Monday, December 9, 2019

Eating BIG in Los Angeles

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties

- Eating Everything in the City of Angels

Believe it or not tacos weren't all I ate out in LA. In case you missed last weeks 'Los Angeles Taco Tour' you can check that out HERE. For those who already saw it you now get to see what else is good out there. Besides just the tacos. The answer to which is so much. You can make an argument for NYC or LA when it comes to the country's best dining city but I don't think you can make an argument for anywhere else when it comes to judging them from top to bottom. In the case of LA it almost feels like three LA's as far as it's food scene goes. First you got all the old school spots. I was surprised by how many long time restaurants are still in service out there. Then you got all the international eating options (Mexican, Korean, Thai, Chinese, etc). Plus there's the new school chef driven spots. Some of them run by the children of many of the mom and pop international spots.

Sights from LA

I haven't been to NYC in forever so LA would be my current pick for favorite food city in the States. It helps that pretty much every meal I eat in life is either Mexican or Asian in flavors and so LA has tons of stuff that I like to eat. However it's not the easiest to navigate. You most likely need a car or at least a bike to get from one area to the other. In many cases you may find the ride too much as far as time and traffic. So it's best to go in with a list of spots that are in the same area. For instance one can find an array of options in 'hoods like Koreatown, Thai Town. and East LA. The choices are endless so I suggest picking some spots unlike that which you'd find back home. What makes the food scene here so special? I think it's a combination of a few things I've already mentioned the first of which is the fact it's a melting pot. On top of that they have great produce and the weather has to help as far as keeping people happy. Aside from that brutal traffic we hear so much about. But as much as anything the food here has exposure. LA is blessed with a pretty deep scene as far as it's food media is concerned. From the LAtimes to EaterLA to LAtaco they have great editors, writers, scouts etc.

Sights from LA

Langer's Deli

First time visit to me for this legendary Los Angeles deli. You know what that means?!?! The #19. Langer's opened in 1947 so it's been a fixture of LA pretty much forever. It's a classic Kosher style deli that's catered to all the stars as well as the common man in need of matzo ball soup and pastrami. Langer's isn't the oldest deli in town but it's probably the most well known. The type of spot that's been around so long it has it's own parking lot. It's neighborhood surroundings reflect that of the deli. It feels like a previous era. I don't know how long the employees inside have been working there but my guess would be 20+ years for most of them. I love spots like this. When it comes to deli meats LA is first and foremost a pastrami city. That's what I'd guess 8 out of 10 people are at Langer's for in some form or another. I had to make my first visit the #19 since that's their most popular sandwich. It's their best in-show pastrami with Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and cole slaw on rye. I thoroughly enjoyed this sandwich though next time I'll request slaw on the side.

The #19 at Langer's Deli

Dino's Chicken & Burgers

Next stop on my Legends of Los Angeles tour took me to Pico blvd just under Koreatown. Dino’s rocks a classic LA fast food establishment menu with its Greek grilled chicken being the big draw. But it wasn’t on the menu until a decade after he opened this location. Originally just a family bbq staple until some relatives convinced him to put it on the menu where it caught an LA Times columnists attention. She eventually wrote it up and the rest is LA history. The Pollo Maniaco as it’s called is known for its dark red hue which comes from the family’s secret seasonings. It’s served over a mound of fresh cut fries that quickly get infused with the sauce and chicken drippings. Cole slaw and tortillas come on the side making it one of LA’s best bang for your buck meals. Since 1968.

Pollo Maniaco at Dino's Chicken and Burgers

Philippe The Original

You're looking below at a beef double dipped for a first time visitor of the spot where the French Dip sandwich became a thing. It’s a simple sandwich made with warm thick sliced roast beef served in a French roll with the option to have the bread dipped into the au jus. A double dip means it goes in twice which seemed about right in terms of its deliciousness. As a born and bred fan of the Italian Beef I can appreciate this semi similar sandwich. But what I loved most about a visit to the original Chinatown location of Philippe's was the melting pot of its clientele. There were tourists, Hollywood hotshots, woodstock hippies, Young Hispanic families, old Chinese couples, and more. All spending their weekend morning at what’s become one of LA’s most iconic dining destinations. Since 1908.

French Dip Sandwich at Philippe The Original

The Apple Pan

Here we have one of the most anticipated stops of this trip. I'd been wanting to visit The Apple Pan since Roadfoods glory days. There just aren’t too many spots as iconic as The Apple Pan as far as blasts from the past go. A true West coast treasure that was spawned in the Midwest. They call their burgers "Ohio Style". Apple Pan is a longtime favorite of America’s foremost burger expert George Motz (@motzburger) as well as The Burger Show host @alvincailan. Normally I wouldn’t do lettuce or bbq sauce on a burger and if given the choice I’ll choose American cheese over cheddar but you just don’t mess with the classics and that’s exactly what The Apple Pan is. Burger Porn. Since 1947.

Hickory Burger with a slice of Banana Cream Pie at The Apple Pan


We spent one day around Venice hanging with some friends of both mine and hers. I love the beach town vibe of the area but it's not for me as far as places in LA I'd want to live. First and foremost is due to the location which is away from most other areas. It's kind of in a corner. The other reason is the food scene is more boujee than I like. There's not a ton of taco spots or little hole in the wall noodle shacks etc. But they do have Gjusta which I must admit is one of the most well oiled restaurant machines I've ever seen. This place is like the Costco for Santa Monica foodies. They have everything from fresh baked bread and prepared salads etc to sandwiches and entrees. They seem to stay busy and in doing so also seem to employ close to 100 people all of which help the chaotic restaurant run smoothly. She had a breakfast sandwich where everything in it was perfect from the extra yolk-y egg to the soft/sturdy bun. I got the Lox Rosti and loved it. Expensive but super good.

Brunch at Gjusta


Since it's opening in 2008 Animal has propped itself into the upper echelon of LA's most essential restaurants. The guys behind it are credited with helping boost the city's dining scene to where it is today. We stopped in for brunch one day when in the area. The menu is described as new American but there's also plenty of international influence. We always like to try a spots chicken liver pate and in doing so we've had many variations over the years. The pate served at Animal is right up there for the best I can remember. Both the spread and the bread were on point. An order of chilaquiles was also really well made. They managed to get the house fried chips fully bathed in a nice smokey red sauce while they stayed relatively crispy throughout. I'd be interested in coming back for dinner.

Brunch at Animal


Next stop is up on the trendy Hollywood Boulevard where we saw Angelina Jolie and one of her daughters. Kismet is described as a casual spot for all day Mediterranean fare. You can get a solo breakfast in the morning or bring the whole family for dinner in the evening. They're flexible. We love a good Nicoise Salad and saw they serve one here so we started with that. Not bad. I've had better but this was a nice fresh break from all the tacos and what not. Now the Flaky Bread aka Malawach was another story. Where has this Yemeni style flat bread been all of my life? It was flaky and fantastic. Served alongside a soft boiled egg and labneh with a super refreshing tomato yogurt and side salad.

Lunch at Kismet

Here's Looking at You

We came to this Koreatown sensation for the drinks but stayed for snacks. The cocktails were good but I don't remember what they were plus the menu at these type of spots can switch up pretty quick. The food here is Asian influenced but there doesn't seem to be any boundaries other than the food being delicious. I was mostly interested in the mom and pop type spots this trip in but it was pretty obvious LA is having a moment as far as it’s chef driven restaurants go. A couple of stunners pictured below in a hamachi collar with hot curry, tomato nuoc cham, and basil. My god was that good. We also had another memorable prep of some chicken liver mousse with Basque peppers and maple.

Dinner and Drinks at Here's Looking at You

Myung Dong Kyoja

I wish I'd had more time to explore Koreatown. Next trip in I may have to do mostly Korean food in the same way I did Mexican this trip. LA's Korean population is a major player in the city's culinary landscape. A friend from LA who knows his stuff told me this is the spot I should check out if I just have one meal with myself. You know bc you need more than one person to do Korean BBQ right. But you only need yourself to enjoy the signature dish of Myung Dong Kyoja. It's a Korean style chicken noodle soup served with ground pork and pork dumplings in it. Talk about chicken soup for the soul. This is it. Served with the house made kimchi on the side which is as good as it gets. Not much else on the menu so pretty much everyone is there for this. Their other location is in Seoul.

Chicken Noodle Soup with Dumplings at Myung Dong Kyoja

Pearl River Delta

Pearl River Delta is a pop-up run by a friend named Johnny Lee. He's a vet of LA's restaurant scene and is also involved with Rakki Cafe here in Chicago (moving to Chinatown). I got lucky and happened to be in LA when he was back there running a pop up. This was at an event called 'Chinatown After Dark' that featured a few vendors including Johnny who was representing his Pearl River Delta team. On the menu that night were charcoal grilled char siu pork jowls. Winner! Winner! Chinese BBQ dinner. What a treat to be able to try these. Both me and her scarfed that box down in minutes. I don't know when these will again be avail but I suggest following @PRD_LA on instagram to find out more.

Char Siu Pork Jowl from Pearl River Delta


Over in the Sawtelle area you'll find plenty of Japanese restaurants. Upon my wife's arrival we wanted to go get yakitori but the spot we had in mind was randomly closed. So in a bit of hat pick we ended up choosing this ramen shop with a nice crowd outside. Tsujita is popular for their Tsukemen among other things. I was told by a some they've gone downhill but what would I know since this was my first visit. I liked the noodles / meat but the dipping broth was way too porky for me. Yes that's possible when it has an unpleasant odor and truth be told tsukemen isnt for me. The dipping sauce always gets cold too fast. Then when it cools down it gets even more gelatinous. I'll stick with ramen.

Tsukemen at Tsujita


We had success in getting Yakitori the following night. Japanese charcoal grilled chicken skewers are a favorite of both of ours. There aren't too many yakitori spots in the States let alone many where you can flat out say they feel like some of the better spots in Japan. For example there's nowhere to get yakitori like this in Chicago. For whatever reason Yakitoriya seems somewhat under the radar as far as hype it's been given. There's not a ton of info on it and that's ok. This type of spot cant sustain success with a nonstop line of people. That's bc the master behind the grill breaks down the chickens himself. Not only can you get skewers of all the regular parts of the chicken (thigh, leg, wing etc) but they also have most of the good hard to find stuff. We enjoyed options like the oyster, tail, chest, and more in a blow out dinner where we ordered skewers until we were stuffed. One of my favorite meals of the year as both the grillmaster and his wife took care of us and another party. Just be prepared to dine here for a couple hours as the skewers are only grilled by the husband who has a system that makes sure each skewer has that kiss of binchotan from just enough fat extracted. Most excellent.

Yakitori Dinner at Yakitoriya

Brian's Shave Ice

I spied this Hawaiian style Shave ice spot next door to Yakitoriya. Brian's Shave Ice is well received among online reviews. Many of which mentioned their Dole Whip (pineapple soft serve). I knew what I was getting then. Pictured below is Tiger's Blood with a scoop of Dole Whip within it. After stuffing our faces with random chicken parts this was the perfect dessert. Then again I LOVE me some shave ice.

Tigers Blood with Dole Whip at Brian's Shave Ice

Mariscos El Faro

I had the honor of taking a quick crash course in LA’s mariscos scene. I was able to meet up with the man behind LAtaco @theglutster aka Editor Javier Cabral at one of his favorite neighborhood joints. I rode over to Highland park to meet him. When it comes to seafood the Sinaloans are serious about their craft. So when you want the seriously good stuff seek out Mariscos El Faro. I'm guessing just about everything is good as the couple behind Mariscos el Faro take the extra steps in securing the good stuff. No tilapia found here. Instead chow down on options like callo de lobina (salt cured sea bass tostadas), Tostada de Jaiba made with real crab meat, Sinaloan style shrimp empanadas with dried shrimp mixed into the dough. All of it spiced just right with Sinaloa grown chiltepin peppers. The perfect meal on what was the hottest day of the year in LA. This is a treasure of a taco truck.

Sinaloan Seafood at Mariscos El Faro


This little stand within a local market is dishing out Yucatán-style seafood. It's owned by the folks behind Chichen Itza who I featured in my taco tour. We had a terrific lunch here consisting of Ceviche de Kanpachi, Wood grilled fish taco / Baja shrimp taco, Pulpo Asado. Each dish bursting with as much flavor as color. Holbox was a favorite of the late great Jonathan Gold. He's missed.

Lunch at Holbox

Coni Seafood

We took a quick dip into Coni Seafood before catching our flight at LAX. It’s only 10 minutes away from the airport and thus a great option for a last meal in Los Angeles. The star of the show here is Pescado Zarandeado in grilled snook form. My absolute favorite fish dish. This version of the Nayarit classic was heavy on the soy sauce and grilled just right. Snook meat is softer than swordfish but tougher than trout and perfect for stuffing into tortillas with some dark Maggi onions and tongue tingling neon green house salsa. Also had an order of finger licking Camarones al Mojo de Ajo. 

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo

Pescado Zarandeado at Coni Seafood

Sapp Coffee Shop

This old school Thai Town diner has gotten it's fair share of press. Which always made me want to visit it. So when I had the chance one morning I took it. Sapp Coffee Shop opens around 8a and stays open until about 8p. I'm always down for a bowl of noodles for breakfast. Sapp is known for a couple including their boat noodles and then the Jade noodles which is what I tried. Spinach tinted noodles are served dry with a hearty mix of barbecue pork, crabmeat, and roast duck. Also served with green onion, chiles, crushed peanuts, sugar, and a slice of lime. Directions: squeeze citrus and mix.

Jade Noodles at Sapp Coffee House

Isaan Station

This Northern Thai strip mall favorite stays open until about Midnight. I visited one evening after 10p and it was bumping with Thai locals. Upon entering I passed an open kitchen window where an old Thai lady was pounding out a fresh Thai salad. I was in the need of some funky Thai flavors so I got one for myself. Thai salads many times being mostly meat with maybe some red onions, mint leaves, lime, rice powder, cilantro, and green onion with spicy charcoal grilled pork. It was exactly what I wanted ordered with a side of sticky rice. I needed more time to further explore the city's Thai scene.

Northern Thai Food at Isaan Station

Rutt's Cafe

I was in Culver City for a night so breakfast in the area was welcomed. Turn's out Rutt's Hut which I had seen on DDD was not far. This Hawaiian style diner has been cranking out island classics since 1976. The owners have gone on to open a few more places in that time. Anytime rice is an option at breakfast I'm likely to roll with it.  So for me choosing one of Rutt's famous "Royale's" was an easy choice. A Royale is an open scrambled omelette cooked with green onions, bean sprouts, and rice. Both a Hawaiian roll and a cup of Teriyaki are served on the side. Try it fried (rice) which is what I did.

The Famous Royale at Rutt's Hut

Mr. Sate

Early lunch in Culver City was a quick snack at Mr. Sate. Their Indonesian skewered meats were quite a treat. I was bit worried when I saw the young guy grill them on an electric grill but they charred up very nicely. I tried one of each the beef + potato and the chicken and then two of the pork. The beef + potato skewer ended up being my favorite by far. The other two were really good but I've never had a skewer quite like the beef / potato. Both the beef / potato were cooked to perfection.

Indonesian Sate Skewers at Mr. Sate

Baroo Canteen

I wasn't expecting one of the trips best meals to come from an East Hollywood bazaar. But that's bc I didn't have Baroo on my radar. It wasn't until I was in LA and got a tip from a well informed local / social media friend. Shoutout @Nick_Liao_ at KCRWgoodfood. He spoke highly of Baroo which had recently moved into a Union Swap Meet Building (basically a flea market) on Santa Monica. If that doesn't make you love Los Angeles the food most surely will. While the atmosphere is super casual the food is highly chef driven. What does that even mean? Well in this case the attention to detail on the dishes at Baroo is like that of a fine dining chef. Hong Kong Prawn Toast was simply outstanding. Toasted bread is topped with kimchi and served with avocado, shiso, yuzu coulis and greens with citrus dressing. Even the salad was worthy of a shoutout. So good we decided it would be a sin not to try anything else. So we got the seemingly simple chicken fried rice. They switch the fried rice dish often but this one with dill and pickled red onions among a bunch of other stuff was money. It took him a bit of time to cook everything one by one. I've thought about this rice too much since eating it.

Prawn Toast and Chicken Fried Rice at Baroo

Phnom Penh Noodle Shack

Down in Long Beach is where you’ll find the hub of Cambodian food and culture here in America. This little noodle shack was once the house of a Cambodian family that turned it into a restaurant. The specialty of the house here is the Kuy Tiev which is the Cambodian version of pho in that it’s also a rice noodle soup that’s popular for breakfast. I got the Phnom Penh Noodles which come with rice noodles, pork meat (sliced, ground, stomach, liver) and shrimp. The broth is pork bone based and you can choose to get it on the side making the noodles dry if you please. When your noodles arrive you use all the condiments on the table to kick your soup up a notch. Options like fish sauce, fried garlic slivers, and peppers sitting in vinegar allow each eater to personalize their own bowl. Awesome.

Kuy Tiev at Phnom Penh Noodle Shack

Knead Donuts (Long Beach)

Long Beach has no shortage of donut shops. Or vape shops too for that matter. As far as the donuts go it all goes back to one guy. It’s a story that’s been told many times but for those who weren’t aware Long Beach is home to both the country’s largest Cambodian population and also the Cambodian Donut King. Ted Ngoy is the man who earned that nickname. He immigrated to OC from Cambodia. While here he fell in love with donuts and dreamed of owning his own spot. He then eventually landed a job at a local chain and the rest is American history. Over time he mastered the art and paid it forward by sponsoring more recently arrived Cambodian immigrants and teaching them the donut business at his shop. As decades have passed the local donut scene in California is now dominated by disciples of the Donut King. They say up to 90 percent of the 5,000 doughnut stores in California are Cambodian-owned and it doesn’t end there. Cambodian run donut shops are found all around the country these days including Chicago. This is a second generation joint and it’s the spot you want to check out for a peek at the the next wave of Cambodian-American owned shops.

Donuts at Knead Donuts

One One Dumplings (SGV)

I had the chance to meet up with a social media friend for the first time in real life. My guy Ayal who goes by @flavorfiend on instagram is always making me want to go eat in LA. He's well traveled throughout the city including the SGV. Also known as San Gabriel Valley this is where you'll find any and everything when it comes to Chinese food in America. The options are overwhelming if you're just visiting like me. There were so many that we kind of just picked two on a whim as I had no idea where to start so I just told Ayal to pick a couple spots. We met up at One One Dumplings which has a long history in the area. It's story involves one of those disputes between partners etc. So One One I was told is the spot for dumplings in the SGV. We ended up getting potstickers and steamed dumplings as well as some super subtle yet extra satisfying beef noodle soup. A very good start.

Dumplings and Noodles at One One Dumplings

Mandarin Deli (SGV)

Next up was Spicy Oil Knife Cut Noodles with @flavorfiend. The fact he kind of just randomly picked this spot and we got noodles this good shows just how deep the Chinese food scene is embedded in this region. The options are endless making it overwhelming for a gringo tourist like me. Pictured above the spicy oil noodles is a bowl of their spicy beef hand pulled noodle. Crazy good noodles.

Noodles at Madarin Deli

Da Kikokiko

The wife wanted to stop at a clothing shop in an outdoor mall type neighborhood near the airport. Right down from the clothing shop was a Hawaiian restaurant doing Poke and Shave Ice. Perfect place to wait. I forget exactly what I got but it came with a cream cap and it was really good all mixed together. I wish we had a legit shave ice spot in Chicago. It's always so good when I have it out west. For the plane ride I grabbed an order of the best spam musubi I've ever had. The spam being well seared and what not while the rice complemented it perfectly. That's it for this trip. Off to Japan next.

Shave Ice at Da Kikokiko

Note: To find the locations of all the spots featured in this post, as well as places I didn't make it to, please click HERE for my google maps guide to Los Angeles.

See ya next time @chibbqking


Unknown said...

Looking for the best food in LA? Go for the Bollywood Bites.I have been a regular customer for quite some time now and I just cannot seem to get over their Chicken Tikka Masala! It is just the best in LA.

Bollywood Bites Restaurant

East End Taste Magazine said...

Noreetuh is one of very (very) few Hawaiian restaurants in the New York City metro area, let alone the Lower East Side. If you’ve ever been curious about Hawaiian food, noreetuh is where you should head first.
East Village Hawaiian Restaurant Noreetuh NYC

Anonymous said...

How do you visit L.A. and not include Pinky's Hot Dogs on your itinerary of classic food spots to try out there??

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