Personal Favorites Around the South Bay

Several affordable restaurants offering quality above their price.

Over the years working in the South Bay, I’ve made a number of places frequent stops for dinner or lunch.

Here’s some of my personal picks I’d like to share.

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Shrimp on the barbie at the California Fish Grill.

California Fish Grill

Where else can you get swordfish for $11.99 with two sides? You’d be hard pressed to find anywhere offering such a dish for under $20, but California Fish Grill (a short drive east on Artesia Boulevard from the campus) offers that and other tasty seafood for reasonable prices.

The swordfish steaks and other grilled fish selections come with optional cajun, olive oil, chimichurri or garlic glaze.

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Swordfish steaks in cajun glaze, french fries and brussel sprouts. 

Keep in mind the excellent clam chowder, not too greasy fish and chips ($8.99) and consider spending an extra $1.50 for a side of brussel sprouts doused in a tasty vinegarette.

California Fish Grill has numerous locations in Southern California. The closest to campus is 1425 W. Artesia Blvd. in Gardena. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Wednesday and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Phone: (310) 225-2777.  Online: cafishgrill.com.

 

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A Habit charburger with bacon, lettuce and cheese. Charburgers start at the $3 range.

The Habit

Forget the greasy Five Guys burgers and consider In-&-Out’s offerings flavorless and overrated compared to The Habit’s charbroiled creations.

While it is more than what you would pay for at In-&-Out, The Habit is much cheaper than Five Guys and other gourmet burger joints in the South Bay.

If you want something a bit fancier for the price, consider ordering the Santa Barbara Char, which has avocado and numerous other toppings on grilled sourdough.

And don’t forget the onion rings. Crisp, not too messy, not oily and a better order than french fries. Have a lemonade or mocha shake and you’ve got an excellent burger outing.

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Onion rings go great with honey mustard dipping sauce.

The Habit has restaurants across Southern California. The nearest to the campus is at 3829 Torrance Blvd. in Torrance. It is open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday to Thursday and 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Phone: (310) 406-3063. Website: habitburger.com.

 

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A combination plate of ground beef enchiladas, rice and beans from Zacatecas in Hawthorne. Price: $9.25

Zacatecas

This literal hole-in-the-wall in a strip mall in Hawthorne is a hidden gem of a Mexican family restaurant, and within reasonable distance from the college.

It is almost always busy and loud with Spanish sports on the TV, but the food can be ordered to go with complimentary chips and salsa, or can be enjoyed in the establishment with a margarita, Michelada or various beers.

Breakfast, seafood, and a variety of burritos (try Tom’s, with carne asada, beans, guacamole, sour cream, onions and spicy green sauce) round out the menu, and weekends offer menudo.

The best thing is that this isn’t a joint that piles on spices and sauces to mask poor-quality meat. It’s mild done right, with the option of adding more fire if you desire.

It’s highly likely the friendly staff will offer you deliciously cold flan on the house, but it might be a challenge to eat it as the amount of food will put you at the bursting point.

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The chips and salsa is where the gluttony begins at Zacatecas.

Zacatecas is located at 13737 Inglewood Ave. in Hawthorne. It is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Phone: (310) 679-5161. Take out is available.

 

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A mountain of food awaits at #1 Buffet in Hawthorne. Egg rolls, potstickers, chicken skewers, fried rice and various meats, along with a Chinese donut barely fit on the plate.

#1 Buffet

Offering lunch on the weekdays for under $10 and dinners and weekend prices for $13 a person, this Chinese buffet in Lawndale is just a short drive from the campus.

The establishment offers a change of dishes from its lunch and dinner options. Lunchtime eaters should make a beeline for the Chinese barbecue pork, while weekend and dinner visitors should make room for giant crab legs.

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Chinese barbecue pork (aka char siu) is the star of the lunch menu at #1 Buffet in Lawndale, and brings back memories of $1 Chinese take out joints in the ’90s (the pleasant ones).

However, the place excels in its appetizers, from wontons, sushi, fried shrimp and chicken wings and skewers. It is likely you will have a plate of appetizers, rice and some variations of meat dishes, and if room allows, a third plate for dessert or fruits.

#1 Buffet is located at 14418 Hawthorne Blvd. in Lawndale. Open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily. Phone: (310) 644-4007. Take out is available. 

 

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Put as many toppings as you want at Pizza Rev: Above is a pie with pineapple, pepperoni, sausage, cilantro and sun-dried tomatoes.

Pizza Rev

The concept of Taco Tuesday seems to be ripped off by Pizza Rev’s special — $6 personal pies, all day on Tuesday.

The chain pizzeria, which operates like a Subway but serving thin-crust pizza, allows for as much meat, veggies and other toppings as you like for that price. That’s right: no extra charge for more pepperoni or adding more flavor to a Hawaiian-style (or is that Canadian?) ham and pineapple.

Along with specials offered on smartphones, this should be a consideration for a student’s wallet. Pies generally cost under $9 the rest of the week.

The only minus is location; the nearest one to El Camino College is in El Segundo, in the shadows of the city’s skyline on the always-busy Sepulveda Boulevard. There is ample free parking in the midst of the offices, at least.

Pizza Rev has numerous locations in Southern California. The nearest location to El Camino College is located at 460 N. Sepulveda Blvd. in El Segundo. It is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Phone: (310) 426-6320. Take out and online ordering are available, and the chain offers deals and rewards via smartphone. Website: pizzarev.com.

French Toast and Joe: The Pancake Factory

A diner within walking distance of the campus.

With the background radio playing songs that would fit in an episode of “Miami Vice” and set next to a shady motel, eating at The Pancake Factory made me think Harvey Keitel would be my dining partner in a movie stakeout scene.

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♫ I can feel it, coming in the air tonight, oh Lord ♫ — the assurance from seeing an “A” grade.

Sadly, I was eating alone and for the most part, Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” was stuck in my head as I ordered French toast at the Pancake Factory.

Breakfast wasn’t groundbreaking as a Tarantino film (maybe the Nutella French toast would have been), it didn’t “Take My Breath Away” which came on the radio a bit later, but the combo of thick French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns and coffee for $12 and change after taxes hit the right spot for its price.

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All the caffeine you want for just over $2.

The best part of the combo was what comes extra: the scrambled eggs, hash browns and bacon. The hash browns weren’t overcooked and had a nice flavor and happy medium of being crisp, but still potato in nature. The bacon wasn’t too soggy or burnt, too.

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The stars of today’s breakfast. The mood really changed when hash browns left the scene after a surprising performance.

The French toast itself was thick, but was a bit heavy on the “eggy” taste; it soaked a bit too much in. I had to add “old fashioned” syrup — one of four offered on the table, which included strawberry, blueberry and butter pecan — as the butter wasn’t enough to overcome that taste.

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Powdered sugar and butter not enough to overcome the overdose of egg on bread.

As mentioned, the prices seem reasonable and if you have a student ID, you can get more off the bill. The place is quite packed for lunch, so don’t expect a quiet time dining.

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I wonder how many El Camino students or faculty try to say they’re still kids to the server.

On the way out I noticed the huge hoagies and enormous amount of fries piled on the plates the lunch crowd was enjoying, so it might be worth a jaunt to try something more than pancakes or French toast.

While The Pancake Factory may not measure up to Coco’s and might be slightly more in cost than Denny’s, it is closer to El Camino College than those two locations. If coffee and flapjacks are your jones, it’s worth a look.

IMG_0243The Pancake Factory is located at 15619 Crenshaw Blvd. in Gardena and is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Wi-Fi available on premises. Phone: (310) 349-0325. A menu with prices and online ordering is available at doordash.com.

Falafel Face Off: Chicken Maison vs. Chicken Chick

Two sandwiches enter, one man eats.

Falafel.

For those who don’t know the difference between a falafel and a loofah, the former is a fried ball of chickpeas and fava beans. A loofah is a bath sponge, but that’s not important right now.

They — falafels, not loofahs — can be served on their own, as a topping in salads and as the main ingredient in sandwiches.

Two restaurants within walking distance of the college grounds offer falafel sandwiches for under $7: Chicken Maison and Chicken Chick.

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Chicken Maison’s falafel sandwich is served in a pita bread. Didn’t ask if onions are normally placed like cute fez hats on falafels upon serving.

Chicken Maison

Chicken Maison, just across the street from the campus on Crenshaw Boulevard in the strip mall near the McDonald’s, won the coin toss to start first.

No, actually it won first try on mentioning it had pickled turnips in the sandwich. And tomatoes and parsley and onions.

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Pickled turnips sound like precious hors d’oeuvres in Bilbo Baggins’ kitchen cabinet.

Served on a giant flatbread, the sandwich looks like a giant burrito at first glance in its wrapping. The three falafel balls were large, a bit on the crumbly side, but had a good flavor. The turnips were just the right kind of bitter to accent the sandwich.

The sandwich normally comes drizzled with tahini sauce — sesame seed paste mixed with water, garlic and lemon juice — for those who like that sort of thing.

At a listed price of $6.75, it’s well within a student’s budget. Most of Chicken Maison’s fare is around $10.

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Bag it in a baguette — smaller falafel and sandwiches at Chicken Chick, but the flavor makes up for it. The baguette is nice and fresh, too.

Chicken Chick

A Persian restaurant just southeast of the campus across Crenshaw Boulevard, Chicken Chick offers its sandwich in a different way — in a toasted baguette.

Most places serve this sandwich with pita bread, but this baguette works — it’s fresh and has a good flavor, along with the tomatoes, parsley and crisp onions (word of advice: bring a breath mint or chewing gum after eating). Pita bread is also served as a side.

The four falafels are smaller but not as flaky as the ones at Chicken Maison. They had a more robust flavor as well.

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Tahini sauce on the side, please.

Tahini sauce is also served on the sandwich. It tends to distract from the flavor of the sandwich. Its sour taste doesn’t go as well as pickled turnips offered by Chicken Maison.

Chicken Chick’s atmosphere is a lot less hectic than Chicken Maison’s and more comfortable. The falafel sandwich is just a few cents more at $6.99, but do take note the price of the other fare is a bit steeper here than at Chicken Maison.

Final Verdict

While Chicken Maison offers pickled turnips and bigger falafel, the sharp flavors and fresh baguette Chicken Chick serves gives the latter a slight edge. They’re both very good sandwiches, and you can’t go wrong with choosing one or the other.

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Chicken Maison is located at 15900 Crenshaw Blvd. in Gardena and is open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday thru Saturday and closed on Sundays. Phone: (310) 327-737. Website: http://www.chickenmaison.com.

Chicken Chick is located at 16300 Crenshaw Blvd. in Torrance and is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week. Phone: (424) 396-3437 or (424) 396-3438. Its menu can be found on Yelp.com.