Cheebo's been around a while, keeping a solidly cool presence in a quieter, more tree-laden section of Sunset. Some people have loved it since it arrived, some are irritated due to slow or impolite service. Bianca and I haven't run into that; in fact, our most recent visit was made better by Melessa, our very capable waitress who was basically working the entire restaurant by herself (they lighten the waitstaff on Mondays and Tuesdays). Yes, it took a while, but the point was to be out having a nice dinner, so we sat enjoying a bottle of Argentinean malbec, listening to experimental noise-electronic limping and bleating from overhead, and peeking at the Dodgers losing on the television over the bar.
Cheebo makes a point of keeping as much of its menu organic as possible, and turns out some fabulously good fare. I was a little startled not to find my favorite sandwich on the menu (the Slo-Roasted Pork & Manchego), but found that it had been retitled the Porkwich, a name of which I'm unsure I approve. They also have a mesquite-grilled flank steak rolled with prosciutto, sopressata and mortadella, with provolone and white beans. They have large, rectangular pizzas that seem good to the eye (I haven't tried them yet).
On our last visit, we did pasta. Bianca had the special: penne with chicken, asparagus and oven-roasted cherry tomatoes in a white wine garlic sauce. I had the rigatoni with sausage and mushrooms in a white sauce, and it was one of the most ludicrously flavorful pasta dishes I've had in a while. The vegan lentil soup was thin but tasty, and the grilled polenta tots appetizer was taken home for the next day.
(We were also amused by a young man on the phone near us: "Yeah, man, I'm over at Cheesebo... Cheesebo... on Sunset... you know, like 'smile, cheese'..?")
They have a list of organic teas such as Egyptian camomile and masala chai to settle you afterward. We had no dessert this time around, but I understand there's a flourless caprese cake with chocolate and marzipan that might be worth a look.
Is it expensive? Yeah, kind of. About sixty bucks without the wine. But that's with a soup, an appetizer, a pasta, and a special, so there are other places that are heavier on the purse. There's valet parking but we usually glide westward a bit and park near the All American Burger joint. The north-south streets are brutally permit-only, as in "no parking ever, really; don't even turn left after ten o'clock."
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Healthy/Organic, American, Pizza )
Philly on This Side of the Coast
11112 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601
Phone: 818-985-4929 | map
I've never been to Philadelphia. I stay out of the bitter, endless disputation regarding foods, like New York pizza versus Chicago pizza (well, except that New York style is better, har har), the best rub for a barbecue, and how exactly God ordained a Philly sandwich must be made.
So, keeping in mind that I do not possess deep knowledge of Pennsylvania, I loved eating here. The owners are pleasant and obviously love what they've been doing for thirty years, taking orders with heavy traces of their Georgian (as in Russia) accent. The interior of this place is diner style, with records, Marilyn, Elvis, Sinatra, and vintage Coke ads peppering the walls above vinyl booths.
How are the sandwiches? Outstanding. The steak is minced and lush, with onions chopped fine and grilled with the meat instead of lying atop in a heap. There is no Cheez Whiz applied with a long spatula, but white cheese placed on the bun first and wonderfully melted. The bun is fluffy and toasty, and makes you check your lips for crumbs. The sandwich has a Magma Factor*, which I exacerbate by liberally adding Louisiana hot sauce.
The only thing I wish is that it was slightly juicier in order to soak the bread, which would probably be a nice thing. Try asking for extra cheese.
The fries are just the way I like them: well done, well salted, crinkle cut.
Does all this make it non-authentic? It does according to a heavyset woman complaining about the lack of onions atop her sandwich. "I'm from Philadelphia, sweetheart," she said, bitter about the concept that they wouldn't simply pile ropy strands of grilled onions on her sandwich on demand. "Don't call it Philly then," she muttered, scandalized. "Unbelievable. Unbelievable."
When it comes to food, I know that there are few true originals, but also many true originals. Some Philly natives say it was all about provolone growing up, not the Whiz, and that the Whiz is a tourist trap thing at Pat's. I may never know, and don't care enough to try. Just enjoy.
* My friend Tim came up with this descriptor. Magma Factor is the characteristic of your food item being partially liquid and almost vengefully hot, like the goddess Pele is miffed at you for beating her in a surfing contest. Remember how brutal McDonald's apple pie filling used to be? Taco Bell's chilito? Like that.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Diner, American, Burbank/North Hollywood, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
Yes, it was before the movie
8020 Beverly Blvd. (west of Fairfax)
Phone: 323-653-5858 | map
It seems to fit perfectly into L.A. culture. With its blue-and-white-punctuated awnings and its pixie-punk waitresses, Swingers creates a vibe that's a bit Melrose, a bit Beverly Hills, and a bit cruising Sunset Blvd. after midnight. There may be celebrity sightings, cool cats, tats, and cowboy hats.
They have the expected diner menu, and tweak it in the direction of health and hipness. One of the sides is quinoa, which is an ancient South American grain a bit like couscous, sautéed with finely chopped broccoli. They've got soy chocolate milk, a vegan burrito (tofu, spinach, quinoa, black beans, whole wheat tortilla, topped with a chipotle sauce), and multi-grain banana pancakes.
The Veggie Joe--soy-rizo on a poppy seed bun with veggie chili--is melty and rich, and they do a very good turkey swiss burger. The fries have a bit of skin and a lot of flavor.
There are a bunch of sweet parts too, like red velvet minicakes and shakes. I've tried the Rocket Shake, chocolate ice cream with espresso and blended espresso beans, which provides an understandable buzz. I'm also looking forward to the Hardcore Soy Shake.
The parking requires some attention to signage (no parking between here and here, on this day or that day, if you're wearing purple, your car is not nice enough, must possess a small dog, permits excepted, etc., etc.), but Swingers is open until 4am, so you'll get there eventually to watch the Beverly traffic go by.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, Beverly Hills/Wilshire, Diner, American, Late Night/24 Hours )
Love It Or Hate It...
1918 W. Sunset Blvd.
Phone: 213-484-9800 | map
Brite Spot, like Home and Fred 62, racks up more complaints than most. Change of management, slow service, surly service, poor eating conditions, terrible food, hipsters have cooties, we waited twenty minutes and everyone was too cool to notice us, etc. I notice that many of these occur when someone is coming in late at night after a show at the Echo.
I admit two things: that 1) Bianca and I are rather magnanimous when it comes to eateries because we know what it's like to work in them, and 2) on a day when Brite Spot is busy and understaffed, they will be like a freshly-stomped-on anthill. What we tend to do is go on weekend mornings/afternoons.
Perhaps the most rewarding thing about the place is the ambiance: vintage wooden walls with 1900s-era photos of graduating classes, colorfully chipped carvings of kings' heads, and Chinese checkerboards. Brass-topped tables flanked by sparkly red vinyl booths that actually, for the most part, aren't covered in duct tape. Amber chandeliers with those tiny threads hanging from them. (I hate to use the word eclectic, but if there's a better description for the kind of decor you might get if your wacky old aunt from Pasadena just passed away and you're in charge of the estate sale, then please give it.)
Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, or Spirit might well be playing overhead. Tattoos abound. It's possible that two of you might be seated at the same long booth as another couple. It's always bustling, and always interesting in the people-watching realm.
They have a full vegetarian/vegan menu, which is gratifying. The veggie burger and soy cheese, or the soy-rizo con huevos, are my usual staple. Bianca's bounced from the pancakes to the turkey burger to the grilled cheese and been pleased with all of them. The shakes are somewhat thin, so I stick with iced tea or iced coffee.
Parking is also cramped and based on luck and timing, but you'll get there. Wait a bit, relax, take in the extremely casual atmosphere, leaf through the piles of cards and flyers advertising concerts, clubs, and protest events, and go into zen mode.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Healthy/Organic, Diner, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Late Night/24 Hours )
How they did it I don't know. There is a bitter air of gentrification hovering over Silver Lake, what with landlord disagreements, restaurant closings (Back Door Bakery, Eat Well on Sunset, Netty's a while back*). However, amid the skepticism, this coffee boutique with an obvious metric ton of money invested in itself manages to thrive.
It is not a casual vibe, at least not yet for us. The decor makes me imagine a wealthy Swedish ex-stewardess widow has just invited me in for an evening of racy endeavours. Electric-pastel chairs with crocodile-, ostrich- and snake-skin patterns. Small square black tables. A large, idyllic Greco-Roman pastoral scene a la toile de jouy on the wall. Waitstaff in black. Coffee served with organic milk, with elaborate presentation.
And they are about coffee, most certainly. Eton Tsuno is their "coffee savant," and he is accompanied by Michael Cimarusti (menu) and Adrian Vasquez (desserts). I'll let you look these people up.
The coffees and teas are made, depending on your point of view, with: 1) extreme, frighteningly technological fanaticism, or 2) devoted precision. To one not fully versed in coffee, it is roasted by German Probat G60 commercial roasters, whatever those are, and available in a bewildering array of methods: Eva Solo designer coffee and tea makers, Chemex coffee makers, a copper La Marzocco espresso machine, and the much-publicized $11,000 Clover. Some will think this all pretentious and snobbish, but believe me, there are places more deserving of the word.
I started easy: an iced mocha. It arrived on a light wooden coaster, and was sublime enough to make me order another when I had finished it, unable to make it last. Bianca had an orange-infused cappuccino and pronounced it very textured and complex; a second one proved too heavy. There is only so much silk in which one can be wrapped.
The food is tightly made, small-portioned meals with lots of thought put into them. The "Not Quite French Toast" is brioche brushed with a caramelized vanilla/cinnamon/sugar high. There are baked-egg casseroles with crab or wild mushrooms. Pressed chorizo sandwiches. Clam fritters with yuzu kosho mayonnaise, which we've yet to try.
LA MILL** is upscale, and it will set you back in a manner unexpected for what amounts to some coffee, pastries and a small breakfast meal, but we thought it worth the experience. It is not your everyday, in/out quick java fix, but an exploration of international coffee culture.
I will try a cafe con leche next time.
* It's still meant to open eventually as reservoir, which is promising. Still, it's sad to see any restaurant casually mentioned by Claire in a Six Feet Under episode go. I never bothered with Back Door Bakery myself.
** It's pronounced "lah-mill," by the way.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Coffee/Tea/Desserts )
Retro has become an embarrassing word. One could argue that Fred 62 (named because both founders are named Fred and were born five years before I was) tries desperately to be hip, but to us there is still charm and comfort in it. It's not supposed to be a diner from the '50s; it's a diner from a quietly hyper-now that nods in appreciation to Hollywood. It is trendy, pretentious perhaps, but what else should one be in Los Feliz? There is still honesty in its stylings.
The seats are vinyl with an automotive theme; greyscale drawings of classic Hollywood celebrities dot the walls; spindly metal tables and chairs are outside and usually filled. The inked-and-pierced waitstaff wear black t-shirts with brassy sayings on them*. There always seems to be a scruffy guy sitting nearby, just this side of thirty, wearing a frumpy tweed hipster hat. There will also always be someone expounding on his screenplay to his companions. Sometimes it's the same guy.
The menu is creative diner fare with some healthy alternatives, given punny names. The Dime Bag is your usual pancakes/hash browns/bacon or sausage. The Juicy Lucy is their classic hamburger replete with thousand island dressing. Mr. Frenchy is French toast, and the bearded Mr. Frenchy comes cornflake-encrusted (not the gloriously crunchy French toast like Jinky's Cafe does it, but good and fluffy).
I like the Fred McMurray (buttered bun with scrambled eggs, sausage patty and hash browns) and the Charles Bukowski (grilled ham and cheddar on sourdough). Fred 62 does bread quite well (i.e., where you lick toasted, buttery crumbs from your fingertips). Fries are nicely greasy and come in a cutoff paper bag.
They have surprisingly good udon and soba, but they don't give them funny names.
They have coffee and mocha shakes, and you know how I feel about that.**
Some regulars who have come here for years are disillusioned with the inversely proportional ratio of waitstaff attitude versus food quality. So far we've been lucky. For a brief and balanced debate regarding Fred 62 I appreciate the words of Josh, Dave and John, especially since one of them mentions the Astro Diner on Fletcher, a personal comfort zone which I shall review soon.
* e.g., "JESUS IS OUR DISHWASHER", "LESBIANS EAT OUT", "EAT NOW, DINE LATER".
** Maniacally pleased.
Addendum: Oddly enough, this is post ID #62. The world is uncanny.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Healthy/Organic, Diner, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Late Night/24 Hours )