Kung pao chicken
I initially dismissed Hong Kong 88 since they serve sushi in addition to Chinese food and are willing to deliver sushi. That seemed to me like an glaring sign of a restaurant that didn't case about the quality of its food. Multiple recommendations on Chowhound's boards, however, convinced me to give them a shot.
It's a good thing I listened, because Hong Kong 88 serves the best Chinese food in the area when compared to others I've tried: Joie Luck Kitchen, Bamboo Village, and Bamboo Cuisine. They use large pieces of high quality chicken, flavorful sauces, and vented plastic containers that keep fried items crispy and allow presentation and delivery to coexist.
Minced garlic adds kick to their orange chicken, and fresh bell peppers balance out an otherwise very meaty kung pao chicken. While the kung pao could use more heat, the thick hot and sour soup left me panting happily for a glass of milk. The beef didn't fare as well, since the meat was fatty.
Any place that can deliver steaming hot, mostly delicious food in 20 minutes on a Friday night will be getting a lot more business from me in the future.
Hong Kong 88
5658 Sepulveda Blvd. #101
Van Nuys, CA
Hong Kong 88 Menu
Free delivery within four miles and with $15 minimum order
Puri, idly, chile veg gravy, khadi bhindi curry, and more
Woodlands is a southern Indian vegetarian restaurant with branches in both Artesia and Chatsworth. I visited the Chatsworth location, where the restaurant is a welcome respite from the area's many chain restaurants and there aren't a lot of options for ethnic food. If you happen to be staying at the Radisson Chatsworth across the street, Woodlands is an incredibly convenient option, and a cheaper and tastier alternative to the Radisson's Hot Tomato restaurant.
I had been dying to check out Woodlands ever since Jonathan Gold raved about it on Evan Kleiman's Good Food, but I think his opinion of this restaurant is overrated. The first problem with most buffets, including this one, is that the food is always cold. Would it be that hard to put covers on the dishes to keep them warm? The second problem with buffets is that the selection is often not as varied as you're expecting it to be. You might be expecting a common Indian dish to be available, and it won't be. I often feel that restaurants aren't putting their best foot forward in the buffet line.
The buffet is a great value, though. For $10 you get salad, appetizers, main courses, desserts, a fresh dosa, and a mango smoothie (apparently different from a mango lassi, which is not a part of the lunch buffet).
Given Jonathan Gold's experience, the restaurant's popularity, and the pleasant atmosphere, I'd be willing to try this place again at dinner if I were in the area, but I wouldn't drive across town for it and I wouldn't revisit the lunch buffet.
Woodlands Pure Vegetarian South Indian Cuisine
9840 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Unit A
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Hours: Tuesday through Friday Lunch Buffet 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Dinner 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday Champagne/Beer Brunch 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Dinner 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Pan con pavo
Mi Ranchito Salvadoreno is one of those restaurants where if you walk through the door, they'll assume you speak Spanish even if you look like a flaming gringo (I love Van Nuys). A jukebox blares an array of tunes (all in Spanish) and two small televisions play the Latino equivalent of MTV (and the volume isn't turned down, which can create cacophony with the jukebox if you're sitting near a TV). The restaurant is small with lots of booths and a few well-spaced tables. Colorful paint and plentiful beer signage are the main decorations. Even though the music is painfully loud and the decor is almost garish, the overall effect is festive and cheery. We had plenty of time to soak it all in since we ordered takeout and our food took forever.
Sometimes the problem with making a sandwich that you don't have to eat is that, in an attempt to be generous, you overload the sandwich to the point where it cannot actually be eaten as a sandwich. I used to work for a sandwich shop, so I would know. I ordered the pan con pavo, a Salvadoran turkey sandwich, since Evan Kleiman raved about them once on Good Food. I didn't see what the big deal was: the sandwich consisted of fatty turkey (gross), mayonnaise-soaked lettuce, mealy tomatoes, radishes, carrots, and slightly pickled bell peppers. The bread was soggy from all the mayo, and the sandwich was enormous, so I picked at it with a fork for a while then ended up tossing most of it.
Deep fried sweet corn tamale
One strike against the restaurant was that they got my tamale order wrong. I ordered sweet corn tamales with crema, not deep fried sweet corn tamales with no crema. It was interesting to try the deep fried tamales, which were a novelty to me, but with no crema they were really too dry. They also weren't very sweet.
The marinated sirloin steak ($9.95) was passable but not excellent. It wasn't very tender and was a bit overcooked. There was some fatty bits, but less than you'll usually get when you order a restaurant steak that isn't an expensive cut. The meat was on the dry side (probably due to overcooking) and tasted better with some hot sauce added at home.
We ordered four pupusas: queso, calabaza, mexicana, and chicharrones. I was a little put off by the pupusas because they were incredibly greasy and because I think they either gave is the wrong pupusa instead of the calabaza or didn't describe it accurately on the menu. I was expecting pureed pumpkin or squash, and I got cheese with what appeared to be very mild peppers. Hmm. Maybe they meant to write "flor de calabaza" (squash blossoms) on the menu? The mexicana consisted of cheese and fantastically spicy peppers, the queso was nondescript, and the chicharrones, described on the menu as deep fried pork, was stuffed with deliciously moist shredded pork. To me, pupusas on their own are a little too salty and one dimensional, but add curtido (imagine a mayo-free lovechild of American coleslaw and Korean kimchee) and you've got one tasty treat where soft, warm, salty and gooey meet cold, sweet, spicy and crunchy.
Carne asada tacos
The interesting thing about these tacos is that they come in thick, pupusa-like tortillas. However, they're on the expensive side for tacos ($2.50 each) and on the dry and not-so-spicy side for carne asada. Also, there wasn't any salsa for the tacos and the onion chunks were too big (raw onion gets overpowering fast). Argh.
The horchata wasn't what I expected--instead of being white, it was brown, and had a sort of nutty, toasty, bitter flavor. I enjoyed it, but I still prefer Mexican horchata.
I might have been able to forgive an imperfect order if I didn't speak fluent Spanish and hadn't written down my entire order. The combination of an incredibly long wait time for our food, not getting everything right, forgetting our horchatas, and subpar food didn't exactly impress me. I won't be going back.
Mi Ranchito Salvadoreno
Van Nuys, CA
Tags: Los Angeles Van Nuys Salvadoran Food