Brief Thoughts on LA’s Most Underrated Restaurants

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Stella Barra is one of them, according to Eater LA.

In a city as big as ours, there are bound to be restaurants and shops that fly under the radar. I cook Monday through Thursday so we can eat out guilt-free on weekends, and after a lot of marathon-like Saturdays and Sundays around town I know I’ve missed many amazing kitchens. But that’s kinda what I love about city living. You’re checklist is never quite checked. There’s always more to explore or eat.

That being said, I think I’ll make this Eater LA list a guide for the next year or so of eating out: Los Angeles’ 20 Most Underrated Restaurants, Mapped. I’ve been to seven of the 20– Canale, Osteria Mamma, Jar (one of my LA faves), Salt’s Cure, Mercado, Cafe Pinot, and Stella Barra– which means a lucky 13 are left!

Hope my belly can handle it.

A Little Bit of Eagle Rock Moves To Mid-City

My love for LA grew once I stopped spending so much time on the Westside (if you’ve lived west of Robertson for more than 4 years, I’m of the opinion that it’s time to break out). Working in Koreatown and Echo Park over the course of seven years led to some great adventures (and of course plenty of good eats), and I eventually started wandering a bit further east into neighborhoods like Eagle Rock, Atwater Village and Highland Park. Since it’s tricky to get over to these newly-trendy ‘hoods too often, I tend to keep up on the goings on via a handful of online sites. And boy do I get excited when something cool from over there picks up (or copies itself) and settles somewhere over here. Case in point, Eagle Rock’s beloved Four Cafe.

If I had it my way, I’d eat salads and sandwiches every meal of the day, so news of Four Cafe‘s replication meant another just-right shop for me was moving into my area. LA area Chowhounds have long-raved about how delicious the FC fare is, and some even liken it to Clementine (gasp!).

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The second iteration of FC took over the Black Cat Bakery space on Fairfax Boulevard, and they’ve done some easy remodeling to make it their own. The black awning outside is down, replaced with a bright green Four Cafe placard; the weirdly placed counter, which was smack in front of the door and caused weird traffic jams, has been smartly moved to the side; and they’ve added some rustic, repurposed wood panels to various walls for some simple decor. Clean and to the point. My kind of place!

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I stopped in for lunch today with a new friend and was pleased as punch (I know, only grammies say “pleased as punch”) with the chopped miso salad, a giant bowl of napa, red, and white cabbage, crispy (and potent!) shallot slices, almond slivers, chives, and a yummy miso vinaigrette. I opted to add some organic free range chicken as well. This beast of a thing was the half size salad, which blew my mind. That’s $7 for the half size, plus $2 for the additional chicken, making it the best priced salad I’ve had in LA in a long time.

I know I’ll be returning soon, but the problem will be how to get myself to order something else– might not happen for awhile. Check out their great menu right here on their homepage.

PS. Forgive me while I play with my new Beautiful Mess app. Too much fun!

New Mid-City Favorite: Top Round Roast Beef

Mid-City is full of great foodie destinations, and another one just opened last week: Top Round Roast Beef, brought to you by  a gaggle of male restauranteurs from popular LA restaurants like 800 Degrees, Red Medicine and XIV.

The pickings are slim, but in a good and delicious way: five versions of roast beef sandwiches, three curly fry options, sundaes, concretes (like a McFlurry), and a fancy soda fountain that allows you to mix up flavors if you like (Fanta + Mr. Pibb, anyone?). The  menu reminds me of In N Out— it’s not about doing a million things, it’s about doing a few things and executing them very well. The decor is no frills, too. Just a faux retro diner sittin’ on the corner of La Brea and Olympic.

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The latest and greatest in Mid-City.

I totally failed to take food photos this time around, as I was too busy scarfing down meat, bread, and cheese. It was SO good! I had a plain roast beef sandwich with au jus— to the point and yummy. Some folks on Chowhound liken it to what Arby’s sandwiches were like long ago. The cheesy fries were a great side, messy and fork-worthy. They’re also not unlike the amazing cheese fries one gets at Shake Shack. Do they sit like a rock in your belly? Sure. But every once in awhile I don’t mind carrying around a stomach rock.

Don’t fill up on sammys and fries, though. The dessert offerings shouldn’t be glossed over. We took the concrete path this time, ordering blueberry pie (literally tasted like obliterated, buttery pie crust in a cup) and the Elvis, a mixture of cookies, banana, and peanuts (a combo that The King supposedly adored). These were pricey at $5 each, but the perfect sweet treat to end the dinner.

Like you needed another indulgent, fatty cafe on your Mid-City hit list, right?

More photos after the jump!

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LA’s Grand Central Market: 4 New Eateries To Get Excited About

Though I’ve frequented only a fraction of the businesses and parks in the area, I’m totally in love with downtown LA.  A couple of weeks ago I checked off a few destinations on my hit list: Angeles Park (the one they make look so pretty in 500 Days of Summer), the Angels Flight Railway, and the Grand Central Market just across the street. This is a great trifecta, each just steps from the other and perfect for an easy, historic outing.

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The park isn’t as kept up as I’d hoped, and of course the cable car was under construction the day I went, but the market was awesome– it’s nearly 100 years old and has been in the news lately because of  a contentious facelift that’s still going on. Pricier, hipster-serving merchants are moving in and there’s legitimate concern that the new clientele they draw will push out the old-school, affordable vendors that have been there for years. My hope is that both the old and new businesses can have a place here; there are certainly just as many veteran stands I’d like to frequent as there are new tenants. Here are four newbies that are already moved in or are about to open… once the July heat subsides and you’re feeling a little hungry, a walk through the market will make for a great day, or at least a great lunch hour.

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Three Great Stops in The Original Farmers’ Market

Now that I’m rarely out and about alone anymore, I’m less inclined to drive very far to shop, grab a meal, or get some exercise in. If it’s not convenient or if the trip includes getting on the 405 at all, I try to make alternative plans. To that end, the Grove has become my go-to place for all things fun: coffee dates with friends, walking with O in the stroller, even daytime dates with the husband when a babysitter is available. It’s especially easy to while away time in the Farmers’ Market area, where there are enough food stalls to eat lunch everyday for weeks and not try the same place twice. It’s also rather baby friendly; most of the seating is outdoors (i.e. messy eater’s paradise) and it’s usually pretty busy (i.e. no one will notice if your baby is whining).

Here are my current FM’s favorites:

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1. Littlejohn’s Candies: Known for handmade batches of English toffee (pictured) and fudge, this is one of the oldest stands in the FM, moving in in 1946 (though they’ve been making candy since the 1920’s). Grab a free sample from the young ladies at the front counter, and look in the back room to see if anyone is prepping or baking fresh treats! Their toffee is so good– a great thought if you’re into the idea of giving locally-produced gifts that tell a little snippet of LA’s history.

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2. Short Cake:  Love or hate the burgers at Short Order (people get so riled up about burgers, don’t they?), Nancy Silverton and Amy Pressman’s adjacent bakery is a must-visit. I’m partial to the chocolate chip cookie and the mocha over ice– they make the latter with fancy TCHO chocolate. The perfect treat, IMO. If I’m feeling like the cookie is enough sugar for the day, I grab an iced tea instead.

3. Singapore’s Banana Leaf: At lunch time this counter is one of the busiest in the market, and once you’ve tasted the mee goreng (fried noodles) you’ll understand why. Add chicken or tofu if you like, but with or without the protein the dish is pretty heavenly. The egg rolls weren’t thrilling (too doughy), but the green curry with chicken was another winning entree. Next time the line at the Brazilian weigh-your-plate place is too long, be sure to head here– or, just head here first.

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The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck Returns to LA in T-Minus 3 Days!

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Photo of Big Gay Ice Cream Truck in NYC by chill via Creative Commons

I was so sad last year when the Big Gay Ice Cream truck came to LA and left before I was able to sample its goods. All the photos that popped up on instagram and facebook had me drooling (though the lines looked pretty yuck), so imagine my excitement when I read this morning that it’s BACK!

What’s the big deal about The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck? I think people dig it because it’s a mishmash of old and new: old-school soft serve adorned with not-so-old-school toppings like sea salt, olive oil, and beyond. Better than the creations themselves are their names, I think. There’s the “Bea Arthur” (vanilla soft serve, dulce de leche syrup, and Nilla Wafer crumbs), the “Salty Pimp” (vanilla soft serve, dulce de leche syrup, sea salt, and a crispy chocolate shell), Cococone, Mermaid Sundae, and more. I also can’t help but love how the truck is decked out in rainbows and sparkly fringe. It feels so 80s, so very My Little Pony-esque.

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Photo of Salty Pimp by gsz via Creative Commons

Here’s the schedule, so mark your calendars and don’t miss out like I did last year!

Saturday, June 1: Outside of Health Ceramics from noon to 4pm

7525 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90036

Outside of Lindy and Grundy from 6pm to 10pm

801 N Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90046

Sunday, June 2: TBD from noon to 4pm

Outside of Faultline Bar from 6pm to 10pm

4216 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90029

Monday, June 3: Next to the Ludo Truck at NBC Universal from noon to 4pm

Outside of Myung In Dumplings (of Anthony Bourdain’s K-Town episode) from 6pm to 10pm

3109 W Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90006

Tuesday, June 4: Outside of Cakemix from noon to 4 pm

8302 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90069

Next to the Kogi BBQ truck (location TBD) from 6pm to 10pm

2 Reasons to Plan A Weekend Visit to Mateo Street

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Downtown LA is full of surprises, and most recent one to jump out at me is the Handsome Coffee Roasters and Egg Slut partnership on Mateo Street. The Egg Slut truck roves around a bit, but you can consistently find it at the curb outside of HR Monday through Thursday from noon to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. One of the only food trucks that focuses on eggy breakfast concoctions, Egg Slut had me at “breakfast sandwich.” I grew up on junk food, and the Egg McMuffin was high on my list of favorite drive-thru eats.

As a grown person and a Los Angeles food addict, I do understand that the McMuffin is no match for any of the delicious a.m. options in L.A. I love the griddle cakes from Salt’s Cure, the cheap two-egg breakfast plate at Nick’s Coffee Shop, and the pork belly hash bowl at Sycamore Kitchen. But they now have some competition IMHO, because my new favorite breakfast is any sandwich from the Egg Slut truck, paired with a strong-as-a-Hulk-Hogan drip coffee from HR.

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Of course I ordered the sandwich that most closely resembles my favorite McD’s sammy: bun, sausage patty, fried egg, cheese, and aioli (top left photo). DAMN good, and clearly capable of blowing it’s fast food predecessor out of the water. Friends had a similar sandwich but loaded with bacon instead of sausage (top right photo).

There are a million and one reasons to drive to DTLA, but here’s another one for all the McMuffin lovers out there.