Where Can I Eat Ingredients Fresh From the Farm?
THE QUESTION: To celebrate her birthday, Melissa of San Francisco is eschewing NoCal for SoCal. She’d prefer to eat foods sourced directly from farms and drink drinks concocted of fresh fruits from said farms. Moreover, Melissa isn’t interested in a “scene” — unless the scene is simply diners just like herself relishing each bite of made-with-love food. So, where to?
THE ANSWER: Among my favorite things to do in L.A. is to stroll/shop/spy the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market every Wednesday morning — and the bevy of L.A. chefs and crew that take on the hardship of sourcing their ingredients from farms. To wit, their menus are some of L.A.’s best. You always know what’s in season, too; these days, I can’t escape a restaurant without some sort of corn special (ravioli, chowder, pudding, et al.).
Melissa, below are five restaurants that ought to suffice your farm-supportive appetite:
Photo: Food GPS
The menu here changes weekly, and while it’s devastating to see favorites depart, each new addition is as savory as the last. Cube offers a barage of cheeses and charcuterie, plus, antipasti like braised baby octopus, pastas of oxtail ragu and Red Cow parmesan, black truffle pizza topped with a fried egg, and secondi entrees like bone-in veal saltimbocca. Extra: Dessert Bar Mondays (five desserts at five bucks each) and Lasagna Lab Tuesdays (a $20 lasagna/market-driven salad/wine pairing).
2. Lazy Ox Canteen
The menu here changes daily — and the specials chalkboard is the only acceptable way into your belly. Pray you find the bäco — Chef Josef Centeno’s fleeting hybrid of a gyro, pizza and taco comprised of pork belly, arugula, slices of raw apple and a lot of sauce atop grilled flatbread. Plus, the crispy pigs ears — arguably the best in L.A.
3. Rustic Canyon
The menu, branded with today’s date, clearly states: “All of our food comes from farmers and ranchers that practice sustainable agriculture and is prepared with love.” Today, you’d happily discover crispy squash blossoms and a burrata and escarole ravioli; and every day, you cannot escape Chef Evan Funke’s acclaimed Niman Ranch burger, which thoughtfully pays homage to In-N-Out’s animal-style variety.
4. The Tasting Kitchen
Wow — the pork rillettes. The best way to fully grasp the gastro-attitude of these Portland cooks — led by James Beard-nodded Chef Casey Lane — is to let the chef handle it. Trust that you will experience food of the mind-blowing variety (even in the bread basket!). They talk about “terroir,” and wine has no part in the discussion.
5. Palate Food & Wine
Wine is to be savored at Palate (the ground floor of a former moving depot is now an eno-grastronomic library), and pairs superbly with its Mediterranean cooking sensibility of local, artisanal ingredients. Of course, the menu changes weekly, but attempt the “porkfolio” of assorted charcuterie as well as the “mason jars” filled of potted lamb, chicken, Berkshire port, or planked smoked trout.
Plus, five bars with too-fresh cocktails:
1. Mandrake (“fresh mint from the garden” — cute)
2. Varnish (for a Bartender’s Choice, mention you like citrus or apples, even)
3. Rivera (order ONLY the Barbacoa with mezcal or the Blood Sugar Sex Magic)
4. Copa d’Oro (get anything from their Signature Market Menu; beware: weekends are club-like)
5. Roger Room (“The Thug” is the one — habanero bitters, that’s right)
Girls Wanna See Live Music That Doesn’t Suck. What Westside Bars Are Best?
THE QUESTION: Francesca of Santa Monica is your average busy gal but will MAKE time for bars and pubs — providing they’ve got the best live music on the Westside. Please, where?
THE ANSWER: It seems there are five Westside spots that have got the proper ears ‘n’ eyes (and butts — for wiggling purposes) stimulation, plus, libations:
1. Zanzibar offers the most eclectic of musical fare — from a live salsa band the first Monday of every month (oftentimes, featuring a Puerto Rican dance champion offering, ahem, lessons) to Brazilian funk and soul and hip-hop performances on Wednesdays and a variety of Afro Funke events on Thursdays (think digital paintings AND giveaways).
2. If you’ve got the spontaneous due diligence, the Stronghold Speakeasy is arguably the most exciting live-music jam spot of all. Operating (somewhat) like a true speakeasy, what’s happening upstairs from the denim enclave, The Stronghold, is a very nebulous, word-of-mouth thing. What we do know is: Sundays and Mondays are (generally) dark. Tuesday through Saturday is always a possibility, and if you DON’T stumble upon a private event, prepare for singer/songwriters and bands of numberless members. (Become their Facebook friend.) It’s handsome from every angle.
3. A drunk fella at Rick’s informed me that Harvelle’s is the best. The best for live blues, and oh, yes, excellent burlesque. Located just off the Promenade — and since 1931 — it’s a dark and sexy little room featuring the best of local, national and even international artists. Something called The Toledo Show features “pure unadulterated soul, jazz and caberet” — ! The burlesque shows can sell out, obviously, so pre-buy your cover.
4. Brennan’s is best know for its turtle races, but this is a heart-out pub featuring live music six nights a week (dark Mondays). A lot of it is cover bands (but you know that’s awesome) and nights like “Dazed & Confused” of ’70s and ’80s hard-rock tribute. My pretty neighbor Josie leads a Tuesday night residency as part of the Luca Band for “Liquor on the Westside” night.
5. West at Hotel Angeleno features an incredibly sweet Jazz Night on Mondays. It’s an adult affair, but with the glamour of prim cocktails and a spectacular skyline view of Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean, it’s without pretense. This is where musicians such as … Sheryl Crow might wind up at, even mustering a performance for the intimate crowd.
Zanzibar, 1301 5th St., Santa Monica, 310-451-2221
The Stronghold Speakeasy, 1625 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice
Harvelle’s, 1432 4th St., Santa Monica, 310-395-1676
Brennan’s, 4089 Lincoln Blvd., Marina Del Rey, 310-821-6622
West at Hotel Angeleno, 170 N. Church Lane, Brentwood, 310-476-6411
Where Is the Best Fried Chicken in L.A.? Because It Ain’t Honey Kettle’s.
THE QUESTION: Josh of Culver City (born and bred) kind of hates the fried chicken coming out of his neighborhood. Honey’s Kettle is greasy, he says. Ain’t no spice neither. That cannot be L.A.’s best fried chicken spot — can it?
Photo: The Eaten Path
THE ANSWER: Well … FAQ-LA happens to LOVE Honey’s Kettle Fried Chicken something addictive. But! I do understand if some folks, like Josh, disagree with it being “the best.” Like burgers, chicken of the fried variety is a personal thing.
And with that said, it’s fair that we leave out the luxury set of fried chicken — so no Ludo Fried Chicken and no Kyochon, OK? Just real, Southern-style, fried chicken allowed.
I would feel compelled to suggest Maurice’s Snack ‘n’ Chat, but I think, bless her and her chicken, it’s now shuttered. Then there’s Aunt Kizzy’s in her NEW, less-of-a-loose-cannon location on Washington and Pacific, where Aunt Johnnie’s Fried Chicken (“a blend of seasonings and cooked in a light butter”) is no disappointment. But for you, Josh, we need … a little more ‘hood. FAQ-LA suggests a pilgrimage to one of the following:
1. Golden Bird
Boasting several locations, it seems Inglewood ought to serve the best. They are “all about the flava … since 1953.” And their website plays “Unforgettable” on loop. Golden Bird chicken is also being served at Porky’s BBQ, just up the street, if you want a side of ribs with your four-piece meal. Also, they’ve got a franchise in Lithonia, Georgia — so it’s working. In the South.
2. Donahoo’s (pictured above)
It’s way the chicken out in Pomona, but it IS a fried chicken shack. Fine, a bunch of Chinese folks run it now, but I bet it’s well-spiced! (Plus, I trust Sonia of Irv’s Burgers to cook up a mean patty, and she’s very Asian.) Eat it right out of yer donut box.
Golden Bird, 902 N. La Brea Ave., Inglewood, 310-671-0604
Donahoo’s Golden Chicken, 1074 N. Garey Ave., Pomona, 909-622-3213
The New Diner | Golden Bird
The Eaten Path | Fried Chicken Dinner - Donahoo’s Golden Chicken
Where’s the Steak at, Y’all?
THE QUESTION: Lien of FAQ-LA (that’s me!) loves steak. Like, ever since she could meet her steak at eye level at a French restaurant and chew rare meat (age: four). But steak is a funny thing to hunt down in L.A. because there is the issue of the price tag (unless someone else is paying) and the old-folks “scene.” So, where will it not be a snore and WORTH the pay?
THE ANSWER: Angelini Osteria, as heavily praised by Woogene and Jeffrey (my wine schoolmates), serves the “Harvey’s Guss” — grilled Bistecca alla Fiorentina for two, finished in the wood oven with grilled radicchio and roasted potatoes — which the description alone is better than, “Yeah, I’ll have the filet, please.” It’s a simple prep — as steak ought to be — and served with sea salt. A secret like this is meant for sharing.
If the bill is a non-issue, Woogene recommends Cut (pictured above) — and I can think of many others that would agree. Like Keanu Reeves. Get a big group together and order every piece of prime beef available, and the cutters will serve you a slice of everything — from Porterhouse to Kobe to Japanese Wagyu Sirloin, and oh, yes, a 21-day-aged bone-in Rib Eye weighing in at 20 oz.
I fell in love with ordering bone-in Rib Eyes at Taylor’s Steakhouse in Koreatown — my spot for steak, if I had to say. It’s an off-the-menu cut of beef, but the old-school hangout seems to always have it in-house all the way from Kansas City. It usually weighs in at 16 oz. — and I usually eat all of it. I love Taylor’s. The crowd is old, yes, but it’s dark, classy, and interesting — and will never go out of style the same way The Godfather wouldn’t.
The same cannot be said of Pacific Dining Car or even Mastro’s. And have both gone south, like everybody says? (My PDC experience was personally mediocre.) Perhaps, because of Mastro’s’ new neighbor across the street …
Bouchon — the signature dish of Thomas Keller’s being Steak Frites. I mean.
Also Worth Mentioning: Dan Tana’s, BLT Steak, Morton’s, Lucques
I’m a F-cking New Yorker, and I’m Demanding Two Great Dinners in Venice — Don’t Say Gjelina.
THE QUESTION: Justin of NYC, admittedly, has high standards. That said, he better than deserves two great meals in his requested Venice Beach. His traveling partner has already dined at Gjelina and Shima — so something new, please?
1. The Tasting Kitchen has received an obscene amount of gushing since it took over (in five minutes) the former still-breathtaking space of “Scandinavian” AK. A young group of Portland renegades, led by James Beard-knows-me Casey Lane, are developing new ingredient-driven menus every day — a self-claiming “montage” to “taste the terroir and cultures we have been handed” — be it Morocco’s, France’s or Libya’s. (The website’s “about” page is really, really powerful.) Whatever, just order the rillettes. According to Jonathan Gold, they’re better here than in France.
2. Piccolo, somehow, blurs the line between warm Italian home-cooking and modern inventiveness that challenges and pleases the palate. Wildly. Blueberry pasta with braised pheasant ragu? Lamb shank braised in rhubarb Port and foie gras risotto? Truffles EVERYWHERE? Just do it. It’s authentic Italy in California Venice. The famously miniature restaurant has recently expanded into the former stomping grounds of yesteryear’s Beat poets, so, oh yes, they’re accepting reservations. Dare to get a big beer at the neighboring biergarten, On the Waterfront Cafe, too.
The Tasting Kitchen, 1633 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice, 310-392-6644
Piccolo, 5 Dudley Ave., Venice, 310-314-3222
LA Weekly | Oregon Style: The Tasting Kitchen
LA Times | The Review: The Tasting Kitchen in Venice
Grub Street LA | Cena al Contrario “Reversal” with Truffles at Piccolo
TastingTable LA | Wine Tastings and Wine Dinners at Piccolo Ristorante
What are the “Right Now” Hot Spots for Celebrities?
THE QUESTION: An editor of a travel guide publication is desperate to find out where the famous folks are spending their nights drinking. The top three bars/clubs would be … ?
THE ANSWER: As I’ve humbly pointed out, I’m not hip to the (literal) Hollywood scene — but it isn’t to say I don’t employ a Hollywood Desk to provide such burning answers. Patty (of New Jersey, ironically) has kindly informed FAQ-LA that “sightings” can be spotted at the following three bars:
1. Trousdale, 9229 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood
(Evidently, Lindsay Lohan was “snubbed” entrance here.)
2. Voyeur, 7969 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood
(Levi Johnston and La Toya Jackson — I won’t say more.)
3. Guys & Dolls, 8713 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood
(Ryan Phillippe can’t STOP talking about Reese!)
Honorable Mention: Bardot is still kicking, too.
Brand X | Trousdale: Brent Bolthouse’s new club after his big bolt
UrbanDaddy LA | This New Nightspot’s a Real Beauty
Los Angeles Times | Guys & Dolls is for the average, everyday A-lister
I’m Staying at the Ritz in the Marina — Where Can I Find an Honest Burger?
THE QUESTION: Erin of Santa Monica is tempted by a weekend rendezvous at the Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del Rey (great bathrobes). Yet she’s a lover of burgers and is craving one for Sunday brunch. What’s nearby?
Photo: A Hamburger Today
THE ANSWER: Two wonderful options exist nearby. One is an authentic bar burger served with Doritos. The other is semi-upscale diner with endless burger toppings — plus, fries and milkshakes (and booze). Both are terribly close to the Ritz — so Erin will be able to return to her plush robe in under an hour.
Hinano is a beach dive with burgers grilling just behind the bar. It’s classic and without frills — bacon withstanding. Venice locals of every variety swear by this burger — thanks to its charred, meaty reliability.
The Counter is a beloved L.A. burger chain (now national; Oprah might’ve said something about it), and the Marina Del Rey spot is just a few yards from the boats. The gimmick here is build your own burger; a small clipboard of an infinite amount of toppings listed — you check off what you want. Everything from your bun type, your meat poundage, then little things like jalapenos, dried cranberries, apricot sauce, a fried egg, dill pickle chips, hot wing sauce, greek feta — really, anything you want. Choose your toppings thoughtfully, tell ‘em how you want your meat cooked — and your burger will be perfect, no doubt about it.
Hinano Cafe, 15 Washington Blvd., Venice, 310-822-3902
The Counter, 4786 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey, 310-827-8600
A Hamburger Today | Hinano Cafe in Venice, Calif. Is a Dive Bar Burger Treat
The Burger Busters | Hinano in Venice, CA
A Hamburger Today | Review: The Counter
Pleasure Palate | “The Great Burger Quest” at the Counter
How Can I Eat My Way Through L.A. the Cheapest?
THE QUESTION: Amanda of Atlanta, GA is visiting her big brother in L.A. for the first time — and she and her husband would like to experience the Left Coast culinary cuisine the cheapest possible way. Where to?
1. The Edison
Cocktails are a form of nourishment, and therefore, Downtown’s Edison, the most elegant, cavernous former-power-plant watering hole lauding its centennial birthday, leads this list with its 100-cent Happy Hour. Read: drinks are a dollar. The kind of drinks that usually cost $13 — and are worth $13 — but if you get to the Edison on a Wed., Thur. or Fri. between 5PM and 7PM, you can experience a modern stiff one with a 100-year-old price tag.
2. Diddy Reise
Build your own ice cream sandwich — that would be Dreyer’s ice cream sandwiched between two homebaked cookies — for the staggering price of $1.50. Diddy Riese, serving Westwood (and the UCLA campus) since 1983, is the sweetest bargain in L.A. Sure, there’s the line to consider, but oftentimes, actors are walking the red carpet for a movie premiere just outside the shop — kind of entertaining, no?
3. The Best Fish Taco in Ensenada
Nope, not in Baja — just Los Feliz. A no-frills fish/shrimp taco “shack” with an incomparable salsa bar. Lightly fried fish and shrimp, just $1 and $2, respectively. Don’t be sorry and not top it off with a dollop of magic cream sauce.
4. Zip Fusion in Little Tokyo
For the entire month of April, Downtown’s Zip Fusion is offering up all of its superior sushi for an all-you-can-eat price of $14.95. Just order a drink, and you get the deal. Happy 8th Birthday to Zip!
5. Bacon-Wrapped Hot Dogs
If you’re at a bar, have it be one that’s got a hot dog cart parked outside of it (like Bigfoot West or the Echoplex). No-name carts grilling thick, juicy, BACON-WRAPPED dogs topped with cooked onions — frankly, it’s the perfect drunk food. Cheap! Let’s Be Frank Hot Dogs (via a trailer or a cart) in Culver City and Hot Dog (on a) Stick at the Boardwalk just south of the Santa Monica Pier can also sate a dog-craving appetite.
6. Nickel Diner
I love diners. Cafe 50s in Venice and Fred 62 in Los Feliz are tops, but Downtown’s Nickel Diner boasts that it’s L.A.’s “best” one, serving up breakfast all day long (except Mondays). While nothing costs just a nickel anymore, there is the five-cent bag meal (for $3.50) — homemade brioche cinnamon toast with butter and homemade jam. Then, there’s the Maple Bacon Donut — if it’s not sold out by morning.
Two places in L.A. claim to have invented the French dip sandwich, and Philippe’s has got the better one (Cole’s, however, is a fine-looking bar now, post-makeover). Vibe is massive blue-collar cafeteria. Multiple long lines awaiting one result: a sammie of pork, beef, ham, lamb or turkey pre-dipped in jus for you.
8. Kogi at the Alibi Room
Chef Roy Choi is 2010’s Best New Chef according to Food & Wine, and while many scoffed at the idea of a food truck chef being awarded, it’s decidedly well-deserved. Korean BBQ Tacos! That’s it. Besides, all his meals aren’t just on wheels: For a year now, he’s taken over the kitchen of a (purportedly) dying bar in West Culver City, the Alibi Room. Here, you can eat Kogi six nights a week with the accompaniment of booze. No Twitter ‘n’ truck-chasing necessary.
9. Dim Sum Truck
But if you WANT to chase a truck, the Dim Sum Truck is worth the hunt. Simply because eating dim sum the typical way is rather complicated (weekends only, Chinatown ‘hoods only, long lines, the cart you want never comes by, et al.). For just a few bucks, this truck serves up popularized dumplings (like har gow and shu mai), plus BBQ pork buns.
10. In-N-Out and Apple Pan
For as fit as most L.A. folks look, burgers are a big, big deal. In-N-Out, of course, is a West Coast institution — and the only way to order is “double-double, animal-style.” Don’t worry about it. Apple Pan, however, is the counter-service burger bar of yesteryear, and old curmudgeons have slapped down paper-wrapped hickory burgers and apple pie for almost 100 years.
I Need a Beach Day and I Want to Eat Food Out of Taco Trucks. Where Though?
THE QUESTION: Darrell of NYC is treating himself to an L.A. getaway and in addition to warm weather, he wishes to (a.) ride a bike alongside Venice Beach and (b.) eat at
roach coaches taco trucks. Where are the good ones parked?
Photo: LA Taco
THE ANSWER: La Isla Bonita Truck is parked on Rose Ave. (between 3rd and 4th Street), and it’s the ONLY instance when it’s right to order fish out of a stopped vehicle. The ceviche is served on a flat circular disc of corn chip, topped with two slices of California-green avocado (that’s me, above, near the FAQ-LA logo, chomping on said ceviche), and it’ll set you back just two bucks. The carnitas taco? Oh, yes. Even the shrimp burrito. Venture here when it’s daylight and not a Thursday — or you’ll be sorry.
The other truck that you, Darrell, may have heard of all the way in New York is the Kogi Truck of Korean BBQ tacos. Rather than getting on Twitter, hoping/praying it’ll be parked in The Brig lot, get thee biking to the Alibi Room after 6PM and eat all the Kogi you want — WITH a beer in the other mitt. There’s a full, operating, six-nights-a-week (closed Sundays) Kogi kitchen at the Alibi, and in addition to the addictive short rib tacos, the kimchi-topped hot dog is no slouch either.
Lastly, the La Oaxaquena Truck — parked on Lincoln Blvd. south of Rose Ave. — warrants a late-night stop, simply because the taco de cabeza (ahem, that’s head) is a wonderful thing to put in your mouth. Trust.
La Isla Bonita Truck, Rose Ave. between 3rd and 4th St.
Alibi Room, 12236 Washington Blvd. east of Centinela, Culver City
La Oaxaquena Truck, Lincoln Blvd. south of Rose Ave.
LA Taco | La Isla Bonita Truck
The Great Taco Hunt | La Isla Bonita
The Delicious Life | La Oaxaquena Taco Truck - Ridin’ Dirty
Caroline on Crack | Kogi BBQ Takes Over Alibi Room’s Kitchen
Tasting Table | Kogi Korean BBQ Truck goes into Alibi Room in Culver City
LA Taco | La Oaxaquena Taco Truck
My Parents Are Coming to Visit and Want to Absorb L.A. in Two Days? How Will I Do It?
THE QUESTION: Dave of Culver City wants to show off where he lives now to his Georgia parents. How will he get a few tourist sights in, but not get stuck on a tour bus?
THE ANSWER: The great thing about living in Culver City is, you’re right in the middle of it. Why not go west one day (i.e. to the coast) and go east the other day (i.e. Hollywood)? A packed-in itinerary below for consideration:
1. The Curious Palate
— get Intelligentsia-brewed coffee and freshly-baked crossiants and scones to-go, and bring said pastries to …
2. The Getty
— have a continental-breakfast picnic on the hill, then absorb the exhibits and take a lot of family portraits with the best views of the city
3. Take Sunset Blvd to the PCH and go north
— point out little sister Getty Villa, plus, notable stops include Surf Rider’s Beach (where all the dudes surf) the Malibu Country Mart (where all the stars shop)
4. Malibu Seafood
— a seafood-shack lunch of fried oysters and outstanding ceviche
5. Keep north on the PCH
—additional beach spots for consideration: Zuma, El Matador and Leo Carrillo — the beach locale of many movies shot
5. Venice Beach Wines
— wine and cheese reprieve at Venice’s sweetest outdoor wine bar
6. Walk Venice Boardwalk
— watch the five-year-olds skateboard better than anybody at the new skate park; check out the biergarten at On the Waterfront Cafe; gawk at freaks everywhere
7. Have dinner on Abbot Kinney Blvd.
— the world’s best turkey burger at Hal’s, delightful supper at Joe’s, or Spanish tapas at Primitivo
— why not end a wonderful day/night with a specialty cappuccino?
1. Sprinkles Cupcakes
— pick up coffee and cupcakes (do not kid around — order strawberry, the owner’s favorite and mine). You’ll need the sugar high. Stroll Rodeo Drive, if you’d like.
2. Hollywood Walk of Fame
— park at Hollywood & Highland and visit the infamous hand-and-footprints outside of Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
3. Hollywood Sign
— turn left on Gower Street for the best view of the sign from the bottom of the hill
4. Square One
— one of L.A.’s most underrated brunch spots. Skillet eggs! Gawk at the Scientologists across the street.
5. Griffith Park Observatory
— another lovely view of Los Angeles, plus, a planetarium show
6. Take Sunset Blvd through Silver Lake
— stop at Pazzo Gelato or Cafe Tropical, if pick-me-up snacks are desired
7. Downtown’s Disney Music Hall (pictured above)
— it’s Frank Gehry-designed and frankly, a Kodak moment
8. Little Tokyo
The hundred-year-old Japanese Village Plaza features the guys that brought mochi ice cream to your grocery store (Mikawaya) and lovely confections and pastries at Fugetsu-Do and Misuru Cafe. Look for the secret Japanese garden, too.
(Back to Culver City — rest)
9. A Night in Santa Monica
— a stroll through Third Street Promenade and a French dinner, perhaps, at Anisette or off the Promenade at Fraiche or Rustic Canyon