Welcome to The Lunch Belle, a food website/blog that views the New York City + Los Angeles dining scenes through the lens - and belly - of a highly opinionated, critical, adorably quirky, and culinary-obsessed thirty-something year old.

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Entries in Product reviews (33)


Product review: Sofia Vergara's favorite "Coffee Bar"

When I purchased my last coffee maker during a 'Friends and Family' sale at Bloomingdales (like 5+ years ago), it was pretty top-of-the-line.  I'm not talking about a fancy Nespresso machine, just a solid coffee maker with all the bells and whistles: Bean grinder, clock, and that awesome "program" button you can pre-set to have your coffee brewing the minute you wake up.  It's been a great device and one that even moved across the country with me 1.5 years ago!

A few weeks ago, I decided to clean my coffee maker for the first time ever in ages.  Having never changed the machine's water filter (ever), I removed the cartridge and almost threw up.  Overgrown with silt and muck, I was beyond disgusted and horrified.  As one of those people who always assumed that Brita filters were a conspiracy and serious waste of money - not to mention rolling my eyes at friends who actually had one in their fridge - I quickly realized: Maybe I was the asshole!  Perhaps water filter contraptions weren't a bunch of BS, after all, judging by how much crap mine had collected over the years.  Forgoing an attempt to clean my diseased machine (WTF had I been drinking all this time!?!?!), I decided to go out and purchase something brand new.

I'd be a liar if I said that the brilliant advertising/marketing behind those Ninja Coffee Bar commercials with Sofia Vergara didn't work...Because you're looking at the newest owner of one! 

Always one to shudder away from instruction manuals and intimidating drawings, I was pleased to find a very user-friendly "quick start guide" upon ripping in to the box containing my Ninja.  Aside from the machine, carafe, and filter compartment, the Ninja also came with a travel mug, measuring device, and a milk frother (sold separately).

Depending on the size of your cup or carafe, Ninja's AUTO-IQ Technology draws just the right amount of water needed from the reservoir.  In terms of flavor and strength, you are able to select the graduated level of coffee-to-water concentration.  Options range from lesser to higher intensity: "Classic Brew,"Rich Brew," "Over Ice Brew," or "Specialty Brew."  So far, I'm hooked on the "Rich Brew," but am super curious to try the "Over Ice Brew."  I cannot tell you how thrilling it is to be able to make both hot and cold coffee from the same machine.  At home! 

Forgoing the carafe, I've been making single-cups in the morning before work.  There's this awesome "cup holder" feature that lowers and sits just above the carafe plate warmer.  Once the coffee has finished brewing, there's a "drip stop" switch that you can hit to put the kibosh on those annoying coffee droplets that burn your hand and dirty the warmer.  Brilliant! 

My only complaint is that the Ninja does not have an in-machine bean grinder (...but the company sells those separately.  Go figure!).  Otherwise, I'm one happy customer!

The Ninja Coffee Bar retails for around $150 and has been worth every penny.  Go out and treat yourself!  I promise that you'll adore this machine and love the excellent coffee it produces even more!


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 


(NYC) Stick With Me: This ain't your mama's chocolate shop!

Chocolatier/dessert shop: Stick With Me Sweets

  • Cuisine: Handmade chocolate, high-end sweets
  • Location: 202-A Mott Street - NYC 10012  
  • Pricing: $-$$
  • What's delicious: Bonbons, caramels
  • Perfect for: Dessert takeaway (single-serve or for groups/events), foodies, art buffs, gifts for the girl/guy who "has everything"
  • Menu: Click here


En route to meet my cousins for brunch a few Sunday's ago, I happened upon a very curious shop on Mott Street.  I say "curious," because its signage was in the shape of a candy wrapper!  And we all know what a sugar whore I am, no matter if the time of day is early afternoon or, in this case, 10:30AM. 

The wording on the 'candy wrapper sign' read "Stick With Me," so I just assumed it was a shop that sold Venus flytraps or the like.  Just kidding...

You had me at "chocolate."Needless to say, I was shocked to see that a specialty candy shop was already open at 10AM - on a Sunday - until I remembered that "I wasn't in Kansas Los Angeles anymore."  Just another reason why I love NYC so goddamn much.  Upon peering in the window, I was hesitant to enter as there was a live photo-shoot.  However, after having locked eyes with one of the employees, she smiled and mouthed, "Come in!"

Inside the small shop, white-washed exposed brick walls anchored metal shelves that were lined with handmade, decoratively-wrapped delectables in the form of: Flavored marshmallows, chocolate bark, nougat, truffles, and nut butters. 

Row after row of heaven!Just beyond the treat-lined wall was an L-shaped glass case filled with gorgeous bonbons, flavored caramels, and petit-fours.  "We were founded by Susanna Yoon, the former chocolatier at Per Se," employee, Nina, mentioned.  "We've only been open since December 2014, but business has been really great!"  From the moment I stepped foot within the shop, I knew I was going to be in for something special; but it wasn't until Nina mentioned "Per Se" that I was confident this experience would be transcendent.  "Since we're almost done with the photo shoot," she advised, "many of the bonbons are already cut in to halves.  Feel free to sample them and take as many photos as you'd like!"  Wow, was she serious?  Talk about amazing timing on my part!

Of the plethora that I sampled, the "P.B. & Jelly" bonbon was my favorite.  It was so exquisite, in fact, that I purchased a box of 6 as a hostess gift for my upcoming stay with my sister at her new home in Miami.

FYI: Stick With Me carries 24 (bonbon) flavor varieties!

And then there were those gooey, uniquely-flavored caramels!  'Yuzu & Salt,' anybody?  Yes, please!  Actually, make that a 'hell yes!'

Being the world's biggest fan of southern-style petit-fours (in essence, bite-sized cake drowned in a tooth achingly-sweet icing), I simply could not keep my eyes off of the mini "birthday cakes" displayed in the cake/dessert case adjacent to the bonbons.  "Oh my gosh, Nina," I exclaimed, "I simply must have one of the pink cakes to-go!  That is the cutest thing I've ever seen!!"

Although I wouldn't sample the cake until later that evening, I will say that, while the interior "cake" portion was scrumptious, the icing was gummy and a bit flavorless. 

Despite being a bit full when I arrived at brunch, I could not have been happier!  Not only had I crossed a task off of my "to do" list (buy sister a hostess gift), but I found a unique - even by NYC standards - dessert shop that is, truly, one of a kind!  To be honest, I hesitated posting this recap because, selfishly, I don't want to worry about any of you *also* bringing bonbons to the next party we're at together!

For a full list of menu items, click here.


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle 


Chocolate, peanut butter, and Niman Ranch beef: Recuperating with MUNCHERY

One of the pluses of living in LA is that my folks, who reside in Texas, are just a non-stop flight away.  So when I learned that I had to have surgery, I asked my mom to come in town and take care of me.  #MamasGirl #8GoingOn35

In planning our meals for that week, Mom mentioned that it would be a good idea for us to make a large supermarket run so that we could nosh and nest without having to leave my apartment.   "That's cute and all, Mom," I said, "but you don't even cook!  What are we going to eat for dinner, popcorn?"  She laughed.  "It's true, though!" I exclaimed.  "And it's not like I'll be able to cook."  She agreed.  Granted, there was always Blue Apron (too labor intensive) or Seamless Web (the options in LA suck) and Postmates/Caviar (great selections, but too expensive), but I had a better idea...

Munchery, a meal delivery service that I had already been utilizing for a few weeks leading up to my surgery, could not have been a better option for those first few post-operative days.  And nights.  With meals and snacks created by local chefs (think along the lines of LA's very own Roy Choi) who have worked at some seriously brag-worthy restaurants (ahem, Spago and Providence to name a few), each chilled order is hand-delivered to your door, literally "ready to heat when you want to eat."  Here's the nitty-gritty of how it all works!

With the ability to peruse Munchery's menu for the upcoming week, I ordered the following selections - to be delivered between 6-7PM - for the eve post my procedure:

With the exception of the mediocre tortilla soup, every other dish was, quite literally, life-altering.  I mean, who the hell would have thought that you could savor one of the best burgers YOU'VE EVER HAD IN YOUR LIFE (yes, I really just said that) courtesy of a meal delivery service?  In the comfort of your own home, no less!  Well, when you start with a patty is constructed of sous-vide cooked Niman Ranch ground beef, you already know that you're in for something incredibly special.  Add to that an assortment of crucial "make-your-own-burger" accoutrement: Brioche bun, California cheddar, apple wood-smoked bacon, sliced red onion, caramelized onions, sliced tomato, butter lettuce, mayo, ketchup, and a secret sauce.  And some really, really delicious and salty kettle-cooked potato chips.

Photo courtesy of Munchery

I may have still been high from the anesthesia, but here's one sensation that I will not soon forget: When I took my first bite of the Peanut Butter Chocolate Tart, I had a full-body orgasm.  With a buttery, crumbly, chocolate-cookie crust that gave way to a generous amount of creamy homemade peanut butter suffocated by a layer of chocolate ganache, how could I not??  Oh my fcuking god.  WOW!    

Photo found on Pinsta.Me

For those of you who don't live in LA, I pity you.  Why?  Because you will never taste these fcuking glorious items.  However, with Munchery available in other US cities - SF, Seattle, and NYC - I'm confident that there are plenty of stellar meals/snacks that I will never get to experience, either.  I suppose it's a fair trade-off!

Want to check out Munchery for $10 off your first two orders?  CLICK HERE!  Oh, and you're welcome in advance ;-)


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle



(NYC) App review: NightOwl

The thing about LA is that it's the proverbial red headed step-child of NYC.  And rightfully so!  Sorry, LA, but it's true: Everything happens New York.  And everything happens in New York first.  From the hottest new workout sensation and organic "make your own salad" joint (I'm talking about you, sweetgreen!) - to fashion and trends in every single market, the Big Apple will always reign supreme. 

And speaking of yet another thing that hasn't quite made its way to the City of Angels: NightOwl - a smart, mood-based bar/nightlife recommendation app.  Think of it as the Seamless Web (or another website where you can filter what you're craving by almost any genre under the sun) of bar-hopping.  

Here's how it works:

  • NightOwl pulls data that's scattered around the web - along with its user-submitted tags - to get you to a bar that you'll love for any situation.
  • These tailored bar recommendations will be based on the time and day of the week of your search...because we all know that a hungover Sunday afternoon is completely different than a raring-to-go Friday night at "quittin' time."

I mean, imagine the possibilities!  I can think of like 10 situations/week where I'd use NightOwl: Happy hour, girl's night, celebratory post-work cocktails (Let's pretend someone got promoted! Bahahhah, as if!), blind date, brunch 'drink and drown' options...shall I continue?  Sorry, I like love to drink!

Open the app - filter by location, then "categories" and "features"...and review your custom results!OK, NYC: If you didn't already download this app after reading the second paragraph in this post, what the hell are you waiting for?  Seriously, do it!  It's free!  And amazing!  And so necessary!  And...so not yet in LA.  Sigh...


Until we drink again,

The Lunch Belle


Your grocer's freezer: Frozen meals that don't suck. And where to find them.

"Frozen meals that don't suck."  Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it?  Well, for the most part, it is.  Frozen meals do suck!  I mean, is there anything more repulsive than the gnarly dusting of chopped tomatoes that top that frozen organic pizza?  Or the fake grill marks that are, quite literally, *drawn* on vegetables?  And how about those dinosaur-shaped nuggets that are made from "mechanically-separated" chicken?  Ewwww!  Gross!   

Just call me the "frozen food martyr."  In an effort to save a few bucks for weekday lunch (...OK, fine, and dinner), I've been bringing frozen meals to work and microwaving them in our communal pantry.  As depressing as that - and eating at my desk - sounds, the worst of it all is making awkward small talk with other coworkers who are doing the same GD thing.  Anyhoo, the point here is that I've tasted my fair share of this shet. 

The meals listed, below, are the best of the best of what's out there.  *Note that I stay away from anything that contains meat/poultry, as I don't trust that what's actually used is of any higher quality than the mystery meat in my dog's kibble


TaDah Falafel Wraps (Ralph's)

My tip: Because falafel can get dry, make sure to have a side of salsa or tzatziki dipping sauce (make yourself with Greek yogurt, dill, salt, pepper, and garlic) on the side.  Photo credit: TaDah Foods

Evol's Truffle Parmesan Mac & Cheese (Ralph's, Vons/Pavillion's, Target)

My tip: This makes a great side dish suitable for two people.  Or one person, if you have an appetite like mine...Photo credit: Evol Foods

Amy's Kitchen: Mexican Casserole Bowl (sold at practically every supermarket, bodega, Target, etc. out there)

My tip: Follow the "conventional oven" directions, if you can.  Otherwise, the microwaved version is perfectly fine, too.Photo credit: Amy's

Trader Joe's Cheese & Green Chile Tamales (Trader Joe's)

My tip: These beauties are totally satisfying, authentic, and unbelievably delicious.  Pair with salsa and enjoy!

Trader Joe's Korean Scallion Pancakes/Pa jeon (Trader Joe's)

My tip: Griddle on stove top and serve with soy sauce to dip.  This is one of the most mouth-watering products available in the frozen aisle, in my humble opinion.


What are some of your favorite frozen meals?  Have you ever tried any of the selections that I listed, above?


Holey Donuts: One Donut You Won't Want to Glaze Over

Low-cal is not in my vocabulary. Diet ice cream? Portion control potato chips? Sorry, but you have no my place in my life. Let me be clear: I don't judge pastries based on how good they taste relative to their nutritional value. Sure, if I can avoid clogging my arteries, that's great. But when all is said and done, I want my pastries to taste good because that is their sole purpose.

So, you can imagine my skepticism when I was invited to try Holey Donuts!, a brand of low-calorie, low-fat donuts inhabiting their first retail store this week. Would they taste like the fake bread I eat on Passover? Would they be really good donuts that were just incredibly small? Would they be alien donuts with side effects of blue skin?

Well, first thing's first, I was taken aback to discover that the donuts were big. Aha, I thought, so portion control isn't the secret. This is going to taste like the pastries they served in synagogue growing up. Right? Wrong. A Holey Donut tastes like a donut because it is a donut. I kept chewing, waiting for a catch. Zilch. These were definitely donuts: sweet, sticky, chewy, and round. 

A Bay Ridge native and self-declared "Brooklyn boy", Frank Dilullo comes by his donut entrepreneurship honestly. He's no stranger to the world of the fried: Frank's father was one of the original Dunkin' Donuts franchisees back in 1958. Growing up sneaking clandestine bites of freshly-made donut "with the icing on top still wet," Frank owned several Dunkin' Donuts stores before selling them to start Holey Donuts!. "It was an accident, really. I was by the fryer, and I made the donut a different way than we usually did. I tasted it, and I was like, 'holy shit!' That's where Holey Donuts! comes from. 'Holy cow' will also work," he says, his eyes lighting up with that Brooklyn boy mischief. "Well, how do you make them?" I pressed. "That I can't tell you, but it's a twenty-two step process. Half of the work is done at our factory in Brooklyn, the other half here in the store." He wasn't lying. Every donut is customized on the spot, and goes from being dough to art. Already a successful online brand, the Holey Donuts! retail store looks like a day spa for donuts with jars full of fresh filling ready to be pumped into the fritters. It's like reverse liposuction for donuts. 

"I once had a baked donut," I confessed. "It didn't taste very good." "People tell me stuff like that all the time, and I'm like, if a donut is baked, it's a bagel. A lot of the time with low-cal foods, brands try to disguise it. Of course our donuts are going to have carbs and sugar. They're donuts! We just don't prepare them quite the same way."

I'm dying to reveal my donut-making conspiracy theories here, but I digress... In addition to donuts, Holey Donuts! has cinnamon buns, coffee, and juice. The store plans on staying open fairly late; think 10PM on the weekdays, and midnight on the weekends. "Or," Frank says, "until we're out of donuts." The store doesn't accept cash in an effort to keep things as germ-free as possible (my kind of place, hey there Jewish neuroses), and has a good amount of seating. Located in in a pink-splattered, spacious store in the West Village, Holey has a good shot of wracking up success.

Frank and his crew sent me home with several boxes of goodies, making me queen for a day in the office. To be on Holey Donuts! grand opening guest list, email info@holeydonuts.net, with 'guest list' in the subject line. Word on the street is that there will be goodies a' plenty.


Until we eat again, 

Aliza Kellerman for The Lunch Belle

Aliza Kellerman is an NYC based booze & food writer, an employed twenty-something, and an avid kvetcher. She sips and noshes her way through misadventures while befriending strangers and discovering new interests. Check out her blog at here, follow her here, and browse her portfolio here.