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

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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

Even on vaca, you can only sit around the lake admiring the water and the weather for so many days in a row. In an ordinary Adirondack summer, you’d have some rain to break up the monotony of one beautiful day after another, but we had no such luck for most of the trip.

Finally, in order to mix things up a bit, we decided to undertake an expedition down the Mohawk River to see what Schenectady had to offer in terms of exotic cuisine.

Like Utica, Schenectady is another city undergoing a long-term decline. The current population of some 66,000 people is far below its 1950 peak of 91,000, while some 24% of the population lives below the poverty line. Downtown, there seem to be more closed storefronts than open ones.


Looking online I came up with Orchid’s Jamaican-American Restaurant, which, according to the net was a little hole-in-the-wall place. In fact, however, we arrived to find that it had moved into an impressive new location about a month ago and had just had it’s grand opening the day before.

The day’s menu was bit limited but I opted for the curried goat plate with rhoti. The portion was generous and the goat was tasty. I enjoyed the sides – and particularly the collared greens – as well.

One of my companions ordered the stewed oxtail, which was very good – in fact, I was a bit jealous after swapping bites with her.

The only real disappointment is that they were out of the peanut butter cupcakes for desert.

Orchid’s
1113 State Street
Schenectady, NY
518-952-7182
http://checkoutorchids.com

I haven’t been ignoring you but I have been traveling for the past few weeks.  While the authors of many of the food blogs I follow travel to all sorts of exotic locales – Greece, Morocco, Tokyo, etc – I have spent the past couple of weeks or so in Upstate New York, hanging with family and enjoying the Adirondack Mountains.

While there I was finally able to get over to Utica, NY, to take the tour of the Utica Club brewery.

Utica itself, like most of the old industrial cities of the Northeast, has seen better days – the current population, for example, is only about 60% of what it was in 1960. (The last decade has seen modest growth, however, much of it fueled by refugees from Bosnia, who now make up some 10% of the population.)

Most of the industry that led the city’s growth is long gone, however, one business which has been a vital part of the city’s economy for well over 100 years is the F.X. Matt Brewing Company.

The brewery itself dated back to 1853, but was acquired by the predecessor of the current company (West End Brewing Company) in 1888.

Until the 1980s, the Utica Club brand was the company’s staple. (It survived prohibition by producing soda and malt-related products.) In the 1980s, the company introduced the Saranac label, re-inventing itself as a craft-brewery, while maintaining production of Utica Club lager.

So, enough history. The company offers a brewery tour twice a day at a cost of $5.00. It involves a short presentation and then an fairly brief tour of the plant. (Unfortunately for us, no bottling was taking place on the day we visited, so we missed seeing that part of the plant in action.)

When the tour is done, your $5.00 also gets you a couple of pints of your choice. (In fact, since they will let you sample any and all of the offerings, you might walk away with 3 or 4 pints by the time you’re done.)

In my case, however, as the DD, I kept it to a bit under 2. For old times sake, I had a Utica Club lager, as well as an excellent Saranac White IPA.

All that was missing were the brats.

Tennyson Rd in Hayward is another one of those Bay Area streets with a seemingly endless variety of interesting (and mostly very modest) little restaurants. The strip mall which houses the subject of this post is a good case in point, with a Mexican bakery/deli, a pizzeria and a Szechuan-Chinese restaurant all in a row.


As I have acknowledged previously, being from New Jersey, I have an admittedly narrow and dogmatic view of what “real” pizza is and how it should taste. Consequently (leaving aside Chicago-style pizza restaurants) I’m pretty damn fussy and just don’t do a lot of pizza.

Now, it happened that I was assigned a bank-owned listing in a little neighborhood off Tennyson several years back.  The occupants, not content to have stiffed the bank on some hundreds of thousand of dollars borrowed in various re-fi’s, were hanging tough in the property, declining (albeit very politely) all offers of “cash for keys” and refusing to move following the foreclosure.  They managed to drag things out for over a year before the eviction finally took place.  During that time I had to drive by the property at least once every week to confirm that they were still really there.  That was a lot of trips down Tennyson Rd.

During that time I got to sample many of the street’s lunch offerings, since I always tried to go mid-day to avoid the almost inevitable late afternoon and morning traffic jams on 880.  It was on one of these outings that I discovered New York Pizza.


The inside of the restaurant is cavernous and it seems like the kitchen area must be quite small, since the dining area doubles as a storeroom. (I guess that the place must mainly do take-out business, since there are never too many people there when I stop in.)


The furnishings are pretty ugly, as is the carpet, and the New York photo murals are showing their age – but the chandeliers do give the place an elegant look.


The important thing, though, is that the pizza’s actually good. The crust is very thin but avoids the crackery consistency you often have to settle for here in CA when you want to avoid the bland bready-ness from which so many West Coast pizzas suffer.


Equally importantly, the pie actually has some real taste to it.  The sauce is especially flavorful and reminds me of home (NJ, that is).


The slice (shown here cut in half) has plenty of sausage, which also has a nice flavor.


If there’s a knock on the place. it’s that they sometimes leave your slice in the oven a little too long.

Still, the piece is huge and at $1.99 for cheese or $2.49 for the sausage, you really can’t beat it.  One of these slices plus a can of soda and you still are out the door with an excellent lunch under your belt for less than 4 bucks.

Note: There are lots of “New York Pizzas” in the Bay Area, many of them unrelated. The Hayward New York Pizza is part of a small, mainly local chain, with several stores over on the Peninsula.  (There’s even a phone number for a Laguna Hills location, but no address.) I have not tried any of them, but, by the look of the web site, (and not surprisingly) the Palo Alto, San Carlos and San Mateo stores might be a little fancier than the Hayward location. They also seem to charge more for the slices – since the on-line menu shows them at $3.99-$4.99.

www.newyorkpizza.biz/

665 W Tennyson Rd,
Hayward, CA 94544
(510) 786-3165

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