Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Meal Replacements

I'll be honest. There's really very little I miss about living in Southern California. The traffic, the trash, the crowds, the crime, the grime...not one bit. A few and friends, mostly...I do miss. 

One thing is the wide array of great food we had easy access to while living there I miss. I've made it my mission to find replacements of our favorite foods up here in Northern California.

Hamburgers are not a problem. In 'n Out was my favorite cheap hamburger and there are pleny of locations in our new neighborhood, too. Eureka! had my favorite burger, period. They just opened one up in Roseville. Each of those would take us a 30-45 minutes to drive to. 

A bit of a hurdle but not a major one.

There are also a lot of good burgers right here in our county that are very good, too...the whiskey burger at Hotel Sutter, Giant 88 Burgers, Helwig Winery, End of Nowhere (pictured) burgers are covered.

Phillipe's French dip is another story. They're very unique (they invented it) and not even in L.A. can I find something like it. We do have a lot of very good French dip sandwiches up here, almost every restaurant makes them and many of them are very good examples but just not the pre-dipped (or double-dipped) ones you get there with their proprietary, house-made hot mustard on every table.

I think this one is just too much of a one-of-a-kind to find but the wide variety of great dips here sure do their best to make up for it.

Our favorite pastrami sandwich was the pastrami dip at The Hat, which is a legendary one. The Capri Deli in Covina was just as good. We've come close with the Frosty Queen...which has locations in Sacramento and Manteca...but it's more like the Kosher Burrito style of pastrami, a really legendary greasy spoon joint in a wooden shack that was part of downtown L.A. before it was torn down and replaced with the CalTrans building.

I'm very happy to find this sandwich but still looking for one like The Hat.

I thought the hardest to replace was going to be the absolutely stunning array of Asian food we enjoyed. We lived in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, which is probably the main location of the Asian immigrant population in America. We had Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Nepalese, Indian, Japanese cuisines and more. Hundreds of them, with some of the most delicious and spicy flavors you could imagine.

Well, I'm happy to say that...with a little research and patience...we're making great progress on that front. 

For a more traditional Chinese dinner...the kind we used to enjoy at Golden Dragon in Arcadia or Phoenix Garden in San Dimas (neither of which survived the pandemic)...Sacramento has the institution that in Frank Fats. It's very good, too. Their honey walnut shrimp is as good as any shrimp dish we've had back in L.A.

The xiao long bao (pork soup dumplings) at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia are world-famous, and justfiably so.

Luckily, the same dish at Journey to the Dumpling in Elk Grove is just as good.

Their honey walnut shrimp tastes just like Frank Fats, too.

For ramen, my favorite was the spicy tonkatsu ramen at Daikukoya. This Little Tokyo restaurant had another location in El Monte that my wife and I would frequent.

We've replaced that with several versions here, the best being at Yume in Lodi, which is just as good as Daikukoya, maybe even a bit better.

There was another very local, very good ramen place in Sutter Creek but they went under during the pandemic. We also found this version at Umai, in Sheldon (part of Elk Grove) that is like a corn chowder based ramen that was very different but very good tasting as well.

I really loved the been tendon noodle soup that we would have at 88 Noodle in Arcadia...

...and the pho that we'd have at Pho Lemon in Monrovia.

Just up the hill from us, we found a one-dish-for-all solution with the beef tendon pho at Vermicelli in Martell.

What I'm still looking for is a replacement for the outstanding dan dan soup with housemade and hand-pulled noodles, like they have at Noodle St. in Monrovia (Journey to the Dumpling has a version but nowhere near as good), a really good hot and sour soup, and a replacement for the Hollywood Noodle Thai soup that they have at Hollywood Noodle in Temple City.

Pizza is so subjective. There are all kinds and a lot of good options. Our favorites in Southern California were the thin-crust pies at Casa Bianca with their anise heavy housemade sausage in Eagle Rock, 
the pepperoni/sausage/bacon version at Red Devil in La Verne (photo at top of post)...

...and the deep-dish Chicago style pie at Tony's Little Italy in Placentia.

While we haven't found a Casa Bianca replacement, yet, the pizza at Chicago Fire...a small chain here in the area...

...and another great deep-dish pie at Chicago's Pizza with a Twist, an Indian pizza joint, in Folsom, replace Tony's version just fine.

While their style is just a little different than Red Devil, the pizza at Gold Dust Pizza in Sutter Creek is just as good. Especially when you can eat your slice with a cold beer on their patio along the banks of the town's namesake waterway.

Last, the prime rib at the Bull Pen, a dive bar in Redondo Beach, was the best in Southern California. I never thought I'd find one as good up here.

But I was wrong. Not only as good, but cheaper at Sportsman's Hall in Pollock Pines, Diamond Springs Hotel in Diamond Springs, and even at the greasy spoon environs of the Old Well Cafe in Drytown, who all make a very good prime rib dinner.

We're almost there with finding all our favorites up here, give us a little time and we'll not have anything to miss from our old home.

Darryl Musick
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