Chuys, Houston

I had the best steak fajitas when I was in Houston. They were so good that when I crave steak fajitas now, I am specifically craving Chuys’ steak fajitas. Chuys, a chain that started in Austin, is another one of Stephen’s top spots. Boasting a cantina vibe, deep margaritas, funky decor, and honestly fantastic Tex-Mex cuisine, this is a place that makes the Tio Lio’s or the El Torito I know a few miles away in San Diego as interesting and tasty as stale white bread.

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Becks Prime, Houston

One of the things that I find awesome and unexpected about traveling regionally in the US is the wide range of popular “chain-type” eateries to which I am completely oblivious. Californians are often cited for their self-centric tunnel vision in many areas, and I am not an exception. As a teenager, after having visited a Potbelly and a Soup Box (this was in Chicago), the experience was both eye-opening and left me wishing they each had locations somewhere in LA or San Diego (they didn’t).

These are the sort of chains that everyone nearby loyally knows and loves, but might not have national infamy (like McDonald’s or ChickFilA) or be so individualistic that they land on city culinary lists targeting visitors. Nonetheless, they warrant a mention and a visit because they are just good, solid places to eat. This is what a place like Beck’s Prime means to me.

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Oatmeal Ice Cream

Today was an unusually overcast and chilly for San Diego in mid-July and it was just as well because I have begun my preparations for my move to the United Kingdom. I will be gone for two years, so between packing winter clothes and researching bed sizes in the UK, my mom has been nagging encouraging me to use up as much of my accumulated baking supplies as possible. This means using up ingredients that are ideal for another season, like oatmeal, which I associate with apple pie, Thanksgiving, cinnamon, and maple syrup. Not wanting to just make more oatmeal raisin cookies, I opted for oatmeal ice cream, which is quintessentially summer. This cream is very subtle with a hearty texture and a refreshing lightness that cools off while alluding to the brisker months ahead of us.

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Golden Deli, San Gabriel

After almost four years of living in Los Angeles, one gets used to planning forty-minute drives to the other side of town for awesome pizza or some crazy food truck. This time, our destination was a family-style, couldn’t-find-it-unless-you-were-looking-for-it establishment that served incredible Vietnamese cuisine. Back home in San Diego, I had a standard rotation of my favorite Vietnamese places, but in L.A., a decent Pho Citi partially addressed, but did not fully satiate a periodic hunger for delicious Vietnamese food.

Golden Deli Restaurant is in the San Gabriel Valley, which necessitates braving I-10, plenty of traffic lights on long stretches of local roads, and crowds of hungry, mostly patient SGV insiders that know all the neighborhood gems. Once you’re about to be seated however, the wafting aromas of steaming soup and barbecued meat dissipates any transport-related frustrations, succumbing to a suddenly very apparent craving in your core that simply wants something, anything, from their menu.

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Cinnamon Sugar Doughnuts

If cupcakes are so 2011, it would appear that doughnuts are in a good position to dominate 2012. Granted, neither cupcakes nor doughnuts are great for you, but my belief that making something homemade (even if it’s indulgent junk food) is better for you remains as steadfast as it did last year. To make homemade doughnuts, you need only go to the blogosphere’s resident expert, Lara Ferroni. Her recipe will allow you to make unbelievable doughnuts that put your favorite doughnut joint’s productions to shame.

This is my first attempt to make something from her wildly successful first book, Doughnuts, and if this recipe is any indication of the whole book, I am expecting to permanently inhabit my stretch pants. Her advice and guidance is concise and easy to follow, so my first attempt gave me wonderful doughnuts. A simple topping of cinnamon sugar is perfect to highlight the sweet, bouncy doughnut dough and light buttery, yeasty flavor.

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The Border Grill, Santa Monica

Summer has definitely presented new challenges in the work-play balance I meticulously micromanage during the school year. Though I don’t have summer school, a landed a dream internship at an incredible museum in Los Angeles which commands a formidable 40 hours a week. And then there’s my normal part-time job that I’ve continued to shoulder that helps pay for nice things like food and books. Needless to say, my spare time consists of being unconscious in my bed, commuting, and eating anything from frozen dumplings to Denny’s.

When have had time (and I haven’t already attached myself to a couch), say a lone evening at the end of the week, my boyfriend and I make special plans. For this particular casual date, we headed to the Border Grill in Santa Monica to try some Mexicali fare from Top Chef Masters runner-up Mary Sue Milliken. Read more of this post

Always Phamished for Bánh Mì

I have the best memories of bánh mì. My first experience was getting it with my grandma when I was a young girl in a heavily Filipino and Vietnamese part of San Diego. I thought it was going to be like a Subway sandwich. Kind of floppy, wet with too much dressing and mayonnaise, and filled with overly jiggly meat. I wish I knew then what I know now, that back in the late 90s that my grandma knew her food.

While I’ll primarily be focusing on my love (addiction?) with bánh mì, I’m also going to express how amazing the bánh mì is from an LA-area food truck called Phamish.

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