San Diego’s DaoFu takes home-made to another level

I am always excited when I find a little mom and pop spot regardless of where I am. On a recent trip to San Diego, a friend, who had been to DaoFu previously, brought me here because he thought I would love the food.  He wasn’t wrong. The sign alone intrigued and piqued my curiosity: “Home-made tofu and soy milk.”

The restaurant is small and the cozy nature of it really appealed, not to mention the smiling face of the lady who seated us. I found out later that Maggie is the owner/chef’s wife.

Naturally, on a first visit, I always order way too much food because I want to try everything, but before we even ordered, a complimentary salad arrives with some home made tofu alongside. The beet and raspberry salad dressing — also made in-house — was delightfully tart with a hint of sweetness. The tofu was absolutely incredible. Not only was it texturally pleasing, but it possessed the robust flavors of soy beans that I know and love.

salad

This is why we wanted to encompass more tofu into our meal. The Lily Flower with Asparagus and Oyster Mushrooms ($12.98) was selected because I love lily flower. It was just a bonus that a wedge of fried tofu was present on the plate. All plates arrive with your choice of white, brown or half/half rice. We opted for brown throughout.

veg plate

When asked what spice level you want, don’t go crazy like I did. I told Maggie 10. She put me in my place when she told me 5 was sufficient. We negotiated a 5 for the first dish and later, I went up one level to 6. Seeing I am able to eat habanero-level heat, and a 6 was hot enough, I would like to warn others before they try to order on the Orange County heat level I am accustomed to. Trust Maggie when she tells you it’s hot enough!

We started with some Chicken Salad Rolls ($8.28), a take on the Vietnamese rice paper rolls stuffed with lettuce, mints, cilantro, bean sprouts and rice noodles. They are cut in half and sits on a plate of house sauce similar to the dressing on the salad, but just a hint sweeter.

chicken rolls

Both my friend and I love chicken wings so an order of Garlic Chicken Wings ($8.36) was on the agenda, but first, I had Maggie confirm it wasn’t a sweet sauce the wings were doused in. She assured me it wasn’t. These fried chicken wings are coated with a savory garlic sauce which are perfect on their own, or accompanied with a bowl of steamed rice. So good!

chicken wings

Maggie recommended the next dish, Stuffed Tofu, Eggplant and Peppers ($12.11), what we refer to as ‘yong dao fu’. The tofu, eggplant and peppers are stuffed with fish paste and lightly pan fried before they are topped with a piquant spicy sauce. Typically, fish paste tends to be hard and with a fish ball-like texture. Here, it is soft and complements the vegetables perfectly, especially the tofu.
stuffed vegs
Wild Steamed Red Snapper Rice Pot ($13.88) was positively our favorite. Brown rice is topped with steamed snapper fillets with a sauce seasoned with ginger, garlic, wine, scallion and cilantro. The delicate fish is not inundated with sauce so you’re able to taste it on its own, or, with the sauce-seasoned rice. The shiitake mushroom slices enhanced the flavors providing us with various tastes with each mouthful. We couldn’t stop eating this!
fish rice pot
When we were done, Maggie brought complimentary ice cream (all guests receive this) to us and continued chatting to me in Cantonese. This is when I found out that her husband Eric started making tofu with no experience whatsoever, perfecting it through the years. She is delighted that her customers love their food and especially, the tofu. She explained that the tofu is organic and Eric insists on creating everything from scratch right down to making the noodles they serve. I was bummed I didn’t know about this sooner, but will definitely return and order noodles on my next visit.
There are a ton of vegetarian dishes available which appeal to non-vegetarians as well so there is something for everyone. I wish we had something similar in Orange County, but the closest thing we have is Dao Son, a shop selling home-made tofu in Westminster. There is no Chinese chef in OC making his own tofu and noodles that I know of. Do you?

DaoFu
3332 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA 92116
Tel: 619-281-6888

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OB Noodle House San Diego

I’ve been wanting those chicken wings after watching an episode of Diners, Drive-ins and Dives (Triple D), where Guy Fieri visits OB Noodle House in Ocean Beach, a seaside neighborhood of San Diego! On a recent visit, we make it a point to stop by the original location off Cable Street for lunch (there is a second location off Niagara on the cusp of Ocean Beach and Point Loma). As we drive past it, our hearts sink when we see the hordes of people outside.

Circling around the neighborhood several times, we find a spot less than a block away and check in with the hostess who informs us of the 20 minute wait, but lucky for us, it only turns out to be 10.

OB NOODLE HOUSE SD

There is inside and sidewalk seating — we are led to what I would call the best seat in the house, a corner table affording us a view of the entire restaurant. It is busy, very loud with music blaring, the upbeat vibe reminds me of eateries I’ve come across many times while living in Hawaii.

We settle on some sour beers (on the day of our visit beers were half off — score!) which is absolutely refreshing on a warm day and perfect with the appetizers we select.

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Grilled Lemongrass Chicken Satay ($6.95) is surprisingly tasty. I am not sure when it arrives as the reddish hue is “radioactive”-like reminiscent of Chinese cha siu. The chicken is bursting with lemongrass aromas and well-seasoned. A ramekin of hoisin sauce accompanies but I enjoyed them without it.

satay

But what I am here for are the Spicy Garlic Wings ($11.95) and they do not disappoint. Ironically, the twelve succulent wings (and these are the real wings, not drummettes) are also strangely red in color, but crispy on the outside and oh so moist on the inside. Be careful when you eat them because they are scorching hot on the inside — retaining its heat even to the last wing. I can probably devour the entire plate but it is rude not to share.

chicken wings

Sizzling Fish ($11.95) is tasty and comes with a bowl of steamed white rice. The basa fillet is topped with caramelized ginger and garlic, with chopped fresh cilantro and green onions. I often cook basa at home but have never thought to use caramelized ginger before! I will be doing that from now on. The crispy bits of garlic and ginger definitely elevates the flavor to another level.

sizzling fish

We see a guy eating a plate of House Special Fried Rice ($12.95) at the next table which entices us to order it. It is a hefty portion,with a generous amount of gai lan (Chinese broccoli), shrimp, beef, eggs, Chinese sausage and sate sauce, but I can’t figure out why the fried rice is so sweet. The Chinese sausage usually possesses some sweetness, but I can’t imagine sate sauce to be. I bring it home and doctor it up with other ingredients and condiments — much better!

house fried rice

Unfortunately, Stir Fried Crispy Egg Noodles With Chicken Assorted Vegetables ($8.95) is highly disappointing. The crispy noodles remind me of the bits of crispy noodles you get in the Midwest when you order chow mein, except these are long and resemble regular noodles. They taste a little stale and the overall dish is bland and flavorless. I pick out the cabbage and broccoli and we leave the rest.

noodles

My final conclusion? There is definitely some hype surrounding this place, not all of it warranted. I see a lot of people eating pho, but I’m not sure this is what I want when lil Saigon is so close by. The chicken wings are definitely worth returning for — if there is no wait for a table — but then again, if I am craving them, I can just order to go and pick them up, right?

OB Noodle House
2218 Cable Street
San Diego, CA 92107
Tel: 619-450-6868

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Lantern Cafe has decent oxtail pho

Aside

My friends and I are always thrilled to check out a new restaurant. My girlfriend who lives in the area spotted this new Vietnamese restaurant and we decided it was going to be our next lunch destination. I meet up with these gals once every few weeks and it’s not only a time for us to share a meal, but also, share the on- goings in our lives we wanted to talk about. Lantern Cafe was a no-frills place located in the same strip mall as The Meat House. The decor is sparse but it was clean and service attentive.

We started with Spring Rolls (Gỏi cuốn $4.50), fresh rolls stuffed with shrimp, pork, vermecelli rolled in rice paper. The accompanying hoisin based sauce is good, topped with crushed peanuts.

spring rolls (640x425)

The Spring Rolls (chả giò $4.95) are fried perfectly crispy and I like them rolled with the lettuce and cilantro they provide you with on the plate. The nuoc mam dipping sauce is mild and subtle but sufficed especially with a squirt of sriracha.

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I saw Lotus Stem Salad (Gỏi Ngó Sen $9.95) on the menu and was immediately excited. Unfortunately, this was the only disappointing dish we ordered (or should I say, “I ordered”) as the lotus stems were scarce and there was a ton of daikon cut the same size as the lotus stem tossed in to make it look like there was more. They were generous with the cha siu (barbecued pork) and shrimp, but I wanted more lotus stem and there wasn’t much of it — yes I picked through it!

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We were very excited about Oxtail Pho (Phở Duôi Bò $7.75) on the menu. Very few restaurants outside of Westminster serve oxtail pho, and having said that, only a handful of the thousands of restaurants in Little Saigon offer oxtail pho. The one here is decent and the broth is flavorful. There wasn’t much MSG detected either so that’s a plus!

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I’m a huge fan of Claypot Rice (Cơm Tay Cầm $8.75) so to find it here was great. The toppings on the rice were flavorful with chicken, shrimp, and vegetables including baby corn. I was hoping for some crispy rice on the bottom of the claypot but there was none to be found.

claypot rice (640x425)

Combination Chow Fun (Hủ Tiếu Xào Thập Cẩm $9.50) was actually very tasty albeit some of the noodles were clumped up. One thing I noticed is they do not skimp on ingredients. There was ample chicken, vegetables and cha siu (barbecued pork) on the plate.

chow fun (640x425)

The food here is decent. Little Saigon it definitely is not, but when I don’t feel like driving out there, this place suffices, especially when I’m in the mood for oxtail pho.

Lantern Cafe
103 E 17th Street
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Tel: 949-515-9090

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fusion fare at Little Sister Manhattan Beach

The start of my birthday celebrations brought us to Manhattan Beach. My friends and I are huge fans of the restaurant scene in the area but this time, we wanted to check out something we hadn’t tried before. Just across the street from two of our favorite Manhattan Beach restaurants — Chef David Lefevre’s two incredible offerings, MB Post and Fishing With Dynamite — is Little Sister.

LITTLE SISTER -- MB (640x360)

I actually had no idea the restaurant belonged to Tin Vuong, formerly of Sapphire in Laguna Beach. I had met Chef Vuong at the Kitchen Takeover event at Abigail’s early this year and knew he had opened WildCraft Sourdough Pizza, but I didn’t know he was affiliated with Little Sister as well.

We arrived early for our 5.30pm reservation and immediately ordered a large bottle of Shimizo-No-Mai Pure Snow ($24) chilled sake. It arrives in an earthen serving vessel which continued to keep the sake cold throughout our meal. The milky rice wine was very palatable and had a slight hint of sweetness to it.

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Ma La Beef Tartare ($12) was our first dish of the night. I love “ma la”, the flavor and sensation attributed to the Szechuan peppercorn. The numbing effects of the peppercorn is exhilarating, perhaps a little intoxicating even. The tartare had only a hint of the “ma la” and although I wasn’t able to taste the pear, I detected the pine nuts here and there. The bone marrow vin and quail egg helped elevate the flavors, however, the beef was a bit too chewy and could have been diced smaller.

ma la tartare (640x425)

XO Pea Tendrils ($8) was absolutely perfect. Crazy how I’ve never thought to use conpoy (dried scallops) shards when I make my pea tendrils. I didn’t care for the crushed almonds because its flavor overpowered the delicate tendrils, but the addition of lime juice was a very nice touch.

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I was excited to try Confit Duck “Goi Vit” ($14), a Vietnamese style salad with red cabbage, sweet onions, carrots, green papaya and rau ram (Vietnamese coriander). The salted apricot vin it was tossed in needed more heat and more acid. I asked for lime wedges and more chilis and added them to the salad. At this point, Chef Vuong stopped by the table and asked us how everything was tasting — I didn’t think he remembered me. I told him that the salad lacked the heat and tartness I was accustomed to. We had a quick discussion and I guess the clientele dictates the flavors. So when you visit Little Sister, tell them you want it hardcore if you want it authentic.

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If you like spices make sure you ask for some sambal. Our server Jessica brought out four for us to try.

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Vietnamese Crepe “Banh Xeo” ($14) is a favorite of mine and this did not disappoint. Stuffed with pork belly, prawns, bean sprouts, various herbs and greens, it was a refined version of the banh xeo I eat regularly in Lil Saigon. The nuoc cham house dressing, made with nuoc mam (fish sauce), was garlicky, tart with a hint of sweetness and absolutely perfect in every way.

banh xeo (640x425)

We didn’t know which direction to take next. There were two items on the menu with curry, but I didn’t like the idea of curry overpowering scallops so we went with Vietnamese Coconut Chicken Curry ($18). I enjoyed the tartness of the broth as it lent a freshness to the entire dish. Confit potatoes tasted like regular potatoes, while the pineapple and kabocha squash added a touch of sweetness. The chicken tasted like it had been roasted or flash fried as the skin was crispy, but the curry flavor did not penetrate the meat itself, but rather, coating the exterior.

chicken curry (640x425)

I really liked the Master Stock Jasmine Rice ($2) which we paired with the curry — although Chef Vuong gave us a sesame baguette to go with the curry an option you can have with curry in Lil Saigon. The rice had wonderful flavors and was elevated by the fried shallots and green onion toppings. Whether you go for rice or bread, both are good ways to sop up the remaining curry sauce.

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Salt & Pepper Lobster ($38) was the piece de resistance of the entire meal. A whole lobster is topped with butter fried shallots, fried chilis and garlic. I relished in the flavors enveloping the shell and chose the pieces requiring the most work. I wanted to suck all the flavor off as many crevices as possible. The accompanying salt and pepper lime dipping sauce was not necessary but tasted great if you wish to use it.

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We had no room left for dessert but they offer an array of sweets served trio style. A list of items ranging from macarons, panna cotta and profiterole as well as souffle allows you to mix and match three of your favorites to complete your meal. My meal ended the minute I ate the last piece of lobster on the plate.

Little Sister
1131 Manhattan Avenue
Manhattan Beach, CA 90266
Tel: 310-545-2096

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Starfish won me over with soup … and more

I’ve never been a fan of Asian fusion, but something happened this year. I found myself surprised by some non-traditional Asian cuisine and even liking some of the westernized food on offer. Starfish Laguna is one of those places.

I recently visited again and was drawn to the Hot and Sour Soup ($5), filled with organic pressed tofu,bamboo, shiitake mushroom and finished off with egg drop. I added a spoonful of sambal oelek for more heat, but it was a stellar bowl of hot and sour! — lunch specials come with soup and egg roll.

I was enticed by the description of the Singapore Bamboo Roll ($7) — soy seasoned bamboo, carrot, jicama, cilatro, thai basil served with a roasted peanut hoisin dipping sauce. I was so happy that it tasted exactly as I’d expected it to! The rolls are so refreshing with crunchy vegetables stuffed inside. I can eat two orders of these on my own — easily!

Another item I enjoyed were the Korean Galbi Tacos ($9), served three to an order. The barbequed sesame soy seasoned natural angus beef was flavorful and the spicy gochujang aioli added a nice kick to them. Pickled daikon soothed out the flavors by adding some crunchy tartness.

I love eggplant and insisted on ordering Japanese Eggplant ($10) slow braised with house made sambal, Sichuan peppercorns and bell peppers. I was disappointed. Not only was there no hint of the Sichuan peppercorns’ numbing effects, but the dish was surprisingly bland. We all agreed this was our least favorite item.

Garlic Noodle ($10), priced the same at the one at AnQi was a much larger portion dotted with wild mushrooms, vine ripened tomato and bean sprouts and was so much more flavorful. I will take this over AnQi’s “famous” garlic noodles any day even though the noodles here are much thinner and not as garlicky.

One of my favorite dishes was Beef and Coke Farms Broccoli di Ciccio ($12) a sauteed item with garlic, rice wine and soy. I can eat this with a bowl of steaming hot rice and call it a day.

We ended with Thai Fried Rice ($12), a quite tasty combination of wild gulf shrimp, Chinese sausage, edamame, egg and cabbage. Not your traditional fried rice by any means, but will appeal to both kids and adults alike!

Yes it’s not traditional or authentic Asian fare, but if it’s tasty I’ll eat it AND enjoy it. Just like PF Chang’s, Starfish Laguna has definitely caught my attention with their twist on food I grew up eating. I will be back again for those Bamboo Rolls, hot and sour soup and the beef with broccoli!

I have a $50 giftcard to giveaway to one lucky reader. Tell me what your favorite Chinese dish is and make sure you include your FULL name & email address. “Like” Starfish Laguna and diary of a Mad Hungry Woman‘s Facebook pages, leave a 2nd comment to let us know and you will be entered for a 2nd chance to win.

Starfish Laguna
30832 Pacific Coast Hwy
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Tel: 949-715-9200

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A gem so hidden you’ll never find it

I had seen this place when I went to Doner G and I thought it had an interesting name, but didn’t give much thought to it until several people mentioned it to me. After that, I had to check it out! This little Vietnamese deli is in the same plaza as Doner G and sits behind the car wash and is a mom and pop business serving both as a small grocery store as well as a restaurant.

I asked my friend who lives in Anaheim to join me for an early lunch seeing I wanted to try a bunch of things and there was no way I would be able to finish it all on my own.

As soon as we enter, we were greeted by a very friendly lady who asked us what she could get for us. I’d wanted to try several things and after I perused the board and ended up getting more than what I had originally planned. Thank god Gerry was there to help me polish all this food off.

We started with banh mi, a foot-long Vietnamese sandwich, filled with shredded rotisserie chicken ($2.89), In true banh mi style, there was do chua (pickled julienned carrots and daikon), cilantro and jalapeno (if you asked for spicy).

They make the rotisserie chicken in-house and is flavored with an Asian style marinade consisting mainly of soy sauce and other seasonings. The sandwich is good, but needed a even more of a kick than what the jalapeno was doing, so I squeezed some sambal oelek into it which did the trick.

Ca Ri Ga or chicken curry ($5.50) is served with your choice of rice or bread and arrives in a bowl swimming with carrots and potatoes. The curry is mild and although the sauce is on the watery side, the flavors are good. I can really taste the coconut milk in here. The bread soaks up the sauce pretty well and we do this until all the bread is gone. We didn’t want to waste any of it.

The same shredded chicken used in the banh mi is also served with sticky rice ($3.50) and I thought tasted more flavorful than when eaten as part of a banh mi. Fried shallots are sprinkled on top of this dish giving it an additional southeast Asian flavor to it. It is a filling meal for a very small price.

They’ve recently added lemongrass beef banh mi ($3.99) and I highly recommend this if you want a tasty Vietnamese sandwich! The meat is very aromatic, flavorful and very delicious. If you don’t want to eat a sandwich, you can also have the beef with rice, eggs and soup for $6.50.

Although I didn’t try the chicken udon noodles ($4.75) the table next to me ordered it so I asked if they would let me take a photo. They kindly allowed me to. The broth used in the udon is house-made chicken stock so you know it is just like home-made.

The store also sells fresh poultry and eggs. I brought a chicken home and made chicken soup with it, plus 2 dozen eggs. I loved the eggs because the yolks were so plump, but the chicken was just okay. I still prefer the ones at Dakao Poultry. The rotisserie chicken used in the dishes we ate are also available to take home whole.

If you live in the area, this place is a great place to stop by for great cheap eats and pick up a dozen eggs while you’re at it. For me, it’s quite a trek to just drive on over for banh mi and chicken curry, but if I ever find myself in the area craving a banh mi, I’ll definitely think of this place! The owners are friendly and lovely and I am always a firm believer in supporting small independent businesses! Go check them out!

OC Poultry & Rotisserie
2117 E Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92806
Tel: 714-780-0225

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