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

Shawarma and Then Some

The flavors of Soumarelo are Armenian and Mediterranean, and delicious, says judybird. Beef shawarma is flavorful and herbaceous. Ekra, a kind of eggplant caviar, is mashed with peppers and tomatoes—good enough to eat plain or as a dip. Potatoes, deep-fried with onions, come with a fine dusting of cheese on top—it’s addictive stuff. Like Zankou, they also have roast chicken with garlic paste.

Soumarelo [Pasadena-ish]
1090 N. Allen Avenue, Pasadena
626-791-0999
Map

Board Links: Pasadena’s answer to Zankou

Panuchos, Tortas Ahogadas, and Tlacoyos: So This Is Santa Ana

Chowing around Santa Ana, kare_raisu found plenty that’s Chowhound-worthy.

Conde Cakes is actually a Yucatecan restaurant (disguised as a panaderia). People stop by to start the day with pan dulce and coffee, or steaming hot tamales.

The panucho, a fried corn tortilla filled with black bean paste topped with achiote-tinged turkey shreds, pickled red onions, and a light cucumber salad, has a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. Yucatecan pan de nata is almost like a Bundt cake, and perfect with coffee. They have vaporcito and colado tamales—both simple and excellent. The husband-and-wife owners are planning to offer more comida Yucatecan in coming months, like kibbe, salbutes, queso rellano, and more.

There’s a line outside Ricas Tortas Ahogadas at breakfast, lunch, and dinner for its famed tortas ahogadas—the French dip sandwich of Mexico, with a fiery tomato-arbol sauce instead of beef jus drenching the crisp roll. It’s a beautiful, sloppy thing. Best choice of fillings: carnitas. It doesn’t have the crunchy bits of classic carnitas, but it does have that deliciously musky flavor. Lightly pickled onions are great for contrast; don’t forget the minced onion, cilantro, and lime.

Northgate Market is a chain, but its Oaxacan tamales are authentic down to the leaf of chaya tucked in with the masa. Pork in chile rojo is fragrant, high-quality, and lightly sauced.

Rivas is a tiny shop chock-full of mole. You know they’re serious when it turns out there are only two types: verde and rojo. Both are from Teloloapan, a town in Guerrero.

El Rincon Chilango specializes in Mexico City eats, including the tlacoyo—an oval of masa like a huarache stuffed/topped with some kind of filling. The masa (though from a mix) is crisp and warm, the salsa verde bright and flavorful, just right with salty queso fresco. Skip the flor de calabeza filling—probably from a can. Other specialties de la casa: borrego and tacos de canasta.

The former Nancy Puebla restaurant is now Guerrero’s, but the Pueblan menu is the same, with specialties like Cornish hen and posole verde with pumpkin seed paste and garnished with chicharron. Mole negro is complex and delicious.

Conde Cakes & Bakery [OC]
2050 N. Grand Avenue, Santa Ana
714-560-0844
Map

Ricas Tortas Ahogadas [OC]
Taco Truck at W. Fifth Street and N. Townsend Street, Santa Ana
Map

Northgate Markets [OC]
Multiple locations

Rivas Food Co. [OC]
413 N. Broadway #A, Santa Ana
714-972-0607
Map

El Rincon Chilango [OC]
1133 W. 17th Street, Santa Ana
714-836-5096
Map

Guerrero’s (formerly Nancy Puebla) [OC]
1221 E. First Street, Santa Ana
Map

Board Links: Breakfast in the Yucatan
More chowing in Santa Ana
Guadalajaran love on a (Styrofoam) plate
Turning chilango
Guerreran Notes and Nancy Puebla

A Find in Little Saigon

Pho is not the only Vietnamese soup. The shrimp soup with rice noodles at Quan Vy Da stands out with fresh flavor, says pleasurepalate. With cilantro and lime and even some peppers, it’s a meal in a bowl. They have some tasty rice cakes, rolls, and dumplings, too.

Quan Vy Da [Little Saigon]
9950 Bolsa Avenue, #B, Westminster
714-531-2905
Map

Board Links: Stumbled into this great spot in Little Saigon

Purgatory Has Been Located, and It’s in Downtown L.A.

You can’t go to Purgatory in this lifetime, but Purgatory will come to you. Purgatory Pizza, that is … and only if you live downtown … or are drinking there.

This new spot (takeout/delivery only) is owned and operated by the former chef of Silver Lake’s popular Nicky D’s, and the pies are pretty much like Nicky D’s when it’s on its game, says 9thandBroadway. Crust is thin, sauce is nice and herby, and there’s a spicy option—El Diablo, of course.

A large pizza with three toppings and a couple of sodas is about $20.

Purgatory Pizza [East LA-ish]
1426 E First Street, Los Angeles
323-262-5310
Map

Board Links: Welcome to purgatory
Between heaven and hell

Chowing Down Pinoy-Style

The late, lamented Barrio Fiesta has been revived in Eagle Rock and the Filipino home cooking is still to die for, says lukin4gudfood. Crispy calamari and kare-kare are the best. For the moment, though, it seems like the beer and wine license is a work in progress.

Over in Hollywood, lil mikey discovered a hidden gem, Karihang-Pinoy. If you’re lucky enough to get fried chicken fresh out of the fryer, it’s super-crunchy, each piece (more than a quarter, usually leg and thigh with some breast) nice and tender.

They also have delicious, savory-sweet sausage. There’s tangily great tamarind-based soup with beef, all rich and beautiful. All that with a big plate of rice and a bottle of water is $5.

There’s an OC spot that specializes in Filipino breakfast, or almusal, says elmomonster.

At Kapamilya, they serve several kinds of silogs (plates with garlic fried rice and egg) with a slice of tomato and a protein add-on—choose from various kinds of marinated meats, sausage, and fried fish.

A lot of places use factory-made marinated pork, or tocino, pumped up with nitrites and artificial coloring. Kapamilya makes theirs from scratch, coating tender, fatty cuts of pork with a candy-sweet glaze. A shot of vinegar is just right for balancing it out.

Tapa, marinated beef, is similar to Korean kalbi, but dryer—more like really sweet jerky. There’s also fried marinated milkfish, bangus. With a yogurty tang and flaky white flesh, it’s a nice lighter option. Silog plates are all $4.75, including tax.

Barrio Fiesta [Eastside]
4420 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock
Map

Karihang-Pinoy [Hollywood]
4909 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles
323-666-8339
Locator

Kapamilya Restaurant [Orange County]
10964 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley
714-593-6212
Map

Board Links: The Fiesta is on again
Surprising strip-mall tastiness
Almusal: It’s what’s for breakfast

Venturing Into the Wild West – of Indian Cuisine

Distracted by the signs in multiple languages promising catering, you might not know that Rasthal offers up hot and tasty, authentic Indian vegetarian cooking, says Das Ubergeek. Since one of the chefs is from Gujarat, in western India, they’ve got some Indian fare that you might never have had before.

Like India Sweets & Spices, it’s a cafeteria-type setup, but your food is made fresh to order, and doesn’t come from a steam table. In fact, no food is on display but the sweets and chaat mixes.

Go for a thali, a combination plate with several compartments. For $6.99, you get your choice of two vegetables, raita, dal or channa (lentils or chickpeas), pickles, a few puris (flatbreads), pistachio halwa, and khaman dhokla, a slightly sweet cornbread that’s a Gujarati staple. It’s a lot of food.

Dahi puri, a common snack of crispy lentil pockets with chickpeas, potatoes, yogurt, and tamarind sauce, is very, very good. Vegetable korma, in a coconut curry sauce, is delish. Mango lassi, so often just a mango-flavored milkshake, is properly tangy with yogurt and not overly sweet.

Masala dosa, a classic South Indian dish, is rather too greasy here, and overcooked to a crisp in parts.

They’ve also got some dishes from Rajasthan, the state neighboring Gujarat, notes losfelizhound. Check out dal baati and churma, which aren’t usually on offer in Southern California’s Indian restaurants.

Rasthal Vegetarian Food [North OC]
2755 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim
714-527-3800
Map

Board Links: Vegetarian delights

Things That Make You Go Mmmm: Korean BBQ

Yissa Hwa Ro is known for its pork belly, but the beef BBQ was good enough to send caveatempty into a meat-induced swoon.

Combo #2 serves four to six people and is $89. It includes a variety of beef cuts, like deckle, boneless short rib, and ribeye, all well marbled, flavorful, and tender. You also get panchan (radish water kimchi and spicy raw crab are standouts), bean-paste soup, salad, and your choice of soju or beer.

It’s a gas grill, not charcoal, but that allows the non-meat ingredients to soak up the meaty juices from the perimeter of the grill. There’s potatoes, mushrooms, jalapeño slices, garlic, and the usual lettuce for wrapping. When the BBQ pigout is over, you get fried rice made for you, with diced beef, seaweed, kimchi, and other yummy stuff.

Other combos range $69-$99; you can also order a la carte.

And that pork belly—plain, spicy, smoked or beer-, wine- or miso-marinated—definitely looks interesting.

Yissi HwaRo [Koreatown]
3465 W. 6th Street #130, Los Angeles
213-365-8111
Map

Board Links: Fantastic Korean BBQ

Vito’s Is Back

Pizza-loving hounds are abuzz with news of Vito’s return. Yes, THE Vito’s, formerly of Vermont, across from LACC.

Now on La Cienega, he’s serving up great pies baked on pizza stones imported from Italy. White pizza is fantastic, pepperoni tasty and veggie pizza loaded up with chunks of tomato and broccoli, spinach and globs of ricotta.

Ciao Bob sums up: “You want average pizza, no problem, there are a hundred places to go. If you want truly perfect NY-style pizza, there’s only one choice. Vito’s blows the roof off of anything I’ve had in this City-Of-Angel-less-Pizza. Get there, and get there FAST. Get a pie (not a slice, although the slices may be great). The crust, the cheese, the sauce, the flavor, the bubbles in the crust from the oven—it’s all the real deal. ‘Nuff said.”

Cheese slices are $2.50; the rest are $3.

There’s also a new pizzeria in Los Feliz, where the cozy Italian spot Il Capriccio has branched out on Hollywood Boulevard.

The wood-fired crust is thin, but with some chew. Rapini topping is fresh and abundant, but salty anchovies, olives, and capers on the “Bella Napoli” are applied with a minimalist touch. The largest pie, at 16 inches, is more like a medium by other standards, and at $17, it only feeds two.

Vito’s Pizza [West Hollywood]
846 N. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles
310-652-6859
Map

Il Capriccio Pizzeria [Los Feliz]
4518 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles
323-644-9760
Map

Board Links: Heading to the new Vito’s
Vito’s–it’s perfect!
Wowza for Vito’s
First look: Il Capriccio Pizzeria

Reinventing the Salad Bar

The Kitchen for Exploring Foods gets mentioned a lot in responses to posts asking about caterers, but –-surprise! –-they serve lunch as well. OK, “serve” is kind of an exaggeration. They have lunch, in the form of a salad bar–type setup. You can get it, and then you can eat it, there, on one of their two tables, or somewhere else.

But it’s not just any old salad bar food. Everything is fresh and tasty—good, seasonal food prepared properly and seasoned just enough to highlight its natural flavors without overpowering anything. There’s no one-flavoring-fits-all, either –-each dish tastes different from the next.

Asparagus is perfectly roasted and smoky, and the slightly tangy sun-dried tomatoes and pungent cheese is just strong enough to stand up to the smoke without overpowering it; couscous is fluffy and moist with a hint of garlic; white beans are cold and smooth with the fresh kick of raw onions; and beets are wonderfully sweet and completely infused with a vinegary dressing.

It’s not just salads, either: Stuffed pork loin with apple stuffing is marinated all the way through, and a little sweet and crispy on the edges. The stuffing is moist, infused with rosemary and onion. Flank steak with chimichurri sauce is a favorite, adds Clare K; judge dee likes the crab bisque and potato salad.

Just a mile or so west of Old Town Pasadena on Colorado, the Kitchen is a world away: There’s plenty of parking, no long lines, and the food is fantastic.

The Kitchen for Exploring Foods [Pasadena]
1434 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena
626-793-7234
Locator

Board Links: California cuisine at the salad bar

Taps – Below the Radar in Brea

Taps is the kind of restaurant that’s managed to stay beneath the radar—maybe because it superficially resembles an Olive Garden or Outback Steakhouse-type restaurant. That is, The Dreaded Chain. Although portions are Middle America-hefty, you’re getting quality fare here, says Das Ubergeek.

Take the crab-and-shrimp Louie salad: it’s $21, but perhaps the largest of its kind. Like, bigger than your head. Tons of Dungeness crab and a dozen shrimp, dressed just right but with a pitcher of extra dressing just in case.

As for cedar-plank salmon with horseradish mashed potatoes and broccolini with 12-year-old balsamic vinegar, the Ubergeek is first a doubter, then a convert. “Every restaurant, all the way down to Carl’s Jr., has embraced ‘balsamic’ vinaigrette, and 99 times out of 100, that ‘balsamic’ vinegar has never been within 5,000 kilometres of a wood barrel in Italy and is, in point of fact, white vinegar with molasses or coloured sugar.” This, however, is the real thing—drizzled over the barely crunchy members of the greater broccoli family, it kills their distinctive smell and transforms them completely. The potatoes are perfectly mashed, though you don’t get much horseradish in there. Salmon, a skinless filet, is moist and flaky.

For dessert, the Bing cherry crostata is good but the chocolate souffle is downright fantastic.

Although most entrees are in the $20 range, there are some deals floating around, like Prime Time Sundays: prime rib, Caesar salad, creamed spinach/corn, and bananas Foster for less than $25, says WHills. Happy hour features half-price appetizers, and the brunch with free-flowing champagne/mimosas is popular.

Taps Fish House & Brewery [OC]
101 E. Imperial Highway, Brea
714-257-0101
Locator

Board Links: Three cheers for Taps!