I'm a fan of shawerma and kebab and tabouleh and hummus anyway, but the Lebanese touch brings it closer to my heart. This miniature spit-roasted empire now has nearly a double handful of locations, but the original 1984 location is in East Hollywood*.
There is no decor in the Hollywood spot, really, not unless you count violently lemon-colored walls and aluminum, and not much atmosphere except for perpetually grumbling older men and angry conversations in Armenian. The Glendale location on Colorado is the second oldest, and is set up more like a Jack in the Box than a post-war lunch counter.
What Zankou is famous for are the chicken sandwiches, wrapped in a scuffed-up pita, with a thin plaster of highly opinionated garlic sauce. Even as the foil opens up, the scent of garlic wells up. It looks very spartan--shreds of roasted dark-meat chicken, pale squares of chopped tomato, and hints of the white spackle that is the potato-based garlic sauce of which so many poets have written**.
The chicken is usually splendidly done, moist and profound, and the bits of sauce will make you check yourself with a palm over your mouth for the remainder of the day. You get a little dish of carnation-colored pickled turnips and yellow peppers, which you can safely ignore unless you want some extra crunch and spicy hiss (which I do).
The Tarna chicken is marinated chicken shawerma, which is slightly crispier around the edges but not as lush as the roasted chicken. The Sujouk [sic] is dark and rugged and rosy inside like an Armenian/Lebanese sausage can be, but unless you're a big sujouk fan it's not necessary.
The Tri-Tip Shawerma, like the chicken, is infused with its own roasty flavor, dark and juicy. Slicing up the yellow peppers with this, then filling a pita with it, is good times.
The hummus is actually quite good, finely blended with big flakes of paprika. The tahini sauce is thick, sour and a little unfriendly.
* The Sunset location is not part of the website, possibly because of the drama--legal and lethal drama--that occurred with the family. You can look it up if you like. Zankou is quite the L.A. institution.
** Not really. But it's been blogged about a lot.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Pasadena/San Gabriel/Alhambra, Armenian, Lebanese )
Bianca, being the shamelessly fantastic person she is, was adamant about taking me out for a memorable dinner for my birthday. I hadn't been to Carlitos Gardel in an age, and desired the grilled epiphany that is Argentine steak.
West of the racy pomp of Melrose's main shopping strip, Carlitos Gardel stands aloof and dignified. They take care of you here. The interior is quietly textured, with sounds of violin music and a sommelier named Gerardo who cares deeply about what works best with your desired experience and its courses. We settle down with a bottle of Blú sparkling natural mineral water to clear the palate.
I am helpless before the concept of sausage, and the Chorizo is grilled firm and dense with a brisk skin. Its intense, intoxicating scent would perk up the noses of a wolf pack in the next county. A small, polite salad with a mild vinaigrette accompanies it.
Bianca keeps to her seafood and vegetarian diet. The Mussels are utterly married to the warm marinara sauce in which they stand like a Druidic circle of shells. There is a tang of the sea resonant within the sauce.
With these we savor a half-bottle of what is now our favorite champagne, Pol Roger Brut Réserve. Simply smelling it was revelatory, and the taste is not nasal and fizzy as we find so many champagnes to be, but with an airy snap.
I am ready for my steak experience, and am given a big brawny wood-handled steak knife.
My choice for the evening is Oja de Costilla a La Criolla, a grand example of the varying terrain of a rib eye: fatty and char, grainy and plush, glistening inside. It is medium rare, stopping just shy of pink, spicy and somehow sweet. The knife cuts it with slight resilience. The fourteen-ounce rib eye is blanketed with a rich green chimichurri sauce.
A Mendel Malbec from Mendoza (I don't mean to go overboard with alliteration, really) is paired with this; it practically paints the glass as it runs around the interior, yet is elegant, not a powerhouse (again with the alliteration).
For another time, perhaps, the Churrasco Portabella is also worthy of mention; a 14-ounce New York steak is stuffed with portabella mushrooms, provolone cheese and spinach, and permeated with a Cabernet Sauvignon and mushroom sauce. The brown juices from the steak turn reddish with the sauce, the cheese mellows the interior, and it is enough to stop you from participating in conversations.
The Grilled Chilean Sea Bass, however, was possibly the greatest thing on Melrose that evening, perhaps an experience that will forever be chased. Juicy, yes, and buttery, melting and refined. Peas dot its surface, thankfully, instead of capers, which would have overborne the taste. A few vegetables assist, and a masterfully made hillock of mashed potatoes, pumpkin-colored with spices.
Fitting with this is another of Gerardo's recommendations, a Sauvignon Blanc whose name we regretfully missed, reminiscent of strawberry and peach and air.
We made room for this: Dulce de Leche Pancakes. Basically they are crêpes, stretchy and firm with a softly persistent flavor of griddle and batter. Inside, on top of, and next to it is pure, unbridled caramel that is almost too much sugar from Heaven, like nearly dying from a too-enthusiastic visit with your harem.
A glass of Sandeman 20-year Tawny port tempers it a bit, pulling it away from the brink of painful sweetness and away from vulgar metaphors.
Parking is street during the day, and valet at night.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Hollywood, Argentine )
A self-contained yoga studio, market, bookstore and lifestyle hub, Golden Bridge Yoga stoically ignores the nearby food destinations: a McDonald's, a KFC, and the sultry Los Balcones del Perú.
I'm usually a little awkward when entering such serene locations as this, especially with a book right up front with the title That's Why We Don't Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things.
Doubts race through my head: do I belong here? Do I exude the soulless stink of the omnivore? Am I emanating the waves of stress and anger of the working U.S. American? Am I inferior to these thin people wearing airy clothes, these willowy women with smooth-skinned tummies emerging from their prenatal yoga session?
However, there seems to be a sense of tolerance for such a murderous savage as I, and there is the Nite Moon Cafe to help me get a little more balanced*. A long counter winds around two walls, displaying foil-wrapped delicacies buffet-style or offering complex plates of well-assembled sandwiches.
The Tiki Masala Veggie Burger is a most impressive tempeh patty, with more heart and soul than most veggie translations of ground meat. Onions are barely caramelized and mix sweetly with a mango chutney and fresh basil. The whole wheat bun is scratchy but does not scream its grains.
The affair comes with mixed greens, straightforward enough, with crunchy seeds (bigger than sunflower, smaller than pumpkin... we're betting pine nut) and enough shredded carrots to make me feel like something good is going on in the vitamin-accumulation department.
One can build a salad from the buffet counter, and also ladle up some thick soups from metal bins. The warm, loving presence on the left is the repetitively-named Lentil Dhal; all the earth tones in the world are here, deep and robust, with bits of carrot and kidney bean for mass. It seems Indian-inspired, and unfortunately is not as good heated up the next day.
The curry-colored, cayenne-dusted bowl on the right is Mung Bean and Rice, which tastes remarkably like Aloo Gobi despite there being no cauliflower that we could detect. There are sparks of cumin and ginger.
The Grilled Goat Cheese sandwich is fairly plush, with the (non-vegan, by the way) goat cheese meshing with onions, spinach, Moroccan carrots, and tomato. The organic whole wheat bread, like the bun, is subdued.
Drinks are bottles of water (useful after long, cleansing bouts of yoga, which I don't do much), restful teas, or blended smoothies. I usually continue my healthful pursuits by getting a Berry Antioxidant, which whips up rice milk with berries of the blue, straw and rasp persuasion, and some hemp protein. It's deeply purple like moody velvet curtains, and vibrant.
* For example, from those occasions when I am recovering from a recently well-demolished plate of juicy carnitas, oh Lordy.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, Indian, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
It's come a long way from the pushcart with the 10-cent dogs.
I shouldn't really need to introduce this--you probably already know about it--except as an homage to one of the few culinary beacons that remain after seventy years of west-coast evolution. It's a fitting review for number 200 on this blog o'mine.
Two universal truths are that Pink's is a hot dog stand, and there is a line. The proper time to go doesn't really exist, unless you're in the mood for a chili dog spot on nine-thirty before you go to work. Otherwise, 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon means that the line only wraps around the corner for a dozen people or so.
Behind the eternally crowded counter is a practiced interplay of hardworking servers, a constantly shuffling deck of white-shirted cards that expertly line up items on trays and deliver them. Hoffy beef dogs are tonged from a steaming steel bin. Chili is applied in exact rows. It is a beautiful thing, nutritional charts be damned.
There is a bevy of specials named for the celebrities who order them. I am a fan of the Huell (Howser) Dog, which is not unlike any other dog with chili, yellow mustard, cheese and onions, except that there are two dogs sharing intimate space in the bun. I like the way Mr. Howser thinks.
And, oh! the particular west-coast essence of the Pink's chili dog. The all-beef dog has a natural casing, and speaks with a juicy snap. The chili is a dark force of nature, of a consistency perfect for ladling over said dog or staining fries. As much as I risk the wrath of some, I am not a Tommy's burger guy. I like my chili solid and meaty, mean but not gut-busting, able to hold its shape without separating like an oil slick into its divers chemical components. Pink's delivers this.
There are a few outrageous things here, similar to the artery lockdowns available at Oki's Dog and the bacon-wrapped delicacies at various carts around Los Angeles. The Poli-Bacon Burrito Dog is more like something you'd eat on a bet rather than a viable vehicle for devouring encased meat. A spicy (or mild if you want, but if you're already walking this plank, take another step forward) Polish sausage with angry red specks of pepper is wrapped with chili, cheese and onion--and bacon--in a tortilla. You'd think that adding bacon to things would pop it up onto that next cloud of nirvana, but honestly the bacon bows in submission to the sausage and the chili. The result is an ugly beast--that's a Polish sausage and chili in there, folks--that is perilous to eat and hot as volcanic vengeance. You may as well use a fork and knife.
The fries here are the seasoned type, a rich burnt ochre with that extra exoskeleton of texture that Jack in the Box realized was a godsend back in the '80s. The chili makes them worthy of contemplation, but otherwise they're basically for conversation and corner-filling.
Now that you've sampled these and tried the more outlandish experiments of tubular Americana, return to the basics: 10" Stretch Chili Dog, with onions. Bottle of something carbonated. Relax while your metabolism holds all calls.
Despite the Line from Limbo, there are more tables than expected. Eat inside under the wall of signed celebrity photos, outside on the expansive patio, or on the few tables scattered between the buildings. Pink's is open until two in the morning most days, and 3am on Fridays and Saturdays.
I've heard the naysayers. It's such a long line, it's so overrated, it's a bloody Hoffy dog and I could make that myself, they didn't get my order right, my tummy hurts, et cetera. I know all that. Do not try to come here drunk and impatient after the club lets out. Do not come here when you're doddering from a week's fast. It's a culturally western tradition of zen, an established history in a flashy land, and yet another reason I live here, in Los Angeles.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs, Late Night/24 Hours )
Some Silver Lake locals say that this was what Hard Times Pizza used to be, but there's been a Tomato Pie on Melrose near Fairfax longer than there's been one tucked away along Hyperion, so a comparison isn't exactly fair. However, I am still absurdly pleased with it. They're doing something right, in attitude, in vibe, in taste.
Brown-shirted, youthfully professional people behind the counter will wait patiently while you ogle the red and yellow delights glowing under the glass. They do delivery and entire pies, naturally, but part of the joy of the local pizza house is choosing a slice or two, to carry steaming over to a table, to blow on and pull apart and consume whilst lessening the total of dispensed napkins in the world.
The back lot of the Hyperion location has bright retro patio furniture and a vintage stove sitting and waiting like an arranged playroom, and you will eat here. Before you get to the pizza, dissect and devour one of the Garlic Knots. They're just dough scattered with bits of cheese and butter, but they're puffs of fingertip-moistening bliss, better than any breadstick-with-marinara afterthought available at other pizza places.
On to pizza. These are slices to which you devote attention and careful balancing, the crust very slightly, almost infinitesimally, sweet. The Tomato Pie itself is a crisp rectangle of tomato sauce and fresh parsley, sans mozzarella, with a crusty snap like you remember Shakey's having while growing up out here in Southern California.
Bianca: "Look what Bunny's doing--Bunny's eating the crust*."
The other pizzas are conventional wedges; the Meat Lover is usually my first target when trying out a pizza joint, and is now my new favorite. Limp with weight, its rigidity is compromised by the crumbled sausage in a chaotic marriage with the cheese. The pepperoni is forceful but not crisped, and the ham and bacon are quietly arranged beneath everything, giving their opinion but not dominating the conversation.
The BBQ Chicken & Onion has more structural integrity, the red onions adding clout to the sparse cubes of chicken. The barbecue sauce is constrained to a light drawl, bolstering the sides of the mouth rather than drenching the tongue with cloying sweetness.
Compared with other Silver Lake haunts, I'd say Nicky D's on Rowena is more old-Brooklyn Italy in its approach, while Tomato Pie has captured a little more stylish New York... at least how L.A. thinks New York might be.
* Bianca normally never eats the crust.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Hollywood, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Pizza )
Please keep all hands and arms inside the bus during this quick tour: Duke's Coffee Shop opened in '68 as part of the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Blvd., hence the kitschy signs hanging above the cash register. The Tropicana was demolished, and Duke's moved to Sunset where it replaced London Fog, or maybe Sneaky Pete's*, which explains why the interior looks like it was once a smoke-filled nightclub.
Old faux-wood tables teeter on dingy red carpet worn to paper thinness. The walls are a hodgepodge of movie posters, signed band flyers, and black and white photos; David Bowie and Echo and the Bunnymen glance loftily at Starship Troopers and Urban Dance Squad. Your water appears in old-school butterscotch-colored plastic cups.
Duke's uprooting from its original location sort of dilutes the history flowing through its veins, but still, it's tucked between the Whisky a Go Go and the Cat Club on Sunset, wallowing in Hollywood, unconcerned with whether it's cool or not. It's a dive, and needs no flashiness.
You're here for a late breakfast or an afternoon lunch after last night's shenanigans. For the former, I've had good luck with the Vegan Breakfast Burrito.
It looks woefully dry and scratchy, but put some pico de gallo and Cholula on that and dig into the rich glow of soy chorizo, soft tofu and enough soy cheese to provide cohesion. The hash browns are loosely shredded and grilled nicely, not too burnt. The omelettes are also simply presented but wholesome and puffy; Bianca likes them with tofu, mushrooms, red peppers and a melted square of jack cheese atop.
Lunch is also part of Duke's post-party palliation. The Tomato Basil soup, perhaps unexpected in a humble diner as this, is thick and pumpkin-colored, with a slightly sweet tomato bite like a pasta sauce. Coupled with a Vegan Grilled Cheese sandwich (where somehow they've figured out how to make soy cheese melt and then stop melting) and a handful of thin, crispy sweet potato fries, it makes Bianca happy indeed.
It's a bit inapt to describe the dishes of an L.A. diner by sampling only vegetarian things, so I try a Spicy Blue Cheese Burger, a broad-shouldered madman, custom-ordered with a ghost-white, thumb-thick turkey patty. Crumbled blue cheese hidden under a shredded mass of lettuce adds a sneer to this burger. The bun is shiny and comfortable, and might be egg bread.
When I'm not getting the no-nonsense coffee on ice, the Green Tea Smoothie will do me well, a pile of minty slush that needs no stirring. The chocolate shakes come in a statuesque metal tin, and are what they need to be: a nice raspy-around-the-edges ice cream with a casual tangle of whipped cream from the can.
I realize Duke's is probably trying to reinvent itself into a hipper, more urbane, less "I need some ham and eggs after all that acid" persona; its website has some new graphics and a more conscious attitude toward its history. Duke's is still Duke's, and I don't let it cramp my cultural high; I just go.
* Lots of people say it replaced London Fog, but London Fog was at 8919 Sunset. Or was it? An aerial shot seems to show London Fog where the Melody Salon is now and Sneaky Pete's a little further up. Maybe the addresses were split up into several businesses. I don't know, but whatever the solution to this Hollywood mystery, the fact remains that I was still born almost two decades too late to catch Morrison and the boys telling me about the End.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), West Side/West Hollywood, Hollywood, Diner, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )