There was a time where anyone asking about bakeries in El Cajon would immediately get barraged with stories about Howard’s Bakery and their amazing cakes, cookies, donuts, etc. It seems this era has come to a close though.
This little diamond in the rough is more like a cubic zirconium in a trailer park. It’s just nothing special. On a recent visit, my boyfriend and I indulged in a fruit tart (once my favorite thing they sold here), a small slice of cake and a bag of day old cookies. While nothing was outright bad, nothing was impressive either.
The fruit tart was covered in that weird clear syrup you’ll find at grocery store bakeries. The custard was too thick and almost plasticy and the pie crust was chaulky. While the flavors were acceptable, the texture was rather gross.
The cake slice was dried out and the frosting was uninspired, none of the heavenly buttercream I remembered Howard’s selling years ago. As for the cookies, one of the flavors was chocolate and one was just a sugar cookie. They both were good, but no better than some of the boxes of cookies I’ve bought at the 99 Cents Only stores. Certainly they were not the quality you would expect from a bakery that has been in business for decades.
All in all, there are a lot better places in San Diego to get your sweet fix, even the grocery store.
Breaking from my general cheapskateness, I opted to let my mother take me out to Stone World Bistro in Escondido for my birthday dinner. It seemed like a good option as they have a reputation for fine food and the brewery tour would allow us some entertainment prior to dinner.
We agreed to meet at the restaurant at five, but my mom ended up showing up almost an hour early, which is good because otherwise we would have missed the six o’clock tour because apparently you need to get there around two hours early to get your pass. After waiting for an eternity, we took the tour, which was somewhat interesting, but certainly not worth a half an hour wait, let alone two hours. Afterward, you get four free beer samples. Unfortunately, you don’t get to choose your samples, so if you aren’t big on the flavors offered…oh well. Even so, it was a nice, free experience.
Moving on to dinner, things got progressively worse. The highlight of the entire meal was my Wandering Aengus hard apple cider, which was delightfully sweet and fruity, perhaps the best cider I’ve ever ordered. Even so, it’s pretty bad when the best part of your meal has nothing to do with the restaurant itself.
The menu and the crowds should have been warnings in themselves, as there was no cohesiveness to anything. People with dredlocks and mohawks were sitting beside yuppies. Some people were dressed up, others were in jeans and tee shirts. The menu was equally chaotic. Kimchee, sausages, shepards pie, tofu stir-fry, paella, and duck tacos were amongst the many incohesive options available. It wasn’t as if this was world-fusion cuisine; there was no fusion about it, just a random selection of dishes from around the globe.
We started out with the mac n’ beer cheese. I won’t lie, it was great. There were homemade sausage slices blended in with macaroni in a rich cheese and beer sauce. The problem, one bowl, as an appetizer, was around $15. Keep in mind, this is at a place that serves practically no side dishes with your entrees and doesn’t even give you free bread with your meal, so you pretty much need to order an appetizer to feel at all full by the end of your meal.
My mother’s boyfriend and I both ordered the Australian wagyu top sirloin. While it tasted great and was quite tender, I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that the restaurant seems to pride itself on locally sourced ingredients, only to purchase beef from all the way across the globe. It seems a little hypocritical to me. For $30 a pop, I would at least hope for a good-sized stead or some good sides, but the cut was fairly small and all I got with it was a thin layer of diced potatoes under the steak, two carrot slices, two undercooked slices of gold potatoes and two thin broccoli florets. Of everyone at the table, the two of us with steak were the only two happy with our meals.
My mom ordered the chicken schnitzel, which had so many herbs in it that you couldn’t taste the chicken at all. It was so overwhelming you had to wait a minute after each bite to even clear your palate enough to taste anything beside the herbal flavor.
As for my boyfriend, he ordered the “artisinal sausage times 4,” which is an appetizer that is supposed to consist of four different sausages. He only got two sausages, both of which were mediocre at best. The sausages came with potatoes and cabbage, which would at least make the item somewhat filling, were it not for the fact that the cabbage was so terrible it wasn’t even edible. I have no idea what they did to strip the cabbage of any flavor and just make it purely nauseating, but they managed it. The potatoes weren’t as bad, but they were utterly bland. All in all, you’d damn well expect more from an appetizer that costs around $20.
By the end of the night, a cider, a glass of wine, two iced teas, two appetizers and three entrees came out to be over $150. The worst part is that the mediocre meal left all of us hungry by the night’s end. If you’re going to shell out that kind of money, you’d better at least get some pretty good food and some leftovers.
With some of the most flavorful Chinese food in all of East County, China Diamond is an amazing value. While all of the dishes are cheap and delicious, the buffet is the best way to go, offering tons of choices for under $8 during lunch and under $10 for dinner.
The orange chicken is rich. The egg drop soup is perfectly balanced. Don’t miss the shrimp dish, although it changes every time, it’s always heavenly. When it comes to sweets, the sesame buns and donuts are always crispy and replaced frequently, so they are always toasty.
The servers are friendly and incredibly attentive, refilling your water and other drinks long before you even think to ask for them.
All in all, it’s a great place for an unbeatable price. Try it out.
1265 Avocado Ave # 108
El Cajon, CA 92020-7783
When Dominos redid their formula, I was extremely skeptical and hesitant to try the new recipe. But I did like what I had, and at $5.99 for a large two topping, their price simply can’t be beat. In fact, it seemed to spurn a race with most pizza chains trying to have the best value for the price. Both Papa Johns and Pizza Hut have turned to offering unlimited toppings for $10 (although Papa Johns has since canned this promotion). And Little Cesaers has continually been pumping out $5 cardboard circles for mass consumption.
While there is still plenty of room for gourmet pizzerias and even neighborhood spots, can a massive chain that refuses to drop prices even hope to compete for value? Round Table better hope so.
To review the chain, the BF and I ordered two large pizzas from the Round Table in Santee last night, both of which were on special. Even though they were on sale, the total still came out to $30 without any tips. At more than twice the cost of two large Dominos pizzas, the chain seemed to be losing right away. But then we looked at the sizes. The Round Table pizzas were at least two inches larger in diameter and they were significantly thicker, so realistically, you are getting more pizza at least.
But when it comes to toppings and flavor, Round Table blows the competition away. We ordered their Italiano pizza for $11, which has a slightly different crust than usual and comes in either cheese or peperoni. The crust was good, well seasoned and thick. Both my boyfriend and I probably could have ate no more than a third of the pizza each, which is a lot less than the full Domino’s pizza it takes to fill us each up.
Then came the BBQ chicken pizza. This had their traditional cheese-laden crust and an array of toppings, including chicken, bacon, green onions, garlic sauce, BBQ sauce and red onions. It was just as filling as the other pizza and $5 more, but the flavor was incomparable. The combination of toppings blended together perfect, it was sweet, savory, tart and heavenly.
After a full investigation, I think it’s safe to say that Round Table certainly holds its own against other chains, even if the price is significantly higher. So next time you’re ordering, consider more than price, consider the fillingness of the pizza and the flavor. Round Table just might be the best value for your dollar.
I’d give it a 4.5 out of 5, because, hey, it could still be a little cheaper.
If you live in La Mesa, you may very well have enjoyed the little taco shop on Baltimore that was once known as Buenos Dias. Unfortunately, although the shop is still owned by the same people, the name change to Sun Tacos, which does not sound nearly as delightful to the ear, reflects a drop in both value and price.
While the menu options are the exact same, even the trademark Buenos Dias burrito with potatoes, beans and eggs, the prices have risen as much as a dollar per item. You can even see the old prices shining through the menu board, mocking you for having spent more than you really should have.
For me though, the real disappointment was the food. While the restaurant was once one of the rare taco shops that wasn’t too greasy and cooked everything to perfection, the food has taken a nosedive. The carne asada was chewy; the beans, flavorless and greasy; the tortillas, stale; and, worst of all the potatoes in my once-beloved Buenos Dias burrito were crunchy and undercooked.
If you had once enjoyed the restaurant, it’s best to leave your memories the way they were and simply avoid the location at all costs.
The Lunch Bag Deli is exactly what a tiny local deli should be: cheap, uncrowded and delicious. It also has all the best characteristics of a good dive bar: full of empty space, yet decorated in a themeless mess of collectibles. Your sandwich maker could just as easily be pouring you a Jack and Coke as he could be loading up your pastrami on rye and his short bursts of conversation wouldn’t change either way. There’s an unused fan in the corner that is so dirty it would choke the whole establishment with dust if someone ever had the nerve to turn it on. On top of one of the refrigerators sits a dusty, antique display collection of fine oils and vinegars that will never touch one of the sandwiches on the menu. If a yuppie mother came in here, you could be certain she would be constantly hounding her children not to touch anything.
Fortunately for you, the fan’s not on, the oils and vinegars remain capped and you are not the child of a yuppie. Enjoy a meatball sub, a turkey cappicola, a tuna melt or an Italian sub, whatever you get, you’re sure to enjoy the fresh meat that’s piled high atop a delightfully soft roll. Best of all, the subs here are dirt cheap. Get stuffed to the gills on less than $5 and you’ll be thrilled to start filling your lunch bag exclusively with Lunch Bag Deli subs.
For more info: Just stop by 4085 Pacific Hwy., San Diego, CA 92110, or call (619) 295-3484
Let’s face it, your family doesn’t want to spend all kinds of money taking you out to dinner on your birthday. They want to go somewhere and eat some good food and they already bought you presents, but why make them pay an additional $10-$20? And after the family and friends dinners, wouldn’t you be happy to have a few free meals to go? Here’s a few places in San Diego that offer free food for birthday diners:
The day of:
-Onami: This is a great, all you can eat sushi and Japanese food restaurant, meaning it is a little pricey usually. On the bright side, if you eat there on your actual birthday, you get a coupon to come back again for free.
-Ihop: While participation varies by location, many Ihop’s will give you a free meal just for coming in on your birthday. Call ahead for details.
-Disneyland: So it’s not in San Diego and it’s not a restaurant, but you can save yourself a $70 admission fee for visiting on your birthday. It’s a great deal that can leave you with fantastic memories. Also note, the registration is not mandatory, it merely makes admission faster.
On a set day of the month:
-The Boathouse: This upscale restaurant selects one day of the month to offer a free prime rib meal with the purchase of another meal for all people born on a particular month.
Emails for near-birthday coupons:
-Rubios: When you sign up for their Beach Club, you get a free taco automatically. When your birthday rolls around, they give you a free meal worth up to $7. No other purchase is necessary.
-Mimi’s Cafe: Sign up for Mimi’s eclub and you’ll receive a coupon for a free breakfast worth up to $10. For your birthday, they’ll send you a coupon for $10 off you next meal over $20.
-Black Angus: If you want a steak for your birthday, sign up for their Prime Club and receive a buy one get one free meal coupon for your birthday. Your meal can be worth up to $19.99.
-Red Robin: Get a free birthday burger when you register at their website…best of all, there’s no other purchase necessary.
-HomeTown Buffet: When you sign up here, you can get one free buffet dinner when you purchase another buffet dinner. You’ll recieve another coupon like this for your birthday.
-Coldstone: Get a free like-it size ice cream for your birthday when you register at their site.
Know any other freebies? Let me know in the comments!
Janet’s Café is one of the best breakfast spots in all of San Diego. The catch: their three locations are all in the East part of the county that few tourists, even few locals, bother to visit. For food this great, and at these portions, it’s worth driving a little out of your way to try some. Best of all, you can incorporate your stop into part of your trip out to beautiful Julian.
I believe that for portions, specials and atmosphere, the best of the three Janet’s Café’s is the one located in Alpine. Conveniently, it’s also right on the way to the far East of San Diego County, so you’ll pass it on your way to Julian, Borrego Springs, Palm Springs, Arizona, etc. Hooray for it being on the way. Here’s the dish on Janet’s
Balboa Park is one of the best places in San Diego in a lot of ways. It is a crucial piece of San Diego history, the most agriculturally diverse area in the county and holds a plethora of local museums. The World Famous San Diego Zoo is also here. Of course, the problem with this area is the limited number of good eats at decent prices. The Prado restaurant offers fantastic gourmet cuisine, but nothing a cheapskate can afford.