Categories: Cuisines (by Specialty), Bakery/Patisserie, BBQ, Cajun/Creole, Coffee/Tea/Desserts, Deli, Diner, Healthy/Organic, Late Night/24 Hours, Pizza, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs, Seafood, Soul/Southern, Vegetarian/Vegan
FuRaiBo is an izakaya style tebasaki chain, which means that unless you have access to one of the eighty locations in Japan*, you need to come to Los Angeles County to try these chicken wings.
Furaibo's abraded, inner-city exterior stands on the narrow strip of Sawtelle where the Japanese restaurants mingle. Underneath its sea green ceiling is deep, serious wood and paper lanterns, the sobriety of the decor eased by the energetic waitstaff careening by.
The lunch menu is quite abbreviated, mostly curries and pan-sizzled steak, but it's the chicken I want to mention first, the combinations of which are named according to some bewildering Edgar Rice Burroughs theme. There's the Tarzan, the Jane**, and the Chita. For variety's sake I like the Tiba & Chita: wings, leg, thigh. It comes with a shredded heap of cabbage and a small, baffling scoop of tuna, over which you should put miso dressing.
Is this fried chicken? Is it just that they use fresh frying oil? How do they do this? While I've had karaage and always appreciate a nice crunchy batter, it's not battery, and the thin meat is full of eager flavor and snap, made to be pulled forcefully from the bone and crushed with the tongue. The heat level can be modified according to desire, and asking for it spicy will yield a moody lip-hurt. Sesame seeds add a nutty essence that is greater than their sparse scattering across the chicken. Do not speak to me at this time, for I am eating.
For dinner the menu quadruples, displaying items to seriously consider once you get past your disbelieving experience with the chicken wings. At top right in the photo is Tako Wasabi, a gelatinous bowl of grey meant to terrify the gaijin palate but which is really very tasty; octopus is diced in a wasabi sauce, udon-soft but with a chewy core and an elegant bite of spice.
Below that is Geso Kimchee; squid leg is steamed and given body by the pickled Napa cabbage. It's crunchy with more personality than heat. I realize that these descriptions are either going to sound really good or really off-putting. Trust us when we say that they're good.
To the left, though. That is Hanpen Cheese. I swear by sweet Umashiashikabihikoji, the reed that appeared during the formation of heaven and earth, this stuff is good. There are these triangles of fish cake, you see, breaded and fried with yellow cheese. Shoyu and hot mustard accompany this, and add a zippy sting to it. It will haunt your dreams.
There's more: Tori Neguma are simple skewers of charred yaki chicken alternating with Tokyo green onion; the dark meat is soaked with teriyaki and smells irresistible. Enoki & Scallop is pan-sautéed in a garlic butter sauce, the mushroom stems becoming like a lush spaghettini. Even the fried rice is clean and distinguished, tiny wedges of chopped, smoked sausage giving it body.
There's a lot in back with tandem spaces; if you're behind someone, let the staff know.
Thanks to Kalani and Adam for the new set of cravings.
* Or, there's a branch in Jakarta, Indonesia, if you're in the neighborhood.
** The Double Jane is, wincingly enough, two breasts.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Japanese, West Side/West Hollywood, Seafood )
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 )
The exterior is one of those overly designed corner malls, the interior a repurposed "it was also a sandwich shop before this" layout, but pray do not let that deter you. Every wall is pinned with photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and Lombard Street, in case you forget where you are. The room swelters from a bank of humming drink machines.
I do not know particularly what constitutes a "San Francisco" style submarine sandwich, but if this is representative of the Bay Area's Italian-American Juxtaposition Of Bread and Meat erudition, I'm down. The bread simply wins. A sheen from a light application of butter or oil transfers itself to the fingers. The bread itself is golden brown, a crispy armor that buckles into shards, collapsing into a nirvana of soft, warm contrast. How's that for a pretentious food review statement?
There are three sizes here: Mini, Center and Super. If they present a huge piece of wheat bread and ask if you want it cut, say yes, else they will charge for the brawny XL sandwich that will end up coming home with you.
The Atomic Sub is their specialty: sheets of hot lean pastrami, and roasted turkey breast, and corned beef, and is topped with what seems like pickle but turns out to be thinly cut hot pepper.
The Hot Smokie Link sandwich has lettuce, tomato, onion and provolone, embracing thin slices of adobe-red sausage with just a spark on the tongue. The mustard and mayo deliver flavor but are nicely unobtrusive. SF Sub has beef-and-lamb gyros as well, shaved off the vertical rotisserie: it's ominously hot with a slight crunch to the meat, and almost too thick to try to fold and eat. A meek yogurt sauce tries to calm it down.
Drinks are either "fill the cup with ice and hold it under here" or "refrigerated cabinet" fare. The choices range a little outside of typical: yogurt drinks, fizzy flavored waters, sexual-dynamo-energy-drinks, et cetera.
They do not bother with meatball subs, although I would be happy if they did. While Dave's Chillin-n-Grillin has my heart for melty grillwork on sliced bread, SF Sub is now among the ruling class in my submarine sandwich world.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
You've seen recycled eateries like this: a darkened front window, a peaked roof which probably had the words "pup" and "taco" on it a few decades ago, stained signs that look like they were beaten with a crowbar. The drive-through is more of a polite feature than a time-saver. You may as well park and walk up to the window.
What is this place? It's an unlikely but earnest vegetarian fast food joint. There are burgers; the veggie patty is very light and crumbly, and easily gets lost in the leafy shuffle between the fresh whole wheat buns. There are burritos; the Pollo Burrito is more of a "we're calling it chicken but it's actually just straight-up tofu" yellow curry ladled into a tortilla glove and held together by hope and surface tension, and not much fun. Really, Orean doesn't execute the faux-meat maneuvers as well as, say, Green Leaves, so you should search out the specialty items in the corner of the menu.
The Pastrami Dip--no, really, kind of--should probably be called the steak sandwich, being a pile of seasoned seitan (wheat gluten) chips with green pepper, pickles and onion. It's really rather good, and seitan has that near-steak texture that throws off the purity hounds.
The fries are "air fries," which means they're likely baked instead of fried, which I suppose means they might be called "French Bakes' but which would be sorely confusing. Anyway, they're fluffy and shreddy and good. You can get chili on those, and then they're cut thicker. The chilli (sic) is interesting--it's seitan with kidney and pinto beans, so it's an attempt at a "meat chili"--but I'd just as soon have a proper spicy-powdered bean chili that I can proudly have on top of things.
The best thing here is the African Tostada. Atop two crunchy yellow tortilla discs is a heap of black-eyed peas rendered to an almost refried-beans consistency, African salsa, a honey-mustardesque tahineh sauce, and chopped tomatoes. There is soy cheese but it is convincing and works here.
The beverages are also where Orean shines. How about a granola rum shake? A ginseng slush? Some iced yerba maté? For me, they have a peanut butter shake that's quite alluring, and I can up the ante by making a Chai shake into a Super Green Chai shake, which means it's a pale Irish color and resists both straw and pouring, but is tasty.
Is it healthy? Well, it's meatless, does that help? Consider the surrounding corners: a McDonald's, a Carl's Jr./Green Burrito, a KFC, and a Roscoe's Chicken 'n Waffles, so arguably it's the healthiest corner in these parts.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, American, Pasadena/San Gabriel/Alhambra, African )
Cafe 50's is an obvious student of the "Fiftiest Fifties Diner Evar" school, its exterior blinking and neoning and rocking around the clock at you. The interior is saturated with celebrity photos, tiled floors, diamond-pattern steel, vinyl, formica, soda pop signs, and pulp mags.
It feels like a true neighborhood joint. Red-clad servers dash through the narrow aisles and are generally really friendly. There are always daily deals going on: Mellow Mondaze, Thursty Thursdays, Fish-Fry Fridays, Á la mode Saturdays... you know the drill.
The menu is a combination of "Omigod I think my parents used to eat this" (such as New York Egg Creams and Alabama Cheese Eggs), and newer options like 7-grain Almond Granola Pancakes. Bianca loves when they're serving Sweet Potato Pancakes; with strawberries piled on top, they're like moist, oven-toasty muffin tops, even before the warmed syrup is poured over them.
For more lunchy burgery things, there's the Super Burger (you can get them turkey or veggie), with fatty, spitting-off-the-grill curls of bacon and avocado smothering under a queen-sized comforter of melted jack cheese. No mustard is needed, and I always put mustard on burgers if it's available.
The fries are skin-on and fried soft, so I like getting them well done. Make them Garlic Cheddar Fries, and they become almost painful; a yellow lattice of cheese barely covers mounds of pungent, pore-rupturing garlic. Less threatening but even more flavorful are the Chili Cheese Fries, with the same crissing and crossing of cheddar over an honest, brick-red mixture of ground meat, kidney beans and tomatoes. It's perfect chili for fries, requiring a bit of fork-work.
I'm not sure what makes the Frisco Club different from other clubs, but it's a brawny, dry-crunch sandwich on sourdough with thick cuts of bacon, a subtle schmear of thousand-island dressing, avocado, and a half inch of lettuce--I add mustard to this one. There's also a Tuna, Avocado and Cheddar Cheese Melt (do we see a pattern with the cheddar love? Yes. Yes, we do), an open-face sandwich that must remain so, as its soft, perfectly-meshing flavors are too structurally unsound to try to pick up.
Cafe 50's has thirty-five or so milkshakes, such as a Strawberry Cheesecake shake and a Coffee Banana Malt, but you know me by this point; I get the Oreo Cookie shake and have it made with chocolate ice cream. It's vigorously mixed, smooth and creamy, the Oreos reduced to a flavor-giving paste.
Boysenberry pie! Bianca is so happy! Lemon-Lime pie! Dave is so happy! Real Cherry Coke! And until 3pm, hazelnut coffee! We're both so happy! It's the little things, really.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Diner, American, Santa Monica/Culver City, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )
Known as a "State Point of Historical Interest"*, this Bob's is the oldest remaining in America, a steel and chrome and terra cotta wood panel diner that keeps its carhop heritage. I remember the Bob's Big Boys that used to infest California like Carrows and Denny's, but since they've dwindled down to their core, I thought it worth a DILA mention.
I'm only dashing in here for a quick lunch with my friend Ron F., so despite the expansive menu I won't even look at all the other items (remember Pappy Parker's Fried Chicken? No, it's not there).
Necessity: the fistful of Californiana called the Super Big Boy Combo. Two patties with simple squares of American cheese, cool shreds of lettuce, and the Famous Big Boy Special Sauce, which consists of, um, sweet relish mixed with ketchup and a bit of mayo. Good old American know-how, you godless Commies!
I eat it quickly, absorbing the cultural significance and appreciating how the flavor of the thin, black-tinged beef manages to overcome the trio of buns.
The fries are cut with the skins, their 1/2-inch diameter firm enough for the weight of ketchup yet thin enough not to burn the living daylights out of your mouth with starchy vengeance. Get some of Bob's Seasoning Salt, shake it liberally over them, and savor the paprika smack.
I'm not really a hot fudge fan, so this thing on the right isn't my normal dessert choice, but underneath all that entirely-too-much non-Newtonian liquid sweetness is some very nice chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream. I think someone has bust out the word "decadent" for this in the past. I'm done after about four bites.
The shakes are like I remember, fairly thin but fun to spoon great gouts of Bob's Big Boy ice creamness from the frozen steel tin.
The red-tinged cherry Cokes also bring back mem... hey, wait a minute. Wild Cherry Pepsi? I had this vision of Coca-Cola expertly juxtaposed with grenadine syrup in a soda-jerky fashion. Suddenly I'm not so sure.
Parking is in the many-lined lot in back, which still fills up, especially when car events are happening. When Minis get together for a motoring day, they usually come here.
* ... a term which evokes screaming boredom from the back seat. Hey kids, according to the map this particular location seems to be a point of historical interest. Want to stop, gang? Can't they come up with a label like "A Vital Spot of Californian Historic Awesomeness"..? These are the things I think of when shaking seasoned salt over my fries.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Diner, American, Burbank/North Hollywood, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs )