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What restaurants have ruined you?

Sometimes the first encounter with a particular foodstuff will (for lack of a better word) stain you for life, for better or worse.

I want to discuss the "worse" kind here.

What I mean is, sometimes the first iteration of a particular dish you eat will forever make you think that that *is* the way that dish should be made, even if it is a subpar example.

Example. My uncle is a die-hard fan of the bun at Pho Pasteur for no other reason that this was the first place he's ever had bun thit nuong. While I think their version is ok, I definitely think there are better versions out there, e.g. Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa and Vietnam Restaurant just to name two places off the top of my head (with apologies to all those other great choices in the OC).

Another example. McDonald's soft-serve ice cream. For me this *is* the way soft-serve ice cream should be, even though many will argue that both Foster's Freeze and Dairy Queen, and even Baskin Robbins, puts the stuff McDonald's spits out to shame.

Another example. Bob's Big Boy Spaghetti with meat sauce. A friend considers this *the* way spaghetti with meat sauce (or any type of red sauce) should be prepared. Anything else, in her opinion, is just not right. Why? Her first encounter with what she calls "Italian food" was at (gasp!) Bob's Big Boy.

Any restaurant stain you for life with respect to a particular dish?

Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa
9016 Mission Dr, Rosemead, CA 91770

Pho Pasteur
8821 Valley Blvd, Rosemead, CA 91770

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  1. +1 on McD's soft serve
    Ruen Pair's papaya salad
    Yabu's kakiage
    Kagaya's shabu shabu
    Nanbankan's gobo maki (ok, I've never seen this anywhere else but so be it)
    Chez Panisse's panna cotta (I had it about 15 yrs ago and still remember the silky texture... never had anything remotely close even though panna cotta is such an easy throwaway dessert)

    3 Replies
    1. re: soniabegonia

      wth?! i totally missed the part about the BAD kind. Doh! oh well. these are the GOOD ones. and yeah, I would include McD's soft serve in the good category. heck yeah. making up my own game here...

      1. re: soniabegonia

        Chez Panisse's pana cotta is actually a Nancy Silverton restaurant. In one of their cookbooks and in my home...

        1. re: soniabegonia

          I stumbled onto this thread looking for something else, but briefly, the Panna Cotta made by Chef Isaac (who used to cook at Cucina Paradiso in Palms) isthe most silky, insane PC I've ever spooned. I mean just insane, the sole reason for eating dinner there when it was open.

          I think he's at Il Sole now, which leans toward an overpriced star and agent studded hole, but HAS to be worth a stop for dessert if he's making this.

          Just thought I'd throw that out. Let us know if you go!

          Il Sole
          8741 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90069

        2. Weird about Bob's -I always think of the chili spaghetti. I never realized they even had meat sauce.

          3 Replies
          1. re: BubblyOne

            I believe that's what she's referring to ... the spaghetti with chili.

            In the words of one Mistah Kurtz ... ""The horror! The horror!"

            1. re: ipsedixit

              "You're an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill."

            2. re: BubblyOne

              I still get the chili spaghetti whenever I go to Bob's. Have been eating it since I was a kid and LOVE IT!!
              I actually think the McD's soft serve is delicious! And now that I found Krokan at the Alpine Village Market, I will be eating it more often!

              Alpine Village Market
              833 Torrance Blvd Ste 1A, Torrance, CA 90502

            3. The chicken fried steak at Eat At Joe's in Redondo Beach. I'm sure people think there are much better versions, but I can't find anywhere else that duplicates the taste of the meat and gravy for me.

              The chili fries at Tops in Pasadena (Walnut). It's just fries and nothing-special chili, but I love it.

              There's a carne asada burrito at The Burger Shack (used to be called Cypress Burgers) on Walnut in Pasadena that I crave about once a week. It doesn't taste like most other places but I have to have it.

              Burger Shack
              9868 Garvey Ave, El Monte, CA 91733

              Eat At Joes
              , Redondo Beach, CA 90254

              3 Replies
              1. re: martyR

                Speaking of chili fries ... I think the version at The Hat has forever ruined me (in more ways than one).

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  Yes, it was eating chili fries at the Hat.

                2. re: martyR

                  Oh man, those chili fries ROCK!!!

                3. Can the experience be in the past...If so, Tommy's, early 80's, cheese burger (pickle and mustard) w/extra chili and a spoon. And, a chocolate yoo hoo. THE BEST esp. at 1AM.
                  I can't believe I used to eat that stuff but, back then, that was "the" chiliburger for me.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Kitchen Queen

                    I remember those late night Tommy's runs from my USC days, pulling all-nighters. It used to take a day or two (even with vigorous washing) to completely rid the chili smell from my hands. I still try and go at least once a year:)

                  2. Speaking of Bob's Big Boy - their double deck hamburger with 1000 Island dressing. I've had burger with carmelized onions on pretzel rolls with foie gras - and it's great. But the Bob's burger says "this is how a burger should taste" for me.

                    McDonald's original french frieds - when they used to run the spud through the press, skins and all. I think they were actually quite good, but they don't make them that way anymore. But that sets the bar (low, medium or high - hard to tell).

                    I grew up on Cupid's Chili Dogs - and when I tried Pink's I was unimpressed. Cupid's was much better. They might actually both be crap, but there's no second chance on a first impression. Prime Rib - from The Islander (The Palm's prime rib is pretty much the same - it' the hint of "Maggi" seasoning sauce in it. Mention Maggi to a I(serious) european chef and they smile as if you're a Philistine. (to them it's the mark of a mediocre chef).

                    Kung Pao Chicken at Hu's. (haven't been there in years, don't know if it's the same).

                    Caesar salad at Scandia.

                    Pizza at Mike's Pizza in the valley - where the dough had big bubbles in it. Another place in the valley - pizza from a place caled Roma's - different, not the first pizza, but it had a different taste than Mike's. When I first went to New York - after hearing New York's say their pizza is the best - and you get it anywhere - I came to realize that this whole "first impression" thing has powerful mojo over setting the bar at a certain place. (however, something to be said about New York bread, bagels and pizza dough - their tap water used to taste dramatically different than L.A. water - sweeter and saltier. (less so now). But you can mimic that tast by adding a little extra salt, a little sugar.

                    Mike's Pizza
                    252 S Glendora Ave, Glendora, CA 91741

                    Kung Pao Restaurant
                    4911 Warner Ave, Huntington Beach, CA 92649

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: foodiemahoodie

                      Nope, Cupid's is the be all, end all of chili dogs. Period! Although my first love of chili dogs goes to Pappa John's that used to be on Hazeltine/Victory in Van Nuys in the 70s. I can still see Pappa John's face. He is the man that started my crazy love of chili and hot dogs!
                      Casa de Pizza in Reseda (Lohman's Plaza). First pizza I ate (and ate often, would go there after my brother's baseball games) and still one of the best. I have not had it in years, don't even know if they are still there, but I can still taste their pepperoni pizza.
                      Also, Pup N Taco. Kinda ruined the shredded yellow cheese tacos for me. Theirs were great!
                      The peanut coffee cake we had in the LAUSD (Reseda) school cafeterias in the 70s and 80s. I wish I could get that recipe. Also, they used to have these great burritos that were baked in their plastic wrappers. I loved those so much.

                    2. McDonald soft serve ice cream is one of the most underrated ice cream in the World in my opinion..haha.

                      1. There was a Mexican restaurant on Pico near Bundy, where Chan Dara is now. I think it might have been call El Refugio, not sure. Their hard shell tacos were SO great, they remain in my mind since the Eisenhower administration! The meat was perfect; the salad and cheese mixture was perfect; OMG, I'm drooling! Anyone remember this place?

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: mnosyne

                          Wow, the Eisenhower administration, eh?

                          I'm surprised there was even Americanized-Mexican food back then ... kidding, of course, just kidding.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Yes, there are still some of us around who remember the non-digital world! Some of us even still have our own teeth!

                            1. re: mnosyne

                              Some of us even still have our own teeth!


                              Even after all those hard taco shells?

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                I had never even seen a soft taco--years went by before the concept entered my conciousness. Who knew?

                                1. re: mnosyne

                                  I think I first had a hard shell taco in my grade school cafeteria. It was basically stuffed with leftover hamburger meat, and the lettuce, tomatoes and shredded cheddar cheese were recycled hamburger garnishes and toppings from the previous day, as well.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    OMG - that's how my mom used to make them in the '70s back in CT. Yup, unadorned hamburg meat with no spices to speak of, crunchy shells, lettuce, if we were lucky, and processed cheese.

                          2. re: mnosyne

                            "Their hard shell tacos were SO great, they remain in my mind since the Eisenhower administration! The meat was perfect; the salad and cheese mixture was perfect; OMG, I'm drooling! Anyone remember this place?"

                            if you're looking for hard shell tacos, I'd recommend el taco llama in NoHo. Won't eat hardshell tacos anywhere but here, they will (usually) fry the shells fresh. And if they do WOW.

                            1. re: mnosyne

                              I thought I was the only person who remembered this place! I loved their hard shell tacos and have been trying to duplicate that simple salad and cheese combo for 25+ years (with no luck).

                            2. La Barbara's Pizza in Brentwood. I've never been able to find another pizza like it since they closed. I loved that sausage pizza as did most of the students at UCLA in the 70's and 80's.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: wienermobile

                                I am always surprised that I didn't die from the practically raw bacon on their pizza, but I Ioved it!

                                1. re: mnosyne

                                  That reminds me of the pizza I enjoyed with my first real boyfriend in the early 80s, in Hamden CT, that's still there as far as I know. We'd always get it with bacon, mushroom and garlic. They'd put the bacon on raw, and it'd cook while the pizza baked. Real good, huge Italian pizza that is hard to find out here. BIMONTE's, that's it!! Knew it'd come to me eventually. My sisters, lucky for them, can still go there today. And I am forever jealous, as little sisters always are!!

                              2. The hot fudge sundae (with the dark, not milk, chocolate) at Twohey's. A favorite treat since childhood. Every other HFS I've had since, even those that were objectively quite good, has made me think "No, no, no, that's just not how it's done...."

                                Twohey's Restaurant
                                1224 N Atlantic Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91801

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Bradbury

                                  Twohey's has sort of done that to me with Chicken Fried Steak.

                                  Everytime I see a request for Chicken Fried Steak I'm tempted to recommend Twohey's, but always refrain knowing that it really doesn't hew close enough to the genuine article.

                                  Twohey's Restaurant
                                  1224 N Atlantic Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91801

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Chili's Chicken Fried Steak - It's gotten smaller over the years, and I'm not sure it's still offered on the menu, but that's my benchmark.

                                    I'll have to try Twohey's version.

                                    Twohey's Restaurant
                                    1224 N Atlantic Blvd, Alhambra, CA 91801

                                2. Scrambled eggs from McD's "Big Breakfast"

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: SauceSupreme

                                    Shepherds pie in the school cafeteria.
                                    Wil Wright's hot fudge sundae. (oh, those toasted whole almonds, drool)
                                    Monte Christo Sandwich at Frascati.
                                    The Danish Mary at Scandia

                                    1. re: maudies5

                                      You had Shepherd's pie in your school cafeteria?? Where did you go to school?

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        UniHi. The Shepherds pie was basically some ground beef with mashed potatoes on top. I loved it.

                                        1. re: maudies5

                                          That's sounds like salisbury steak with mashed potatoes ... one of my favorite meals in grade school cafeteria.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            Salisbury steak was different (although, I also liked that). The mashed potatoes were served with the steak. The Shepherds pie had the potatoes on top and were browned in the oven (or something). Think of meatloaf with mashed potatoes on top and thrown in the oven or broiler for a few minutes. That was UniHi's Shepherd's pie. Oh, and when there was creamed corn in the line, OMG, :)

                                  2. In a fundamental way I was ruined by Mago's for double avocado chili cheeseburgers and chashu avocado tacos (not that you can find these just anywhere - Rutt's on Washington is one of the rare exceptions afaik...).

                                    1. This sounds weird, but the old old McDonald's double cheeseburger has basically ruined every McDonald's burger since then. "It's good for what it is," I think, "but it's no classic double cheeseburger." Something about the combo and proportions of the ketchup and the cheese and the meat and the pickle and the bun when it was good. The sweet/tangy/sour combo. I haven't had a double cheeseburger in years for fear of what it would taste like now.

                                      1. McDonald's Egg McMuffin. When I try to copy it using quality ingredients (Wolferman's English muffins, Canadian bacon from Bristol Farms) it's just not the same.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: Peripatetic

                                          I think you can come pretty close if you use only ingredients from 99¢ Only Stores ...

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            "I think you can come pretty close if you use only ingredients from 99¢ Only Stores"

                                            I wonder if they have the secret ingredient that makes you crave another one as soon as you've finished eating one, no matter how full you feel. MSG? Opium? Crack?

                                            1. re: Peripatetic

                                              I wonder if they have the secret ingredient that makes you crave another one as soon as you've finished eating one, no matter how full you feel. MSG? Opium? Crack?

                                              That's how I feel about the McDonald's Filet-O-Fish and the vanilla soft serve. Deserted island? That's what I'm taking with me.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                "Deserted island? That's what I'm taking with me."

                                                LOL. My F-O-F addiction is a matter of record:


                                                I didn't mention the F-O-F as -- face it -- could there be a superior version?

                                          2. re: Peripatetic

                                            Oh there is just nothing like it. I love homemade versions, but they are never the same as an authentic McD's Egg McMuffin. It's my ultimate hangover and desert island food.

                                          3. La Chabelita definitely for the burritos, tacos, and pickled jalapenos, onions, and carrots.

                                            1927 S Western Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90018

                                            1. Com Tam Thuan Kieu on Vallery next to Hawaii Super Market.
                                              the portions! the prices! >__<;;;;
                                              ...and sometimes the taste. they have/had some good things (damn passages of time and relocation factors). there are definitely better places and yet... still going back. but yeah, my family goes around comparing places to them.

                                              Hawaii Super Market
                                              1702 S Del Mar Ave, San Gabriel, CA

                                              Com Tam Thuan Kieu
                                              120 E Valley Blvd Ste I, San Gabriel, CA 91776