Welcome to DiningInLA.com! We eat, write, think and take in the spectacular, sexy, occasionally seedy but never-stagnant qualities of our city.
We live in Silver Lake, over on the northeastern side of things, and slowly we're building our culinary experiences. Select a Category on the right to get started.
Know a place we should try? Leave feedback or click the Contact link to suggest new places to tickle and tantalize our taste buds (but without silly review-style sentences like that one).
Dave and Bianca
( Categories: Miscellany )
A steady stopby on Van Nuys
5142 Van Nuys Blvd. (south of Magnolia, in Sherman Oaks)
Phone: 818-501-9065 | map
La Fogata is reliably in-between, a unique mien that Valley-based Mexican eateries have: a counter-order place with too much decor and booth seating to be a fast food joint*. Small rooms jut from the main area, with bullfighting posters and smiling porcelain sun faces populating every wall.
Look over the menu above the counter, then turn about-face and read the other menu on the opposite wall. Color photos cause indecision. I am usually not compelled to explore too deeply here, as if the universe is all right with my taking it easy.
When pulling away from my usual burrito-plus-a-taco habits, I have the Chicken Breast dinner. A big, symmetrically satisfying brace of chicken, grilled golden, skin stiffened only just, presides between the expected rice-and-beans fare.
The rice is standard issue, but the refried beans are notably tasty, almost whipped smooth, the layer of white cheese fused into translucency. A pleasing mound of shredded lettuce, cheese and guacamole is present to stuff into your tortillas, or just to crunch for the coolness.
The salsas are happily chunky and good enough, and except for a slight boost in bite, the difference between the mild and hot cannot be discerned in appearance nor in heat. I spoon hearty qualities of each over everything.
However, a burrito and a taco for companionship is my frequent friend. The burritos could be a little bigger for their price, but still make for good eats.
The Chile Burrito is an elastic flour tortilla packed to capacity with nothing but lovely shreds of juicy pork, richly brown with a slight antique fuchsia tint**, and more of those creamy refried beans. The Red chili is a tad too sweetish like a ragu, so the green is a better bet.
La Fogata is better with Veracruz-style fish than, say, the Baja fish tacos, which can be dry and lackluster. The Fried Chicken Taco basically means a hard-shell taco, with miles of gentle shredded cheese on top.
Continuing with my Sherman Oaksian gringo moment, when I need simplicity I secretly like the cool habit of a Chicken Taco Salad, warmly shredded chicken fraternizing with the refried beans underneath. With a crispy pale green mound of lettuce, sour cream and guacamole, there is a well-defined transition of heat to cold.
La Fogata has its own parking lot (let's say about five cars), and the side street is usually sparse and a little spooky, but available.
** As in color. It's meant to indicate the barest touch of purple that exists in roast meat. If you didn't like that comparison, try "fandango" or "cerise."
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, The Valley )
O'Groats has been about for nigh on thirty years, and the Valley edition is a couple of years old, popular with the Encinoan locals. I'd often passed it by, thinking it either a marmalade-infused, privileged abomination of fennel and foofery or a sportsbarian Valhalla of bros and brewery specials, and I would have been prone to sneer at this big blue oval logo that might have been yanked from a designer suitcase, but it's just not so. It's honest, and friendly.
The Ventura Blvd. location sighs beneath glum bank buildings like Encino eateries often do, with a massive gravel-and-pavement patio. Inside it's as airy as the day, predominantly blue and cream with a silvery tin ceiling overhead. They seem to know most of the folks who come in here.
Naturally I gravitate toward any dish called Latino Heat. This does not (necessarily) reflect my typical clubgoing pursuits.
This is a scrambled affair, but as I also am attracted to any option that says "make it a burrito," I do. It's packed with spicy, rich turkey sausage and a coat of sharp cheddar, and not quite enough jalapeño peppers to make it threatening. It's a hot and velvety jumble of yellow and russet yet holds itself together. A side dish of sour cream, melty avocado slices and pico de gallo waits patiently.
This is the Quesadilla O'Groats. What makes this a "huh!" creation is the much-lauded biscuit dough tortilla, which makes it less papery and more pitalike; pleasantly dappled with griddle marks with a buttery sheen, it's layered with steamed spinach, mushrooms, black beans, and is spot-welded by sharp cheddar.
While the vegetarian Qo'G is noteworthy, they make a dangerously good Corned Beef Hash here, a perfect pink-and-beige balance of salty chopped meat and mouth-filling potatoes.
Get this as a communal dish for the table; it's not greasy as might be expected, but it carries a real risk of post-brunch tummy-holding because you've eaten too much.
While John O'Groats is beloved for breakfast, do not, despite your tummy-holding, neglect lunch. On a lighter day I like the personality-laden Tostada Marie, where a crunchy-thin biscuit dough tortilla is piled with layers of warmth and coolness, with no one element bossing the others around. Home fries, chopped Gardenburger, spinach, salsa and cheddar are saturated with the juice of black beans, with the crepe-like sweetness of the tortilla adding interest.
The Encino location has a large parking lot in back with lots of grumpy bank-customers-only signage, but it is relaxed on evenings and weekends.
* A little detective work here, if only because the restaurant's website won't explain it: the road sign-cum-coat rack is a replica of the one at the very tippy-top right point of Scotland, in the village of John o'Groats. Conversely, Land's End is on the very bottom left of the Cornish peninsula, so the two are about as far apart in the UK as you can get. Dining in L.A., folks, is where you turn for party trivia.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, The Valley, Mid-City/Crenshaw/Jefferson Park )
Filling all the little corners
11660 Gateway Blvd. (just below the 10 freeway)
Phone: 877-518-5151 | map
There is a surprising little corner mall that springs up right where Gateway and Barrington rub shoulders with each other; find a space in the lot and head toward the bright red neon letters.
It smells incredibly good inside, but you may not notice this yet, since the music is likely to range from slow Cuban son to cheesy disco remakes of the Beatles and Coldplay, to your favorite '70s won't-you-come-back hits.
The kitchen is pan-Asian, so your cravings for ramen, soon tofu, cha han, bulgogi, and pho, can be lessened from the izakaya style menu.
I urge you to explore beyond your normal limits. The Tako Wasa, for instance. This is wasabi-marinated raw octopus, which, I must tell you before your North American tongue stampedes toward the exits, is rich and fabulous, a balance between chewy and gelatinous, bathed in a glaze that is sweet and sour like a mabo tofu dish. It can be a little challenging to the chopsticks but is worth it.
Or for familiarity with extra explosive Japanese flavor, I rarely deny myself Kurobuta sausage. A quartet of finger-length links are scored dozens of times and sizzled to a burnt snap. The scent is alluring, and the sausage barely needs dips in the tangy ketchup or dijon mustard.
Back on the adventurous side, I have been happily introduced to yukke, which is a mound of raw ground beef with egg yolk on top, which may seem like a terribly not-good idea, but when mixed up it becomes almost like chopped spicy tuna in texture, gleaming in sesame oil.
Too much? Speaking of tuna, the tuna don is clean and lovely and goes quickly. Hand-cut marinated tuna with sesame seeds, sashimi, and a saucy fill of spicy tuna are laid out like cool beds. It is fairly basic, but refreshing when combined with a warm soup.
Asian-ya does a number of soups, notably the hangover-curing Tan tan men, an opaque broth with noodles and ground pork. You can order this with no meat, and it is no less rich and complex. The broth is a pale speckled amber, its spice level containing a lurking glottal punch. Sesame seeds add nutty essence to the snaky pile of thick noodles. We are now addicted to this.
We soak up everything with orders of Lettuce Fried Rice: big striations of egg, tuny cubes of pork, and hot sheets of lettuce grown supple. The Jalapeño Fried Rice is even better, just shy of pan-burned, redefining the paradigm of fried rice, and my favorite at the moment.
Asian-ya is closed Wednesdays.
Thanks to Mai and Adam for suggesting Asian-Ya to us, after we'd sobbed to them about Terried Sake House being closed, and for graciously allowing us to make them come out to dinner with us.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Chinese, Santa Monica/Culver City, Korean )
More lovely Peruvian hybridization
5163 Venice Blvd. (west of La Brea)
Phone: 323-936-4444 | map
I keep doing this to myself, but I'm quite happy. It is a well-known equation: the productivity of a workday after lunch is inversely proportional to the level of Peruvian food involved.
It's easy to race by this little spot, hidden in a corner mall along a wide stretch of Venice Blvd. on your way elsewhere. The building is painted-over brick, the interior oddly glass-walled as if a travel agency suddenly decided to become an eatery. A small television shows salsa videos. A dignified Japanese man or woman may take your order, and can break out the Spanish if need be.
I don't often see this, since the word "lomo" gets tossed around a lot, but I rather like the Pescado Saltado. Like the lomo and pollo versions, the main feature is sizzled in an iron pan with slivers of red onion, tomato and french fries until the meter reaches "sodden and sleepy."
The pescado here is fish strips, once breaded and fried and probably crisp, now wrinkled and surrendered to the sauce. The tomato is nearly nonexistent, but the fries are numerous and explosive with flavor.
There is something about how Peruvian cuisine handles the interaction between chicken and firewood. The Combo #4 (1/4 pollo con tortilla) is plain-clothed, but! The chicken! It gives Pollo A La Brasa on Western serious competition. Brilliantly dark with spices, bright and full-flavored, as if it had been fraternizing with a pair of duck flight attendants in a jacuzzi of pork drippings.
While you're dealing with that florid ornithological simile, I can tell you that the mild-looking frijol is a cup of thickly rendered pinto beans, and incredibly tasty. Incredibly. Enough to make one pause and think on it. There is also a calm ensalada and a bebida that come with this deal.
Adam, who found this joint and is not easily impressed: Not just good. It's surprisingly awesome.
For dashing over everything a gaggle of squeeze bottles huddles on your table, including mustard, ketchup, a good, hot chipotle mayonnaise, and a fairly tame aji sauce with a patient spice somewhere in its verdant paleness.
Pollo el Brasero #3 is closed on Mondays, may or may not be cash only, and may or may not be open until 6 on weekdays, 7 on weekends, and may slip into closure early.
Do I add to the Peruvian Tally? This is a tough one. The list is getting extensive, and this is also a rotisserie joint. But what the hell.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Peruvian, Santa Monica/Culver City, Mid-City/Crenshaw/Jefferson Park )
Not far from where Bianca grew up, the neighborhood of Jefferson Park had a heavy Creole influence back in the '50s, since dwindled to a few fish markets and sausage makers. Harold & Belle's came about in 1969 and remains a cultural locus.
The interior is elegantly airy with textured damask wallpaper, black chairs and an expanse of white cloth. The menu needs only a few pages. There are a few soul-inflected offerings like fried chicken, steak and crab cakes, but you probably shouldn't bother with these. Concentrate on what you are looking for when jonesing for Creole: jambalaya, gumbo, poboys, red beans and rice.
The service is friendly and crisp. Food and drink orders arrive in overwhelming succession: from behind you a waiter will bark, "Excyuse meh! I have here an order of filé gumbo?", reducing potential confusion to nil while you clatter dishes around to make room.
Speaking of Filé Gumbo, I knew there was meant to be a collage of ample ingredients, but there is a lot going on here: a single chicken wing, sodden with juice and falling apart. Cylinders of smoked beef sausage, intensely soft and moist, from Pete's Louisiana Hot Links down the street.
And crab, I cannot help but see. Soft-shelled and clicky and requiring some dexterity, the crab is less a source of meat than a lender of its essence to the gumbo. Oh, and shrimp. And ham. All merged in a deep, dirty, divine roux that might be the jus of the gods. A mound of just-sticky-enough steamed rice provides some absorption.
This is a small order, by the way.
For a main course--for I am foolish enough to have both the gumbo and a main course--the Shrimp and Crawfish Étoufée is a robust swamp of richly spicy crawfish gravy. Thick curls of shrimp are firm and springy, and the tiny, fiercely red-striped crawfish tails are luscious.
There is a heavy-handedness with the gravy, which leaves less texture to enjoy, but it's not like you aren't going to keep forking it into your mouth with rice until you reach the point of regret.
The Seafood Platter, aside from being an art piece, is a collection of breaded abandon, and not for the single diner. Fillets of red snapper are tender enough so that only their scratchy exterior holds them together. Shrimp and oysters are also fried, all heaped atop a highly effective platform of buttered bread. So much battered seafood gets to be a little much, but the tartar and cocktail sauces make this less of a hardship. The oysters are the best part of this dish.
Naturally in an eatery of New Orleans descent, we try the Hurricanes. These are fairly bitey and valiant, and will help keep you in your seat, but you will need two to induce that familiar lurching-along-Bourbon-Street feeling you want to recapture.
We are of course rendered useless afterward, chatting peacefully in an unconcerned euphoria, without a hope of trying dessert.
Harold & Belle's leans toward the pricy, most of its dinner items lingering in the twenty-dollar range. They're open every day until 9, until 10 on Fridays and Saturdays, and have valet.
Many sleepy thanks to Tuesday and Christian, who via the latter's birthday offered us a perfect opportunity to finally make it down here.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), American, Cajun/Creole, Mid-City/Crenshaw/Jefferson Park )