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!
Here in Los Angeles, the words “Inglewood” and “Chinese food” when used in the same sentence, don’t always inspire the greatest confidence. In fact, they bring to mind the greasy, goopy fare found at the countless versions of the “$1 Chinese” shops across the city. So I was a little suspicious when a friend recommended “Wok on the Wild Side”, an Inglewood Chinese restaurant in a two-story strip mall between a nail salon and a Louisiana Fried Chicken. Few things good have come out of pun-titled eateries. However, my state of mind began to change when another friend recommended the restaurant yet again, and this time referred to a specific dish, the Hot Link Fried Rice. Chinese-Soul Food fusion? Now, I was intrigued.
Owner Li Kung and her husband Chi Ge run the restaurant by themselves, with Li working the front of the house and Chi Ge working the kitchen. Li was previously a health food cooking instructor in Manhattan Beach, until she and her husband, who was at first reluctant to jump into the restaurant world, decided to open Wok on the Wild Side. Li’s husband, Chi Ge, is a tall, burly man who could pass for an Asian-version of the Soup Nazi. When I ask him about being a chef, he bluntly tells me that he has never liked cooking for others. He wants to cook his way, and doesn’t liked being nitpicked by customers. Li is much more ameliorating. The business does a brisk amount of take-out, and you will often see Li suggesting customizations for unsure customers on the phone. Like many marriages, they’re opposing viewpoints seems to somehow mesh well together, that is, if the food is any indication.
A good rule of thumb when spending the day in unfamiliar territory is to show up early and eat a good breakfast. When I arrived at the Wat Thai temple in North Hollywood I had followed only one of those rules; It was a few minutes before 10am and the vendors had just started to unload their wares. Needless to say, I was incredibly hungry. It was Songkran, celebrated in Thailand as the first day of the new year. The event was an eclectic mix of past and present: bald, orange-robed Buddhist monks roamed the grounds, vendors bowing politely as they passed; children ran through the temple gardens brandishing super soakers (Songkran is also know as the Festival of Water) while a youthful rock band on the main stage alternated between traditional Thai songs and those of Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift. Continue reading
During these consecutive rainy days, it’s important to remember that summer is, in fact, near. We suggest a Boyle Heights find, Mariscos El Jato, which is about as close as you’ll get to the dog days right about now. With fresh seafood and cold beer, the only thing missing is the feel of toes in the hot sand. This is Boyle Heights, not Ensenanda, but the mix-up is understandable.
Like many authentic Mexican eateries in East Los Angeles, Mariscos El Jato gives off a certain machísmo charm. Its tie-dyed exterior is adorned with bright murals of soccer playing goats decked in Chivas jerseys alongside obligatory paintings of scantily clad women. Inside is more of the same: televisions rolling the day’s fútbol highlights on repeat, young waitresses wandering between tables, decor reminiscent of a Mexican Ed Hardy (Eduardo, then?). No doubt, in outward appearance, this is a boy’s club. A place where world weary men venture after work for a frosty beer, a good meal, and frank conversation. It may come as a surprise to an outsider, then, that the food served here is delicate, refreshing and—dare we say—refined.
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*Editor’s Note: I have recently begun an internship at Los Angeles magazine, and now write periodically for their dining blog, The Digest. Of course, future posts specifically for the Los Angelicious Times will still continue.
-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
Has the whole LA food truck scene in LA jumped the shark? All signs seem to point to a resounding yes. Pan-Asian Caribbean Fusion Truck? Sure. Doughnut Burger Truck? Bring it on. Deep Fried Ice Cream Mobile? Hells yes. For every successful food truck venture such as Kogi or Nom Nom, a dozen imitators spring up, armed with only a twitter account, a gimmicky concept and a flashy paint job on a P.O.S. van. Can a city, even one as big as LA, really require five Indian food trucks? or four Filipino trucks? The firm laws of economics dictate that all this surplus food-truckery coupled with trickling demand will probably not end well for the both parties. But perhaps there is hope: a food truck so seemingly hair-brained that it succeeds by sheer hutzpah, reawakening the youthful possibility that lies in mobile food. Enter the Jogasaki Truck, home of the Sushi Burrito. Continue reading
When it comes to Southern cuisine in Los Angeles, the lion’s share of attention goes to barbecue: long-winded debates comparing the soot-covered barrel smokers of Bludso’s or Phillip’s, or the proper peppery tang of Big Mista’s secret sauce. And if barbecue isn’t the topic, then perhaps someone will bring up Roscoe’s Chicken n’ Waffles, a southern-style greasy spoon that is by any measure a Los Angeles institution know for it’s half-hour waits and celebrity endorsements as much as it’s food. The truth is Los Angeles is home to an impressive collection of traditional Southern Soul Food restaurants that extend well beyond the BBQ shacks or the heavy-treaded diner chains slinging plates of chicken and waffles. Though soul food can trace it’s origins to African-American culture, it has undoubtedly woven itself into the national palette as nostalgia-inducing comfort cuisine: crunchy fried chicken smothered in onions and brown gravy, stewed greens seasoned with tender pits of pork, cloyingly sweet pieces of peach cobbler topped with ice cream. Dishes are cooked low and slow and, as any southern chef will insist, rely on care, patience and heart in order to be called true soul food. Continue reading
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
Like most good Koreatown hole-in-the-walls, chances are if you weren’t fluent in Korean you would pass Yu Ga Ne without notice. In addition, I’d imagine than even a good amount of native Koreans would walk by this dumpling house without thinking twice. Situated in a tiny detached building that looks more akin to a maintenance shed than restaurant, its only identifier is a small sign in English that reads Yu Ga Ne Authentic Korean Dumpling accompanied by a slightly larger sign in Korean. Beyond that, the exterior of this mom-and-pop diner is wall of tightly drawn bamboo shades and faded pictures of noodle dishes. A look inside reveals a few chairs and tables which are separated from the kitchen by only a well-worn screen door. Though sometimes a lone student or retiree will take a seat and peruse a newspaper as they eat, most of customers here are older women who pop in, gossip with the owners for a few minutes, then leave with a box or two of freshly steamed dumplings. Considering the multitude of Korean restaurants in Los Angeles and the fact that most of them feature some specialization into a particular dish it’s a wonder that more don’t focus on mandu, otherwise know as Korean dumplings. It’s certainly debatable whether Yu Ga Ne serves the best mandu in the city, but by all standards they make an exceptional meal in terms of flavor-to-cost ratio. For $4.99 you can enjoy a platter of 6 steamed king dumplings; they are easily the best thing on the menu: hand-formed doughy ovals stuffed to the point that they resemble oversized Easter eggs. Continue reading
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
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.
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
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
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