Phở King ... made it past the censors
I had driven by Phở King restaurant in Seaside and laughed aloud each time. If you aren't familiar with Vietnamese cuisine, it might not be funny, but Pho King is pronounced more like Fuh King, so it's kind of a play on words that slipped by the Caucasian censor (listen to the word "Phở" at http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/59/Pho.ogg.
All I know is this Phở King restaurant is the best Phở King restaurant in the Monterey area, as it seems to be the only Vietnamese Phở restaurant around. I stopped in for a big steaming bowl of beef slices and beef ball Phở, and it wasn't just good, it was Phở King good. The large bowl was filled with lots of meat and noodles and a very tasty broth. As is usually at a traditional Phở shop, bean sprouts, a lime wedge, pepper slices, and some other spices are served on a plate with the soup so you can add them while you eat. And of course Vietnamese hot sauce is available on the side...add as much as you dare. I had the large bowl of Phở which costs about 7 dollars. They have a good variety of other Vietnamese and Chinese dishes, but stick with Phở and you can't go wrong.
On another visit Laura and I both had a large Phở with beef slices and meat balls. On second thought the beef in the slices and balls is certainly not the greatest around, but the broth is very flavorful and the peppers are super hot. I had this terrible problem of sweating, nose watering, and even eye watering during my last visit. Maybe next time a few less pepper slices and a little less hot Vietnamese Rooster Sauce. Our meals, along with an order of their large spring rolls, and two beers was $31 before tip.
Their motto certainly rings true..."It's Pho-king delicious!"
The Orient Restaurant -- Fremont Blvd, Seaside
The Orient Restaurant is a Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant located in the University Plaza of Seaside (don't go looking for the university, doesn't exist). We were going to stop in at Baan/Barn Thai, but we just had Thai last week, so we decided to look and see what else this small shopping center had to offer. Fuji Sushi sounded good, but then we saw Vietnamese. We had recently visited San Jose's Little Saigon neighborhood and were in the mood to explore a few more places offering this tasty variety of food.
The arrived around 1:30 and the restaurant was well over half full. I was impressed at the clean, neat, and relatively plain decor rather than the stereotypically cluttered mess on the walls at many Asian places. We sat at a table back on the corner, and scanned the menu with its one page of Vietnamese dishes (mostly pho and noodles) and four or five pages of rather typical Chinese dishes including lunch specials. Laura had the small bowl of seafood pho and I had the Vietnamese noodles with chicken. Both meals were very good; the chicken in my dish was outstanding. Our total bill was about $16 including drinks.
Service was good, friendly, and quick, except for when they brought Laura's pho about five minutes before my noodles were ready.
Ol' Factory Cafe - Sand City
One of my new favorite places in the Monterey area is the Ol' Factory Cafe! This hip little spot is way off the beaten path in Seaside's West End, an area of light industry and art studios. They feature art, coffee, good food, plenty of beer, live music, and an interesting clientèle. They pride themselves in being a "green" establishment and they feature many locally grown foods.
We stopped in on our way to Target one day (as their brilliant website says: "conveniently located on your way to load up on unnecessary plastic items at Target.")... and we had a great lunch. We followed the cashier's recommendations and I had the burger and fries while Laura enjoyed the cobb salad. The burger was a little expensive at $8.50, but the fries were brilliantly done thin slices of potato, fried to perfection. Laura ordered the chicken cobb salad, but the waitress thought she ordered an ahi tuna salad, so she threw in a bowl of very tasty and unique carrot soup on the house. I also found Kostrizer black lager, which I have not had since the days I paraded around Germany in the late 1990s.
My favorite things about Ol' Factory? It is located way off the beaten path so tourists will not end up here often. The beer selection is astounding, feating some of Europe's best alongside local brews. The inside is very casual yet clean, trendy, and comfortable, inside this old (ol'?) factory. What a unique mix of coffee shop, bar, restaurant, and music pub.
(Sorry Sand City for having to post this on my Seaside page, but there just isn't much to write about in your town other than the beach and the recreation trail.)
Ichi Riki Sushi Restaurant (Del Monte St)
A good local Japanese joint, Ichi-Riki specializes in sushi and features a very large sushi bar, but they also offer a variety of other Japanese dishes such as tempura, teriyaki, sukiyaki, and various combination meals for lunch and dinner. I had the Chirashi dinner for about $16 which included a good salad and tofu miso soup. My Kirin Ichiban beer was about $3.00. The chirashi included fresh tuna, salmon, squid, two kinds of caviar, and even a slice of avocado.
The location and food are not as good as Sapporo or Crystal Fish in Monterey, but it is a good, and cheap alternative.
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Jim's Chinese Restaurant
Jim's Chinese -- funny name, best Chinese around!
Jim's is just a little hole in the wall place with only eight little tables, located along Del Monte Ave in Seaside. We stopped in late one Saturday afternoon and had a wonderful meal. They didn't have Szechuan dishes, so I decided on the spicy Mongolian beef (around $8) and Laura had a chicken dish (also $8). We also ordered egg rolls ($5), rice ($1), and a few cans of coke (no beer), and our meals came with a nice little tasty cup of wonton soup.
We both thought the Mongolian beef was spectacular. It was prepared with small pieces of spicy beef and plenty of fresh carrots, celery, and other mixed vegetables. The chicken dish was also good, but it paled in comparison with the Mongolian beef. The dishes were big as we stuffed ourselves and still had plenty of leftovers, a great bargain at just $24.
While the food is great and the prices excellent, the service is a little slow and awkward, and the interior of the restaurant will certainly not appeal to those rich folks from Carmel or Pebble Beach. Or service was freindly enough, but marred by a few discrepancies such as when we got our cans of Coke without glasses, when we were handed a to go box and expected to spoon our own leftovers into it, and when the waitress had our bill in hand but had to finish a 10 minute argument in Chinese before bringing it to the table. The restaurant itself is a little older and the 100s of photos of Chinese food on the wall certainly distract from the experience!
Khans Kabob House -- Hamilton/Fremont St; Seaside
We wandered in one Sunday afternoon perhaps 30 minutes before closing. When we entered the front door, we were greeted with a variety of smells of Asian and Middle Eastern spices and meats. Before sitting at one of the four small wooden tables and getting our food we wandered through the two or three aisles of groceries that include spices, cookies, chips, grape leaves, condiments, drinks and more from a variety of countries including India, Turkey, Lebanon, US and several others.
There was a big family occupying the front three tables, so we grabbed the last remaining table next to the meat cooler and the kitchen. There was a menu on the table, and we quickly focused in on two of their more impressive meals. We had the house special Khan's Kabob and the Chicken Biryani, both for $9.99. The meals took quite a while to prepare; the owner said the beef kabobs were too fresh and therefore crumbled when cooking, but after about 45 minutes of waiting we got our food. The meals came with rice, naan bread, and a spicy onion and cucumber chutney.
The food was honestly one of the best and most filling meals I've had in a very long time. The chicken biryani was excellent, just a little spicy and full of flavor. The kabobs are the ground and formed meat kind, so they have a soft texture which I don't especially like, but they have a flavor to die for. The rice had a little chicken or beef in it for flavoring, and the fresh vegetable chutney had a nice spicy crunch to augment the meats. The best part of the meal was the perfectly fried naan bread, which we used to scoop up the other ingredients.
Khan's is run by a Pakistani immigrant who has lived in America for decades. He is a very friendly and talkative man, who is quick to joke with and good-naturedly tease his customers. This shop is supposed to be the only location on the Monterey Peninsula where the meats are halal, or butchered according to Islamic tradition.
Khan's is opened 10am-8pm daily, and only until 5pm on Sundays.
Orient Express Korean Restaurant
The Orient Express is one of many Korean restaurants in the area, but it seems to be the only one in Seaside. I had lunch here one Friday afternoon when there were about 6 or 8 tables, certainly not a busy day for this very large restaurant. I had the bibimbap, one of my all-time favorite Korean dishes. At Orient Express it costs $8 and comes with tea, and five small sides (3 kimchis, bean sprouts, and a potato dish). The huge bibimbap was very tasty with just a little meat, one fried egg, and a good mixture of bean sprouts, lettuce, rice, carrots, spinach, cucumbers, and other vegetables. The service was quick but not overly friendly, as I was in and out in about 30 minutes.
This restaurant is two doors down from the Hanguk Korean Market where I often shop for some of my favorite Korean foods.
Other options for Korean in the Monterey area are Won Ju on Lighthouse Ave in New Monterey, Na Ra Korean Restaurant on Tyler Street in Downtown Monterey, and numerous Marina restaurants including Shin La.
Stammstisch German Restaurant - Seaside
Stammstisch roughly translates into "regulars' table" and is the term given to a seat at the bar or a table in a German guesthaus or biergarten that is usually reserved for local regular customers.
Stammstisch is also a very authentic German restaurant in Seaside, CA, just a few miles from Monterey. We have been planning to check this place out for months ever since I heard about it from a guy who had spent a good deal of time in Germany. Our first attempt we arrived around 8:30 pm and they shooed us out the door after telling us they were closed. Our next try we got there a little early and were pleased to see the sign in the door with their hours that said open 11:30 am until closing. We had to tug on the door to see if we could be served, and sure enough they were open this time!
We chose a small table for two in the back next to the kitchen and bathrooms. Laura and I both began our meals with one of our favorite beers of all time: a German black lager called Kostritzer, which unfortunately is served in small 12 ounce bottles here. For dinner I had the zigeuner (or "gypsy") schnitzel with a slightly spicy bell pepper sauce, fried potatoes, and cabbage and lettuce salad (maybe $15). We also had the side salad at the encouragement of the waiter, despite the fact that the meals come with a very similar assortment of thinly sliced fresh vegetables. The schnitzel was thin and crispy but huge...almost covering the entire plate!
The restaurant is a pretty authentic replica of some restaurants I visited in rural south and southwest Germany, complete with lots of German beer advertisements and a wooden facade inside. The operators of the restaurant seem to be a German husband and wife who are very friendly and competent.
Overall, they have excellent food and higher prices than other restaurants in Seaside, though comparable to the more touristy places in Monterey.
Curly's Barbecue (Fremont Street)
Barbecue is one of the types of restaurants that is pretty rare in the Monterey area. Curly's in Seaside is only the second place I've found in and around Monterey. Unlike its rival just a mile or two down Fremont -- Buzzard's Backyard BBQ -- Curly's isn't trying to impress anyone with their style or decor. But that only serves to make it more real...more like my favorite BBQ joints in Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. Curly's is just a small roadside building, not much more than a shack, that might have been a Tastee Freeze ice cream stand 30 or 40 years ago. Now, when you drive by you are sure to see, and smell, the smoker in the parking lot.
There isn't much to the restaurant, 6 or 8 tables inside and another 4 or 5 outside under the large overhang of the roof. It doesn't seem like they get a lot of sit-down customers, but there was a steady stream of to go orders, many to local businesses. Similar to PG's Little Chicken House BBQ, the meat is cooking in plain view just behind the counter...and it looks delicious! The food and atmosphere between these two local BBQ joints is similar, but I have to give the nod to Little Chicken House!
Prices are reasonable...about $6 for a sandwich and $10-12 for a dinner. But sides are an extra $2 each. Drinks are cheap at about $1 for cans of Coke and $3 for bottles of beer.
There is also a Curly's Barbecue in Salinas.
The Monterey County Weekly "Best Of 2006 Readers' Picks" named Curley's as the best Barbecue in Monterey County!
Turtle Bay Taqueria
Turtle Bay Taqueria is an great little Mexican seafood spot with some great food and quick service. Their focus is cuisine of coastal Mexico and Belize including fresh seafood, local produce, and imported spices and marinades.
This small location is attached to the slightly nicer sister restaurant, Fishwife. It features plenty of outdoor seating, but unlike the other Turtle Bay in Monterey, the interior is lacking personality. They have about 10 tables outside, enclosed by a wooden privacy fence, and maybe another 10 inside. At turtle Bay you order at the counter, they give you a rubber turtle with a number, then they bring the food to your table.
I have only been to this Turtle Bay location once, and the food is just as good as the other location. Tacos are one of the best deals on the menu, where you get two tacos for under $5 and two extra tortillas and the heaping toppings actually make it more like four tacos. Soft drinks are $1.95 and come with 2 free refills.
Turtle Bay is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, but they close early, around 8pm.
The Monterey County Weekly "Best Of 2006 Readers' Picks" named Turtle Bay Taqueria as the best cheap eats in the county!
Shinla Korean Restaurant (Marina)
Shinla is a tiny little Korean restaurant off the beaten path in Marina. During our last visit, we had a great lunch of dolsot bibimbap (the Korean-style salad in a hot stone pot) and beef bulgogi lunch special with rice. Both meals cost under $10 and included warm grain tea and a nice variety of traditional Korean side dishes such as kimchi, fish cakes, and spinach. The service was not the best, but the food was excellent as expected be in a community with a high Korean population like Marina.
Fishwife (Fremont Street)
According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:
n. pl. fish·wives
1. A woman who sells fish.
2. A woman regarded as coarse and shrewishly abusive.
Since the women (and man) at Fishwife were not overly abusive, I'll assume the name of the establishment refers to definition one, those who sell fish. And do they sell fish! I stopped in for a late lunch one afternoon, and, though it wasn't packed, it was busier than the average lunch spot in town. I opted for the grilled tilapia sandwich with fries and a Fat Tire Ale all for $13. The sandwich came on lightly toasted fresh bread and was topped with slices of fresh tomato and pieces of onion, with a side of pico de gallo. You have the option of grilling or frying the fish, or even having it Cajun style.
Other options include salads, huge bowls of Boston clam chowder, shell fish & calamari appetizers, a selection of seafood sandwiches, pastas, and a huge array of seafood dinners.
Fishwife actually has a small chain of four restaurants in the Monterey area: A second Fishwife restaurant is at Asilomar State Park on the edge of Pacific Grove (Sunset Drive), this original Fishwife location at Seaside, a restaurant called Turtle Bay Taqueria in Monterey at Tyler Street & Bonifacio, and finally a second Turtle Bay location co-located with the Fishwife in Seaside.
According to the plaques on the wall, Fishwife was named as "Restaurant of the Year" by the State of California Senate and even more impressively it earned "Restaurant of the Year" in Seaside/Sand City.
The Monterey County Weekly "Best Of 2006 Readers' Picks" named Fishwife as the best restaurant in Seaside!
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