Black Sheep Grilled Cheese Bar – Packing District, Anaheim, CA

OC TOP 100: DISH #25 – GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

The grilled cheese sandwich used to be such a simple snack or after school treat that your mom would whip up in the kitchen if you were hungry.  A simple slice of bread, some Kraft processed cheese slices, and a little bit of butter to add flavor and help things prevent from sticking.  But somewhere along the line, the simple grilled cheese sandwich grew up and became a sophisticated dish that stands on its own.

Black Sheep  epitomizes the evolution of this simple dish.  They are fairly easy to spot in the Packing District.  All you have to do is follow your nose towards the rich buttery scent or look for their signature black sheep on the counter.20140809_131021

Their formula is rather simple in concept – add artisanal bread, cheese, and meat.  The result is a very adult and complex version of something that we loved so much as children. The #2 is comprised of Manchego cheese, Jamon Serrano, and quince paste. It is a great combination of salty and sweet.  The bread is swathed in whipped butter then grilled in a press with the aforementioned ingredients.  It is a hot melty mess that will scald the innards of your mouth as you try and prevent yourself from stuffing it all in at once. The buttered bread is so good, that it will remind you of the Sizzler toast that you just could never get enough of.20140809_131005

“The Man” is simply put, salami and cheese. Salami when heated up has a certain richness to it, especially if it is of good quality. The bread produces that wonderful crunch while remaining soft on the inside.20140809_131014

Those who are not grilled cheese aficionados may balk at the price of these sandwiches which run just under $10 a piece, but quality comes at a price.  Additional selections are available and occasionally some sell out.

Bill total: 2 sandwiches, 1 drink, tax, tip = around $21

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/blacksheepgrilledcheesebar

Black Sheep GCB - Anaheim Packing District, 440 S Anaheim Blvd #213, Anaheim, California.  (714) 533-3850

Joe’s Italian Ice – Anaheim, CA

OC TOP 100: DISH #24 – JOE LATTI

If you had ever found yourself driving along Harbor Blvd near Disneyland, you may have noticed a peculiar building with striped awning that had a long line of people next to it.  Most likely, this was Joe’s Italian Ice.  A stand-alone Italian Ice place seems a bit unusual and definitely unexpected in regards to its overwhelming success. But I will admit to having seen with my very own eyes, people waiting to order Italian Ices in the rain.

Fortunately, Joe’s has opened up a newer second location closer to the Magic Kingdom that has more ample parking as well as a little room for seating.  This provides some degree of respite from the elements – especially if you insist on having your treat when it rains.

Although well-known in Philadelphia, there are not a lot of places that serve Italian Ice in California. It actually pre-dates the whole California fro-yo craze.  Far from trendy, it has been a stable treat for those familiar to it.  For the uninitiated, I can only aptly describe the treat in the following manner – pretend that a magical candy fairy peed in the snow, and then you were to scoop up such snow and eat it.  Deliciously sweet, somewhat artificial tasting, but also somewhat not, it is a flavor explosion undiluted when compared to any dairy based creation, but at the same time equally refreshing. You are guaranteed to suffer from brain freeze if you do not pace yourself.

Who can resist a treat with flavors named Smurf Poison, Monstermash, or Bananadana? Fortunately, you can taste samples of any flavors before you buy so you are guaranteed to get something to float your boat.  My personal favorite is the Bada Bing Cherry. It has a natural cherry flavor and tons of bits of real cherry in it.  Order it as part of a Joe Latti and you get some soft swirl added to the mix.  You can select between vanilla, chocolate/vanilla swirl or orange/vanilla swirl which amazingly tastes like an Orange Creamsicle. The soft serve is very light and not so sweet that it tastes more like whipped cream. If you feel rather creative you can get a cone dipped in chocolate, orange candy shell, or blue candy shell, as well as nuts., sprinkles, etc. Dreyer’s ice cream is available for those who cannot part from the traditional, too.DSC_0019

Of course, there are a ton of flavors to choose from.  They have over 50 different flavors with at least 15 in rotation. And if you are feeling especially decadent, you may order the 2.5 gallon size. Their Mango flavor is pretty good and is something that we usually end up getting quite often.DSC_0022

If you do end up going to Joe’s, be prepared to wait in some long lines, especially in the evenings during the summer.  Or you can go when it rains and get a 2 for 1 special.  Besides their Italian Ices, you can select from sundaes, shakes, and floats.

Website: http://joesice.com/

Joe's Italian Ice on Urbanspoon

(Original location on 12302 Harbor Blvd in Garden Grove)

Tortas Sinaloa – Santa Ana, CA

OC TOP 100: DISH #23 – AGUAS FRESCAS

Translated, aguas frescas, literally means fresh waters.  They are punch-like drinks usually made with fresh fruit that can be quite refreshing.  Many places that sell them will have large jars displayed in a colorful array from which the liquid is ladled out of as you order it.  I imagine it is like drinking from a rainbow. On the left, is the Cantaloupe, which is quite refreshing since there aren’t many other drinks with that flavor. In the middle is Jamaica, a Hibiscus based punch that tastes like fruit punch. On the right is Horchata, a milky creamy cinnamony delight made from rice.  There are many other flavors such as Mamey, Strawberry with Milk, Orange, Pineapple, Lime, and Fruit with Milk. But I would tend to veer away from the Pineapple and Orange, as they tend to resemble watered down versions of the juices. Just don’t get the medium sized as you get almost twice the amount in large for about 25 cents more. And since they are made with real fruits, it doesn’t have a cloyingly artificial taste.

But tortas are the true specialty here.  It’s a good thing that the Sinaloa region is known for something more than their drug cartels. I decided to be brave and tried their Picosito. It is filled with carne asada, cheese, tomatoes, and avocado. They warned me that it would be super spicy. My first few bites into it definitely proved to have some good heat, but then I noticed that the heat level kept getting stronger and stronger.  I lifted up the bread to see what could possibly be so freaking hot, and then realized that what I had thought were grilled onions were actually grilled habanero peppers. Holy Mother of God! The pain was unbearable. At this point tears were streaming down my face and I had fluid coming out from nearly every orifice in my body. I paid my bill in a rush and ran to the Baskin Robbins across the parking lot to get some ice cream to alleviate the burn. It took a full 30 min before the heat subsided to more manageable levels. Needless to say, Part Two hit me later on that night.  The lesson here is simple…don’t order this torta unless you are some kind of masochist.IMG_0241

The Vegetarian torta is by far more innocuous. With tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese it is much better when doused with their spicy red salsa.IMG_0242

There are also Tacos here if you are not in the mood for tortas. They are pretty decent street cart tacos.IMG_0278

I was only able to get a small sampling of their tortas, as there are many many more in various combinations of different meats and fillings.

Website: www.tortassinaloa.net

Tortas Sinaloa on Urbanspoon

Empanada’s Place – Costa Mesa, CA

OC TOP 100: DISH #22 – EMPANADAS

Although I have never visited Argentina, I imagine it as a place awash in chimichurri sauce, slabs of beef, empanadas, and the soundtrack from Evita blaring out loudly on every block. Though I exaggerate a bit, I’m pretty sure empanadas are served everywhere in the country.  It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume it is their national dish.  It’s not just limited to Argentina…any Spanish or Portuguese speaking country has their own version.

If you have ever had one, it’s easy to understand why.  I think of it as the inspiration for Hot Pockets. Who can resist a Hot Pocket? No one can.  People walk out with dozens of them at a time.  I am by far, no expert in empanadas, but was fortunate enough to bring along a friend who was.  A good empanada is supposed to have a crisp exterior shell that reveals a hot flavorful interior.  If you don’t burn the inside of your mouth eating one, it is a clear signal that something is amiss.  Argentinean cuisine is not really spicy in the sense of heat, but it packs a lot of flavor.  A mediocre empanada will taste and feel a bit pasty, as the majority served in other places are. The most common misconception by many people used to Mexican cuisine is their expectation for any food from a Spanish speaking country to be spicy or full of chile flavor.  Most of the food from South America tends to be comparatively bland, albeit garlicky.  The central theme is not to drown the food but rather enhance it in a subtle fashion.DSC_0874

The most popular empanada here is the Criolla, which is a more traditional filling comprised of ground beef, raisins, green onions, and various spices.  Good alone, but even more splendid when paired with the chimichurri sauce which is very garlicky and is Argentina’s equivalent to pesto.DSC_0873

The Cheesy Spicy Beef is also delicious with ground beef, peas, carrots, potatoes, and mozzarella cheese.  The heat level is very mild, and the cheese comes out piping hot. The use of mozzarella may not be completely traditional but its ability to ooze out really enhances the experience.DSC_0872

Sadly, we were only here for a quick bite and I was only able to hit 2 flavors.  But I will definitely be back and possibly add more photos. They offer almost 20 different varieties so there is a bit of something for everyone including vegetarian options. At about $3 a piece, they are a pretty good bargain as each is about 6 inches in length.

I can’t understand why I waited this long to try this place since I used to live a few blocks away from their original location in Culver City. That was almost 20 years ago, and their longevity alone should be a testament to how good they really are.

Website: www.empanadasplace.com

Empanada's Place on Urbanspoon

R&G Lounge – San Francisco, CA

I don’t really know what the “R” and “G” stand for at R&G Lounge.  My guess is that it means “Really Good”.  Not quite the name you would expect for a Chinese restaurant located in Chinatown. Whenever friends ask me for a recommendation to a good Chinese place in SF I tell them to come here.  Why? Because it captures the quintessential Chinese cuisine that they imagine when they think about SF.  It probably isn’t the best Chinese food around, and I am hardly qualified to make this judgement because I haven’t eaten at more than a handful of Chinese places.  But it is still damn good.

The dish that everyone seems to get here, or any Chinese seafood  place for that matter, is the Salt and Pepper Crab.  They may no be the only place that serves live crab, but they sure know how to season and cook it. It is battered in flour rather than corn starch which makes it a bit greasier, but tends to provide better flavor for the seasonings.IMG_0777

Steamed Egg with Clams is another fantastic dish.  The eggs come out in a velvety custard-like texture which are wonderful to eat with the clams.  Although the egg itself is rather plain, it pairs well with the rich umami of the clams.IMG_0778Seafood Chow Mein is pretty standard and similar to that served in many other places.IMG_0779

There are many many more dishes to be had at R&G Lounge, but if you are tourist you may be disappointed with the fact that the decor is modern rather than decorated in red lanterns everywhere.  I don’t know why people have come to expect Chinese restaurants to look like brothels, even if they are in Chinatown.

Website: www.rnglounge.com

R & G Lounge on Urbanspoon