1831 Briargate Blvd., 532-0110
If you want really good Thai food, you should probably go to a restaurant that cooks only Thai food. Mandarin Bistro cooks about 90 percent Chinese, with only a small Thai selection. Still, I was tempted, so aside from a serving of very standard egg rolls ($2), I ordered green curry chicken ($8.55) and house pad Thai ($8.95) plates, universal Thai-food favorites and easy indicators of skill.
First bites of both dishes revealed an overuse of sugar — too much extra sweetness, when plenty of starch is present already. (Not to mention, too much extra sweetness for savory items.) Ordered hot, the chicken was tame until I bit into hot pepper slivers, which is to say the heat didn't really get incorporated in a balanced way. The pad Thai was plenty peanutty, but otherwise average. Nothing unpleasant, but overall, no Koh Phangan full-moon party in my mouth. — Matthew Schniper
16 S. Walnut St., 636-2286, westernomelette.com
Western Omelette's a place where you can find a large man, wearing suspenders and a camouflage baseball hat, holding his plate closer to his mouth so he can better shovel in the good stuff. It's also a place where, against a restaurant-wide Native American motif, personable servers describe the green chili by saying they're "too white" for it. (And, Lord, is that stuff hot: While I'm not a fan of its thick, gravy-like texture, it's as spiked with habañeros as advertised.)
Elsewhere on the menu lie the Monte Cristo ($9.15) and the corned beef hash ($7.59). Though the former's traditionally dipped in batter and fried, this version takes a French-toast-sandwich approach, coming steaming hot with a side of onion rings, and full of perfectly fine grilled ham and turkey, and Swiss and American cheeses. As for the latter, ours sported a little too much char, but had the edge taken off with a gooey fried egg. — Bryce Crawford
The Blue Star
1645 S. Tejon St., 632-1086, thebluestar.net
Since our last visit to the Blue Star, then under short-lived chef Daniel Gerson, the kitchen's seen the collaborative command of head chef Andrew Sherrill and sous chefs Mark Henry and Will Merwin. And as boys will, they've been tinkering — lately in the realm of house-made charcuterie, such as a rosemary bourbon venison sausage.
But I stopped in to try new items on the summer lunch menu: a bright seabass ceviche starter ($9) layered with avocado and a lively, herby olive-onion chop; a seasonally smart, chilled bowl of vichyssoise ($6), with a nice blue-cheese-walnut garnish; and a watermelon salad ($8). The salad put forth a fan of the fruit, supposedly compressed with St. Germain liqueur, but I couldn't taste any elderflower beside a wild tuft of arugula under-dressed in white balsamic with some Pecorino shavings. As always, almost all good. — Matthew Schniper