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Mr. T’s was a perfectly adequate little place – decent (if unremarkable) food, reasonable prices, a picturesque locale and a friendly owner. There are plenty of restaurants that do a much poorer job on all of the above and yet remain in business and even thrive. But life isn’t fair and the mortality rate among restaurants of all calibers is high, so I wasn’t that shocked today when driving by to see that Mr. T’s had closed its doors (and boarded its windows).

We can only hope that Mr. T’s will be revived more successfully in the near future. In the meantime, RIP, Mr. T’s.

(See here for my previous post.)

In many ways, Concord is a prototypical California baby-boom suburb.  In 1940, it was a sleepy little town of about 1,400, by 1950 its population had increased some 5-fold to almost 7,000 – still modest but growing.  The real boom began around 1950, and by 1960, the were some 36,000 Concordians, by 1970, more than 85,000 and by 1980, over 103,000. (The current population is about 122,000.)

At some point in the mid-1950s, in order to accommodate this growing population and keep up with California’s nascent car and consumer culture, the Park and Shop mall came into being just west of Concord’s downtown.  Since that time it has been expanded several times and now stretches for the equivalent of about 4 blocks – sort of a strip mall on steroids.

Over the years, the Park and Shop has had its ups and downs – facing pressure from the near-by and more modern Sun Valley Mall shopping center and the reality that Concord is generally a less upscale market than the neighboring communities of Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill.

In recent years, however, Park and Shop has landed a couple of big retail fish – Fry’s Electronics and 99 Ranch Market – both attracting large numbers of shoppers (such as myself) and significantly re-vitalizing the mall.

Today Park and Shop is a bustling but undeniably somewhat dated and down-at-the-heels spot (in spite of recent efforts to pretty it up).  Still, to me its very unfashionableness is an asset, almost certainly contributing to keeping the rents affordable and allowing a profusion of small, independent restaurants to survive. Now, in addition to several fast food places and a couple of buffets, there are at least 3 Mexican, several Chinese, 2 Vietnamese, 1 Mediterranean, 1 Korean, and 1 Indian (I think) restaurant – and Chick’s Donuts.

Chick’s is one of my top 5 doughnut shops in this part of the world and so when I was up at Fry’s this morning, picking up some boring odds and ends of things I decided to stop in for a late breakfast.

Chick’s, as the menu says, has been in business since 1955. The interior is authentically retro, with the vintage of the last remodel being, perhaps, the 1970s (maybe the ’80s), by the look of the counter at least.

The staff is very friendly and much of the clientele seem to be regulars.

As is usually the case in the morning, the place was pretty full, so I grabbed a seat at the counter and almost ordered my usual – an apple fritter, along with a cup of coffee.  Chick’s apple fritters are mamouth and very good, but I have to admit that I had noticed a seductive looking lemon jelly doughnut in the case as I came in.

So I switched things up and went for the jelly doughnut – an excellent call.  The doughnut was perfectly cooked, with a hint of crunch to the outside and a ton of jelly on the inside.  (They take the term “filling” literally.)

This was a really excellent jelly doughnut – every bit as good, if not better than Doughnut King’s also very good version, which I described several months ago.

In addition to doughnuts, Chicks does “American Breakfast and Lunch” – with the emphasis on breakfast.  While I usually stick to the doughnuts on my visits, last week I decided to have the full-on breakfast special – 2 eggs, 2 sausages and 1 biscuit and gravy ($6.50).

I like Chick’s biscuits and gravy a lot – even if maybe it doesn’t look so appetizing in the picture.  I’m not sure how much of it is homemade, but the biscuits are light and the gravy sausage-y, rich and flavorful without being gluey.  Add a couple of shots of Tabasco and you’re good.  (I’ll admit that the sausages are pretty generic and – hey – eggs are eggs, but at least they’re cooked right.)

Overall, Chick’s is a great spot – the breakfasts are very good, the doughnuts are excellent, the staff is helpful and nice, the place is lively and relaxed and the prices are reasonable.

Chick’s Donuts & Coffee Shop
1801 Willow Pass Rd
Concord, CA 94520
(925) 682-4917

Ok – so I haven’t had much to say lately, mainly because I’ve been working a ton and haven’t had much time to hit a lot of new places.  Worse than that, the ones I’ve tried have been definitely on the disappointing side, especially since a couple have actually been close to being good.  In both cases, I had a very promising first experience but on the second trip was seriously let down.

Because I hate to trash some obscure little restaurant which, for all I know, I just caught on a bad day, I’m not going to name names, but the first one was a Mexican place on Railroad Avenue in Pittsburg (and that doesn’t narrow it down really at all).

Anyway, my first time in I had a gordita, which was good, and my son had a pastor sandwich which was excellent and made me wish I had gotten that instead.

Everything about this sandwich was great – bread, meat, just right.  (The price was reasonable at $5.99 but no steal.)

So, when I was back in Pittsburg last week I thought I’d give it another shot.  Now, I really love pupusas and so I decided to go for the pupusa, rice and beans plate which, at $3.95 seemed like it would make a fine lunch.

So, to be fair, the pupusa and the ensalada were decent enough – nothing special but one might reasonably ask what one wants from a $3.95 lunch these days?  Well, the problem was that the rice and beans weren’t hot – they were barely even warm.  (As you can see in the picture, the cheese wasn’t melting even a bit.)

Cross it off the list.

My next disappointment was at a cavernous but promising-looking Salvadoran place which opened not too long ago in Concord.  Here, on my first visit, I thoroughly enjoyed a couple of pupusas (revueltas) which were really an excellent lunch at $2.25 each.

So far so good.  I stopped back by there earlier this week, looking forward to enjoying some Salvadoran tamales but instead faced the crushing disappointment of 2 mushy, over-steamed, disintegrating, poor-excuses for same.

To top it off, I encountered a large chunk of chicken bone halfway through the second one.

Cross that place off the list as well.

(Actually, I might go back again, but just for the pupas.)

PS If you don’t know what a pupusa is – and I can’t imagine that being the case with yougo here.

As I said in my last post, I’ve been spending a lot of time in Martinez lately. My wife and I were up there around lunch time again and decided to visit Mr. T’s near the main entrance to the Shell Refinery.

I had always liked Mr. T’s in the past, but I hadn’t been there in awhile and, in fact, I had noticed that it had been closed not too long ago.  Still, seeing that it was now obviously open, we dropped in.

We were greeted at the door by a gentleman who said that his name was Dave and that he was the owner.  He seemed happy to chat and once we sat down he told us that he had bought the place about 9 months ago and that its recent closure was due to his being out of town.  (By the way, the guy at the register is NOT Dave.)

The interior is pretty basic, with a few stools at the counter and 5 or 6 tables along the wall. Decor is, to say the least, limited.

The menu is also limited – several burger choices and a steak sandwich, along with breakfasts and a few sides.

Dave does all the cooking, so once we ordered he disappeared into the back.

My wife got the double cheeseburger.  At $4.25 for the burger only (fries are a couple of dollars extra) it wasn’t bad, but, as she put it, it was just a cheeseburger.

I decided to splurge and went for The Wiz – a sort of Martinez take on the Philly cheesesteak.  It’s a rib-eye sandwich on grilled sourdough bread with some peppers, onions, and CheezWhiz (or however you spell that).

At $7.75 I wouldn’t say that it was a great bargain, but it was actually pretty good.  The steak really tasted like steak and there was just the right amount of peppers and onions.  Still, by the time you add some fries and maybe a drink, you’re into it for more than 10 bucks, and it just wasn’t that good.

You want Mr T’s to be great – it has a friendly, hands-on owner who is obviously enthusiastic about what he does, it has a gritty, exotic location, it has an authentic-feeling interior and reasonable prices.  The problem is that the food isn’t – it’s not bad, but it’s still just OK.

So, if you’re over there, you could do worse then to stop in for a burger and a chat with Dave, but I don’t think I’d make a special trip…

Mr. T’s
35 Howe Rd
Martinez, CA 94553
(925) 372-8807

I’ve been up in Martinez a lot lately, since I have several clients buying homes there at the moment. I was over there today around lunch time, scheduled to be back in the office for a 1:30 appointment and needed a quick bite for lunch.  Since I was heading up Pacheco Blvd, past the Shell Refinery, the obvious choice was the La Primavera Restaurant and Lunch Truck.

The truck is regularly (as in every day) parked in the lot of Bob’s Ace Truckbox Center, across the street from and just south of the refinery.  It’s got a couple of picnic tables alongside it, so you don’t have to eat in the front seat of your car if you’re not getting things to go.

The menu’s got the usual taco truck fare – tacos, burritos, tortas, quesadillas, etc – as well as the typical meats.  The prices are quite reasonable, with the tacos at $1.25 each and regular burritos at $3.75-$4.50, depending on the filling.  Super burritos are $5.50+ and there are a few other items not so typical for a taco truck, such as enchiladas and tostadas.

Since it was really hot and I had work to do, I got my regular al pastor burrito to go and headed back to the office.

As you can see, compared to my keyboard, the regular burrito is a good size for lunch – filling but not coma-inducing.  (And, by the way, did you recognize that keyboard as one which started life attached to an SGI O2 workstation?)

Unwrapped.

If it was in East Oakland, I probably wouldn’t be writing about this truck, but it’s in Martinez and it’s the only taco truck (or, at least the only taco truck I know of) in town.  It serves a perfectly acceptable burrito – not great, but tasty enough. (Perhaps a little light on the meat – but what do you really expect for $3.75?)

Anyway, all in all, La Primavera is a fine place to stop and grab something quick, cheap and decent to go or, if you’re in the mood, to kick back there in the parking lot, enjoy your meal and admire the view.

The address of Bob’s Ace Truckbox Center is:

3550 Pacheco Blvd
Martinez, CA

It’s always nice to get something a little different – especially when it comes to Mexican.  Don’t get me wrong – I can eat burritos, tacos, tortas and quesadillas, etc all day long, but sometimes mixing it up a bit really works.

Recently I was heading down Monument Blvd, returning from  a Costco run and decided that a torta would be in order.  Now, anyone who has driven along Monument knows that choosing a Mexican restaurant there can be a daunting task, given the number of very credible options which the street offers.  In this case, however, I opted for a Mexican market I know with a decent lunch counter attached – but when I got there, the restaurant section was closed.

It was then that I noticed just a few storefronts down in the same strip mall (right next to the Afghan Market) the Pancho Villa Birrieria y Carnitas (as the sign out front says, or Birrieria y Barbacoa, as the card says – you choose).

I have to say that the strip mall itself appears a bit on the seedy and ill-kept side, but the restaurant is bright and appears to be very clean.  Even better, the employees (proprietors?) are friendly and enthusiastic.  They seem honestly glad you’re there and really want you to enjoy your meal.

The menu transcends the usual burritos-tacos-tortas-enchiladas-chile rellenos choices. Similarly, the selection of meats is not the typical asada, al pastor, cabeza, etc.

Instead the menu offers goat in several forms and lamb. Other items include quesadillas with huitlacoche (“corn smut”) or flores de calabaza (squash blossoms), huaraches (no, not the sandals), machitos (“ingredients in machito include the internal organs of the kid goat and the goat’s intestines used to wrap and tie the resulting mixture”) tlacoyos, and lots more.

I opted for the goat, which I really enjoyed.

The order comes with a pile of really excellent home-made corn tortillas – almost good enough to be a meal in themselves.

I liked the place enough to have been back several times.  I’ve had pupusas there, which were good but not outstanding.

Most recently, however, I had a borrego (lamb) burrito which was, in fact, outstanding. It was a monumental thing, loaded with meat. The lamb itself was very flavorful and the rest of the ingredients complemented, rather than overwhelmed, it.

I still need to get back to try all of the various unknown (to me) items on the menu. (I expect there to be another posting or two on this place in the future.)

By the way, I’m told that on weekends (and Fridays?) after 5 PM they have $1 tacos – yet another reason to go back.

Pancho Villa Birrieria
1500 Monument Blvd
Ste F13
Concord, CA 94518

I’ve never been to Hawaii and until just a few years ago, I’d never even heard of Hawaiian barbeque, let alone tried it. Then one day back in 2008 I happened to be over in Hercules, having just finished up a much-longer-than-necessary (non)occupancy verification, entry and re-keying of a foreclosure assignment. Tired, hungry and cranky, I was just about to break down and actually eat at Subway when I noticed a place next door called L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. I ordered a regular Chicken Katsu and from that meal alone, I became an instant Hawaiian BBQ devotee.

Since then, I’ve learned a lot about Hawaiian Barbeque, including that the term itself is an invention by the founder of L&L to entice us ignorant mainlanders and that in Hawaii it’s called (rather boringly) Plate Lunch. I’ve also learned that L&L is the MacDonalds of Hawaiian Barbeque (although I will admit L&Ls can be fine) and that there are many better options scattered around the East Bay.

When you’re in Concord (and even when you’re not) one of the best of these options is Waikiki Hawaiian BBQ. Located in a small strip mall on Willow Pass Rd (just blocks away from two of my habitual destinations: Fry’s and Ranch 99) Waikiki’s take on the plate lunch is one of the best in the East Bay.

As you’d expect, the interior isn’t fancy…

… but the prices are excellent.

When it comes to lunch in the middle of a busy day, I often opt for a lighter option – say, a katsu or barbequed chicken sandwich and a scoop of Waikiki’s unparallelled Mac salad.

The sandwich is modest – lettuce, mayo, onion and tomato plus meat on a hamburger bun.  No pretensions but still tasty.  The mac salad is to-die-for – rich, creamy, perfectly textured – and I’m sometimes tempted just to buy 3 scoops and skip the sandwich.  Altogether, this meal sets you back $3.55 and, unlike eating even a mini, you don’t feel like you’ve got to go take a nap when you’re done.

Still, at times I can’t help myself and I’ll order a “mini” (smaller meat portion, 1 scoop each of rice and mac salad). If I’m feeling really glutinous, I’ll go for the regular (a ton of meat, 2 scoops of rice and 1 scoop of mac salad).

I started out as a nearly exclusive consumer of chicken katsu – perfectly cooked breaded, deep fried chicken thighs – with a tangy-sweep katsu sauce for dipping.

(Regular chicken katsu)

The same chicken is used for several other items, served with different sauces. Lately, in fact, I’ve switched over to the “chicken cutlet” which comes covered in brown gravy.

(Regular chicken cutlet)

The ultimate in island comfort food.

(Mini chicken cutlet)

Waikiki Hawaiian BBQ
1680 Willow Pass Rd
Concord, CA 94520
(925) 798-8002