Category: Late Night/24 Hours
Yes, it means what you think it means
8200 W. Sunset Blvd. (@ Havenhurst, in West Hollywood)
Phone: 323-650-0614 | map
8665 Washington Blvd. (Culver City)
Phone: 310-837-5000 | map
395 Santa Monica Place (@ 4th, in Santa Monica)
Phone: 310-394-0373 | map
Despite being open until three in the morning, this doesn't possess the comfortably shabby demeanor of a neighborhood taco stand, into which you stumble in sore need of some well-deserved grease and spice; it's priced a little too high for that. This is the latest inspiration by the Anaya Brothers, owners of Cha Cha Cha.
The ceiling is awash with miniature piñatas* and colorful cutouts; the walls are adorned with off-brand loteria paintings (the El Pinche seeming particularly irreverent). The tables have absurdly blue checkered cloths.
As might be expected, the easiest introduction to a place with "tacos" in the title is the Pinche Combination Plate: a trio of tacos, with rice, beans and chips. The rice is properly fluffy**, and the refried beans are plain tasty, full of themselves without being whipped to senselessness.
Each taco embraces the holy duo of small white onion shards and cilantro, huddled together in malleable corn tortillas that are prone to tearing on contact with moisture. This contributes to the non-taco-stand feel, as I prefer to eat these at the table with fork and fingers rather than hunch over a rickety aluminum counter devouring taco goodness and fighting off pigeons.
The adobada consists of intense little cubes, marinated in a chili sauce with a wink of vinegar; they demand a determined chewing to extract maximum flavor. A briskly chopped salsa sits atop. The pollo a la parrilla is blocks of chicken breast, grilled to a pleasing stiffness on the outside, painfully moist inside. The carnitas are exquisite, not shredded, but large, imposing cuts of rich, shiny, citrusy pork.
Luxuriating on a stretchy tortilla, the pescado taco is thinly golden, not crunchy like Baja style but tender and collapsing. Oddly, it has a Veracruz coleslaw rather than naked cabbage, but I think I like it. The red salsa on this is among Pinche's best.
For burritos, I like the al pastor, pork strips marinated and broiled to a steaky firmness, muddled together with strings of sautéed onion and nicely gritty, dirty rice.
The chips here are fried hard, the pico de gallo can be thin and oniony, and there may not be many favorites among the salsas, although the cool spicy red used on the fish tacos is good to request.
Some Yelpy complaints have emerged regarding the staff at the Sunset location, which is, statistically, also more likely to attract its share of obnoxiously assumptive clientele. However, both locations have statistically unlikely free parking lots, suggesting that the universe is somewhat balanced. In any case, tacos, and I want them again soon.
Thanks to Adam for letting me drag him to yet another lunchtime foray.
* "Would you say I have a plethora of piñatas?"
** I realize that I rarely have much to say about Mexican-style rice. I am incomplete if it is not juxtaposed with my beans and main course, but it tends to be either satisfactory, or dry and uninteresting like your Uncle Theodore. I have never yet had a forkful of amber rice with a touch of vegetable and said, By God and the Queen's grace, Janice, this rice is damned fine!... I also don't know anyone named Janice to whom I can direct this ejaculatory observation.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, West Side/West Hollywood, Santa Monica/Culver City, Late Night/24 Hours )
This is not the gritty streetism of an authentic pho joint unconcerned with its C rating; a common compliment for Pho Saigon will be its cleanliness. The layout is high contrast, black and white furniture on wood planking. Speakers blare Korean pop while a silent television flickers. Designed photo collages of menu items add to a congenial but somewhat impersonal vibe.
It seems equally balanced between its noodle soups and its other fare, so a Special Appetizer Platter seems a good starter. There's a pair of Egg Rolls, shreddy golden cylinders with an oily crunch, a tiny bit overdone. The Spring Rolls are better, with a clean snap of orange carrot, striped shrimp, cabbage and vermicelli.
The Dumplings are pink and meat-filled, familiar-tasting and worth a future try on their own. The Fried Shrimp is a novelty, long spears of dumpling skin wrapped around a straightened shrimp and fried. It's good enough, with the peanut dipping sauce that's more sweet than sour, but the spring rolls are probably the worthiest competitor.
On to the soups. The #18 is pho noodle soup with well-done brisket and flank steak. The beef is soaked in hot broth, stretched into fatty, shimmery sheets like stained glass. The noodles need a firm separating with chopsticks before digging into them, but are clear and of good toothsomeness.
The Seafood pho, with imitation crab and thin, cream-colored slices of fish cake, is clean and flavorful but patiently subtle, a canvas awaiting expression. Pho Saigon hooks one up with bottles of hoisin, red pepper paste, sriracha, mint leaves, cilantro, bean sprouts, white onion, and lime.
The soups are good and proper, but the grill should not be ignored. What they do quite gratifyingly here is Charbroiled Chicken and Shrimp over Vermicelli; the dark meat is chopped and charbroiled to a glistening gold firmness, with the right amount of savor and give. The (grand total of three) shrimp are fried nicely craggy, good but overshadowed by the chicken.
It is a cold dish with pockets of warmth. The freshly done vermicelli is unstuck-together and elegantly white, made crunchy by carrot and cucumber slivers, shredded lettuce, and a nod of chopped peanuts. A shy dressing can be poured over it all, pale and nutty, but either hoisin or sriracha will shout over it.
Service tends to crisp efficiency and friendly goodbye calls of annyeonghi gyeseyo!, but during slower hours it can be difficult to get the bill.
Every day the Koreatown location is open until four in the morning; the hardworking people at Pho Saigon sleep only for three hours before reopening at seven. The other locations--on Hill Street Downtown, and the original spot on Imperial Highway in La Mirada--are not open nearly as late, but have more expansive menus.
The 6th Street location is in a strip mall, but parking is a forced, albeit tips-only, valet. Try to catch a whiff of KyoChon next door.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vietnamese, Late Night/24 Hours, Korean, Mid-City/Koreatown )
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 )
More Mexican restaurant recovery prescription
7408 W. Sunset Blvd. (West Los Angeles)
Phone: 323-874-7924 | map
1449 W. Sunset Blvd. (Echo Park)
Phone: 213-250-4505 | map
website (barely, and mind the music)
After getting home at nearly three in the morning, we have our usual recovery methodology: eat Mexican food and nap for the remainder of the Sunday. Sometimes we head west instead of east.
The El Compadre in Hollywood is a reliable stop along the string of musicians' stores on Sunset west of La Brea. The nearly unlit interior causes some blinking until you can see, but the decor is resplendent: deep red vinyl, brick red tile, black iron chandeliers. Heavy lanterns of iron and wood hang above your table like hexagonal anvils.
El Compadre is known for their "Flaming Margarita," but we stick with the less embarrassing, traditional on-the-rocks margaritas, sneaky concoctions in a big old-fashioned glass. We dig into those, and the shiny, lip-slicking tortilla chips. The salsa is ruddy and mean, but without much endurance. The albondigas soup is warm and full-bodied like a hug from a favorite aunt, densely seasoned and not heavy on the celery.
The plates are the classic Mexican restaurant blast from the past you know and love, radiating heat as if fresh from a kiln, the sauces sharpened around the edges, the pepper-dashed rice darkened to goldenrod, the big and beany refried beans covered with cheese that never quite stops melting, spotted with enough burn marks for contrast.
You know me--I have to indulge occasionally my inner childhood gringo--so I check out the combinations. Rather than a "one taco, one enchilada combo," they call it the Vagabundo, which I like. Bring me the Vagabundo! And do not let him escape! Vengeance is mine! On a long plate of cheese-laden heat, the enchilada is bulkier than most, combining crispy with fluffy. The beef in the taco is somewhere between ground and shredded, and really not the most important part; that is the lettuce, the thin line of white sauce, and the glistening shell, begging to be snapped apart and devoured with wedgefuls of beans and red sauce.
The Enchilada de Jaiba Estilo Vallarta is a long, lovely name for a crab meat enchilada in ranchera sauce. You cannot see what's going on here, what with the cheesy white lava, but the meat is almost obliterated, leaving only the scent and pungent essence of crab.
The Carne con Chile Verde is more conventionally titled. Fatty cubes of pork are done to a fork-slicing tenderness, flecked with spicy red and green bits in a rich, complex tomatillo sauce. I am enamored of the rustic corn tortillas, slightly scorched, into which I pile spoonfuls of the chile verde.
Way down on the bottom of the right page of the menu are some quietly superior Grilled Fish Tacos. So far Bianca and I have gotten these, both on the same night, on two separate occasions, because they're that good.
The fish is superbly grilled and tender with the gentlest of crunchy exterior, and are incredibly friendly with the white cheese, cabbage, refried beans and occasional hint of green pepper. After some excavation with a fork, the pale, scratchy, mostly-bendy corn tortillas can be rolled up and devoured.
The dishes can climb into the twenties when getting into the camarones and the bisteca, but many combos are under nine bucks.
The West Hollywood El Compadre is a hot spot, so a dinner experience will be long and loud, but lunchtime is perfect, after which you may stumble outside, full, slow and hissing like Sleestaks at the brilliant sun. There is a parking lot in back for about ten cars. It has a nice two-in-the-morning closing time.
The Echo Park location has a bigger lot (let's say fourteen cars), slower but just as friendly service, and is more airy and lit. We haven't determined how late they're open.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, West Side/West Hollywood, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Late Night/24 Hours )
Welcome to another late-night episode of our "Hollywood with Andrew" series. We're hoping to expand this segment into something we'll regret in the morning.
Toi is self-billed as "Rockin' Thai Food," the kind of terminology that was still new back in '86 when it opened, but which too many trendy sushi joints have tried to emulate. Toi retains its seedy, rebellious, you-don't-know-where-she's-been demeanor.
Toi is as Hollywood-focused as Barney's Beanery, but with the decor applied with a twelve-gauge shotgun: posters of Hendrix, The Beatles, AC/DC, Marilyn Manson, and Björk, vintage concert flyers for The Clash and The Mothers of Invention, two Millenium Falcons and a T-47 Snowspeeder, and one fairly horrific, will-shatter-your-high blue cheshire dragon hovering over the cashier. You yell at your tablemates over the music as high-speed, black-shirted waitstaff dart between lacquered tables.
The Veggie Thai Egg Rolls with silver noodles are thumb-sized and fair enough, but not as conversation-worthy as the Fried Tofu, pillowy triangles of soy with a bit of edge; they soak up the peanut dipping sauce and are good for settling your friends into eating mode.
The soups come in those volcanic hot pot bowls which barely allow a large spoon to scrape up the contents. The Tom Yum Poh Tack somehow crams shrimp, scallops, mussels (sans shell), and fish into a tangy lime broth with hidden fiery pockets of ouch. Red pepper specks settle slowly to the bottom, to lurk and threaten. How do they get the squid so soft? There's almost none of that chewy springiness to it.
The Toi Pasta is a should-be-shared batch of pan-fried noodles, chicken, egg and bean sprouts, yet somehow yielding more than that basic foundation. The foursome, a high-meat/low-noodle ratio with a slight sweetness to the chicken, is a luxuriant meld with a hint of citrus. There's subtlety here, with less of that tongue-stinging spark of onion and cilantro prevalent in Californian Thai joints.
Departing utterly from that familiar spicy clearness of Thai, the Pad Poh Tack has fish, crab, shrimp, scallops and more of that startlingly soft squid combined in chili and garlic; the end result is quite "brown saucy" and full-bodied, most excellent for spooning over brown rice. The brown rice here is a deep, dark bird-kibble mound with more moisture than expected.
Toi is down the street from Cheebo, so you know parking can be found along Sunset if you're diligent. They're more expensive than most Thai places, but they're open until four in the morning every day (beer, wine and sake stops at midnight), so your tonight-was-a-good-gig Hollywood exploits still have a suitable destination.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Thai, Late Night/24 Hours )
For the longest time I thought this was a community-based kitchen run by the local church, and perhaps it was, but Antonio Garcia has made an enticing destination within a good brisk walk from our place*.
A wide patio slouches under a white metal awning, bathed by eclectic music. Inside--and I mean inside only in the sense of a tiny closet-sized space that's not the kitchen and not the patio--little chalkboards on every wall detail what the kitchen offers. They aren't speedy here, but homely and sincere.
Let me introduce you to these four horsemen of the Scoville apocalypse. Not all these salsas are hot, but each is thick and full of personality. The pea-green is mild with a little bite, good for chicken tacos. The zesty green is thick with cilantro and snappy like a pushy mother-in-law. Red is your basic tasty, murky tomato, spicy favorite.
The orange one... the orange one smells like bell pepper and pretends to be your friend, but it is not your friend. It kicks your dog and hurts your feelings and leaves you wishing you hadn't drunk all your horchata.
After hurting myself with the salsas I close my eyes and dive into this. The Carnitas taco is insanely moist and ambrosial, fatty and finger-glistening. Even the wax paper is stained dark. The carnitas gives La Luz Del Dia on Olvera Street a serious run for its money, and makes you want to walk across the parking lot to the Iglesia de Cristo Elim and give thanks.
The burritos are full-bodied and bundled up in silver (Bianca: Things are so much better wrapped in foil!). The Fish Burrito is quite filling, tender and at peace with the lettuce and sour cream.
I like to go for things a little more bacon-colored; the Cochinita Pibil has a texture both like stewed chicken and chorizo, marinated with a slight citrusy sting, and drips auburn goodness onto the paper.
This is a huarache, named because of its similar shape to the sandal of the same name. The tortilla is a long crispy ellipse that is resistant to bending and chewing, and has a thick masa flavor rather than corn. The Al Pastor hidden beneath all that lettuce and cheese is singed like carne asada, fairly good if not thick with spice.
The Shrimp Quesadilla is really good. Really. Good. The shrimp is grilled and split apart, dark with seasoning, and almost sultry. If your typical bright pink cocktail shrimps are the society ladies of the crustacean world, this is more like the comfortable widow upstairs available for virginity-losing trysts. Bits of green pepper are buried within the thin layer of melted cheese.
On Saturdays Tarascos is open until three in the morning, which makes it quite alluring for those late-night post-bar medicinal visits, where such lurid shrimp similes make better sense.
* Less enticing is the post-lunch walk home, back up the Maltman hill.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Late Night/24 Hours )