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Saturday, May 21, 2016

Hilton Garden Inn Oxnard/Camarillo welcomes you with a smile

After a late afternoon lecture at the Bacara Resort during Santa Barbara Food & Wine Weekend, it was time to head back south to Oxnard to check into the Hilton Garden Inn Oxnard/Camarillo. Using it as a base hotel, it is conveniently located close to Highway 101. The front desk staff is very friendly and helpful. They make you feel right at home.

  • Travel tip: Santa Barbara has few choices for budget-friendly hotels. Be prepared to pay $200/night or more. If you don’t mind driving 45 minutes, Oxnard, Ventura, and Camarillo have a lot of great hotels in your budget range.

This hotel has a complimentary on-site restaurant (Great American Grill is open for breakfast and dinner) and lounge, 24-hour business center, fitness center, heated outdoor pool, laundry room, and approximately 1,900 square feet of meeting and event space. There is a large parking lot which it shares with its sister hotel, Homewood Suites by Hilton Oxnard/Camarillo.

The King Bedroom has the following amenities: self-adjusting Garden Sleep System® king-size bed, complimentary Wi-Fi, chair with ottoman, large work desk with ergonomic chair, speakerphones, data port, voicemail, refrigerator, microwave, Keurig® coffee maker, iron, ironing board, air conditioning with adjustable thermostat, clock radio with MP3 connection, flat screen TV, Neutrogena® bath amenities, and hair dryer. The room is quite spacious for two people. The work space has ample space for laptop and plenty of charging ports for accessories like camera batteries and mobile phones. The bed is comfortable for a restful night’s sleep.

  • Travel tip: If you are a Gold level or above Hilton HHonors member, you can choose to have extra HHonors points or free breakfast during your stay. When checking in, make sure to ask the front desk about it.

The Great American Grill is a wonderful place for breakfast. Their set-up is a little different than other Hilton Garden Inns. You place orders for grill items with your server: eggs, omelets, bacon, sausage, waffles, pancakes, etc. They also have a buffet of breakfast items like yogurt, cereals, fresh fruit (whole and sliced), juices, milk, pastries, croissants, muffins, breads, bagels, and more. There is just nothing like a hot breakfast to get your engine going in the morning. The servers are very attentive and they even welcome returning guests by name – a true home away from home.

For more information:
2000 Solar Dr.
Oxnard, CA 93036 USA

Monday, May 16, 2016

Judging the 3rd Annual Sabroso Craft Beer & Taco Festival in Silverado, California

An overcast morning harkened perfect outdoor weather for the 3rd Annual Sabroso Craft Beer & Taco Festival. The festival was held in Lake View Park, tucked away in Santiago Canyon next to Irvine Lake. It has the perfect atmosphere for an outdoor festival – lots of trees for shade, picnic tables for enjoying food & libations, and graded grassy area for lounging and enjoying the music from the main stage. There was also a mariachi band roaming around adding to the ambiance.

West coast craft beer breweries gathered to provide a “tasting room” experience for thousands of craft beer aficionados. But, that’s not the only reason why people came. You need something to eat while sampling the beer. What better pairing than a taco! Food trucks, food purveyors, and breweries that serve food competed for “People’s Choice” chosen by the public and/or “Best of Show” awarded by a panel of food judges. The food judges this year were Peter Hsieh, from LA Wonders, Chelsea Madren, a.k.a OC Food Diva (KCBS Certified BBQ Judge), and Jessica Rice from BeerAndBaking.com. 16 teams competed and it was supposed to be a blind judging. However, two of the teams put their name in the description of their tacos. In a regional or national competition, this would be cause for an immediate disqualification. But since there was no money involved, just a trophy and bragging rights, this rule was not applied. Each taco was judged in four categories: Appearance, Creativity, Taste, and Texture. Here are some OC Food Diva’s tasting notes and scores for the tacos submitted:

Taco #1 – Soy Marinated Flank Steak Taco: It had a good texture. The steak was tender. Overall, it had Asian-inspired flavor palette. Score: 4/4/4/4

Taco #2 – Breakfast Taco with chorizo fried rice, Dos Chinos asada, quocream, and fried egg: Fantastic presentation with sunny-side fried egg on top. Definitely fits the Dos Chino’s flavor palette of stoner grub. The only thing missing was a crunchy texture element. Kimchi would have been a great addition and would also provide acidity. Score: 5/4/5/3

Taco #3 – Falasophy’s Spicy Modern Taco with falafel, cilantro garlic sauce, pickled red cabbage, house-pickled jalapenos, and avocado aioli: The falafel had a nice crispy exterior and tender interior. The pickled vegetables added a contrasting acidity to the creamy sauces. Score: 4/5/4/5

Taco #4 – Chianina Beef Tongue Pastrami Taco with queso fundido, pickled ramps, cabbage, rye, and spicy island dressing: The pastrami was excellent, but it was overpowered by the queso and dressing. Score: 5/4/2/4

Taco # 5 – Flour Tortilla Taco with 12-hour braised short rib, arugula, horseradish cream, buttermilk fried onions: The short rib was tender and had a nice flavor. Not a big fan of flour tortillas with tacos as they add a gummy glutinous flavor. Score: 4/3/4/3

Taco #6 – Rojo Pork Taco with citrus braised pork, barbacoa, avocado cream, cilantro slaw, cotija cheese on a corn tortilla: The taco had a mushy texture overall. The flavors were indistinguishable. Score: 3/3/3/2

Taco #7 – Korean Pork Belly Taco topped with pickled radish and cucumber. Loved the crispy skin contrasting with the tender braised pork. It had a nice texture along with the crispy vegetables. But the flavor was just one note from the pork and needed an acidic flavor to balance it out. Score: 4/4/3/4

Taco #8 – Anchiote Lime Fried Plantain Taco topped with roasted corn, soyrizo salsa, garlic lime mojo sauce, cotija cheese, cilantro, and radish: This is a good vegetarian option with a good balance of spicy, sweet, and acidic flavor. Score: 4/4/4/4

Taco #9 – Cajun Shrimp Taco with coleslaw and creole aioli: The shrimp was perfectly cooked with a good snap. It had nice contrasting texture with the crunchy cabbage from the slaw. The flavor could have been pumped up a tad either seasoning the shrimp and/or the aioli. Score: 3/4/4/4

Taco #10 – Barbacoa Short Rib Taco with cilantro onion salsa: The barbacoa was fantastic with its fatty, sticky, and tender texture. It just needed more salt to bump up the flavor. It was also missing a contrasting texture as it was mushy. Score: 3/3/4/2

Taco #11 – Pork Belly Taco with banh mi sauce and Asian slaw: The pork itself was rather flavorless. The slaw had rice vinegar but needed added seasoning like salt, sesame oil, etc. It had potential. The pork needed to be marinated, seasoned, and/or glazed. Chopped peanuts would have been a good flavor and textural element. Score: 3/3/1/3

Taco #12 – Organic Kurobuta Pork Taco served with queso fresco, nopales cactus, and salsa morrita on a handmade corn tortilla: The pork was tender, juicy, and had a great flavor. The sour, savory, and spicy flavors were all balanced. It just lacked a contrasting textural element. Scores: 4/5/5/2

Taco #13 – Braised Goat Taco with Manteca, plantain, cucumber pico de gallo, and black mole. The goat was fantastic! It was tender and had a good flavor. It just needed a crunchy texture to contrast the tender meat. Score: 3/4/4/2

Taco #14 – Pork and Plantain Taco: The plantain was too sweet and the beans did not match in texture or flavor with any of the other ingredients. The pork had a nice flavor but was greatly overshadowed by the overly sweet plantain. Score: 2/3/2/3

Taco #15 – Cinnamon Carnitas Taco topped with mango salsa, lime, and pickled red onion: The presentation was nice and had a good flavor. Score: 4/4/4/4

Taco #16 – Three Sausage Mix Taco with smoked tomatillo salsa, avocado smash, cotija cheese, garlic cream, and cilantro. It was interesting to have sausage inside a taco (no pun intended). The Latin flavor profile of the toppings just didn’t match with the sausage flavors. Score: 3/4/3/3

And the winners are…

People’s Choice:
1st Place: Pour Vida
2nd Place: Grits Fullerton
3rd Place: StadiumBrew Co.

Best of Show:
1st Place: PorkoRico BBQ
2nd Place: Falasophy
3rd Place: The Kroft

Even with bellies full of tacos, there was still room for a few of beer tastings.

Bottle Logic Brewing’s tastes like a traditional stout. It is strong, bold, yet smooth with a slightly bitter bite on the end. Rating: 4/5

Bottle Logic Brewing’s Borracho Leche is heavy, yet crisp with a bite on the front. It has a creamy flavor and has spicy notes that linger on the end of the palate. Rating: 4/5

Left Coast Brewing Co.’s Una Mas is strong and bold, yet extremely smooth with no aftertaste. It has malty and caramel flavors. Rating: 4.8/5

Sabroso Craft Beer and Taco Festival was an amazing experience. Make plans to attend next year!

To see more photos, please visit OC Food Diva’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

For more information:

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Latin Food Fest celebrated Latin food, wine, and spirits in Los Angeles, California

On Saturday, March 19, 2016, visitors from all over Southern California descended upon Grand Park in Los Angeles for the 4th annual Latin Food Fest. The event was packed with live music, cooking demonstrations, and local chefs serving up amazing flavors of Latin America, Latin-inspired foods, drinks, wines, and spirits.

Best of the Fest awards were awarded to Chef Paul Serrano, of Sarita’s Pupuseria, for “Best Chef” and Chef Mario Christerna, of The Briks, for “Best Dish”.

Let’s take a look at some of the restaurants and food purveyors:

Coca-Cola® had a beautiful shaded booth with the recognizable red and white coloration throughout from the sofas to the carpet. Ice cold Coca-Cola was served with a smile. They were serving twist-cap aluminum bottles which have a sleek design.

Diabolo® Blueberry Lemonade combines South American blueberry and Italian lemon flavors into one refreshing drink. They always have a great check-in at festivals. When you like them on social media, they give you a full size beverage to drink or take home with you.

UFC® Refresh is 100% natural coconut water without any additives or preservatives. It is certified by Thailand Trust Mark (endorses only selected high-quality products from Thailand) and verified by the Non-GMO Project. It has a very clean taste for a rehydrating beverage or use it as the liquid base for a fruit smoothie.

Chobani Flip™ is part yogurt and part toppings. After peeling off the cover, simply “flip” the toppings into the yogurt and enjoy. Almond Coco Loco is coconut low-fat yogurt with honey-roasted salted almonds and dark chocolate. It tastes like an “Almond Joy”. Key Lime Crumble is key lime low-fat yogurt with graham crackers and white chocolate. This is amazing and tastes exactly like key lime pie.

Jarritos Mexican Cola is made with 100% real sugar from Mexico. It has a nice smooth cola flavor. The mango flavor has an almost creamy feel and tastes very close to the actual fruit.

Fogo de Chão served up bacon wrapped chicken breast, Beef Ancho (ribeye), and garlic mashed potatoes. All of the meats were grilling on-site and the aroma just stops you in your tracks. Brazilian churrascaria is one of the best ways to eat meats as they are seasoned with just salt, and maybe pepper in some cases. This way of cooking showcases the natural flavor of the meats presented. It is a carnivore’s delight!

Banana Water is another option to keep you hydrated. Banana Water is made with natural ingredients, the potassium of two medium bananas, no added sugar or colors, fat/cholesterol/gluten-free, and only 70 calories per bottle. If you like using coconut water as a base for your smoothies, Banana Water is another great option as well.

The Briks presented a mini chorizo tostada. The chorizo was flavorful and would be wonderful in The Briks or Cocas like on their menu. It was amazing and makes you want to keep coming back for more.

Las Molendera Restaurant served up Chicken Mole Tacos. It had a deep chocolate, cinnamon flavor that thickly coated each piece of chicken. It was amazing in a taco, but would be great atop rice.

Soca Chef served up some Cod Fritters, Soup, and Doubles. Doubles is like a sandwich made with bara (a flat fried bread) and filled with channa (curried garbanzo beans). The Caribbean flavors were a refreshing break from Latin food with the different spices and culinary technique.

Northgate Gonzalez Market served up carnitas tacos, jugos, and guacamole & chips. Their team fed the crowds well and all with smiles. The carnitas were amazing and they really packed the meat into the taco. The guacamole was creamy yet till had some avocado chunks mixed within it. The chips were crispy and perfect for dipping. They would also be great for nachos! They had a variety of jugos available. The strawberry jugos was refreshing and not too sweet.

Aqui es Texcoco served up their Traditional Mexican Lamb Barbecue (Barbacoa) inside of tacos. This style of cooking is similar to the use of the imu in Hawaiian cooking. The lamb (Borrego) is slow roasted in an underground fire pit for 7+ hours, covered by maguey leaves. You’ll definitely taste the care that the slow roasting process does and will make you want to visit their restaurant. The menu looks amazing!

Ibarra Mexican Chocolate tried to serve up their chocolate in smoothie form but was having problems with the blender. They gave out their chocolate bar which is in disk form. It is made with cocoa, sugar, cinnamon. All you need is some hot milk to melt the chocolate and you’ll have the perfect traditional Mexican chocolate drink.

Mexico Lindo Salsas is part of the Castillo Salsas family of products. They gave out a variety of full bottle salsas to take home, like Habanera Roja, Salsa Habanera Verde, and Salsa Picante Negra.

Ubatuba Açai Bowls served up their açai with a variety of different toppings from fruit to nuts to chocolate. It was cool and refreshing on a bright sunny day.

World Empanadas served up their Beef and Santa Fe Chicken empanadas. The Beef Empanada is filled with ground beef simmered with potatoes, green olives, bell peppers, onions, garlic, lemon, and spices. The Santa Fe Chicken Empanada is filled with chicken breast simmered with black beans, corn, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes with spicy cayenne seasoning. The pastry on the outside is perfect, not too doughy and golden brown on the outside. Each of the fillings were full of flavor and make you hungry for more.

Coni’ Seafood Restaurant served up Borrachos (drunken shrimp) and shrimp ceviche. The Borrachos was served whole and cooked to perfection. The sauce was addictive and had you craving more. The best tasting part is the head of the shrimp! The shrimp ceviche was pretty good. Shrimp can get a little starchy when sitting in the leche de tigre mixture too long causing a little bit of cotton mouth. Fish is probably better to use at a large event like this.

Bush’s Cocina Latina® has a latin-inspired product line of frijoles and hominy. They served a Black Bean Fritter with guacamole. It was interesting and tasted like a vegetarian black bean burger in a fritter configuration. The guacamole added a creamy texture to the crunchy exterior of the fritter.

Café Alba served up their version of beef and egg empanadas. Their pastry was a little softer and could have used a little bit more time in the oven. The beef and egg fillings were delicious. The egg filling had a breakfast flavor with the fluffy egg inside. The beef could be eaten at any time of day.

Latin Food Fest is a definite must-do/eat. Make plans to visit the San Diego Latin Food Fest in August 2016 or Los Angeles Latin Food Fest in March 2017. 

To see more photos, please visit OC Food Diva's Facebook and Instagram pages.

For more information:
Save the date for San Diego: August 12-15, 2016
Save the date for Los Angeles: March 17-20, 2017