Report: Pizzeria Mozza, Animal, Jitlada, Palate, Tacomienda & Food Trucks
My parents visited LA last week for the first time so I took them around town to experience some of this fare city's diverse culinary offerings:
Tuesday night they landed in the evening. I wasn't sure if they'd want to go out so I hadn't prepared a reservation until the last minute. A friend recommended Palate Food + Wine in Glendale so I grabbed a last minute reservation for the three of us.
Palate Food + Wine
Walking in I was excited to see there was a sign for a Palate Burger advertised. Sadly once we were seated I was informed by our server that it was only served at the bar. I gazed longingly over at the bar, which was completely deserted, I might add. My parents know I love burgers, and asked if I wanted to move to the bar, but I declined as I wanted them to be comfortable.
We ordered two mason jars ($6/each). The potted berkshrie pork was a delicious rendition of pork rillettes. The potted baba ghanoush was also pretty good, but not as smokey as I prefer. We also got an order of their pickled green beans to enjoy with the dips. Tangy and delicious and only $3 for a small portion. The soup of the day was some sort of squash with bacon and mushrooms. My first taste was extremely salty, but when I got a mouthful of all the ingredients it seemed to meld better. I had heard that the pork belly was not to be missed and even our server agreed, so we ordered one of those to split for our final course. The belly was tender, but a bit on the bland side. I love me some pork belly, but even though this was cooked well, it was certainly not craveworthy.
Overall, it was an enjoyable meal, although I don't think I'll be heading back to Palate anytime soon as nothing was really so good that I'd feel the need to return. I'm curious about the burger still, but don't like that they wouldn't serve it to us at the table.
Wednesday night was our first reservation that I had made weeks prior. I had read and heard that Mozza has some, if not the, best pizza in the city. I love the Cali-Neoplotian style and have yet to have a satisfactory pizza experience since moving to LA last month.
We arrived promptly at 8:19pm, early for our 8:30 rez. As they stumbled to find our rez, they quickly notified me that my rez was actually for 8pm. I could have sworn I had reserved 8:30, but they said they didn't have any 8:30 seatings. They then informed me that they only held reservations for 15 minutes. We were 4 minutes too late. They had already given away our table. Luckily the host said he could get us seated at the bar pretty quickly. My parents thought maybe we should go somewhere else, but I told them we needed to be patient. We'd have to wait anywhere good at this hour for a table. We only ended up waiting about 15-20 minutes, and they were able to squeeze us in at the bar overlooking the pizziaolos. This ended up being pretty cool, because we were able to watch them whip up pizzas all night.
I noticed some delicious looking meatballs being served to many of the tables, but we opted to order three pies instead. We each choose one. Dad picked the Ipswich clams, garlic, oregano, pecorino & parmigiano, which is listed on the menu as a Pizzette. Mom picked the White anchovy, tomato & Fresno chiles. And I choose the Bacon, salami, fennel sausage, guanciale, tomato & mozzarella.
They all came out around the same time. Next time I go I will definitely ask them to stagger the pizzas as you can only really enjoy one of them at a time, and so inevitably one or two of the pies will get cold.
The clam pie was probably the best rendition of a clam pie I've ever had. Although it was small (thus the pizzette declaration on the menu), it was quite flavorful, and the clams were tender and delicious.
The white anchovy pie had no cheese. Normally I steer clear of cheeseless pies, but I let mom choose whatever she wanted. I was surprisingly delighted by this pie. They had included a great deal more of tomato sauce in lieu of the cheese. The tangy and slightly chunky sauce was a wonderful accompaniment to the vinegary anchovies atop.
Lastly, we dug into the meat pie. I love pizza with pepperoni, bacon and/or sausage, so this one had nearly all of those favs. Since it had been sitting whilst we enjoyed the other two pies, the grease from the meats had begin to sop through the crust. While the crust of the first two pies was nice and sturdy, this pie required a bit of knife and fork work. Although I'm sure had we ingested it earlier it wouldn't have been as much of a problem. Nevertheless, it was quite tasty and I would definitely order this one again. Although there are a lot of meats on this one, they do not skimp on any of them, and yet, they do not seem to overburden the pie with any of them either.
Finally, I should mention that the crust of these pies was all quite nice. Slightly charred in places, but not overly so, which made my folks happy. I'm ok with a bit of char, and would make sure to choose the charriest slices for myself.
Mozza's pizza is quite possibly the best I've had in California. Having recently moved here from San Francisco, where pizza has become quite the hot ticket item, I don't make that statement lightly. I hold pizza up to a very high standard, and my favorites back in SF are Pizzeria Delfina, Zero Zero and A16.
I needed to take my folks to at least one Mexican spot (if not more) while they were in town. So they came and met me near my office. I did a quick search and pulled up a ton of highly rated options near Marina del Rey. I opted for Tacomienda.
We ordered a carnitas torta and 4 tacos: 2 carne asada, 1 abodaba, and 1 tongue. The tacos were all huge and served on homemade flour tortillas. All of them were delicious, but I think the tongue was actually my favorite. My dad balked at it at first, but then seemed to enjoy it after his first bite. It was a lot like slow cooked brisket.
The torta was served on a humongous roll, but could have used more carnitas as they seemed to get lost in the shuffle. It was a solid Mexi experience for my folks. We all shared everything passing around the tacos and torta.
Downtown Art Crawl Food Trucks
Originally I had planned on taking m parents to Jitlada on Thursday night, but when I heard Downtown's Art Crawl was that night I changed plans. They love art, and also I knew there would be lots of food trucks there and I wanted for them to experience those.
For our first course we ordered a lamb Frankie from India Jones ($4), a roti roll up with cilantro tamarind chutney, chopped onion, egg and tender chunks of lamb curry. It was like a skinny Indian burrito. We all took turns taking bites and passing it around. My parents love Indian food and they both approved of it.
After perusing some more trucks I spotted the Flying Pig truck nearby. I had enjoyed one of their steamed pork belly buns a while back at First Friday and so I we decided to order two of those, and my mom went for one of their pork tacos. The steamed buns are wonderful pillows of delight filled with unctuous pork belly goodness. I could have eaten a whole bunch of these if there wasn't so much other good food to try. The pork taco was was also quite well made. The pork itself was flavorful and tender, and the cilantro crema and green papaya were a nice accompaniment.
We were all pretty full at this point, but then I spotted the Brazilian truck. I had previously quite enjoyed one of their patels, which is basically a fried Brazilian empanada with ground beef and/or cheese. I ordered one for us to split. And then we waited.... and waited... and waited some more. Not sure what was taking so long, but I think we waited a good 20+ minutes for one fried empanada. It seemed like they were moving in slow motion. All the other trucks were pumping out food pretty quickly. There were 5 or 6 people inside the truck. I don't think they were very organized. It was annoying and I won't order from them again. I have no problem waiting, but I wasn't the only one, and it was chaotic, and wasn't worth the wait. I've been to Brazil recently and I know that they move at a different pace down there, but this was excruciating...
This was the rez I was most stoked for of the entire week. I had heard amazing things about Animal before even moving here. Their modern Cali-New American cuisine was just the kind of food I love so dearly. I had been wanting to hit Animal since arriving in town, but couldn't find the right time or company. With my parents coming to town I figured the time was ripe for a visit. I invited my friends Jared and Kala to join us in pre-celebration of Kala's bday.
We arrived on time and I was welcomed by my friend who happens to be a server there. She gave me some advice on how much to order and some not-to-miss dishes. I asked the table if there were specific items they wanted, but most everyone was content to turn over free reign to me. So I put together a tasting menu for us to enjoy, along with some of the house red.
Chicken liver toast ($3) - I ordered two of these. It was smooth and rich with some carmelized onions on top.
Pig ear, chili, lime, fried egg ($12) - This dish consisted of crispy thin strips of pig ear tossed in a Thai style chili-lime dressing, adorned with a fried runny egg. To my surprise, everyone dug in. Mmmmm...
Sweetbreads, creamed spinach, capers oyster mushroom ($16?) - No one at the table knew what sweetbreads were. At first they thought it might be fried bread. Lol. After they had a few bites I informed them of what it was. The sweetbreads had a very nice, thin fried crust. The creaminess of the breads went awesomely with the creamy spinach.
Hamachi tostada, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette, peanut ($14) - I love yellowtail. This was the lightest dish of the evening. Another Thai-inspired preparation. I think there was some cabbage too. A very refreshing and innovative dish.
Pig tails, "buffalo style", celery, ranch ($11) - Sooooo good. I figured we'd need to eat the pork off the bones, but the bones themselves seemed to somehow been fried enough that they were edible and crunchy, and yet the meat was still quite tender. The buffalo style definitely lends itself nicely to these fried chunks of pig tail.
Ricotta ravioli, basil brown butter, cherry tomoato, pine nut ($12?) - This is the one dish I didn't choose. I like pasta, but I rarely order it. It was still very good, but the most forgettable dish of the evening.
Chicken hearts, lima bean, baba ghanoush, yogurt ($8) - At first site everyone thought they were meatballs. Kala had already eaten one before I pronounced them chicken hearts. After that no one really wanted any of em, which was fine by me, as I enjoyed them all quite immensely. Flavorwise, it was sorta like a deconstructed gyro, minus the pita. In fact, this would make for an amazing gyro style sandwich.
Barbeque pork belly sandwiches, slaw ($12) - I can't really get enough pork belly. Whether it's bacon or braised. The dish came with two decent sized sliders which we cut into halves. They were superbly unctuous with a sweet tangy BBQ sauce.
Foie gras, biscuit, maple sausage gravy ($23) - Everyone was starting to run outta steam, but surprisingly enough everyone dug into this dish. I think this was the overall favorite dish for the entire table from the evening. A seared slice of foie, over a flakey biscuit, with a rich, creamy gravy. I detected some chorizo flavor in the gravy, which was a nice subtle addition. Yum.
Poutine, oxtail gravy, cheddar ($16) - Smarly they brought this dish out last. If we had eaten this first we might have never made it so far. The fries remained amazingly crisp despite being doused in a meaty, rich, dark gravy infused with shredded oxtail. Definitely the best poutine I've had since I was last in Montreal.
This is the best meal I've had since moving to Los Angeles. It reminded me of one of my favorite restaurants of all time, Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal. I can't wait to get back in there for another feast.
For my final meal with the parental units I took them to Jitlada. Thai food is one of their absolute favorites, and Jitlada is the best Thai food I've had on the west coast, so there was no way I couldn't take them to this LA gem.
I let my parents digest the menu and decide upon most of the dishes we ordered. I recommended a few things including the legendary green mussels, but the dish I made sure we ordered were the Spicy Mint noodles with duck (aka Pad Kee Mow / drunken noodles). We also ordered some Tom Kha soup which my dad noted was not as sweet as most places make, which he appreciated. I've had the Coco Mango salad the last few times I've been there and it's a unique salad that always seems to win over folks, so we ordered one of those as well.
Mom loves curry so we ended up ordering two. Jungle curry with pork short ribs and Thai eggplant, and green curry with pork. One bite of the jungle curry and everyone was on fire. It was HOT. The pork was practically melting off the bone. The broth the pork was stewing in was soupy and I tried a few spoonfuls straight up. I instantly started hiccuping with joy. After digesting that ring of fire, the green curry seemed like a vacation, and actually worked to cool the fire. Strange days when one curry cools another, but it worked.
My parents loved every bite. They've eaten Thai food far and wide, including Thailand, and I'm pretty confident they were rather impressed. My mom always asks for extra chili just about everywhere she goes, but for the possibly the first time ever she really didn't need it.
Overall I'm pretty stoked about how much amazing food I managed to cram into my parents' brief visitation. Looking forward to having more friends and family come visit so I can show off more of this town's delicious delights.
5233 1/2 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027
641 N. Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Great reporting back - a true CH. The next time you're hankering for a Mexican-style sandwich, there's a cemitas truck on Inglewood, about a block south of Tacomiendo. They're five bucks and basically a meal in itself, not to mention that they are very good. The truck is usually there around 4PM-10PM, Mon-Sat. The guy who owns the truck is the brother of the more well-known Cemitas Poblanas truck that parks on Venice in front of the Smart & Final in the Palms area (he's usually there from around 11AM-5PM).
I'll definitely try this too. I'm not familiar with cemitas, but I just looked it up and I'm excited to try one. Do you recommend a particular type?
And thanks everyone for the kind words. Looking forward to reporting upon more of my LA eats soon... I realized that I didn't include any report of Mendocino Farms in my report, which was another highlight. But I've been eating there for weeks, so I think I'll post a separate report for that soon.
300 S Grand Ave Ste Lp40, Los Angeles, CA 90071
re: brian j
The milinesa is probably the most popular, but I also like the carnitas and the pork adobada. The truck also does tortas as well. If you're really hungry, he does a Torta Cubanas that's got A LOT of stuff in it - milinesa de res, ham, sliced wieners, egg, lettuce and avocado. I can see having this for breakfast, but he doesn't show up until around 4PM, so maybe a good way to build a base layer of solids before a night of drinking?!?
Mendocino Farms is a great sandwich place. I don't think I've had one sandwich there that I wouldn't order again. The one frustrating thing about that place is the constant delay after delay in regards to their beer & wine license. They have some serious potential to score on some great beverages if they hold true to their name....
brian, nice post. I've been to Animal, Pizzeria Mozza and Jitlada with similar experiences. I agree with you entirely on your take with the exception of the foie at Animal.
While I've thoroughly enjoyed Animal on several occasions, my party and I found the foie ridiculously cloying (not to mention rather overpriced). Might have been the night but while I've enjoyed the shredded pig ears, poutine, hamachi, sweetbreads and pulled pork (and looking forward to Pig tails, "buffalo style") that one dish was underwhelming. Maybe it's me.
Next time you're at Jitlada, try the deep-fried shredded catfish on green mango salad. Looks like you're eating a hairball but is actually outstanding.
5233 1/2 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027
641 N. Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Wonderful report, Brian. I'm bookmarking this to use as the epitome of how to pay back the board for suggestions given. You more than compensated us. Your folks sound like true hounds. Animal is still my favorite restaurant in LA, but you hit a LOT of highlights. Thanks again for taking the time to write up and post.