Tag Archives: Dining

Pop-Up Pupusas in Mid-City: Homemade In The Front Yard

Homemade Pupusas

     Forget Justin Bieber or Jersey Shore, 2010 was the year of the “pop-up” restaurant. New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Portland, Austin, and San Diego are now all home to various establishments which organize gourmet movable feasts that range from painstakingly elaborate to maniacally secretive. Pioneered in 2007 by Los Angeles chef Ludo Lefebvre, whose Ludobites dinners are now so popular they sell out at rates faster than Coachella, the trend has given birth to a host of chef-driven supper clubs that are unbound by long term commitments both in terms of physical location and culinary style, including the current toast of the LA blogosphere, Craig Thornton, who runs the pay-as-you-like, Hendrix-esque sounding Wolvesden Underground Dining Experience. The word of mouth nature of these restaurants is undoubtedly a good thing, allowing diners to rub elbows with the chefs they admire based on a system in which exclusivity favors culinary enthusiasm rather than monetary privilege. However, like the food truck trend preceding it (which has now reached such a bubble of over saturation that Tim Geithner may soon have to step in) the pop-up scene is not entirely original and rather is the natural conclusion of an idea that can trace its roots to much more modest origins here in Los Angeles. Many could cite inspiration in the numerous taco carts that line Fletcher and Larga on various nights, the cart-pushing Oaxacan “Quesadilla Lady” whose small griddle churns out cheesy blue-corn gems in Echo Park, or even the acclaimed Ricky’s Fish Tacos which quickly progressed from a roadside weekend hobby into a beer-battered phenomenon. Still, I can think of no better example of a true “pop-up” than the small pupuseria and taqueria which opens a few nights every week in the front yard of a residential home just off Jefferson Boulevard. 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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The Rain-Soaked Koreatown Blues: Han Bat Sul Lung Tang and Koo’s Sweet Rice Pancake

Mixed Sul Lung Tang

     Los Angeles is currently facing the full brunt of a heavy storm system that is expected to last the entire week. Or, to put it as my grandfather used to say, it’s raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock. It’s common knowledge that people in this fair city completely lose their shit when rain starts a fallin’. LA motorists are as cautious with their speed during inclement weather as they with their turn signals on the freeway. Add on top the logistical stress that a week of straight rainfall has on a city that usually experiences 300 days of sunshine a year, and rainy LA makes for a pretty sucky place. Yet, even in the midst of crisis there lies great opportunity, as the old proverb goes. For me that opportunity was finding solace in a good rainy day meal that would warm the body and nourish the soul. For that I headed to Koreatown, inspired by the recent post of the oddly-named Chowhounder, ‘mrgreenbeenz’. Koreatown may not seem like an obvious choice for a day meal on a stormy day, but when you consider it in terms of geography it makes perfect sense. Korea is located very far north in terms of latitude. In fact, North Korea is only a stones throw away from the vast frozen wasteland of Eastern Russia (even closer than Sarah Palin). So naturally Korean cuisine has a wide array of dishes that are exceptional for knocking out the chill caused by a blustery day.

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Tokyo 7-7’s Last Meal: A Farewell to Omelettes

The Tokyo 7-7 Special

     As some of you may know, December 18th was the last day of business for one of Culver City’s most unique and beloved eateries. Much has been said about Tokyo 7-7, a small shop pigeoned-holed by parking structures and the burgeoning classier eateries of downtown Culver. It is an odd pastiche of a diner to say the least: serving both Japanese comfort foods as well as American greasy spoon mainstays at prices that echo a time when Members Only jackets were worn without a trace of irony. Tokyo 7-7’s other-worldy nostalgia lasted 27 years with compromising to the pressures of a changing world. Not bad for a place where the waitresses total checks on abacuses and sell packs of cigarettes from the behind the counter between slinging plates of spam and eggs.
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Al-Watan Halal Restaurant: Love Me Tandoor

Tandoori Chicken


      The Tandoor, a clay oven used for cooking in India, Pakistan and parts of the Middle East, is an impressive piece of masonry. Temperatures inside the oven can reach up to 900° Fahrenheit, much hotter than the famous wood-fired Sicilian pizza ovens (those are around 700°). When a tandoor oven is hot enough, skewers of meat are lowered in to cook, developing a crispy and chewy skin while sealing in the juices of the meat. Dough is then plastered to the edges of the oven as the meat cooks, giving birth to another tandoor favorite, Naan, a thick chewy bread that can be stuffed or topped with a variety of ingredients. Suffice it to say the art of the tandoor is quite a feat, not unlike trying to cook your food from the flaming exhaust of a jet engine. In the mastery of such of high-temperature roasting there are few places in LA that rival Hawthorne’s Al-Watan Halal Restaurant. Continue reading

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Thanksgiving on a Bun: Could Soul Burgers Be LA’s New Best Burger?

    I thought I had heard rumors that a burger like this existed somewhere. But perhaps I had only dreamt of it, tapping into some kind of burger collective unconsciousness. Whatever lead me to Soul Burgers certainly felt like destiny as I couldn’t have been more excited by what I saw on the menu. Yet, as the lone diner inside a small burger shop directly across the street from Inglewood’s Hollywood Park Racetrack I have to admit I was feeling quite anxious. I  had waited 15 minutes and my food had yet to come out of the kitchen as I sat staring at the portraits of Motown legends plastered on the walls. I worried that I had built this burger up to an impossibly high standard and soon the reality would arrive: a soggy, cold, misshapen lump from a restaurant that hadn’t been open for more than 6 months. I couldn’t have been any further from the truth. Continue reading

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George’s Coffee Shop: A Classic Diner with Seoul

     If some young indie director finds himself location scouting for his next mumblecore flick he could do a lot worse than George’s Coffee Shop, a cramped and unassuming Korean-American diner tucked away in a sleepy Culver City strip mall. With its weathered 1970’s sign and it’s outdated décor, George’s is the quintessential LA greasy spoon that has changed little but its prices (paced with inflation of course) since it first opened. Similar to its kindred sibling across town, Tokyo 7-7, George’s menu is filled with a few unique ethnic quirks that make it much more than the apparent sum of its parts. The diner is run by an older Korean couple, both of whom seem to have developed a harmony with the often hectic weekend breakfast crowd. They sling plates and clear tables with an efficiency and calmness that speaks to how long they’ve been at it for. Don’t take personal offense when the no-nonsense waitress/matriarch approaches your table holding her pen and note pad with a demeanor that suggests she may hail from somewhere north of the 38th parallel, that’s just the way it’s done at George’s. Continue reading

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