Visited LA for a long weekend - long-ish report from SF hound
I just got back from a long weekend in LA, stuffing my face (as usual) at a bunch of your restaurants. In chronological order, with further details below:
Thursday night: Father's Office
Friday breakfast: Bob's Coffee & Donuts
Friday lunch: Loteria Grill, Singapore's Banana Leaf, Short Cake/Single Origin
Friday dinner: Bottega Louie
Saturday lunch: Cafe Brasil
Saturday dinner: Soot Bull Jeep
Saturday late-night: Tacos Leo
Sunday lunch: Pa Ord Noodle
Sunday dinner: Best Fish Taco in Ensenada
Of the bunch, I think the only food that I didn't enjoy at all were the fish tacos at BFTiE. I wish I had gone to Yoshinoya or Versailles Cuban or something, anything, instead. What a profound disappointment, and a terrible way to end my trip to LA! Regardless, it was generally a solid trip food-wise.
I arrived on Thursday night, prepped to eat. After drinks at the Los Angeles Brewing Company in downtown (incl. a free one, check their twitter @ labrewingco), we went to Father's Office in Culver City for dinner. I'd just had Umami Burger's namesake for the first time a few weeks earlier in SF, and to be honest, I think I prefer Umami's to Father's Office's burger. The medium-rare was undercooked, and the meat as a result, rather than slightly crumbly, was almost mushy in a raw meat way. The arugula was a good touch for cutting through the intensity of the cheeses and the caramelized onion though. Glad that they cut the bread in half so that it was much easier to eat. The fries and aioli were also good but nothing special to write home about. At $15 for the burger & fries, and $6 for my Racer 5 though, I don't feel like it was a good use of either my caloric or monetary budgets. Plus the place is a scene and even though I'm a 20-something, it was a little much.
On Friday morning, I wandered over to the Grove because I had a Craig Ferguson taping to go to at CBS later that afternoon. I had intended to caffeine up with a CHer-recommended Aunt Nancy's Shakerato at Short Cake/Single Origin but I couldn't find the stall so I decided to go to Bob's Coffee and Donuts instead. There were a fair number of patrons sitting around chatting with coffees already and a small line waiting to order. I got a sublime sugar doughnut and a small coffee with cream. The doughnut reminded me of all the great things that I love about pastries, soft yet chewy, sweet but not excessive, satiating but not overly-filling. And for $1, not about to break the bank! The coffee (American Blend) was very old-school tasting, almost the type that you'd get at a pre-second wave Italian cafe. The closest I can describe it to is the coffee you can find at Zabar's in NYC.
I went back to the Grove for lunch later, getting the chicken mole poblano and chicken tinga tacos at Loteria Grill. They were both delicious - the first a silky concoction of chicken, mole, and diced white onions. The chicken tinga had less of an impact on me, though it was by no means bad. Slightly pricey at $3.50 given that taco trucks are a dollar. At Singapore's Banana Leaf, I ordered the chicken curry with rice and sat across from a sassy old Indonesian lady who had travelled up from San Diego to visit her kids. She had ordered the beef rendang which she thought was a little bland (she asked for salt) and the colour of the sauce seemed too red and not brown enough (in my uneducated eyes). She suggested that I check out a place called Ramayani further west on Westwood Blvd. My own curry was good enough but a little soupy. The employees were very pleasant and if I were in the area again, I'd like to try the laksa or the mie goreng. A little expensive ($10.xx incl. tax) for fast food-ish al fresco dining. As a treat, I got the Aunt Nancy's Shakerato which was incredible - not too sweet yet just sweet enough, coffee flavours pronounced but not dizzying, creamy yet not unhealthy-tasting. Possibly one of the best coffee-based iced drink I've had in the past few years. I just wish the cup had been larger....
Dinner at Bottega Louie's elbow-people-in-the-face/free-for-all space was great. I ordered the trenne pasta at our waitress' suggestion, and was pleasantly greeted with a slightly seared (not the right term) pasta with succulent chunks of rib eye and kale along with a tomato sauce and shaved parmesan. My friends were both impressed by their calamari appetizer to the point they scrounged up all the crumbs even though one of them doesn't even like squid all that much. For about the same price as Father's Office ($16 w/o tax or tip), this was a substantially better meal in a much more beautiful space.
At Cafe Brasil's Venice Blvd location, I ordered the Skinless Boneless Chicken Breast plate which came up with fried plantains, rice, black beans, salsa, and a vegetable soup. Everything was good, though I think the secret ingredient winner in all of this was the hot sauce that came with the table. It was the typical Brazilian hot sauce, the liquidy one that is both sour and piquant and a mesmerizing addition to rice. The chicken was slightly dry but the soup and hot sauce compensated. The fried plantains were appropriately moist on the inside and crispy on the outside. My friends enjoyed their breakfasts as well but thought that the "fresh squeezed" passionfruit juice may have had sugar added. I noticed that they also have feijoada, which I'd like to try their version some day. I thought it was well-priced ($12) given how full I was by the end.
After doing some exploring in downtown (Pete's Cafe at W 4th/S Main has Horny Devil Belgian Ale!!!), we got dinner at Soot Bull Jeep in Koreatown. The options were down to Hamji Park for gamjatang, So Kong Dong for soon dubu, and Soot Bull Jeep for charcoal BBQ, having removed Park's given how expensive it was. We decided on the last, and ordered beef galbi, as well as spicy pork bulgogi. My friend, who isn't a huge fan of pork, surprised me by saying that she preferred the pork more, while I preferred the galbi more. The charcoal was nice, lending the meat a smoky charred character. Service was good (unlike some other reports), though that might have been the result of them thinking I was Korean. The banchan was decent, though I was surprised by the kimchi in water, which I thought was more of a winter kimchi??? The meal cost as much as I expected it to, $50 w/o tip for the 2 of us. I would go back, though I'd like to see if Park's is well and above beyond Soot Bull Jeep.
Late-night dinner at Tacos Leo after partying in WeHo was brilliant. I got 6 tacos - 3 al pastor, 1 carnitas, 1 carne asada, 1 pollo. Got there about 1AM, and there was already a line. I enjoyed the pastor the most. Sublime, just sublime. You guys are all lucky to have something so great so close to you and for so cheap too.
A hang-overy morning later, we went for noodles at Pa Ord Noodle in Thai Town. I had originally wanted to go to Pailin, but it's closed on Sundays, so we settled for Pa Ord. Small space, but efficiently-run and fairly-fast seating. While waiting, we got the sugarcane/coconut juice/coconut flesh "smoothie" from its plaza next-door neighbour which was good, though I preferred the sample without the coconut flesh. Once seated, we shared a medium-spicy papaya salad and I got the #1 tom yum noodle soup while my friend got the pad kee mao. Let me just say that this was definitely the spiciest meal I've had in YEARS. I regularly eat Thai, Szechuan, and Korean, but this was unbelievably spicy. My friend resorted to picking out little pepper flecks, while I tried in vain to swallow my noodles smothered in hot chilis. It was kind of ridiculous, though I guess that's one way of making you not as hungry! The soup flavour (what I could taste of it at least) was not bursting with the hot or sour as I know it, but had a very mild sourness to it. The dish also had some Thai char siu, bean sprouts, beef balls (not beef tendon), clumped ground pork, and liver. If it wasn't so spicy I think I would've loved it, but as it was, I couldn't even eat it without taking forced water/drink breaks. From what I could taste of my friend's pad kee mao, the noodles were just bursting with flavour and 'wok air'. I ordered a hibiscus drink afterwards to settle my upset stomach, and though good, it had sugar added. I'd like to explore the menu more, asking definitely for the not-spicy option.
Afterwards, we got fish and shrimp tacos at the Best Fish Taco in Ensenada, which was the most disappointing meal of my trip. Like the methods of preparation, none of the ingredients seemed to meld together in its final incarnation. While I liked the fish more than the shrimp, they both tasted really sloppy and the result of just clumping random ingredients together. The fish didn't have any of the creaminess or smoothness of other fish tacos I've had, and I didn't enjoy the batter that came with it, nor the tortilla that it was placed on (too crunchy). The shredded lettuce tasted old, and the cream didn't make it any better. The tamarind drink that I got was not all that hot either. The only redeeming thing about the place was that the horchata was good. My friend said that she thought they made it with pumpkin seeds like her mom does. Sadly, the owner is kind of a riot and super nice, so it makes me a little sad to have to speak so unfavourably about the place.
Anyways, as usual I had a fun time exploring LA's budget culinary scene. Looking forward next time to exploring more of the Peruvian mom and pop restaurants (are there any?), as well as all the great Chinese restaurants out in the SGV. Thanks to everyone for their insights. They helped me pick and enjoy the meals I had!
Thanks for your great (& detailed) report back! A few comments (maybe it will help for your next trip to our fair city)...
Listen to the Indonesian lady - Ramayani in Westwood is indeed great. Their Ice Teller drink is yummy. For more Singaporean, a good bet is Spice Table in Little Tokyo.
Glad you didn't go deaf from the noise level at Bottega Louie. Try Colori Kitchen 3 blocks away for even better Italian food (tagliatelle alla Bolognese & ricotta cheesecake).
The feijoada at Cafe Brasil is definitely worth trying.
For a less spicy meal in Thai-town: Try the Thais boat noodles & jade noodles at Sapp Coffee Shop.
Do Ricky's Fish Tacos next time you're in L.A. in order to redeem your taste buds for great Baja style tacos.
Again, great report.
J.L., when was the last time you had the feijoada at Cafe Brasil? The couple of times we've had it, we didn't care for it at all. We went in with low expectations too. My wife loves it and we live in the area. We were hoping for something that could be a local standby. But even with minimal expectations, we weren't happy. The meats were scarce and it didn't have that deep stewed flavor.
yes, they take reservations at bottega louie. and you get your table. eventually. while fighting for a place to stand. or sit, taking a few elbows and hip checks in the meantime.
while being bumped into. all while being serenedad by noise level comparable to a motorhead concert, although not as tuneful.
FWIW, I live around the corner from BFTiE and haven't noticed any drop in quality. It's not a place I love or would recommend that out of towners seek out, but I've never had a bad meal there. My favorite thing there is their mango and pineapple salsas and it doesn't sound like the OP had any of that.
Pa Ord spice level is twice the level you would normally expect even if your an adventurous diner and used to spicy foods.
It's the only Thai place I go to and I have to ask for mild so I can enjoy my food.
If I am in the mood I'll do medium but it becomes a lot of work with all the sweating, wiping and drinking water.
I like the papaya salad there but for that dish we have to order it below mild to enjoy it.
My friend orders spicy and even the waiter who works there says he cannot eat spicy.
Agree about Sapp and their Jade noodles (dry). One of my go to dishes in that part of town.
Reminds me of these two Indian guys who I used to work with. When we would get takeout from the local Thai place (not in SoCal, nowhere near a Thai population), which had their spiciness rated 1 through 4 stars, the Indian guys would order 10 stars or 20 stars and it still wouldn't be spicy enough. Finally the restaurant understood that these guys wanted native-Thai spiciness. :-) Wonder how those guys would handle Pa Ord...
December 1980 while in Bangkok and noodling around for a couple of days before heading down to Phuket for a dive trip my buddy and I innocently wander in to the "coffee shop" at the Grace Hotel for dinner. Each dish was hotter than the one before. Finally I decide to order soup so that we don't spontaneously combust and die. The damn soup was so spicy I'm sure my head looked like one of those cartoon steam whistles going full blast just before the entire top blows off, like Krakatoa going up. I'm equally certain that the Thai people in there were all laughing at the two guys from America sweating like they were stuck in a Finnish sauna that had been stoked to within a few degrees of Hell on summer day in August...
What an evocative (and charming) story. = )
To the OP, thanks for the detailed write-up! I actually rather enjoyed BFTiE the one I went there, although I agree that Ricky's is much better. Also somewhat astonished that you didn't have a poor impression of Bottega Louie's (my assumption is that you have more/better California/Italian places in SF). Do agree w/ the rec for Colori Kitchen, as well as for the SGV....
I agree... the ladies at Pa Ord are so sweet but I swear they giggle at you as you first take a slurp and go WOAH! For that reason I always ask them to keep the heat delicate. "Barely medium". They have the great condiments on the tables to amp up the heat to my prefered level, which also makes the ladies happy...
I'm so glad the OP got the Aunt Nancy's! Everytime I'm at the Farmer's Market (including last night), it's a struggle not to just head over and get one...
Thanks for your detailed report. I hope you'll have an even greater culinary adventure the next time you're in the area.
Thanks for your detailed report. Singapore's Banana Leaf is the tempest in a teapot on this board. Reason being, Singaporean cuisine is so underrepresented in SoCal, particularly around LA-proper. Moreover, the "authenticity," quality and price factors of SBL are always in dispute between those that have extensively eaten in Singapore and those who probably haven't but still enjoy it for what it is.
The most reasonable LA primer for Singaporean cuisine oddly was in Marina del Rey - at Singaporean Express. It was opened by a Singaporean-Malay family where the patron had a true gift for cooking and had a regular fan base - the flight crews from Singapore A/L that stayed at the nearby Marriott. Sadly, the original owners sold off and disappeared - probably back to Singapore.
The San Gabriel Valley (SGV), which has is the mothership of Chinese-Asian cuisines, would be the place that one would think Singaporean would be well-established, but even there, it is very thin. Kissing cousin cuisines would be Malaysian and Indonesian, but even still - it's almost as thin, even out in the SGV.
Based on your itinerary, it appears heading out to the SGV wasn't in the cards - you really should go, being a Hound. It's so deep and wide in Chinese-Asian cuisine that it's crazy. But for Singaporean, save it for a trip to Singapore. For Malaysian, Yasmin in Alhambra was our go-to place, but we haven't been in at least a year or so. Their menu is quite broad - I think to a fault - and would be doing themselves and their customers a favor by narrowing their menu. As a rule, Asian cuisines are dominated by specialists - Southeast Asian cuisines are the same.
For Indonesian, your itinerary would have fit in quite well. Ramayani in Westwood is a good rec for Indonesian food in a more western-style full-service dining atmosphere. It's run by a large extended Indonesian family. I haven't been in a while so can't comment on it's current status.
Singpang Asia is an Indonesian cafe in the Palms area, and while more casual, I think the food is more street level, accessible and hits curry-type things out of the park.
Peruvian food in LA is quite good. Like the US, South America is a land of immigrants that have strong influences on the contemporary cultures. Peru is no exception. Off the top of my head, I'd rec three places. Kotosh at Kamiyama in Lomita for Japanese-inspired Peruvian, El Rocoto in Gardena for Chinese-inspired Peruvian, and Puro Sabor in Van Nuys for straight-up Peruvian. Many like Mario's - I'm luke-warm about them.
Wow! Thanks a lot for all of this info. My friend lives in Culver City and since all of the things I wanted to see were south of the Santa Monica Mountains, I figured it would be a little onerous to drive into the SGV just for food (though if it were my car, I'd probably do it lol). I'm also originally from Toronto's suburbs so I know something about decent Chinese food and didn't feel the pressing need to eat cuisines that I'm familiar with (though Taiwanese is not necessarily ubiquitous at home).
The Indonesian and all the Peruvian recs sound delicious and will be included next time I'm around. I tried Mo-Chica a year ago when it was still at its Mercado Paloma location and the ceviche that I had there was stupendous.
Food from the more Northern parts of China is becoming ubiquitous in the SGV. Keep an eye out on the LA board for posts about various places in the SGV and you'll get a handle on whether or not heading out there will be fruitful for you (relative to Toronto Chinese), as well as your friend. Most folks living outside of the SGV don't make the effort to head out there - it's a true lost opportunity. Your friend may or may not head out there - it would be a great 1/2-day outing immersed in food. The number of posters who live in and/or frequent places in the SGV is a very strong line-up. They never cease to amaze me with their knowledge of the cuisines as well their familiarity with the zillions of places around there....
The LA Weekly ran a piece on 15 Peruvian restaurants in LA on Tuesday:
I'd recommend Los Balcones del Peru which I think is consistently great. I loved Mo Chica too but haven't been yet since they moved and changed the menu. Pollo a La Brasa is very good at what it does but the menu is limited to just rotisserie chicken.