Meal #1: Always in search of the best bahn mi, I tried Banh Mi Che Cali in Alhambra after a trip to Target. The BBQ beef was nicely flavored, but the plain pork could have used a little more oomph. A pork ball dim sum, on the right, concealed a hidden egg -- surprise! Really hard to complain since two sandwiches and the bao came to $5, but I think I prefer the cilantro-adorned sandwiches at Banh Mi My Tho down the street. I'd go back to eat in the bustling cafe and try some other Vietnamese dishes, but probably not for banh mi.
Banh Mi Che Cali, 647 W Valley Blvd Alhambra, CA 91803
Meal #2: When you're in South Pasadena, and real Chinese or Thai food is just a bit too far away, where to go? Oak Tree Inn looks scary, and Patakan Thai is greasy and bland. Phoenix Food Boutique has wonderful desserts, so I decided to try their main dishes. I like the way each dish comes in individual boxes with rice for about $5.75 each -- not as good for sharing, but perfect for one or two people. Thai style beef with onions (above left) was a bit greasy but the beef was thin and tender. Szechwan style shrimp (bottom) was more successful, but with too many chunks of green pepper. Lo mein with shrimp and pork was also underwhelming, but I want to like this place, if only so I can pick up a mango pudding to go with my supper. I'll try again, but with different dishes. Any recs?
Phoenix Food Boutique, 456 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena
Meal #3: After a visit with friends in Sherman Oaks, we wanted to bring back a Middle Eastern spread for the family. I didn't know the Italian Middle Eastern market closed so early (5:30!) on Saturdays. The affable owners had already put away most of the salads, but obliginglly dragged everything back out and fixed me up a bag of hummus, babaghanouj and tabbouli. I especially liked the super-smoky babaghanouj with a nice chunky texture, and the hummus and tabbouli were solid. Next time I'll try Pita Kitchen or someplace that also offers main dishes. The owners are super-friendly here, which always helps.
Italian Middle Eastern Market, 13246 Riverside Dr., Sherman Oaks