Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Top Ten Favorite Los Angeles Restaurants

L.A. Food Crazy is going on indefinite hiatus. After five years, I've already written up most of the restaurants I love, and my wife Sa has become such an excellent cook that we don't go out as much anymore. So my job here is, for the time being at least, done.

If you're looking for another well-written, informative blog to follow, you might check out There my friend Don Miguel de Los Angeles no McDonalds (pictured here with sidekick Maria Sanchez) will be holding forth about, yes, burritos, but also whatever else strikes his foodie fancy.

For a final post, I thought I'd leave you with a roundup of my top ten favorite restaurants in the City of Los Angeles, most of which I've already reviewed here.

Note that these aren't necessarily the best restaurants in their category. In fact, most aren't. It would be easy enough to create a list of "bests" that included places like Red Medicine, Providence, Animal, Angelini, and the like. But those aren't my favorite restaurants. They're all too expensive for me to indulge in any of them more than a few times a year. They tend to be cramped. Many of them are noisy. Staff can be haughty or downright rude.

My favorite restaurants, on the other hand, tend to be comfortable (red Naugahyde booths and birdbath martinis preferred), have some history and legend to them, and an affable if slightly nutty staff. The kind of place where you become a regular, and they actually notice. And many of my favorite restaurants aren't restaurants at all, but lunch counters, pop up stands and trucks. No trucks made the final list, though Lobsta Truck would certainly be an honorable mention.

So here they are, in no particular order:

El Cielito Lindo
23 Olvera St. E
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 687-4391

El Cielito Lindo invented what we know as the taquito, with its unique green avocado sauce that isn't quite guacamole but isn't quite salsa verde. I often make trips to Olvera Street just for taquitos, and although there are better ones than Cielito Lindo's to be had (try Juanita's or Rodolfo's), I always get a couple from the originator of the dish just to pay respects. There's something comforting and iconically Angeleno about Cielito Lindo's spot at the bottom of the street, anchoring Olvera Street, Cesar Chavez Blvd.,  and Alameda Street all at once. And knowing the legend that Orson Welles once ate 44 taquitos at a sitting always makes me feel better about my own gluttonous scarfage.

Taylor's Steakhouse
3361 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 382-8449
Google Map

Some will say there are better steaks in L.A., but Mastro's, my other favorite, is in Beverly Hills and costs a small fortune; Dan Tana's is West Hollywood and I've had disappointing steaks there. Musso and Frank has never impressed. Haven't been to Cut yet, cuz it's too expensive. No, when I go out for steak (unless I just sold a novel or something) it's Taylor's. Classic, slightly funky steakhouse ambience; red booths; waitresses who call you "hon;" signed pictures of John McKay (if you don't know he is, you don't know L.A.!) on the wall. Wedge salads with bleu cheese or Thousand Island; the best baked potatoes around; and big, delicious, impeccably prepared steaks, including their famous "Culotte" cut. And for steak, the prices are utterly reasonable: (steaks $19.00-30.00 with all the trimmings). Small but decent wine list, too.

Original Tommy's2575 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 389-1682
Yelp It

The cheeseburger is (arguably) a SoCal invention, and Tommy's is the apotheosis of the chili-cheeseburger genre. On your way back from downtown and a little hungry after a long show? You have to at least MENTION the possibility of stopping at Tommy's on the way home. Someone in the group will inevitably say, "Ugh, I can't eat a grease bomb at this hour," but every once in awhile you'll get lucky. Or you'll have to slip out on your own once a year or so for a quick lunch there. You might need a nap that afternoon, but it's worth it. God I love dem burgers. For some reason, none of the spin-off shops, even those with the true Original Tommy's "hut" that signifies the genuine article, aren't as good; you gotta go to 1st and Rampart.

Noshi Sushi
4430 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 469-3458
Open 7 days til 9 pm
Google Local Info

Katsu-ya's great, and I loved Ike until he retired, and I love Shintaro, the nearest sushi to my house. And someday I hope to become a billionaire and be able to afford dinner for two at Urasawa. But if I want to go out and eat a big platter of raw fish without breaking the bank, it's to Noshi we go. Fair prices, fresh fish, big portions...and it's the only sushi bar I know of with—you guessed it—red pleather booths.

8351 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Neighborhood: West Hollywood
(323) 654-8300
Yelp Info

If I'm JUST going out for a chili dog, you might think Pink's, but the line is absurd. (One of the many reasons I love the L.A. County Fair is because I can get a Pink's dog there with no wait.) And if I'm JUST going for a chili cheeseburger, it's Original Tommy's But if I don't feel like the long haul to First and Rampart, or I'm not sure what I want, or I want one of each...Carney's on Sunset Strip is the burger and dog joint for me. I love the kitsch of the train car and the people watching on the Strip. They make great burgers, great fries. And you know what? I think their basic chili cheese dog is better than Pink's, full stop.

Ricky's Fish Tacos 
1400 N Virgil Ave
Los Angeles, CA 9002
Yelp Info

When I wrote the first draft of this post, this spot was held by Henry's Tacos (may it rest in peace) but they closed their doors amid much media outcry on January 15.  It's probably just as well; as iconic and nostalgic as Henry's crispy ground beef burritos and tacos were, Ricky's is probably, actually, better. Because it's AWESOME. If you're a fan of Baja style—as in, deep fried, mofo!—fish tacos, these are BY FAR the best you'll find north or Rosarito Beach or Ensenada. There are only two things on the menu: shrimp tacos and fish tacos. On Sundays, sometimes lobster tacos. A cooler full of drinks. A bucket of horchata. some shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, and three salsas. The fish is battered and deep fried before your eyes, and it comes out perfectly: hot, not too greasy, perfectly seasoned. Ricky uses swai, a mild fish popular in southeast Asia; a perfect choice for the dish, it has flavor that complements the rich batter without overpowering it (as cod can) or getting lost in it. The only caveat with Ricky's is that it can be difficult to find. It's just a pop-up stand: a couple of portable tables under a couple of Easy-ups, three small tables and a dozen chairs. I guarantee you'll drive right past it at least once. It's located in the tiny parking lot of a tiny office building a half block off of Sunset Blvd, across from the loading dock for Von's. There's no sign. Hours are variable, although he's usually there Thursday-Sunday, weather permitting. You should check his Twitter feed to make sure he's there on any given day.

2056 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 662-1214
Mon - Sat. 9-6
Cash Only

Click here for Google Info & Map

Yuca's invented the use of whole beans in burritos, so that alone gets them a prize. Plus how many L.A. taco stands do you know that have received a James Beard award? Go to the stand, on Hillhurst, not the restaurant on Hollywood Blvd. It's just better somehow. Get the Cochinita Pibil. They're also doing a good business in cheeseburgers these days; some blogger raved about them, and now they've been "discovered." As yet undiscovered, but just as good, is their chili cheese dog.

TAIX French Restaurant
1911 Sunset Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Info on Yelp

Back's just the kind of restaurant I love. Sprawling, comfy, with a great bar that pours big drinks, big plates of quite reasonably authentic country French cuisine, and an extensive selection of fairly priced French wines, for great prices. Almost everything here is good. I especially love the Thursday special of lapin (rabbit) in a mustard-shallot sauce, the oxtail, the duck a l'orange, the pork chop, the ratatouille, the seafood pasta, the macaroni au gratin... really, just about everything. The goofy chatty waiters not the least. And there are booths. Not red pleather, but booths nevertheless.

El Coyote Cafe
7312 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90036
Google Local Info

It's where we go when we don't know where to go: the classic iteration of 20th Century California style Mexican food: Gringo Mex, as some call it. I've posted here about it enough in the past that I don't need to go into detail. But I will say that they've been upgrading and simplifying their menu, so if you haven't been in awhile you should check it out. Welcome new additions are shrimp burritos and tacos, fish tacos, chicken and steak "street" tacos with excellent new salsas, and a tasty tortilla soup in place of the old vegetable soup. "Spaghetti" is no longer on the menu, but you can still get your old school tostada (now labeled "eclectic") with industrial grade beets, green beans and garbanzos if you want; you can also get the tastier new Tostada Fresca. Also try their fantastic new chicken tortilla soup.

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Blvd # 108,
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Phone: (213) 380-1113
Open 7 days 9:30 am - 10:30 pm.
MC Visa, no Amex.
Beer, sake, and soju.
Click here for Google Map.

I didn't have Beverly Soon in my original list, or any Korean food. My wife was appalled, and she's right. Tough call, this category; Seoul Garden is wonderful, so is Toad House. But Beverly Soon was my first Korean foodie kiss, so sentiment wins the day. Aside from the delicious, deadly-spicy (when ordered that way) tofu stew, their grilled meats are just awesome. Get the combo of stew with Tender bulgogi, delicious kalbi ribs, or the sizzling whole squid in chili sauce snipped up into ringlets by your waitress with kitchen scissors; add decent banchan and copious amounts of soju, and it's no wonder the out of towners want to come back.

Del Taco

Okay, I'm making it 11, because it wouldn't be a Los Angeles list without at least one drive thru fast food chain, and for me it has to be Del Taco. (Sorry, In 'n' Out; the bible verses on the cups are a deal-breaker.) Ever since our beloved Hollywood/Santa Monica Del Taco location shut down, I've been craving it with an unholy craving, and can't drive past one without swerving in. What's good here? Quesadillas, fish tacos, shrimp burritos, and one of my all time, I-could-live-on-these faves, the 99¢ half-pound bean and cheese burrito with green sauce. Warm, beany, squishy, tangy, comforting goodness.

There are so many places I haven't mentioned. No Italian on the list. No Chinese (most of the truly great Chinese in the San Gabriel Valley. Try Lu Gi, Harbour Seafood, Chung King, and 101 Noodle Express; Chinatown restaurants pale in comparison).  But you can always explore this blog further for my recommendations.

If you like my wrting, and you like food, you should really check out my mouthwatering new e-novel, at

That's all folks. Bon appetit and thanks for reading.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On Further Review, Fuk-this-place -- Chik-fil-A

UPDATE: Turns out Chik-fil-a is just a dik-fil-a. I'm sorry I ever ate there, and retract everything I said about it except for how disgusting the ingredients are; add to the list "intolerance and oppression." I've taken down my pics of their hate-y food.

It turned out I was there on the Hollywood branch's first anniversary, so they gave me a coupon to come back for a free meal. I'm taking suggestions on how to use said coupon to creatively protest them and their whole world view. 

It's all up in the news that Chik-fil-A has re-affirmed its statement from July that it will take money from you no matter who you are or whom you think you can marry, and its perky help will smile and say "please" and "thank you"while doing so. No big news there. More significantly, there are third-hand reports that its foundation, WinShape, "will no longer give to anti-gay organizations, such as Focus on the Family and the National Organization for Marriage." And as of today, Chik-fil-A isn't denying the report.

Ah, the intersection of politics and food, my happy place!

First the politics. It's interesting watching the Commentverse bifurcate on this announcement. Conservatives tend to say three things: One, they're angry at Chik-fil-A turning...well...

...and will now start boycotting them. Mind you, these are the same people who were saying that the liberal boycott of CFA was anti-American, an affront to freedom of speech, shameless intimidation of a private business, etc., but we'll let that go. (Oops, forgot to let it go.)

Two, the liberals won't ever back down from the boycott, because no matter how much the right gives and compromises, the left is never satisfied. (Saw that somewhere, can't find it now, trust me.) Three, why can't this just be about selling and eating chicken sandwiches, not politics?

I can't even begin to dissect the sheer hypocrisy of the first, but I'm ready to disprove the second and dive right into the third:

And I believe in rehabilitation, giving people or even corporations—(sorry, keep forgetting they're one and the same) a second chance. That goes double if said people produce yummy food. If I didn't let go of boycotts, I'd still be nixing grapes and Carl's Jr. because of Cesar Chavez and Carl Karcher, both long dead. (Please don't bring up the offensive Carl's ad campaign, especially the current lesbo sex and BBQ sauce money shot.) Nope, I'm ready to say bygones, and talk about chicken sandwiches. Because when you boycott something and the boycottee caves, you reward them by buying their stuff again. That's how boycotts work. It's dog training 101.

I, L.A. Food Crazy, hereby give up the boycott of Chik-fil-A. The protest seems to have made its point and done its job. I'm cautiously optimistic that my fast food dollars won't go to oppress any of my friends.

So, on to the food.

You might not hear it in polite circles, but Chik-fil-A makes a kickass fast food chicken sandwich. I hear you say, "Not interested, I've had a million fast food chicken sandwiches and they all suck." This isn't technically true—the aforesaid Carl's Santa Fe Chicken Sandwich is delicious—but you're right that fast food breaded chicken sandwiches all suck. Except Chik-fil-A's. They're like the In 'n' Out Burger of chicken: they do one thing, and do it well, which is why the franchise is multiplying faster than teenage girls in red states. (SORRY! I'm off the politics, on the food.)

As Chik-fil-A's ads note, they use a real, whole piece of chicken breast in their sandwich. So do several other fast food joints. The difference is in the batter and the bold flavors of the other ingredients.  What you want to order here is the Spicy Chicken Sandwich Deluxe, which comes with green leaf lettuce, sliced tomato, dill pickles, and pepper jack cheese.

The chicken is juicy, the batter is peppery and perfectly crispy, the spicy jalapeƱo/habanero cheese adds an additional measure of kick (this sandwich is really spicy for a Christian white bread organization. If you're sensitive, you might want to go with the Classic Chicken instead), the brush of buttery oil on the top of the bun is subtle, the Chik-fil-A Sauce is a  tangy addition, and the whole thing just works. Mind you, anyone of the fresh/seasonal/raw/organic ilk should steer clear. The list of ingredients reads like a mid-sixties experiment in astronaut food (impressively, monosodium glutamate appears not once but twice in the list). But the end result is undeniably tasty.

And then there are those waffle fries. What more can you say? They're really good waffle fries, and they've refrained from adding MSG to them.

Finally, there are breakfast items, chicken and pork (it's true, no cows) stuffed into various starches to make breakfast burritos, breakfast bagels, and the vaunted Chick-fil-A biscuit sandwiches.  Me, I just don't think of chicken as a breakfast food, unless it's in embryonic form. (Which just made me think: even a fertilized egg is not a chicken, just sayin'. D'oh!, politics again!) I had the bacon and cheese biscuit, and yeah, that's a damn fine biscuit.

OK, I've said my piece and hit a trending topic. I'm also tired of typing "Chik-fil-A," I'm getting an MSG headache, and to be honest, I'm feeling a little guilty about having dined there, boycott-off or no. Fortunately, I didn't order a soda, and took enough of their dipping sauces to sample that I'm pretty sure they lost money on my transaction.

But seriously, if your at all Chik-curious, it's okay to go and try it now. After all, if our dining options were limited to establishments whose CEOs didn't belong to religious groups that oppress gay people, or discriminate against women, it would be a small culinary world indeed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Funniest Thing a Waiter Ever Said

Sorry, no mouthwatering pics with this post. Just a funny story.

Last night, after taking a visiting out-of-towner to Disneyland, we found ourselves starving at Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Never a particularly good combination, but we finally settled on the midscale Uva Bar, which has pleasant outdoor seating right in the middle of the complex.

After my Better Palate and I were hit on by a handsome young hustler ("It's my birthday, do you want to buy me a drink? Or am I not sexy enough? No?... Well, I'll be at the bar if you change your mind." Saw him having similar conversations with other couples the rest of the night. Seriously, this kid works the vacationing middle aged couples at the Disneyland resort? Can you say "The Happiest Ending on Earth?" Anyway...), we took our seats. Sa ordered grilled octopus. Friend ordered a salad. I asked what the special grilled catch of the day.

"It's steelhead trout."

I don't have trout very often, but I love it, so I was pretty much onboard.

"Is it fresh?"

"Yes, of course."

"Is it good?"

"Oh, yes, it's good. It's got the texture of salmon, but it tastes like trout. It's good."

I had already made my choice, so I sort of shrugged at this last comment and took the plunge.

When our entrees arrive, the waiter says "Your trout," and sets down a plate of some lovely roasted artichoke hearts, grilled grape tomatoes and... a nicely grilled piece of salmon. Now like I say, I don't have trout that often, and it had been a long day, so I question myself for a second: I'm pretty sure it's salmon. I check with my tablemates, take a taste. Yep, that's salmon alright.( Don't get me wrong, I love salmon, but I have it at home all the time. I want trout.)

I try to flag down my waiter but he doesn't see me. A manager sees me. "Yes, sir?"

"I was told the fish of the day was trout, but this is salmon."

He looks at the salmon. "Well, I can check with the chef, but I'm sure that's trout."

"Yeah," I say, "Why don't you check with the chef?"

He bows, Fawlty-like, and heads for the kitchen. A moment later the waiter sweeps by to ask if everything is okay, and I say, "Well, you said the grilled fish today was trout."

He looks at the salmon. "Yes, sir."

"This is salmon."

He looks at it again, and says, I kid you not, "It's a special kind of trout. It tastes like salmon, but it's trout."

I say, "What?"

And then he says the funniest thing a waiter not named Manuel from Barcelona  [Ees no rat. Ees hamster. Special, filigree hamster!] has ever said.

He says, "It's half salmon, half trout."


Yes, sir. Half salmon, half trout.

"It's some sort of hybrid? I really don't think so."

"That's what the chef told me, sir."

"That's scientifically impossible," Sa says.

I say, "I would really like the chef to come and tell me that this piece of fish is 'half salmon, half trout.'"

The waiter goes back to the kitchen and returns moments later to apologize, saying he's sorry, it was salmon, it's his fault, they hadn't changed the menu board in the kitchen from the day before, when the special was trout. I nod, although this certainly doesn't explain why the chef thought he was serving an amazing breakthrough achievement in fresh-water fish biology right there at Downtown Disney. Or why the manager, for god's sake, was able look straight at a piece of salmon, and say it was trout.

I also can't help wondering how many other couples were served the salmon-that-tastes-like-trout, without saying anything more than "Hm. This trout sure tastes like salmon, doesn't it, honey?"

I also can't help wondering if any of those fictional couples got the happiest ending on earth.