Monthly Archives: January 2011

Shawarma Palace: Something Israel and Palestine Can Agree Upon

Shawarma Roasting On A Open Fire...

     About a month ago, my interest was piqued by Josh Lurie’s Food GPS article on Pico Boulevard’s latest Kosher restaurant Shawarma Palace. Wherever roasted meat is carved off a slowly turning spit, good things are sure to follow. Be it shawarma, döner, al pastor, gyro or any other incarnation of what is arguably the world’s most ubiquitous street food, I am more than willing to make the trip. Found in a section of LA known more for take-out shops serving Glatt dinners and Matzoh flour, Shawarma Palace offers a version of Isreali cuisine that differs greatly from the Eastern European influence found in many Jewish delicatessens. Owner Pinchas Sherf, an 1980’s emigre of Tel Aviv, decided to open a shawarma shop which featured a style of cuisine rarely seen in LA, outside of Tarzana’s relatively small Isreali community. It is worth noting that Isreali Shawarma is decidedly Arab in its roots, having been adapted to Kosher traditions by Mizrachi Jews, citizens of Israel who claim Middle Eastern descent. Despite the seemingly insurmountable disagreements that presently exist between Israel and some of its Arab neighbors, it’s easy to forget that both cultures share many things, one being a deep affection for what both collectively refer to as shawarma. Continue reading

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Zamora Brothers Carnitas: Pork in its Purest Form

Zamora Bros. Carnitas: Pink Gold

     Throw a stone anywhere in LA, and your bound to hit somewhere that serves carnitas. Even Taco Bell, currently involved in a lawsuit contesting that its beef is actually beef, tried their hand at a rendition of the carnitas taco. Despite the many bastardized and sanitized version that are available, there remain places in this city that serve carnitas that truly pay homage to what you’ll find in Central Mexico. One such establishment is the family-run Zamora Brothers Carniceria, located just north of Belvedere Park in East Los Angeles; not to be confused with a unrelated Zamora Bros. further west on Cesar Chavez Avenue, nor with another in Pico-Union that closed briefly last year due to a fire. This particular Zamora Brothers serves food “estilo Iripuato”, or originating from the Mexican city of Irapuato in Guadalajara. The building’s exterior is decorated in regal red and blue colors crowned by a slightly disturbing mural of a teary-eyed pig ready to be cooked.
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Sapp’s Coffee Shop: Tried and True in Thai Town

The Famed Boat Noodle Soup

     One of the realities about eating in Los Angeles is that an exceptional meal by definition is an ephemeral thing. A restaurant that is the toast of the town one month can suddenly change owners (see Ord Noodle), or swap chefs (see Mariscos Chente) or simply start failing to delivery on its own amassed hype (see Mo Chica). The point is life happens, seasons change, and for every astounding new restaurant that emerges, another starts to fall by the wayside. Yet, as in all things, they’re are exceptions to the rule. The best example I have seen in this particular case is that of the quiet strip mall gem, Sapp’s Coffee Shop. For years, Sapp’s Thai dishes have had praise heaped upon them from countless sources: Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Gold, along with scores upon scores of bloggers. When I first moved to LA in 2006, I ate at Sapp’s on a friend’s recommendation and ordered the famous boat noodles. Like many others, I was floored by the intense and lingering flavor of the broth: sour, salty, spicy and sweet, each in perfect measure. Continue reading

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Tortas Ahogadas Y Mas: Exploring Whittier Boulevard in East LA

Torta Ahogada: Half Soup, Half Sandwich

     Even on a day with no parades or festivals, the stretch of Whittier Boulevard that lies just east of the 710 freeway is teeming with life. The street is one the main arteries of East Los Angeles both in terms of geography and culture; home mostly to blue-collar workers and their families who, unlike most Angelenos, rely on transportation other than automobiles to get around. The crowds that linger at bus stops or walk the streets here give this section of town a vibrancy that is rare in LA. It is the feeling of undiluted city life where, for better or worse, the boundaries between public space and private life breaks down. Catering to this eager crowd is a wide array of Pan-Latino food vendors that, in LA at least, is unrivaled in it’s selection and multitude: from corner tortilleria’s decorated in day-glo orange murals to hobbled carts selling mayonnaise-slathered grilled corn. It makes for an exciting mix, and eating a bad meal in this neighborhood is a difficult thing to do. Continue reading

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Sawtelle Tempura House: A Bento Unboxing

Tempura House Bento Box

     Along the length of Sawtelle boulevard home to West LA’s version of Little Tokyo, often dubbed “Little Osaka”, lies a take-out shop that doesn’t quite fit in with slick, modern restaurants that surround it. While others serve Kobe beef shabu-shabu and delicate soba noodles, Sawtelle Tempura House specializes in cranking out homemade bento boxes for a lunch crowd that runs the gambit from UCLA undergrads to Santa Monica executives.  Bento is Japan’s answer to the brown bag lunch, a combination of snack-able favorites that is often sent along as a simple meal for those headed to school or work. Continue reading

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Sabina’s European Restaurant: Romanian Holiday

Sabina's Stuffed Cabbage

     Sabina, matron and namesake for the small strip-mall restaurant on Vine street, cuts a motherly figure. Even if you can’t claim any Eastern European heritage (though many patrons certainly do), she welcomes you will a with the unhurried and deliberate service of a woman who proudly serves a good home-cooked meal. She is not the kind of owner who delivers a forced smile or hangs on your every need, instead her only concern seems to be that you leave nourished with a belly full of hot food. The tiny dining room is filled with red pastel tables and chairs chipped from decades of use. The crimson colored cloth napkins are threadbare and musty, giving a sense of continuing tradition as you tuck them into your lap. Sabina hails from Romania, which can be discerned from either a glance at the travel agency photos of rustic countryside lining the walls or the short and hearty menu filled with Austro-Hungarian classics. Continue reading

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Turkish Delight: The Search For LA’s Best Döner Kebab

Spitz's Döner Kebab Sandwich

     For anyone who has traveled through Europe on a shoestring budget the significance of the döner kebab can’t be overestimated. Imported by Turkish immigrants in the seventies, the döner has become one of the most popular and affordable street foods in all of Europe. Travel through the subcontinent and you will no doubt find yourself quickly addicted to the kebab stands that never lie to far from the nearest bar or club. The döner kebab is a close of cousin of the Lebanese shawarma and the Greek gyro, consisting of roast meat shaved from a vertical spit tucked inside a split pocket of bread then garnished with salad, yogurt, and a pungent red chili sauce. The sandwich makes for a satisfying meal that is both portable and compact, essential elements of any great street food. In fact, döner has reached such levels of populist acclaim in Germany that it is the subject of a well-known drinking song, “Ich Bein Ein Döner” whose chorus roughly translates to “sandwiches makes you fat, sushi makes you crazy, pizza makes you horny, but döner makes you beautiful”. Needless to say, something is lost in translation. Continue reading

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Tacos El Compita: Al Pastor, Al Fresco

My New Year's Resolution: Tacos Al Pastor

     In the past few days there has been a slight change in most Angelenos. You may have noticed more joggers on the street than usual, decked out in the latest activewear. Or you may have noticed the long line at In-N-Out has shifted towards the Subway across the street. You may have even heard the buzz about so-called “energy bracelets” that harness the body’s natural magnetic field to improve balance (if you believe that then I’ve got a case of snake oil to sell you). Yes, this is the time of year in which everyone obsesses about forming new healthy and productive habits they’ve been neglecting in the past year. Though thankfully by February the status quo has returned: the only joggers are fitness freaks, the In-N-Out drive-thru line spans a city block, and people have stopped buying useless bracelets in favor of other useless things. Certainly I am guilty of these idiosyncrasies as well, which is why this year I aimed for a much simpler and enjoyable goal. Being a taco enthusiast, I enjoying visiting a good taco truck a couple times a week. I am fortunate enough to live very close to what is arguably the best taco truck on the Westside, Tacos Leo, whose deliciousness has been described in length by many people. The problem is Tacos Leo’s al pastor trompo, a vertical spit of marinated pork from which tender bits of porky goodness are sliced, only operates on weekends, leaving me sans the good stuff Monday through Friday. Thus leading to my goal of the new year: find more trompos. Continue reading

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