw one empty table that was in need of bussing.  Toni said 'I'll take care of this.'  She went to the hostess stand and in a few moments someone came by to clear the table.  He removed the dirty dishes and wiped it down with a dirty napkin left by the previous patron.  We were unimpressed.  But he redeemed by giving it a more thourough wipedown when he brought us our chips and salsa.

The chips were warm, fresh, only slightly greasy and slightly salty.  The salsa was reminiscent of Ortega or Pace, but Toni liked it, as she has a pet peeve about people trying to get to creative with salsa, to the point where it is no longer salsa.  They also brought a small dish of queso dip--rare in San Diego, and pickled peppers, onions, and carrots.

The had an attractive happy hour menu, but we just missed happy hour, which ran from 3:00-6:00.  The drink menu was adequate with all of the Mexican restaurant standards, but was hardly exhaustive. Beers were $5 to $7, mixed drinks about $10.  Entrees were typical and seemed to start around $10.

Lately, every time we've gone out we get a wobbly table.  We got one at Miguel's too, but while we have fixed the last few, we didn't have anything handy to fix this wobble with, so we lived with it.

The server was fairly prompt in taking our orders.  He was friendly but not overbearing. 

We got our food and drinks in decent time.  I had two shredded beef tacos with rice and refried beans ($10). Toni had a chicken burrito and a soft chicken taco ($11.50) with rice, hold the beans.  My tacos were a little greasy, but that is typical because they fry the shells just prior to serving.  (I should also note that they had a woman near the bar making all of the tortillas by hand.)  The shedded beef was in a big clump that came out all at once when I bit it.  The refried beans were a little overcooked, but not bad.

Toni's chicken burrito was stuffed full of shredded chicken with nothing else inside, light sauce and cheese on top.  She gave it good marks.  She said that her soft taco was delicious, with chicken, a little cheese, and a salsa fresca.  She also got a margarita that she reported as being delicious and generous in portion.

Overall, we thought the food was good but not great.  The service was California good (meaning they try, but aren't as organized on average as restaurants back East.), friendly and accomodating.  The atmosphere was pleasant.  We both thought that we would give Miguel's another shot.  On our rating scale, I gave Miguel's a SO-SO to GOOD, while Toni gave the restaurant a SO-SO to GOOD.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lei Lounge: Romantic ambience in University Heights

Lei Lounge--4622 Park Blvd., San Diego, CA (619) 813-2272.

On Thursday night Toni and I went to Lei Lounge in San Diego's University Heights neighborhood.  Lei is a hip, little place with a really cool atmosphere that emphasizes small plates.  And though a look at their website might raise the fear of a high douche factor, (for instance, they offer hookah service.) I have been there three or four times now and they have generally been friendly and pretty laid back.

The front of the restaurant is the bar.  It is narrow and has been cramped and loud every time that I have been there.  Tonight was not different; we had to squeeze/push our way through to get to the hostess stand.  But then when you get through the bar, the dining area is wholly different.  Even though it is fairly narrow, it feels wide.  First of all it is outside.  Though you are surrounded with buildings there is no roof.  Along the sides is banquette seating around gas powered fire pits and semi-private huts.  The table seating is elegant and pretty comfortable even though it is fairly close together.  The music is generally hypnotic, repetitive indie sounding stuff that is not intrusive.  Along the side of one building they project groovy patterns to go along with the music, like you might see at a dance club.  The lighting is subdued and pleasant.  Also, smoking is allowed in the dining area, with ashtrays provided on request.  I actually haven't seen may people smoking outside during dinner hours.

We requested a table for two.  I thought the hostess made a skeptical face and acted like it might be a problem.  Toni says its the same hostess that has accommodated us before, on a busy Saturday night when we didn't have a reservation.  Toni says she was fine.  As it was, there were lots of open tables, but the hostess mentioned something about a large party coming in.  When we were there, it stayed about half full and no large party ever materialized.  As it was, we were seated and only waited a minute.

We noticed one change from the last time that we had been there;  the servers were mostly women now, whereas before the large majority had always been men. [Really cute men, in tight, white outfits--T.]

We ordered drinks.  I wasn't feeling adventurous so I had a Maker's Mark, neat.  The server knew what that meant, not all do, and I view it as a plus.  Toni got a Madrid Mojito, containing liqueur 43, crushed pineapple, rum, mint, simple syrup, topped with soda.  Both of the drinks were in the $8.00 range.  After we got our drinks, we noticed that the table wobbled annoyingly.  Toni fixed it with a folded up piece of paper.

Lei does offer entrees but mostly tapas or small plates.  Toni ordered a chicken quesadilla (brie cheese, grapes, topped with sour cream and cilantro pesto and a side of strawberries.) for $11.00.  Toni said that this dish was perfect, unexpectedly well-balanced, with the sweetness of the strawberries nicely juxtaposed with the flavor of the brie and the cilantro.  She also ordered the asparagus basmati risotto ($5) which she enjoys, but I don't like simply because of the flavor. 

The spring roll sampler
To share we got the spring roll sampler ($16), which comes with eight spring rolls, two philly  cheese steak, two southwest chicken, two asparagus and shitake, and two lobster.  These came with three different dipping sauces, sour cream, avocado, and salsa.  The sauces were tartar, ketchup, and something that tasted like spicy ketchup.  The food runner brought the dish without telling us what was what, which was rather inconvenient.  We muddled through as best as we could.  The spring rolls themselves were very crispy, delicate, and delicious--very nicely done.

I got a petite filet mignon ($16) that came with bleu cheese infused mashed potatoes and a tomato salad and a side of  A1 sauce.  The steak was about 4oz and well prepared, though it did have a big hunk of gristle, which I don't care for when I am eating a filet.  The potatoes were delicious, but the consistency was lumpy and thin.  The salad was good--it's hard to mess up tomatoes, onions, and pepper.  Lastly, I got the giant Sicilian meatball ($5).  This was the biggest disappointment of the evening.  It started promisingly enough; it was a meatball completely surrounded by what looked like a ball of Parmesan encrusted rice and a piece of garlic bread.  However, the meatball was burnt--it was the color of rye bread all the way through and so hard that I couldn't hardly cut it with a steak knife.  I sent it back and did not have another go at it.

the petite filet mignon
We did not get dessert today.  On a previous occasion, I remember not being impressed with the dessert menu, but getting the donuts, which came in Chinese restaurant takeout carton and were good.

Toni feels the drink menu deserves more mention.  It features the aloe vera collins--vodka, aloe vera juice (good for digestion), lemon, simple syrup, and 7-Up;  Toni's favorite, the Gorgeous Geisha--strawberry liqueur, lychee juice, topped with champagne; and Tokyo Bubbles-- sparkling sake, mangosteen juice, and simple syrup.  They have about 20-25 signature drinks listed, and all run $8.50.  None of the drinks that I've seen are big.  The one's I've seen are served in highball sized glasses.

Also according to Toni, Lei has a romantic vibe that makes a regular night out special.

So one our rating scale--Toni gives Lei a rating of GREAT, while I come in more cautiously at GOOD.  I have gotten a few dishes here that weren't quite up to par, but overall they do a very good job here.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Baja Betty's--Most fabulous Mex in Hillcrest

Toni chowing down at Baja Betty's
Baja Betty's--1421 University Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103.  (619) 269-8510,

Of all the restaurants that we've tried since coming to San Diego, we have come back to Baja Betty's the most, because we love the fun and fabulous atmosphere [I think the waiters are cute--Toni] and the food is delicious as well.  So last Tuesday, which is a big day for Mexican food in San Diego with every Mexican joint in town running 'taco Tuesday' specials, we went to Baja Betty's to review it.

Arriving at seven-ish, we had to wait for about ten minutes for our table.  Everytime that we have been to Baja Betty's there has been a wait, but it has never been longer than twenty minutes and usually closer to ten.  

The first thing that strikes you when you walk into Baja Betty's is the multitude of balloons in the shapes of male and female genitalia, tied to tables and floating around near the ceiling.  They have some patio seating where smoking is allowed and is where to sit if you want to be seen by whomever happens to be walking around Hillcrest--a Rogue's Gallery, but in a good way.  The interior seating is ample with basically three dining rooms and a bar decorated like a tiki hut.  The decor is loud and colorful and the volume is also generally quite loud.  People just seem to be happy in Baja Betty's and so laughter and loud conversation is typical, all backed up by awesome eighties music and some club music.

We were seated and our waiter, Brad from Scottsdale, Arizona [Adorable!--Toni] watered both of us without being asked, something that fewer servers seem to do in a lot of restaurants thses days.  He brought us chips, which were fresh, crispy, and not greasy; and Baja Betty's always fresh and a little spicy salsa.  He was very friendly; he called me, 'Babe,' and Toni was 'Angel.'  Once he got know us, he offered us a hot salsa that we had never tried in our previous visits there--very, very spicy, but good--smooth with a pleasant, garlic aftertaste. 

We looked over the drink menu.  Baja Betty's specializes in tequila.  The menu lists 101 tequila choices.  A Margarita Casa is $7.00.  [Their drinks are delicious and always pretty strong--T.]  Other drinks are the Skinny Betty, Surfer on Acid shot, the Me So Horni (A 36 ounce margarita monstrosity for $16.50) and the Teabag Sr.  Baja Betty's also boasts tequila tastings on the first Saturday of every month from 3pm to 5pm.  Toni ordered a Kick Ass margarita [It was awesome!]  and I had a Casa margarita, also very good.

Chi Chi Chicken Chipoltle
We were in a chicken mood.  Toni got Senorita Sally's Soft Taco dinner, two soft chicken tacos with onions and cilantro and Spanish rice for $11.99 [It comes with beans, but she doesn't like the beans--E.].  I got the Chi Chi Chicken Chipotle, char broiled chicken served with three kinds of bell peppers, onions, and a creamy chioptle sauce over rice and beans for $12.95.  One thing that always impresses both of us about Baja Betty's is the cleanliness of the resaturant and the freshness of the food. 

Our food came. The only complaint that I had from the day, was I got black beans instead of the refried beans that I ordered. [You didn't tell the waiter and give him an opportunity to fix it!--T] [Because he was being so nice, I didn't want to bother him with a trifle, my food was great, really--E.]  [I didn't know about it until right now.  You didn't tell me because you knew I would have told him.  He was so great and would have brought you more--T]  Despite that, my food was great and Toni, who often takes half of her food home for the next day, cleaned her plate.

The phallic dessert
After we ate, Brad decided it was Toni's birthday and brought us a celebratory dessert--a deep-fried bannana, with two scoops of vanilla ice cream and some whipped cream.  In this case, presentation was everything.  The scoops of ice-cream were positioned like balls for the bannana shaft, and the whip cream--well, you get the picture. [It came to the table and I squealed 'OOH a penis!' --T.] Since I am allergic to bannanas, but Toni doesn't eat a lot of ice cream--it made the perfect dessert.

So how much did three drinks and two entrees (the dessert doesn't count.) run us?  Just around $45.00.  Not at all bad for good food in a really fun environement where the service is always good, the food fresh and tasty, and the people very friendly.  We liked it all.

I'm being informed by my partner in writing that they have a sister restaurant--Urban Mo's Bar and Grill [With a drag show that is supposed to be to die for--T.]--also in Hillcrest, but we have yet to go there.  Oh and they own Gossip Grill, I'm told.  They probably own more of which I am unaware.

Oh, Baja Betty's also has a great Sunday Brunch--I recommend it.

On our rating scale both of us give Baja Betty's and enthusiastic GREAT for the overall good times and good food.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Babycakes--fabulous desserts in Hillcrest

 Photo from the Babycakes website, used for review purposes only.

Babycakes--3766 Fifth Avenue, San Diego, California, 92103.  (619) 296-4173.  To see their website click here

This will be a shorter review as we only had dessert, but we liked what we had and saw and will go back.  Babycakes is a fun and relaxing dessert place that also has a full bar.  Think Truffles on Clifton (For our Cleveland fans.) with booze.  The specialty is, as the name suggests cupcakes, though they had a scrumptious dessert case and also serve quiche, fruit trays, and similar items.  Their website states that they are getting ready to add lunch and brunch soon.

Parking in Hillcrest can be a problem, but Babycakes is far enough down Fifth that there is usually street parking.  If not, the Rite Aid across the street has a pay lot. 

On the approach, I noticed the location has a quaint, antique look and according to the website, the restaurant is situated in 1889 Craftsman home.  There is a front patio with ample seating that allows smoking.  There  a rear patio though I did not see it.  Toni and I went to the dessert case side and were helped by a friendly guy with earlobe expanding earrings in that were about an inch across.  I got a vanilla cupcake with fudge icing and a double espresso.  Toni got a rasperry fudge cupcake with a soy chai latte.  I was immediately impressed that friendly earring boy peeled the cupcake paper for us.  If you are like me, I tend to avoid cupcakes simply because I don't like messing around with the paper.  Then he plated them, added some chocolate sauce for presentation points, and made witty chit chat all at the same time.  While he was helping us, someone else came to make sure we were being helped.  Service is not an issue at Babycakes.

We got our food, 2 cupcakes and 1 double espresso and one chai latte--the damage $14.14--very reasonable I thought.  I was happy to give earring boy a few dollars in the jar.

The cupcakes were good--these were not your momma's bakesale cupcakes--they were moist with thick, rich icing, garnished with little chocolate discs and some sauce.  Wonderful.

We ate on the patio.  A server came by twice while we were out, cleaning and clearing.

Best of all--no dogs and no screaming children.

Babycakes--good food, prices, atmosphere, (Though the view from the front patio is Rite Aid and the taxi stand.) nice looking bar.  For what it is--I gave it a GOOD-GREAT on our scale.  Toni had to refrain from helping with this review as she doesn't feel good, but she liked it too.  We will go back when they expand their food menu.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Coronado Firehouse Bar and Grill

126 Orange Avenue, Coronado, California, 92118.  (619) 554-2900.

Located at the northern end of Coronado, the Coronado Firehouse Bar and Grill just opened about one month ago.  It is situated in the building which actually housed Coronado's first fire station and is aptly decorated as such.  The walls are covered with photos of fires and fighting fires.  The inside is clean and spacious with cool metal tables, large banquettes, and a small amount of patio seating.  Toni liked it because it had two dalmation wearing fire hat statues.  Also right up front were two vintage cars dominating the dining room. (Didn't make sense to me, It was cool, but didn't really fit--Toni.)

We went in for lunch and were seated promptly.  The people seated in front of us had a small dog tied to the chair under their table.  This seems to be common practice in San Diego, but is one we find ridiculous--in places where we are eating, it's gross to have everyone's mutts staring at you and salivating with every bite you take.  The only thing worse is to be surrounded by screaming, ill-behaved children.

The waitress was perky and everything was 'beautiful.'  They had a fair selection of beer on tap.  I ordered a Dark and Stormy stout, the twenty oz. for $7.00.  As an appetizer, I got a 'rookie' sized 5-Alarm Firehouse Chili ($5.79), which was described as a Texas-style chilli seasoned with Sierra Nevada porter and traditional spices and covered with Frito's corn chips.  For an entree, I ordered a Captain burger ($9.79) which was basically a bleu cheese burger with onion rings and an herb aoili.  Toni ordered a charbroiled chicken sandwich ($9.99).

As I had ordered an appetizer, I expected that it would come out first.  However, after about twenty minutes a food runner brought all of our food at once.  There is a certain understanding that if an item is called a 'starter' that it starts--bring it out first.  I'm sure that they did not have to make the chili fresh, they probably could have brought it to us before our lunch. 

The chili was mediocre.  On the plus side, the meat used was excellent, like tender stew meat.  It was topped with fresh onions and Fritos, which was a nice, homey touch.  On the down side, it was bland and luke warm.  The cheese on top was melted but had cooled enough to re-harden.  The beer taste overpowered the chili, which wasn't spicy at all--when you name your chili 5-alarm chili that's like a verbal contract that its going to have a little kick.

The Captain burger, I had ordered medium and it came out very well done.  It was covered with big onion rings that were quite good and served on a high quality kaiser roll.  The fries were seasoned with a taco-like powder that wasn't terrible.  The fries were limp.

Here's Toni's take on the chicken--What can you say?  It was a chicken sandwich for Chrissakes.  But the bun was delicious; it was like a brioche roll and had a thick piece of avocado on top, which is so California.  My fries were cold, not crispy, and I didn't really like the seasoning.  I miss the days when a fry was a fry.  Stop messing with the potato!  When did french fries become fancy?  Overall, I like the sandwich and some of the other items we saw people eating looked good--potato skins, the pizza looked really good.  I will go back, even though it wasn't perfect, to try some of the other foods.  I also thought the names of the foods were cute--I want to go back just so I can order 'the Hoseman.' (A blackened NY style cheeseburger with jalapenos--$8.79.)  Not that I would actually consume that, I just want to order it (I would wind up having to eat it--Erik.) I just want to call the server a hoseman.

We also have to mention the musical choice, loud techno at 2pm on a Sunday, was stupid.

Other menu items include Hook and Ladder burger (3 kinds of cheese and avocado--$8.99.), pizzas like the Coronado Pizza (Tomatoes, peppers,spinach, onion, artichoke, eggplant, seasonal squash, mushrooms, olives, roasted garlic, three cheese, and avocados--$11.99.)  Go here for their website and full menu.

The consensus is that we would return, in large part because of the atmosphere of the surrounding area.  After we ate it was half a block to San Diego Bay and what we think is the best view of downtown.  On our restaurant rating scale (Gross, So-so, Good, Great) Toni gave the Firehouse a firm GOOD, while I have to go SO-SO.  I would have said that the cleanliness was good, except that I was eating next to a dog.  (I thought it was cute--Toni.)