Fenton’s Creamery – not in Oakland, CA

If you’ve ever watched Disney/Pixar’s animated movie Up!, then you’ve undoubtedly noticed the scene where Mr. Fredrickson and Russell are enjoying some ice cream at Fenton’s. That ice cream parlor is actually located in Oakland, CA.

I bet you didn’t know that there are actually two Fenton’s Creamery’s in the Bay Area! If you live or ever venture near the Napa Valley, Vallejo, American Canyon, or Vacaville, then you’re in luck if you want to have some of the best ice cream around.

Located near the outlets at the Nut Tree in Vacaville, Fenton’s offers a fun, family friendly, dining experience in a lively atmosphere. The food is great and there are plenty of options from sandwiches, burgers, and salads. I’ve had their burgers, my kids love the grilled cheese sandwiches. The tuna sandwich is also a good choice as is the crab sandwich which my wife loves.

No matter what food you choose to eat, you have to close out your meal with some sort of an ice cream dessert. Our family has never been disappointed by the banana split with traditional flavors, strawberry and hot fudge toppings, almonds, and whipped cream. The servings are huge that our big family can be totally satisfied with a Jr. Banana Split. My wife and I split a kid sized banana split and it’s more than enough for the two of us.


The Kitchen Door – Oxbow Market in downtown Napa, CA

Downtown Napa's The Kitchen Door Entry at Oxbow MarketThe Kitchen Door Dining AreaKitchen-Door-Napa-John-Gamboa-5  Kitchen-Door-Napa-John-Gamboa-4Kitchen-Door-Napa-John-Gamboa-1  Kitchen-Door-Napa-John-Gamboa-3

Aroma in Benicia – John Gamboa

If you know me, I’m not a big Indian (Asia, not Native American) cuisine aficionado. I don’t eat Indian food but once every 5 years. That’s how little I eat Indian food. Not that I hate it but I don’t crave Indian food very much.

However, a friend of mine wanted to celebrate a big occasion with a meal at an Indian restaurant and their choice for the celebratory meal was Aroma’s in Benicia. Benicia, California is a small town in Solano County near the Napa Valley and is a sister city to Vallejo, California. A little fun fact – Benicia used to be the state capitol of California and it was for 13 months in the 1800’s according to

Aroma is located in the historic part of Benicia on First Street. First Street is filled with local shops and eateries. It’s a nice place to take a stroll on a sunny afternoon and if you walk all the way at the end, you end up at Benicia Point which juts into the Carquinez Strait.

Back to Aroma. We went during lunch on a Saturday and it was not busy at all. I was a little worried because that usually means the food isn’t good but my friend recommended it so I trusted their judgment. The interior decor is pretty nice and clean. Tibetan and Indian artwork is scattered around the restaurant. A statue of the Hindu god Ganesha has its own spot perched in its shrine, too.

Aroma Buffet Line

Buffet counter at Aroma Indian Restaurant in Benicia

The service at Aroma was pretty good and that’s to be expected being that we were the only group dining at the time. For appetizers we ordered the assorted naan and chutney. Naan and chutney is pretty much flatbread and sauces. The garlic and plain naan were very good with the chutney. Mango and tamarind chutney are the sweet ones of the three. I forgot what the 3rd chutney was, but it was herby and green. The third type of naan in the assortment was the onion which to me was ok. Not bad, but not great tasting.

We also tried the Chicken Biryani for an appetizer and that was a delightful surprise. All of us said that we could have just had that and some naan and we’d be sated for the afternoon. It’s just the right size for a single serving that one could just have that for their meal. It’s flavorful and pretty hearty. We got it in MILD spicyness.

Aroma Appetizers

Chutney (top left) Chicken Biryani (middle) Assorted Naan (right)

For my main dish, I had the Chicken Tikka Masala and the level of spice – HOT. There’s one more level above that – EXTRA HOT. I love spicy. I put Sriracha in my pho until the soup is bright red and for those of you who know, even light orange is spicy for a lot of people. HOT at Aroma is probably the top of my spicy tolerance meter but it was excellent with the side of long grain rice. It came with some white sauce – I don’t remember what it was but it added a subtle creamy taste to the Masala. It was pretty good. I still rank the Chicken Biryani higher than the Masala but I would eat them both now that I’ve had them.

Rice Chicken Masala Chicken Biryani

Rice, Chicken Biryani, Chicken Tikka Masala, Some White Sauce

Personally, I would come back if I ever craved Indian or if someone were to ask me to go there. My wife has developed a palate for Indian food so I would definitely come here if she were to develop a sudden desire to chow down on good Indian cooking. Check it out iif you’re in the Benicia-Vallejo area. The stroll down First Street will be a nice addition to your visit.

OH! They have a buffet for around $10 if you ever come during those times. I certainly will try to make it in one day and try all that Aroma’s buffet has to offer and maybe I, too, will develop a taste for Indian food!

Napa Junction in American Canyon Has Food and Drinks – John Gamboa

Napa Junction Shopping Center Marquee - American Canyon - John GamboaHilo Hawaiian BBQ - Napa Junction Shopping Center - American Canyon Starbucks - Napa Junction Shopping Center - American Canyon Jamba Juice - Napa Junction Shopping Center - American Canyon Sonic - Napa Junction Shopping Center - American Canyon  Wing Stop - Over The Top - Napa Junction Shopping Center - American Canyon Panda Express - Napa Junction Shopping Center - American Canyon Subway - Napa Junction Shopping Center - American Canyon Court - Napa Junction Shopping Center - American Canyon

Mankas Steakhouse in historic location in Fairfield California

In a secluded rural area in an unincorporated section of Fairfield, California is a spot called Mankas Corner. It used to be a pretty important junction in the late 19th century. Check out Wikipedia for the historic relevance of this unique location. I’ll leave it to you to check out its place in history but this post is about what sits there, Mankas Steakhouse.


Mankas Steakhouse storefront – Fairfield, CA

The front of the restaurant has that wild west feel to it paying tribute to its roots of being a general store back in the day. Can you hear the horses neighing and the spurs clanging against the boardwalk?


Mankas Corner

Though the boardwalk has been replace by concrete, it now has some functionality other than just a place to walk. The front of the restaurant has a little table for two. Probably a place to chill while you sip on some wine wait for your table. There’s also a metal-man sculpture out front which reminds me of Robots – the Robin Williams animated movie about, well, robots.


Mankas Corner cafe table


Mankas Corner metal man sculpture

Inside feels rustic. Lots of bronze, stone, metal, and dark wood.


Mankas Steakhouse Wine Wall Rack


Mankas Steakhouse Exposed Ductwork and Tin Lampshades


Mankas Steakhouse Big Round Clock

The decor of Mankas Steakhouse gives it a cozy, soft, romantic feel. I don’t have any pictures but they do have outdoor seating with an outdoor stone fireplace as a centerpiece. Wine glasses and cloth napkins adorn the tables. White tablecloth and metal sculpture topped our table.

Mankas is a fine dining restaurant but the prices aren’t so out there like one might expect. And for the money you get pretty good food coupled with ambiance for you and a date (mine happens to be my wife!) to share a lovely dinner together. Or in our case a nice family dinner with our kids to celebrate Mother’s Day. I was surprised that Mankas wasn’t fully booked and that we were able to secure a reservation on Mother’s Day.

Side story. We were short on funds and so for Mother’s Day our kids pitched in so their mommy could have a nice dinner out.


Mankas Steakhouse Menu

For appetizers we chose the Yelp recommended lobster bisque and it was pretty good. Used it as a dip with the fresh bread which has a crunchy crust and moist center and that made it even better. The bowl it came in was different. High at one end it looked like a nice artsy piece of tableware. About the bread…it’s really nice to get bread that’s really good. It sets the tone for an enjoyable dinner or one that’s just blah. Mankas’ bread is baked fresh and brought to you straight from the oven with butter that’s just so good with it.


Mankas Steakhouse Fresh Bread and Butter


Mankas Steakhouse Lobster Bisque

For the main dishes we had mac and cheese. Really! Not for us! For the younger kids! Seems that it’s what they look for no matter where we eat.

But for us older guests, Ribeye and Filet Mignon. I can’t say much about the Filet Mignon because our eldest ordered that about which he commented “It’s a filet mignon” when asked how it was, but I can tell you the Ribeye is prepared wonderfully. Tasty, juicy, and tender. We had creamy horse radish and that is a must for us when we order ribeye or prime rib. The creamy mashed potato was shaped like a flower and the petal edges were crispy. Nicely done. The creamed peas with cipollini onion had a nice flavor to it as well. Taken altogether made for an enjoyable palette experience.


Mankas Steakhouse Filet Mignon


Mankas Steakhouse Ribeye

We really enjoyed our dinner at Mankas Steakhouse in Fairfield, and it’s a great place for fine dining and even though it feels like you’re out in the middle of nowhere, you’re really only 10 minutes from i-80.

And for a nice romantic dinner or a nice dining experience with your entire family, it’s worth the little drive to come here.

Don’t know much Pieology…

My lady and I were in Fairfield, CA craving some food one day so she went onto her Yelp app on her Lumia 830 Windows phone to see what’s good to eat near where we were. Scrolling through the list of places to eat for one dollar and 2 dollar pricing, she found this place called Pieology Pizzeria. It had good ratings so we decided to check it out.

Woah, it felt like I was in a Chipotle but instead of burritos, I’m looking at pizza. Interesting. That’s basically what it is, you choose how you want your pizza to be topped and they make it for you. The selection of toppings is pretty vast (no anchovies as my wife found out). Different cheeses, meats, veggies, and sauces. The pizzas are thin crust from what I was able to see based on some orders that went through as we were selecting our toppings. I let my wife build up our pizza while I snapped a few photos.

Pieology view from the entrance. Fairfield, CA

Pieology view from the entrance.
Fairfield, CA

Pieology at the counter

Pieology at the counter

This Pieology has modern decor as you can see from the above photos. Industrial ceiling above with exposed ventilation ducts. The use of tiles, metal, wood throughout as well as sharp corners add to the modern feel. The stainless steel oven is center stage behind the counter. It’s very nicely designed and I have a feeling all the other Pieology franchises look like this. A nice unique feature is the mural wall of inspirational quotes.

One of the quotes on Pieology's quote wall

One of the quotes on Pieology’s quote wall

One of the quotes on Pieology's quote wall

One of the quotes on Pieology’s quote wall

One of the quotes on Pieology's quote wall - John Gamboa

One of the quotes on Pieology’s quote wall

Quotes from different sources are spread out all over the wall and as you wait in line to place your order, it provides nice uplifting thoughts adding to the positive experience of your visit. At least it did for me.

When you get to the counter you are greeted by a host/pizza preparer with an ingredient bar in between you and them organized in the order you would normally place toppings onto a pizza. Sauces, then toppings. Not much to it.

Pieology choices - John Gamboa

Pieology choices

I don’t know about you, but at first this can seem daunting if you’re used to ordering pre-determined pizzas like pepperoni and mushrooms. You assume tomato sauce is the sauce and you get exactly that. At Pieology, having to choose a sauce puts a little delay in the though process. I’m sure a few times here, you’ll get used to it. BUT, if you get all flustered and bogged down by having to make decisions, they do provide a menu of pizzas you can choose from. Thank God my wife was there to build up our custom pizza otherwise I would have gone with one of their pizzas with predetermined ingredients. I think the “Mad to Meat You” pizza looks enticing.

Pielogy Menu

For those who just don’t feel like thinking too hard, there’s this menu.

Our pizza was excellent. I like thin crust to begin with and the toppings my wife picked were excellent. And for the sauce – pesto. What? No red sauce?!

Not this time.

My wife's Pieology creation

My wife’s Pieology creation

Only 2 slices left - Pieology - John Gamboa

Only 2 slices left – Pieology

Pieology in Fairfield is located at the Gateway Couryard shopping center within 20 minutes of Vallejo, Napa, and American Canyon in Solano County. Being a franchise, there are many Pieology Pizzerias throughout California as well as some scattered throughout the country.

Black Bear Diner in Vallejo

In the northern part of Vallejo close to Discovery Kingdom is shopping area where a lot Vallejoans get their wears and grub on. A few years ago a long time eating establishment by the name of Lyons closed their doors. Lyons died a slow death and unfortunately (or fortunately) saw its demise in early 2011 but out of its remains rose the Black Bear Diner which opened its doors in the summer that same year.

The first time I ever ate at a Black Bear Diner was in Suisun and to me it seemed like a super suburban type of place – almost country – that served good food and had good service. There’s a lot of wood used in the decor. Of course a Black Bear statue or several of them stand guard inside and out of the restaurant. The one in Vallejo even has a log toy train with little bears on them and my kids didn’t hesitate climbing atop and pretending to ride it and acted like they were friends with these cub statues. Adding to the ambiance, the menu looks like a old time newspaper from small town. You get the idea. It’s like you’re out in the country where black bears may join you for dinner.

Newspaper Menu

Newspaper Menu

The decor does make the restaurant feel livelier compared to Lyon’s during its last months. Where Lyons felt a little drab and depressing, Black Bear Diner is bright and cozy. I’ve been to Black Bear Diner four times in the last year and each time it was busy enough that I’ve had to wait. It’s a good sign. A busy restaurant (no matter the Yelp ratings) is a good thing to me. It means that people like the food enough to pay for it. The food is somewhat fresh because of turnover. As more people eat, the more food has to be brought in. And the service is decent enough that it doesn’t turn away customers.

newspaper menu

Black Bear Diner newspaper menu

Prices at Black Bear are right where a restaurant in a bedroom town like Vallejo should be – affordable. For a family like mine with 5 kids – 4 with restaurantable appetites – affordable is important. A burger, fries, and a shake with extra tin cup for the extra for under $15 bucks is welcome. Steak dinners for under $20 – pretty good.

Burger, Fries, and a Shake - John Gamboa - Vallejo

Burger, Fries, and a Shake

If you know me, my biggest criteria in deciding whether I’m going to enjoy my visit to a restaurant is the dessert menu. Good thing Black Bear Diner has banana cream pies in the dessert display fridge. Winner! Oh, they have other pies, too, but banana cream is my very favorite.

Another cool thing they have is 24 hour breakfast. So if you’re craving some good ol’ breakfast foods, you’re covered. Eggs, hash browns, sausage – you’re covered.

breakfast Black Bear Diner Vallejo John Gamboa

Eggs, Hash Browns, Sausage

If you’re in the area of Vallejo, American Canyon, and Discovery Kingdom and you want some good affordable food, stop by Vallejo’s Black Bear Diner and bring the family!

American Canyon’s CRAVE for Asian Fusion food

My eldest son told my wife and I about this little place he goes to get boba drinks. They’re those drinks that come with dark chewy tapioca balls. It turns out they serve food, too. A good thing for us because we like to eat out a few times a months as much as our budget allows our family of seven to go. That’s a lot of mouths to feed!

The little place he was referring to is Crave. We decided to try out Crave in American Canyon, a little town sandwiched in between Vallejo and Napa California. Crave serves a variety of things but I don’t think you can go wrong with most of the stuff they serve and they tout themselves as an Asian Fusion restaurant.

They have a wide selection of boba drinks (with and without boba). We got some taro root drinks, a lychee one, and a couple thai milk teas. There may have been an avocado one, too, but can’t be too sure. I like thai milk tea and Crave’s is pretty good. You can’t really do it wrong unless you put way too much milk that it tastes like, well, milk. Then you’ve messed it up.

This was our first time at Crave and the first food we ordered the Sisig Fries. Sisig, for those that don’t know is a Pampanga term that means “to snack on something sour”. Pampanga is a section of the Philippines in the Central Luzon region.

Enough geography…Crave’s sisig fries are excellent. A wonderful snack or meal if you’d prefer to enjoy them by yourself. It’s loaded with sisig pork, cheese, sour cream, and some other stuff, and it tastes good!


Sisig Fries – Crave – Napa

Next we ordered the surf and turf noodles. It’s got pork, it’s got shrimp (hence the surf and turf in the name), and it’s got noodles. And it’s good, too! One of those dishes you have to try. It’s so simple yet so yummy.

Crave - Surf And Turf Noodles

Crave – Surf And Turf Noodles

They’ve got rice plates, too. Our family shared the barbeque pork skewers and egg over rice. They stick to what works in most Filipino restaurants and it’s done well.

BBQ - Pork-Egg-Garlic Rice

Crave – Napa – BBQ-Pork-Egg-GarlicRice

Oh! Did I tell you they serve crepes? If you have room after your meal, they’re an excellent dessert!

Little Dessert Shop In Napa, CA – Sweetie Pies

Located in the old mill in Downtown Napa California is a little dessert shop and cafe called Sweetie Pies.

Sweetie Pies | Napa, CA | John Gamboa

Sweetie Pies | Napa, CA

The family and I were walking in old downtown Napa looking for a place to eat and happened upon this quaint bakery and dessert shop aptly named Sweetie Pies. What makes this place unique is its locale in the old mill as well as the mismatched furniture and outdoor seating.

The desserts are too numerous to try in one visit even for our big family – cakes, pastries, etc. All of it prepared excellently with great presentation. Check out their website gallery and other reviews on Yelp and Tripadvisor and you’ll see what I’m talking about. The main reason I’d come back is the experience bringing the kids. Just like and ice cream or candy store, the kids’ eyes light up at the colors and sights. Sure the sweets are always a treat but the historic feel and odd (in a good way) decor brings with it an experience all its own. Right in the middle of the shop is an old mill thing – I have no idea what it is but it must be important and historic.

The word is their pies are excellent but we didn’t have it this go round, but surely we are coming back to try some of their homemade desserts.

Sweetie Pies | Napa, CA

Sweetie Pies | Napa, CA

Sweetie Pies Desserts

Sweetie Pies Desserts

Our sweets from Sweetie Pies

Our sweets from Sweetie Pies

We were here on a busy holiday weekend and it didn’t seem to crowded which was a little surprising but a welcome surprise it was because we got seated right away. If it were just my wife and me, I would have loved to chill with our tasty baked goods in one of the table outside especially because the day was bright sunny and perfect.

A word of caution. Sometimes the desserts are reported as being stale or old and I’m not sure why that is. Maybe they expect to be busy and prepare more than is needed. Who knows. For the most part they are prepared fresh so expect cakes to be moist and bread to be fresh.

Sweetie Pies isn’t only about sweet treats though. They also offer sandwiches and paninis as well as gourmet coffee and tea. If you’re in early and crave a breakfast meal you’re in luck. They have a selection of breakfast dishes from breakfast sandwiches, oatmeal, and bagels.

With it’s ability to satisfy the sweet teeth on our household, Sweetie Pies if definitely deserving of a return trip by me and my family.