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Jan 4, 2011 11:13 PM

Trip to LA food report

Hey Chowhounders,

I just got home from my first trip to LA. Had lots of yummy, delicious food thanks to Chowhound, and wanted to share some of my thoughts.

First, I was really impressed in general with the quality of the food in LA. The only disappointment I had was not finding any remarkable Mexican food! This'll have to be rectified on my next visit.

Anyway! Where I went, and what I thought:

California Fish Grill
I think this place's general popularity on Yelp is terrifying and indicative of the low standards for food in Orange County.

Maybe it was just the one person working here, but the place was obnoxious. Upon attempting to order chicken, the woman taking our orders informed us that the chicken was so popular that they only bought enough chicken for half a day. Does that make sense to you? It does not to me.

The sassy waitress also told me that the fish tacos were deep fried. I've never seen deep fried fish tacos before, but to each their own. After a number of traumas, I settled on the salmon tacos.

The tacos arrived covered in the oh-so-authentically-Mexican tartar sauce. Yum! (Blech!) Apart from aforementioned sauce, they were utterly flavorless. The fish tasted like it had been dead and frozen for a year.


Monsieur Marcel
I don't know quite how to review this place. For French food in a small stall in a farmers market, the food is pretty impressive. For French food in general, this place is pretty terrible. Hence the three stairs: it is somewhere in the middle.

During an absolutely, bitterly frigid evening, a group of friends and I came here for dinner. Wanting something warm and substantial, I had the coq au vin. After a long while, and lots of indifferent service, it arrived. The portion was absolutely massive; the side of gratin itself was nearly the same size as a full dinner plate.

Unfortunately, the coq tasted like rubber. Apart from the sauce, the dish was absolutely flavorless. It was incredibly boring. The only flavor came from the heavy cream used in making the gratin.

And so I left Monsieur Marcel, bitterly cold, full but not satisfied, and miserable. Blech.


Border Grill
This place was quite all right. Not stellar, not spectacular, but all right. It was a more refined and expensive version of standard American "Mexican" food, gussied up with fancy sauces and high price tags.

First, the drinks. While shockingly expensive ($12 for a margarita), my cucumber margarita was delicious and interesting. The smoothness of the cucumber was an interesting contrast to the heat of the tequila.

On the other hand, the food was ... mediocre. I had the vegetarian portobello mushroom dish, which was extremely heavy since it was literally smothered in black beans. I couldn't finish it.

And the service was awkward and hostile with its friendliness. Our waitress was awkwardly smiley and informal, which did not match the $20-30 per entrée price tag. It was an immediate turn off, since I never feel comfortable when wait staff pretends to be overly friendly and smiley.

While I enjoyed the food, I wouldn't go back.


Tan Hoang Huong Sandwiches & Coffee
The best Vietnamese sandwich I had in Orange County. The place is a little strange -- its located in a run down supermarket with a few homeless people hanging out inside. But once you step inside, there were about 20 - 30 Vietnamese people ordering in front of me, which attested to its popularity. I ordered the chicken banh mi.

The bread was softer and more doughy than Top Baguette's, but it felt more substantial. They also were generous with the chilis, which gave the chicken sandwiches a delicious kick.

I tried the chicken sandwich both with and without egg: I strongly recommend the version with the egg. It had way more flavor, and was more substantial.

Oh, and it was RIDICULOUSLY cheap. It was $11 for three people with drinks!


Top Baguette
Great Vietnamese sandwiches. I had the chicken without egg, which was delicious. The baguette was chewy and felt substantial.

My only complaint is that the chicken could have been more substantial, and it would seem that the staff skipped the jalapeños for the white guy. There was no heat at all in the sandwich.


Soowon Galbi Korean BBQ
Soowon Galbi is a great introduction to Korea Town. After searching extensively online for the one place to try on my visit to LA for KBBQ, I settled on Soowon because the general consensus was that it was the best around. Since I haven't tried other places in LA, I can't compare, but I can say it hands down knocks the socks off of any place in San Francisco.

Unlike LA, Korean BBQ in San Francisco is obscure and sad. Every place I've tried in San Francisco is expensive, tastes stale, and is incredibly busy. Oh, and the service is slow, indifferent, and generally hostile to boot.

Soowon Galbi is the mirrior image. We stopped here for lunch, and were immediately seated at an immaculately clean table by a friendly host. The menu was extensive, but we both ordered the chicken, which came out quickly and in the most delicious, tangy ginger marinade. To make things even better, the staff volunteered to cook the food for us.

Soowon's attention to details was also evident in the side dishes, which were amazing appetizers while the chicken cooked in front of us. Their kim chi is to die for. The staff even cut the chicken into small pieces before serving it, making it easier to eat.

Everything at this place is first rate. The next time I'm back in LA, I will definitely stop here!


Border Grill
1445 4th St., Santa Monica, CA 90401

Tan Hoang Huong
3132 E Chapman Ave, Orange, CA 92869

Fish Grill
9618 W Pico Blvd Ste 508, Los Angeles, CA 90035

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  1. I always love reading visitor reports. Thanks for chiming in.

    However, I must say that I'm a bit baffled by your post for several reasons.

    1. You claim to have had "lots of yummy, delicious food thanks to Chowhound", yet half your experiences were downright terrible. And 2 of the 3 good ones were banh mi joints! Whuzzat?

    2. I wonder where and how you did your research, exactly? I've been on Chowhound for about 8-9 years and one thing you quickly learn is that there are consistent favorite recommendations by reliable posters that come up time and time again-- both long time faves and new ones that spring up. I can confidently say that *none* of the reliable, old timer LA Chowhounds would recommend Monsiur Marcel. And I can't imagine anyone sending you to Soowon Galbi over Park's. (And I've never even heard of California Fish Grill, but then I don't live in OC). The whole thing just doesn't make any sense. It sounds to me like you did your research on Yelp, not Chowhound.

    2. Fish tacos are supposed to be fried! That's the traditional way they're made in Ensenada, birthplace of the fish taco. The grilled fish versions are aberrations meant to satisfy gringo palates and dietary restrictions. Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada in Los Feliz area make really great and consistently good fish (and shrimp) tacos. Both fried, as God and Ensenadans intended.

    3. Look at you positive experiences again-- do you notice a trend? You've stumbled on the secret of LA eating in that your best experiences were at the hole in the wall ethnic eateries run by people from the cultures the food comes from, and you paid nearly nothing for maximum deliciousness. One margarita at some poseur Mexi-Yuppie joint fed your whole party! How can you go back to fancy-fake-expensive food when real-delicious-cheap food is *everywhere* in LA? As a result, I can't help but chuckle at your disappointment at Border Grill's $4 tacos when you're in a land where $1 can buy you a taco about 8000% tastier.

    Anyway, I'd recommend that several weeks before your next trip to LA, you really spend some time getting to know the regular LA Chowhounds and very carefully choose the people whose recommendations you accept. While everyone is certainly entitled to an opinion, there are some whose opinions and knowledge outshines the casual observer. These Chowhounds are the essence of why this site is so much more valuable than the hype-fests like Yelp.

    Last thing, on your next visit you simply must get to the San Gabriel Valley for various regional styled of Chinese cookery, and get up to Sherman Way (aka "Thai Gulch") in N. Hollywood for some pretty unbelievable Thai food. And since you're a banh mi fan, do yourself a HUGE favor and go to Banh Mi Cho Cu in Westminster for the best banh mi of your life (and I say this having spent a month in Vietnam, eating banh mi up & down the entire length of the country).

    Mr Taster

    6 Replies
    1. re: Mr Taster

      Thanks for your thorough response. Unfortunately, my options were cramped by the other members of my traveling party who wanted to eat more simply (read: more American-y). I didn't bother to comment on the tons of Tex-Mex-Cali-style Mexican joints we ate at across Southern California. The only places I mention were ones that seemed to be at least marginally popular with people other than the grey haired set.

      The next time I'm in LA, I will definitely seek out more holes in the wall, as that is my general dining preference. On the other hand, when I posted earlier on the board asking for recommendations in LA, the general consensus was that I simply MUST go to Spago. I resisted the suggestion.

      176 North Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

      1. re: Mr Taster

        And I did made it to Thai town, and tried the highly recommended on Chowhound Jitlada Thai on Sunset (if memory serves). I was thoroughly disappointed ... the only thing that distinguished it from standard Thai glop was their use of spice without prompting. But I was actually dining with a Thai friend of mine from South Thailand who pronounced the food mediocre at best.

        5233 1/2 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027

        1. re: SouthToTheLeft

          what did you order? Pretty surprising assuming you ordered off the southern thai menu

          1. re: AAQjr

            Ordered off the Southern Thai menu ... I had the pumpkin curry. I found it very bland and its flavors unsophisticated compared to some versions I've had here in SF.

            1. re: AAQjr

              My Thai dining partner had the ga praw gai, which was literally just cooked in hoisin spiked with curry.

              My Thai Restaurant
              8654 Foothill Blvd, Sunland, CA 91040

          2. re: Mr Taster

            I would recommend Soowon over Park's if you're going for value. Park's is tastier but significantly more expensive, not enough to justify the quality difference, imo.

          3. Thanks for reporting back! And for using Chowhound!

            Please come back to L.A. for food again, because after reading your review, I think your taste buds didn't get a fair shake on what we truly have to offer in L.A.

            You mentioned:
            "California Fish Grill
            I think this place's general popularity on Yelp is terrifying and indicative of the low standards for food in Orange County."

            That's why I don't use yelp for restaurant recommendations at all... Yelp is still good for "hard data", like hours of operation, phone #, website address, etc., but the recs on Yelp are just not Houndish enough... Too many food noobs, with time on their hands.

            1 Reply
            1. re: J.L.

              I find Yelp very helpful for raw data ("I had X dish and really enjoyed it!") and sometimes when I'm stuck.

            2. "I think this place's general popularity on Yelp is terrifying and indicative of the low standards for food in Orange County."

              Speaking as an Orange Countian with a great deal of pride in what we do well, I would have to say that California Fish Grill's general popularity on Yelp is terrifying and indicative of the low standards for taste on Yelp. It's a bit like being disappointed because the place you found in the Zagat Guide wasn't the best food.

              Even in Anaheim Hills, there is much, much better food to be had than California Fish Grill. There are far better fish tacos in Orange County—and yes, traditional Ensenada-fish tacos are always deep-fried, then served on corn tortillas with shredded cabbage, crema, lime and usually salsa. You weren't in a Mexican restaurant; you were in a place that specialises in grilled and fried fish fillets, with just a few sauces, one of which is tartar sauce. If you wanted fish tacos, we could have pointed you to El Taco Nazo, Señor Baja, Mariscos Ruben, El Yaqui, even Los Cotijas.

              I'm not sure if you'll be a return visitor to the area (sorry, I've been away from Chowhound a bunch as I've been so busy) but there are also far better banh mi to be had in Orange County. Not that I don't like Top Baguette, but there's really no comparison between Top Baguette and Banh Mi Cho Cu... and for chicken banh mi there's no better place than OC Poultry and Rotisserie (surprisingly, in Anaheim and not in Little Saigon).

              I've never been to Soowon, because we have plenty of KBBQ down here, but I will say that Park's (for beef) and its sibling Don Dae Gam (for pork) are the usual LA Koreatown recommendations, with Honey Pig and Ham Ji Park in there as well.

              Also, it seems like you went to places that don't specialise in chicken, and then ordered chicken every place you went. California Fish Grill specialises in fish, not chicken; they have chicken on the menu for the few people who come in with a party of fish-eaters and don't want fish, but it sounds like there may have been a run of those people. You went to Korean barbecue, which is a feast of (usually) beef and pork, and occasionally seafood, and you ordered chicken. Banh mi shops are generally full of pork-based charcuterie (pâté, white pork, cinnamon ham, grilled pork meatballs...)

              And Monsieur Marcel (the restaurant) is a stain upon French culture. If it were in France, its only chance for survival would be to exist as a tourist trap on the Champs-Elysées or the Place Saint-Jean, and even then maybe not. Nobody on Chowhound would suggest it. The store is perfectly fine for French products, a few cheeses, the occasional charcuterie and bottles of fizzy French lemonade, but I can't say I've ever, in 12 years on this site, seen anyone recommend it as a place for dinner.

              Sorry you had such bad food. As Mr Taster said, post here next time with specific requests ("I really only want to eat great fish and chicken and I'm staying in Anaheim/Miracle Mile/Santa Monica/whatever") and you'll have a much better journey.

              Honey Pig
              3400 W Eighth St, Los Angeles, CA 90010

              Ham Ji Park
              3407 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90020

              Taco Nazo
              1267 N Grand Ave, Walnut, CA 91789

              2 Replies
              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                Oh, and for your next trip, for Mexican food, just go start reading the contributions of streetgourmetla. There's a hell of a lot of real Mexican food in LA; it's just not in the tourist areas, and it's not being marketed to non-Mexicans. Amazing birria, fantastic cahuamanta, Pismo clam cocktail, fantastic fish tacos, unbelievable barbacoa and stunning pescado zarandeado are just a few in the long, long list of great Mexican food I've had in LA thanks to Bill.

                If you want upscale Mexican, next time skip Border Grill and go to Rivera.

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  Das Ubergeek ... oddly, I found the recommendations for banh mi locations on a post you had commented heavily on back in 2009. Perhaps I misunderstood your suggestions?

                  And I don't eat pork or beef. Hence my preference for chicken.

                2. Here was the OP's original request.

                  He did mention he didn't do pork and beef and was steered away from Park's. He also got some good recommendations on fish taco's.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Jase

                    Ah indeed you are correct.

                    SouthToTheLeft, you did get some extremely good recommendations in that prior thread.

                    I continue to be confused by your reporting back to us on places that we did not recommend to you! However, I certainly appreciate and have enjoyed your account of your trip. But I must emphasize (emphatically!) that you most definitely reaped what you sowed.

                    Your initial request needed to be very specific with respect to your dietary (and geographic) restrictions. "Send me to places that make LA, LA" is an extremely different request than "Send me to fish/chicken options that are quintessential LA". The latter is a MUCH trickier request to fulfill, but we would most certainly have given you better options.

                    I'm still floored by your choice to visit Monsier Marcel. It's one of those places that's so loudly and vociferously railed against on Chowhound (and has been for countless years) that I'm completely confused as to how you came to the decision to eat there.

                    EDIT: Oh, I see... Yelp gives Marcel 4 stars. Yet more evidence as to why one should never trust Yelp reviews.

                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      Yeah, this isn't meant as a personal attack on the OP, more of a confused look on my part. But his report doesn't cover any of the recommendations given to him. On the other hand, it was awfully nice of him to report back. Too often you have fly by visitor posters who ask for help and you never hear back from them again.

                      1. re: Jase

                        When the OP finally said that he didn't eat beef or pork (some considerable way into that "where should I go for quintessential LA" thread) it made me post the following: and brought to mind that scene in the Wedding Singer when Robbie's (Adam Sandler) finance told him that she never had any intention of marrying him, either when she left him standing at the altar or this time either and he replied "Once again, things that could've been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!"

                        1. re: Servorg

                          You'll have to pardon my naivete, but who knew that the only recommendations that would come back at first would be almost exclusively pork/beef places? I've never seen that before: in fact, LA was the first time I'd ever been to a restaurant that only had pork or beef on the menu!

                          1. re: SouthToTheLeft

                            Korean BBQ is all about beef and pork primarily...and when you say "I love everything from high-end places to street corner taco trucks" you leave us thinking that you are wide open to other than chicken and fish...

                      2. re: Mr Taster

                        Monsieur Marcel came about because my Angeleno friends insisted I see the Farmers Market. And, well, it was freezing cold and I just wanted something while we were there. Banana Leaf had nowhere to sit, and Monsieur Marcel had space heaters out front. No glory in that decision.

                        1. re: SouthToTheLeft

                          The Farmer's Market is a minefield of hit and miss. Not too many outstanding fish/chicken options though. Marcel is definitely a miss. Ulysses Voyage (Greek) is ho-hum (Papa Cristo on Pico is leagues better). The sushi place is a SEVERE miss. Little John's confections (english toffee) is a HUGE, massive hit. Banana Leaf is a hit. Loteria is a hit, if pricey (Mr Taster thrifty tip #1... get the burrito minus rice for a much better value than the tacos alone). The corned beef at Magee's is most certainly a hit. The Brazilian Churrascuria can be good, although the chicken is almost always dry as a bone. (Mr Taster thrifty tip #2... for those who love meat, put one salad leaf on your plate and load up the rest with carnivorous deliciousness... that way they charge you the lower salad/meat per lb. price instead of the higher "meat-only" per lb. price :) The pizza at Patsy D'Amores is tasty (the calzones are most definitely not). Bennett's ice cream is wonderful, if pricey. The soft serve place, however, is an absolute rip off (a dinky, anemic, kiddie-sized dipped cone for $4-5). Haven't been to the Gumbo Pot in a long time but I do remember their blackened catfish poboys being tasty, though not nearly as good as even an average Little Saigon banh mi. (I need to try one of those poboys and see how they stack up these days.) Oh, and the old fashioned donuts at Bob's are spectacular. Dense and cakey, great for dunking on coffee. The way doughnuts used to be.

                          There's a new Spanish tapas place where Kokomo used to be... haven't checked it out yet though.

                          Can you imagine a great fish taco stand at the Farmer's Market? Imagine Best Fish Tacos with their little round fryer, exposing locals and tourists alike to freshly, properly prepared fish taco deliciousness. Man oh man, that would be a fantasy come true...

                          Mr Taster

                          Gumbo Pot
                          6333 W 3rd St Ste 312, Los Angeles, CA 90036

                    2. I just have to add about doing cuisine research when traveling -- my husband and I travel quite a bit (he's away on location a lot) and one thing I ALWAYS do is go to the local Hound site and do extensive research. I often don't even have to post. But this takes TIME. It's worth it tho, I get a healthy list of places where the locals go and it's pretty amazing, we've NEVER been disappointed. My husband always comments how thankful he is for all the research -- we end up saving money (by going to affordable places that the locals frequent) and it's an authentic and enjoyable experience.

                      We do use YELP as a supplement when we're traveling -- specifically when we're on the road or just want to grab a casual bite on the run. Very good for that.

                      Getting back to the OP, not to keep on ragging on him, but if we knew you were going to the Farmers Market, we'd all probably suggest for you to ck out the pretty well known LOTERIA GRILL over the French place, which is fine, but not amazing. In fact, LA really isn't known for its French restaurants -- we have a few, yes, but that's not where I'd personally send you (nor would I think most locals, esp if you were coming from a city that had more noteworthy French restaurants).