Category: Late Night/24 Hours
The seedy little Japanese diner that could
314 E. 2nd Street (in Little Tokyo)
Phone: 213-687-4972 | map
Is it Koraku? Ko-raku? Ko-oraku? Kouraku? Doesn't matter. One sign spells it one way, the other another. It's a cash-only Japanese/Chinese joint, shouting its diner heritage with vibrant red-orange booths and blue-shirted waitresses that greet you with a chorus of irasshaimase! Large posters dot the walls in lieu of decor, ads for Asahi, Kirin, and... Budweiser? Go with it. The music might be Michael McDonald, sometimes Stevie Nicks, occasionally Eurythmics, interspersed with Motown.
There is a paper wall menu that may or may not match the one in your hand. Take long minutes to peruse both and grab an appetizer. The Chinese kimchee [sic] is mild, but invokes coughs when enough is consumed. It's an excellent spark for your blood vessels.
The dishes at the right look a little dingy and murky. Pay no attention. That concoction at the top is a cure-all called tenshin men. Say, would you like a shrimp omelette? Sure. Shall we put that on top of a warm, comforting bowl of ramen? Yes, yes you shall. The shrimps are tiny and pink and perfectly woven into the fluffy egg, which settles down into the soup. Arigato gozaimasu! Xie xie!
The bulky bowl underneath is meant to be Stamina ramen. At least that's what I ordered: ground pork, garlic sprouts and ramen noodles. I hadn't expected the long strips of green beans, mushrooms, water chestnuts and a spice level between Orochon's #3 and #4. Hearty indeed, with some forehead blotting.
The ramen noodles have a definite curl to them, so might be kind of on the packaged side, and the shoyu broth itself is fairly mild and unobtrusive, but the overall effect is that of warmth and comfort.
The service is brisk and full of smiles. Parking can be found in many of the little public lots around Little Tokyo. Koraku is open until three in the morning except on Sundays, where it closes at midnight.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, Japanese, Chinese, Late Night/24 Hours )
Say you're in Thai Town past midnight with a credit card about you; you haven't the cash for Sanamluang, you're tired of the Thai Elvis at Palms, and the entertainment at Thai Patio is too light on the transvestitism. You want something awesome. Red Corner Asia is where you want to head.
RCA is elegantly approachable, poised in its greens and yellows and backlighting and Thai love songs overhead. Its menu as well as its interior is cleanly designed. Delightfully friendly and attractive waitstaff in apple-green aprons gesture you to a table.
Try something besides the Thai iced tea: a cold chrysanthemum drink, butterscotch in color and honeyed in flavor, highly refreshing without the aftertang of hibiscus or the syrup of soda. Agonize over the appetizers. For now we only know the joy of the Golden Shrimp Balls, deep-fried until airy and smooth like tofu, with a sweet and sour dipping sauce.
The list of entrees goes on and on, but you'll have to settle for something since the waitstaff-smiles are firmly in place and awaiting your pleasure. There are staples like Red Curry (chicken, beef, pork, or tofu), easy on the bell peppers and perfectly red-speckled orange. The RCA Noodles are thick rice noodles with minced pork, shrimp and tofu, and rad little curled-up slices of pork sausage, which is a quick way to my list of favorites. Whatever spice level you like, ask for it one lighter than you think you want, on pain of watering eyes.
To impress your friends, get the Yum Crispy Catfish. It's difficult to believe this is fish and not a crispy noodle appetizer, shredded and deep-fried into a tangy latticework; it rests on a spicy apple salad, the apple wedges sliced like a pile of pale green french fries for contrast.
Red Corner Asia is open until 2 in the morning, and there is, joy of joys, a parking lot, albeit valet.
Many prayerful bows with hands pressed together to our dear friend Andrew, who took us here to this new favorite place.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Thai, Late Night/24 Hours )
What is it about L.A. that there are so many tiny Mexican joints with yellow or orange signs and a furry little cartoon burro prancing along like it owns the world? Are they related? Is it a prerequisite that they be named Dos Burritos or Los Burritos or Los Crazy Tacos? Maybe it's a quick-franchise restaurant template.
Anyway, whatever the secret requirements, this particular Burrito King is on Hyperion, one of two remnants of a beloved burrito-stand empire (the original location is at Sunset and Alvarado, in a ravaged corner strip mall under the American Apparel billboard). The Burrito King in Silver Lake is, I believe, where the owner lives, and is a general lifesaver when it comes to late-night hungries*. The kitchen is no-nonsense, the patio is covered and approachably clean, and the lopsided aluminum salsa kiosk has the usual suspects: radishes, carrots, mild green salsa, thin and unforgiving spicy red salsa, and chopped onions.
The burritos are paper-wrapped, somewhat flat and ready to collapse, and challenge my well-honed eat-burritos-without-a-fork abilities; they are drippy with a vengeance, so be prepared with napkins. The chicken is good, the carnitas are better, the machaca is best, and Burrito King doesn't bother putting in much cheese.
The hard-shell tacos are those wonderful concoctions with shells shiny with grease, and enough lettuce and cheese to make a salad with. The soft-shell tacos will often paste themselves into the paper if not eaten immediately, so it takes some prying. There's horchata, of course, to soothe the red salsa, and jamaica. Burrito King also solidly does breakfast, even pancakes and hash browns if it's that late.
Unlike so many other holes in the wall, it's got its own lot in back, which requires some automotive contortionist skills. The other location? It's Sunset & Alvarado; good luck with that.
* No, you don't have to be stoned, or drunk and stumbling out of a nightclub to appreciate it. They're open until one in the morning, though, and three on Fridays and Saturdays, so it's not out of the question.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Mexican, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Late Night/24 Hours )
So there's Astro Diner on Fletcher, and a sister restaurant named Jan's. Both are named after the owners' daughters Jan and Maria, except that Maria was nicknamed Astro, so there you go. And don't confuse Astro Diner with either of the two Astro Burgers on Melrose and Santa Monica. Stay with me.
During the morning Astro is like any other diner: waitresses in tight skirts, hurrying about with plates heavy with pancakes and other breakfast sundries. The seats are a comfortable green like the chlorophyll gum one used to get from machines in Howard Johnson's restaurants.
At night, which is when we usually go ("it's after eleven, I'm dressed like crap. Astro? Astro."), and that's when they have an unusual waitstaff. I'm not talking punk haircuts and tats; that's just L.A. I mean there's an older gentleman with heroically Grecian-formulaed hair and an impossible-to-place accent; a vivacious cha cha girl with pigtails who still looks like she's down to party; a shy older Asian lady who you have to be a little patient with. There is always a frail man perched cross-legged at the bar, whose relationship with Astro is uncertain. A little basket of Melba Toast (!) packets and crackers will be placed on your table for mysterious reasons.
What cements Astro as one of our late-night spots is the music. While Brite Spot plays Dylan, Hendrix and Doors, Astro plays those '70s Caucasian soft-rock love songs that are so embarrassing yet so slick*. Many's the time that I heard something and ran home to write it down so I could buy it and complete my yacht-rock lifestyle.
Ahem. Proceeding: the food is very solidly coffee shop, and nothing far beyond what should be expected. Brilliant? No. Reliable? Yes. There's a bit of Mediterranean, a hint of Mexican, a shrug of Italian, some vegetarian, a few healthy options (meaning chicken breast and cottage cheese, I'm afraid) and you should probably concentrate on their salads, burgers and sandwiches. Your salad will somehow always have fresh lettuce (I ask for it without beets, and dressing on the side).
The turker burger passes, but may need a couple shakes of Tapatio (there's always condiment bottles on your table). There's also a Gourmet Sandwich: ham, swiss, tomatoes and onions grilled on sourdough, and Astro does the slightly-buttered-and-toasted thing properly. The Riviera is turkey and bacon with avocado and tomatoes, also grilled on sourdough. The Monte Cristo is what you'd expect: ham, turkey, jack cheese dipped in egg batter and grilled. The milkshakes don't come with that wonderful cold metal tin from which you try to spoon out ice creamy goodness without spattering yourself, but they're good enough.
* Examples? I don't mean ABBA, Starland Vocal Band or Air Supply. That's too easy. I'm talking about Paul Davis' "I Go Crazy" and Jay Ferguson's "Thunder Island." I mean Walter Egan's "Magnet & Steel." Starbuck's "Moonlight Feels Right." Marty Balin's "Hearts." I know my AM Gold.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Diner, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, American, Sandwiches/Burgers/Hot Dogs, Late Night/24 Hours )
Many love it. A few hate it. All support it with evidence of being pizza aficianados from back east.
We're in the "love it" camp. It's an aged little Italian joint as battered as its website, all ceiling fans and butterscotch vinyl booths, with vintage (I'm betting '60s) paper placemats tucked between the acrylic and the checkered tablecloths. Perhaps the spirit of founder Sam Martorana hovers around the place. A bedraggled man straight out of a film noir movie, with a loosely tucked shirt and a hunted look about him, nods at you when a seat is available. Sometimes the wait can be long.
Water comes in those big red plastic Coke glasses. I get a chocolate shake, which either because I'm dizzy from hunger or because of the evening, tastes obscenely good. You can also get beer, wine, or Moretti Italian ale. We order pizza, because that's what you do. The pasta dishes seem good--Penne All'Arrabbiata, Capellini con Pomodoro and Basil--but it's about pizza. You want no more than three toppings.
We scramble through a dinner salad that is thankfully undeluged by Italian dressing, noting the fresh pepperoncini.
The pizza arrives. The first bite reminds me of many things. The whole wheat crust is slightly sweet, and takes me back to Woodstock Pizza in San Luis Obispo about eighteen years ago. The edges are a little crisp. The pepperoni is curled and juicy without the taste burnt from it. The sun-dried tomatoes are slightly blackened, exploding with flavor, and, I'm afraid, better than those on Nicky D's. The sausage... the sausage is the very best thing about it. Like an Italian place I went to as a child whose name I cannot recall.
Bianca (who naturally appreciates a pizza place that shares her name) had Canadian bacon, mushrooms and onions. The mushrooms are suspiciously sliced evenly, perhaps canned, but do not detract from the flavor. It smells even better than my pizza.
Our friend Jeff H. tells us we must try it with eggplant, which they fry.
Coincidentally enough, as we were leaving, we ran into our friends Ade and David coming in (not the first time this has happened). I posit this as evidence of Casa Bianca's worth.
Casa Bianca is cash-only, this fact being punctuated by an old-fashioned ka-chingg! cash register up front. It's not a lunch joint (more's the pity), opening up at four and staying open until midnight or one. It's often busy, so you might call ahead.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Italian, Glendale/Atwater/Eagle Rock, Pizza, Late Night/24 Hours )
A Comfortable Japanese Diner
337 E. First Street (in Little Tokyo)
Phone: 213-626-9132 | map
On a sultry evening in Little Tokyo we descended upon this humble place with sky-blue vinyl booths and blonde wood chairs. We were seated by a smiling Japanese lady in a mango-colored apron, with painstakingly drawn eyebrows and an awesome Cruella de Ville hairstyle going. It seemed not at all odd to hear "The Hustle" and the Beatles playing from the speakers.
We've been to Suehiro before, but had to return on my friend Ade's recommendation to try the chicken karaage... far be it from me to avoid Japanese-style deep-fried chicken.
Suehiro isn't really a place to bust out the sushi rolls and sashimi, but a comfort food zone: curry, udon, soba noodles, ramen, katsu-don. They excel at katsu-don: a steaming, lovely bowl of breaded-and-fried chicken or pork cutlet, onion, and egg served over rice (they also have gyüdon: beef and onion over rice).
For this most recent visit, we wandered all over the menu. Bianca got the chicken katsu-don, a brilliantly cold Kirin beer, and some deeply satisfying miso soup. I got zaru soba (cold soba noodles with dipping sauce) and a harsh iced green tea that fairly reeked of health. Also, the chicken karaage. And, two onigiri*, one with salmon, one with spam. Hey, why not?
Suehiro is inexpensive and open late (until 1am most nights, 3am on weekends), just a couple doors down from Mr. Ramen.
Oh, and the karaage is good. Really good. Thanks, Ade.
* Onigiri is Bink's new lunchtime passion: somewhat like a sushi roll, it's a salty or sweet filler (salmon, spam, pickled ume fruit, etc.) embedded in rice, wrapped in nori into a triangular or oval shape, and eaten a bit like a taco.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), East Side/Downtown, Japanese, Late Night/24 Hours )