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 )
If, after you've exited the Los Angeles City Attorney's office on Hollywood Boulevard, acquired some smoking paraphernalia from No Limit Tobacco & Pipes, gotten a Thai massage, and decided upon a shoulder piece from Atomic Tattoo, you happen to be hungry, Truly Vegan is most happily positioned.
Seven tables of--I'm tired of always saying chlorophyll, so I'll say they're Dartmouth Green--line the walls. The pale golden floor might be bamboo, but is patterned to look like distressed wood planks. They may not be gushingly friendly here, but they are attentive, and despite its not being on the menu they kindly made me a sweet and creamy iced coffee when I asked.
I like my vegan food solid and hearty, and the Loafing About works for me. A lentil loaf is heavily seasoned and grilled, with onions and red peppers chopped finely enough so that they lend only their presence rather than a stubborn crunch. The texture is dense like hash browns yet almost pillowy. The loaf comes dry, and with it is a squeeze bottle of some really good homemade ketchup, and some white sesame blend with lime, almost like spicy, sassy milk.
Steamed broccoli and cauliflower are there to bolster the generally unused corner of my four food groups. I pour the sesame sauce on them, too. Fluffy brown rice is there too, not vital, but well-made.
The Lad Na is more liquid than expected for standard Thai, wide rice noodles falling nearly apart from their total immersion in black bean soy gravy. The gravy itself is a gelatinous, soupy lake that holds its heat like a muzzled dragon; draped over the broccoli and tofu, it renders them too hot to enjoy until they're well-blown upon.
You can add soy fish, chicken or seitan on this, more for the textural analog than for similarity of flavor. The Lad Na is even better the next day.
There's breakfast for lunch, too. It's good, occasionally, to move away from the astoundingly good but psychotically flavored specialties of some places. Several combinations of pancakes abound here, and the Breakfast of Champions puts them all together. Wheat free, gluten free pancakes are comfortable and surprisingly good, with maple syrup and melty vegan margarine atop. Two big, convincing patties of soy chicken are sliced like katsu and fried into something puffy, sweet and almost pastrylike.
The effect isn't exactly Roscoe's, but it's grainy and comforting, missing nothing except that feeling of creamy uselessness one gets after pancake breakfasts. A glass of cool vegan milk, subtle with that sides-of-the-tongue tinge of almond, goes well with this.
Parking is usually found along Hollywood, probably by the Toyota dealer.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, American, Thai )
The Burbankian stretch of the 5 Freeway is a haven for chain restaurants*. Despite the small-town-street stylings of San Fernando Blvd., they've jammed a world of consumer-oriented enterprises to make Orange County jealous.
Burbank does have its hidden spots, though, after you've stumbled out of the AMC Theater blinking in the sunlight and looking for lunch. A sign outside Tomo boasts a large vegetarian menu, which brings us inside; we smile at the hundreds upon hundreds of one dollar bills taped to the walls, each decorated by patrons. This is not a precise, minimalist, tightly zen sushi establishment, but is fast and loose, creative and casual without delving into the embarrassing world of sake bombs and setting-sun headbands.
The man behind the counter is Tom, who greets people enthusiastically. Locals know and love this place, caring nothing for the fact that Tom happens to be Chinese, for he obviously loves his craft, putting together unusual combinations which he urges you to try.
The cut rolls here are futomaki style, thick and unwieldy and put together oh-so-fast, many wrapped in ghostly soy paper instead of nori. He is a little heavier on the anointments--shoyu and wasabi--than typical.
His signature piece is the Tomo Roll, a combination of crab, unagi, shrimp tempura, cucumber and avocado that works unexpectedly well, wrapped in soy paper and dusted with sesame seeds. The warm, sauce-brushed eel smolders in the center, contrasting with the cold shreds of crab.
We normally shy from casually titled dishes, but the One Night Stand Roll has sinful personality, like an angel descended from Heaven and made you forget your earrings on his/her nightstand. Shrimp tempura and crab meat cohabitate again, but with an orange shock of spicy tuna, making for an energetic mouthful. Again, coolness rubs against the warmth of the shrimp tempura, and the result fairly shines with flavor.
The Futomaki Roll is a nicely mellow in-between piece. Gobo (Japanese carrot) mixes with avocado, strips of fried tofu, cucumber, and shrimp. Tamago (sweet egg) lends a yellow friendliness. This is one of the few rolls encased in the conventional nori instead of soy paper.
The Happy Family Roll is an absurd semicircle of crunchy sweetness; a snappy pile of tempura shavings lies atop more of Tom's smoothly spicy tuna; tempura shrimp tails grin from either end. The interplay of temperature and texture is astounding. The face is drawn with careful squirts from a bottle of sriracha hot sauce.
The ono is something you need to try. Most elegantly presented on the Snow White Roll, the milk-white tuna is draped over a crabmeat-filled roll. It has a quiet intensity to it, worthy of contemplation yet not something in which you overindulge. It is the dot on the exclamation point.
Tom will often prompt you in his booming voice, eliciting your approval with mackerel from Japan (melty), Japanese scallops (sliced like half dollars and incredibly soft). He may finish with a tiny square of nori, on which is an entire clove of Japanese garlic, which pops like a light cashew and has no garlicky reek at all; or, he may throw some spicy tuna, crabmeat and cucumber stick onto stiff fried wonton wrappers and drizzle eel sauce on top for a curious sweetness. Many of these things will be on the house. Before you recover from this epiphany, you will have orange slices and even some Strawberry Pocky.
* Off the top of my head, within potato-gun range: Kabuki, P.F. Chang's, Fuddrucker's, Baja Fresh, Chipotle, BJ's Brewhouse, Hooters, Chevy's Fresh Mex. This does not include the Swedish meatballs at Ikea.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, Vegetarian/Vegan, Burbank/North Hollywood, Seafood )
Already I am pleased. The walls are painted an electric Tiffany blue, and there is a massive chalkboard menu with skillfully sketched portraits of, for unknown reasons, Bruce Lee, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Rod Stewart and Barack Obama, plus what may be some family members of this restaurant.
The people here are amazingly nice and helpful, gently admonishing you not to wait too long until you return.
A carafe of cucumber-infused water is brought to you, of which you will drink all. All the utensils and condiments are on your table in neat modern containers, including a brownish green hot sauce that is instantly vigorous but flavorful, and which returns again and again to visit you and remind you to drink all your water.
We have had nothing here that we haven't loved. The Crispy Veggie Egg Rolls are a good start, a septet of nicely fried cylinder halves in a formal dance around an understated dipping sauce. Glass noodles and black mushrooms make the taste clear and divine.
I do not typically order a Thai coconut soup, preferring other broths, and Bianca is usually a fan of udon while I am not, but the Tom Kha Udon is a convincing missionary. The noodles are of perfect consistency, not thick, spongy and elastic as often encountered. Big beautiful slabs of tofu can be hauled up with chopsticks.
The broth is superb, tiny islands of red and orange in a milky sea; it is hot, sour and balanced, with just enough bits of lemongrass for flavor without making it a sargasso of inedible parts. It gains complexity as the surface lowers.
Bianca: The further down this rabbit hole I go, the better it gets.
This, though, is the reason I come here. Their namesake, Wat Dong Moon Lek, is a beef noodle soup, which they have. They also have this pork interpretation of it. The scent alone is intoxicating, the intense broth a porky, salty wonder. The rice noodles are thin but not limp or fragile, rivaling the lusty comfort of ramen. Bean sprouts mix with the noodles, cooked until supple. The pork has a remarkable tenderness between brisket and goose liver, and provokes thought. Shreds of fresh and snarky green onion float around a single, perfect meatball.
We order both soups spicy, and add some of that hot sauce anyway, which nearly compels me to put my dark glasses on over my tear-stained eyes to hide my rookie status. They are, however, tears of joy, for this is a new lunchtime place for me.
A small plate of Hainan Chicken Rice will cure all your ailments. Steamed chicken slices, a sticky mound of garlic rice, and a spicy soy ginger sauce come with a cup of some of the best chicken broth I've tasted, transparent and subtle without a sodium smack.
The Yellow Curry Tofu is just plain well-constructed, generating a slow burn on the tongue. Dense, toothsome potatoes and carrots are cushioned by blocks of tofu, all soaking up a red-polka-dotted broth that turns a pleasing brownish yellow with a swirl of the spoon.
The Pad See Ew with Tofu is tofu blocks fried or soft, Chinese broccoli, and egg assembled over flat noodles. Normally flat noodles irritate me due to being a solid Cthulhoid mass of stuck-together noodles that you may as well use a knife on, but these are still supple and full of saucy flavor.
Besides the much-needed water, to drink there's chrysanthemum tea, but it's in bottles. Go for the Thai iced coffee, sweet and lush and tongue-coating.
Credit goes to Bianca here, for finding a corner advertisement in L.A. Weekly, stabbing it with a finger, and telling me it was time for lunch.
Wat Dong Moon Lek is cash only, and not bad pricewise. It's in a corner mall with fair parking.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Thai )
It might be Sante Cuisine now instead of Sante La Brea, and it might have had a rocky beginning, and it might have had its menu revamped by Gordon Ramsay, but I'm afraid I got here after all this happened. Let others argue about it; to me it seems to have hit its eclectic stride on this busy/quiet stretch of La Brea.
The interior is a darkened counter area that's dark, modern and leafy, but there is a comforting rustic wooden patio, decorated as if a yoga studio or a Thai massage parlor suddenly sprouted inside an Idea. A stone waterfall mixes with background grooves and the drone of passing cars.
This is actually refreshing, and you must trust us even while we tell you it's made with chlorophyll and alkaline water. The Green-Aid Slushy looks like an overdose of Nyquil, but is nowhere near as terrifyingly vegetal as it appears; with lime juice and agave (which is rapidly becoming the coolest sweetener this side of Elysium), it's cooling and healthy.
The soups are satisfyingly expressed. The Tortilla Soup is a thick puree with a southwestern roasted red pepper vibe, and is just plain bowl-scrapingly good. A few freshly made tortilla strips add a scratchy wholesomeness to the texture.
The Vegan Chili (or turkey if you like; Sante provides for its non-vegetarian diners) has a real "ground meat" feel, with beans and spices and density. It is, for want of a better word, hearty. Fresh scallions and carrot strips give crunch. Both bowls come with a pair of crispy pita chips.
As a fine introduction to the well-thought menu of Sante, the Chicken Sandwich can be chicken proper or vegan Chick-un (despite its pointless name, I don't mind the latter texturewise). The chick-un is marinated and grilled firm, thickly cut and dense; like a breast of chicken, you must find the "grain" to bite across, on peril of pulling it out from underneath the rustic, pitted whole wheat roll. There is leafy green lettuce, a subtle vegan dijonaise, and some red onions are sautéed into submission on top.
With this is Rosemary Red Potatoes, cut into half-inch rounds and grilled to a fork-tender, pleasant orange. There is a slaw as well, freshly chopped but with too much of a sour dressing for my liking.
Bianca is on a beet salad kick, and the Beet Beet Salad [sic] is a deeply purpled favorite of hers, sans the toasted pine nuts usually scattered atop. It's not complicated: mixed greens with a handful of feta cheese and a dressing-coated bit of slaw, and there is no need to hunt through the salad to find the beets, for there is a goodly amount, leaving the plate a red-stained joy. The lemon vinaigrette is greenish and balanced.
Sante is open until ten most days. There seems to be an abbreviated parking lot in the alley, but otherwise there should be some open meters on La Brea.
Many thanks to Jeff and a greeting of namaste to Ashaa for the recommendation.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, American, Pizza )