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Insights, tips, and restaurant reports from CHOW editors and Chowhound.

Beans, Beans

The British love their baked beans–in particular, Heinz baked beans with tomato sauce, in the blue tin. Unlike American Boston baked beans, they’re not sweet.

They’re served with the typical English breakfast, and as a topping on buttered toast (even better, place a fried egg with grated cheese on top of the bean-topped toast). You’ll see them spooned over a baked potato, too. You might want to add some water to the beans to make them soupy.

A nice accompaniment is brown HP Sauce, another British staple. Heinz beans and HP Sauce are available in shops that sell food from the UK.

Board Links: English beans on toast?

Freezing Rice

Freezing cooked rice in serving-size portions is an easy way to have an almost-instant side dish, and is nearly as good as freshly cooked. It’s an especially handy do-ahead for brown rice, which takes around 45 minutes to cook. Portion cooked rice (either plain or simple pilafs work equally well) into single serving-size Ziploc-type freezer bags and freeze. The rice can go straight from freezer to microwave and be ready in a few minutes, or thawed in the refrigerator and incorporated into other dishes.

Board Links: freezing rice

Real Shwarma?

rabaja likes Meditterranean [sic] Spirit, across from Long Life Books, where the chef/owner is very nice, and adds little innovative twists like fresh red cabbage salad mixed into the shwarma sandwich. Shwarma plate is quite good, as well. Maybe not as good as the long-loved and long-lost North Beach branch of Truly Mediterranean, but good.

In the North Bay, Aram’s Cafe has great all-lamb shwarma, available Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday as a special. Don’t forget to ask them to put in some of their red pepper sauce (sometimes they forget).

Melanie Wong recommends Small World’s shwarma. It’s made with beef tri-tip, and roasted in the oven rather than on a spit, but you can’t argue with the flavors. She especially loves their spiced onions.

Yummas offers a good lamb/beef shwarma in a lavash wrap.

Taboun has great chicken shwarma and lamb shwarma; it’s great with extra hot sauce. Their falafel deluxe is also fine. Call 5-10 minutes ahead to cut your take-out wait.

Many dislike Ali Baba on Valencia, but Kmanlove says shwarma at Ali Baba on Linden makes the best he’s had in San Francisco.

Goood Frikin’ Chicken [Mission]
10 29th St., San Francisco

Meditterranean Spirit [Polk Gulch]
1303 Polk St., San Francisco

Aram’s Cafe [Sonoma County]
131 Kentucky St., Petaluma

Small World Restaurant [Napa County]
932 Coombs St., Napa

Yummas [Sunset]
721 Irving St., San Francisco

Taboun [Cole Valley]
201 Parnassus St., San Francisco

Ali Baba [Peninsula]
127 S. Linden Ave., South San Francisco

Board Links: New suggestions for shawerma in San Francisco?

The Real 50’s Diner

Westlake Coffee Shop is a classic 50’s diner, with counter, booths, and middle-aged waitresses in uniforms. While the whole thing is neat and clean and all that, it retains the distinct flavor of genuine 50’s atmosphere–as opposed to retro faux joints, like Johnny Rockets. And the food is slightly greasy, in a good way, says larochelle.

$10 (including tip) will get you eggs with corned beef hash, hash browns, sourdough toast, and coffee. Eggs are perfectly done, made with individual egg pans so you get that nice medium-done yolk with no burning on the white. Hash browns are nicely crispy, and corned beef hash is of the beef-paste-mixed-with-potato-chunks variety. It’s in the spirit of canned corned beef hash, yet doesn’t taste canned.

Westlake Coffee Shop [Peninsula]
52 Park Plaza Dr., Daly City

Board Links: The Diner that time Forgot – Westlake Coffee Shop Daly City, CA – delightfully greasy

Fabulous Filipino Breakfast

There is stunning, addictive, soul-satisfying Filipino breakfast to be had at Eva’s Meal Stop and Mini Mart, says rworange.

First of all, this is a JOINT. Expect a chow-adventure, not linens and table service. Ambiance is basically that of a, well, Filipino 7-11, with styrofoam take-out trays. There are a few tables, but mostly this is a take-out joint.

$2.95 gets you their standard breakfast, including tasty garlic rice, tomatoes, an egg, and your choice of breakfast meats. Both meats are stunning. One choice is longsilog–two truly excellent course-ground garlic sausages, plump and beautiful. The other is tosilog–sweetened, cured pork slices (think thick-sliced glazed bacon, without the fat). There are also fresh lumpia, the only lumpia rworange has ever liked. It’s basically a massive Filipino egg roll, chock full of cubed chicken, garlic, diced peanuts, and lots of fresh veggies, including green beans, lettuce, garbanzos, carrots, and even some sweet crunchy jicama. Their lumpia are carefully wrapped in white paper to keep the wrapper from drying out. The breakfast is completely and utterly absorbing.

For $3.95, you score the deluxe breakfast, with your choice of fish in place of breakfast meat. They also do a 14-item steam tray for lunch. Lunch prices are the same–$2.95 for a standard lunch, and $3.95 for a deluxe lunch.

Eva is super-helpful to non-Filipinos. She’ll explain what everything is, and how you’re supposed to eat it.

Mon-Fri: 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
Sat-Sun: 8 a.m.-7 p.m.

Eva’s Meal Stop and Mini Mart [East Bay]
2511 San Pablo Ave., Pinole

Board Links: Pinole–Wonderful Eva’s $2.95 Filipino Breakfast

An Oasis of Spice in Orange County

Tropika seems like a mirage in the middle of Orange County: white linen, full bar, and authentically spicy Malaysian food. And did we mention that it’s in Orange County? elmomonster checked it out and confirmed its culinary cred.

Start with roti prata (also known as roti canai), a classic snack with Indian roots. “Similar to naan, but stretched impossibly thin, the texture of roti is flour tortilla meets phyllo dough–crisp and crackly at its periphery, paper-thin and chewy throughout.” Dip it in the aromatic red curry with chicken and potato.

Tropika does a spot-on version of nasi lemak, rice cooked with coconut milk, so richly flavored you could eat it alone. But you don’t have to, since it comes with chunks of deep-fried chicken steeped in spicy red curry, fried anchovies with peanuts in sambal (chile paste), and hard-boiled egg and cucumbers to balance out the heat.

Rendang beef, a dish beloved in Indonesia as well as Malaysia, is braised in coconut milk with ginger, garlic, coriander and lemongrass. Tropika’s rendang is properly falling-apart tender, the sauce reduced to a sticky brown paste. The spices are as sharp as a hot blade, sharper than even the mellower Indonesian style.

Seafood hor fun is more subtle and nuanced, flat rice noodles stir-fried and sluiced with a velvety gravy, with shrimp, squid, scallops and baby bok choy mixed in.

At lunch, soup (a tangy broth stocked with vegetables) and salad come with all dishes. For less adventurous dining companions, there’s also pad Thai (the restaurant bills itself as Malaysian and Thai cuisine), and it’s pretty tasty.

Roti prata is $3.25, nasi lemak is $8, beef rendang is $13, and hor fun is $9.

Tropika [South OC]
17460 E. 17th St., Yorba/Enderle, Tustin


Board Links: Tropika in Tustin–New Malaysian Restaurant for O.C.–Review with PHOTOS

Skyway: Malaysian Spice in New York Chinatown

Skyway is one of New York’s top options for the spicy-sour-sweet chow of Malaysia. Best in Manhattan, says Pan, who recommends chicken or beef satay, roti telur (egg and onion pancake with chicken curry), and pasembur (shrimp pancake, tofu, egg, and jellyfish with vegetables), among other things.

“Really, really good,” raves mdog, who loves mango chicken and mee siam (stir-fried rice noodles with shrimp, egg, and tofu). Mike Lee finds Skyway better overall than New Malaysia and Jaya–though he has a soft spot for New Malaysia’s Hainan chicken rice and Jaya’s prawn mee noodles.

Skyway [Chinatown]
formerly Proton Saga
11 Allen St., near Canal St., Manhattan

New Malaysia Restaurant [Chinatown]
48 Bowery, in the Chinatown Arcade, #28, Manhattan

Jaya Malaysian Restaurant [Chinatown]
90 Baxter St., between Walker and White, Manhattan

Board Links: great Malaysian!!
Skyway Malaysian (On Allen and Canal)

Handmade Noodle Discovery at the Flushing Mall

Even regulars at the Flushing Mall food court may have missed its handmade noodle vendor, which is outside the food court proper, farther east and south toward the 39th Avenue entrance. Those who’ve discovered it have one more source for terrific hand-pulled, knife-cut wheat noodles, served in soup (with meat sauce, beef tendon, shredded or roast pork, chicken, duck, seafood, etc.) or pan-fried (with seafood, sliced or roast pork, beef, chicken, etc.). The menu, much of it only in Chinese, also offers dumplings and more.

“The hand-drawn noodle place is wonderful!” sighs ZenFoodist, who goes for beef brisket noodle soup. She recommends putting together a combo meal from this place and the Korean-Chinese dumpling stall upstairs amid the mall’s street-level retail shops. Its dumplings are fresh-made and fantastic–try the one with shrimp, pork, sea cucumber and chives–but don’t miss the accompanying spicy cabbage salad and exceptionally tasty dipping sauce. “We always come here and we are never disappointed,” ZenFoodist adds.

Hand-drawn noodle vendor [Flushing]
Flushing Mall food court, booth C26
133-31 39th Ave., between Prince St. and College Point Blvd., lower level, Flushing, Queens

Korean-Chinese dumpling vendor [Flushing]
Flushing Mall, street level, booth M38
133-31 39th Ave., between Prince St. and College Point Blvd., Flushing, Queens

Board Links: Flushing food courts?

The Many Lives of a Vanilla Bean

Vanilla beans are expensive, but you can reuse a single pod and still extract lots of flavor. Here’s the proper sequence to make the most of the declining results:

First use:
Scrape out the beans for a potent wallop of vanilla.

Second use:
Steep the seedless pod in a liquid (e.g., milk for ice cream for custard, juice or wine for poaching fruit). Then rinse thoroughly and let dry on a countertop.

Third use:
“Store” the pod for a while to produce a subtle hint of vanilla: in your sugar jar to make vanilla sugar (perfect for baking or sprinkling); in a bottle of maple syrup; in your vanilla extract (to pump up its flavor); or in a mason jar of bourbon, brandy, or rum (the more pods the better) to create your own homemade vanilla “extract.”

Board Links: Use or toss this used vanilla bean?

The Iceman Cometh

Well, that’s settled: The best way to have lots of good-tasting ice is to buy it by the bag. If you have the freezer space, keep a spare bag for iced drink emergencies. Keep the rest in a covered container, or in large ziplocs.

Making your own ice using filtered water (like Brita) may help the taste, but there’s always the risk of it picking up off flavors during the freezing process, from other items in the freezer.

Janet says an ice-making refrigerator is worth the money. Maytag has a model with a water filter in it that really makes a difference.

Board Links: Buying bags of ice