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Olvera Street/China Town/Downtown recommendations

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I want to take my girlfriend some place different and thought that Olvera Street may be a good place to go. We'll hopefully take the train up from the OC to Union Station this Friday afternoon.
I haven't been and several years and wonder if there are still good Mexican food restuarants in the area.
I'd prefer a sitdown restaurant if possible, but not mandatory.
I'm a big fan of cheese enchiladas and carnitas tacos. She loves beef tacos.

Depending on what is said here, we may want to go to China Town to eat instead or go to both.

Any recommendations for places within walking or Metro rail/bus, as we will not have a car?

We'll probably be around for several hours.

Thanks!

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  1. Friday, near Union Station, is perfect for a great French Dip sandwich at Philippe's the Original, AND Friday is the only day they serve their wonderful New England (white) clam chowder! It's my favorite chowder in all of L.A.

    1. Yxta Cocina ( www.yxta.net ) may be a little more different than you want, Khojem, but go there for bright, excellent, modern dishes (e.g., Tostadas de AtĂșn -- luscious ahi "sashimi" layered with avocado on chips; Flores de Calabaza Rellenos con Queso Oaxaca -- lightly battered and deep-fried zucchini flowers stuffed with creamy homemade cheese -- modern for at least a century) and for various interesting and delicious takes on classics, including those enchiladas and beef or carnitas tacos that you like. (Me too.) Nice cocktails and aguas frescas. Hint: ask them to add your favorite tequila or vodka to your favorite agua fresca.

      And if that's not enough, you also get charmingly friendly and usually intelligent service without someone declaring earnestly, "Hi, this is a very intelligent place." By the way, I'd never go to Yxta Cocina if it were in Austin or the fancy parts of Dallas or Houston, for example, because it would be crowded all the time, and the crowd would be, like, sort of hip, instead of polite, interesting, and merely young. Not that Yxta customers can't rise to the sort of level -- I think I saw a Lene Lovich T-shirt. My attorney won't allow me to guarantee fine, intelligent service at any restaurant in the SC (Southern California ;-), but that's what I've found on a half-dozen or so visits to Yxta since they opened early this year.

      1. Doesn't get much easier than Homegirl Cafe, right across the street from the Chinatown Gold Line station and they have wonderfully unique takes on Mexican food... Also they are now open for dinner on Thurs-Saturdays! Yay! :DD

        http://www.homeboy-industries.org/hom...

        --Dommy!

        1 Reply
        1. re: Dommy

          i love homegirl cafe. . .

        2. Thank you to those who have already posted. Some unique places thus far! I think I need to hear of a few more in the area before I make the selection. Any other suggestions for Mexican food or Chinese in the area?

          12 Replies
          1. re: Khojem

            For Mexican I would suggest Chichen Itza at Mercado La Paloma, esp. if you don't mind driving a bit from Olvear Street.
            http://www.chichenitzarestaurant.com/

            For Chinese, don't go to Yang Chow. If you want Yang Chow-type grub you're better going to the Panda Express inside the LA Public LIbrary -- you'll save yourself about 25% off the tab, and you'll enlighten your brain with all the books surrounding you.

            If you want Chinese around that area, try Empress Pavilion.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              I think if we're going to go into Chinese suggestions, a primer is in order. Empress Pavilion is a Cantonese (Hong Kong) restaurant, which is 1,300 miles from Beijing (Peking), so...

              Rule #1 = For the love of god, No Peking duck! (Cantonese roast duck is ok)
              Rule #2 = Hong Kong is an island. Order seafood.
              Rule #3 = Order Cantonese dishes there-- which means nothing spicy, nothing noodle-y (Hong Kong is rice country-- Beijing is noodle country). If you want noodles, or spicy, etc. there are better places to go that specialize in such dishes (but not in Chinatown)

              I have not been in years (since my pre-Chowhound, pre-married to a Taiwanese girl days) so others may have more current info on what EP's does well. Here's a general article on Cantonese style food that can get you started.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantones...

              By the way, Yang Chow is *much* better than Panda Express... however on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give PE a 1 and YC a 3.

              Mr Taster

              1. re: Mr Taster

                The notion that Yang Chow is better than Panda lies more in the fact that Yang Chow uses real silverware than in the actual quality of the cooking. It's that illusion of formality that *makes* the food seem "much" better than it actually is. :-)

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  It's more than silverware. There's things like sizzling rice soup and moo shu that set it apart from the steam table nightmare of Panda Express.

                  Mr Taster

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    a lesson in good food AND geography, thank you Mr. Taster

                    p.s. i still haven't had a good experience at a PE.... i think you're being generous with that 1 you gave it, silverware or not

                2. re: Mr Taster

                  The Dungeness crab with garlic is a very good dish at the Empress -- even if it is served with noodles rather than rice.

                  1. re: Mr Taster

                    i can't speak to the meat and noodles at empress pavilion (well, i can. they're...o.k., imho), but there's a whole lotta good meat and noodles to be had in hong kong.

                    el linus

                    1. re: linus

                      Agreed re: great noodles in HK! However, you're comparing eating in an international metropolis with eating at a single restaurant in LA.

                      Eating in the city of Hong Kong, which has restaurants employing hundreds of chefs from all over China and the world, is different than eating at a Hong Kong style restaurant in Los Angeles which has one or two main chefs whose specialty is Cantonese food.

                      Your comment re the noodles at EP being just "o.k." reinforces my point... there are many places in LA to get incredible noodles from chefs who come from the region where noodles are a specialty.

                      Mr Taster

                      1. re: Mr Taster

                        and there are really good noodles at hong kong restaurants specializing in hong kong-style food cooked by people who were born and raised in hong kong.
                        not that i necessarily care where someone who is cooking for me is from.

                        el linus

                        1. re: linus

                          ...But not in LA Chinatown. Which is the topic at hand.

                          Mr Taster

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            so, instead of saying, say, "it's a hong kong style restaurant, don't order the noodles," one could say..."don't order the noodles at empress pavilion, they stink."?
                            is that the topic at hand?

                            el linus

                            1. re: linus

                              No-- my advice to Khojem is that in Los Angeles it that as a general rule it is best to order noodles (for example) at restaurants which specialize in them. Otherwise you'll most likely get meager, watered down (or as you say, "o.k.") versions of dishes that could be spectacular elsewhere. This is Chowhound-- people aren't here seeking "o.k." versions of *anything*.

                              The problem is that many restaurants here offer dishes that they do no specialize in just to fill out the menu or appease local expectations, hence the proliferation of Sichuan items on Cantonese menus. If you want Sichuan food, go to a Sichuan restaurant. You'll get the real thing. (Though admittedly these days in LA, really good Sichuan restaurants are hard to come by).

                              Mr Taster

              2. I would second the vote on Philippe's - I just love the place and it is a slice of history (they invented the French dip) and of old style LA. Very casual, sawdust on the floor, but the sandwiches are sublime _ I love beef, pork and lamb, but there is also turkey and ham available. Good soups, tatsty pies. I usualy order macaroni salad and a pickle too. They have a

                For Chinese I stand by Yang Chow. We always order the slippery shrimp and Szechuan green beans with pork but there are a lot of very good dishes. It is dependable and not too far from the station.

                13 Replies
                1. re: Junoesq

                  I would THIRD the vote for Philipes ... it's just a simple, yet well made sandwich that you can't miss if you're in that area. To be honest with you, you can get better Mexican food in East LA and even better Chinese in Monterey Park. So, if you're going to try anything unique & delicious in that area, let it be Philippes.

                  -----
                  Philippe the Original
                  1001 N Alameda St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                   
                   
                   
                   
                  1. re: QueerInMySoup

                    Fourth. Best (imo) is the lamb, followed by the pork. Either way, get it double-dipped (ask the server -- be specific). Add mustard at the table, but start with a little and add more if a little is not enough, though it might very well be. Potato salad on the side, and a lemonade. One of Los Angeles's great lunches.

                    1. re: ozhead

                      I find that my roll always sadly falls apart with double dipping, but it's so good that I get it that way anyway!

                      1. re: TomSwift

                        Double dipping does make the roll fall apart, unless you get one of the stale ones.

                        Mr Taster

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          I always get double dipped beef & then put a little mustard on (it's HOT) and then a big pile of coleslaw on the sandwich. It does fall apart but the key is just to not set it down once you pick it up...just plow through it. I love their coleslaw.

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            Your reasoning is faulty there, Mr Taster. The stale rolls will absorb more liquid and fall apart more quickly than a fresher roll. You'd know that if you made things like bread pudding, which yield better results by drying the bread. As far as Philippe's is concerned, I say go ahead and double-dip. And make sure to get the beet-juice pickled eggs, and save room for pie.

                            And for Chinatown, I still like Golden City better than most of the other Cantonese places. I've had dishes as good or better there than at places like Elite or Seafood Village in the San Gabriel valley. I haven't been to the Chinatown branch of Mien Nghia in a while since I go more often to the one in San Gabriel, but I hear it's still good. What's the latest word?

                            1. re: E Eto

                              Ah yes well I was being facetious, though I definitely appreciate the bread pudding trick. (The cooks illustrated recipe I use doesn't call for dry bread). For what it's worth, I've never gotten a stale roll at Philippe's, but a friend of mine did and now refuses to go back.

                              Mr Taster

                              1. re: E Eto

                                Every year for the USC Homecoming I get 14 dozen rolls from Philippe and all of them are fresh and, when crisped on the grill, are dynamite with grilled sausages. If only they'd sell the jus to go, we'd be in hog (or lamb) heaven.

                                1. re: TomSwift

                                  Never paid much attention to the rolls, but they sure look like the ones they sell at Frisco Baking. Wouldn't surprise me if Philippe's got them from there. Frisco Baking makes the sourdough for The Pantry and sells sourdough bread to a lot of other restaurants in town. They make French rolls of all sizes also and sell to the public at wholesale prices.

                                  Frisco Baking
                                  621 W Avenue 26 (Riverside Drive/Ave. 26 near the 5 freeway/110 freeway Los Angeles, CA 90065
                                  (323) 225-6111
                                  www.friscobakingcompany.com

                                  1. re: monku

                                    In fact, the Frisco Web site reports that the Pantry, Philippe's, and Musso & Frank have been customers for more than 20 years. This sounds like a great place to try -- thanks, monku.

                                    1. re: Harry Nile

                                      It's very worth a try. It's located next to the old Lawry's location.

                                      1. re: Harry Nile

                                        They also sell the day old stuff for 1/2 price.
                                        The only problem is the 1 1/2 pound sourdough loaf they make for The Pantry seems to be only available if they don't take their whole order. Seems like they used to have it available all the time.
                                        They also sell fresh pizza dough.

                                        Hours:
                                        Mon-Sat. 8:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
                                        Sun. 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

                        2. re: Junoesq

                          i love the slippery shrimp!

                        3. For good Chinese go to CBS Seafood Restaurant at Spring & Ord in Chinatown.

                          1. Carnitas tacos on Olvera St. = La Luz del Dia. You won't be disappointed.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: JAB

                              I second the carnitas at La Luz. And for your girlfriends beef tacos, if you go to to the opposite side of La Luz, go about 3 stalls down, the first taco place you come to has killer beef tacos and great refried beans. We've never been disappointed. Also saves walking but if you're incline, you could go to philippes and get a couple of sandwiches to go.

                            2. Hong Kong BBQ (formerly Sam Woo BBQ) Cantonese style noodle place with simple chow mein dishes to live seafood. Also lunch special menu starting at $3.99-$6.99...you get soup, entree, rice, tea, fortune cookie. The entree is large enough for two to share, so you order two different entrees and get out of there for under $15 with tax and tip.

                              803 N Broadway (near corner of Alpine St)
                              Los Angeles
                              (213) 687-7238

                              1. Zen Mei Bistro for their $9.99 House Special Lobster. It's literally a hole-in-the-wall kind of place but the lobster is a great. You don't want it cooked that way they'll cook it any way you want...even steamed. They also have a lunch special menu and their entrees are inexpensive and large.

                                Zen Mei Bistro
                                800 Yale St (corner of Alpine St-across the street from Alpine Rec. Center)
                                Los Angeles, CA 90012
                                (213) 626-7113

                                1. La Noche Buena
                                  12 Olvera St
                                  Los Angeles, CA 90012
                                  (213) 628-2078

                                  Great cheese enchiladas. Excellent menudo.