Over the past month, sophomore Jackson Margolis visited seven restaurants and food shops in the newly remodeled UV at 458 Howe Ave. and seven similar restaurants in Loehmann’s Plaza (LP) at 2577 Fair Oaks Blvd. He then compared each restaurant from the UV with the place most similar to it in LP.
With new places to eat in the University Village (now called “the UV”), Loehmann’s Plaza, which has been the most popular shopping center for Country Day students, might be in store for a little healthy competition.
Over the last year, the UV underwent a $15 million renovation, according to the UV’s website, which involved the incorporation of 14 more stores and restaurants, the modernization of the landscape and the addition of outdoor art by local metal artist Jagged Edge.
In addition, the new patio gives the UV a much more appealing open-air dining space.
Though the patio is useful only during the warmer months, the community feeling that it creates makes the UV seem more like a local shopping center than a large outdoor mall.
That said, since LP will always have the advantage of being closer to the school, the UV needs to be noticeably better to attract students.
And though Poke Noke and Pieology are solid restaurants, they are not dramatically better than the restaurants in Loehmann’s.
Though the parking is a bear at LP, the UV’s fewer spaces and enclosed landscaping make it even more challenging.
I understand that the UV is trying to make a center where people will stay in the patio area and eat and enjoy the space for several hours, but this idea is not what students are looking for.
The beauty of LP is that you can grab a bite and spend more time parking your car than waiting for your food.
Chipotle vs. Pieology
If you want your food fast, but fast food isn’t your cup of tea, head over to Pieology (UV) or Chipotle (LP) for less-than-authentic (but still tasty) takes on Italian and Mexican cuisine.
Like Chipotle, at Pieology your food is made by an employee as you order and pick your toppings.
Pieology offers three crust options, including gluten-free; seven sauce options, including house red and fiery buffalo; five cheese options; seven meat options, which include spicy chicken and Canadian bacon; and finally 16 veggies, such as pineapple and Kalamata olives.
I ordered an individual pizza with pesto, mozzarella, corn, pineapple and tomatoes. For someone who has never been part of the “pizza is the best food ever” movement, my mindset of the Italian pie was about to be redirected.
Soaking into the fluffy yet firm dough, which was covered in gooey cheese, the pesto was truly a masterpiece made in foodology heaven.
And it was worth the $8.49.
Not to mention, the next time I go, I might try the red sauce and add gorgonzola, in an attempt to find my perfect pizza masterpiece.
Chipotle is simpler and less flavorful, yet cheaper and more filling. I would still rather go to Chipotle because I’ve mastered my burrito combination there (light black beans, heavy rice, sour cream, pico de gallo, cheese, guacamole and lettuce). But I’m sure that after a while I will find my perfect Pieology pizza, too.
And I haven’t even mentioned wait time yet.
Both restaurants pride themselves on speed – cooking a pizza or preparing a burrito in 10 minutes or less makes both worthy of the praise.
Even though Pieology is a little more expensive and slower, I guarantee after one taste you’ll want to go back. Just don’t forget about Chipotle.
Pinkberry vs. Menchies
If you’re in the mood for ice cream but are trying to avoid the fat, head over to Menchie’s (UV) or Pinkberry (LP) for a silky, refreshing treat. That being said, not all frozen yogurt shops are created equally.
Menchie’s is a childlike swirl of sweet toppings, fun flavor names (such as Milk Chocolate Mania) and tasty, freshly made waffle cones.
Though its dairy-free flavors, Dole Pineapple and Mango Sorbet, are somewhat bland, other flavors (like Banana Pudding and Peanut Butter Brownie) are sure to send you on a sugar-filled ride to your childhood.
On the other hand, Pinkberry, with its luxurious interior design, is targeted toward teenagers and adults. It has smoother, more natural-tasting yogurt but at a price.
Though Pinkberry’s yogurt might be more flavorful, especially the Coconut Milk Coconut and Pinkbee’s Chocolate, the fact that the employees create your order takes the fun out of the do-it-yourself experience that Menchie’s captures perfectly.
Look, I no longer eat beef, but before I cut it out, I tried their “innovatively” named signature burger, the Smashburger.
The burger was a slab of mystery meat, and the bread was about as flavorful as white snow. The tomato and lettuce were adequate but not nearly as fresh as In-N-Out Burger’s. Not to mention the grease dripping from the burger not only tasted unpleasant but also made my palms sticky.
If you enjoy In-N-Out’s simple yet exquisite hamburger, the Smashburger isn’t your cup of tea.
The hamburger gave me the perception that the restaurant has replaced all of In-N-Out’s fresh and pungent ingredients with dull and over-fried ones.
So save yourself the trouble, and don’t indulge in fast food. Or if you must, choose somewhere cheap. LP and the UV aren’t for fast food.
Beach Hut Deli vs. Jimmy John’s
My dad always tells me that when he was a kid, he wished that instead of a McDonald’s or a Burger King on every corner, there were chain sandwich shops.
Well, for my dad and many others, Beach Hut Deli (LP) and Jimmy John’s Sandwiches (UV) are their wish come true.
If you’re in a hurry, head over to Jimmy’s, but if you want a sandwich with fresher-tasting ingredients, such as crisp lettuce and creamy avocado, Beach Hut is the place.
Along with set meat and veggie sandwiches on both of the restaurants’ menus, at both places you can also choose to create your own, which is what I did. For both sandwiches, I chose provolone, tomato, lettuce, avocado and light mayo on a slightly toasted French roll.
I enjoyed my sandwich more at Beach Hut, because the ingredients tasted fresher and there was a lot more of them. But I don’t think of sandwiches as a “sit-down” meal kind of food, so I will probably head over to Jimmy’s more frequently for their almost-as-good sandwiches that are made much more rapidly.
Although both restaurants’ claims to gourmet status are somewhat of a stretch, Jimmy’s and Beach Hut still have high-end sandwiches that are better than almost any sandwich you would make for yourself at home because of the selection of ingredients.
Jamba Juice vs. Pearls
Though the many textures of the UV’s Pearls’ icies look complex and flavorful compared to the boring old fruit smoothies at LP’s Jamba Juice, Jamba still wins out in terms of flavor.
At Pearls I ordered a Strawberry Lychee icy with boba, which was basically a frozen artificial smoothie with little chewy balls of honey tapioca at the bottom, and after the first sip, I couldn’t believe that I had waited so long before trying this sweet delicacy.
But about a third of the way through the drink, the sweetness and the boba stuck in my straw began to seem bland, something that the fresh-tasting Peach Perfection at Jamba never does.
Unlike my icy, Peach Perfection had so many flavors going on that it was almost impossible to grow bored with it midway through.
Jamba Juice isn’t revolutionary, but its not-too-sweet yet not-too-healthy-tasting smoothies will continue to bring people to the chain’s blender-filled shops – until people realize how cheap and easy it is to make their own smoothies.
I do recommend trying boba in a smoothie at Pearls, but I predict Jamba will eventually catch on and add boba to its own menu, creating more interesting Asian-influenced smoothies.
Bento Box vs. Poke Noke
Until I tried Poke Noke, sushi was my favorite food.
Its simple yet deep flavor has always baffled and intrigued my taste buds.
Poke is just a better version of sushi, and Poke Noke is one of the fastest, yet finest, Japanese restaurants in town.
My $12 bowl was a combination of wonton chips, rice, spicy mayonnaise, avocado, salmon and “masago” (fish eggs).
These simple ingredients formed a mouth-watering, Hawaiian-influenced sushi bowl.
Poke Noke, the highlight of the UV, is arguably the best restaurant in either of the plazas.
I wish I could say the same about LP’s sad attempt at a Japanese restaurant: Bento Box.
Bento is much slower and has an ugly interior design; the fake and dirty plants and ceramic owl reflect the quality of the food.
Just look at the Adventure Roll ($15.95) – it contains everything that is wrong with American Japanese food.
To begin with, it’s completely soaked in their “special sauce,” a combination of mayonnaise and something spicy like sriracha. And that sauce isn’t used for flavor but as a way to cover up the other unsatisfying elements, such as over-fried shrimp, what I’m assuming is imitation crab, and more cream cheese than fits on a bagel.
Bento is also more expensive, so if you really have a hankering for sushi, have it in a bowl with fresher ingredients at Poke.
—All reviews by Jackson Margolis
Originally posted in the March 6 edition of the Octagon.