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

East Bay Philly Cheesesteak Roundup

Hollow Leg has visited every Philly cheesesteak place he can find in the East Bay. And the winner is ... Joe’s Catering, a lunch truck, where $5 gets you the biggest, sloppiest cheesesteak you’ve had in a while, jammed full of meat, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, and Swiss cheese. Perhaps the meat is sliced a little thicker than on a truly authentic Philly cheesesteak, and perhaps the peppers could be a little softer, but “it seems churlish to complain when you’re getting about half a pound of steak for $5 and it lays the smack on everything else in the area.”

The truck is in front of Creative Technology on the old Alameda Navy Base from 1 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. on weekdays, then elsewhere on the base for lunch all afternoon.

El Senor Burrito already makes tortas, so cheesesteaks apparently seemed a minor stretch. Five bucks gets you a cheesesteak with fries or rings. The latter are repulsive, made from onion paste, not actual onions. But fries are good, and so are the cheesesteaks. It’s a bit bready, but all the elements are there, preparation is right, and the whole thing tastes mighty fine.

Dynamite Cheesesteak gets a big fat “meh…”. Which is to say it’s not bad, nor is it particularly good. It’s dry, undercheesed, and over-breaded. And it’s more expensive. berkeleybob thinks the best cheesesteaks come from Berkeley’s Cheese Steak Shop. It’s about as close to an authentic South Philly cheesesteak as you can find around here. They even fly in bread from Philly. Plus they have Tastykakes.

swillbill agrees that the greasy slop they serve here is freakin’ delicious. But do order the 7 inch, as the 10 incher will hurt you. This place may be a chain, we’re not sure, but it’s the sort of chain a lot of chowhounds believe in. They know what they’re doing, they know what real cheesesteaks taste like, and the volume business lets them fly in the right fixings from Philly. J T advises ordering “double meat”, as the regular cheesesteak is a bit scanty.

Joe’s Catering Lunch Truck [East Bay]
On the old Alameda Navy base
2501 Monarch St. #22, Alameda

El Senor Burrito (at High Street Gas and Food) [Fruitvale]
720 High St., just off 880, Oakland

Dynamite Cheesesteak [East Bay]
1221 Park St., Alameda

Cheese Steak Shop [East Bay]
1054 University Ave at San Pablo, Berkeley

Board Links
East Bay Philly Cheesesteak Roundup

Fine Soup Noodles, Roast Duck

Scarf excellent soup noodles at BBQ and Noodle Garden. For $4.50, you can get soup noodles topped with two barbecued items; for $3.50, you can get sliced fish congee and various other small plates.

Their soup noodles are strong all around, reports Melanie Wong. The carefully skimmed broth is very light, nearly clear, and well-flavored. Noodles are as wiry as a Hong Kong diner would demand, and the iceberg lettuce is just wilted enough to bring out the slight sweetness, but leave some of the crunch. Whoever’s in the kitchen has a good touch; they’re hitting the textures spot on.

Meats are good too, and display the same steady expertise. Roast duck is tender and not too fatty, with nicely browned skin. The meat is well complemented by gentle spicing. Poached free-range chicken is properly red at the bone, and has very good flavor and texture, especially the toothsome plain skin.

BBQ & Noodle Garden [Richmond]
Formerly Wah Win Restaurant
5740 Geary Blvd., San Francisco

Board Links
Soup Noodles @ BBQ & Noodle Garden, SF

Gelato, Gelato Everywhere

Gelato can now be found at the Viktor Benes bakery in the Century City Gelson’s, says PayOrPlay, with some very good flavors (sour cherry, pink grapefruit). There are 8-10 varieties, and they change regularly.

In addition to the gelato at Pazzo (look out for the fruit flavors made from farmers’ market produce), Eastsiders who don’t want to make the trek to Boule can find its chocolate truffles and pates de fruit there. There’s even a discount–the truffles, notes kevin, are $2 apiece instead of $2.50. But then, they don’t come in a little box with a ribbon. Also: baked goods from South Pas’s excellent Heirloom Bakery.

In Pasadena, Noodle World has reopened, and is also serving gelato.

Viktor Benes Continental Pastries [Century City]
at Gelson’s Market
10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles


Pazzo Gelato [Silverlake]
3827 Sunset Blvd, Hyperion, Los Angeles


Noodle World [Pasadena-ish]
24 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena

Noodle World [San Gabriel Valley]
46 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra

Board Links
Pazzo Gelato
Noodle World!
valley gelato

Mad-Scientist Ice Cream

A laboratory for eclectic ice cream flavors, the LA City College-adjacent Scoops has been getting some press lately. Owner Tai Kim uses tropical fruits (mango, ube) as well as wasabi, and chocolate jalapeno. Brown bread, believe it or not, is a popular flavor, and there are also vegan ice creams. You can even write a flavor suggestion on his dry-erase board.

For the less adventurous, pistachio, chocolate, and tiramisu are good bets. Flavors rotate about once a week. Two scoops are $2.

Scoops [East Hollywood]
formerly Taicecream
712 N. Heliotrope Dr., Los Angeles

Board Links
Scoops Ice Cream @ Melrose & Heliotrope?
Scoops on Heliotrope in Silverlake?

Little Owl: Promising Mediterranean Hideaway in the Village

An Italian-leaning menu of simple, seasonal dishes is drawing crowds at the Little Owl, which roosted a month ago on the site of the now-closed bistro Chez Michallet. “I almost don’t want to post because it’s so tiny, but I thought it was great,” says jdm, who loves the meatball sliders and crispy chicken with fried asparagus from chef Joey Campanaro (the Harrison, Pace).

Also recommended: flavorful New York strip steak (served with pancetta, radicchio, and fennel), clean-tasting halibut with an alluring golden-brown crust, and for dessert, brownie cake and baked strawberry custard. Other pluses include warm service, an intimate vibe, and a decent midpriced wine list. The room seats around 30 tops, so expect a wait.

Not everyone is a fan. “Formulaic and lackluster,” sniffs (mp), who finds the food at best acceptable but mostly bland and unremarkable.

The Little Owl [West Village]
formerly Chez Michallet
90 Bedford St., at Grove, Manhattan


Board Links
Little Owl?
Little Owl
Little Owl and Ditch Plains Reviewed
the little owl

Licorice, Anyone?

Licorice comes in black, red, salty, or sugarless varieties. Here are some of the Chowhounds’ favorite online sources.

Economy Candy in NYC’s Lower East Side is a legendary shop that that stocks a large selection of black licorice, including Kookaburra brand, which some folks view with awe! Not many people seem to know these guys sell online, at:

Licorice International, out of Lincoln, Nebraska, has many types of imported licorice. Their Dutch and German selections are particularly worth a try; each has its own distinctive flavor. They sell salty licorice, too, which is very much an acquired taste. If you like red licorice, they offer a very nice sampler. Order at:

For a good selection of sugar free, try Dutch Sweets, at:

Board Links
best black licorice? by mail-order, pls

Homemade “Fudgcicles”

With a set of ice pop molds, you can whip up your own version of the classic chocolaty summer treat, with or without dairy.

Pat Hammond simply stirs enough Ovaltine into whole milk to get a dark chocolate mixture and freezes in molds. These are a little more icy than storebought, but still creamy tasting. For a non-dairy (and rather adult) version, lynn makes sorbet-like pops by cooking 1 part cocoa, 1 part sugar, 2 parts water, and a pinch of salt over medium heat, stirring, until the mixture is smooth. Add in some vanilla. Cool, and freeze in popsicle molds. Make them richer by adding chopped bittersweet chocolate while the mixture is still hot, if you like.

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Fruit and Pepper

Pepper adds an unexpected note to fruit. It works especially well with strawberries, currently at peak season. Pureed strawberries with black pepper stirred in is ambrosia to lil mikey, and strawberries macerated in balsamic vinegar and black pepper is an Italian classic that’s just killer served over a simple panna cotta, swoons pinstripeprincess.

Pineapple and pepper also pair well, but don’t be afraid to try it with melons and tropical fruits. babette feasts notes that pink pepper can be nice with fruit, too.

Board Links
black pepper and fruit
Strawberries and Pepper

Perfect Chicken Feet

gordon wing says the best chicken feet in the area are at Joy Luck. They’re just about perfect, fluffy in texture, and all the skin and cartilage come off easily. The seasoning is slightly hot and sublimely savory. They also make the best dry beef chow fun in the neighborhood, adds george. Service is very helpful.

Tai Wu serves similarly wonderful chicken feet, reports Nancy Berry.

Joy Luck Place [Oakland]
327 8th St., Oakland

Hong Kong Seafood Restaurant [Sunset]
(a.k.a Tai Wu)
2578 Noriega St., San Francisco


Board Links: Chicken Feet at Joy Luck/Oakland

Cafe Taiwan

You’ll find lots of unique and lovely little snacks at Cafe Taiwan, many of which are impossible to find elsewhere the Bay Area. And, best of all, they make some magical and rare Hakka specialties.

Ground pork with rice ($3.50) is excellent; a good amount of rice with lots of ground pork, tea egg, and cilantro. Mi tai mu (listed under Hakka Specials, $3) are like Japanese udon noodles, but made with rice flour–and you can really taste the rice. Served with a tea egg, it’s simple goodness.

KK reports on the contents of a Chinese-language blog post on this place, from a Vitomin (Hakkanese-Taiwanese) eater who really digs their Hakka specialties. We learn that the signature dishes are mahn luan ju jiao and mahn luan pig feet. The mahn luan pig feet are marinated for a long time, cooked, cut up, and served with dipping sauce; it is apparently much more delicious than their regular pig feet. So don’t settle for pedestrian pig feet!

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The take-out menu reads “open 7 days,” but they may actually close on Wednesdays, so call first!

Cafe Taiwan [South Bay]
181 W. Calaveras Blvd., Milpitas
(in the Save Mart shopping center behind Burger King)

Board Links: Taiwanese Hakkanese food found in Milpitas–Cafe Taiwan
Cafe Taiwan, Milpitas report (w/ pics)