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
Generating its own vibrations and some Yelpy grumbling from patrons who expected a standard Chinese delivery experience, Kung Pao Kitty holds up a corner of the Hollywood Pacific Theatre building. The inside is all red and brown and wood and sexy, dotted with reedy-textured tables and lizard print seats. KCRW plays overhead, or maybe some slick bossa nova. There are two tables out on the sidewalk if you'd like the exposure to the traffic and uniquely skewed culture of Hollywood Boulevard just west of Cahuenga, and more tables along Wilcox that feel lonely until nighttime hits.
There is a bar dominating one wall, and a selection of three-dollar brews, like Chimay, Yanjing and Corona. Start on that while you eye the ring-around-the-rosey quartet of sharp condiments: soy sauce, sriracha, red chili paste, and a vindictive-looking hot chili oil. All have treacherously balanced lids and spoons, and you should take care not to rub your eyes after inspecting them.
The kitchen is not meant to be straight out of Chengdu, certainly not with a name like Kung Pao Kitty and the retro sex-goddess Orientalist sing-song girls depicted on the menu. It's more like a kung fu movie set with a deconstructionist attitude and a surprisingly subtle hand.
The Fried Tofu with Black Scallion Mushroom Sauce is a fun starter for friends. The tofu is crisp and cratered on its bed of lettuce leaf, accompanied by a gritty little sauce that colors the tofu more than flavors it. The cubes disappear as our beers do.
This is an even more fun starter for friends, especially if it's currently 1973 and a snarling gang from the rival martial arts school has just rushed around the corner brandishing weapons. You need the 70's Style Egg Rolls to fend them off; the outside skin is fried to crackly doom, the interior is doughy and chewy and tasty. Ground pork is here, and not much else. The addition of a chutney-like plum sauce makes your kung fu superior enough to avenge the death of your teacher.
The Mushroom Pork is colorfully saturated, with thin sheets of softened carrot, bamboo shoots, and prodigious snow peas cut into hollow squares. The ruddy pork is tender and robust, the mushrooms lending their earthy, tongue-coating flavor, and I highly dig this brown sauce that ties it together. A calm hill of brown rice soaks up some, but not enough.
The Szechwan Fire Fish is firm and tasty with strings of black mushroom, green onion, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. They may ask you if you want it mild, medium or spicy, but if you're ordering something that includes "Szechwan" and "fire" in its title, it would be ridiculous not to get it spicy.
The result is tossed in an amber-colored sauce that will cause some hiccups and snifflage if it is allowed to congregate and make its evil plans, but it is otherwise nonthreatening and nothing a beer can't defuse.
The Tofu in Lobster sauce is sunny and rich, with more of the sliced snow peas, gentle mushrooms and water chestnuts. The lobster sauce is balanced and silky, not slimy or skeevy as lobster sauce can be. It flavors the brown rice with a sweetish tinge.
They deliver if you're nearby, and as I mentioned, Kung Pao Kitty gets its share of complaint, usually when ordering orange chicken over the phone. We don't think that's the point. With a place that's open until midnight on weekdays and two on Fridays and Saturdays, you should be there soaking up L.A. culture as much as taste. Besides... lunch specials! About eight bucks, and they come with a kitschy little mixed salad.
There's a couple of parking lots in back that will allow validation.
This is one of the reasons Dining in L.A. can get so difficult to keep running... places like this close down. Kung Pao Kitty closed just shy of 2011 due to the economy, parking, and other issues. They'd helped to turn a seedy little corner of Hollywood into a den of cool. Hopefully they will reopen in another place.
Where the hell am I supposed to get my very-bad-for-me badass egg rolls?!
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Chinese, Hollywood, Late Night/24 Hours )
On a stretch of Main which manages to juggle wholesale outlets, aging brick buildings pretending to be lofts, and high-end dog spas, populated by thin girls with expensive bags, people just trying to get by, and grumbling homeless, the Nickel Diner is becoming a shining beacon of downtown evolution.
It is down-to-earth, but chefly more than seedy. The decor is newish but has a retro honesty: new vinyl and chipped creamer jugs, shiny dark brown panels and battered tin signs.
For breakfast, before rolling up my sleeves and going to work on the docks*, the 5th & Main is a well-constructed source of fuel.
It's spicy BBQ pork hash, tender shreds of pork with rounded wedges of just-underdone potato. A pair of poached eggs adorn the top, smeary ovoids with yellow goodness waiting to add its soft opinion to the hash. It comes with a sweet red tomato chutney and a drizzle of spicy barbecue sauce.
For less carnivorous pursuits, the Vegan Ranchero delivers much yummunence (I just made that word up). Two cylindrical cakes of tofu, fried just enough to make their surfaces scratchy, are dressed with salsa. The golden exterior barely keeps their contents in check; breaking through with a fork yields a soft blossom of tofu.
Surrounding this is the heirloom house beans, rich and meaty, perfect chili-style beans if I had them in my kitchen. A sliced wedge of avocado rests nearby, and two corn tortillas are folded at either end, tasty but too sodden to perform any taco-creation duty. A few distracted strips of yellow soy cheese colors the dish nicely.
On to lunch. The BLTA is technically a bacon-lettuce-tomato-avocado affair, but more interesting due to its being suffused with a spicy aioli instead of mayonnaise. The bacon is thick and crisp but subdued, the tomato and avocado struggling to be present and adding a tasty cushioning factor. The arugula lettuce is highly successful here, necessary to stand up to the power of the aioli.
The sandwich is buried under a lattice of crispy, whitish shoestring fries that are just fine. However, you won't finish them, because the dessert tray will pass by you at some point, and your eyes will follow it, asking silent questions.
It's been written about already, so I'll let others pontificate on the devilishly crrayyy-zay charms of the Maple Bacon Donut. We have other goals.
For instance, Bianca is automatically in love with well-made red velvet cakes, and the version at the Nickel Diner is a lovely accident: a box of Valrhona chocolate balls had apparently fallen into the frosting, but they were stirred in anyway, and the effect is a properly moist, layered red velvet cake with crunchy ricey bits between frosty layers that are just sweet enough not to hurt anyone. It is insanely, eyes-fluttering-backward good. My only regret is a failed, blurry photo.
While I sputter in disbelief over the divinity of the red velvet cake, I also cannot help but acquire a homemade Ding-Dong. I mean, come on. Ding-Dongs. The king of snack cakes in my personal realm. And these are on. I crack through the chocolate armor to a gently moist, white-striped brown cake, my childhood screaming in envy from across the fence.
Co-owner Kristen Trattner came by to describe the delights, and nodded at my Ding-Dong-induced smile: "This made you wanna watch cartoons, didn't it?"
They make homemade pop tarts too, by the way...
The coffee here is quite good, hot or iced.
Nickel Diner is constantly reconsidering its menu and its hours, but is currently closed Mondays, open at 8 the rest of the week until 11pm, with a brief afternoon break. A large and gated parking structure lurches conveniently across the street.
* I'm slipping into some kind of turn-of-the-last-century industrialized humanity-as-commodity kind of mode here, don't mind me. I've been taking a lot of nineteenth-century literature classes.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, Vegetarian/Vegan, Diner, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts )
Another one of those eateries I miss from the days of working on the west side, this is the restaurant that got me hooked on chicken korma. I'd go alone or with my friend Joe, counting on the reliable buffet to make the rest of my day awesome.
The West Hollywood location has a luxurious triangular orange-walled patio, its fountains and Indian music successfully drowning out the irritable Mercedes Benz and Range Rover engines on Santa Monica.
The Burbank location is larger, its pillared halls and painted alcoves hidden between a massive parking structure, a movie theater and a shameless Fuddruckers. Both kitchens have delicious smells radiating from them.
The West Hollywood buffet was where I started, and it is reliable: the Chicken Tikka Masala is a satisfying electric clay red, the dal is thin, yellow and spicy, and the Tandoori Chicken is always good despite its drying out a little on the buffet pan. Settling down for a real meal, though, is where Flavor of India shines. You will get a small disc of rice Papadam, good enough but well-matched with a pumpkin chutney, unexpectedly vibrant and spicy as a jealous goddess.
For a starter, we love the South Indian Idli, dense patties of ground rice and lentil steamed and served in Sambar, a lentil soup. The texture of the idli cake is grainy like cornbread, and comfortably warm; accompanying this is a white, gritty spackle of coconut chutney, which adds a cool balance of sweet coconut and turmeric and a new level of complexity.
Naan is always welcome, but I have a passion for their interpretation of pratha. It's wetter than it looks, unleavened bread with a buttery sheen, baked until flaky and bubbled. Although it makes your eyes close in pleasure when you drag it through something saucy, it needs to be dipped in nothing, and if there are more than three of you, order two of these.
Matter Tofu is a soupy dish of peas, green chilies, and ginger. Soft tofu cubes the color of saffron replace the typical potato or cheese, and soak up the tomato-heavy broth. The peas are small, crisp and slightly spicy. It benefits from absorbant heaps of white rice.
Back to what hooked me. My favorite rendition of Chicken Korma. Boneless chicken soft enough to separate with a fork is bathed in a blend of onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, peanuts (instead of the usual almonds) and raisins.
Together it is happily married in a tongue-enfolding, velvety rich sauce that has me smiling for many minutes, with a perfect pinkish orange color somewhere between pumpkin and vodka sauce. It is a "Marry-Eff-Kill what would be your last meal if you were trapped on a desert island" kind of dish for me.
Flavor of India does a hot masala chai worthy of contemplation, even-handed with cardamom, and their spiced ice tea, a measure of milk on the side, is refreshingly cool.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Indian, Burbank/North Hollywood )
I wish they were closer. I wish I had some chili in front of me. I wish a lot of things, not least a status of independent wealth so that I may eat chili tri-weekly.
The place is small, square, sparsely tabled, and shouts at you in electric Lego red. The floor is a sea of penny round tiles. A man behind the counter awaits you in a relaxed and friendly manner, knowing you must take a moment with the menu and the array of bowl sizes and options. They will have eight recipes to taste, out of--what is Johnny up to at this point? Seventy? More? These are no runny ground-beef-and-tomato-and-kidney-beans concoctions from our youth*, but a dizzying list of state-fair-dominating ideas.
A sampler? Why, yes. It's not large, and I could probably tackle two orders of this, but here goes.
The leftmost lovely ladleful is the Prime Rib Chili, the current all-meat flagship, ground into bulky chunks, dark like molasses with a sweet brown sugar tang. This is a chili over which I could shake chopped onions and dashes of hot sauce and do serious damage, yet is not my favorite, at least not today.
I am hooked on the middle, Exotic Chicken Verde Chili. I expect I shall have dreams of pouring this onto a tortilla, wrapping it up and eating it like a burrito. Tender ground chicken is mixed with green chilies and rich tomatillo. It has a little laid-back bite, and I sadly scrape the bottom. It's gooone, oh, I, I'd better learn how to face it.
The amber one on the right is a meaty rich... wait, it's vegan? It's chili for damn sure. It's called Hom-inous Chorizo. Fermented soy and hominy doesn't sound like it would cause the ranch hands to come a-running, but this is spoons-down the finest vegan chili I've ever had** after a long day of driving forty head of cattle. The hominy is thick like chickpeas and hearty without being overly corn-flavored.
We've also tried the Texas Gold Vegan Chili, a tan, smoky concoction with pinto beans and a soft cornmeal feel. It is a perfect hot-dog chili. Chili Addiction uses Match Foods products from St. Louis, which is all good with me.
Bianca: "I would have serious lunch troubles if I worked at Trashy Lingerie next door."
The Chorizo Madness is a chicken chili, dark, spicy, thick, a grandly meaty affair with traces of cumin and great half-spheres of chicken chorizo. It tastes incredibly rich, as if it should leave orange streaks of grease everywhere, but it won't.
It's bad form to lick the bowl in this state, isn't it?
As if you didn't already didn't owe them for the most pleasurable experience of your day, they make their own hot dogs and sausages here. The Chicken Hot Dog has a grainier, more robustly woven texture than the typical pale pink squeezed-baloney one gets. The casing is nicely snappy and the flavor is absolutely stunning. There are no store-bought dogs that can match this. None. With a sine wave of spicy homemade ketchup and homemade mustard, it ranks up there with the best hot dog I've tasted in years.
On Bianca's Vegan Hot Dog, itself snappy and delicious, they've done something with sauerkraut, making it not as bitter, not as stringy and defeated. It has solid mouth-feel and great taste.
They have other things to accompany your spoon-and-bowl mission.
Potato chips bore me. When I'm getting a sandwich somewhere and they offer some combo special that consists of choosing your own bag of chips, I go without.
These are an order of magnitude better. Homemade German Fried Potato Chips is already a good name with which to attract my attention; I'm not sure what makes them German, but they are nearly as robust as pork rinds, warm and salt-dusted with a slight give to the tooth. Homemade ketchup tones them down, zesty and not too sweet.
What else do they make there: Cornbread, Chili Mac, a Prime Rib Burger, Chili Cheese Fries, homemade hot dogs... I may be a while trucking back and forth from Silver Lake to La Cienega. And, oh: a chocolate chip chipotle ice cream? Red velvet cake ice cream? Sheesh.
You can snag one of the precious spots in the back of the building, or find metered spaces on La Cienega. Do not attempt parking on the surrounding streets, for you are on West Side, and you may park here at this time, or at this time, but at NO OTHER TIMES may you park, unless you have a permit and have made the proper sacrifices to the gods of expensive purses.
Chili Addiction is closed Mondays, since they have to sleep sometime.
* Well, my youth anyway. It was watery, slightly purple, and after a while my mom started adding corn to it, much to my chagrin. It led me to create my own personal recipe for chili, for which my friends can vouch.
** Sorry, Chili John's, I find the vegetarian barley chili to be a little alien and uncomfortable.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
The exterior is loud and yellow and has a typeface that makes my inner graphic designer weep, but SunPower is a raw/vegan/organic gift from the heavens, and I believe most fervently that they should be in L.A. proper, closer to me*.
The interior is newly designed, elegantly jazzy with creamy mango walls and slick mahogany furniture. A bluesy wailing drips from the speakers.
The people here are friendly and positive. As in "they know secrets of the universe" kind of friendly and positive. In a good way.
I am not entirely sure how they do this, and it looks much better in real life, but this smells amazing. The left half of this dish is Raw Kelp Noodles: glass noodles made of kelp, not overly elastic or clumped, tossed with a creamy marinara. There are vegetables chopped inside, indecipherable (although I suspect mushrooms, onion and tomato are harmonizing here) but adding texture. Red peppers lie atop with a drizzle of basil ranch. I am impressed. It is incredibly rich and flavorful.
The other half is an all-kale salad. Now, kale is one bossy, opinionated leaf, but this is "massaged" kale, whatever that means, and the raw basil ranch dressing is so persuasive, that the shiny curly kale relaxes and becomes a salad to reckon with. Pine nuts add crunch.
I just had an entirely kelp-and-kale-based meal. That was raw. And it rocked.
This is the Raw Supreme Pizza. It is indeed raw, it's confidently supreme, but it's only pizza in the sense that there is a supportive disc on which toppings repose.
The crust is made of sunflower seeds. And while it looks as if you need the beak of a finch to properly peck it apart, it's actually like a crunchy granola cereal in consistency, and sweet but with a hint of cumin and chili powder. The marinara appears again, almost like a barbecue sauce, spread thinly over the surface.
The SunPower "Sausage" is no closer to sausage than tempeh is to bacon, but it provides a crumbly, seasoned variance in texture. Tomatoes are here, with a flare of marinated red peppers and onions. The basil ranch is drizzled over all, but I'd just as soon have more of the marinara.
That familiar green stripe is more of that kale salad.
Is this for real? Should I be making fun of myself, "eating birdseed" and "rabbit food"? Should this be tasting this good?
They also have pizzas with whole wheat pita crusts if you're terrified of the raw sunflower seed affair.
If anyone from SunPower offers you a Sweet Kale Shake, take it. Everyone else in the room will nod appreciatively.
It tastes like nothing else, and not at all like you'd expect "kale" and "shake" to taste. It is sweet like it says, strong with almond and vanilla extract, banana, and agave. Shavings of coconut, cacao beans and goji berry are strewn for color.
When not getting a smoothie, I like a Lemon/Ginger Blast, a frothy juice made of mouth-squeezing awesome.
There is lots of iffy metered parking along Cahuenga; about every second meter will swallow your money but suddenly remember to tell you FAIL. Some spots open up at night in the alley behind. However, since Cahuenga at night becomes absolutely unreasonable, with every automobile in Studio City trying to get onto the 101 South, and every meter full, and every car occupied by an irritable and not-entirely-wailing Ventura Boulevard driver, getting to SunPower for dinner is a cause for weeping and gnashing of teeth. It's one reason why they should relocate close to me. For my health.
* They aren't really that far from me. Eight minutes north on the 101. It's the principle of the thing.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, The Valley )
The sauce of kings
3014 W. Olympic Blvd. (@ Normandie/Irolo)
Phone: 213-427-0608 | map
3337 1/2 W. 8th St. (@ Irolo)
Phone: 213-427-0601 | map
11215 Long Beach Blvd. #1010, Lynwood
The first location on Olympic was once the VIP Palace, and the exterior is still tiled with blue Korean stylings. The interior feels open, with thin pillars holding up the ceiling and a stage with elegantly carved wooden marimbas reposing grandly along one wall. The blankets on the tables are checkered in warm color.
While you're reading the all-Spanish menu and working through the tortilla chips smothered in an almost too-sweet red mole, dare to order one of their mezcaladas. Bianca likes the Garra de Tigre, as kin to a conventional blended margarita as a tiger is to an irritable housecat. Instead of tequila, Mezcal (the one with the worm in it, mind you) is blended with orange juice (and maybe the worm), into a grainy snow the color of raw sugar. The glass is rimmed with lime and chili powder, keeping it hot enough to keep drinking but strong enough to make it a foolish proposition. The paw of the tiger smacks you if you get more than one.
A simple introduction to the mysterious mole of Oaxacan cuisine is the Enchiladas de Mole Rojo. Ordered with chicken, the tortillas are filled with white meat without much personality.
With chorizo, however, the tortillas are loosely folded and blanketed with sweetish mole, emanating a flair of roasted pepper. The chorizo is twisted into ping-pong ball-sized spheres and laid atop, breaking open into spicy gaminess. It is a simplistic dish meant to convey complexity, the brown-draped centerpieces merely a vehicle for the mole, which is thick but uncloying, roasty and almost intoxicating.
A clayuda is a huge corn tortilla cooked on a clay disc, rendering the tortilla crisp like pappadam and imparting a dry, peppery taste. They put toppings on it and serve it on a pizza tray, like creamy black bean spread, chopped cabbage, and the everpresent snaky heap of queso fresco.
I like the Clayuda Guelaguetza, which supports a trio of meats. An elastic plank of pork rules the upper right, hammered flat and caked with spicy rub. It is not pork-intense, and is the most subdued of the three. There are several of the chorizo spheres, earthy and crumbly, requiring knife work, with the corn tortilla crackling and snapping beneath. The tasajo is salted beef pounded into a quarter-thin sheet, succulent and juicy and the strongest feature of this plate.
Next trip: Barbacoa Roja de Chivo, tender young goat in broth, and I hear they have chapulinas: grasshoppers.
The Koreatown location is the original, and has two-dollar valet. The Guelaguetza on 8th cringes and creaks down the street from Taylor's Steak House and has a better kitchen; the one in Lynwood is difficult to map.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, East Side/Downtown, Mid-City/Koreatown )