Pono Burger

Disclaimer: This was a work-sponsored lunch and the burger might have suffered from the 20-second walk from the restaurant to my office.

Inside Pono burger.

For months, my colleagues and I were awaiting the opening of Pono Burger.  A casual restaurant right next door from our office that was even closer than Bay Cities? Yes please.  Well, Pono Burger finally opened on Wednesday and we ventured over on Thursday to order some burgers for our team lunch.

I had the Pono burger cooked a little pink inside with raclette cheese and avocado and some sweet potato fries.  The burger itself was well put together, a good size, and best of all, stayed together till the last bite.  The beef patty was hearty without being too greasy or overwhelming and was cooked to my liking.  The cheese and avocado added to the richness of each bite and the lettuce was wonderfully green and crisp. The brioche bun was also great in that it didn’t disintegrate at the end, which is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to fancier burgers. I forgot to take note of the famed Pono sauce on the burger, but I guess it’s good that it didn’t overpower or distract from the burger experience. Overall, a very decent burger.

Pono Burger from next door.

The sweet potato fries were cut thinly and met expectations.  They were not as crunchy as I would have liked, but tasted healthier, so maybe that’s why.

To wash down my burger and fries, I also ordered a house-squeezed lemonade, which was a little too sweet for me.  Later in the day, I stopped by for a salted caramel milkshake (ordered without the bacon bits) and it really hit the spot.  The shake was so thick I had trouble drinking it from a straw. I liked that it wasn’t as sweet thanks to roasted flavor of the caramel and the little bit of salt.

My vegetarian colleague ordered the meatless burger, which was a large portabella mushroom instead of a meat patty. I kind of think they went the lazy route with that since anyone can stick a portabella on a grill and call it a burger.  It’s too bad they didn’t expand their menu a little bit to add a house-made veggie patty.

Was Pono burger worth the wait? Yes. It’s going to be hard not ordering from that place all the time now.

Pono Burgers
829 Broadway
Santa Monica, CA.
310.584.7005

Daw Yee Myanmar Cafe

A tiny Burmese restaurant opened just a stone’s throw away from Yoma in Monterey Park. Two Burmese restaurants within blocks of each other — was that just a coincidence?

Unlike Yoma’s dark and dank interior, Daw Yee’s is bright and colorful with vibrant seat cushions, gold-colored table ornaments hiding toothpicks, and still glossy menus. Will and I have been back several times and each time we left satisfied.

First, we ordered the one thing we always want to get at a Burmese restaurant: fermented tea leaf salad. This one came neatly plated in sections, which were mixed together table-side. There was a generous helping of fermented tea leaf, just the right amount cabbage, and some crispy soy beans to give it additional crunch. We ordered this without fish sauce so that it was vegan and I didn’t think it was missing anything.

Tofu Thoke and Tea Leaf Salad

Another one of my favorite Burmese salads is tofu salad (thoke on the menu) which is a misnomer. Instead of soy based tofu, this is finely ground chickpea flour and water molded into blocks and sliced. The slick texture makes it seem like tofu, but the bright yellow color shows that it’s not. I find that it’s also a little softer and creamier than your average tofu. This too was tossed in dressing and accompanied sliced cabbage and fresh herbs for a cold refreshing bite. (Ask for no fish-sauce for a vegan-friendly version.)

Daw Yee Myanmar

Then there’s my go-to dish that I order regardless of whether it’s breakfast time or not: mohinga (not pictured). The version at Daw Yee is decent, but not my favorite. It has the hearty rich texture I like, but I prefer it with a little more spice or funk. Maybe I’m too used to the one that comes in a styrofoam bowl at Jasmine Market in Culver City.

Daw Yee Myanmar

For dinner one night, we ventured away from our Burmese staples and tried some curries. Will ordered the vegetable curry, which had okra, eggplant, radishes, and some other vegetables in a thin curry broth. I got the egg curry, with its four deep fried hard-boiled eggs and a thick, spicy tomato sauce. It hit the spot but was so filling that I could only eat two eggs before getting full.

Egg curry from Daw Yee for dinner.

We also ordered the chickpea fritters as an appetizer. If you liked crunchy, deep-fried things (and who doesn’t?), this is the way to go. These little disks of chickpea had a satisfying crunch on the outside while still being gooey and hot on the inside — a Burmese latke.

Daw Yee Myanmar

 

Daw Yee is a great addition to the neighborhood.  The food has been consistently good even if the service is sometimes awkward or strange.  The hot loose-leaf tea is also surprisingly good, almost like a fresh young pu-erh.

Daw Yee Myanmar Cafe
111 N Rural Dr
Monterey Park, CA 91755
(626) 573-8080

The Salt Lick BBQ (Austin)

The Salt Lick BBQ

One important thing on my Todo List when visiting Texas for the first time is to eat barbecue.  It would be a shame for me to visit barbecue country without trying it at least once.  When I stepped out of the Jet Blue terminal and right into the smokey aroma of the Salt Lick outpost in the airport terminal, I knew that I couldn’t leave without going there.

While there are other places in the city limits, most of the locals and Texans I spoke to said the definitive place to go for barbecue brisket is The Salt Lick.  Considering I never really liked brisket, I wondered if I just never had the right brisket.  I always associated brisket as dry and stringy meat that takes forever to chew.  If The Salt Lick can’t make me like brisket, maybe that cut of meat is just not for me.

The Driftwood location of The Salt Lick is a short twenty-five to thirty-minute drive outside of Austin. For those of us in LA who’s used to driving thirty minutes just to travel ten miles in the city, this drive will be easy.  Leaving the actual city of Austin takes only a few minutes on the freeways and then the rest of the way is boring suburbs, big box stores, followed by rolling hills and even a Hindu temple in the middle of nowhere.

At first, I was worried by how touristy The Salt Lick seemed to be. It boasted a winery and a separate wine tasting building. There’s an outdoor patio full of large wooden tables and benches and even a separate area for kids.  The merchandise for sale on the walls made it a little too Disneyland for me, but one look at the barbecue pit and a whiff of the smell and I knew I had to stay.

For about $15, I got to pick two meats (I got brisket and sausage) which came on a large plate along with potato salad, coleslaw, beans, bread, pickles, and a part of an onion.  I opted for a combo of moist brisket and burnt ends when the waitress asked what my preference was for the brisket.  The service is fast and in no time, this plate was plopped down in front of me as well as two types of sauces.  Since the meat seemed already sauced, I didn’t add too much extra sauce on top. Just enough to realize the habenero sauce is not spicy enough.

The Salt Lick BBQ

Did The Salt Lick change my opinion of brisket? It sure did!  The moist slices were tender and fell apart in my mouth. The burnt ends were crispy and had a decent bite, but was nowhere near as chewy as I was fearing. The sausage wasn’t half-bad either, with a great snap.  The flavor of the barbecue and the smokiness of the meat was everything I hoped for.

The sides were surprisingly good.  The cole slaw was light on the dressing and not that mayonaise nightmare that I associate with some coleslaw.  It’s good that it’s delicious because one needs some roughage to help in digesting all this meat.  The potato salad was not what I expected either, but still delicious.  It was slightly tangy from mustard or relish, and had chopped cooked onions inside. It was one of the better restaurant potato salads I’d had.  The beans were alright, but I ate only a couple bites of it because I wanted to save my protein compartment for the meat.

The pickles and bread I mostly left alone because I couldn’t figure out what their purpose was.  Was I supposed to make a sandwich with the bread rolls? They were fluffy and white, reminding me of the rolls I used to eat in the cafeteria in elementary school.  I guess if I had more stomach space, I could use it to soak up the barbecue sauce later. And what about that quarter of a raw onion?  I mostly left that alone because I didn’t want to ruin the smokey barbecue aftertaste with the pungent aroma of an onion.

Although I shouldn’t have ordered it, I was curious, so I also ordered the blackberry cobbler. This was unlike any cobbler I’d ever had.  The breaded part was soft and spongey, more like a thick pancake than a biscuit.  The blackberry filling was way too sweet for my taste and I was regretting not ordering it with some ice-cream to tone it down.  The serving size of the cobbler was also very Texan. I think one order would be enough to satisfy four people.

Was the Salt Lick worth the 30 minute drive? Yes! I have a new found respect for brisket and am wishing I had finished my plate of barbecue because I’m now craving it.

Protip: It’s BYOB, so get a 6-pack from the Texaco station off the freeway and bring it with you. If not, you can always try your luck at the winery next to the restaurant, which also sells beer.

The Salt Lick
18300 FM 1826
Driftwood, TX 78619
(512) 858-4959