Oodles of Noodles

 I am absolutely a fan of noodles and there are days when I crave saucy, thick Asian noodles that aren’t like your greasy chow mein take out. One of the places in Berkeley that I know has pretty good noodles is Noodle Theory.

Upon stepping in, you’ll realize that this establishment caters to a different kind of crowd that you typically see in restaurants close to college – more mature, professional adults and more non-Asians than you would expect from an Asian noodle restaurant. This is probably because the food here errs on the side of fusion more than authentic Asian.

Pan Seared Duck Breast over Noodle in Spicy Red Curry

If there is one thing that Noodle Theory does pretty well, it is the sauces and soup that come with the noodles. My friend ordered a bowl of thick noodles with kimchi sauce – the special of the day – and I thought it was really good. I actually liked it more than my pan seared duck noodle in thai red curry, which after a while felt too rich. I’ve also had their other food items like spicy pork ramen in peanut lime broth – great, flavourful broth but a-okay ramen noodle. I guess I had expected the Japanese type of noodle instead of the ones that come out of a Korean ramen packet.

Despite my dissatisfaction with the ramen noodle, I do like the sauces and broth in this place and I have made multiple visits to this place to experiment with the different items in their menu. This is the place to go if you are craving noodles but fancy something different and more upscale than your typical Thai or Chinese restaurant, and also if you are feeling a little more generous with your money.

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Munch Time with Munchery

 It was within the walls of my department’s computer lab that my friend discovered the existence of Munchery, another food made order and deliver company that was gaining popularity in the Bay Area. After trying it once, he has pretty much been evangelizing this company and convinced me to give it a shot.

My first impression of Munchery was that it targets customers who are too busy to cook but want an healthier alternative to regular restaurant food. Most items on the menu seem to have good balance of protein, carbs and vegetables. It also caters to people who are particular about their food being organic or wheat-free and all that jazz. Another one of their selling points is how exotic and clean the items in the menu looked, ranging from things like Peruvian chicken soup to Chashu ramen.

Munchery

Under my friend’s recommendation, I got the pollo cubano and I was pretty impressed. The chicken was oh so juicy and tender, and the sauce it was doused in was delicious and foreign to my palate in a good way. It made me felt like I was discovering a taste from a different part of the world and I think that was probably the kind of cultural experience that Munchery wanted to deliver with its food. However, the chicken was lined with a lot more fat than I expected (which probably made it taste so good) for a company that seems to give off the impression of serving healthy food.

Having tried it once, it made sense to me  why Munchery and other similar companies have been getting good reception in the area. That happened to be the only time I ordered from Munchery because I was not quite willing to pay full price for their food (I got a discount the first time). If cost isn’t a deterrent and you are itching to try some of their exotic selections, I’d say why not 🙂

Koja Kitchen

 In between juggling schoolwork and having a blast in my final semester in college, I decided to take a break from my food blogging activities. Blogging may have been on a hiatus but the food explorations did not! A mere five minute walk from my apartment can take me to restaurant-flanked Telegraph Ave. In the last semester, many Berkeley students were excited about the opening of Koja Kitchen on this street.

Koja Kitchen which was initially a food truck that would often make appearances at the weekly Off the Grid. It was actually one of the few food trucks that I genuinely enjoyed and thought was decent worth for money. So you can imagine my friends and my joy when we found out that we no longer have to track the truck’s schedule and location for a bite of their juicy koja sandwiches.

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The first time I had the koja sandwich, I fell in love with the novelty of Korean fusion food and the rice buns (and enjoyed it more than ramen burgers). Most friends prefer the pork koja sandwich but my personal favourite is the chicken koja which was juicy, slightly spicy and sweet all in one.

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Unfortunately one koja sandwich will probably not fill you up so the kamikaze fries are a popular accompaniment to the sandwiches. They are basically french fries topped with beef bulgogi and sauce. I think they are alright but some people seem to love these fries.

I was quite surprised that I didn’t make more visits to Koja Kitchen throughout the semester. Perhaps the fact that it was no longer a commodity of limited availability didn’t make it seem all that hot to me anymore. However, I would recommend anyone in Berkeley who hasn’t had this before to  give it a shot!

Asian Persuasion

In the form of Vietnamese vermicelli noodles.

Tin’s Vietnamese Restaurant was the first restaurant I’ve been to in the SOMA region of San Francisco, excluding Denny’s (do not ask me why I was at that ridiculously overpriced Denny’s). Before Tin’s, I had only been to two other Vietnamese restaurants and while they were in the spectrum of alright to good, none of them blew me away like the Bun Thit Nuong did in Tin’s Vietnamese Restaurant.

Bun Thit Nuong is their grilled lemongrass pork shoulder vermicelli rice bowl and I loved it. Being a Chinese, it is nearly blasphemous for me to confess that I do not share the same fervor that most Chinese people have for pork. From time to time, I would order a pork dish, only to regret not getting the chicken or beef. This dish, however, was an exception.

Bun Thit Nuong @ Tin’s Vietnamese Cuisine, SOMA

Bun Thit Nuong

The meat was so juicy and tender, and did not have the characteristic scent that often accompanies pork. I heard that the phos in this restaurant are pretty great too but I have recently developed a taste for  vermicelli bowls without broth over phos in the last few months. There is something about the vermicelli bowls — probably the cold noodles —  that give them a fresher and cleaner taste.

Here is the Hu Tieu, I think. Soup noodle with ground meat, shrimps and possibly fish cake and chicken. It was decent but it’s got nothing on them pork shoulders.

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 Tin’s Vietnamese Restaurant is a little pricey for Vietnamese food but it’s not every day that I actually enjoy eating pork or meat.

On Mission

When it comes to finding good food in San Francisco, Mission has yet to fail me. I have only relatively recently started branching out into the food scene in this part of the city more and here’s my latest scoop:

Humphry Slocombe 

Humphrey Slocombe

On a mission to try one of the city’s most popular ice cream, I made my way to Humphry Slocombe. I shunned the popular Secret Breakfast consisting of cereal and bourbon, and opted for Tahitian vanilla and Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee instead. The Blue Bottle Vietnamese coffee’s pretty good and will most likely be my flavor of choice if I were to come back again. However, I will probably not because on the Humphry-Slocombe-or-Bi-Rite-Creamery debate, I am definitely leaning more strongly towards Bi-Rite Creamery.

While Humphry Slocombe has more interesting flavors, it was relatively hard for me to find flavors that I really wanted besides the Blue Bottle. Ice cream quality aside, I am also more likely to go to Bi-Rite Creamery because it is a little more accessible for someone without a car and has the beautiful Dolores Park just round the block.

When I think of Mission, I think of Mexican food amongst other things. Pancho Villa Taqueria, a very short walk from the BART station for which I was grateful for, has quite the extensive menu. I was absolutely spoilt for choice and it took us a while to decide on the carne asada nachos and the ceviche taco.

Pancho Villa Taqueria @ 16th Mission

Carne Asada Bowl

 The carne asada nachos were great. Gotta love all that guacamole…and cheese and sour cream that went to my hips. So I ordered ceviche taco too without knowing ceviche was, living my illusion as an adventurous eater. Little did I know that raw mashed-up fish is not quite up my alley. To those who like ceviche, you would have probably enjoyed this taco.

Ceviche Taco

For a girl whose main purpose of going to San Francisco is hit the stores in Powell, Mission is kind of out of the way. But if I do so happen to be in San Francisco, and craving for some good Mexican food, and some ice cream too, I may make that extra BART stop. My future mission would also include checking out the Mexican bakeries with their oh-so-colorful pastries, and to revisit Tartine Bakery.

Sugar Rush in New York

New York is a sweet city in the literal sense. With so many bakeries with gorgeous edible displays on their windows, it is hard for any sweet-toothed girl to not fall in love with this place. Here are some of the city’s sweet spots:

1) Lady M
Strongly recommended by friends who have visited the city. Strangely enough, most of the patrons at the time I went were Asians. If you are a least bit lactose intolerant, run away from the mille crepe. Far, far away.

2) Laduree

Nested in Upper East Side, it is easy to see why many girls love Laduree. Not only does Laduree boast of its wide selection of high quality macarons, the store itself has a very quaint and elegant vibe and the packaging is just beautiful.

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Laduree is often compared to another leading macaron manufacturer, Pierre Herme. Having finally had Laduree, I have to say that I am a bigger fan of Pierre Herme. Laduree is possibly overrated and I feel that Chantal Guillon in the San Francisco Bay Area is a strong contender to Laduree.

3) Shake Shack’s Frozen Custard

Good stuff but too sweet for my liking. Just like for the burger, I would not wait half an hour for this.

4) Mo Gelato

This gelato store in Little Italy has the best gelato I have ever had in my life. The gelato was incredibly smooth and light, and the store had so many flavors that I did not know where to start. Pretty pricey but well worth the price for the quality you get. My only complain is that they only let you sample at most two flavors, which makes it nearly impossible to decide which ones to try.

5) Magnolia Bakery

Love the banana bread pudding! I have to admit that it is very sweet though, and that I had to eat only a few scoops at a time, done guiltily for breakfast.

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Here are some other sweet goodies I have seen in the city but dared not eat, especially with the amount of sugar already in my system:

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Eating the Big Apple

When I plotted a graph of my monthly food expenditures for the past year, a friend noticed a spike in the month of July and asked, “Was that when you went to New York?”. He was spot on. My friends and I had some pretty decent meals to say the least and here are some of the more memorable ones we had:

1) Shake Shack
During this second trip to New York, I had time to check out Shake Shack in Leicester Square. The square itself is a pretty sweet location to just sit on the bench and chill with your friends (and maybe some squirrels) while you devour that hard-earned Shake Shack burger, a trophy from your 30 minutes of waiting.

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Verdict? Pretty good. However, it has yet to usurp In N Out from its throne in my heart.  Maybe I’m too impatient to wait that long for a burger, or maybe I’m just biased towards the west coast. My friend absolutely fell in love with Shake Shack though and was extremely eager to make another visit to this establishment.

2) The Halal Guys
Yay to vendor food! Its location made it an ideal lunch stop before my visit to the Museum of Modern Art.
Long line? Yes. Overrated? Maybe. Bang for your buck? Absolutely. For $6, you get a chicken rice plate that is worth two meals (or one very satisfying meal if you have a hearty appetite).

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My recommendation comes with two warnings though:
1) The hot sauce is the spiciest shit. And you know that I am dead serious because I rarely use expletives to describe things and least of all, food.
2) One bowl is rumored to be roughly equivalent to 2000 calories. It is up to you what to do with this information…

3) Ippudo Ramen
My friend and I walked into this restaurant at an odd hour for lunch, about 3PM, and successfully avoided the long line that I’ve heard can go up to 2 hours. We were instantly seated and I proceeded to ordering my first twenty dollar bowl of ramen in my life.

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A little skimpy with ingredients, but the noodle and broth were great. My favorite was actually the egg, half-boiled to perfection.

4) John’s Pizzeria
I used to believe that restaurants within the vicinity of main tourist attractions are tourist traps with mediocre food. For a place nested pretty close to Times Square, this restaurant sure has fine pizza. Absolutely love the thin crust and all that cheesy goodiness.

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5) Kale Salad
Nothing out of this world but I never knew that a simple kale salad with golden raisins, pine nuts and lemon dill dressing could taste this appetizing. Perhaps my body was just intensely craving for some greens after nearly a week of nearly everything but vegetables.

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Chelsea market is a great spot to hit if you, like me, enjoy looking at food. The garden in the second floor balcony is really worth checking out too. Here are a few sights in the market:

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The Lobster Place in Chelsea Market. I was definitely tempted to get a whole lobster or a lobster sandwich.

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Meating in Austin

Honestly, I am usually not a super huge fan of food like hot dogs, burgers and barbecued meat. However, there was no way I would pass up the opportunity to try these while I was in Texas. With so many people in the South loving their meat, I just had to find out what was so special about their burgers and what nots over here. Can their food convert a not-so-avid meat eater to a a meat-hungry carnivore?

Bratwurst @ The Best Wurst, Sixth Street 

Bratwurst This bratwurst came from a food truck on Sixth Street, a street lined with bars and clubs. The sausage and the sauerkraut were good but the best part was their curry ketchup. Call me a noob but this was my first time having curry ketchup and I absolutely loved it!

Beef Brisket Sandwich @ Salt Lick, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport

Beef Brisket Sandwich

 Perhaps I should have lined up for two hours at Franklin’s for what is supposedly the best barbecue or ate at Rudy’s which is a local favorite but I did not. My laziness to go out of my way for good meat has ended up with me stuffing myself with whatever barbecue meat I could find at the airport, half an hour before leaving Austin for good. For airport and barbecue food, Salt Lick is actually pretty good bang for your buck. I have had meat-loving friends who really enjoyed this sandwich but the meat was not quite impressive enough to make a not-so-avid meat lover go crazy.

Everyone, and by that I mean every single Austinite that I have had the chance to talk to about food, raves about Hopdoddy’s. This gourmet burger bar is well known not just for their burgers but their milkshakes too. Thinking a burger alone was sinful enough, I decided to skip the milkshake. Lots of people rave about their Primetime Burger, which had way more meat than I imagined.

Primetime Burger @ Hopdoddy’s Burger Bar, Anderson St

Primetime Burger

Primetime Burger

 Honestly think that was hyped up way too much but hey, I’m not a meat person.

Food Finds in Austin

I love the food truck scene in Austin and luckily enough there was a block not too far from where I was living where food trucks parked every single day. One of the food trucks that I was most eager to try was Julie’s Handmade Noodles. Julie is well known for her beef noodle soup but I was craving some zha jiang mian which I hadn’t had in a while.

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Pretty solid bowl of noodles! Noodles are freshly made and Julie doesn’t allow customers to have her noodles to go because they supposedly only taste good when totally fresh. The only downside to this was that it was pretty salty, but what do you expect from noodles mixed with salty soy bean paste. I would probably frequent this food truck often if I was a student at UT Austin.

Another place that I managed to try my final week in Austin was East Side King @ Hole in the Wall, started by a Top Chef winner Paul Qui. Over here, I had his Thai Chicken Kara-age and boy was it good. Love the juiciness and the herbs that came with it. Some of the other popular items in the menu were the fried beetroots and brussels sprout salad, and there were some interesting ones like beer bacon ramen. However, I only visited this establishment once and wasn’t about to order any more food after that delicious but sinful fried chicken.

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I never go out of my way for doughnuts but after hearing people rave about Gourdough, I thought I’d check this place out. Th wait took about fifteen minutes and while I was standing in line, I stared with both awe and shock at 1) how beautiful the doughnuts were, and 2) how large they were. Each doughnut was probably the size of my extended palm. Anyway, I got the Miss Shortcake which is this baby down here, stolen from Gourdough’s website:

Gourdough's Miss Shortcake

One popular food truck in Austin is Chilantro which features Mexican-Korean fusion food. One day, they were parked outside my office building and I decided to have their bulgogi taco for lunch. What I liked about this was the spicy oil in the taco. However, they could have improved the way the meat was prepared, as it was not as tender and moist as I expected for something so hyped up. The taco was also one of the messiest tacos I had to work with as it was impossible to keep the oil from spilling.

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Other food trucks I tried worth mentioning are Torchy’s Tacos and Little Fattys. At Little Fattys, I had one of their amazing gorditas with great meat and great sauce. I love how I get to try things that I have never had or heard of in NorCal. Torchy’s were also great last tacos to have before leaving Austin. I absolutely love the tacos in Austin and I was right in thinking that I was going to miss Texas tacos so much.

Food trucks aside, I was fortunate enough to be able to enjoy some fine dining at Jasper’s, a restaurant by some  Iron Chef contestant. I had seared ahi tuna steak for my entree and it swept me off my feet. The texture was just perfect — not too cooked and not too raw. Hands down the best ahi tuna I have had, not that I have had that much ahi tuna in my life.

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Whole Foods Flagship Store

Welcome to the first Whole Foods market in America.

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It is so amazing that I had to embarrass myself and be a weirdo, taking pictures of groceries not-so-surreptitiously. Honestly never thought I would reach this stage.

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Overwhelmed by all the choices of nuts and grains and spices.

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I thought the idea of grinding your own peanut butter was very cool so I took a picture of this too.

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You have to admit that a bar in a grocery store is pretty unique and worth taking a picture of…

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I have moved on to a whole new level by taking pictures of raw meat. Gotta admit that raw meat has never looked this good before.

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I went nuts in the bakery section of the supermarket. They had a wide selection of hearty looking bread with some samples in small containers too. I was able to sample their sweet potato bread, jalapeno bread and walnut raisin bread. Their sweet potato bread was good and is something I would consider buying. The jalapeno bread, not really, because I am not used to having my bread spicy.

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I am so ashamed for taking a picture of this but I think it is cool that they have oils and vinegar in metal dispensers.

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One of my favorite sections in the store is their cookie bar.

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I love pistachio in desserts and baked goods so I was tempted to get myself some pistachio shortbread and pistachio cannoli.

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Besides their awesome presentation of groceries in the marketplace, I absolutely love their food stands that serve a variety of food, from barbecue to sushi to gelato. Their two-meat combination with two sides ended up being my lunch and dinner for the day. My meat of choice were moist beef brisket and baby back ribs, with mac and cheese as a side. I also had their pistachio and stracciatella gelato at their gelato bar which was kind of ‘rough’ and heavy for gelato. I had a great dining experience at Whole Foods and my body must hate me right now so I think I am going to go vegetarian for the next week or two.

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