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Eight Days of Cheap Eats in LA: Report back from DC Chowhound

Steve Aug 13, 2013 06:31 AM

DC Chowhound just back from eight days of eating terrifically cheap, wonderful food. LA is a whole new level of hole-in-the wall eating. I was guided by the esteemed Mr. Taster who accompanied me on my first day. Here is where I ate in chronological order:

Beijing Pie House, SGV
101 Noodle Express, SGV
El Mercadito (for raspados and gordita)
Trompo taco truck at Melrose and Manhattan Pl. carwash
Pepy’s Galley
Café at Getty Villa
Ronnie’s Diner
Abraham Partamian Bakery
Cemitas Poblano truck (“El Delfin”) at 5469 W. Adams – Food Mart
Blue Bayou – Disneyland
Ma’s Islamic - Anaheim
Bamboo Island, Cambodian, Long Beach
Vien Dong - Garden Grove
Casita Mexicana - Bell
Zam Zam Market

Five super highlights:

Xian Bing at Beijing Pie House, both the lamb and the fennel/pork were outrageous and I appreciated the difference between the fattiness of the lamb and the fresh, grassy flavor of the fennel.

Beef Roll at 101 Noodle. Great with nothing added, but even greater with the chili oil.

Monte Cristo Sandwich at Blue Bayou – about 100 million calories…. per bite. Disney has perfected deep fried, stuffed French Toast.

Thick sesame bread with green onions at Ma’s Islamic – worth the trip across the country.

Cha Ca Thang Long at Vien Dong - Holey Moley! A hefty supply of deliciousness that you can vary with each bowlful. Crispy vegetables, toasted peanuts, what more could I ask? This was quite a big portion, and that was just the regular.

And five low-lights:

Yamashiro has got to be the worst value restaurant in the United States of America. Is there an even worse value restaurant in other countries? Probably not….. unless there is a branch of Yamashiro in other countries. I do not need my raw fish sweetened. The corn syrup was flowing mightily. And, to make matters worse, I don’t think LA is a great skyline to be looking over at night. Maybe during the day, but at night it’s boring. Taken here by friends. They are still my friends, but now I have less money to send my son to college.

Chili Relleno at Casablanca. Taken here by family. I dearly love them, so I will not say more.

Lahmajune at Partamian: a bad flour tortilla with a tasteless topping.

Zha jiang mian at Beijing Pie House. Insipid glop.

Lamb and jalapeno at Ma’s Islamic – ruined by an overly salty gloppy sauce, I thought it would be dry-fried, but I forgot to verify with the waiter. Three flavor wonton soup was also basically brown salt water despite the excellent wontons and other solid ingredients.

Since there is precious little Chowhound info on the Cambodian scene in Long Beach, I’d like to add my experience. Bamboo Island was chosen in the true Chowhound tradition of exploration. I had nothing to go on. This is a spacious dive which looks like it is set up for karaoke in the evenings. Many snapshots displayed of a happy throng of customers. I was the only one having lunch on Saturday; one person came in for take-out. There was anchovy on the menu, and I ordered a “beef anchovy” dish. This turns out to be two dishes in one: a big pile of beautifully grilled, thickly-sliced tender steak and a salad of mostly thai eggplant, with black olives, red pepper, cilantro, some jalapeno, in a sauce made with anchovy paste. Very little or no anchovy flavor, but I have to say the food was rockin’. I am sure this bares little resemblance to eating in Cambodia, but I can find no flaw in the quality, especially the extremely fragrant jasmine rice.

And finally…. Breakfast Chowdown:
Chilaquiles at Pepy’s Galley vs the Chorizo Bowl at Ronnie’s Diner.

No Contest, the chorizo bowl wins hands down. The waitress prompted me to get the potatoes extra crispy, and these really set apart the dish and brought it to another level. The chorizo bowl is not on the menu, so this is a kind of a Chowhound exclusive. A glorious mess of food.

  1. n
    ns1 Aug 13, 2013 11:01 AM

    "Taken here by friends. They are still my friends, but now I have less money to send my son to college."

    "Chili Relleno at Casablanca. Taken here by family. I dearly love them, so I will not say more."

    i lol'd so hard.

    1 Reply
    1. re: ns1
      barryc Aug 14, 2013 08:28 PM


    2. i
      ilysla Aug 13, 2013 10:09 AM

      Fantastic report. The beef rolls at 101 Noodle Express are one of my favorite food items ever. =)

      Not sure where you stayed in LA, but do you think the Cambodian food in Long Beach was worth the trek? I've had Burmese (I think). Wonder if they're very similar (I enjoyed the Burmese I had, but it tasted like a rather curious mix of Thai, Chinese, w/ perhaps a touch of Indian?).

      6 Replies
      1. re: ilysla
        Porthos Aug 13, 2013 10:32 AM

        I'm no expert on Cambodian cuisine but I was taken to a really good restaurant in San Gabriel by a Cambodian girl once.

        The fish curry/paste was really good which you eat with raw vegetables. There was also a wild boar dish if I remember correctly.


        Not sure if it's closer for you.

        1. re: Porthos
          J.L. Aug 13, 2013 05:59 PM

          I miss good khmer cuisine. We visited Phnom Penh / Angkor Wat a few years back and loved, loved the food! Thanks for reminding me.

          Burmese is very different from Cambodia, in food, in history, in culture. Don't mix it up - Them can be fightin' words!

          Again we see that Yamashiro continues to suck. Bad.

        2. re: ilysla
          Steve Aug 13, 2013 01:13 PM

          I stayed in two places, Culver City and Anaheim. I always have a pretext to go places, in this case I wanted to go to Rancho Los Alamitos and the Museum of Latin American Art, both in Long Beach. The first was worth it, the second unfortunately had two monotonous photography exhibits, and almost nothing else from the permanent collection.

          In terms of food, was it worth it? it was thoroughly delicious but not transportive, and I was disappointed that no anchovies were sacrificed in making my dish. It could be that my meal was not indicative of what you'd normally get in Little Cambodia.

          Not at all similar to Burmese which has multiple influences, as you point out.

          1. re: ilysla
            TripleAxel Aug 13, 2013 06:27 PM

            Burmese is exactly influenced by all three of those cuisines, and not just a touch of Indian either... I've heard wonderful things about the Cambodian restaurants in Long Beach, especially since there is a Cambodian community in that city...

            1. re: TripleAxel
              Servorg Aug 13, 2013 06:42 PM

              Here was one of the long time L.A. board posters (who went on a quest to eat his way around the world without leaving L.A.) on his findings from one of the better known Cambodian restaurants in Long Beach: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5644...

              1. re: Servorg
                ilysla Aug 13, 2013 07:54 PM

                Thanks for the responses, everyone.

                SGV is not necessarily closer than Long Beach, but I'm much more familiar w/ the former, which might be the deciding factor in terms of which one I might go to....

                I know so little about SE Asian cuisine, which is why I asked! =) When people refer to Khmer cuisine, is that used interchangeably w/ "Cambodian," or are there regional specialties w/i the country?

                I do remember that noahbites "project!" And I actually remember his post. I do wonder if I'd find the "burnt" fish paste undercurrent to be off-putting....

                Steve, I'm rather saddened by your friends taking you to Yamashiro and expecting you to pay for yourself! =(

          2. o
            Ogawak Aug 13, 2013 09:43 AM

            Your list is like a game of "One of these things just doesn't belong here..." and if you guessed "Yamashiro's" you guessed right.

            1. ipsedixit Aug 13, 2013 08:57 AM

              Nice report.

              Too bad you weren't able to substitute Yamashiro for some better Japanese, which LA has in spades. I think LA has a unique view -- both night and day -- and can really be enjoyed from the Getty Center.

              Next time you make it out to SGV, try some dumplings at JTYH, Luscious, or some chiu-chou food at Seafood Village.

              1 Reply
              1. re: ipsedixit
                Steve Aug 13, 2013 12:33 PM

                Yes, many things were on my list. I had to satisfy my dumpling craving at 101 Noodle. We had the pork and shrimp (though I thought I ordered the pumpkin and shrimp) ..... very nice.

              2. o
                Ogawak Aug 13, 2013 07:58 AM

                Thanks for the report and for enlightening us on Cambodian food. Curious about your experiences on the unreported places you went and would love to hear about them.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Ogawak
                  Steve Aug 13, 2013 08:34 AM

                  Thanks for asking. I didn't want to overload my OP with info!

                  Other highlights include the trompo tacos - only one place where I can get those back home, and these were better seasoned. The array of toppings was outstanding - you'd think they were losing money!

                  Casita Mexicana is a nice place with good food - though I felt the desserts (flan with rompopo and rice pudding inside a crispy hot tortilla) were the best part. I actively disliked a sweet potato soup and the three sauces served on the tortillas were surprisingly bland to me. We went with a cochinita pibil and a braised beef dish. Salsas were excellent.

                  Zam Zam only had two dishes available: a ground beef kabob and chicken biryani, both very satisfying but nothing out of the ordinary.

                  The choices at El Mercadito were just ok. I make better carnitas than the filling of the gordita, and the raspados were nice, but again not thrilling.

                  The cemita with milanesa de pollo was a mighty fine sandwich.

                  1. re: Steve
                    Ciao Bob Aug 13, 2013 09:39 AM

                    What a great report!
                    Where did you have the cemita?

                2. Porthos Aug 13, 2013 07:49 AM

                  Outstanding work!

                  What a shame you went to Yamashiro. Such an eyesore in an otherwise glorious itinerary.

                  Glad you made it down to Vien Dong.

                  Very impressed you did Cambodian in Long Beach!

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: Porthos
                    Steve Aug 13, 2013 08:36 AM

                    I tried so hard to get out of Yamashiro -as soon as they told me about the view I got nervous- but my friends insisted on showing me a good time....

                    1. re: Steve
                      TripleAxel Aug 13, 2013 06:25 PM

                      No wonder, because Yamoshiro is definitely not cheap! I'm surprised no one took you to Pad Ord Noodle or Hoy Ka for Thai Boat Noodles ($3.95 for a small bowl, large is $5.95)...

                      1. re: Steve
                        aching Aug 15, 2013 05:58 AM

                        Yamashiro is a travesty - I still feel burned from my visit six years ago: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/425600

                        1. re: aching
                          ns1 Aug 15, 2013 08:32 AM

                          The reviews on yelp are surprisingly positive, which I guess is why this place keeps gettin recommended.

                          1. re: ns1
                            TripleAxel Aug 15, 2013 03:56 PM

                            The food is atrocious and super overly-priced. Gouging tourists for sure. I regretted buying that Groupon...

                    2. Servorg Aug 13, 2013 06:35 AM

                      Another voice giving testimony to the chorizo bowl http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/859243#7745274 and http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/859243#7900073 and http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8592... at Ronnie's - which I'm sure I have sung the praises of enough times that it has made the eyes of those reading along glaze over...So thanks for adding your independent, completely unbiased vote!

                      Great report and absolutely prodigious hounding.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Servorg
                        Steve Aug 13, 2013 07:32 AM

                        Yes, I am positive I followed your rec which was greatly appreciated. Can't find anything like it where I live, that's for sure.

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