Friday, December 30, 2011


In the neighborhood...
1. Deleted

2. Tortas Ahogadas Las Originales (San Fernando)
Once we all get tired of searching out Dan Dan Mien in the SGV and regional Mexican seafood in South LA, I suspect we might move on to the Valley. If my last and most recent visits are any indication, there's a lot to be found. As evidence, we have the Drowned Torta at Torta Ahogadas Las Originales. Obviously, from the picture, the "Drowned" aspect refers to the fact that the torta, in itself a simple pulled pork sandwich, arrives on your table, drowned, or swimming to be optimistic, in a spicy, stomach stimulating, red sauce that most closely resembles something along the lines of Tapatio. Early on in the meal, immediately actually, you realize that eating the sandwich in a traditional manner would be futile, as it would simply fall apart. So you grab a fork and try to eat and simultaneously collect with your napkin, in as civilized a manner as possible, the drops that flow uncontrollably from your nose as you down the whole thing. Um...this place is actually not in my neighborhood.

3. La Esquina Carniceria (Mt. Washington)

The torta and the burrito are both fine, but the owner will gently steer you to the Salvadoran options, my choice of which are the pupusas. Not mind-altering in a Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii way, but completely comforting.

4. Mariscos Estilo D.F. (Highland Park)

I had really high hopes for this truck parked along Figueroa but, sadly, found the cocktail to be a bit too long on liquid and short on seafood. Disappointing.

5. El Taco Feliz (Glassell Park)Probably my favorite truck in the world right now. And you would never find it if you didn't just happen to stumble on to it driving through the side streets of Glassell Park. The sopes and huaraches lack the crisp refinement of those at Huarache Azteca or Antojitos Carmen, but are memorable nonetheless. Tacos-from buche, to chorizo to asada-are must haves, even with a slightly elevated price tag of $1.25. And you have to walk away with a huitlacoche quesadilla, especially if you never have. I've never seen another white person here which I think is a good sign.

Also in the neighborhood...
Seafood Restaurant Via Mar-I think La Cevicheria on Pico has ruined ceviche for me in the sense that, at this point, anything else in L.A. seems inferior. Haven't been to Mo Chica yet.

My Taco-Still one of the champs of Highland Park. Always good, though my stomach does not really ever agree with the barbacoa in any way.

Nha Trang (San Gabriel)

Still one of my favorite spots. Above is the Bun Rieu, rice vermicelli (spaghetti for all practical purposes) with crab and tomato. I wasn't crazy about the noodles (a bit too soft) but I suspect that's how it's supposed to taste. My quest to taste all items on the menu apparently got a little easier as they've reduced the menu to around 4-6 items.

Really far...
Archibald's BBQ (Northport, AL)
I suppose I could write something about this place, but I think I would just come off as some poser white BBQ expert who really doesn't know what he's talking about. The pictures say a lot I think.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

(Nha Trang, amazingness...SGV)

(Guisados, Boyle Heights)

(Krua Siri, ThaiTown)

Krua Siri (Thaitown)

Reading the reviews of this place I got the impression that eating at Krua Siri was nothing short of the next best thing to a trip to Issan itself. Or at least to Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas. Pundits from major news outlets to chowhound gushed about the "secret" Issan menu with various types of laab, four-day fermented Thai sausage, and som tam for Thai tastes. After one visit (with more to come), I'm more curious than in love. The som tam with raw shrimp is fine, though not in the class of the product purveyed down the street at Ruen Pair, a little further at Yai, or way out in the Valley in the La Fiesta Mini Mall. The Thai sausage, perfectly acceptable though it is, was not as representative of citrus and spice as I had hoped, and inferior to the version at Pailin further west. One dish, though, completely caught my tongue, something they like to call Garlic Little Bird, a plate of small, not too oily, wings and bits of quail, touched with enough garlic to grace the next morning's first breath. Betwen dips in a dressing I've seen paired with fermented pork, one nibbles and carves the meat off the bones, balancing things out with bites of sticky rice. That dish alone is enough to bring me back. The duck laab, or maybe the catfish laab, or maybe the chicken laab, laced with pieces of intestine and spleen, await.

Nha Trang (San Gabriel)

For some time now, I've been looking for a place to find something other than pho, broken rice, baked catfish, bahn mi, and spring rolls without making the trip to Orange County. I think I've found a place to satisfy me for at least the 5-7 seven dishes they feature on the menu. The menu is stocked with Central Vietnamese dishes: the crowd favorite Bun Bo Hue (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup...ask for the pig's blood if they don't give it to you), Bun Rieu (a tomato based soup with crab meat), Pho Ga (chicken pho...not sure if that's Central Vietnamese or not but, whatver, it's supposed to be tasty), and Hainan Chicken Rice (definitely not Vietnamese, but every other country in Southeast Asia claims it so why shouldn't Vietnam). I opted for the Mi Quang, a tumeric laced soup of egg noodles, pork (or was it chicken?), sauteed shrimp, some sort of cake which might have been cha (beef sausage), chili, fresh vegetables, and a host of flavors I don't quite recognize, topped with banh da (rice cracker). The downside to this place is that they close at 5 p.m. and only make enough items for the day (though I guess that's a positive, not a negative). Their operating hours are really the only reason I haven't made a return visit.

Guisados (East Los Angeles/Boyle Heights)
Guisados is located on a street packed with stores that would seem completely in-place at any local swap meet. The fleeting, sparse minimalism of the space, host to the occasional painting, seems closer to the regentrified urbanism of one of York Boulevard's new tenants than it does to most of what you would expect to find in Boyle Heights. The food, taking cues from the decor, comes arrives as far as one can get from the crispy, oil dripping, and irresistable odes to the DF one finds a little east at Antojitos Carmen, or to the blunt simplicity of a burrito at Al and Beas. I'm not sure it's authentic, though I have no reason to believe it's not, and in the end...what does it matter? What you won't find at Guisados are the basic meat, cilantro and onion constructions you're used to. Instead, what you'll find is a taco topped with a more homogeneous substance, more stew than anything else. For first timers, there's a sampler for $6.50 that features a selection of six mini-tacos: ranging from the chipotle tinged tinga de pollo, to a mole poblano taco, to chicharrones to the cochinita pibil. There's also a more than competent fish taco available, though it's not included among the choices on the sampler. Not up for tacos? The quesadilla is already my favorite in Los Angeles and, I guess, the world. I'm not a sophisticated enough writer to really do justice to why it's my favorite, though I will mention that it's crafted with some sort of queso fresca that arrives, slightly charred, and relatively solid in texture, and somehow, devoid of anything besides cheese and tortilla, is somehow amazing. The tamales are fine, home to seemingly fresh, structurally sound kernels of corn, though if you're used to the lard inflected versions down the street you might be disappointed. And though the owner will likely offer a disclaimer that he can't really consume it itself, the habanero salsa (you have to ask for it...which is probably safer in the long run), used in small increments, is essential.

Nam Won Gol (Koreatown)
I tracked this place down through a conversation I had with a Korean-American policeman/longtime resident of LA, in which I interrogated him, between dumplings at Din Tai Fung about the best bets for off the map Korean food in Koreatown. From what I can tell, they specialize in two dishes: a skate dish that I haven't yet tried and the chuh-uh-tang (Loach Soup/aka Mudfish Soup) popular in North Korea from what my friend said. So what is a loach? Apparently it's kind of like a freshwater eel, at least in appearance. The soup is even more murky than one might expect from the name, recalling more the dense patch of water my father and I were forced to unground a canoe in a few years ago than any of the red, cauldron-like soups you're likely to find at most K-town joints. And you won't find the loach anywhere in the soup, at least you won't see it, as it's been finely ground into a substance that pervades the entire breadth of the bowl, coating a stiff blend of greens that, again, remind me more of swamp than soup. If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is. Surely you're tired of short ribs and pork neck soup by now.

Ham Ji Park (Koreatown)
If you are in the mood for short ribs and pork neck soup, and there are days when you should be, you could do far worse than this spot.

Song Fung Kong (North Hollywood)
How could one not find something worthwhile in a blog post entitled "The Wonders of North Hollywood's La Fiesta Mini Mall"? I did. And while I'm not sure that the ridiculous papaya salad here, or the almost equally good, sour, citrus-toned Thai sausage is, at the margins, worth the extra time I would spend driving to North Hollywood as opposed to Ruen Pair for som tam or Pailin for sausage, there's something special about eating amazing Thai food from a restaurant that, according to it's sign, sells Chinese food, in a tacky mini-mall. And if that doesn't draw me back, the prospects at its neighbor, La Perla del Pacifico, a spot that offers northern Colombian seafood, are too enticing to pass up.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


1. Sandra and Lolitas (East LA, Whittier Blvd.)-Tamales. It's Christmas. I come from no tradition that celebrates tamales this time of the year but I have no problem latching onto one (or beginning my own) anyway. Sandra and Lolita's is located directly across the street from the perhaps even more worthy Tacos Bajas Ensenada, where one can down a pair of precision crafted fish tacos and a more than decent ceviche topped tostada. Anyway, on the sidewalk (they have no seating), in the car, or microwaved for dinner, one could do much worse than the green cheese and red pork tamales from Sandra and Lolitas.

2. Huge Tree Pastry (Monterey Park)-Tony C. and JG have already covered this place far more thoroughly than I could. Let me just reify that the pork belly gua bao (above) is everybit as good as anyone has previously asserted: a moist but not too delicate bun encasing a mix of pickled mustard greens, pork and whatever else is in there that I can't figure out without asking the lady in a tongue I do not know. Either way, worth the drive. From what I remember, in their old incarnation as Yi Mei Chinese Pastries, they also make fairly mean turnip cakes, and good rice rolls filled with dried pork.

3. Omar's Halal Restaurant (San Gabriel)-When you first enter the door at Omar's, a restaurant in the SGV specializing in Islamic Uighur cooking, you're hit with a wall of cumin inflected air every bit as solid as a slab of stacked and reverberating guitar tones on a My Bloody Valentine record. The small dining room is packed with Chinese, non-Chinese muslims, and others, all hovered around decanters of tea, plates and bowls of hand-pulled noodles (stretched and pulled as you watch), lamb kebobs, cumin-saturated lamb, a giant pastry they call a meatloaf sandwich, and a dish known as big plate chicken. Can a single dish encapsulate the history of an entire culture? Of course not. But I like to imagine that seemingly simple big plate chicken - chopped chicken with potatoes, peppers, more than ample garlic, bay leaves, star anise, szechuan peppercorns, and who knows what else - comes close.

4. Big Mista's (Atwater Village Farmer's Market)-There are two weeks left in the NFL regular season and four weeks of postseason play after that. Big Mista's may be worth your attention for at least one of those weeks.

5. My in-laws-My wife's dad is an amateur cook in the same way that 14th century scientists were amateur scientists: working solely within the space of his home and the limited audience it attracts he has crafted some fairly memorable meals. Nothing too complicated: chicken with ginger, the various fish dishes pictured above, bitter melon soup, and garlic fried rice that could be worthy of its own food cart.

6. Philip's (Leimert Park)-Philip's is hidden away at the side of a commercial block in Leimert Park, nothing more than a doorway, a small hallway with a counter at the end that feels more like a place you would go to pay a late power bill, and a separate counter to pick it up. As far as the food goes, they're being honest. Hot is really hot (take this from someone for whom a raw jalapeno is a fine snack). And I suppose that's one of the main factors that brought me back. The ribs arrive wading, not swimming in the sauce, flanked by invitingly drenched and delicate pieces of pepper. There is also BBQ chicken which, almost unbelievably, comes off as almost just as good as the ribs.

7. Bay Cities Deli (Santa Monica)-Yes, the Godmother (genoa salami, mortadella, cappacola, ham, prosciutto, and provolone) lives up to every slice of renown it has garnered. I think I appreciated it as much for this, as for the fact that it led me to some kind of Proustian connection with a sandwich I had when I was like 7 or 8, and have thought about since. Proustian connection or not, not a bad way to spend 10 bucks in Santa Monica.

8. 5 Puntos Market (East LA)-Tamales. Worth a stop to take home for dinner after lunch at Ciro's, Antojitos Carmen, or Cemitas Poblanas.

9. La Cevicheria (Pico, west of Arlington)-My experience listening to music is roughly divided between pre-Velvets and post-Velvets, much the same way I delineate my times as a baseball fan pre-Bill James and post-Bill James. For ceviche, I guess it is now pre-La Cevicheria and post-La Cevicheria. Maybe it's just that my ceviche-pallete was inexperienced, naive and undertraveled (only one trip to Latin America, and that, to Costa Rica, a country perhaps not in the same league on the culinary continuum as Peru or Mexico). Either way, I won't settle any more. Not when there's Bloody Clams (pictured above) or Guatemalan Ceviche, both virtual libraries of oceanographic data and citrus. On another note, the ceviche, justly, gets all the hype at this place but the fish tacos, drizzled with the appropriate amount of diablo sauce, have given me less incentive to make the drive to the aforementioned Tacos Baja Ensenada.

10. Brooklyn Bagel (Lower Echo Park, Historic Phillipinotown?)-Best bagels in LA.
11. Sapp Coffee Shop (Thaitown)-Can't stop ordering the chicken with bamboo shoots.
12. Golden State (Fairfax)-As good as Umami? No. But still worth a stop.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Portland, Seattle, Vancouver

Voodoo Doughnuts (Portland)
Stumptown Coffee
Food Cart

Nong's Khao Mon Gai

Truffle Fries, Violetta

Church of Elvis

Schnitzelwich and Baklazan (Eggplant sandwich), Tabor food cart

Astoria, WA

Thai food, Seattle

Top Pot, Seattle

Chinatown, Vancouver

Ramen, outside Stanley Park


Thursday, August 19, 2010

When I started this blog a few years ago I had in mind a daunting goal of trying, whenever possible, not to just rehash in an inferior manner spots Jonathan Gold writes about. It's safe to say I've probably failed pretty miserably. I'm proud of the one or two spots that I may have covered before Gold but, ultimately, I've got a long way to go. Walking back to my car today, I thought of two reasons for this, though I'm sure there are more: (a) he's lived in LA forever and probably been everywhere I would have any desire to go to, and (b) it's hard not to frequent the spots he picks out as he makes them sound so good, particularly of late, with cold korean noodles, San Fernando Valley ramen (who wants to drive to Gardena everytime?), and Thai breakfast (just to name a few). All this is to say I'll continue the failure to today by writing about a place at which I just had lunch: Yu Chun Restaurant on Olympic just east of Western.
The restaurant was stuffed beyond capacity at 1:30 on a Thursday afternoon and, it's safe to say, every table had at least one bowl of what I suppose is the house specialty: Naeng Myun. After consuming a bowl in a cool room with the knowledge of the relative cauldron that awaited on my exit from the restaurant I can assert that it now ranks up there with an oily bowl of gazpacho as my favorite food for those rare, but particularly sweltering, LA summer days. Yu Chun's version of the dish which, as Gold relates, is as much slushy as soup, arrives in a steel bowl as an icy, light to the point of floating, slightly sugary, slight vinegary broth with a generous helping of black arrowroot noodles, thinly sliced cucumber, a few slices of beef, radish and half a hard boiled egg. It may be the quintessentially refreshing and unobtrusive meal, one that offers the completely artificial, though still valuable, feeling of being cleansed. At meal's end I wanted to turn the bowl over and suck down the now less icy broth but wasn't quite sure on the etiquette. Hopefully there will be a next time sometime soon and, if so, I'll have to try the kimchee dumplings that seemed to occupy at least 70% of the tables.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Antojitos Carmen (Boyle Heights)

There's lot's of things to love about this place: the neighborhood, the waitstaff (who never fail to offer a good suggestion for the indecisive), the huaraches that easily compete with the best of Highland Park, the complimentary chicken noodle soup that seems to come with every order, the creamy habanero salsa with the faint hint of Thai peanut sauce, and I haven't even tried the cemitas yet (loyalty to Cemitas Poblanas/how could they be better than Cemitas Poblanas?). I think what I love the most about Antojitos Carmen, though, is the simple adornment of roasted chile--suitably smoky and just spicy enough to slightly awaken your stomach--provided as an option for topping everything from the sopes to the chips. If there's a condiment I enjoy more in Boyle Heights I haven't found it yet.

Meal's end.