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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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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Lukshon & Godiva join forces for the year of the horse

Last week, I was invited to a dinner at Lukshon in Culver City in collaboration with Godiva who created special chocolates in celebration of Lunar New Year, which happens on January 31st this year — the year of the horse! People born in this year are known for being independent, free-spirited and feisty and the menu this evening featured the Szechuan peppercorn in many of the dishes known for its spicy numbing qualities. Chef Sang Yoon of Lukshon also infused many of the savory dishes with Godiva chocolates, making some unique and delicious pairings I’d never tasted before.

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We were really here to be introduced to the commemorative Lunar New Year chocolates which comes in several variations all enveloped in a stunning red box (the color of prosperity in Chinese culture).

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The dinner was served family style and you’ll be happy to know that most of the savory dishes are available on Lukshon’s regular menu. I was tickled to be in the company of Karin E Baker, deputy editor of Flavorpill LA, Tommy Lei, known fashion blogger of My Belonging and Jocelyn Wang, the person behind V3Con Digital Media Conference and currently, President of the Asian American Journalists Association LA Chapter.

Our first course is a platter of Duck Popiah which we all zoomed in to take photos of. Popiah is a Singaporean fresh roll and here, Chef Sang has filled it with duck confit and a wonderful dark chocolate hoisin sauce which was so subtle none of us could detect it. However, we all agreed, it took the edge off the hoisin by giving it a smoother, more balanced flavor than pungent hoisin alone. Pickled stem lettuce added a touch of crunch and acidity to the dish.

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I was so excited when Crispy Whole Fish arrives. An entire fish is presented beautifully, curved and fried to perfection. I was given the task of breaking apart the fish which revealed moist, tender flaky white fish morsels which we drizzled with the accompanying pecel (a spicy, sweet and tart sauce originating from Indonesia). Wok charred cucumbers are heavenly and possessed the intoxicating flavors of Szechuan peppercorns. I couldn’t stop eating it was so addicting!

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Chinese Eggplant was soft with a crispy exterior and tossed in panch puran, an Indian five-spice mixture topped with a dollop of fennel raita and shards of crispy eggplant. The menu also stated cocoa nibs as an ingredient and again, it was so deftly added to the dish without overpowering.

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The bowl of Crab Fried Rice was devoured so quickly we didn’t have much time to think about it. The blue crab infused jasmine rice had bits of pea tendrils, serrano chile and egg combined together and was so decadent it would have made a meal in itself.

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Our next dish was Beef and Broccoli but like no other I’ve ever tasted before. Tender slices of hanger steak prepared in a black bean cocoa butter sauce was so rich and savory we all took more than a piece. Gai lan not only added color, but also, a wonderful vegetable component to the dish. I prefer Chinese broccoli over regular because of its leafiness. Puffed tendon added another textural dimension to this mouth-watering dish.

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The Brussels Sprouts were also highly addicting and we were thrilled they placed two bowls on our table. The chile garlic vinaigrette possessed hints of sesame, coating the slightly charred Brussels sprouts which were eaten with glee.

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And if we thought the crab fried rice was good, the Heirloom Black Rice made us even happier. Savory lap cheong (Chinese sausage), onion, roasted garlic are prepared with the rice and topped with a runny Lily’s farm fried egg which added another dimension of richness to the already perfect rice.

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However, if there was to be a piece de resistence of the meal, I’ll have to say, Spicy Chinese Ramen was it. The broth was absolutely impeccable with so much depth and layers of flavors in every spoonful. Ma la (the flavor given to Szechuan peppercorns) bamboo, pork belly and crispy ear were ideal accompaniments but all I wanted was to slurp up all the broth.

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By now I was really quite full but every one at the table was excited about the desserts about to hit the table. There were four desserts including Godiva White Chocolate Vietnamese Iced Coffee spiked with White Lion arrack. Arrack or arak is a distilled alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of coconut flowers, fruits or sugarcane, but not the same as the anise alcoholic beverage consumed in eastern Mediterranean countries or north Africa. It was incredibly strong, both the coffee and the spirit and we wanted to take it with us to drink the next day but due to the alcohol content, was unable to take it with us.

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Godiva Milk Chocolate Cherry Shooter also had some sort of alcohol in it. I wasn’t able to “shoot” it, but instead, took a small spoonful to taste from the crushed candied almond-rimmed glass.

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Chocolate and Pear “Donut” had specks of gold all over it which created the most visually stunning edible ever, unfortunately, the photo doesn’t do it justice at all. With chicory, kecap manis caramel, fresno chile and puffed rice.

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The item I was most looking forward to was Macadamia and Black Sesame Dumpling. New years generally includes “tong yuen” which is a mochi based dumpling with a filling of some sort, traditionally, peanut, black sesame or red bean. I wanted only a bite but it was a difficult task so I popped the entire thing in my mouth.

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Even though our meal was part of a celebration that can’t be duplicated, you can visit Lukshon and put together your own lunar new year dinner, or, any time of the year. That ramen is to-die-for and should not be missed.

Lukshon
3239 Helms Avenue
Culver City, CA 90034
Tel: 310-202-6808

Lukshon on Urbanspoon

Buddha’s Belly is nostalgia in my mouth

We visited Buddha’s Belly a few weekends ago, a restaurant I remember seeing time after time again when my BFF used to lived in Santa Monica. The restaurant is only a block away from the water and I remember always seeing it packed with people whenever we drove by.

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As we drove by it on this particular afternoon, there was again a crowd in there. After finding parking, we strolled in to find a restaurant decorated in my favorite colors — orange and green — and a table by the floor-to-ceiling window, a perfect spot for people watching.

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We began with some beverages, including Thai Iced Tea something my son has gotten quite addicted to of late.

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Black Orchid Sour ($11) is a bourbon-based cocktail with violet liqueur, blackberries, lemon juice and egg whites. I wasn’t sure I’d like it because I’m generally not a fan of bourbon, but it was DELICIOUS! The bourbon wasn’t overpowering and the flavors were fruity and pleasing.

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We wanted the Tuna Volcano but then found out we could get a Curry Chicken Volcano/Tuna Volcano ($10) combo. Sushi rice is formed and then fried to create a crispy bottom for either a curry chicken or an ahi tuna topping. Both were very tasty with a great textural contrast in every bite.

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I absolutely adored Duck Tacos ($11.75) which reminded me of the Peking duck pancakes I used to eat in Hong Kong. Topped with green onion, hoisin sauce and served on corn tortillas instead of the traditional flour pancakes, they were equally delicious and I craved more hoisin sauce on mine. If you’re longing for Peking duck, come and get some of these instead.

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Korean Tofu Crunch ($7) is a light appetizer sitting over gochujang, a Korean chili paste with garlic, soy, sesame oil, scallion and seaweed. My son devoured it! This dish consisted of everything he loves: tofu and anything Korean!

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I’ve never been a huge fan of pad Thai because I’ve never had it anywhere outside of Thailand worthy of the real thing. The Pad Thai ($11) here is outstanding. The consistency is spot on and not the least bit greasy. Shrimp, chicken breast, tofu, onion, egg, bean sprouts, nira chive, cilantro and peanut are tossed with rice noodles and coated with that incredible char all Asian street food is known for known as “wok hei”.

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We love Thai food and Tom Yom Koon Ramen ($11) sounded interesting. The red chili broth infused with lemongrass and kaffir lime was swimming with shrimp, tomato, straw mushrooms and cilantro. A side dish of coconut milk was served alongside for you to add to your liking. We all agreed the broth was wonderfully aromatic and even took the remainder home.

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I was intrigued by Ginger Fried Rice ($11) and thought it was going to be like the one my mom makes, but it was nothing like it. Sweet red ginger is the main ingredient and they weren’t skimpy with the sirloin steak or shrimp tossed in. Egg, shiitake, mushroom, red onion, red bell pepper and sesame seeds complete this dish perfect as an entree or a shared item for the table.

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Living in Hawaii, miso black cod was a weekly staple so I wanted to try the Baked Alaskan Black Cod ($19). A beautifully presented bento box with jasmine rice, broccoli and a cucumber salad, the fish was deliciously addicting and I was trying to savor every morsel slowly.

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Every dish I had invoked some sort of ratatouille moment for me. It brought back childhood memories and fuzzy feelings I was happy to surround myself with. To take it one step further, we ended the meal with Coconut Tapioca Pudding ($7), one of my favorite Asian desserts. The dollop of red bean just made it even better!

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If you’re ever in Santa Monica and wanting some southeast Asian food, stop by this place! They even have a happy hour menu in the afternoon for snacks and delicious cocktails!

Buddha’s Belly
205 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA 90401
Tel: 310-458-2500

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Umami packed ramen at Rakiraki San Diego

I was scrolling through Twitter one day and saw an entry about a ramen place serving tsukemen, but it was in San Diego. I love tsukemen, a ramen style noodle dish served with a dipping broth on the side. Very few places in OC serve this and I’m always looking for better ones to try.

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After a few tweets here and there, I decided to bookmark it for a future visit when I was down in San Diego. I finally made it there after months of anticipation and was really surprised at this gem immersed in the chaotic mess that is Convoy Street. The wood exterior stood out and the interior was a well thought out space of minimalistic eco-friendly chic.

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The menu is extensive with ramen offerings as well as sushi, and rice bowls. Also on the menu are various tidbits generally eaten as snacks. I saw several Japanese favorites and wanted everything — too bad I only have one belly!

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We are served alkaline water — complimentary — and I love the taste of this. I buy alkaline water from the grocery store so I know the health benefits. Believe it or not, the broth for all the ramen is made with this alkaline water. I was excited to taste it!

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But before getting to the ramen, we started with Chicken Karaage ($5.75). I’d like to say I’m something of a karaage expert simply because I always order it wherever I go. I was happy to see a really generous portion for under $6. The exterior was nice and crispy while the interior was moist and juicy. They use organic chicken here and I can definitely taste the difference. It was nicely seasoned and I wanted to eat piece after piece, but had to pace myself.

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I’m usually not a huge fan of Takoyaki ($4.50) due to its texture, but found these very pleasing.

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They were not doughy and mushy, but had a lovely bouncy texture with a nice chunk of octopus hidden inside. The dough wasn’t toothy and really quite good.

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When it came to ramen, I wanted to start off with the Original ($7.25), a chicken base broth packed with flavor, but is not thick and does not have that cream-like consistency like its pork bone counterpart. Some days, I just want a clean, light bowl of noodles and this would be the perfect choice. Maybe it’s the alkaline water, but the broth has a very clean, crisp finish on the palate.

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But wait! Look here! Something is really different with the ramen. I notice some scorching on top. The scallions are scalded and so is the chicken. What’s going on? Each bowl of ramen here is scalded with a torch to give the toppings a ‘seared’ touch. It makes everything pop just a little bit more. I like it!

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What I came here for was the tsukemen so I was looking forward to Spicy Tsukemen ($9.25). I love tsukemen and there is only one place in Orange County I know which serves it. At Rakiraki, you can opt for cold or hot tsukemen and I didn’t like the idea of a meat broth being cold so I opted for the hot.

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The noodles were perfect in texture and the dipping broth was absolutely spot on. It was saltier than the regular ramen broth, but rightly so because this is only meant as a dipping sauce and not to be sipped like you would with ramen. The flavors were hearty and rich with chunks of pork swimming underneath.

I also tried the Spicy Miso Tonkotsu ramen which was seriously good. The broth is not greasy and never leaves that gnarly film in your mouth after eating. The broth is not overly salty which happens often when I eat ramen. I found out that unlike other restaurants, Rakiraki simmers its broth for a certain number of hours and then they take it off the heat so it isn’t evaporating throughout the day, compromising the flavors.

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There are bottles of house-made infused vinegar on the table which I highly recommend you try — if you like vinegar. I love it. The grain vinegar is infused with imported Japanese chilis and garlic. I drizzle some onto a spoonful of noodles and I found it helps cut any of the richness you might encounter. It is so palatable I was even sipping on it. I wish they sold this!

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Consistency is vital to the concept of Rakiraki and it may take a few more minutes wait time than other ramen houses you’re accustomed to. The room temperature broth is brought back to boil once an order is put in so each bowl tastes the same every time you visit the restaurant. The precision taken is unrivaled.

I was really impressed by my visit here. I’ll definitely be coming back again! Maybe they will consider opening one up here in Orange County!

Rakiraki
4646 Convoy Street
San Diego, CA 92111
Tel: 858-573-2400

Rakiraki on Urbanspoon

feeling let down by Burlap

I’ve had Burlap on my radar for quite some time now and finally was able to make a trip down to Del Mar with Austin and some friends a few weeks ago. When we got there, I was quite underwhelmed by the lackluster exterior of the place, but when we entered, it was a whole ‘nother story.

There is definitely an Asian theme throughout the restaurant with ornate lion’s heads dangling from the ceiling above the bar and a koi pond on the back patio. There are nooks and crannies all over with a private dining room hidden behind the lounge area and a separate outside lounge on the far end of the restaurant.

It was a beautiful day, albeit a windy one, and it seemed everyone was seated outside on the patio. I soon found out that not only was the decor very Asian-centric, but so was the menu.

We started with a cocktail — The Dragon ($12) — of tequila, prosecco and a Szechuan gastrique. I was intrigued by the ingredients, but unfortunately, even the chili pepper garnish wasn’t enough to add any bit of kick to the drink. The prosecco tasted a little flat and just didn’t give it the fiery punch I had expected from its flamboyant moniker.

Cobb Salad Spring Rolls ($12) was interesting, essentially a salad rolled inside Vietnamese rice paper with bacon, nori, chicken, noodle strips served with a red curry ranch. It wasn’t presented with finesse as the messy plate was quite unpleasant, but thy definitely tasted a lot better than they looked.

I really enjoyed the Squid ($10), strips of squid fried and tossed with a sweet chili sauce. It was served with a cilantro creme fraiche dipping sauce, but it was great on its own, no sauce needed.

The Brie ($13) was fried tempura style but was reminiscent of a baked brie appetizer. Nothing special, but tasty nonetheless.

I was really intrigued by Korean Fried Chicken ($13) because I love fried chicken, and especially the Korean-style fried chicken. Unfortunately, this wasn’t Korean style, nor was it good fried chicken for that matter. The coating was weak and fell off the chicken upon touch. The chicken itself was flavorless. The potato salad side dish was tossed in kewpie (Japanese mayo) yogurt but the potatoes didn’t taste like it had been boiled in salted water because the potatoes were bland. Very disappointing.

Fish N Chips ($17) was not any better. The fish was devoid of taste and was very wet on the inside which led me to believe it was previously frozen. The ginger tartare sauce had barely any ginger, but luckily, the triple cooked kennebec french fries were really good! This certainly was not worth $17.

We were so disappointed right now with our meal but decided to get a dessert to share because we had left most of the food untouched and frankly, we weren’t full. Thank god, Coconut Lemongrass Tapioca ($8) was THE BEST thing of our meal. Topped with mango and served with kiwi granita and passionfruit coconut sorbet, this dessert was absolutely DELICIOUS and yes, coming from me, that’s saying a lot!

It is always very tricky when it comes to fusion cuisine. When executed correctly, it can produce the sublime nuances of the best of both worlds. When poorly thought out, it can be pretty disastrous. I’m not saying this was a disaster by any means, but, it didn’t reflect a good understand of utilizing the fusion definition to its full potential. By labeling fried chicken as “Korean”, I expect some aspect of Korean fried chicken on my plate. Sadly, it was neither here nor there. I felt deceived by what was presented on the menu, to what arrived on my plate.

All in all a very underwhelming meal. We had expected a lot more from Burlap and were hugely disappointed by our experience. Definitely not feeling like giving them a return visit any time soon.

Burlap
12995 El Camino Real
Del Mar, CA 92130
Tel: 858-369-5700

Burlap on Urbanspoon

easy going brunch at Lazy Dog Cafe

Listen up brunch aficionados, if you want me to come eat with you, find a place which serves more than just your typical breakfast or lunch items. I recently visited Lazy Dog Cafe with The Hungry Dogg — how appropriate huh? — and found some awesome items on their brunch menu. There was something for everyone!

Bellinis and Mimosas are $5 a pop during brunch and we ordered a beautiful cranberry bellini to start.

Okay, breakfast lovers, for under $8 you can have delicious Wild Blueberry Pancakes & Maple Bacon Butter — three buttermilk blueberry pancakes topped with blueberry compote, house-made maple bacon butter (sinfully delish) and syrup on the side. The whole thing is a salty sweet gooey mouthful after mouthful.

When I saw Hawaiian Fried Rice ($7.95) on the menu, I just HAD to order it. Dotted with bits of hickory-smoked bacon, pork sausage, cabbage, veggies, topped with a fresh egg omelette, it was good, but needed a squeeze of sriracha which they were more than happy to provide.

Sunny Side Up Pizza ($9.25) a white pizza with spinach, sun dried tomatoes, bacon, green onions and assorted cheeses, topped with three fresh eggs and baked golden brown is a MUST. I was a bit skeptical at first but upon first bite, just absolutely fell in love with it. OK, c’mon, who doesn’t love runny eggs? And on a pizza? ‘Nuff said!

If you’re looking for an omelette, Mediterranean Omelet ($8.25) is a made-to-order omelette filled with mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, onion, basil and tomatoes topped with feta cheese. I’m not a huge omelette fan but this was pretty tasty. Served with toast and your choice of hash brown potatoes or fresh fruit.

There are a number of Lazy Dog Cafe locations all around southern California. Find one near you and stop by for a weekend brunch with friends and family. You won’t be disappointed and it won’t break the bank either.

Lazy Dog Cafe
13290 Jamboree Road
Irvine, CA 92602
Tel: 714-731-9700

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