Restaurants of Little Manila in Carson, CA, USA.
Little Manila Updates 8/14/99. The * did mark changes; now I'll just date the sections. I went back between 7/23/99 and 8/7/99, on the weekends, to review restaurants. You might want to read them in the order I reviewed them which is numbers (12), (4 fast food), (6), (8), (2 fast food), (7), (10), (1), (4 full service), and (2 buffet). Number (12) is in 1st. place, followed by (2 first time ) in 2nd., and (4 fast food) in 3rd. Numbers (6), (8), and (2 buffet) are tied for 4th. place. Numbers (7), (10), and (1), and (4 full service) are in last place. Number (2 buffet) has all you can eat, and (4 full service) and (7) have full service. The rest have steam-table fast food, and maybe order-from-the-menu food. They probably all do take out and catering.
Just for comparison, one of the best values I found in the Philippines was an eight or ten couse Chinese meal for about 80-cents. A huge tureen of shark-fin soup was about 50-cents. Yes, that was in the 1960's.
Maps. You'll see this area on the left side of the map at carson.csudh.edu/BigMapOfCarson.htm. And, you can click on things to get more details. Yahoo has a map at maps.yahoo.com/py/maps.py?&csz=Carson,CA,90745. You can zoom in and out, and ask for directions. The map at "long url" zooms and centers on this area. You can zoom in and click on North and South to see the whole area. The circle symbol does not mark the center of Carson, more like the western edge. Or, traffic.maxwell.com/la/index.html reports on freeway traffic, but it doesn't pinpoint Carson. Some of Carson is in the triangle below "Compton," in the left corner. "Little Manila" is in the upper tip of the five sided shape below that. That's the lower-right corner of where the 110 and 405 Freeways cross.
Restaurants: (more details when available)
1. Kim Tar Restaurant B.B.Q., menu says "Filipino-Chinese fastfood"
174 E. Carson St.
Carson, CA 90745
8/7/99 - Their window and menu don't agree. They are closed on Sunday. Open Mon - Fri 10:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Sat 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. They might do breakfast. This may have started as a coffee shop, they had a counter and booths, but now the booths are gone. This place was recommended to me years ago when it just did Chinese, order-from-the-menu food, but it was ordinary. Since then, over the last couple of years, it has gone through, maybe, two phases as a Chinese/Filipino fast food and order-from-the-menu restaurant. I did get a Chinese to-go order since it went Filipino. It didn't taste bad, but I was surprised by the small serving. My mistake, I hadn't watched them load the container. A new sign says 99-cent Chinese food. Several items are available from the steam table. Combo platters with chow mein, fried rice, a small soup, and: 1 item at $2.75, 2 items at $3.50, and 3 items at $4.50. There are 142 items on the menu with food from $3 to $8. They also sell BBQ by the pound. Filipino food is not listed on the menu or signs. Maybe it's only available on the steam table. I haven't been looking or asking, but this place had beer on display.
8/6/99 - It's after 6 p.m. on a Friday night. They have names on the steam-table food, a very good idea. I got the two-item combo with chicken adobo and pork-rib adobo. This comes with fried rice and chow mein, and I forgot to ask if steamed rice was an option. The combo comes with a small soup, and if you don't say anything they give you egg-flower soup which is one of my least favorites. I had called to ask if I could have something else, and the lady said yes. So when I got there she gave me plain chicken broth with a few chopped scallions. This time I wrote it down: she gave me four chunks of pork rib and three chunks of chicken, that's two chunks of thigh and a small leg.
This sounds like a lot of food, in fact I had to ask for a second plate on which to cut the meat. That was the problem. The pork was so tough I almost couldn't cut it with the serrated plasticware knife. I went and asked for metalware and told her why, but she didn't care. In fact the chicken was slightly tough also. When I finished, which didn't take long, the plate was still full. It was all bones, skin, and a little fat with very little meat. I just filled up on the rice, chow main, and soup which were ok.
How does one cook pork ribs and chicken to make them tough? These guys have the secret. It's too bad cause the adobo sauces were mild but rather good. This place moves into a tie for last place. Maybe the Chinese food is better, but don't bet on it.
2. Manila Sunrise
21828 S. Main St.
Carson, CA 90745
I went in and asked for a to-go menu, and they said no. I saw a steam table full of food, but I didn't write down any details. I went here a few years ago cause it was reviewed in the Press-Telegram newspaper. Or I think it was this place. The review didn't say anything bad, but I just went to look.
7/31/99 - This is a review of the fast-food combo plate. It's Saturday evening about 6:00 p.m., and I'm back on the job. Combo plates include rice, a small soup and: 1 item for $2.75, 2 items for $3.50, and 3 items for $4.25. They don't have a menu, just a sign on the wall. A few other items range from $1.20 to $6.50. They're open seven days, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., so they probably do breakfast.
I just walked over to the steam table and ask the girl to please tell me what they had. There wasn't anything I'd had before, and anyway I wanted to try something different. I went for the two item combo, still with steamed rice, a small soup, and two items. I went for a pork stew with vegetables and tomatoes and a chicken adobo. Most all these restaurants have had fish, organ meat, combination dishes, etc., but not many vegetables. This place had just a touch of a good-looking vegetable dish, but I wanted to stay with basic pork, chicken, and beef the first time around.
The chicken adobo had a small leg and two nuggets of chopped-up thigh with the bones. This came in something like a cream sauce. I've had about three adobo dishes so far, and none tasted the same. This was very good, and I didn't taste any vinegar. The pork stew was a spoon full of small chopped pork, a few overcooked vegetables, and a very good sauce. The girl said it had tomatoes, and I tasted, for the first time, a hint of heat, maybe from paprika. I have refrained from speculation on seasoning and tastes, cause I don't have a clue. The pork was maybe a quarter fat, but very tender. About half the rice was a hockey puck, but there was enough good stuff, so I didn't say anything. For the first time the soup had just a suggestion of delayed heat. It was a beef broth with vegetables and was very good. It was salty, but remember what I said about salt in the review for Tita Celia (12).
This place moves into second place behind Tita Celia (12). No pickles or other stuff, just minor condiments and water. As the girl described the dishes to me, three Filipino customers were listening also. They do need signs on the food, nobody knows what it is. They did have a few Filipino newspapers, of which a free and a pay one I haven't seen before.
8/8/99 - Unique! They do an all-you-can-eat buffet seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Adults are $4.95, and children are $2.90. I do suggest buffets as a way to check out a restaurant. It was Sunday, just before noon. The other customers were dressed-up, and I assume many were just getting out of the church next door. I like to graze and eat slowly, and I might have been there almost two hours. They had a lot of customers, mostly getting food to go.
For the all-you-can-eat you get everything on the steam table plus steamed rice. They had two soups, rice porridge, a pork shank?, pork adobo, chicken curry, three fish dishes, ox tail in peanut sauce, a couple of vegetable dishes, organ meat in a thick black sauce, roast pork, and latter they had a sliced beef dish. There were probably more dishes which I forgot. The vegetable dishes included things like banana blossoms, better melon, and oriental eggplant. A couple of the meat dishes included vegetables also. Of the three fish dishes, two were very small, fried fish, one in a sauce. The other fish dish was poached tails.
I tried almost everything. Of the fish, I only tried the one in sauce, and it was extremely over cooked. I skipped the shank? because it was too large. I do wish they could give you small samples of the big stuff, I just didn't want to waste it. I skipped the ox tail meat and just tried the sauce and vegetables; same with the organ meat and chicken curry dishes. I went back a few times just to pick out the vegetables which tended to be slightly overcooked.
Good news - bad news. Nothing was bad, but nothing was good either. Nothing was as good as what I got on the first visit. Maybe Sunday is bland-food day. My first visit put them in second place, but this visit would put them very low on the list. The value was good, but I don't care for bland food. However, I still suggest a buffet as a way to check out a restaurant. Maybe, just stop in, and ask for samples. I do remember a Filipino lady getting two hugh plates full of food, so someone likes it. PS - I want to thank the girl on the steam table. She remembered me from the last time and asked if I wanted a description of the dishes again. Again, a couple of Filipino customers were listening as she described the dishes. RESTAURANTS - please put name tags on your food.
3. Ted's Burgers, menu says "The best burgers in town."
22000 S. Main St.
Carson, CA 90745
Again, someone recommended this place for breakfast years ago. Two breakfast specials give you 2 eggs, 2 bacon or 2 sausage, and either hash browns and toast or 2 hotcakes for $2.29. Good food and lot's of it, but not very fast cause the place gets packed. Menu says they do breakfast all day. A few patio tables are available in front. They have a drive-through window, on the passenger side. Other menu items from $1.25 to $5.45. Sunday thru Thursday: 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.
4. Casa Filipina Restaurant
22102 and 22104 S. Main St.
Carson, CA 90745
phone:310-835-5224, but sit-down menu says 310-835-5507 or 310-835-2193.
8/9/99 - This is two restaurants. 22104 is a sit-down place with table service and a big menu. Everything is a la carte. Dishes from $4.50 to $14.95, most main dishes around $8 or $9, with a few combinations up to $20. This is one of the two full-service Filipino restaurants on the tour. On Saturday entertainment starts a 8 p.m. This section is open late some nights for Karaoke. Call to verify and for details. 22102 is fast food with combo plates: 1 item at $2.50, 2 items at $3.50, and 3 items at $4.50. I forgot to ask about days and hours, so call.
7/24/99 - This is the review of the fast-food section. I had such a good experience last night at Tita Celia (12) that I went back to try another place. It was about 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, and I drove around to see what was happening. Nobody was busy. Then I saw a new sign, something about a summer special for $2.99. They give you two items plus steamed rice and a small bowl of soup for 2.99, rather than the regular price of $3.50. This applies the fast food, steam table section.
I got beef mechado, pork with tofu and black beans, steamed rice, and vegetable soup. The beef was a stew with about one piece of potato and maybe four chunks of beef. Maybe a quarter of the beef was fat, but it was easy to cut off. The pork dish, also a stew, had about two chunks of tofu and three of meat, but the pork was almost all fat. Just a taste of meat. The rice was cold and hard as a rock, but when I complained she brought me a warm portion. The soup was a small bowl of vegetable broth with two pieces of vegetables. They also had a few good, quick pickles in the help-yourself section.
The beef was tender with good flavor, and I'd get it again. I was disappointed by the fatty pork, but the non-fat items tasted good. I'd probably get it again also, but I'd be sure to ask for some meat. The cold rice was sloppy, but she fixed it. For vegetable soup it was ok. I was impressed by the meat sauces, as good as or maybe better than Tita Celia. But, in every other way Tita Celia was better, so they move into first place. All these places have more items then I can mention. Like, these guys had a pork and eggplant patty that sounds good. They also had a couple of free Filipino newspapers.
8/7/99 - This is a review of the sit-down section. Fate left the controversial review for the last Filipino restaurant in this area. It's Saturday night, and I got there about 6 p.m. The girl said there's no waiter till 6:30 p.m., and she invited me to sit and wait. I figured I'd read the menu, and there were a few dishes marked "NEW" that weren't on my to-go menu. After a while the waiter came over. I wanted to try a new, more complicated dish, but I decided to stay with pork adobo (called adobong baboy here) so I could compare it to the other places. I asked, and the waiter said the dish came with "potatoes and something." I figured he meant the "something" was soup, vegetables, or salad, something like that. Another waiter brought the food, just a plate of pork. I asked for the other stuff, and the waiter says everything was a la carte. I bitched, and the waiter said he'd bring rice. He came back with a medium bowl of sticky, steamed rice.
There was a lot of pork on an oval serving platter. It was enough for two, three, or more people to split. They were larger chunks of pork, and I just tried a few of the best looking chunks. These were tender, but slightly stringy, and had some fat on the outside. The disappointing part was the sauce. It was so mild it didn't have much flavor. The rice was just a glob of sticky stuff. I got it to go, and I'll report when I finish the leftovers.
8/10/99 - Bad news on the leftovers. I got them quickly into my 34F degree refrigerator. I heated up some tonight, and it tasted good, but I got sick within two hours. And again in an hour.
I put a $10 bill on the table, and the waiter came back with coins. The pork was $7.25, so with tax it should be $7.85. I asked, and he had charged me $1.50 for rice (a total of $9.47). He never showed me a bill, and I don't think he brought 53-cents in change. Anyway, I bitched about being brought the rice without being told I'd be charged. Especially when the first waiter said the meal included "potatoes and something." I told him I'd leave a $1.50 tip, I left him the rice. The two waiters should be in jail for running a scam.
I left and called and asked for the owner. I explained the situation, and she took the waiters' side but she said I could get my money back. I wasn't sure if she meant $9.47 or $1.62. I was offered $1.50, got $1.50 plus tax, but because I may have been scammed or at least mislead by the waiters, I should have gone for the whole $9.47.
Both sections use the same kitchen and probably the same cook. The tables were dirty, and I had to ask for a knife. No condiments, not even salt and pepper. I got one glass of ice water and no refill. I was the only person in the restaurant. The sit-down side had better quality pork with less taste. The fast-food side had low-quality pork with more flavor. Even if you get this to go and split the pork between three people and make you own rice you're paying $2.42 per person plus tax for bland food. And there's no soup. Value alone puts them tied for last place. An a la carte meal here with just soup, rice, vegetable, and a main dish could add up to $39.90 plus tax per my to-go menu. You decide.
5. Casa Filipina Bakery
22200 S. Main St.
Carson CA, 90745
I went in to look, but no one came to the counter. Just a bakery.
22200 S. Main St.
Carson CA 90745
8/7/99 - A sign says they do breakfast Saturday and Sunday starting at 7:30 a.m. with all items at or under $3.00.
7/25/99 - I returned Sunday, about noon to try a third restaurant. First I stopped in Manila Sunrise (2), but didn't see anything that caught my eye. Then I went here, and the same thing. The pork adobo was dried out, and a beef dish was made with ground meat. I almost ordered a pork stew, but thankfully the lady gave me a sample which I didn't like. It had an unpleasant taste. I got the one item combo with something like Chinese B.B.Q. pork which came with steamed rice and a small bowl of beef broth with traces of vegetables. I forgot the price, think it was $2.75. No menu to go.
The pork was sliced and served in a slightly sweet red sauce. It should be used as an appetizer, not as a meal, but this was ok. It might be spelled tocino. This should be done with pork loin, it was just a little too fatty for me. The rice and the beef soup were good. They also had good quick pickles. In all these places keep an eye out for condiments around the cash register and/or plasticware. You'll probably see vinegar, hot sauces, hot peppers, etc. At least two places had serve-yourself ice water.
My fault, this was a stupid choice to evaluate the restaurant. Of the three I tried so far I'll put this in third place till I can return. Tita Celia (12) is still in first place. There are a couple of tables in the steam-table room, but just to the right is an open, central courtyard with vegetation and two tables. I don't usually sit outside, but I did here. Further to the right, through a door is a larger room with many tables.
7. Mami King, menu says "Mr. Siopao"
22222 S. Main St., #106
Carson, CA 90745
7/26/99 - To-go menu says they have nine types of noodle soup (mami), four types of non-noodle soup, four types of filled-steamed buns (siopao), four a la carte items, one side order, and two deserts with prices from $1.45 to $4.60. Mon through Fri: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sat and Sun: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. This place has sit-down service with waitresses.
8/1/99 - It was Sunday, about noon. It was a warm day, so I didn't want hot soup. Anyway, noodles are better other ways, like even with Italian pasta sauce. If I do have a soup meal, I want something with bold taste. Dough was born to be baked, so I didn't want a steamed bun. I knew I'd have trouble finding something I liked, and I was correct.
I ordered pansit palabok, "a Filipino favorite dish," from the a la carte section. This is thin rice noodles mixes in a thick, yellow sauce with a chicken taste. It was covered with ground, fried pork rind, and there were a few tiny morsels of pork fat. This is the first "constructed" Filipino dish I've seen in this area. It was topped with three, very thin slices of hard-boiled egg and three slices of small, halved shrimp. That's a total of one and a half small shrimp. Chopped scallions added color.
It tasted like salty chicken. After a few seconds it coagulated into a mess, and I left it. This is just a bland starch dish, and at $4.50 it's one of the most expensive I've has in this area. The menu said to allow 15-20 minutes for preparation, but I got mine in about two minutes. Maybe I got the fast-food version. The other customers were eating the noodle soup and/or the steamed buns. Those might be better, and don't go unless you like them. This place moves into last place.
PS - on service. This is the first full-service, Filipino restaurant I've tried in this area. One girl took my order and brought the food. Another girl brought my check and just asked if I wanted to take the leftovers home. It was almost a full plate, and she didn't care. Just like American restaurants. I left a normal tip cause I went in knowing I might not like the food.
8. Manila's Lechon (Manok), menu says "Filipino & Chinese food," but it's mostly Filipino.
118 W. Carson St.
Carson, CA 90745
I think you just pick from the steam table and B.B.Q, and you eat in or to go. They and many others do catering. There is a menu to go, but mostly in Filipino and listing food by the pound. They list breakfast at $3.75, desserts at $1.50 or $1.75, specialties, and combo plates: 1 item at $3.50 or 2 items at $3.99. Catering for 100 is $599.00. I might start with a B.B.Q pork stick at $1.35 or a chicken B.B.Q. (undefined) at $1.55.
7/30/99 - It's Friday night about 7 p.m., and I came over to pick up the free Filipino newspapers which are outside this place on the sidewalk. This time I only saw four papers. By now I know enough to be dangerous, so I go in to order the two-item combo plate for $3.99. I ordered pork adobo and beef mechado and this comes with steamed rice. The lady who came out to help me didn't know what was on the steam table and had to ask someone else. Turned out they weren't on the steam table, and she had to go in the back to get them. All of the other three restaurants I've tried so far give you soup with the combo, so after a while I asked the cashier and she got me a small bowl of "soup with no meat." These prices are a $1 to $1.50 more than I spent last weekend.
The rice and pork were on one plate and the beef was in a bowl. There was a lot of meat, no vegetables, maybe worth the $1. There were about four or five chunks of each, but about a third to a half was fat and stuff I couldn't chew. The beef was warm, but the pork was room temp. It was a warm day, and adobo was a way to preserve meat, so I didn't say anything. Most of the pork was tender, but most of the beef was tough. The adobo sauce was stronger here, I could taste a trace of vinegar. The mechado sauce was good, but not quite as good as Casa Filipina (4). The soup was beef broth with onions and tasted like boiled onions, just fair. There were a couple of condiments on the tables, but I didn't see any help-yourself stuff except water. Since I didn't ask, I'm not even sure if the server gave me everything.
This place has a lot of different kinds of food. Remember there's more food in the back. About half the customers here and elsewhere get food to go. One guy was ordering chicken skin as I left. Compared to the meals I've had at the other local restaurants I'm not sure this is worth $3.99. Tita Celia (12) is still in first place, and I'll put this place as tied for third place.
PS - to help that confused server and new people like me, it would help to put names on the dishes. Many ethnic buffets do it. I think it could increase their business by making the food more user friendly. I'm more likely to try a new dish if I at least know the name.
9. Naga Bakery
124 W. Carson St.
Carson, CA 90745
I just looked in the door, and they had customers.
10. China King
148 W. Carson St.
Carson, CA 90745
I did try the BBQ pork combo plate in the last year, and it was ok. Combo plates include fried or steamed rice, chow mein, and one item for $2.70. And, there was enough pork and stuff for the next day. You can order from a menu with items from 40-cents to $3.75. A quart of BBQ pork is $6.50. This place is listed in case you chicken out on Filipino food. Menu says hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days.
8/1/99 - This Sunday was a bad day in Little Manila. First I went to Kim Tar Restaurant B.B.Q., but they're closed on Sunday. Then I tried Mami King, and I was still hungry, so I came here about 1 p.m. I got the two-item combo which comes with fried rice, chow mein and two items for $3.50. I forgot to ask for steamed rice, so they give you fried rice. I got a boneless chicken thigh and pork ribs in brown sauce. There was no extra stuff except soy sauce, and I didn't even see any water.
The pork was nine chunks of pork ribs, mostly with the bone. A lot of fat and bone. The chicken was a boneless thigh with the skin which was flattened and fried. The chicken was very greasy, not what I want to eat with my fingers, and chop sticks aren't practical for a whole thigh. There weren't any plastic knives, and when I asked for one I was told they would chop it up for me. I wanted to eat there, but I just took the whole thing home.
It's still in the refrigerator. The fried rice and chow mein were ok. I just tried a couple of better-looking pork chunks, and they were tender. The chicken was dry, overcooked, and greasy. Problem: everything just tasted like soy sauce; it was bland, non-caring cooking. Maybe I didn't make the best choices, but based on having interesting food, these guys are in last place. However, based on having the most bland food for the money, they're about in first place.
8/4/99 - I made two meals out of the leftovers, and it tasted ok. I might have to upgrade their score.
11. Chowking (in Seafood City Supermarket)
31 W. Carson St.
Carson, CA 90745
phone: not yet
8/14/99 - The supermarket is open, but they're still building the several shops in front. At first the sign said Chowling, now it says Chowking. Likely to be Filipino rather than Chinese food. Another new sign says Sizzling Pnoy, and there may also be a bakery.
12. Tita Celia, menu says "The pride of Bulacan in Carson"
241 W. Carson St.
Carson, CA 90745
They do have a menu to-go, mostly in Filipino. Combo plates with rice and soup: 1 item at $2.50, 2 items at $3.50, and 3 items at $5.25. Menu also lists breakfast with no price, short orders mostly at $3.50, and catering items up to $95. Hours are listed as 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., closed Sunday.
7/23/99 - I went here on Friday, about 8 p.m. for a one-item combo plate at $2.50. You get one item with steamed, white, slightly sticky rice, and a small bowl of soup. I checked out the steam table and asked the girl what she thought I might like. She told me about pork adobo, beef mechado, and something else, and I picked the pork. This was chunks of pork stewed in vinegar and other stuff. The pork came out very tender and tasty, and I didn't even notice the vinegar. And the sauce was great also, very rich. At this price I was afraid the meat would be very fatty or tough, but it wasn't. I don't remember seeing any fat from the outside, and there was only a little fat on the inside. I appreciate that. I forget to count how many chunks of pork I got, but I would guess about six, and that made a good meal. The soup was beef broth with chunks of vegetables and was very good also. This was a very good meal, and afterwards I went over and thanked them. This type of food holds up very well on a steam table. They don't have air conditioning, so you might want to sit by the fan. PS - These places tend to rotate dishes, so if you want something specific, it's better call first and check.
A note on salt. On their own, the pork sauce was a little salty and the soup was rather salty compared to the way I cook. Perhaps the salt concentrated from sitting on the steam table, perhaps that's the way customers want it, or perhaps it's like the Chinese "rice-pushing" dishes. In southern China (except at banquets) rice is the meal, and the other dishes are eaten in small quantities to help "push down" the rice. So "rice-pushing" dishes tend to be overly tasty and perhaps salty to overcome the bland, steamed rice.