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Hong Kong foodie visiting for 1 day to eat: Where do I take her?

Literally, my Korean college roommate & I eaten our way through Japan, HK, Maine & NYC together this year. We've compared notes on KL, Singapore, the Philippines & Thailand. Now she has a one day layover in LA this Dec, and I've been tasked with showing her the highlights. She worked in a French resto in HK previously. Help!

The notes:
-- I live in Santa Monica, so we probably will work west to east.
-- Think we need to hit Sawtelle at some point because I talk about it so much, and because I've never come across a street with so many different kinds of Asian food before, even in Asia. But maybe that's a snack?
-- Traffic is a bitch and this is a weekday.
-- Baco Mercat? That's still on my brain from a good recent lunch. But is it The One?

Thanks, hounds!

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  1. Shunji
    Red Medicine

    1. Maybe Russian at the new Mari Vanna? That way you won't have to worry as much about falling short in comparison mode.


      1. key words: DURING THE WEEK

        if you do indeed end up going to the SGV, be sure to know the closing time of the restaurant you are planning to hit and to leave PLENTY of time.

        when last i tried to get to Happy Family during the week after work, the traffic was so terrible that the restaurant closed before we arrived. bummer

        12 Replies
        1. re: westsidegal

          Wow, Russian. That's a thought.

          I was thinking a stop at Seoul Sausage would be representative of LA at the moment. Or Kogi, seeing as she hasn't been here in 20 years.

          Trois Mec? Another thought.

          1. re: Margaret Santa Monica

            ... would be representative of LA at the moment."


            If that's your barometer, consider places like Alma, Alumette, Sotto, Red Medicine or even places like Providence or (the rebooted) Spago.

            1. re: Margaret Santa Monica

              Consider a taco crawl? IMO much better in terms of taste and value than the places you mentioned. The sausages @ Seoul lack flavor but their poutine is great, and kogi...well its just kbbq in tortilla. Guisados comes to mind as a more fulfilling street food destination, as well as Mariscos Jaliscos and Ricky's Fish Taco

              1. re: Margaret Santa Monica

                I would not say Seoul Sausage represents much of anything, LA or otherwise.

                Trois Mec is great and screams LA at the moment, as does Shunji, Red Med, n/naka, Baco Mercat, Orsa & Winston, chi spaccha, Tar & Roses, Gjelina, Providence, Alma, Alumette, Bucato.

                  1. re: jessejames

                    I've rolled them many times and it seems to come up all aces for me.

                    1. re: Ciao Bob

                      Same here. Jackpot all 6-8 times or more. Lucky us ;-)

                      1. re: Porthos

                        But not for all. I am glad u like it. I think mushy and snooty and have tried three times. Anyways not a lock for all like other choices.

                    2. re: jessejames

                      How about Red Medicine for late night bar snacks. They serve the dumplings and the bahn mi I think, both which I find to be sublime. That way you get a nice place to drink with really good food that is not the focus of your night.

                      1. re: set0312

                        No idea how Red Medicine is not more popular as a bar. It has the best bar food in LA. And the beers are usually great, plus, like $5...unheard of in LA.

                1. re: westsidegal

                  I'm w/ WSG regarding the traffic. What time of day are you planning to do this? If you can start at lunchtime, I think I'd actually rather go east to west than the other way around....

                  Maybe Cacao in Eagle Rock? Or Porto's? Ethiopian in mid-city? On the westside, I might think about taking her to Milo and Olive or Hostaria del Piccolo (or Gjelina, since so many other people like it).

                  Does she work in a very upscale restaurant? If so, she might like the cheap eats here....

                2. So you''ve dined in Japan, S'pore, KL, NYC, etc. etc. Sawtelle, aside from its variety of offerings, may not impress her too much. For example, in Japan, there is definitely as good (if not better) ramen as TsujitaLA. The following is a (sort of West-to-East) suggested itinerary:

                  If she works in a French restaurant in HK, maybe she'll enjoy the croissant at Maison Giraud in Pacific Palidsades for breakfast (even if it's only for the sake of comparison).

                  Get an Office Burger with a Tripel Karmeliet at Father's Office (Helms location) for lunch. Then walk across the street to TeaForest and get a few scoops of Bulgarini's incredible gelato.

                  Though I adore Shunji & n/naka, kaiseki format dining is commonplace in Asia. You two may be better off going to K-town for dinner (your friend is Korean, but I didn't hear you mention Seoul in your collective travels). Red Medicine is a good pick as well.

                  Or, traffic gods willing, you can hit the SGV for some Northern Chinese fare (Lord knows they have enough southern Chinese and Taiwanese in HK).

                  Actually, strike that. Even better is trying Chef Roberto's Mexican cooking at Babita in San Gabriel. Though it's recently been a controversial pick on this board of late, I will come out and say that what Chef Roberto is doing with so little resources in that location for as long as he has is nothing short of remarkable. Furthermore, there is definitely nothing like Babita in HK, that I'm aware of... The fact that it's a weekday means you two may probably be the only ones in the dining room (read: great service from the chef's wife and plenty of attention from the chef himself)

                  Finish up the day strong with a street taco crawl in East L.A. Then hit Varnish or some other watering hole in our "sparkling new" Downtown for drinks. Maybe at Perch or WP24.

                  Enjoy L.A.!

                    1. re: wienermobile

                      Yes, we haven't been to Seoul together. We mostly have eaten Korean together in NYC...

                      Maison Giraud! I had forgotten. And close. Thank you.

                      Will look into Babita. I do feel like Mexican has appear at least once in the day.

                      Haven't been to Father's Office in years but have loved that burger well, in my past.

                      Red Medicine I keep hearing so will look it up...!

                      1. re: wienermobile

                        Thanks for the reminder, wienermobile. I totally had forgotten that. Yes, hit that up in Macarthur Park for a merienda just before they close (at 4PM).

                      2. If it were me, I would begin at the furthest point away from my home base and work back to the Westside....so as not to have a huge drive in traffic after eating and drinking so much, to get back home. Granted traffic basically sucks in any direction exiting downtown..... If you leave the Westside at 8am, the 10 is traveling well, until you get to about Crenshaw, then slows down due to the interchanges. I would start with breakfast downtown or east la, then work my way through mid city, then end at the ocean in Venice or SaMo. Just my two cents.....

                        1. Having lived in HK for a short time I'd say forget Asian food.

                          Either go to quintessential LA restaurants like Spago or modern definitive ones like Providence or Alma.

                          If you want to take her for something she cannot get then go for Mexican or Middle Eastern.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Johnny L

                            I won't say forget all Asian food.

                            Hong Kong has Michelin quality Japanese from fusion modern kaiseki Ryugin (HK branch) to Edo style sushi Shikon (Sushi Yoshitake's branch) to Ginza Iwa, and even Robatayaki (Inakaya) as well as true Edo style tempura (Inagiku). So definitely skip any Japanese in LA/SoCal.

                            Italian I think other than the 3 Michelin star restaurant (which is debatable in terms of quality) HK isn't exactly avante garde in that area.

                            Korean....I am going to go out on a limb and say K-town in LA and even OC might be better than Hong Kong. My Korean classmate who lives in HK thinks the quality is just not there or close, particularly the non KBBQ things. There are also Korean expats who think that Korean food in LA is superior to Seoul in some ways due to better quality ingredients.

                            Vietnamese is not strong at all in Hong Kong. You can find pho, pho hotpot, spring rolls, banh mi, crab dishes...but many styles reworked for HK tastebuds. Westminster will blow away anything in HK based on what I've seen in blogs, openrice. Not even the new "An Nam" in Causeway Bay (upscale Central Vietnamese) looks to be any better than Westminster's finest. I don't think HK has anything like nem nuong cuon (e.g. Brodard).

                            1. re: K K

                              Thanks for your input K K. I'd say that your impressions mirror mine regarding the strengths / weaknesses in the current HK scene.

                          2. Bucato for amazing handmade pastas

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: budlit

                              Of their pastas, I've tried their tortellini, tagitelle and gnochetti. With the exception of the uni gnochetti which was phenomenal, everything I had there was pretty mediocre to just plain 'not good'. I'm not sure what all the fuss about this place is.

                              1. re: mstinawu

                                Should've had the spaghetti, macaroni, and strascinati.

                                The only one I have had that was not mind-blowing was the gnochetti. I guess some of them simply aren't spectacular. But the three I mentioned above are near the best pastas I have ever eaten.

                                1. re: mstinawu

                                  Isn't it funny how, when one visits a place that's supposed to be known for heavenly pasta, and tries a variety & finds none to be all that, there is always someone around to tell one that you didn't order the right thing?!? I mean, seriously, if the pasta is so unbelievable, why such a variance between different shapes?! Pasta is pasta, people..... It's either cooked & sauced properly, or it's not.....

                                  1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                    True enough.

                                    I haven't tried the pastas you have.

                                    Who knows, maybe I actually just like the pasta and you don't.

                                    It's not uncommon for restaurants to have certain dishes that are better than others though.

                                    It is weird, granted, but is the weirdness worth a chance at great food? idk... entirely up to you. Just trying to make some recommendations based on my experiences.

                              2. I would say get either some Vietnamese food or Mexican food.

                                1. In terms of having food that would be distinctly American on Sawtelle and I'd consider Clusi Battusi and Plan Check. For sweet snacks in the general West LA area consider Primos Donuts, Stans Donuts, Diddy Riese, Churros Caliente, Sprinkles, and Sweet Rose Creamery

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: Xan7hos

                                    I don't get Primos Donuts. I had one and it didn't taste any different than a donut at any of the miscellaneous donut places that dot the Southland...and I asked the charming older woman behind the counter for her recommendation of what donut to get!

                                    1. re: bringiton

                                      They're known for their buttermilk donuts…

                                      1. re: bringiton

                                        I felt the same way about Stan's in Westwood.... The one I had was absolutely dreadful and I tossed it before finishing it....

                                        1. re: bringiton

                                          As already-alluded to, Primo's is famous for its buttermilk bar. It becomes even more Chow-ish when you try it piping hot right out of the fryer.

                                          1. re: bringiton

                                            I'm not a sweets guy but I figure for an out of towner I'd hit up most if not all those spots iftime allows. Personally the only thing that gets me really giddy are the churros at Churros caliente. How can you beat fried to ordered churros with dulce de leche.

                                        2. For someone from HK and has traveled throughout Asia, I certainly wouldn't take her for Asian food! What about anything "California" or a great hole in the wall taco joint?

                                          1. Since it is on your mind anyway, I vote for Bäco Mercat. It serves perhaps the most "LA" cuisine of any restaurant in LA, and is (I imagine, though I could be wrong) something unavailable anywhere else.

                                            But more generally, isn't Mexican food basically unavailable to your friend? Or are you guys pretty much interested in going to places that you can compare to your previous trips?

                                            You could do a whole day of Mexican dining throughout LA; huevos rancheros at Taqueria Los Anaya; tacos at Guisados; cochinita pibil at Chichen Itza; birria from Birrieria Tepeque, El Parian, or Birrieria Flor del Rio; Mole at Rocio's Mole los Dioses; chorizo and por at Gish Bac; mole fries at Bizarra Capital; pan con chompipe at Corzon y Miel...

                                            Out of selfishness, I would be interested to know what your friend thinks of the croissants at Chaumont bakery.

                                            4 Replies
                                            1. re: Stravinsky

                                              <thinks of the croissants at Chaumont bakery>

                                              Okay, I've tried them 3 times and each time I'm trying to figure out what's supposed to be so mind-blowing about them.
                                              I don't see them being any better than Bouchon that's in the same vicinity.

                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                It could simply be that they remind me of the croissants in Paris, and are in a setting that is very similar to Paris.

                                                They seem to beat every other croissant I have had anywhere else. However, I also haven't bothered to try Bouchon. I've just never found a reason to go over there hah (Usually I avoid Beverly Hills for any kind of dining).

                                                I will try to sample them for comparison. But to me, Chaumont's plain croissants are the only ones I've found that offer that ultra flaky delicacy, and sublime simple pleasure in taste that I experienced at Pierre Hermé in Paris.

                                                I assume they are doing something right, since I have taken a bunch of people there for the croissants, and all of them (most not being foodies per se) were blown away by them.

                                                Maybe it's more than, in general, American croissants suck. If you're fortunate enough to be eating at Bouchon every day, you probably won't find Chaumont quite as eye-opening as the majority of people.

                                                Go try a croissant at your average american bakery, or, hell, even at the well-respected places around town like Sycamore Kitchen, Susina, etc... the croissants are nothing in comparison to what Chaumont does (and/or apparently Bouchon).

                                                1. Since you only have a day and thus want to give your visitor a smorgasbord of LA dining, this is probably not a great idea. Nonetheless, to give her a real view of California coastal and canyon vistas and a decidedly non-Asian dining experience, you could drive up PCH to Malibu Canyon and go to Saddle Peak Lodge. Along the way you could have drinks at Nikita on the ocean, or a bit of sushi at Nobu, and/or gelato at Grom.

                                                  1. Cafe del Rey in Marina del Rey is a relaxing experience
                                                    for out of town visitors. The food is tasty too.

                                                    1. I agree with the others saying Mexican is essential. What if you did Chichen Itza and Guisados for lunch (as long as there are no accidents you should be able to get between the two pretty seamlessly) and then killed some time downtown at Grand Central Market, Angel's Flight, and the Bradbury Building. Hit up Alma or Baco or Bestia for dinner. Then return to the westside for late night ramen?

                                                      1. Concur on mexican. If you guys went through singapore, phillippines and thailand, you have to do mexican. I'd recommend Grand Central Market in downtown for sure. Great tacos, gorditas, etc. (i love the gorditas at Ana Maria's), and there are various other food stands as well (salvadoran pupusas, a mexican seafood place, etc). Nice to have a place to walk around and basically have a variety of street food in one location (kind of like singapore).

                                                          1. re: wienermobile

                                                            Ricky don't do weekdays, else I would have recommended it as well.