Bonnie Jean’s Soul Food Cafe

Being from the South, I love fried chicken. Back in North Carolina, there was a fried chicken chain called Bojangles’ that served some of the best fried chicken and biscuits that I’ve had. Some people have asked me how it compares to KFC and I give them a blank stare, not knowing how to respond since KFC serves some of the worst fried chicken that I’ve ever had. Oh well. Anyway, since moving to California, I’ve discovered that fried chicken is becoming a new, trendy thing… although I’ve noticed here that people are more obsessed over chicken & waffles, which I actually had never heard of until moving here. To me, biscuits are the natural pairing, not waffles.

Previously, my go-to restaurant for fried chicken in San Diego was BBQ Chicken, a Korean fried chicken franchise. Though it’s not like Southern fried chicken, I loved the crispy skin, and it fulfilled my cravings. Unfortunately, it has closed its location in SD, and now the closest one is in Irvine. Since then, S and I have been to Popeye’s a bit more frequently than I’d like to admit. Haha. Not that Popeye’s is bad, but I just wish that we had more fried chicken places than a fast food chain.

A while ago, I was searching on Yelp (rather desperately) for fried chicken, and Bonnie Jean’s Soul Food Cafe turned up from the search. I bookmarked the place and have heard really good reviews of it from friends and fellow bloggers. It took a while for us to find the time to drive out to the Rolando neighborhood, though. But finally we made the visit. 


I’ve never been to this neighborhood before, and I can’t say that it was the nicest part of SD. But the staff at the restaurant were very warm and welcoming – true Southern hospitality.

The decor of the place was very interesting. There were a lot of photos of Michael Jackson, and a lot of religious artwork/figurines, etc. There was also a shelf full of board games & card games (not pictured), I guess to keep diners occupied while waiting for food, haha.


The menu features fried chicken, fried seafood, barbecue, and finger foods. But I was there for one thing and one thing only.

3-Pc. Chicken Dinner with Hush Puppies, Fried Okra, & Corn Muffin [$10.99]

3-Pc. Chicken Dinner with Hush Puppies, Fried Okra, & Corn Muffin [$10.99]

Let’s cut to the chase – the fried chicken was really good. The batter was really crispy, with lots of “nooks” for extra crunchiness. The chicken inside was very juicy and had nice flavors. I really liked that the flavor permeated through all the meat.

3-Pc. Chicken Dinner with Fries, Mac n Cheese, & Corn Muffin [$10.99]

3-Pc. Chicken Dinner with Fries, Mac n Cheese, & Corn Muffin [$10.99]

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[Dallas-Fort Worth] A snapshot of food in Texas

I was in Texas for my sister’s college graduation (congrats!!) and Mother’s Day, and of course, in addition to spending time with friends and family (and catching up on sleep), I enjoyed a lot of great food.  Here I present to you some of my favorite meals from the week!

Starting off with Chinese food:

Sesame bread (芝麻大餅) from First Emperor Barbecue in Richardson

Warm and fluffy, full of sesame and green onion, this is probably one of my favorite breads.  Ever.

Of course, you’ve heard of Tex-Mex (I hope).  I was fortunate enough to visit one of the best Tex-Mex restaurants in Ft. Worth, Yucatan Taco Shop:

Garlic shredded beef nachos from Yucatan Taco Shop in Ft. Worth

These nachos are ridiculous.  As you can see, in addition to tender and delicious (and rather garlicky) shredded beef, there’s shredded lettuce, tomato, cheese, some sort of sour cream-based sauce, and a huge heaping of guacamole.  You actually run of chips way before the toppings…  And in case you were wondering, it all actually tasted pretty damn good together.

Something else that you should have heard of is Texas barbecue:

Barbecue is basically heaven on Earth, seriously.  And Texas has some of the best barbecue on Earth.  This is one of them.

This little piggy, place right in front of the meat counter, was just too cute :P

Awesome beef brisket! :9

Pork ribs, corn, and coleslaw

Succulent.  Smoky.  Tender.  Just perfect.  Need I say more?  This was definitely my top meal of the week.

Moving on to more Chinese food.  My stepdad, who is Cantonese, took me to one of his favorite dim sum restaurants:

Char siu puff pastry (叉燒蘇) from Kirin Court in Richardson

Red bean sesame balls (芝麻球)

I loved the char siu puff pastry – you rarely see this item at most dim sum restaurants, and it’s always a treat when I see them.  The char siu itself is really good, just sweet enough to complement the puff pastry perfectly.  Also, the sesame balls were definitely some of the best that I’ve had in the States (yes, including California!).  There was plenty of red bean filling, and the sticky rice was served warm and just the right balance of soft and chewy.

Last but definitely not least, I need to give a shout-out to my stepdad, who is one of the best cooks ever.  He has 3 principles: 1) cooking has to be efficient (we’re busy and hungry!), 2) food should be healthy, 3) food should taste good.  In his mind, these principles are not in conflict at all, and I am very inspired by his cooking style.

Home-cooked strip steak

He makes grilling a phenomenal steak look so easy!  I am so stealing the cooking technique and recipe.

Home-made Greek-style salad

One of my favorite dishes, a simple salad of cucumber, tomatoes, olives, and walnuts tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette.  It was super refreshing, just perfect for the Texas heat.

There, I hope that I’ve made you hungry enough for the evening.  More food reviews of San Diego restaurants coming soon!

[Quick Post] Six-meat sampler at Coop’s West Texas BBQ

Six meats: pulled pork, spare rib, brisket, hot links, beef sausage, and Jerk chicken
Sides: coleslaw and potato salad, cornbread

This was so good.  I can’t believe that I found such good Texas barbecue in San Diego.  Read my full post on Coop’s here.

[SD] A real taste of Texas at Coop’s West Texas Barbeque

You all know that I rant and rave about Phil’s BBQ – and its amazing baby back ribs justify anyone’s love for the San Diego barbecue joint.  However, S. and I wondered.. was there anything even better out there?  A Yelp search led us to Coop’s West Texas Barbeque in Lemon Grove – pretty far out from where we live, but one day we just decided to go and try it out.

The restaurant is pretty small, about 3 booths and 2 tables total.  The menu is simple: pork spareribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, chicken, homemade sausage, and rib tips (Tues/Sat only).  You can get a “plate” with 1 to 4 meats and 2 sides, a “container of meat”, or a half or full slab of ribs.  There are also sandwiches and desserts available.

Both S. and I ordered 1-meat plates ($12.99 each, but since it was “Payday Thursday” there’s a $2 discount on each plate):

Beef brisket plate with baked beans, cole slaw, cornbread, and barbeque sauce

Pork spareribs plate with potato salad and cole slaw

The verdict?  It was frickin’ delicious – the smokiness and dry rub were so authentic that I was taken aback at first bite.  Both meats were nice and tasty; the brisket, in particular, was very tender.  As for the sides, I didn’t care too much for the somewhat bland cole slaw, but I liked the potato salad (had only a small bite, though) and baked beans (sweetened with pineapple – you could even find pineapple chunks!), and the cornbread as well.

I thought the meat was perfectly fine without any sauce, actually, but they also provide barbeque sauce in both a mild and spicy version.  I tried the mild and thought that it went well with the meat.

Another wonderfully Texan thing about Coop’s: the sweet tea!  It’s actually provided for free, and might I warn the non-Texas/Southern folks that this is very sweet.  Probably 50% sugar.  And yes, that is how it’s supposed to be done.

Finally, as I already mentioned earlier, there’s Payday Thursday, which is $2 off a “plate combo” every Thursday.  They also have Rib Tip Tuesday, which is $8.99 for a pound of rib tips, and Meatlover’s Wednesday, which is $8.99 for a pound of any meat (except beef ribs).  So, Thursdays are actually a really good deal!  I also want to point out that they give you a lot of meat; plenty for at least 2 full meals for me.

Overall, I really loved my experience here.  It was really nice to have real Texas barbeque here, and  S. and I have been raving to all our friends that we found a place better than Phil’s!  And I know that we will be back for sure.

Coop’s West Texas Barbeque
2625 Lemon Grove Ave., Lemon Grove, CA

Tu-F:  11am-7pm
Sa-Su:  11am-6pm*

*Note: Hours updated as of 2012/3/25.

[Oakland] The Brick Pig’s House

My quest for decent barbecue around Berkeley continues. Previously, I have tried Looney’s Smokehouse and T-Rex BBQ, and a friend recommended that I try The Brick Pig’s House in Oakland. I know this place is highly rated on Yelp, but just haven’t had the chance to go. But when S. was here last time, I sort of dragged him there straight from the airport.

On the website, they advertise their barbecue style as simply, ‘Southern’ – and claims that the main difference between Southern and the rest of the regional styles is the emphasis on the combination of meat, sauce, and seasoning, rather than the smokiness. I’m not sure if I have ever heard of such an explanation (after all, the difference between all the other regions is in the sauce), but if the food turned out to be good, I don’t care what they say about Southern barbecue.

S. and I were quite indecisive about what to order, so the owner suggested that we share a rib & brisket dinner, which includes two sides and cornbread.

Brisket & Ribs Dinner, $17.60

Macaroni salad (side)

Coleslaw (side)

Despite the cheap-looking containers, the food was really delicious. The ribs, while not fall-off-the-bone like Phil’s in San Diego, were the best I’ve had in Berkeley so far. I loved the brisket, too – not super salty like brisket can sometimes be, and very tender. They also did not drown everything in barbecue sauce, so it was indeed a great combination of meat and seasoning. As for the sides, we liked the cole slaw (probably because there was an abundance of mayo..) but decided that the macaroni salad was just okay. Next time, I think I’ll try the baked beans instead.

The Brick Pig’s House is definitely my favorite barbecue place around here. The owners are incredibly nice, and the food is delicious. I can’t wait to go back!

The Brick Pig’s House
5973 Shattuck Avenue, Oakland, CA

Tu-Sa    12-8pm

[San Diego] Southern food at Old Townhouse Restaurant

S. took me to Ocean Beach on Friday to redeem my Hodad’s experience, but the line wasso ridiculously long that we decided to try something else. We noticed ‘hash browns’ in the menu of Old Townhouse Restaurant… and knew that we had to give it a try.

The interior of the restaurant looked pretty out of place for San Diego – it looked like a diner that you would find in the South. Which, of course, just got us even more excited. Everyone on Yelp raved about the biscuits and gravy – and I was actually shocked that they even had biscuits and gravy on the menu – so I knew that I had to try it. The meal came with hash browns (real hash browns!!!), sausage or bacon, and 3 eggs. I know a lot of you might criticize me for this, but I like eggs over-and-well. Runny yolk doesn’t appeal to me all that much..

Hash browns & over-and-well eggs (Biscuits Special, $7.50)

Corned Beef Hash Special, $7.50

Biscuits and gravy; buttered toast with jam (served with the Corned Beef Hash Special)

Everything was very Southern, which means very delicious. The gravy was actually too rich for me, and I ended up not being able to finish it all. However, the hash browns in particular made S. and me feel very nostalgic and happy. Now I know where to go in San Diego if I ever crave a taste of Southern home =)

Old Townhouse Restaurant
4941 Newport Ave., Ocean Beach, CA

M-Su   6am-3pm


Taste of the South at Jodie’s Restaurant

I love Southern comfort food. Biscuits and gravy, sausage and hash browns, shrimp and grits… ahh just thinking about it makes me nostalgic. As you can probably tell from my recent posts, I really miss Southern food. Well, I have been reading about this place called “Jodie’s Restaurant” on Yelp since forever, but I had not had a chance to go because they are only open until 3pm. But when S. came to visit last time, he arrived around lunch time on Friday, so I took him directly here from the airport.

Jodie’s is located off of Solano Ave, on Masonic Ave. I was really surprised when I first saw the place because, well, it is tiny. I wish I had gotten a picture of the place, but basically there were six stools around a counter. You could see the entire kitchen. There is a single restroom in the back. Now I can imagine why it gets so crowded!

There is a printed menu as well as different combos posted on the walls. Ordering was pretty easy, though – Jodie was behind the counter, asking us what we liked and giving us many suggestions. (By the way, this man is awesome. He kept talking to us, asking us about what we liked, giving us suggestions for what we should order, etc. We found out that he is originally from Arkansas.) When he heard that I liked grits, he gave us some samples (grits only available on Fridays & Saturdays!) and it was awesome. So my combo consisted of his spicy grits, a sausage patty, grilled English muffin, and egg over easy (although I had asked for it over and well). S ordered pretty much the same thing, but with hash browns instead of the grits (no photo). I forgot the exact price of the orders, but they were around $10 – pretty reasonable since I was quite full by the end of the meal (and couldn’t even finish the grits).

Jodie's special spicy grits, sausage, grilled English muffin, egg over easy

Everything was amazing. As S. put it – “It’s like Waffle House, but better!” (Yes, we love Waffle House.) The grits were definitely my favorite – smooth, buttery, creamy, made ‘spicy’ by adding house-made chili on top. S.’s hash browns had the nice and crispy outer layer; sausage patty was really well-seasoned; English muffin and eggs were tasty though not as memorable as the rest of the meal.

I loved this place so much that I wish I had time to come back every week. In fact, their famous fried chicken is only available on Saturdays, and I hear that the line can get over an hour long. (With only six seats, that’s actually quite imaginable…) If I had time one weekend, I’d definitely stand out here for their fried chicken. Everyone who wonders what Southern food is like – pay Jodie’s a visit!

Jodie’s Restaurant
902 Masonic Ave, Albany, CA 94706
(510) 526-1109

W-F        8am-3pm
Sa-Sun  8am-4pm

Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen

As I wrote in my previous post, real Southern BBQ is rather difficult to find. However, in downtown Berkeley, there is a real Cajun gem – Angeline’s Louisiana Kitchen. I first visited this place quite a while ago with my friend D. – and it was quite an educational experience for him (had to explain ‘jambalaya’ and ‘hush puppies’! I can’t believe people haven’t ever had hush puppies. And if you are such a person, please go to Angeline’s and consume a full order of them…now. kthx.)

Anyway, these are photos from my second visit to Angeline’s. I went on a Wednesday evening, and we were seated right away. The restaurant itself isn’t spacious, around 15 small tables – so as you can imagine, the weekend dinner time lines can get pretty long. It is pretty dimly lit inside for ‘atmosphere’, but as I’ve mentioned previously, I prefer more brightly lit restaurants. Personal preference, I suppose.

We ordered one of their specials, alligator sausage. To be honest, I’m not sure what alligator is supposed to taste like (insert ‘taste like chicken!’ comments here) but the sausage was really good – juicy, smoky, just the right amount of salt and spices. The accompanying salad was just all right (I’m not a big fan of arugula), but the Dijon mustard was really good. It added an extra kick to the meat, and it made the arugula taste good, too. Too bad there was only a dollop on the plate.

Alligator Sausage, Arugula Salad & Dijon Mustard*

*Sorry, I forgot to take note of the alligator sausage’s price.

Hush puppies, as I previously mentioned. They are wonderfully crispy and perfectly seasoned. And the honey butter makes it even better.

Hush Puppies with Honey Butter, $4.95

Entree #1: the Ahi tuna salad. The tuna was fresh and hearty, but I think the seasoning was too salty for me. Butter lettuce is normally my favorite salad green – unfortunately, the lettuce on this plate was not as fresh and crispy as I would have liked. I did enjoy the remoulade dressing, though – reminded me of Thousand Island dressing, but more tangy and refreshing.

Skillet Blackened Ahi Tuna Salad, $14.95

Entree #2: wild mushroom jambalaya. I was at first skeptical of ordering a vegetarian jambalaya (jambalaya without sausage!), but it turned out way better than my expectations. It turns out that mushroom pairs very, very well with their ‘sauce piquant’. And although I would have loved for it to be spicier, the flavors were really amazing. (The green onion garnish made it perfect, I think.)

Wild Mushroom Jambalaya, $12.95

As you can probably imagine, I had a wonderful meal here. The food isn’t cheap (definitely not grad student budget), but I would definitely come here for a special occasion. Till next time!

Looney’s Smokehouse

I am always in search of good barbecue. After living in the South for more than 10 years, it’s pretty important to me. There are many different regional styles of barbecue, and my favorite is the ‘Eastern North Carolina’ style, characterized by pulled pork and a tangy, vinegar-based sauce. After moving to California, I have been in a constant search for a go-to bbq restaurant. In San Diego, there is Phil’s BBQ – the best I’ve had in California thus far. In Berkeley, I have tried Everett & Jones in Jack London Square, and T-Rex BBQ  on 10th St. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to locate photos from those posts anymore, but overall, I think barbecue in the East Bay is rather unimpressive.

So, to continue my search for a decent barbecue joint around here, S. and I ventured to Looney’s Smokehouse in Oakland (54th and MLK Jr. Way).  It certainly did not have the modernist decor of T-Rex; nor was it busy like E&J. When we visited, it was mostly empty, and the place really reminded me of an almost run-down diner/bar. I hope that this places gets more business than what we saw.

Their menu is quite interesting: they offer different meats and entrees, and you choose your sauce. They cover most of the regions, including Kansas, Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina (no Memphis). They also have some others with special ingredients such as honey barbecue, bourbon, and habanero.

S. decided to get a half rack of baby back ribs with the South Carolina spicy mustard sauce ($16.95). They were nothing like the fall-off-the-bone tender ribs at Phil’s in San Diego, which was rather disappointing. The spicy mustard barbecue sauce was good, though I don’t know anything about its authenticity.

Half rack baby back ribs (SC style sauce)

I bravely ordered a pulled pork sandwich  with North Carolina sauce ($9.50)**. Sandwiches come with a side, so I chose coleslaw (other choices were potato salad or fries), and we also ordered a small mac ‘n’ cheese on the side. The pulled pork was all right – on the dry side, but fixed by adding some extra sauce. Their mimic of the tangy North Carolinian sauce sort of missed the mark. It wasn’t a bad sauce – it was just not the real thing. At all. Sides were decent – the coleslaw was nicely tangy yet sweet, the mac ‘n’ cheese was creamy – but nothing too impressive.

Pulled Pork Sandwich (NC style sauce) with coleslaw, mac n cheese

Unfortunately, this means that my search for BBQ in the East Bay continues. Nothing on Yelp really stands out to me anymore – although I do want to make a visit to Sneaky’s in SF, which claims to specialize in Carolina-style pulled pork. Does anyone have any more recommendations for me?

**By the way, if you don’t know anything about N.C., you should know that pulled pork there is freaking amazing. Can’t find anything like it anywhere else.

Adventures in San Diego – Part I

I am in San Diego this weekend, and of course I had to document all the yummy food I’ve tried so far.

Started off my first night with delicious Japanese food from Yakyudori. As you can see the takowasa is tiny (see the HTC Aria beside it to get an idea of how smallthe bowl was), but it was so good! The wasabi flavor really gave it a nice kick. The takoyaki was really good, too – it was quite different from what I’ve had before in Taiwan; here it was flavored with kewpie mayo and some sort of sauce that had a nice sweet taste. And finally, the ramen: the noodles had a nice chewy texture, and the broth was rich and flavorful. It was pretty spicy, too – which was surprisingly because I don’t think I’ve tasted any spicy Japanese dish before. What a great meal for a chilly evening! :)

I also had Phil’s BBQ – best barbecue I’ve had since leaving the South, and also made me miss the South a lot. The line was at least 30 minutes long (and we didn’t even go at a normal hour! 2pm on a Thursday), but it was well worth the wait. Pictured below was the ‘Baby Back Rib tickler’, which included 3 bones of baby back ribs, fries, coleslaw, and two onion rings (not pictured). The ribs? So tender that the meat fell off the bones, and the sauce had a fantastic zing – nicely balance, not too sweet and not too sour. The onion rings were huge (I guess they’re called ‘colossal’ for a reason). The diameter must be around 8 inches.. the batter was very good, best onion rings I’ve had.. probably ever. Fries and slaw were pretty standard, decent, but nothing too remarkable. Or maybe the ribs and onion rings were so great that they seemed plain in comparison? Anyway, this is a place you HAVE to try if you’re here (and you like Southern food).

Phil's BBQ - Baby Back Rib Tickler

More food updates to come!