Tender Greens

Sometimes, I feel a little protective over my very favorite spots--those restaurants that I visit as often as once a week, places where I have to get my fix.  Something inside of me gets greedy and wants to preserve their familiarity, my feelings of ownership about these gems.  But today, I'm feeling generous.  So I'm sharing the latest episode of LA on 20's web series, and this time I am visiting Tender Greens in Santa Monica with my little brother, Sam.

I find that one of the most difficult things about being on a budget is being able to eat healthfully.  Fresh produce, especially organic and sustainably farmed/caught/raised fare just costs more to procure, and sometimes it can feel out of reach for those of us looking to get the most bang for the buck. 

Which is why I really treasure Tender Greens.  Seriously, it's a special place.  Because not only have they created a model where they can offer all of those things--seasonal, ethically raised, fresh, organic food--at an affordable price point, on a large scale, but they go above and beyond by also offering a consistently excellent, inventive specials menu each and every day.  I have had a beautifully cooked piece of cod with braised hen of the woods mushrooms for $12.  I have had delicious and light pea tendril ravioli with a side of arugula salad for $12 for dinner.  Free range beef and pork meatballs in a slowly simmered, rich marinara for $4.

It's cafeteria-style dining, because that's what allows them to offer these really elevated, well-executed, healthy, delicious dishes at that price.  But it feels like a nice sit-down restaurant--they have beer and wine on tap, and seasonal and decadent desserts, including some really good vegan ones.  There are multiple locations throughout LA and in the Bay Area, San Diego, and Orange County, so wherever you find yourself in California, this affordable and healthy option isn't far away.  I really cannot say enough about how cool this place is.  So I'll let the video do the rest of the talking.  Please enjoy!

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

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.