A NYer's Trip Report to LA (long!)
My SO and I just got back from a week in LA to attend my brother’s graduation from AFI. I didn’t post much before I headed there (esp. since there were more than enough "I'm from NYC and coming to LA..." threads to review), except to post on some grad dinner ideas, but did extensive research on the boards for the month leading up to the trip for other meals.
Since we split our time between family stuff and my SO and I doing our own thing, we admittedly ended up playing it a bit safer than we would have if it was just us so we missed a ton of places.
Here’s the week rundown:
After my SO and I arrived at LAX, we decided to go all the way to Los Feliz (where my brother lives) to visit Best Fish Taco in Ensenada. It was closed on Mondays! Instead we saw there was a taco truck outside of the Children’s Hospital and we both got one each carne asada and al pastor, everything on each. They were great! We particularly liked the al pastor a lot.
Our hotel in West Hollywood was close to Urth Caffé and we walked over there after checking in to get lemonades (delicious) and an oatmeal cookie to tide us over while we explored the blocks around us. We were pretty much some of the only people walking around.
Dinner was at Park’s BBQ with my brother as my parents and sister hadn’t arrived yet. It was great – the atmosphere was clean and modern enough without feeling too un-authentic. We had the short ribs and the bulgogi and vegetable bimbambop. It was way too much food but we ate all of it and it was excellent.
Afterwards we had a beer at Red Lion Tavern and that was about all we had room for after all that beef.
After a lazy morning we went to Nook for lunch. We really loved the food – my SO had the blackened catfish burrito which was delicious and I had the Oaxacatown salad with chicken. The chicken was really tender and everything tasted crisp and fresh. We ended the meal with the key lime pie with blueberry compote which was bracing and just tart enough. We also appreciated the free refills – even on my Arnold Palmers which I’ve never gotten before.
We drove out to Santa Monica for some exploring and on our way back stopped at Tacos Por Favor. We weren’t super hungry so I just got the carnitas taco and SO got the fried fish. Carnitas were flavorful and tender. Fried fish was just so-so. But it was nice to have a cold Mexican coke to wash it all down.
For dinner, we met up with my parents, brother and sister. We went to Palms Thai which was close to my parents’ hotel (one of their requests). The food was fine, standard Thai but everyone liked what they ordered. My parents had never had Thai food before. My father even tried papaya salad with dried shrimp and really liked it. After dinner my parents went back to their hotel and the kids went for a drink at Big Foot Lodge, after being turned down at The Griffin since my brother was wearing shorts! Apparently they have a rule after 8pm, no shorts.
This was grad day but we managed to fit in a trip to the SM Farmer’s Market and had a great time (it was just me, my SO and sister). The produce was amazing – we bought some incredible strawberries and cherries. We wished we could buy other things because it all looked fantastic. We got some pastries from the bakery stand and walked over to the benches overlooking the beach to eat them. Oh and we each had a freshly shucked oyster from the fish guy.
We ended up getting back late from SM so before the ceremony we just barely had time for a lunch at Alcove – my sister had the roast beef panini with onion rings and I had the enormous cobb salad and a big lemonade. This is the kind of place I wish they had more of here in NYC.
Graduation dinner was at Farfalla. I thought for a neighborhood Italian restaurant, it was very good. It delivered at the level we expected, and the food was well-prepared in particular the skirt steak, chicken piccatta, and the farfalle with salmon.
We did a whole day family thing since that was the last day my sister was there, and she was flying out that night. We started with breakfast at Fred 62, a place I hadn’t come across in my research but my brother liked. I thought it was great – pricey, but the food was really good. I had the poached eggs with hollandaise over crumbled bacon and grilled tomato. What I loved was the shredded hash browns. Places here only seem to do the chunky home fries and I love the shredded kind – and Fred 62’s version was nice and crispy. I also liked getting an Arnold Palmer with breakfast!
Around lunchtime we headed to the Getty Museum which was gorgeous (the grounds are much more impressive than the exhibits). We also had a really nice lunch in their cafeteria. The standout was the stacked spinach and corn enchiladas with garlic rice and black beans.
Dinner was just me and my SO. We wanted to keep things low key after having a busy day so went to Lou’s which at first we thought it was closed. The food was good but nothing that really wowed us. And even though we’re used to tight spaces here, we sat at the middle table and it was really cramped there. We started with the corn and avocado soup and the homemade pate then moved on to the rabbit ragu with polenta and the lentils with chorizo and fried egg. This last dish was actually my favorite of what we had. I think the rabbit ragu would have been better except for the fact that some pieces of meat were tender and others were not. Since we weren't all that excited about the food, we skipped dessert though the cherry tart was tempting to get. The table next to us didn't seem all that excited with their meal either.
Last full day here – breakfast was at the hotel (we got muffins from Trader Joe’s), went to Bliss at the W Westwood for some pampering, then had In-n-Out cheeseburgers, fries and a vanilla shake for lunch. Definitely a good fast food burger, and got it with onions which was tasty.
Hiked Runyan Canyon in the afternoon, took a nap then headed out for the night. Saw a movie at Arclight on Hollywood Blvd (I wish there was a theater like this in NYC) and enjoyed their popcorn. Then because it was something we could actually walk to – we were so tired of driving everywhere – we went to Bowery for dinner. Nice space and atmosphere. Started with the corn and crab fritters which were really good and the asparagus, beet and goat cheese salad. Then I had the short ribs (the sauce and meat were so good) and my SO had the burger with gruyere which was terrific.
So all in all it was a good trip. I think we only got the smallest hint of what is good in LA with the tacos and the Korean BBQ but didn't really scratch the surface - which just means we need to return back soon.
Thanks for a great report. You hit some of the high spots in the Los Feliz area but also got around nicely. Glad you liked Nook -- I wondered whether a New Yorker would appreciate it or scoff. It is sorta fun that at least one of your destinations failed so you had to wing it. Fun that you enjoyed the Getty and got an In-N-Out burger. From that area, sampling Korean and Thai are definite strengths -- you can save dim sum, ethnic Chinese, sushi, and more Mexican for the next trip. Nice report. Isn't it amazing that it was 70s here while it was 100 in NYC?!
Thanks for all your nice comments on my trip report. I know as a New Yorker I'm required to think everything we have here is the center of the universe but that's nonsense :) I'd be a bad CHer if I couldn't find a few things from any of the places I've visited that I wish I had back home. To this point, there is a pizza place near Hartford, CT where I grew up and I am convinced it is the best and I wish it was here.
Nosh - the weather in LA is enough to make me want to move. We left NYC and it was hot and humid and then returned to the same. LA felt like a movie set with the perfect weather and palm trees. And people were friendly - I barely heard anyone honking their horns either.
Great trip report. As someone who grew up in NJ, I too was raised with "NY is the center of the universe" idea. My time in LA and travels abroad have corrected me of this (a visit to Shibuya in Tokyo makes Times Square look like a bustling St. Louis). Certainly NY's fine dining is prolific and sublime, so it's good you didn't spend too much time being disappointed in that arena. And the pizza, certain ethnic foods (various Carribean, Jewish, Russian/Eastern European, Senegalese & other west African which is not well represented here other than Ethiopian).
It's great that you hit up the SM Farmer's Market, since fresh produce is far superior to offerings in LA (particular in the winter, when NY local offerings are spare, but LA's sunshine infused markets spill over with the central valley's bounty.
Park's was a good call-- just are there myself the first time a few weeks ago and the meat was sublime, but it is not representative of LA's Korean offerings in that it's pretty expensive and polished joint by local standards. For more "everyday" Korean, head to Soot Bull Jeep for ultra smokey BBQ bulgogi & chicken, Sokongdong for wonderful soontofu stew and FREE (yes, free) spicy & unlimited marinated crab and Yongsusan for a $20 prix fixe set course imperial cuisine banquet.
It's sad that it seems you went to Palms Thai and didn't see Thai Elvis. Since the food is mediocre, that's the whole point of going there (and paying the inflated prices). Instead, head to Sanamluang for wonderful smokey pad see ew, pan fried morning glory and shrimp cakes. Afterwards, head to across the street to BKT for Thai desserts khanom krok and wonderful chewy coconutty taro cakes. For regional food there's southern Thai menu at Jitlada, recently J Gold reviewed Northern Thai place "Spicy BBQ" with a wonderful Chiang Mai khao sawy... a dish that is hard to get a great approximation of even in Bangkok, it's such a regional dish.
Further afield is sublime Renu Nakorn in Norwalk (reopened recently after a multi-year closure)... wonderful, wonderful stuff
Also, there's taco trucks, and then there's taco trucks... if your taco was just "okay" to "good", then you've gotta check out a great one. http://tacohunt.blogspot.com. Or do some research and you can get your regional Mexican groove on by dining on Yucatecan food at Chichin Itza, or Oaxacan food at Guelaguetza. There places (aside from Renu Nakorn) are all extremely accessible by car, and are all centrally located.
I've left out a ton from this list. There's so much more... but as a general rule, LA excels at dishing up cheap but sublime regional ethnic dishes... that's our golden spot. The typical tourist (or even native Angeleno) would likely drive right past the places I've recommended, unassuming as they are... but that's the joy of dining in Los Angeles... in a town which appears on its surface to be a place of ultimate superficiality, scratch the surface a bit. LA's soul is rooted in its ethnic working class communities and their wonderful, authentically prepared foods.