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Restaurant recommendations, new openings, and highlights from the LA Chowhound community.

Afternoon Tea with Perfect Scones

There’s great afternoon tea at the Tea House on Los Rios. The Tea House makes perfect scones—kc girl says the staff browns the butter before mixing it into the batter. “The scones are the best I’ve ever had, and the spreads are great too,” says I got nothin. And the Tea House has nice, fresh shortbread—not too sweet or dry.

The menu has options for all appetites, from tiny tea sandwiches to excellent roasted rosemary chicken. Food is uniformly high-quality.

The tea itself is quite nice: loose leaf served in large individual pots, and lots of different cups. Every plate comes with edible flowers from the Tea House’s private garden. It’s a “very cute and quaint affair,” says kc girl.

The Tea House on Los Rios [Orange County]
31731 Los Rios Street, San Juan Capistrano
949-443-3914

Board Link: Really good Afternoon Tea for all ages ! San Juan Capistrano

Nontraditional Lobster Rolls and Banh Mi

Mendocino Farms serves very nontraditional and completely excellent sandwiches. soniabegonia urges you to go there soon and try two specials from the summer menu: the Untraditional Lobster Roll and the pork belly banh mi.

That pork belly banh mi “has the perfect balance of salty, sweet, tangy and spicy,” says soniabegonia. It’s a pressed sandwich on a ciabatta roll, with succulent sweetened slow-braised Kurobuta pork belly, pickled daikon and carrot, julienned cucumbers, cilantro, jalapeños, and tangy chili aioli. “I love this sandwich and would rank it in my top 3 sandwiches in all of LA.”

Then there’s the Untraditional Lobster Roll. “Now, not being a real big lobster or lobster roll connoisseur, I have no idea what’s untraditional about it… maybe the bacon?? However, I do know when I taste deliciousness. The sandwich comes on a giant roll stuffed with bacon, Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and piled high with delicious chunks of lobster,” says sonia. The lobster is perfectly cooked—a little translucent and slightly crunchy—and comes with a light, very lemony rémoulade.

The place isn’t cheap—the pork belly banh mi is $10, the lobster roll $13—but it’s spectacular. Some posters think the place is overpriced and pretentious. But, says Jack Flash, “What’s pretentious about fresh and high quality ingredients on some of the best bread in town?”

It’s located in Cal Plaza. If you’re already downtown, don’t drive—take the DASH B Route.

Mendocino Farms [Downtown]
300 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles
213-620-1114

Board Link: Mendocino Farms does it again

Charred Cumin Lamb Skewers

keepon has been searching for authentic Xinjiang cumin lamb skewers, like the kind that filled the streets of Beijing. He’s finally found it, at 818 BBQ. It’s the real deal: bite-size pieces of lamb, grilled to perfection—slightly “charred and crispy on the outside, with just the right amount of cumin and chili to give that kick.”

The house cold dish (an off-menu order) is a mix of cold vegetables—an excellent companion to the lamb skewers. Lamb kidney skewers are good. The best skewer of all is lamb chop: small, bone-in pieces of lamb, three to a skewer, “crisp on the outside and still juicy inside.”

English levels are low here. The signage is in bizarre flux, as the owners don’t seem to have decided on an English name and the eatery is labeled various things on various signs. Just look for the big “818.”

818 BBQ [San Gabriel Valley]
818 E. Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel
626-307-5128

Board Link: 818 BBQ–Authentic Xinjiang Cumin Lamb Skewers Found!

The Consummate Patty Melt

Harry’s Family Restaurant makes a perfect patty melt, says Will Owen. He was “delighted by this sandwich, a big juicy beefy patty, not quite too much cheese, and very tender and succulent shreds of grilled onion.” Will is a sourdough man for his patty melts; ordered with sourdough instead of rye, the melt comes “grilled to a fine buttery crunch.”

The patty melt here is eerily like the one at Pann’s, “surely THE benchmark patty melt,” says Will. In fact, the whole menu and experience at Harry’s is so much like the one at Pann’s that Will suspects Harry might be a former Pann’s employee.

Busy Bee Café’s version is just about as perfect. “This was so much like Harry’s–and Pann’s–as to be almost scary, but whereas the onions and cheese dominated Harry’s version, the strongest flavor note in this sandwich was of beef,” says Will.

Harry’s Family Restaurant [San Fernando Valley–East]
920 N. San Fernando Boulevard, Burbank
818-842-8755

Pann’s [South LA]
6710 La Tijera Boulevard, Los Angeles
323-776-3770

Busy Bee Café [Ventura]
478 E. Main Street, Ventura
805-643-4864

Board Link: New Search: the Patty-Melt Smackdown

Puerto Rican Foothold

Taqueria Estilla Mexico was always one of Dommy’s
favorite Mexican taquerias. But it’s transforming: It has changed its name to Sazon, and it’s adding a Puerto Rican and Cuban menu. Right now, the new menu doesn’t exist in any sort of set or written form; you just have to ask for the Puerto Rican and Cuban dishes you want by name. Don’t know anything about the cuisines? Just do what Dommy did: Confess your ignorance, and put yourself in the server’s hands.

Pollo rostizado is Sazon’s take on Cuban roast chicken. “The flavor of the chicken was off the charts,” says Dommy. The biggest winner though is camarónes con salsa, a little bowl with plenty of shrimp and great posole. The platanos fritos (fried plantains) are perfect, served piping hot, with crema. “These had the PERFECT crisp caramel edge which shows the kitchen’s attention to details.” And spinach and cheese empanadas are great: thin crust, utterly crispy, and filled with gooey cheese and spinach.

For dessert: perfect flan napolitano—“firm, eggy, rich, and not too sweet,” with a flavor of pure burnt sugar and cream.

The old Mexican taqueria menu is still available, and still awesome.

Sazon [Westside–Inland]
12406 Washington Boulevard, Culver City
310-390-9501

Board Link: Easing into Puerto Rican: Sazon on Washington and Centinela

Tempura Omakase!

Most tempura in SoCal is terrible, says exilekiss, suffering from poor batter and too much oil. Not so at Komatsu, a specialist devoted to the true art of tempura. There are 14 kinds available à la carte, a nine-piece tempura set course, and, most excitingly, tempura omakase—meaning “chef’s choice.”

Omakase is glorious: You can, says exilekiss, truly tell that master chef Komatsu loves his craft. The tempura batter is “nice and minimalistic, light and non-intrusive.” It actually accentuates delicate seafood flavors and fresh vegetable flavors. There is shrimp tempura, eel tempura, burdock root tempura, summer plum tempura, and clam tempura. Ebi shinjyou (shiitake stuffed with ground shrimp) is the highlight.

Tempuras come with four different seasoning options: arajio (course sea salt), matcha shio (green tea salt), yuzu shio (citrus-flavored salt), and tentsuyu (tempura sauce with grated daikon).

Omakase is about $65 per person, including tax and tip.

Komatsu [South Bay]
1644 W. Carson Street #B, Torrance
310-787-0787

Board Link: Delicious Japanese Tempura Specialist: Komatsu [Review] w/ Pics!

Tangy Ethiopian Raw Beef Sandwich

Your editor Thi N. can’t stop eating kitfo sandwiches at Merkato. Kitfo is Ethiopian raw beef, intensely spiced. The pure kitfo is finer and more sublime at Meals by Genet, but Merkato’s kitfo makes for a perfect sandwich. “They kind of take a heap of sliced kitfo and skip it over a hot grill, I think (like a rock skipping a lake) so it’s mostly raw, but little bits of edges are slightly cooked. It’s tangy, it’s spicy, it’s got the full Ethiopian flavor-load, and it’s served in crispy bread that rapidly turns soft and mushy under the meat-juices. Sort of an insane, raw, self-juicing version of a French dip, but with cardamom.”

Merkato [Little Ethiopia]
1036 1/2 S. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles
323-935-1775

Meals by Genet [Little Ethiopia]
1053 S. Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles
323-938-9304

Board Link: Kitfo sandwich

Excellent Northern Indian Buffet

Das Ubergeek tends to be pretty wary of Indian buffets: lukewarm, unfresh food slopped over older, unfresh food. But Haveli’s lunch buffet is nothing but good: The food’s absolutely fresh, and steaming hot. “I think it’s the best Indian restaurant in the Tustin / Irvine area,” says Professor Salt. It’s high-quality Punjabi fare.

Spinach is delicious. Vegetable korma is “the best I’ve ever had in the US.” As for stuffed karela (bitter melon), Professor Salt says: “If you LIKE karela, you are going to go insane for their stuffed karela.”

Adds Das Ubergeek: “The sign that this was excellent northern Indian food was that when we were done, there was no oil left on the plate. So many Indian restaurants load up their food with ghee to the point where the food is exuding fat as it cools; Haveli does not do this, yet their food tastes rich enough.”

The buffet is $8.99 per person, all you can eat, and $3 for a bottomless cup of tea. It’s a nice-looking place, too, with linen napkins and everything. Buffet is every lunch, and Tuesday and Wednesday dinner. Other nights, it’s menu time.

Haveli Fine Indian Cuisine [Orange County]
13882 Newport Avenue, Tustin
714-669-1011

Board Link: REVIEW: Haveli, Tustin

Real Moroccan at Simon’s Café

For a real Moroccan culinary experience, go to Simon’s Café. “If you want great food rather than the show and Hollywood-meets-North Africa décor, this is the place,” says FoodObsessive. “It is truly the best tasting Moroccan food I have had,” says Diana, who adds that the place doesn’t have belly dancers.

Chowhounds have been recommending the spot for years. howard81 praised the lamb tagine and Israeli salad a couple of years ago. lil mikey agreed about the tagines and added couscous to his list of “jewels” in the menu, a sentiment echoed by other hounds who have recommended the couscous royale (served with skewers of grilled chicken, lamb, and merguez sausage) and lamb tagine (a lamb stew, spiced with apples, cinnamon, and raisins, and served with saffron rice) in particular.

Simon’s Café [San Fernando Valley–West]
4515 Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles
818-783-6698

Board Links: Authentic Moroccan restaurant in Los Angeles?
Couscous at Simon’s Cafe in Sherman Oaks
Simon’s Cafe Moroccan
great meal at Simon’s Cafe in Sherman Oaks

Japanese Small Bites in Irvine

Sagami has reincarnated itself a few times, says exilekiss. It started as a typical Japanese takeout joint in a strip mall, then expanded and started serving traditional Japanese udon and soba dishes, along with the usual American crazy-roll-type dishes. Now, it has revamped again, with an izakaya small-plates menu served at lunch and dinner.

The wafu ban ban jii is a “really tasty” sesame- and peanut-infused chicken and cucumber salad, reports exilekiss. The agedashi tofu (fried tofu with dashi sauce) has a slightly crisp outer texture, which combines perfectly with raw green onions and the bit of broth. Then there’s ebi shinjyou, which is a shrimp ball, though the name really doesn’t do it justice, says exilekiss: Chunks of shrimp are mixed with shiso leaf, deep-fried, then served with a side of yuzu salt. The whole thing is “wonderfully fragrant and excellent with a bowl of rice.”

Gindara saikyo yaki (black cod miso) has a “perfect lightly browned exterior and extremely buttery, mouth-watering goodness within.” And the miso kushi katsu (cuts of pork topped with special miso sauce) is “very nice,” with crispy pork bits and fragrant, lightly sweet miso flavors.

There’s also kisu no tempura (sillago fish, nicely battered and well-fried), which exilekiss has never seen before on a SoCal menu. The fish itself is very tender and rich. Buta kimuchi (an izakaya classic: fatty slices of pork, sautéed with kimchee) is tasty and a little lighter than the usual version. And the hokke ichiyaboshi (sun-dried mackerel, baked, and served with ponzu sauce and fresh-grated daikon) is extremely salty and pungent. It’s almost too intense to enjoy on its own, but cut with the ponzu and a beer, it’s goes down quite well, says exilekiss. It’s definitely meant to be eaten with alcohol, explained an assistant at the restaurant.

The main weak point is that some ingredients don’t match the freshness of LA’s top sushi restaurants. Avoid items that depend on extremely fresh seafood, like sea urchin tempura or sautéed scallops, advises exilekiss. Elsewhere, the soba noodles are decent, as are the traditional Japanese box lunches.

Sagami [Orange County]
3850 Barranca Parkway, Suite B, Irvine
949-857-8030

Board Link: Sagami–Lunchtime Izakaya in Irvine?! [Review] w/ Pics