Chef’s Experience

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 5/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: A few   ♦   Will I Return?: Yes Indeed

Chef’s Experience China Bistro is one of Hayward’s newest chic restaurants stationed bravely on Foothill Boulevard near A Street.  They’ve cleverly revamped this rather large space to accommodate a stunningly modern design, with elegant and tasteful decor that is a complete surprise when entering from the dingy parking lot behind the run-down shopping center where CE is located.

Let’s face it, downtown Hayward needs a face lift.  It’s gotten better over the past few decades – B Street can actually gather a crowd (that isn’t necessarily gang related) on a Saturday night – but overall, the decrepit storefronts that line Foothill, Main, and Mission and many of the cross streets aren’t terribly desirable destinations for most folks, especially the younger crowd.  And while many businesses have tried to change this, only few have succeeded like Chef’s Experience has.

Opened only a few years ago in early 2005, this medium-sized bistro restaurant has been going strong.  The place looks great, giving the feel of an upscale restaurant without the hassle of having to drive very far (if you’re in the Hayward/Castro Valley area, that is).  And even if you are a bit further, I would recommend a trip in for a night at this place – the Hot Braised Salmon is to die for, figuratively speaking (unless you’re a salmon).

Seating area inside Chef's Experience in Hayward.

So, the place looks great: check.  The menu is extensive and offers many delicious sounding choices: check.  The service is quick, friendly, and competent: check.  And the food?  Well the food is just great.  Checks all around, my friends, go and eat and be merry.

I’ve been a few times but this last time I feel like I really perfected my dish-choosing skills and ordered all excellent items.  The last time we went, I wasn’t a huge fan of a couple things we ordered – which isn’t to say they weren’t good, I just didn’t like them a whole lot.  But this time, we made a b-line for the good stuff: shrimp dumplings to start, not one but two orders of hot braised salmon (there were 4 of use eating), dry fried string beans in black bean sauce, fake chicken (I love gluten!) kung pao style, and just some plain old white rice.  It was fabulous.

Dry fried string beans, rice, and kung pao style fake chicken at Chef's Experience.

Let’s talk about that salmon for a moment.  I was craving this for weeks since my last visit to The Chef.  Imagine sweet and sour chicken.  Now, instead of tiny little balls of chicken, try instead a nice meaty slab of delicious fresh salmon.  Then get rid of that heavy, greasy breading and replace it with a similar substance that is instead thin and crisp.  Now, imagine that the thick sweet and sour sauce made of corn syrup and red dye #2 is instead light and thin and slightly less corn-syrup-esque, with orange dye #2.  Then scatter a generous amount of cooked broccoli (not that raw crap that Chinese restaurants so often like to throw at you) around the plate.  That is how the Chef makes hot braised salmon, and damn it if it isn’t one of the best foods I’ve ever had.

Digital SLR photography cannot capture the sheer scrumptious-ness of the hot braised salmon at Chef's Experience.

As for the rest of the dishes, the dumplings were simply heaven, as you might expect from a deep fried breaded thing, the fake kung pao chicken was good (my mom would like me to duly note that she thought this dish was GREAT), the green beans were super duper good (and healthy too – I love veggies!), and the rice was…rice.  The tea was delivered promptly and continually in heavy, pretty pots, and my mom even ordered me a delicious dessert-y mudslide-type drink (Kahlua, Frangelico, Bailey’s, Coffee, and Chocolate swirls) after she saw me ogling it on the little drink table menu, and it was a tasty treat.

Shrimp dumplings and yummy drink.

I even gave this place a 5/5 for service since the wait staff is so dang nice, intelligent, and responsive, time after time.  I’ve only been a few times, but my mom and her boyfriend report that they receive similar service every time they go.  Way to be on top of things Chef’s Experience, we need great places like you here in Hayward!

Chef's Experience China Bistro on Urbanspoon

Mimi’s Cafe

This is just a teeny quick note about Mimi’s because I thought it was such a good deal that I should share it with the internet.


Mimi’s is a total chain restaurant, no buts about it.  There’s just as much crap pasted to the walls and artificial pep in the hostess’ smile as at Applebee’s, Marie Calendar’s or TGI Friday’s.  But at Mimi’s Cafe they offer a free breakfast deal if you join their online club.  I know, I hate online clubs too.  I don’t want junk mail or a thousand emails a day, and I don’t want to be sold to a bunch of other spam lists.  I can’t attest to the last of the three, but I’ve only gotten 2 emails from them in the past few weeks, and I didn’t even give them my mailing address.

Here’s the link; all you do is give them your email address and name and they email you a coupon for a free breakfast.  You don’t need to purchase anything.  And almost every meal on the breakfast menu is available with this offer.  The coupon’s only valid for 2 weeks, and it’s only for the person named on the coupon (though they didn’t check), but it’s a completely free breakfast with no strings attached!

We went today and it was awesome.  I upgraded my small orange juice (included with my meal!) to a large, so we ended up with a bill of $1.10 total.  We left $7 since we were so happy, and because the waitress was super nice.  There’s a Mimi’s in Hayward and one in Dublin, so grab your coupon and have your free breakfast!

(Picture borrowed from Mimi’s website, I’m sure they won’t mind)

Bombay Garden

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: Two   ♦   Will I Return?: Yes Indeed

Bombay Garden is on Mowry Avenue in Newark (and I thought it was Fremont?!), near New Park Mall just west of 880, and surely has one of the most impressive Indian buffets known to the Bay Area.  This was my second visit to The Garden and I dare say that it will not be my last.

There are apparently four locations of Bombay Garden (Newark, San Mateo, Santa Clara, San Rafael), though I am only qualified to comment on the Newark location.  But I would extend my recommendation to any of the other three locations; if they’re anywhere near as good as Newark, they deserve a visit.  The Newark location is a huge country-home style place, that looks like it might house a Mimi’s-type All-American restaurant of a bygone era.  And bygone is fine with me, Bombay Garden can take over any establishment they want in my opinion.  Think they might want to open one in my house?

Seating area and statue inside Bombay Garden.

Judging from the PDF of the menu on their website, it appears that you can order à la carte dishes that are just as diverse and mouth-watering as those offered in the buffet.  But be warned, fair reader, few à la carte dishes can compete with the majesty that is the Bombay Gardens Dinner Buffet.

Behold, the glory of the Bombay Garden buffet table.

Offered every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday starting at 5.30pm, the dinner buffet takes up a large corner of the floor space in the main dining room and is quite a sight to behold.  A dozen and a half huge copper tubs are placed evenly along an adequately sneeze-guarded buffet table that must be over 15 feet long.  This houses the main buffet options: all the meat dishes (there were about six) and most of the veggie dishes (easily a dozen more).  It’s standard Indian, so veggies or meat in sauce, lentils in sauce, garbanzos in sauce, little fried veggie or potato patty thingies, and (of course) rice and naan.  Every dish is labeled with the name and a brief description (for us American folk – thank you BG) and just about every one is delicious (though I don’t speak for the meat, of course).

More glory, keep beholding.

Then there’s a side table with about half a dozen more trays of goodies, a folding table with a bunch of things that look like garbanzo beans, meatballs, and yogurt sauce (I never did find out what that area was for – an adventure for next time!), and then the far wall with green salad, random sauces, dessert balls, and soda/ice cream dispenser.

Side table with unknown goodies, still to be discovered (by me) at Bombay Gardens.

The buffet costs around $15 or $16 per person and includes unlimited food (duh), soda, tea*, and dessert.  The dessert mostly consists of these awesome donut-ball things in sweet syrup, which took some getting used to but I now love.  There’s an ice cream machine that my dad says has a really nice flavor of orange or mango or something, but it’s often out of order.  And, as promised, it was last time.  But no matter, I think the waiter could have tripped me and I would still rave about the place – it’s just really, really good.

I’m not sure if they have any food specials, but they do have an immense banquet room adjacent to the dining area.  There was some sort of wedding reception going on when we were there, and it looked like a good time.  And the best part is that I assume they cater – delicious.  I definitely shouldn’t blog when I’m hungry…craving the Garden now…

*The tea is some sort of chai spiced tea.  At a glance, it looks like creamy tea or coffee, but upon bringing some back to the table, it appeared to be chai-esque and I was quickly reminded that I hate chai.  So, no tea for me!

Bombay Garden on Urbanspoon

New York Pizza

Atmosphere: N/A   ♦   Service: 3/5   ♦   Food Quality: 3/5   ♦   Value: 3/5
Times Visited: One   ♦   Will I Return?: Probably Not

The other night, the boyfriend and I decided to take the advice of an informative and wise mass-mailed flier and try a little known Hayward pizza place called New York Pizza.  They offer reasonably priced pizza and free delivery and so we figured, what the heck.

The flier indicated a phone number for the Hayward location.  Upon calling, they directed us to a different phone number, apparently also in Hayward.  Since this was all over the phone, I can only assume, with the help of Google Maps, that the first call was made to the Tennyson branch, and the second call was to the store at A Street and Foothill.

The A Street store is actually a pizza place operating in the back of Eden’s Liquor and Deli.  That’s right, it’s a pizza joint at the back of a quickie mart.  Well, had I known that, I might have called Hungry Howie’s, but the choice remained.  The only real interaction we had with the facility itself was a phone call with a man who was barely intelligible, and then two subsequent phone calls from the delivery guy asking, basically, for directions.  Which is not ok.  The pizza guy needs to know how to get here, I’m sorry but that’s just the way it is.  If I’m an engineer and I call the architect to ask what equations I use for torsion analysis, then I get fired.  Similarly, pizza man wasn’t quite up to snuff.

But he did get here pretty quickly, and he did offer me a free 2-liter of Pepsi which he said was included, though I knew nothing about it before then.  Anyway, the pizza had arrived, so we ate.

X-Large Pizza from New York Pizza

We got a really big pizza, 18″ in fact, for only about $17, so that was nice.  It came with the little plastic cups of parmesan and chile flakes, which made boyfriend happy.  As for the taste, I would say it was standard, nothing special, free-if-you-come-to-the-ski-club-meeting pizza.  It was fine, but not great.

And if it were free at my ping pong club meeting, I would not complain.  But I don’t think I’ll be calling back either, unless their fliers start advertising specials like “6 free pizzas with purchase of 1!”.  Sorry NYP, you’re not my favorite.

Nona’s Kitchen

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: Two   ♦   Will I Return?: Sure

Nona’s Kitchen is a cute little restaurant tucked quietly into a shopping center way out in Pacifica.  First of all, I’ve lived in the Bay Area for most of my life and I had no idea where Pacifica was before my friend moved out there.  Furthermore, I had no idea that a city in the Bay could be so freaking far away from Hayward and still be considered an official part of the Bay Area.   Regardless, now I know about it and I’m glad that my introduction to Pacifica was via this yummy café.

Another comment – this is the first time I have used the tag “American” cuisine.  Thus far I’ve only done ethnic restaurants, one seafood/steak (which I would also consider to be “American” food), and dessert.  I wasn’t sure what to call this kind of food (salads, pastas, meats, burgers, sandwiches), so I am using the word “American”.  Just FYI.

Nona’s is a nice little place with warm decor and a super friendly owner.  You’ll know who he is – he’s the guy yelling a joke to you from behind the counter when you come in.  The staff is very friendly and helpful, and the food is pretty dang good.  So, you could say I like this place.

Nona's Kitchen in Pacifica

The menu isn’t actually that large, and I sort of appreciate this.  When I receive a menu with 100,000 choices on it, it makes me wonder how each one of the dishes can actually be superbly delicious – there’s just too much to focus the culinary effort on.  But with a dozen or so main dinner entrees, a few appetizer and salad choices, and a daily specials list of half a dozen other dishes, I am confident that anything I order will receive appropriate attention, and also have a greater chance of being fresh.  And in Nona’s case, I found this to be true.

Salad special with sliders and mac and cheese behind, at Nona's.

I have to say that Nona’s is actually a place for the meat-eater, at least for dinner.  Your non-meat choices are pretty dang slim and include two pasta dishes and a couple salads and/or appetizers.  If you eat fish, like me, your choices now include a few fishy dishes and a shrimp pasta.  But if you’re really keen on veggie eating only, I probably wouldn’t head out to Nona’s.

Having said that, the food is excellent.  Both times we’ve gone with our Pacifica-based friends, the food has been really good.  The choices are gourmet but all-American at the same time, the dishes are well paired and well portioned, and everything is cooked with great skill.  Someone behind the counter is a real chef, not just some kid-cook picked up from Applebees (sorry Bee, but you know what I’m saying).

Linguine in Pesto Sauce with Tiger Prawns and Parmesan, at Nona's.

On our last visit (the one where I took the pictures), I had the salmon on a bed of warm spinach, and some of the other dishes at the table included the shrimp pesto linguine, green salad with pears (special), and two other meat-y things (maybe sliders and roast beef? I wasn’t too involved with them, they were at the far end of the table).  Everyone was very happy, including myself.  And, added bonus, they give you a dish of the most buttery and delicious rolls to start with – mmmm.  AND they have fresh lemonade which I love.

Wild Salmon on a Warm Spinach Salad w/ Tomato-Bacon Vinaigrette, sans bacon.

Nona’s – great food quality, nice ambiance, funny owner, but heavy on the meat, and way the heck out in Pacifica!  I’m sure I’ll be back though…

El Torito

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 5/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: Two   ♦   Will I Return?: Sure

El Torito is a chain restaurant – it’s true.  I try to stay away from reviewing chain restaurants as a rule, but eventually I end up at one and I just want to blog about it.  And after patronizing El Torito’s Sunday Brunch for a second time, I think it’s time something was put into writing.

There are almost 60 El Torito’s all around California and one or two in Arizona and Oregon. It’s an established chain; there isn’t a whole lot of mystery lying in wait behind those sandblasted doors.  But being a chain doesn’t necessarily mean that the quality is low or that it is not authentic – it really just means that it’s consistent among the different locations.  Or at least that’s what it’s supposed to mean.  And even though I can’t comment specifically on the consistency (I’ve only been to the San Leandro and Foster City locations), I can say the food is good.  More specifically, the Sunday brunch is excellent.

I’m not sure what you’re feelings are on Sunday brunch.  Maybe you envision poached eggs, rye toast, and smoked salmon.  Maybe you’re a Home Town Buffet sort of bruncher with all the scrambled eggs, greasy hash browns, and bacon you can pack in.  Maybe you like mimosas and omelettes.  Or maybe you think brunch is for sissies and you just eat your normal morning food regiment on Sundays.  Think what you will about brunch, but I’ll testify that Mexican food for brunch really hits the spot.

I don’t usually feel like heavy food in the morning; indeed I am a proponent and advocate of hot and cold cereals, and occasionally eggs with toast.  I sort of groaned when my mom* suggested Mexican brunch, but I’ve seen the light.  The brunch at El Torito has shown me the way.

El Torito, Foster City

For the traditionalists there are fresh omelettes made to order, potatoes, sausage, waffles, and orange juice.  For south-of-the-border hankerings there are enchiladas, rice, beans, chicken, pork, beef, tacos, menudo, pozole, made to order quesadillas, and horchata.  And on the lighter side there’s always the salad bar and fresh cut fruit tray, and unlimited free mimosas and coffee included.  And for the rest of us heathens, there are unlimited combinations to suit whatever brunch-y sort of mood you’re in.  So, as I was saying, there’s quite the selection to fit any palette.

I’ve been to each of the two aforementioned locations once, and found the Foster City one far more pleasant.  The restaurant is newer and nicer (though I would say the San Leandro facility is also nice) and it was far less crowded.  This may have been coincidental, but somehow I doubt it.  The service was pleasant – the hostess gave us a “tour” of the buffet upon arrival and the manager explained each dish to me as I browsed them all.  The servers came around frequently to refill our mimosas and take away our used plates.  The whole staff spoke Spanish, but they were also extremely kind and attentive (not to suggest these are typically mutually exclusive) which made the experience feel both authentic and welcoming.

As for the food, I’m certainly not a Mexican food traditionalist (Fresh Mex is fine with me), but I think the true Spanish-speakers can even enjoy the food here; it’s pretty dang good.  I had a cheese enchilada, rice, beans, and salad to start, continued with some freshly sliced fruit, then did a single teeny waffle with maple syrup for dessert.  I watched as my fellow tablemates devoured plates of omelettes, quesadillas, tacos, beef, rice, salads, and churros and have to say that everyone was very satisfied in the end.  I did hear one lament which had something to do with regretting eating anything else but the waffles (he tried them last – they are superb), but over all it is quite a satisfying start to a Sunday morning. Just because you might need a nap afterward doesn’t mean it wasn’t totally worth it.

Enchilada, rice, beans, and salad from the El Torito brunch buffet.

As for specials, they appear to have a happy hour every weekday from 4-8pm which includes specials on margaritas, beer, wine, well drinks, and also half price on appetizers.  Also, on Thursdays (at least at the Foster City location) they offer a sweet enchilada special: buy one enchilada meal and receive unlimited subsequent enchiladas for 1¢ each.  It wouldn’t work for me since I can’t ever get past the first enchilada, but bring your teenagers for sure (or just prepare for food coma).  It certainly is an overeating type of place, but the food is definitely over-eatable.

*Yeah, I go out to eat with my mom a lot, what of it?!

El Torito on Urbanspoon

Favorite Indian

Atmosphere: 4/5   ♦   Service: 4/5   ♦   Food Quality: 4/5   ♦   Value: 4/5
Times Visited: A Few Times   ♦   Will I Return?: Yep

Favorite Indian started out as a tiny restaurant on A Street just east of 2nd Street in Hayward.  They had a killer-value lunch buffet that was small but soooo cheap and very tasty.  I guess they’ve been doing well because they’ve moved into a far larger location just near the intersection of Jackson, Mission, and Foothill.  Flashback to the past – this new facility used to be Sizzler, then Perko’s Cafe, followed by El Rancho Steakhouse, then maybe something else – anyone?  Where are my locals?

Anyway, moving away from Hayward Historical Trivia (which I’m probably not very good at), Favorite Indian has moved to the big time, so to speak.  They’ve really done-up the old Sizzler (it will forever be Sizzler to me) nicely with dark colors and a sophisticated theme.  It looks great.

The decor at the new Favorite Indian Restaurant on Mission Blvd.

And being that I’d only experienced the lunch buffet at the other place, I don’t know if the menu is the same as before.  But it’s a very professional looking menu with lots of choices – and it’s Indian, so there’s plenty of veggie stuff, of course.  The prices are reasonable – about $7 for an a la carte veggie dish – but we decided to go for something more exciting – the dinner combos.

A veggie dinner combo is priced at $11.95 typically, and meat combos are about a dollar more.  The combo is so much more fun that I can hardly describe it properly.  It includes: soup and papadams with dipping sauce in addition to your main dish, rice, naan, and then five small side dishes including the daily curry, some other curry, red saucy stuff, white saucy stuff, and a sweet and delicious dessert ball.  Forget the crappy description, a picture can tell a thousand words:

Veggie dinner combo at Favorite Indian Restaurant.

The combo wasn’t exactly cheap, but if you think about it, you’ll probably order rice anyway ($2) and naan ($1.50) along with your main dish ($7), and by that time you may as well pay the extra $1.50 to get all the fun sides also.  At least that’s what I think.  And I was hungry so what the heck.  While boyfriend and I normally can finish two main dishes with  rice and naan, all the extra little sides of the combo left a whole lot of our main dishes remaining this time.  So, we even have another meal to have at home, and all for under $30.

The service was extremely attentive this visit, so I want to give it the highest rating.  But, I have to say that there was very little pizazz in the demeanor of the wait staff.  They were polite, they were helpful, they did their jobs pretty much flawlessly; but they didn’t seem very excited.  I know it’s an odd complaint, but I feel like if they’re not excited to be there (or at least pretending to be), why should I?  But it didn’t detract from the experience at all, just a random thing I noticed.

I’m certainly happy with the new and improved location and the quality and taste of the food at Favorite Indian, and I will most certainly be back for the famed all-you-can-eat lunch buffet, and maybe even the weekend dinner buffet!  Note that you can also enjoy Favorite by ordering online and via free delivery.  I’ll have to try that sometime on a lazier day…

Favorite Indian Restaurant Inc. on Urbanspoon