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California, Inland (from north to south, but not the coast)

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Ridgecres;, Visalio; Merced

I travel to random places in California quite often, and there isn't necessarily enough to report to start seperate threads, so I thought this might come in handy! In case anyone is interested, I've had some luck at a few out-of-the-way spots lately.

In Ridegcrest we ate twice at Pho Grand. The pho there is acceptable-fine, which is already a great find in the high desert hundreds of miles from a big city, but the rice plates are simply outstanding. The white rice itself is perfectly cooked, which only makes even better fried rice. The person manning the wok knows exactly what s/he is doing and each grain is fluffy, coated with soy sauce, and evenly mixed with the other ingredients. You get a platter of rice with plenty of grilled topping of your choice (or curry specials, which are also excellent), along with a small cup of pho broth to drink alongside. The fried spring rolls are only ok, rather overstuffed with pork (brings to mind lumpia), but the fresh rollls are better - be sure to ask for mint and cilantro in your rolls, which they will happily include, as they have taken the herbs out of regular service because people didn't like it (our waitress was thrilled we asked, and upon finding out where we were from, traded stories about favorite spots at the Eden Center, small world!). It's a pretty little place and the server (one) is very sweet, if sometimes overwhelmed during busy periods. It would be a place I would seek out even here in DC for the skill and value shown in the rice plates.

We also ate at Tokyo House with a coworker. We stuck to the tepanyaki, which was boring and fine and made us wish we were back at Pho Grand.

In Visalia, we had a couple of hits as well. Cafe 225 has a surprisingly flavorful ahi tuna salad (called the Hawaiian), dressed with sesame oil and including a bit of seaweed salad. Unfortunately, I didn't order it (only stole a few meager bites) and had to make do with mediocre pizza. The tacos were also unremarkable. It is, however, one of the few non-fast-food establishments open past 9 PM on a weekday, and we were accordingly grateful.

We had great luck at Xiong Pho N Seafood, which has some of the best pho broth I've ever tasted, with no desert mouth afterwards to pay for it! Fragrant, flavorful, and nuanced, but without or with very little MSG. The spring rolls (both fried and fresh) are also very good and the other entrees seem to be a tremendous value. We got a whole fried tilapia (good-sized) in a tangy brown sauce for less than 10 dollars.

In Merced, Thai Cuisine is just fine (heaping portions of sweetish rice and noodle plates), unless you're in the mood for soups. They only serve family-sized bowls in the huge tureens (appropriate for serving four, or making a more than adequate meal for 1). Our vegetarian Tom Yum soup was bursting with every kind of vegetable (must have been a kitchen dump for excess veg, but none were spoiled or yucky-looking or tasting) and absolutely hit the spot on a cool evening.

Anyone else have recoomendations? Yelp, though nearly ubiquitous, isn't terribly reliable and I'm always looking for decent-to-great food on the road!

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Yuba City; Davis; Vacaville; Turlock

More random California wanderings...

In Yuba City, the Tortilleria Flores has been pretty reliable for authentic and tasty Mexican fare. It's a mom and pop that includes a few aisles of groceries. The chiles rellenos platter is huge and satisfying, with thick but not-too-heavy breading, lots of gooey white cheese, and a choice of chili verde or chili colorado to top it. Having tried both, we liked the verde sauce better, but prefer the beef in the Colorado red sauce over the pork in the verde sauce. Next time, the very sweet waitress said we could ask for the beef and the verde sauce, and we will try that! The tortilla chips are crisp and light and worth eating with the fresh salsa.

In Davis, Shanghai Town is a hole in the wall gem. It was steadily busy with seated service and takeout and we know why. Lots of tables were getting huge turreens of soup to share. We ended up with the beef curry soup and it was mildly spicy and wholly satisfying. We also got the xiao long bao (steamed baby buns) and the fried baby buns. The filling in the XLB was only adequately flavored, but the skin was thin yet thick enough not to break, with lovely soup inside. The fried buns were thicker skinned and perfectly fried, with an extremely flavorful filling and a crunchy bottom. Bliss!! But the best part of the meal was the incredible dish of baby pea shoots. A big plate piled high was only $8, and the stalks were lightly wilted but still crisp, with just the right amount of garlic and salt, and a pool of light brothy sauce. It felt so light and healthy to eat over rice, and was a great antidote to the fried buns. There are also a lot of regular meat and vegetable dishes available, in addition to snacky things. We saw many things we would try, and if we are ever in the neighborhood again, will definitely swing by to do so.

Also in Davis, the Old Tea House is a decent spot to grab a quick lunch. The customers skew very young, mostly populated with Asian students drinking bubble tea and eating snacks or noodles. The portions are huge, but if you have a little more time, Shanghai Town is only a few miles away...

In Vacaville, Gourmet Exprezz is a perfectly adequate place to grab or take out some quick Mediterranean food. It's so clean it gleams, and the gyro and lamb shwarma meat are very good. The yogurt sauce is excellent, and the mashed potatoes are terrible. Stick with the sandwiches!

In Turlock, Chong's Cuisine is also a decent lunch spot. The pork buns are forgettable, don't bother, but their volcano shrimp is a huge plate (9-10 medium shrimp) of light and crunchy fried shrimp in sweet and sour sauce over a generous portion of still-crisp vegetables for $10. An excellent value! They also have Thai food, such as the typical noodle dishes, and the pad se ew is adequate, though nothing special.

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The Dumpling House lives up to its name and is worth a visit if you're in the mood for homemade dumplings, dumplings, dumplings. Got the pan-fried pork dumplings, steamed pork and chive, and deep-fried chicken. Besides the differences from the cooking styles, the insides tasted distinctly different as well. The skins are just thick enough to be pleasantly chewy and we liked all three fillings (and believe we got them each with the correct preparation - more strongly flavored fillings = less need for oil). It's simple, no-frills, fare, but you'll stuff yourself silly and enjoy it. They also have a few vegetable and rice bowls dishes, and, oddly enough, fish and chips (it's co-located with another restaurant, but we didn't try any of these except for a dish of green beans, opting for maximum dumpling consumption (but needing some leavening. The beans were good but the dumplings are what you go for). Service is basic but perfectly adequate and prices are reasonable. I'd go here all the time if I lived close by!

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Kabob and Gyro House  is a downtown lunchtime gem, and the line at noon reflects that. They have juicy and tender kabobs cooked to order, tangy hummus, and lightly dressed, ordinary but pleasing Mediterranean salads. The chicken kabobs are worth eating - I got the chicken and ground beef kabob combos 2 days in a row! My coworkers liked their shwarma, Mediterranean plates, and baklava and were surprised but pleased that I wanted to go back on day 2 (apparently I'm picky? :P). It's a tiny, deli-like space, fast-casual table service, with welcoming staff and water and takeout materials already laid out for your convenience in the corner.

Thanh Thanh Sandwiches is a random, tiny, strip-mall spot with CHEAP and more than decent food. The full-size banh mi hover around $3 (most are $2.75) and the fried spring rolls are $0.50 a piece (which I loved, because you could then customize the size of your order). That's their focus, though they do have some bun bowls and smoothies. I got the roast and bbq pork sandwiches - fair portion of meat, crusty/soft (as appropriate) bread, and the balance of the pickles and other veggies/herbs was good. The roast pork by itself was bland. The spring rolls ( I got chicken, but I think you can get pork and shrimp) are ordinary but nice when fried fresh (they also have them on a steam table, but will make them fresh if you need more than they have or presumably if you ask nicely). This was a perfect takeout (they only have 1 table), eat-in-the-hotel-alone meal. I got way too much food and only spent $10, including tip!

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