Favorite LA Restaurants 2012

You may have noticed I have been on a bit of a hiatus. Things got a little crazy towards the end of 2012—I got married in October! We honeymooned in Italy and France, where we ate to our hearts’ delight, got back and I started preparing for a work trip to Israel in December. Between Thanksgiving, thank-you notes and teaching and settling in to married life, blogging got a little bit lost in the shuffle. But I have certainly been trying my usual share of restaurants, if not more. We’ve already been to 9 of the 10 “Best New Restaurants” from this year’s Los Angeles Magazine issue, and we’re busily working our way through San Gabriel Valley’s dizzying number of delicious Chinese options. We’ve had phases where we went to Mitsuwa marketplace almost every night of the week for ramen or soba or udon or tempura (I’ll be posting about that soon) and we had Mexican food kicks where we ate mountains of tacos and enchiladas, mostly from trucks or La Sandía in Santa Monica. I didn’t want to return to LA on 20 with a run-of-the-mill blog post, it seemed unceremonious, so instead of the usual recommendation I am beginning 2013 with a list of my 20 favorite LA restaurants in order. People so often ask me for restaurant recs when they’re coming into town to visit, and I always feel a weighty obligation to outline for them an appropriately diverse and delicious selection of restaurants I feel to be essential LA spots, so this list will serve as my reference point to visitors this year.

Now, most of these places are not really in the ballpark of $20/day. But some of them are, and that is a testament to the strength of LA’s street food culture and the vast number of gems this city has to offer. Below you will find my favorite restaurants—not necessarily the hottest or even the best, but the restaurants I want to visit again and again, the restaurants I feel represent LA’s food scene right now and make me happy and excite me. Some of them are homey and some are innovative, some are ethnic and some are market-driven. They are all over the city and all over the globe, cuisine-wise. But if I had to select twenty places in LA where you cannot go wrong, where you will be delighted and leave fulfilled and wanting to return, these are my best bets. Enjoy!

1. Osteria Mozza 2. Milo and Olive 3. Sycamore Kitchen 4. Gjelina 5. Rivera 6. Son of A Gun 7. Kiriko 8. Salt’s Cure 9. Delicious Food Corner 10. Huge Tree Bakery 11. Guisado’s 12. Lukshon 13. Samosa House (Both East and the original) 14. Mitsuwa Marketplace (West LA) 15. Noodle Boy 16. Ink. 17. Blue Plate Oysterette 18. Waterloo and City 19. Church and State 20. Bottega Louie

La Isla Bonita

I am in the middle of reading Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Garlic and Sapphires, in which she strives to convince an old friend to try sushi. Her friend is aghast at the notion of eating raw fish, and proclaims that Ruth will never be able to get her do so, no matter how hard she tries. But that was 1995 in New York City, and this is Los Angeles in 2012, where I imagine that I would be hard pressed to find one solitary soul who would be shocked to know that I am about to recommend eating ceviche out of a truck. That is due in no small part to the proliferation of food truck culture in Los Angeles; at this point you can get anything from currywurst to empanadas to dim sum off of a food truck, and a lot of it is really delicious. But La Isla Bonita is an OG, a real Mexican mariscos truck that has been around since before even Kogi’s conception, a truck that does not tweet its whereabouts but rather can be found every day (except Thursdays) at the intersection of Rose and 4th in Venice. It is there you will find the most incredibly fresh, light ceviche you’ll ever have standing up. The ceviche tostadas consist of a crisp, flat corn tortilla shell topped with a thin layer of perfectly chilled, fresh ceviche. The fish is finely chopped with acid and salt and a little bit of onion, tomato and cilantro—no more. On top there are two thin slices of avocado and a lime wedge, which you should twist over the ceviche. Add a dash of tapatío (or even better, many dashes). The ceviche is pleasantly juicy, and though juices will dribble down your hand, the tostada will not get soggy. There won’t be time. The perfect bite has crunch from the tostada, suppleness from the soft flesh of the fish, the rich creaminess of the avocado, and if you’ve done it right, it’s plenty spicy too. It leaves your lips tingling and your fingers smelling of lime and corn.

There are also the usual taco truck suspects of tacos, burritos and quesadillas stuffed with carne asada or pollo or whatever meat you like, and they’re good. But you are here for the seafood. I love the shrimp tostadas—I admit I sometimes even prefer them to the ceviche. They are a bit more substantial, the tortilla shell spread with a thin layer of crema and a flattened mound of pico de gallo to hold on to the juicy, plump shrimp that cover it. The shrimp are not raw, but they’re very lightly cooked, and incredibly fresh. Again, garnish with lime and tapatío.

I have eaten at many, many food trucks, and as I am sure any LA food lover will already know, a lot of them are great and a lot are second rate imitations of the great ones, and even more are half-baked ideas or non-chefs’ misguided attempts at capitalizing on the food truck craze. But La Isla Bonita is a true delight, a reliably excellent Venice mainstay. And though probably nobody will bat an eye anymore at the idea of uncooked fish from a food truck, you might find yourself surprised at the quality of these tostadas and the simple perfection of their execution, regardless of where they came from.


Let’s talk about the best taco in Los Angeles. I know it’s dangerous territory I’m treading on here, but I feel confident in my choice. I may not look like a taco aficionado, but I’ve actually got some cred when it comes to Mexican cuisine. For starters, I have been vetted by my Mexican fiancé. Also, not to brag, but my spice threshold is no joke for a gringa. I like my tacos spicy, and my preferred fillings are the really tender cuts of meat that shine in Mexican preparations, like lengua and cabeza. A year ago, I would have sworn that El Chato, the truck you can find late nights at Olympic and La Brea, had the best taco in town. And they do serve truly delicious tacos for $1 apiece. Those perfectly charred little salty scraps of cheap cuts of meat “con todo” topped with a few slivers of habanero-soaked onion are nearly untouchable. But there’s more to a taco than the filling, and it’s really the sum of the parts in Guisados tacos that create a true symphony in your mouth. The foundation of the taco is the corn tortilla, which Guisados hand makes fresh daily. Their tortillas are thick and chewy and savory, delicious enough to eat by themselves. That’s a rare delight. The fillings rotate, and the day’s wares are displayed on the chalkboard. One of my favorite things about Guisados is the 6 mini-taco sampler platter, which I invariably opt for. I always want to try everything, but some mainstays that are definitely winners are the steak in salsa roja and the cochinita pibil. The cochinita pibil can be ordered on a spice scale from 1-10+, with 10+ being a blow-your-face-off pile of habanero, arbol and serrano chiles atop shredded pork smothered in habanero salsa. I like to order mine (mini sized) at an 8 or 9, which is still sufficiently crazy spicy. I also love the veggie tacos, especially the mushroom. Beautiful vegetarian tacos like these are not to be found at any of LA’s great taco trucks.

Every Guisados taco has great flavor, so you can’t really go wrong. Unless, of course, you neglect to order a quesadilla. A Guisados quesadilla is a simple thing, just a folded over corn tortilla with a thick slice of chewy, salty cheese inside and a squirt of some sort of orange colored sauce. It’s not a traditional quesadilla—the cheese is grilled, not melted—but it’s simply divine.

In a city that boasts the best Mexican food in the United States, of course there is no one taco that is worth forsaking all others. But Guisados serves a really formidable, crave-able taco that I keep returning for, despite the distance from SaMo to Boyle Heights.

Noodle Boy

I have always idolized and adored Anthony Bourdain. I love the offhanded, frank style of his utterly engrossing memoirs, I love that he has a bad-ass, drug-addled past. The fact that he has now somewhat softened, demonstrating an ability to appear at ease in any situation while still employing his dry, sardonic wit reminds me of my Dad, only serving to feed my fondness for this man who has traveled and tasted more than any other person alive. So of course I tune in, rapt, to his new show, “The Layover,” even though I come away from each episode devastatingly jealous. Nothing can inspire feelings of great, gut-wrenching jealousy in me so much as watching someone else eat food in Hong Kong. (My friend Bryan Tan’s daily Facebook posts entitled “Hong Kong Daily Food Photojournal” are trying to kill me.) Since spending a week in Hong Kong last year, I have become so enamored of the city and all of its gastronomical offerings that even the mention of Hainan chicken rice or Hong Kong milk tea sends me into a frenzy. In Tony’s recent “The Layover” episode in Hong Kong, one of the many dishes he enjoyed was a soup with shrimp wonton and egg noodles. Sounds simple, but this dish evokes a feeling of fondness in me—upon arriving in Hong Kong last year, we immediately dropped off our bags at the hotel and headed to Central in search of Mak's Noodles. These spindly, springy little egg noodles are, as I understand, something of a dying art, and they are wondrous. It had been a long time since I had eaten them, and when I saw Tony enjoying a bowl full, well, I had to have them immediately. Thank God for the San Gabriel Valley. Very nearly anything you will find in China you can find there. And we did find my egg noodles in soup with wontons, and a perfectly executed version. Noodle Boy in Rosemead is, as one might expect, a highly unassuming, sterile looking strip-mall restaurant that smells of boiling fish parts. Their menu selections are more or less as follows: soup, noodles, or soup with noodles. There are toppings: shrimp wonton, (strangely lemony) fish balls, beef, cuttlefish balls. There was a special: noodles with shredded pork and special sauce. It was wonderful. There is also one vegetable option, steamed Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce or without oyster sauce. I would suggest getting that as well. You can really order anything you desire, because the soups with noodles are $4.75, and the portions are large; the broccoli is $3. You can add any toppings you like to your soup—throw caution to the wind, in fact. Your bill won’t amount to much. For a soup with noodles and wonton, another soup with noodles, fish balls and cuttlefish balls, a shredded pork noodle special (which also comes with a bowl of soup), and an order of Chinese broccoli, our grand total was $20.36. We had leftovers.

There are other places in SGV where you can get soup with spindly egg noodles and wontons—I’ll have to try B Open Kitchen's version and I know they have it at Tasty Garden, my new after-midnight go-to. But at Jonathan Gold’s suggestion I opted for Noodle Boy first, and as usual, JG was astute. The broth was really perfect, clear and thin like a consommé but with deep flavor. My craving thus satisfied, I am safe for now from the fits of jealous rage I experience each time I watch Tony Bourdain eating on TV. I’ll soon be back to my DVR for more punishment.

Fat Spoon--CLOSED (now Marugame Monzo)

I love the atmosphere of Fat Spoon in Little Tokyo downtown--I feel I've been transported to a neighborhood diner in Japan where businesspeople converge after work for their fix of familiar favorite dishes. Or at least a neighborhood diner in a Haruki Murakami novel. I won't pretend to be an expert on actual Tokyo dining establishments. You know how I treasure an opportunity to get big chefs' food for cheap, and that's just what you'll find at Fat Spoon. Michael Cardenas (sounds hispanic, cooks Asian,) is also the chef/co-owner of Lazy Ox Canteen, and a definite rising star in the LA food scene. Not that he's new to fine dining--he spent 5 years managing Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills before opening Sushi Roku, and then finally going out on his own. But now, executing his vision at his three downtown restaurants, Cardenas has seized the opportunity to shine in his own right.

Lazy Ox, Los Angeles Magazine’s “Best New Restaurant 2010,” is an inventive small plates establishment serving the usual alternative cuts of meat like pig ear and beef tongue in interesting and delicious ways, as well as quite a few really nice vegetable offerings. It's moderately priced, but you're not going to get out of there for under $30 per person. So you can imagine how delighted I was to hear that Cardenas' newest venture would be a casual Japanese curry spot. I've been on a real Japanese kick lately, craving either sushi, katsu, udon or ramen more or less every night. (Look forward to a post on the only restaurant I know in town serving Japanese breakfast.) I'm not sure if it's all the Murakami I've been reading or the fact that Japanese cuisine is so varied and comforting without being heavy (or maybe it's because Sawtelle is so much closer to me than San Gabriel Valley) but I've been sampling a wide variety of both Japanese and Korean katsu lately, and Fat Spoon's pork katsu curry is a real winner. Crispy and with minimal grease, served over a mountain of rice, the cutlet is divine when combined with the special curry sauce that comes with it, served in a gravy boat to facilitate either dipping or pouring. I must say that Japanese curries have never excited me particularly--you usually really have to be in the mood for the thick, tangy stuff. It's not sweet or spicy like Thai or Indian curry, and it's generally rather pungent. But Fat Spoon's curry is subtly spiced, perfectly balanced and truly delicious. There's an undertone of slow heat, but it's definitely not going to make you sweat; there is a savoriness that's quite pleasant. The beef curry is no exception, the meat so tender it requires nary a chew. If the beef tongue curry is on the blackboard it's not a bad idea--it's the same dish as the beef curry, only with fattier, meltier, thicker slices of meat. All of the curries run around $10, and since they're served with rice and you can add veggies for only $1, they make a very satisfying one-plate meal.

Fat Spoon may not be the pioneer of a new downtown dining movement that Lazy Ox was, but it's comfortable, delicious, and just weird enough not to be boring. There are a few bizarre offerings on the menu--the pasta section isn't what I would typically expect in a Japanese restaurant--so if you're looking for adventure you won't be disappointed. Wash down your meal with a crisp, cold Echigo beer, and listen for the call of the wind-up bird. It won’t come, but you get the picture.

Ink. Sack

I've been following Michael Voltaggio since I first had the privilege of tasting his food at his pre-fame gig, The Dining Room at the Langham Huntington, about three weeks before he was named Top Chef in Season 6. And I literally mean following, I see the guy everywhere. Anyway, if I was maybe rooting for Kevin before that meal, I was all about Michael the moment I tasted his chestnut soup with pressed chicken. It was divine. I'll refrain from going into more detail, since you can't get it anymore anyway. Since then I've had run-ins with MV at his service at Test Kitchen, at the Rising Star Chefs Gala last summer, and finally at his newest project, Ink.Sack on Melrose in W Hollywood. Just a couple doors down from Ink., his fine dining spot slated to open (at long last) in September, Ink.Sack is a casual sandwich shop serving up inventive slider-sized sammies for $4-$6. Michael has always impressed me with his flawless execution of playful concepts--see: his Test Kitchen offerings (a molecular "tiramisu" where the white creme was the coffee and the coffee-colored pearls were mascarpone; veal sweetbread "mcnuggets" with rhubarb ketsup, etc.) His talent level is equaled by his creativity and ambition, and I love his creations. I also love that Ink.Sack is fully committed to its hip street food concept--the cashiers wear neat tees designed in a special collaboration between Michael and The Hundreds, the beverage options are thoughtful/fun (Mexican coke, apple beer), and the sides are lowbrow-chic, like BBQ pork rinds or street fruit with chile, both $3. It's affordable, it's laidback, and it's simple. Well, as simple as MV gets. Can you call a mini sandwich with crispy curried chicken skin, chicken liver mousse and tomato simple? I suppose you can. Do not miss the cold fried chicken sandwich, it's a delight. Ink. Sack is just the right amount of whimsy, and the right amount of "only in LA"-ness. With the proliferation of food trucks and pop-ups in our city, a casual sandwich shop by a celeb José Andrés protegé is just so right now.

Speaking of the Spanish Godfather, I did enjoy the sandwich named for him, stuffed with three kinds of pork and manchego cheese. I don't think you can go wrong at Ink.Sack--more likely, you'll be back in line for another round...like me. The sandwiches are so petite, it's all too easy to justify getting another.

Thai Vegan

This new Santa Monica spot is just way better than a weird little massage parlor/teak furniture store turned takeout Thai restaurant should be. The bf and I used to joke about the ridiculousness of the place all of a sudden announcing itself as a restaurant, and yet one day, hungry for a healthy, quick and cheap lunch, I was compelled by an unknown force to go into Thai Vegan. I have been frequenting the place since then, and everything I have had here, without exception, is delicious. My first sampling of Thai Vegan’s fare was the pad thai with tofu and vegetables. I was starving, and ate until my stomach hurt, but still barely finished half of the steaming heap of squishy rice noodles with that sweet orange sauce, peanuts, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, and of course tofu. Thai flavors happen to lend themselves particularly well to vegan cuisine--authentic Thai curry is made with coconut milk anyway, so nothing is sacrificed in the translation. The curry at Thai Vegan happens to be excellent, sweet and complex and not too thick, packed with veggies and soft tofu. I ask for the curry extra spicy and order a side of brown rice, a huge scoop of multi-hued, wild rice that is always perfectly cooked. With the $5 curry, the entire lunch comes out to $7 flat, and it’s honestly enough to feed two people. Two spring roll-esque fresh vegetable wraps the size of burritos with thick, sweet, spicy peanut sauce are $5. Eating the wraps is like biting into a salad of freshly picked herbs. Full of cucumber, lettuce, tofu, basil and mint, they come wrapped in a chewy rice paper roll, and dipped in the peanut sauce they make the perfect crisp, fresh lunch. The prices here are astoundingly low. All curries are $5. Noodle dishes are $7. Thai iced tea, $2. They also have fried rice dishes and tofu wraps, satays and soups, green papaya salad and wonderful mango sticky rice. Everything is $7 or less.

I’m not suggesting that Thai Vegan is the new Jitlada. It’s not that the flavors are particularly unique in terms of the Thai places around town, even among Thai on the West side. You obviously aren’t going to find any odd delicacies like fish kidney curry (though the smell alone of that dish is enough to provoke my gag reflex). But the freshness of the food, the surprising complexity of the curries, and the spot-on execution of all of the dishes are refreshingly delightful. There are a few wooden tables and benches where you can sit and eat if you prefer not to take your food out. Perhaps you would like a convenient Thai massage to aid digestion after your meal--only $39/hr. It’s like a refreshing spa day at one of those cheap Korean spas downtown, only without the mandatory nudity.

Alice Waters' Worst Nightmare

Just thought I would share this angry letter I wrote to the Food Network this week regarding some of their new programming... Dear Food Network,

I am an avid viewer and fan of your programming, an aspiring food writer, and a lover of food. I often make recipes by Giada, Barefoot, and Anne Burrell. Regardless of what my idol, Tony Bourdain, says about your network, I remain a loyal viewer and defender. However, I was completely dismayed when I recently tuned into an episode of your new show, Hungry Girl. The chef was making her "Fettuccine Hungry GirlFredo," a supposedly healthier version of Fettuccine Alfredo. What appalled me was the list of ingredients in her health food version: tofu noodles, fat free sour cream and a wedge of Laughing Cow cheese. Laughing Cow cheese is a pre-packaged, highly processed cheese product. I love that the Food Network always advocates using fresh, real produce and ingredients, and I find it to be frankly insulting to the intelligence of your viewer to suggest that anyone watching the show would satisfy a craving for creamy pasta with this sad imitation containing microwaved tofu noodles and waxy, tasteless faux cheese. This recipe flagrantly promotes everything that turned us off to "health food" in the first place, back in the '90's when we were taught that anything "fat free" was guilt-free, regardless of how many preservatives or how little taste that food product contained. As a country, we're now moving away from that mentality with the farm-to-table movement, and this program has it backward.

It seems that all of your other chef/hosts know what any real food lover knows: that fresh produce and a little bit of real food, whether it's cheese or pasta or anything else that has integrity of ingredients, beats the processed stuff any day. If you want to give Tony Bourdain fodder for claiming that your network appeals to the lowest intelligence and taste level of the American public, then surely this new program is the best example. I would appreciate seeing the Food Network get back on track with programming that teaches America how to make real, nutrient-filled foods taste good with authentic recipes that aren't dumbed down. I am a lover of your content, but seeing that recipe come together was honestly disgusting--I had to change the channel after the first ten minutes.

Thank you for your consideration.

Best, Jessica

Cha Cha Chicken

I have to admit that my first experience with this casual beach shack serving "eclectic Caribbean" was not especially favorable, so when Michael Symon chose their coconut fried chicken as one of the “Best Things [he] Ever Ate,” I had my misgivings. Cha Cha Chicken is within walking distance from my apartment, so it was with great disappointment that I noted their staple jerk chicken to be decidedly lacking in flavor, moisture, and general presentation. I found the service lagging, the décor odd. I've since discovered that to some extent, I just needed to adjust my expectations—the kitschy outdoor-only dining area, outfitted with patio tables and slightly sticky, mismatched chairs, and adorned with colorful lanterns hanging from a floral vinyl awning has its charms, especially at night, when a second round of dinner patrons forms a snaking line down the sidewalk, everyone taking full advantage of the BYO policy. Every hand clutches a beer, while ex-frat boys push tables together to accommodate large, festive groups, drinking and dining on spicy, sweet, sloppy Island food. There is a quirky cuteness to the scene.

I also just needed to adjust my order. A couple of the offerings are misses, and the jerk chicken is not the way to go here. Chef Symon was absolutely right about the coconut fried chicken, however—it is a delight. The thick, sweet, salty, crunchy crust breaks off in chunks as you bite into the chicken pieces, and those fallen morsels of chicken skin make your sides of dirty rice and red cabbage slaw so much better. The dipping sauces are so-so; the pineapple sauce is a little too goopy and sweet for me, and the jerk sauce is spicy enough, but the flavor doesn’t excite me. The fried chicken is all you really need. The sides, two of which are included in most orders, are clearly afterthoughts, dumped haphazardly on the plate. The beans in the dirty rice are often unevenly cooked and the fried plantains are starchy, unattractive brown chunks of room-temperature cardboard. The chicken gumbo is bland, the sweet potatoes overcooked.

But don't be discouraged. There are gems to be found here. Do go for the salmon, it’s really nicely cooked and spiced with a sort of dry rub version of the jerk sauce. Do go for the jerk chicken enchiladas, I find them surprisingly flavorful. I actually do enjoy that red cabbage slaw, though it isn’t so much a slaw as a mound of chopped red cabbage lightly dressed with jerk sauce. It’s nothing special on its own, but with some bits of coconut fried chicken skin or a bite of spicy grilled salmon, it’s a nice crunchy component.

Honestly, as I survey the scene from beneath a heat lamp on the enclosed Cha Cha Chicken patio, nothing but the presence of purple beans and rice is remotely reminiscent of anywhere I've been in Cuba. But the air is relaxed, the food satisfying, and I am enjoying a funky, authentically Santa Monica evening.

Ozumo Donburi Rice Bowl

Ozumo is a high-end Japanese transplant from San Francisco, with a beautiful dimly-lit, gilded dining room and a pricey menu of fresh fish and robata skewers, among other expensive traditional Japanese fare. But you don’t have to miss out on this lovely spot in the new Santa Monica Place just because you’re a frugal diner—they have some very good values for lunch and happy hour, including a $10 rice bowl. The rice bowl is huge, you could really split it with someone if you’re not starving, and there are four options: curry tofu with vegetables and brown rice, which is my bowl of choice, as well as prime angus beef with sweet soy sauce, Japanese fried chicken, and teriyaki glazed freshwater eel. If a big rice bowl isn’t appealing to you, there are a surprising number of other affordable lunch options, including sushi bento boxes for $14 and flavorful ramen and udon soups for $11. These prices might not be blowing your mind, but for the quality of the food and the really delightful atmosphere, the value is right. What I like about the tofu bowl is the flavor of the traditional Japanese curry, strong and thick and tangy. With plenty of perfectly cooked brown rice and carrots and potatoes, it’s a hearty lunch at a pretty reasonable price, and you can order it in the bar or sitting in the dining room. On a nice day though, you may want to opt for the little outdoor lounge area. If you hang around after you’re done with your rice bowl, you might just transition into the next mealtime, and order from the Happy Hour menu starting at 3pm. From 3-7 every day, including weekends, $3 draft Sapporos are enticing; $5 skewers of pork belly or grilled salmon or tender glazed chicken are also available. You could order a garlic edamame for $4 or a miso soup for $3. There are even some sushi rolls available for about what you would pay for prepackaged grocery store sushi. Relaxing in the bar or outside on the patio, drinking beers and eating tender sushi, you could pass an entire afternoon grazing with friends, and never dread seeing the bill.


I’ve been up and down the short stretch of Fairfax known as Little Ethiopia, and to be honest, there isn’t a huge gap in quality among the restaurants that line these two blocks. Each boasts, somehow, that it is the “only authentic Ethiopian restaurant in Los Angeles,” but to my palate, almost all of them are comparable in deliciousness, if not indistinguishable. There are a few details that will set one apart from the next—Meals by Genet is a more upscale dining experience than its neighbors, and consequently a bit more expensive, but the dishes offered are very similar to those at Messob two doors down. Messob isn’t quite as cheap as, say, Merkato across the street, but their versions of the key dishes have depth of flavor and hit all of the different notes that are unique to Ethiopian sauces. Ethiopian sauces can be most simply described as akin to curries, but they taste entirely different from Indian and Thai curries. In place of the turmeric, coriander and cumin you’ll find in an Indian curry, there are 20 or so different spices that go into an Ethiopian stew, or wat. The chicken doro wat at Messob is particularly delicious. As with any dish in any restaurant on this strip, it arrives atop a large flat injera, that purplish spongy sticky bread with a tangy, yeasty flavor. There is an entire chicken leg covered in a rich, thick stew that will turn your fingers red as you bring the morsels of meat to your mouth with only your hands and a piece of injera. The stew has a curious flavor—to describe an Ethiopian stew to someone who has never tasted it before is nearly impossible. It is thick and somewhat oily, but not unpleasantly so; it is close in texture and savoriness to an Indian korma, but its flavor is more complex; it’s spicy but not in a hot way. I guess you just have to try it. And don’t forget to order vegetables, which are my favorite thing about Ethiopian cooking. The red lentil stew and the collard greens at Messob are excellent. One of the very special things about living in Los Angeles is access to authentic ethnic cuisines. Before moving to LA I had been to one Ethiopian restaurant in San Francisco; it was the only one I was even aware existed. It was pretty good, but didn’t make much of an impression—without the ethnic community I imagine it’s hard to source the right ingredients. Now that I’ve tasted true Ethiopian cuisine, I know it is extremely unique and delicious, and I crave it on a regular basis. Messob is a great option for your Ethiopian fix.

Sweet Rose Creamery

Hark, fellow Angelenos, I have found an ice cream shop that’s worth writing home about! It’s pretty new, so I wasn’t lying when I wrote that thing about LA having bad ice cream. And it’s no wonder this new place is great, because the fantastic and deservedly hyped Huckleberry pastry chef, Zoe Nathan, is behind it. When I heard that she was opening an ice cream shop, I was there the first week. I’m talking about Sweet Rose Creamery, located in Brentwood Country Mart. What’s so great about Sweet Rose? They have seasonal, interesting flavors, like earl gray, plum sorbet, and non-dairy black sesame. The flavors rotate, so don’t get disappointed if those ones aren’t there the day that you go. There’s never a bad day for some Sweet Rose, every flavor is great. For you traditionalists, they have delightful chocolate and vanilla and that kind of thing too. Each flavor is made from scratch, not all mixed from the same vanilla base, which ends up protecting the integrity of each ingredient. The texture is nice, too, it’s a little airier than my beloved BiRite, but it’s very smooth. So the Huckleberry-Rustic Canyon team strikes again! They never miss the mark. Oh, PS: A bunch of LA Whole Foods stores now carry Three Twins ice cream! It’s not the same as getting it freshly scooped, but it’s still pretty delicious. Check it out.


The lure of knife-cut noodles is strong, especially for a Chinese food lover like myself, so it’s a wonder I didn’t make it to JTYH sooner. I finally got my butt out to Rosemead this weekend, and I am so glad I did. You know it’s a good sign when you walk in and the entire staff is rolling out handmade dumplings in the dining room. And the dumplings were the star at this small Northern Chinese restaurant, despite its reputation for noodle making. To be honest, I actually found the knife-cut noodles in lamb soup to be a little bland—the broth had the look and flavor of bathwater, I suppose it was the pasta liquid. My recommendation would be to order up as many dumplings as you can fit in your stomach. I tried both the pan fried dumplings and the steamed veggie dumplings, and they were really divine. These are not the delicate, precious xiao long bao you’ll find at Din Tai Fung and other Cantonese establishments. These dumplings are fat, dense and chewy like a Polish pierogi, and irresistible. I usually make my boyfriend do the heavy lifting when it comes to the clean plate club, but I ate nine enormous JTYH dumplings. Nine.

The pan fried dumplings have a crunchy crust on the bottom with the consistency of a parmesan fricco, which is something I haven’t seen before on a Chinese dumpling. The steamed veggie dumplings are filled with a curious and delightful mixture of egg, crunchy cabbage, chives, wood ear mushrooms, and cellophane noodles. I’ve never had anything quite like it, and I absolutely loved them. Pictured below is an aerial view of these beauties. Now doesn’t that make you want a vegetable dumpling immediately? And the best part: 10 juicy dumplings will run you a measly $5.25. Just do it, order 30 dumplings. You’ll eat them all.

Jasmine Market

One of the best deals in Los Angeles! It still feels like a well-kept secret, so I am loathe to share it with anyone. However, I think Jonathan Gold already spilled the beans on Jasmine, so I’ll elaborate. Just don’t swarm the place, I don’t want to have to wait for my samusas. You can really treat yourself at this unassuming Burmese/Indian market and eatery. Go for the #6, a lamb dish with spicy gravy and jalapenos for just $7.00. You’ll get naan and rice on top of it, and if you’re feeling really indulgent you might spend an extra $1 for a sweet, creamy chai tea. It’s highly doubtful that you’ll be able to eat all that food, but if you don’t finish the naan the owner will come over and heat it up for you with butter and sugar for dessert, and then you’ll have to polish it off. Not just because it smells amazing and tastes like an Indian crepe, but because he is the nicest person ever, and when you compliment the food he will smile so warmly you'll want to give him a big hug. You can’t let him down by leaving anything on your plate. Some days, they also have a special dessert that most closely resembles bread pudding. Just ask him for the bread pudding dessert. You may go home feeling like an overstuffed fois gras goose, but you won't regret it.

Image Credit: Urbanspoon user SinoSoul Jasmine

Donuts are for Homos!

Or so says some group of douche bags who were driving by the Donut Man in Glendora last night around 10:30PM. I’m more of a donut egalitarian myself, but I’m sure these guys knew what they were talking about. I found myself in Glendora—a highly unlikely locale for a Santa Monican—last night because I saw a peanut butter and jelly donut on The Best Thing I Ever Ate that made me want to cry it looked so good. Being the highly suggestible types, the boyfriend and I went online to peruse our LA options, as the aforementioned PBJ donut sadly resides in New York. I don’t usually go out looking for donuts, especially 45 miles from my home and late at night, but having recently spent three days in Seattle, donuts are kind of on my radar. You see, Seattle is home to Top Pot Donuts. You’ve probably heard of them, either because Starbucks carries a couple of their varieties, or because their 5 Seattle locations are pretty famous, and for good reason. These donuts are worth writing home about, especially the old-fashioned, which are chewy and dense and not cakey like I expected them to be. They are only elevated by the glazes. Whether we’re talking raspberry or chocolate or maple, the glaze is gooey and sweet and full of flavor. The maple glaze is so rich it makes eating an entire maple donut practically impossible, but it’s so worth being sick over. With that sinful maple glaze still fresh in my mind, I agreed to drive for 50 minutes to Donut Man, because Yelp and Jonathan Gold and everyone else assured me I would find there the best donuts in Los Angeles. I was underwhelmed. The tiger tail that everyone on Yelp is salivating over was good, but nothing extraordinary. The real disappointment was Donut Man’s maple glaze, which I must say was quite tasteless in comparison to TP. It’s not that the donuts were bad, they just weren’t that awesome. And I tried five completely different donuts to be sure my selections weren’t the problem. It probably didn’t help that on my way back here from Seattle I spent a few days in my native San Francisco, home of Dynamo Donuts, the most inventive, fresh, delicious donuts I’ve ever had. From the maple bacon to the vanilla bean to the orange blossom, even Top Pot doesn’t top Dynamo. After the relatively poor showing last night, I’m starting to believe that the best donut in LA is sitting in the pastry case at Starbucks. I’m on the lookout for an LA donut I can be proud of, and suggestions are welcome. image credit: flickr user m. bibelot.

Samosa House East

I cannot speak highly enough of this Culver City sibling of the original Samosa House, where you can get delicious Indian treats not found elsewhere at incredible prices. Everything at Samosa House East is vegetarian, but the mock chicken is the best imitation I’ve ever had, and I was once a vegan for nearly a year, so I’ve tried a lot of fake chicken. It swims in a rich, sweet sauce most closely resembling tikka masala. The brown jasmine rice and soft, chewy naan seem to be doused in butter, and the mock chicken’s sauce is creamy and decadent. Pani Puri, little crispy hollow shells that you can fill with a garbanzo bean chutney and mint water and pop into your mouth, are just one of the magical surprises you can find in this delightful place and nary anywhere else. I would highly recommend the cauliflower pakora, perfectly crunchy and spiced and addictive with sweet sesame dipping sauce. If you do not drop everything and rush to Samosa House East for dinner right now, you have been misguided. Did I mention it would be impossible to eat $20 worth of food here? My boyfriend and I literally ordered half the menu—a combination plate with three curries, yogurt, rice and naan, an order of pani puri, which comes with seven shells, a heaping pile of fried cauliflower florets, a Samosa drenched in sauce and covered with chickpea salad, AND a dessert of two paneer balls in sweet water. Grand total: $21. No human working alone could eat the amount of food that arrived at our table. I defy Joey Chestnut to eat $20 worth of food at this place. Another pleasant surprise: contrary to what the prices may lead you to believe, S.H.E. is no hole in the wall. The décor is actually modern and quite pleasant, similar to a Buddha’s Belly or Bulan Thai. It’s open until 10PM and accepts credit cards. What’s not to like? I almost proposed to the chef/owner after I ate. And she’s a woman.


If you read any food publications at all, I don’t have to tell you that Jitlada is the hottest Thai in town. It has only been four years since chef/owner Jazz Singsanong took over the E Hollywood restaurant, but in that short time she has received accolade upon accolade from Gourmet, LA Weekly, Food Network—you name it. Even though it’s hidden away in a strip mall in Thai town, you will probably have to wait for a table on a random Tuesday night. It’s populated with an unlikely crowd of Hollywood hotties and homeless people that come in off of Sunset Blvd. Oh yeah, and the food is ridiculously good. It’s not your average Pad See Ew and sweet curry, it’s blow-your-face-off spicy, made-to-order authentic Southern Thai cuisine, and you can actually taste the love coming out of the kitchen. Yes, that sounds crazy, but each of the hundred some odd dishes on the menu is a family recipe that is carefully made as you order it. Those signs that say “be patient for our best dishes” aren’t joking. If you don’t die of starvation and longing for the next table’s food before yours comes, you will be generously rewarded. I don’t want to tell you what to order because there are so many gems, it would be hard to go wrong. Plus I don’t know if, like my boyfriend, you’re the kind of person who goes for fish kidney curry and frog leg stew, or if, like me, you crave glass noodle soup and green curry noodles. Either way, you are in for some serious flavor and in all likelihood, it’s not the flavor profile you’re used to. The sauces are complex, spicy, sweet, sour, sometimes fishy in a good way. Go with a group so you can taste lots of different things, because you won’t be able to decide. Also, it’s a bit on the pricy side for Thai—there are dishes on the menu that alone exceed our $20 budget, but there are definitely good options for less, including the glass noodle soup with ground chicken and veggies for $9.95. It sounds boring, but the flavor is wonderful and deep. Don't miss the Morning Glory Salad, it is strange and wonderful. Pictured is the Crying Tiger Beef, featured by chef Curtis Stone on “Best Thing I Ever Ate,” also for $9.95.


QuicheTake a good look at this piece of quiche. Does it just look like quiche? Well, look again. Because this is the best quiche ever. It’s almost like eating a block of butter and half and half, with a splash of egg mixed in. But not in a gross way. It’s so creamy and rich and light and fluffy at the same time, you would really be remiss to pass up this slice of Forage's melt-in-your-mouth comfort food. Today’s happened to be broccoli, which was delicious, but I have an inkling that the filling is really a secondary concern. I would eat this quiche if it were filled with grasshoppers. Not to offend anyone if you’re into that kind of thing. We also tasted the jidori chicken, with sides of fingerling potato salad and beet and citrus slaw, and a pistachio cardamom shortbread cookie, fresh out of the oven. The shortbread cookie was heavenly, but having just consumed the aforementioned block of butter posing as a quiche, I thought it wouldn't be advisable to eat much of the shortbread. I would recommend both, but not at the same time. The chicken was good, some yelp reviewers have found it dry, but my piece was nice and juicy and flavorful. I wasn’t wild over the potato salad, though there was nothing particularly wrong with it, and the beet and citrus slaw was also nice and fresh but not a showstopper. They do have a lovely iced tea, and they’re the only place in LA that I know of that serves Blue Bottle Coffee, the Holy Grail of beans. It is truly a shame that they don’t offer Blue Bottle espresso, only BB’s signature individually hand brewed drip coffees, but a girl can hope that espresso options are on the horizon. The quiche is $6.50, and paired with a bowl of soup for $4 would make a satisfying and affordable lunch or brunch any day of the week. The protein plates with two sides are slightly steeper at $13.50, but for fresh, seasonal, farmer’s market-inspired dishes, that’s actually a pretty fair deal.


I’ve been wanting to check this place out since Los Angeles Magazine championed it as one of the city’s 10 best new restaurants, so last night we headed over to the downtown market where this food stand/sit-down restaurant resides. If that sounds strange, it’s because it is. The restaurant is located in a warehouse style space, with markets and clothing stands, kind of like the Farmer’s Market at the Grove, but indoors and Hispanic. It is a lot like a marketplace I went to Puerto Vallarta, so I guess it makes sense. Except there’s a Thai food stand in the corner. Anyway, they still have to work out some kinks—it took over half an hour for them to make our food, and considering we ordered a ceviche I was a little concerned we would die of old age before getting the main course, but they were apologetic and gave us a free purple corn drink, which was quite tasty, kind of a mix between a Jamaica agua fresca and an acai cocktail. They also have an odd seating system. There were a bunch of free tables when we got there, but we had to put our name on a list. Immediately afterwards we were seated, at the table next to where we had seated ourselves before we knew about the list. In any case, it was all worth it when the food arrived. The ceviche was what most critics have raved about, and it was delicious. It’s not the ceviche we’re used to, rather it’s the Peruvian kind, more of what I would identify as a fish carpaccio in a citrusy, tangy, spicy sauce. It is wonderful. But whatever you do, please do not miss the arroz con pollo. I haven’t had chicken this tender since Michael Voltaggio’s pressed chicken in the chestnut soup at the Langham Huntington. And that chicken cost…well, it was part of a tasting menu that ran me a cool $79. This chicken costs $11. I asked the server how they cooked the chicken, because it was so impossibly tender and juicy I thought maybe it was done sous-vide, but he said they sprinkled garlic and spices on it and put it in the oven. I think he’s lying. I don’t blame him. If I could make chicken that good, I would keep the recipe a secret too.