Categories: Cuisines By Area, Beverly Hills/Wilshire, Burbank/North Hollywood, East Side/Downtown, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Hollywood, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Mid-City/Crenshaw/Jefferson Park, Mid-City/Koreatown, Northeast/Arcadia/Monrovia, Pasadena/San Gabriel/Alhambra, Santa Monica/Culver City, Southwest/Beach Cities, The Valley, West Side/West Hollywood
Come, Prince, and see how much theme has been squeezed into this small space along the vigorous 2nd Street row. Behold your personal space for contemplation, pointed with arches and mirrors, lit with elegant metal lamps, walled with stone.
Well, it's not too distant from that. Young women pass between tables, a gentle tintinnabulation sounding from their belly dancing belts. Soulful music shivers from overhead. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but it feels like a coastal somewhere.
You'll get a basket of puffy miniature pitas. For your best experience ask for the Spicy Humus, with tahini and shocks of paprika, and apply it to everything else you eat.
Most of the dishes will be familiar--shawarma, kabobs, saffron-topped basmati rice--but lunch specials are a helpful introduction. The Chicken Shawarma Pita is a tightly wrapped revelation of firmly grilled, juice-filled meat, with tomatoes and pickles for polite company rather than being stacked to the ceiling. It's lightly padded with a garlic sauce, and has a singular intensity that makes it difficult not to wolf down.
It doesn't look like much swathed in yellow paper, so here. My camera is an insolent bastard that chooses to focus on french fries rather than the item I point it at, so I can only hope to convey the powerful flavor present in this cylinder of chicken.
Speaking of fries, the garlic fries are crisp and good, but lessen the impact of the meal, so go with the Tabbouli, fresh, dark and tangy as hell. Even better, busting out one of the mini pitas, filling it with tabbouli, and dragging it through the spicy humus == good times.
Sit out on the sidewalk patio and enjoy with a perfectly respectable Moroccan mint green tea... but next time I look forward to trying their coffee. It is a Lebanese place, after all.
The theme continues. Check out this cute bill-delivery device. Like a repurposed red felt fez.
Thanks to Kalani for introducing me to one of the places in his 'hood.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Southwest/Beach Cities, Lebanese )
The decor, being so design-minded, sparked our fears of chainy ownership*, with its clean black booths, to-be-expected corrugated metal, and aquamarine ceiling fans that don't turn quite quickly enough. The red walls are spanned with prints of vintage crate labels with uneasy historical references. Your table will have a bucket with hot sauces (try especially the mossy-colored Louisiana Gem jalapeño sauce on everything).
Bourbon Street Shrimp obviously has an interest in bringing in the crowd that wants its sports and its happy hour specials, and attempting a dinner on a busy night will probably prompt an irritable Yelp review. On an empty Sunday, though, it's good times. The kitchen has more time to give some love to its pub-food-inflected Cajun menu.
The five-dollar Hurricanes are dressed up like pink lemonade with a switchblade hidden under the skirt. They're kicky, and you'll notice that they get empty real fast... wow! Gee whiz! I suppose the car will stay where it is for a bit, because I'm feeling like NOLA, tipsy before twelve-thirty.
The only problem with the half-dozen Blackened Shrimp appetizer is that you didn't order the full dozen. They're finger-dusting and habit-forming. The cocktail sauce is good, not gaggy, and there's a creamy pink aioli sauce which is great to keep around for french-fry dipping. Need moar of this.
Rather than a safe-as-houses jambalaya or gumbo, I always check out an étouffée to see if the kitchen knows its acute e's.
The roux is impressively thick, deep like a brown curry, and sticks to the rice. Onions, spices, peppers and tomato cavort around the shrimp like a bacchanalia. It's a big dish.
The Buffalo Fish sandwich is a fun departure. These fish used to be hunted on the plains for their hides, apparently, and this version is lightly fluffed, drippy and gorgeous despite the American cheese failing to melt on top.
Bianca: This is stoopid with two o's.
What is it about this species of food that we eat far too much? We're full. We don't need dessert. We won't order it. Let's just go and walk this off.
Homemade Bread Pudding. They took liberties with this performance; with a moat of caramel sauce, it's more like a flan than a crumbled, bready, raisiny mess one is used to, coupled with some friendly French vanilla ice cream.
Bianca: I'll be under the table. Then I want to go grab the chef, shake him, and yell, are you kidding me?!
Dave: I want to sleep on this like a number bed.
There are lots of daily drink specials, happy hour shenanigans, and colorfully chalked boards with discounts: $4 pints of Newcastle or Sapporo, 2-for-1 margaritas and well drinks, et cetera.
There's a side lot with valet, and metered street parking.
* However, there was only one other location, on the disinterested western end of Melrose, which has since been replaced by some annoyingly one-word-titled eatery.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, American, Santa Monica/Culver City, Cajun/Creole )
Smoke over the Aegean
17068 Devonshire St. (west of Balboa, in Northridge)
Phone: 818-366-7573 | map
Why Ocean? Well, it's Mediterranean, and that's about as much explanation as I can offer, and it doesn't matter. It's got its culinary and social head together.
It isn't as confusing as people seem to think; turn into the driveway between Ocean Cafe and Lakeshore Learning Materials, park in the expansive lot in back, and enter in the rear of the building.
The interior is quite nice--butterscotch walls with ornate curtains and a chrome thicket of hookah necks, a banquet hall with a dancefloor--and you might admire it as you pass through all the way up to the front to the big covered patio. It's nicer and breezier, Devonshire isn't that loud, and you won't hear the music blaring inside.
They are attentive with the coals here, bringing red shards to tong atop the tinfoiled shisha bowl. The flavors are well-mixed, subtle yet buzzy. The tall, clean-shirted young man named Mimo will come by to make sure your evening is pleasant.
It's more of a restaurant that has hookah rather than a hookah joint that has food; too often the kitchen of a hookah place is an afterthought, offering hackingly dry koobideh or some familiar fries with dipping sauces, but Ocean's Mediterranean heart comes through.
Small plates will quickly fill every centimeter of your table. Hummus, of course, and labne, a thick, yogurty cream cheese, milk-white and sweet, bookend your appetizers.
I'm hooked on the kibbeh, four lemon-shaped spheroids of bulgur fried golden brown and bubbly; they're juice-saturated with ground beef, browned pine nuts and a wriggle of citrus, and really moist, on par with Skaf's Lebanese in Glendale. I think these will be a habit when coming here. The kibbeh? Yeah, we'll get the kibbeh.
The grape leaves are also deliciously finger-wetting, the leaves holding a thick finger of rice, almost risotto in consistency.
The makanek is fun occasionally, near-black Lebanese sausagettes, dry and scratchy in deameanor but benefiting from a squeeze of lemon or a swipe through some tabbouleh, itself a chopped wet heap of parsley, cucumber, tomato and olive oil without any bulgur.
Intended for large, hungry parties commanding enough tables to accomodate all the plates, there is a honking big platter with six skewers, resting above a mound of short-grain, fluffy rice and beneath curls of white onion and sprinkles of parsley.
The beef is the fight-over feature of this shared experience, aggressively done, browned through but juicy and toothsome. The char is wonderfully crunchy, the rub widely seasoned with a pleasant spice that awakens a few minutes later. The chicken is at the same level of quality, the full flavor of the fowl pulled forth by the grill. Both are as refreshingly moist as everything else. The kafta is quite good but not the champion of the three, blackened and gamy in a good way, threaded with green spices and less heartburn-prone than many koobidehs and bargs I've sampled elsewhere.
It can be as expensive as you want it to be, but we tend to congregate with good friends over beers and a flotilla of plates and a hookah, so we live it up a bit.
Many thanks to Doug and Rosina for introducing us.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), The Valley, Armenian, Greek, Lebanese )
You can feel it as soon as you see the jaunty carrot-and-blue exterior; it feels local without being Sandals-resort contrived. Scents of cooking weave out onto the sidewalk, beckoning. Reggae, of course, plays.
The tables inside are colorful, but find a spot outside on the patio, shaded by grassy umbrellas and bordered by gaily painted oil drums like a Montego Bay roadside kitchen.
While pleasantly Jamaican in vibration, Cha Cha Chicken does not claim a single island as home, but pulls in influences from all over the sultry Caribbean.
The Jerk Veggie Enchiladas are coated in a mango jerk sauce that rings of habañero and pineapple; the effect is a spicy sweetness that permeates the carrots, cabbage, peas, potato and cheese inside, all rendered pliable under the fork. With this comes dirty rice done proper, purpled with juices, and a couple of darkly grainy plantains about which I will write in a moment.
I don't often order wraps, since they're usually lazily called a "caesar wrap" or a "jerk chicken wrap" and take the form of disappointment.
Ricky's Wrap, though, is a burrito-sized beast. Dirty rice, black beans, stubbornly hot potato, lettuce slowly losing its crunch, and carrot accompany the chicken. The chicken! It's shredded into a wondrous heap, tender and sodden, and from it you can probably wring out a shot glass of juice.
The chicken and its servants are wound in lavash instead of a tortilla, spotty-brown from the griddle and crisp around the edges. A cup of spicy jerk sauce is there, if you can manage to dunk the wrap into it without losing the contents to gravity.
The Fried Plantains are an attractive burnt gold, smile-inducingly sweet and soft. A spoonful of cool mayonnaise gives them an extra creamy angle.
There is also a reliable Black Bean soup, puréed into simplicity, with limp strips of tortilla and a dollop of sour cream. It's a worthy starter but not photogenic.
Oh, and hello, dear friend. Any place that carries this stuff knows what's up.
Cha Cha Chicken is open until ten daily, luring you in from your walk along the beach or when you're tired of the highbrow tourism and performance art of the 3rd Street Promenade.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Cuban, Jamaican, Santa Monica/Culver City )
I've passed by here many dozens of times without taking a second glance, missing out for the last few years on what should have been my local-est coffee joint.
If people are waiting you'll have to shift around to find room. There's a comfy couch, a couple of small tables that you won't get because someone else's purse, smartphone and laptop are on them, several barstools along the window, and tables outside. At least three patrons will be parked in any of these spots when you arrive and when you leave. One of them will have a dog.
The owner, Julie, and one or two women with arm tats and spritely dresses bustling and hurrying in this space, somehow getting everything done. They do coffee, naturally, almost as a rebuttal to the eternally long line of Intelligentsia down on Sunset, and they do it superbly well. The Iced Hazelnut Mocha is a full-flavored wakeup call; the nice little powdery grit at the bottom feels almost intentional, like a childhood glass of cocoa. I prefer this iced version over the ice-blended mochas. They also do a Spanish Latte, which needs no sweetener.
Do this for your morning, and you'll thank Bianca and me. While you're still yawning, order a BBJ: Bagel, Butter, Jam. Simple, but devious. The bagel, its crust bubbled and brown, is heated and a bit crushed, and the butter (the amount of which depends on who makes it) is outside as well as in, resulting in finger-lickness and a lot of ohmygodding.
There's a Scramble on a Bagel, which is harder to eat but blended into warm simplicity: a folded quilt of scrambled egg, tomato, cream cheese, and a smidge of black pepper. It tends to squeeze out the sides, so don't eat this in the car.
There are other playful items, at least two of which are Elvis-themed (the Elvis Bagel has, as might be expected, peanut butter, banana and honey, and the Elvis Smoothie is mocha with PB & B).
I never thought I'd crave tuna salad. The Tuna Roll at Bossa Nova is something i have a hankering for here and again, but this superior sandwich might be my new favorite. The Tuna Melt (on a bagel or a croissant) is a spicy bully, beige with harissa sauce and little dried peppers. Even a caper or three is tucked away, adding bite. White cheese speckled with red blankets it, along with avocado, tomato, and slivers of red onion.
MorningsNights opens up at seven and closes at 8:30 in the evening, every day. Now that's a reliable independent coffee house.
I have a lot of catching-up to do.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts )
The oldest public house in L.A. (since 1908), Cole's resides along the foot of the Pacific Electric Building (which is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #104), and therefore the "P.E." (in "Cole's P.E. Buffet") stands for Pacific Electric, justsoyouknow. It had a brief span of remodeling and reopening in 2008, but would otherwise be the oldest continuously-operating eatery in this town.
This is the place most often brought up in context with Philippe the Original, since both claim to have originated the French-dipped sandwich. Cole's seems to want to make a point of this, while Phillipe ignores everything south of it.
Cole's has a different vibe. As opposed to the paper plates and aged trays of Philippe's workaday lunch counter, Cole's is more restaurant/saloon oriented; you can get a can of Schlitz or a dram of Auchentoshan 10-year single malt. It's draped in deep colors: scarlet ceiling tiles, velvet bordelloesque wallpaper, mahogany panels and burgundy booths.
Here's why you're here. The Big Dipper is not a large sandwich. The French loaf is nicely textural but nondescript. The Swiss cheese is low-key. This beast is practiced in subtlety, not power.
The meat--beef in this photo, but you can get lamb, turkey, pork or pastrami--is exactly what it needs to be, lean, puffy and thick, soothed into a mild temperament when dipped into the small dish of au jus (another difference from Philippe, where expert assemblers dip or double-dip it before serving). It is a plain darned good roast meat sandwich, a crisply attired noble of sandwichdom.
Cheddar, goat or blue cheese is available, and I'm told I need to get the lamb with goat cheese. I shan't say no to an expert.
That's pretty much your lot for the main course, except for a couple of alternates. The Grilled Cheese is on big, shiny sourdough, toasted enough to make your fingertips moist. Small stiffened spikes of yellow and white cheese protrude like armor. This also benefits from stolen dips into the au jus.
Bianca: It's like dipping magic, isn't it?
Dave: Yes, it is. Stay away from my juice.
Potato salad, I see. Whatever. But look. It's Bacon Potato Salad. And it's probably the finest potato salad on the planet. In Near-Earth Orbit, even. The obligatory potato salad at all those family gatherings would be a lot less miserable if bacon was added.
There is seasoning in every bite, it's not overdone with celery, and there is just enough mayonnaise to glue it together and give it a sheen. It tastes like they add a touch of pickle juice for that old-school zing. It is my favorite potato salad, ever.
There are other sides too, such as Spicy Garlic Fries, crunchy gold with a seasoned salt bite. They seem innocuous, but wait for the quick kick of spice before you cough.
A bottle of house mustard is near the wall, so grab it and use it sparingly. Like the devilish condiment at Philippe, it has that electric rampage-up-your-face jolt if you apply too much.
We're not done. Cole's has a real bar, and they're not afraid to use it. They make a good Cosmopolitan (their Cosmo is made with gin, rather like martinis are supposed to be*), and a fantastic Cable Car (spiced rum, Cointreau, and lemon juice).
I never would have thought gin with ginger together could be mild, but the Ginger Rogers is that. Ginger syrup and ginger ale combine with gin and lime and a sprig of mint atop, and somehow they all cancel each other out and put a velvet glove over the facepunch.
Desserts, too. I've been searching a long time for the chocolate cream pie of my childhood, only to encounter too many light tan, tasteless foam wedges from eateries that claim to specialize in pies. Cole's makes a good one. It's dark chocolate, and it's on an Oreo crust, and it's a dense whipped cream instead of something meringuish, and it's intoxicating, and no, you can't have any.
So who wins?
Historically, I don't really care who came first. In this duel of the dipped sandwich, for atmosphere and appeal and for a slight edge in sandwich caliber, I give it to Cole's.
This fine public house is open until 10 Sunday through Wednesday, ramps up to 11 on Thursday, and one in the morning Friday and Saturday. Attractive saloon specials appear in the afternoon.
* So sayeth I, the proprietor of DeadLounge.com.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )