So this is from a weekly feature I’ve started for LAmag.com which profiles a place where the food is great and prices are low. Hope you enjoy!
-noun 1. A large hamburger consisting of multiple thick beef patties as well as the addition of highly caloric toppings, including but not limited to: cheese, bacon, pastrami, egg, hot links and chili.
Forget what Jimmy Buffet says, the best cheeseburgers aren’t found in paradise; they’re found on the mean streets. Products of tough neighborhoods where money is often tight but stomachs aren’t, hood burgers are a unique category unto themselves. The current LA burger dichotomy generally falls into two categories: the fast-food style burger with a thin, tightly-packed patty adorned with basic toppings; and the gourmet burger, featuring a larger, loosely ground patty featuring higher quality meat and more upscale ingredients. Somewhere between the two lies the mutant, bastardized world of the hood burger. If classics like Apple Pan and Pie n’ Burger are Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle, then perhaps these are more like Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire: beefed-up, highly divisive, and of questionable sanity. Hood burgers can be found in many parts of the U.S., but some of the best examples are found here in Los Angeles. After all, they don’t call it Burger Town for nothing. Here are five of the best, sampled over five days. Continue reading
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
There are three things that Los Angeles’ upper crust is always willing to fork out premium prices for: German autos, Italian fashions and Japanese sushi. It’s that last one that is often the most impressive in its mastery: dishes served at places like Urasawa or Sushi Zo boast some of the finest and freshest ingredients available, prepared by chefs so skilled they make brain surgeons look jittery. Of course, it comes at cost; go often enough and you may rack up the kind of debt usually reserved for recent college grads. The good news is that you can still find some decent sushi in LA for the same price as valet parking at Sugarfish. Continue reading
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