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Oct 17, 2009 10:07 PM

My High School Culinary Society: where should we go near the SGV?

I formed a Food Club a few years ago at the high school where I teach. I got tired of watching kids eat Flaming Hot Cheetos all day. We try alternatives that are fairly cheap, fairly healthy and very delicious. With parents as drivers, I can take up to 25 diners out on a school-day afternoon or a weekend morning. We're in the Montebello/Monterey Park area.
Two weeks ago, we went for Thai food in Thai Town, followed by Scoops for ice cream. We plan to go for dim sum soon and we'll hit the Hollywood Farmer's Market for a boys against girls shopping/cooking contest.

Can you Chowhounds suggest other places we might try? It needs to be fairly cheap. but we're tasting, not grubbing, so the cost is shared. We avoid chains and look for variety, flavor and healthy food (fairly healthy- if all the kitchen has is a deep-fryer, I'd prefer to avoid that spot.)

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  1. Might want to try Banh Mi Che Cali, to have Vietnamese sandwiches. They got a special buy two get one you get 3 sandwiches for around $5.

    Yum Cha Cafe to sample different dim sum starting at 99 cents/order. Inexpensive way to "taste" different dim sum. Either the Monterey Park or San Gabriel location could accomodate 25. Talk to the manager and they'll probably throw in the 25 cent hot tea.

    1. How about Wahib's in Alhambra?

      Banh Mi Che Cali is a very good suggestion too, and so cheap ($2.25-2.50 each, buy two get one free sandwich; che (pudding) $1.50 each, buy two get one free).

      Moles La Tia in East LA for insanely good Oaxacan sauces; Tacos Baja Ensenada (even though fried) for fish tacos and cocteles; for dessert try a Taiwanese slush at Shau May in the Garfield/Lincoln centre. Get takeout sandwiches and pastries from Claro's in SG/Rosemead.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        Moles La Tia is GREAT, just might be a little more than they want to spend but check out the website and you decide. I think the sandwiches and pasteries are better at Eagle Rock Italian Bakery and if you go on saturday around 11AM you can buy some of the foccacio/tomato bread. Shakas in Alhambra for some Hawaiian food, especially if you are sharing get some kahlua pork, bacon fried rice, spam masubi and many things topped off with some shaved ice. What a great thing you are doing, BRAVO!

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          I second Wahib's inAlhambra. Very tasty not just kebabbs Middle Eastern food. They also can accomendate a large gropu and their prices are resaonble. If you want to make a picnic of it Pick up some sandwiches at Nicole's Gourmet Food in South Pasadena. It's rare in this area to find such good French food at such reasonable prices.

          There is Brits Pub & Eatery if you want good British food.. There always Swedish food at Ikea ;-) Let me think some more.

          Nicole's Gourmet Foods
          921 Meridian Ave, South Pasadena, CA 91030

          Brits Restaurant
          1770 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91106

          Wahib's Middle East Restaurant
          910 E Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801

          1. re: SeaCook

            Sahags Basturma on Sunset, basturma and soujook sandwhiches.

        2. Banh Mi Che Cali is a great suggestion, but just to forewarn the OP - you should go early (if on the weekends) if you're going with a group of up to 25. In fact, this is probably true for so many of these eateries. Aside from the dim sum palaces, accommodating a large group can be tough. They have (I think) three locations in the SGV - I think the oldest is the one in Alhambra.

          Their sandwiches are good, but don't pass on the other things they offer there. You'll see lots of prepared foods in plastic-wrapped styrofoam trays next to and around the cash registers. Goi cuon (spring rolls), bun cha (rice noodle salad), banh cuon (rice flour "pancakes" or rolls stuffed with meat) and a few other goodies are really convenient, yummy, and inexpensive. They're a little light on the herbs that are otherwise so abundant at sit-down places, but it's a small compromise.

          Banh Mi Che Cali gets really crowded starting at lunch time. Shoehorning a large group in their will be nearly impossible. I didn't notice their hours, but I think they open pretty early. You can also consider ordering to go and having your food experience at a park or some other location of your choice. Going after school might work as well if you are hoping to eat there.

          To continue the introduction into Vietnamese cuisine, you might also consider a trip to Van's Bakery, also on Valley. Okay, so it's not a super healthy example of eating, but part of eating well is understanding moderation, right? :) While Van's may appear to be a somewhat conventional bakery from the outside, I've found most of the offerings inside are quite different. Some cakes and other desserts may appear to be familiar, but flavors like pandan, coconut milk and taro are pretty standard. Also, a fair amount of their items seem more at home in a deli than a typical bakery. Beef and pork jerky in flavors like curry and lemongrass; pork rolls with garlic and chile; turnovers stuffed with curry beef or roast pork. And Van's does offer a whole line of banh mi as well - with the same buy two, get one free offer.

          Hats off to you - I wish I had the great fortune of experiencing a dynamic teacher with a great idea like this in high school.

          Banh Mi & Che Cali
          8450 E Valley Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770

          Banh Mi & Che Cali
          647 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91803

          Van's Bakery
          860 E Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA

          Banh MI Che Cali
          135 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

          20 Replies
          1. re: bulavinaka

            OP here. Thanks for the ideas!
            Yes, we usually let the owner know we're coming in advance. I let the kids make the arrangements. Can anybody think of available European places? Or Greek? We've been overwhelmingly Asian in our focus for the last few years and I'd like to mix it up a little.
            A few years ago, the Silverlake Cheese Shop gave us a cheese class. It was great, but they don't seem to be interested in doing it again. Is there a cheese place you could recommend?

            1. re: flowerofhighrank

              Papa Christos C&K Importing same place Normandie & Pico they have a thursday night all you can eat or you can order stuff alla carte all the time. Great place.

              1. re: Burger Boy

                I second Papa Cristos and don't forget Langer's pastrami.

              2. re: flowerofhighrank

                The first places that come to mind outside of the Chinese and Vietnamese eateries have to do with pizza. Petrillo's in San Gabriel, Bolini's in Monterey Park, and Zelo in Arcadia. I haven't eaten at any of these as I'm from out of the SGV area and am drawn to the Chinese and Vietnamese food (for now) but these three places pop up a lot on this board as being very good. I know that pizza may not be what you had in mind when it comes to European, but they are considered to be some of the best in the LA area. A totally different pedigree from Domino's or Pizza Hut.

                Papa Cristo's on Pico and Normandie is probably the standout Greek eatery for many outside of Chowhound - pretty much an LA institution. I say this because while it's very popular for a lot of reasons, many hounds seem to consider this place to be just okay food-wise. But the prices are very reasonable, the portions are generous, and it's an interesting place. Basically a specialty store, deli, and restaurant all under one roof, I think there's an import distribution business in back as well.


                Zelo Pizzeria
                328 E Foothill Blvd, Arcadia, CA 91006

                Petrillo's Pizza Restaurant
                833 E Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                Bollini's Pizzeria Napolitana
                2315 S Garfield Ave, Monterey Park, CA 91754

                1. re: bulavinaka

                  Bollini's makes a style of pizza that's not commonly found, so i's a good way to introduce the kids to Neapolitan style pizza. It's small shop, tho, and 25 people would overrun the place. As long as you don't mind taking the food and eating in the parking lot, it'll work.

                  1. re: bulavinaka

                    I think the OP is looking for "alternatives that are fairly cheap, fairly healthy and very delicious"
           me there's too much pizza being fed to kids. There's pizza everywhere they go...birthday parties, sports functions, school functions, lunch, name it even I get sick of seeing pizza sometimes. Yes, there is good pizza and there is bad pizza...but sometimes a pizza is just a pizza.

                    1. re: monku

                      I agree that there's too much pizza fed to kids - really bad pizza. But to me, sometimes pizza is not just a pizza, whether it's good or bad. And that's where we totally disagree. If a Neapolitan-style pizza is sometimes like any other pizza, then we're in trouble on this board. And to let these kids know that pizzas of this pedigree or those that strive for a different style yet similar level of quality are what they should be shooting for, then maybe they will let go of the bad stuff and appreciate the good.

                      1. re: bulavinaka

                        Bollini's was the first place that came to my mind when reading the OP. The request for cheap, healthy and very delicious is part of the focus but we are talking high school kids also. PIZZA! Professor Salt is right about Bollini's being a good way to introduce the kids to Neapolitan style pizza, which is pizza without a crust as we know a crust to be -- ultra thin. Also, when I think of Bollini's I think of the best salads offered in the SGV at a reasonable price. Two can share a salad and pizza and there will be some pizza left over. The prices are reasonable. See the menu on the link below. Also, after Bollini's you can walk to Shaka's for some real shave ice.

                        Petrillo's is another great pick for pizza but to keep it healthy you must request thin crust. Petrillo's regular crust is thicker than most and that may tip the scale, so to speak, on the being healthy issue. The price of Petrillo's pizza is higher than most but so is the amount of cheese.

                        Bollini's -- Neapolitan style pizza and great salads

                        Shaka's -- two locations in the SGV, great island food served island style -- big plate lunch

                        1. re: JeetJet

                          Yes, but the Shaka in Alhambra is the only one that has the fried rice. that is really a great version of Hawaiian fried rice, my favorite!

                          1. re: Burger Boy

                            Howzit Brudda Burger Boy. Bacon Fried Rice -- oh man dat stuff is so good. Da way they serve it, it looks like maybe they go and turn a whole pot full upside down onto your plate. Ho, dat mo den dis boy need. Yum yum! Now dat plate lunch is cheap, healthy and very delicious island style. It mus be healthy cuz wen I eat it makes me BIG and strong. Sticky rice, bacon, egg, onion, soy sauce -- island food rules!

                            Shaka, latez.

                            1. re: JeetJet

                              It is only second best though. I used to work at a place in Mammoth and the owners were Hawaiian, Japanese, Philipino and Mexican. The dad made the bomb as fried rice, alas the dad and the restaurant Matsu are no longer with us.

                      2. re: monku

                        completely agree with you, monku.

                        1. re: monku

                          A little compare & contrast here:

                          Here's a car - Italian in name; maybe not so Italian in pedigree:


                          Here's another car - definitely with Italian pedigree:


                          A car is not a car...

                          A familiar face that some may consider to be Italian:


                          And someone, maybe not as familiar, but definitely knows Italian cuisine:


                          A chef is not a chef...

                          Pizza delivered to your door, a kid's party, etc.:


                          A version from Antica Pizzeria - might this be a fair representation of a healthy pizza?


                          Too me, if using some discretion, a pizza is not just a pizza.

                          1. re: bulavinaka

                            Well argued counsel. The point about using discretion, when ordering pizza is well taken. Bollini's offers "The Cal Twist" (Sauce, basil pesto, shrimp, sun dried tomato, roasted peppers, mozzarella, herbs and parmesan) and that is a creation that will not soon be forgot. On-the-other-hand, I would also never forget having a Domino’s deep dish delivered to my door by Chef Boyardee driving a Plymouth Volare. Pizza rules!

                            1. re: bulavinaka

                              whatever the difference is between cars, a car is not a plane.
                              for kids who have had no experience in planes, taking them on another car ride in a fancier car doesn't adequately expand their horizons.

                              a bathtub is not an ocean.
                              to kids who have never seen nor gone swimming in the ocean, it simply doesn't suffice to let them take a bath in another bathtub. even if the bathtub is carved out of marble, it is not a sufficiently different experience. even if the bathtub is a hot tub, it is not the same as the ocean.

                              most kids these days have had meals of pizza and hamburgers fed to them relentlessly. this school culinary group may be their only/first time leaving that very very small area.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                I'm all for loftier goals. But I don't see a problem with taking something familiar and so common, then using it as an example to point out that there are far more virtuous examples with some serious thought an history as well.

                                And if a Ferrari P45 is considered just "fancier" than a Plymouth Volare, then one seriously needs to look at the engineering, the pride and the passion that goes into designing one.

                                Even taking your example of taking a bath in any type of bath tub is not the point. It's how one takes a bath. Is it simply to bathe, or is it a ritual form of therapy?

                                IMHO, expanding their horizons is only one of the goals. Without a good depth of knowledge, I consider that a weak foundation.

                                1. re: bulavinaka

                                  Yeah bulavinaka, you right-on again. Jus cuz da the kidz have been eaten McD cheese burgers is not a reason to not giv’um a Tops Kobe Bistro Burger. In fact,, that is the reason to take’um to Tops. A half pounder of char-broiled American Kobe Beef, Smoked Mozzarella Cheese, Caramelized onions, Tomato and Greens, and Herb Mayonnaise on a Ciabatta roll All fo under $7 and nuff food fo two people.

                                  Da same is true wit grilled cheese. Jus cuz da kidz been havin American on white wit Campbell’s tomato soup is not a reason to not give then the real deal, but it is the reason fo to take’um to Tops fo a true grilled cheese sandwich made special sourdough, Swiss and smoked Mozzarella cheese and homemade tomato basil soup made jus a little on da sweat side. Dunk da edge of dat sandwich into dat soup and find da true meaning of “comfort food.” Under $7 fo dat soup and sandwich.

                                  After enjoying the flavors in this burger, grilled cheese, and tomato basil soup their burger and grilled cheese world will never be the same again and that is what culinary arts is about.

                                  The Original Tops, (Kobe bistro burger, pastrami, char-broiled asada or chicken totasda, Grilled cheese & Tomato Soup combo, fries, deep fried zucchini are all very good)

                                  3838 E Colorado Blvd (Between Rosemead Blvd. And Michillinda)
                                  Pasadena, CA 91107-3940
                                  (626) 449-4412

                                2. re: westsidegal

                                  Hey Westside, I have been thinking about the idea that even if the tub is made from marble it still is not “a sufficiently different experience.” My love for Japanese architectural design, culture and food motivated me last year to remodel my master bath and I can say that on a cold night there is nothing more relaxing than laying back in a deep Japanese soaking tub filled with steaming water as you contemplate the stars that appear to move across the skylight from within a quiet dark room warmed with a soft glow from the light of a fireplace flickering through the shoji. The elements of water, fire, and a night sky create a sensory sanctuary. One thing that adds to the comforting experience of a traditional Japanese bath is freedom from hunger by enjoying a hot bowl of Foo-Foo Tei Ramen prior to getting your feet wet.

                                  Foo-Foo Tei Ramen House -- two locations
                                  750 S Atlantic Blvd
                                  Monterey Park, CA 91755
                                  (626) 588-2010

                                  15018 Clark Ave
                                  Hacienda Heights, CA 91745
                                  (626) 937-6585

                                  Check out this review and pics. There is nothing warmer on a cold day than a good hot bowl of Ramen noodles and when it is filled with something like fried chicken wings with hardboiled eggs it is a clue that this is not just another lpasta unch of SpaghettiOs or Dinosaurs in Sauce. Foo-Foo Tei is special.


                                  Just for fun, Note how the tub is shaped like a giant Ramen bowl and the sink is like a sushi platter.


                                  Shoji done right is not just another door – Hana Shoji..

                                  Foo-Foo Tei
                                  15018 Clark Ave, Hacienda Heights, CA 91745

                                  1. re: JeetJet

                                    i get your point.
                                    (p.s. i LOVED the picture of the tubs--makes me want to remodel my bathroom and have my peanut butter with melted chocolate while in the tub)
                                    but, i am not convinced that, in the case of most adolescents and teens in this society, depth of experience is just as needed as breadth of experience.
                                    if you can have both, that would be great.
                                    if you can only give these kids one of the two, i would select breadth.

                                    1. re: JeetJet

                                      Ah yes, but traditional Chinese medicine says that eating before you bathe makes you sick. (However, I'll have to check with my Taiwanese mother-in-law on the rules for simultaneously dining while bathing)

                                      Mr Taster

                        2. Normally, this place would probably be way out of your preferred price range but you may want to place a call to Chef Berrelleza at Babita in San Gabriel and see if he would do something special for your class. I was there a couple of years ago with my brother, who is a young chef from out of state, and Roberto very kindly invited him to hang out in the kitchen on his next visit. This was during my first visit to Babita, so I was pleasantly surprised.

                          Even if he can't do anything for you he might have some other interesting suggestions.

                          And I agree with the other posters - I love what you are doing for the kids!

                          1. Try this itinerary.

                            Head out to Arcadia and get a culinary tour of Taiwanese pub food, incl. some homemade sausages, at SinBaLa. Pork chop rice, eel rice, cold sesame noodles and the aforementioned sausages are all good bets.

                            After having your fill of good pub food, save room for dessert and go to JJ Bakery in the adjacent strip mall and grab some (semi) healthy dessert options like mochi filled with fresh chopped fruit, rice pudding cake (it's got calcium), egg custard tarts (eggs are good for you) and red bean cakes (fiber and protein).

                            651 West Duarte Rd
                            (626) 446-0886

                            JJ Bakery
                            1130 South Baldwin Ave
                            (626) 836-6888

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Wow, great suggestions re: Sinbala... I think high school kids could really get into the "eww gross, let me try" factor of peanut butter and sausages, etc.

                              However, I don't think JJ will go over too well... non-Chinese kids aren't used to the lightly flavored/mildly sweet Chinese cakes. I think Van's Bakery would suit the bill better... it's cheap and there's a greater "wow" factor with all those giant cakes in the front window.

                              Mr Taster

                              Van's Bakery
                              860 E Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA