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El Cerrito: Jac's Asian Bistro (9am-2am) – Oh my goodness (really!!!) … I finally 'get' Hong Kong-style coffee shops

Thank you guy at the tobacco shop next door who clued me in about the glories of the baked pork chop cutlets with spaghetti.

It was the gleam in his eye when he talked about it that compelled me to order it.

The huge plate of spaghetti came bubbling from the oven covered with two large breaded pork chops. I can’t remember when I’ve eaten so much food in one sitting.

But there are times you need to submit to hot, primal, cheesy bubbly goodness and enjoy every last bite.

There is a choice of red or white sauce. I chose the red which is similar to the type in a Chef Boyardee can. The cheese is the yellow longhorn variety lovingly browned in spots like a finely blistered pizza. .

There is an art … a true skill … to turn such ungourmet ingredients into a wildly delicious and satisfying dish. It is comfort food in the highest form. I salute you Jac.

The $8.88 meal comes with Russian borsch, garlic bread and a choice of coffee or milk tea.

The borsch is a thin tomato based vegetable soup that has a touch of sweetness with a little bit of cabbage, a few carrots and some celery. It is a generous serving.

The garlic bread is sort of the texture of a hot dog bun with a spread of butter and garlic. The milk tea is strong and served in a shiny metal mug.

If I hadn’t had the tip about the cutlets I never would have known that Jac’s served Hong Kong food in addition to dim sum, seafood (lobster tank in the corner) and almost usual Chinese food … you can get moo goo gai pan.

There are three menus and it wasn’t till I asked about the cutlets that they handed me the Hong Kong menu.

I like the slight wackiness of the joint … I was going to get an order of salmon and avocado egg rolls when the pleasant server pointed to the Chinese characters on the side … and when it finally became obvious I didn’t read Chinese, she explained it was only served Sunday.

They bring big lunch plates to the workers in other shops in the strip mall. There are three small sidewalk tables. The interior is no frills but pleasant.

Since they are new I’m not sure how solid those hours are, but the menu says Sun-Thu 9am - midnight Fri-Sat 9am - 2am

I’ll list a few of the dishes I thought were interesting from the nine page menu in the first reply.

I did force myself to order some egg custard tarts. Three warm flaky half-dollar sized tarts with nice custard were $1.88. Next time the sesame balls.

It is located in the same strip mall as Ba Le.

Welcome Jac …the best restaurant to open near me this year.

P.S. My source for the cutlet said the sui mai is good.

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Mac's Wok
10558 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

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  1. From the Hong Kong menu

    - Cheese won tons
    - Salt and pepper tofu cubes
    - Deep fried plain buns with sweetened condensed milk
    - Roti served with curry sauce
    - Curry fish balls and pork skin
    - Pork chop cutlet submarine
    - Chicken steak cutlet submarine
    - Spam and egg sandwiches
    - Baked Portuguese chicken
    - Red bean and ice cream in ice
    - Lemon citron honey drink\
    - French toast

    From the Dim Sum and Tapas(?) menu … the usual stuff and
    - curry beef puffs
    - pork and black egg congee
    - pan fried (or steamed) rice sheet rolls
    - steamed beef tripe
    - combo beef organs with turnip
    - chicken fried rice with salted fish

    From the regular menu
    - baked whole lobster with spaghetti in cheesy sauce
    - ox’s tail with tomato in XO sauce
    - egg foo young with chicken, beef or shimp
    - steak cubes and scallops with macademia nuts in black pepper sauce
    - live clams, fish or lobster
    - seafood chow fun in XO sauce

    All this and much, much more … including stuff like sweet and sour pork, orange chicken, beef and broccoli, Mongolian beef, kung pao chicken … etc

    6 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      This is great- I loooooooooove Ba Le, but it'll be fun to have a new place to try! Thanks!

      1. re: rworange

        We went to Jac's for Friday night dinner. The place was half full, mostly chinese folks. Ordered bitter melon with cod, bok choy with garlic, vegetable chow fun and steamed rice . They brought out complimentary soup - wintermelon in a chicken broth flavored with a few bits of dried gizzard and pork. Portions were generous. Everything was fresh, well cooked, seasoned just right and had good 'wok hay' I was struck by how fresh all the veggies were and the generous garlic bits did not have that old oxidized garlic taste. My dining partner declared the chow fun the best she has ever had. Cheap too - $21 with leftovers for lunch. Over all, this place reminds me of solid old school chinese from my childhood. It was worth the drive from Oakland and we will be back. btw, they are moving a few blocks north to the old Baskin Robbins space in September.

        1. re: mochimunchie

          That is good if that is in the Jay Vee plaza with the Japanese market. It is a more visible place with more traffic in the plaza

          1. re: mochimunchie

            Sounds like a good meal - the old Baskin Robbins space - is that the one near the corner of Moeser?

            1. re: gordon wing

              I believe they're going into the Tofu Yu space some time in mid-Sept.

              1. re: gordon wing

                He gave me a card with the new address: 10558 San Pablo Ave.
                I look forward to the new spot - in much nicer surroundings.

          2. Thanks will check it out

            1. Pork chops, baked spaghetti, borscht, garlic bread, and milk tea . . . classic cha chaan teng comfort food, glad you went for it! Sure you don't read Chinese?

              1. OMG, this looks great, particularly since there are few late-night options in the vicinity. Between this and Rendez-Vous, I think I chose the right time to move back to North Berkeley/Albany.

                1. The menu I picked up today said that Sun-Thurs they close at 11pm. Fri-Sat they close at 1am.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: kc72

                    Thanks. I didn't think that would last long especially since they aren't alll that busy during regular hours. Did you try anything yet?

                    1. re: rworange

                      not yet, I grabbed lunch at Ba Le.

                      Judging by their menu, pretty high hopes/goals for smaller space. It's always nice to have late night options in that area, not too many around. Might be tough for them to draw away the Daimo regulars.

                      Will try soon.

                  2. I stopped by for a quick dinner last Friday, had the Pork spareribs with black bean sauce in a hot pot..portion was big, but it was a bit dry, needed more sauce of some kind. This was served in a iron pot, not a clay pot as I was expecting. I had to add quite a bit of soy sauce, and I usually dont' use soy sauce, just to give it some flavor.

                    Also ordered some salt and pepper chicken wings to go, which were very good though. They have a few things to work out, but they had about a dozen diners in there with me that day and I hope they make it, cause their menu does look interesting. I'll be back just to try more dishes. Prices are very reasonable.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: nicedragonboy

                      The guy at the tobacco store said the Hong Kong stuff was their thing.

                      1. re: rworange

                        Isn't almost everything on the menu HK stuff? ;)

                        except for the french fries listed under appetizers..

                    2. FYI, my office received a flier/order menu for lunch order/delivery service they are offering. The offer a pretty long menu of smaller plates, dim sum, lunch combos, rice plates and a la carte options.

                      offered 11am to 3pm daily. items/combo prices ranging from $1.88 to $5.88. Seems they're really going for the "8" theme in their pricing to maximize the good luck.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: nicedragonboy

                        After my third visit I have finally figured out the menu. Order before 6PM and the prices/portions are smaller. At dinner my son thought the pork chops were generous, but did not care for the red spaghetti- too much Kraft cheese. My pork&preserved egg jook was yummy as was the potstickers. But dinner prices are not as attractive (4.88-7.88). The dinning area has two lg. round tables and maybe 5 tables for four.

                        Now today's lunch was a winner- walnut prawns and beef chow fun (3.88 ea), fried sesame balls and BBQ pork chow mein(1.88 ea) = $12.50 for two of us. Prawns and chow fun tasted fresh and light. A tapas portion had at least 6-7 large prawns. Skip the fried rice (my friend is from Gig Harbor, Washington). The sesame balls won me over- warm, moist, smaller than usual, not GREASY. Jac (I assume) assured me that the cook makes all the dim sum offerings onsight. The four dishes did not come out quickly, but it was worth the wait. Other patrons have been lured in by the cheap prices and friendly service. I'm sold with lunch and can't wait to try more dim sum.

                        1. re: bunnysitter

                          I've tried the steamed BBQ pork buns. 1.88 for three. They had a nice, subtle spicing. Better than the usual, but quite small. Also had the Har Gow for 2.88. Nothing special, IMO, and they sort of fell apart. I'll be back to try more, though. Nice to know that they make the dim sum on site.

                        2. re: nicedragonboy

                          went late Friday night to grab dinner for me and several poker buddies. I had the porkchop and egg over spaghetti and meat sauce. it was awesome. simple comfort food, nothing fancy, but the combination just worked wonders. It was past 12am, but I finished it anyways.

                          From my friends, I heard positive reviews of their combination chow mein. which was came in a significant serving.

                          1. re: nicedragonboy

                            were there any other customers at that hr?

                            1. re: kc72

                              there were two other people waiting for their take out orders there, one lady ahead and one guy after.

                              to tell the truth, i was a bit nervous being out there in that neighborhood at that hour. I hope they become good friends with the local beat officers.

                              1. re: nicedragonboy

                                c'mon... nothing wrong w/ that neighborhood. there are enough ppl and ECPD driving up and down San Pablo Ave.

                        3. Went last night for dinner. When we walked in at about 7pm, we were the only ones and the staff had commandeered an entire table for sui mai production. Nice to see it being made throughout the day!

                          With all the raves about the baked spaghetti & pork chop we had to get it, and it was indeed as giant and comforting as everyone said. We asked for it with half white sauce and half red sauce, and they happily complied.

                          Also tried the XO seafood chow fun, which came heaped on a regular-sized dinner plate and was a good value at $7.88. Plenty of fresh shrimp, as well as squid and fish, and the XO sauce lent it a nice warmth. Not overly greasy.

                          Their menu includes several non-alcoholic drinks, which come in appealing metal highball tumblers (resembling those that are used to mix milkshakes). We tried an iced citron drink made with candied lemon peel and slices of fresh lemon -- very refreshing. The longan drink was not made with dried longan, as I expected, but rather with canned. It sort of tasted like they used a lot of the syrup, but with all the ice it wasn't over-the-top sweet. And there must have been over a dozen longan in the cup too.

                          It will take quite a while to work through the menu but I'm already planning my next visit! The restaurant is just north of the Speakeasy Theatre (serving bad food but good beer) which has 2-for-1 movies on Wednesdays. So put the two together and you have an affordable and tasty Weds evening!

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: mchan

                            Did you like the white sauce or red sauce better?

                            I figure as an homage to Jac's I'm going to have to eat there on 8-8-08

                            1. re: mchan

                              what's the white sauce made of? I tried the some of the red sauce one time and it just didn't work for me.

                              Also, be careful when ordering chow mein here, I ordered it off the lunch/small plates menu and it seemed like they used spaghetti noodles as their mein.

                              1. re: kc72

                                The Red sauce is made of tomato sauce & cheese, they have had the best baked chicken steak over rice in Sacramento. I suggest adding potatoes, it just sets it off! Also to wash it down with their Lemon iced tea or Iced milk tea(my favorite). As for the spaghetti noodles, you can ask for the thinner yellow noodles that is used for chow mien also. The owner had a cafe @Sacramento for about 5 years called Leegacy Cafe and now we drive down to El Cerrito just to get some good baked rice.

                            2. Ever since moving from SF to El Cerrito, I have been missing places like Lon Ting for curry spaghetti and pork chops and reliable, late-night places for a good bowl of jook. Not being a huge fan of Daimo or Macau Cafe in the 99 Ranch Mall complex, I was incredibly excited to try Jac's for dinner tonight. We ordered:
                              -1000 year old egg and lean pork jook
                              -salt and pepper tofu
                              -curry spaghetti with chicken fried steak dinner special (soup, garlic toast, milk tea included).

                              The bowl of jook was E N O R M O U S and the order of spicy salty tofu was similarly sized...with the tofu cubes around 1/2" square (which makes for a quite lovely ratio of crispy-outside to custardy-inside). Both of these dishes were delicious and piping hot, and the spicy salty tofu not greasy.

                              The curry came in a bowl separate from the spaghetti (also a very large serving) with two pieces of "chicken steak" (which turned out to be pan fried chicken cutlets). The curry was not the 'Madras' style (Cantonese-American?) curry but a more coconut milk type yellow curry (more Thai in flavor). All of it still very tasty!

                              The prices were very reasonable: $4.38 for the jook, $3.88 for the tofu, $7.88 for the chicken steak and spaghetti. Plus they have a $5.88 "Daily Deal" menu for family style dishes (photo attached).

                              There are lots of yummy things to try (I got my eye on "Moqua in Dried Scallop Sauce)and I will definitely be back! I will have to bring extended family so more can be sampled...thanks to rworange for the ChowHeadsUp!

                               
                               
                               
                              1 Reply
                              1. re: crispypork

                                Nice report and photos. Looking forward to others as you work your way through that extensive menu.

                              2. went and tried this new chinese restaurant, was motivated by the primarily positive reviews, do not know what to order, so i ordered their house special fried rice, chicken egg foo young and sweet sour pork, the house special fried rice is really good, the portion is large and the price is not bad at all, the sweet sour pork is a little dry, but the chicken egg foo young is fantastic, i think, it is one of the best egg foo young that i have ever tasted, service is friendly and fast, i would definitely come back, i would try the spaghetti with pork chop cutlets next time.

                                1. We went to Jac's for happy hour today after reading the glowing review in this week's Express (http://www.eastbayexpress.com/ebx/jac... ). I was a bit skeptical, given the unreliability of that paper's takes on some of the other Asian restaurants in the area, but fortunately I found this thread when I checked back on Chowhound, so we decided to give it a whirl.

                                  I've not been a fan of the HK coffee shop type places I've been to in the Bay Area, and this was probably the best I've been to -- far and away the best in this price range.

                                  We ordered the baked pork cutlet and spaghetti with red sauce ($8.88), based on the recs on this board. This is the sort of thing I usually dislike, and even when they brought it out I was pretty wary -- worried that the cheese would be too much / too congealed. But gotta say, I'm a convert. It's a weird dish because each individual component isn't anything special (though the pork chops themselves are executed very well), but taken all together it was strangely addictive and surprisingly well balanced. Not too cheesy at all, which was my biggest fear. The borscht and the garlic bread weren't anything special, but it was nice that they were there.

                                  We also shared an order of siu mai and -- off the happy hour menu -- the walnut prawns ($3.88) and the beef congee ($2.88). Everything was good and generously portioned, especially the prawns, which were a deal -- and unlike other places, they don't need to serve it on a giant plate of lettuce to make it seem like more than it is. The siu mai were OK but a bit on the tough side, leading me to believe that maybe the dim sum items aren't their strength? I'd need to explore the menu more to see if that's the case.

                                  Hong Kong style iced milk tea and iced citron honey tea were both very good, especially the milk tea. We also got an order of the sesame balls to go. I had one in the car on the way home, and as someone else mentioned, these are really good -- crisp and not greasy.

                                  All in all, I liked the food more than I thought I would. Even though it seemed like everything would clash, somehow it all went together OK. At $24 (before tax and tip) for dinner for two, it's easy on the wallet, and, though it's a bit of a drive for us, there isn't the hassle of dealing with parking in, say, Oakland Chinatown. We'll be back.

                                  8 Replies
                                  1. re: abstractpoet

                                    Nice to have an update on Jac's Asian Bistro. Did it seem like they had any business ... in house or takeout?

                                    -----
                                    Mac's Wok
                                    10558 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

                                    1. re: rworange

                                      We were there pretty early -- a little past five -- but all things considered, it seemed like they were doing OK. It's such a small space anyway, and by the time we left, about 3/4 of the tables were filled. Mostly older Cantonese-speaking folks at that early hour. I couldn't tell if there were people coming in to pick up takeout orders.

                                      If they're struggling at all, hopefully the write-up in the Express will help some, but like I said, it seemed like maybe they're doing all right. Though at those prices, they probably need to turn a lot of tables to make a decent profit.

                                      I would think the place would get mentioned on this board more often (aside from a couple two-year-old threads), given the affordable price point and the surprisingly good chow.

                                      1. re: abstractpoet

                                        This thread has made me want to try Jacs. I am often in the El Cerrito at lunch time, so I will report back soon.

                                        1. re: RSGamba007

                                          This is a very interesting bargain restaurant. My friend and I tried it today. We arrived at about 12:40 AM for lunch and all but one small table was taken. We were seated in the back at a table for two. It was clearly not a good table, and as soon as another came upon our server offered to move us and we moved to get out from under the air vent.
                                          From there we decided to order two items from the lunch time appetizer/dim sum seletion. Siu Miu and cheese wontons. The cheese wontons came out crispy and fresh, not greasy. Filling was just plain cream cheese, the sauce was a sweet and sour, on the runny side. Nothing remarkable and probably would not order it again. The next thing that came to the table was my dining partners lunch plate. It was a huge serving of General Chicken accompanied by chow mein and steamed rice and a spring roll. She loved the chow mein, says best she has had in a while. I sampled her plate while my appetizer and order was still in prep. I thought it was good. My Siu Miu came hot and fresh and cooked well - not over or under cooked and very tasty. I ordered the combo Egg Foo Yung house special off the main menue for 7.88 and was shocked when a 9" pie plate was delivered brimming with Egg Foo Yung. I could barely make a dent in it. It was very tasty, although it did not look appetizing to my friend! I am a Foo Yung fan and I thought it was great. We saw a variety of people order a large variety of food that looked intriguing and we both determined we would be back to try other dishes.

                                          -----
                                          Mac's Wok
                                          10558 San Pablo Ave, El Cerrito, CA 94530

                                    2. re: abstractpoet

                                      was at jac's over a year ago for their dim sum. not impressed at all. everything tasted previously frozen and reheated. noticed that the menu is very large and the kitchen is very small. can everything prepared be top notch? probably not.

                                      you get what you pay for. there are probably gems here. i don't have the patience to search for them.

                                      1. re: shanghaikid

                                        My guess would be that the HK coffee house style dishes are more their specialty rather than traditional dim sum items, though I will say again that the fried sesame balls were quite good and definitely much better than average. Several gems were already mentioned earlier in this thread -- I'm sure you're right that there may be quite a few duds as well.

                                        1. re: shanghaikid

                                          I have been in there watching them make the dim sum fresh.

                                          1. re: rworange

                                            the problem lies between the time the dim sum was made and the time it got to my table. only jac knows what happened in the interim.

                                            checked my notes. was told by the lady in front dim sum takes a while because they are frozen.