Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Los Angeles Izakaya Trek

This post is about one of my foodie goals, which is to visit every izakaya in Los Angeles. For those of you who might not know, izakaya are a loose Japanese equivalent to a gastropub. These are places to go and drink, but also feature a wide assortment of wonderful foods to accompany the inevitable beer & sake. The food tends toward the salty and savory, and mostly features small plates and shared dishes, and each establishment has a different place they sit on the scale from bar to restaurant. Also important to know is that most izakaya stay open quite late. Often around 11PM on weekdays and midnight or 1AM on weekends.

Haru ULaLa (Downtown)

More grill focused. They also have an astounding assortment of gyoza, including shiso variants that are wonderfully piquant. $12 pichters of Kirin. Grilled rice balls. The egg custard wasn't that great... But this place is certainly heavy on the drinking end. Many nights I have seen a cluster of drunk folks smoking on the curb out front at midnight.

368 East 2nd Street Los Angeles, CA 90012-4203 - (213) 620-0977

Musha (Santa Monica)

A more modern forward looking izakaya with a hint of california influence, but astoundingly strong menu sure to impress traditional Japanese folks from Tokyo as much as your midwestern siblings. Aburisaba (marinaded mackerel that has it's skin blow-torched at your table), Oshinko (home-made pickles from various baby veggies), Okinomiyaki (a fluffy omelet with octopus). Plenty of great veggie options. This place always leaves you feeling upbeat and positive (and the latin jazz doesn't hurt the sunny vibe of their food at all). Can get busy, so make a reservation. Leans a bit more toward the restaurant end.

424 Wilshire Blvd Santa Monica, CA 90401 (310) 576-6330

Furaibo (West LA)

A very authentic place on Sawtelle where the masses eat before karaoke at the bar next door. They have some curious specialties such as tako wasabi (raw octopus with chopped fresh wasabi and a slimy texture). Dried lake fish with their roe still inside. The grilled chicken-part sampler is one of the gems. Solid veggie options. A rather traditional menu with a huge assortment of options. Try to sit on the floor in the traditional Japanese style room if your legs can handle it for a more intimate experience. Leans a hint toward the restaurant end, but I haven't been late at night. This place is always hopping with locals.

2068 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles - (310) 444-1432

Izayoi (Downtown/Little Tokyo)

Widely diverse menu. The flavors are distinctly more subtle. There wasn't an dish that really floored us, but most everything was solid. The best items tended to be things like the "Sardine Burger". Sure as hell avoid the miso squid leg and raw egg dish which made everyone gag. Sake is a touch pricey and the place was touch "hygienic" for my tastes. Far leaning toward restaurant (they even close at 10:30).

132 North Central Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90012-3913 - (213) 613-9554


Not a proper izakaya, but an amazing french/japanese restaurant in the izakaya-has-babies-with-a-wine-bar flavor. No reservations, but if you are sick of your usual wine bar flavors, the food here is killer and they have a large selection of moderately priced wine that focuses on sustainable and organic production. Solidly on the restaurant end and a bit pricey. The chef here is Shiro, famous for his Pasadena restaurant Cafe Jacoulet. Corkage is around $15.

2006 Sawtelle Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90025-6230 - (310) 268-2212

Robata Bar

Again, not an izakaya proper, since their specialty is on grilled skewers, but they have a good selection of other dishes from their neighboring restaurant Sushi Roku. Fois gras and lobster skewers as an idea of what they are known for. Pricey, trendy and small, this isn't a place I would personally frequent (especially with Bar Pinxto so close, and Musha in walking distance as well). Tends a bit toward the bar end.

1401 Ocean Avenue Santa Monica, CA 90401-2106 (310) 458-4771

Raku (On Olympic near Sawtelle)

Korean / Japanese traditional bar food. Plenty of different menu options. Tends to be a bit on the bland side. The sushi wasn't great, but something things like fried lotus root were tasty. The two times I've been there it was quite quite and not many people were around.

On my list to explore:

Sasaya (Santa Monica Blvd), Asahi (Downtown Los Angeles), Nanbankan (Sawtelle)

Let me know if you have more suggestions!

Monday, May 24, 2010

If you can't make it to a farmers market...

...and you want to save a chunk of cash on your grocery bills, I wanted to let you all know about a hidden gem of a store in Culver City/Marina Del Rey. It's called Marina Farms and it is a produce-only grocery store. The fruits and veggies won't match the Santa Monica farmer's market in selection nor quality, but it is even a tiny bit better than Whole Foods, but at a fraction of the cost. Gorgeous ripe, red plum tomatoes at 88 cents a pound. Bunches of herbs for under a dollar. Fresh, local grapefruit at 3/$1.25. When I went yesterday I walked out with three full grocery bags of peak veggies and fruit for about $20. I know it's a bit out of the way, but if you are in the area, check it out! http://www.yelp.com/biz/marina-farms-los-angeles

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Labyrinth Los Angeles

This series of adventures for all you in reader-land started as a chat conversation with Chubby Bunny, and continued at length with my girlfriend. The idea was to plan a night out for visiting guests. The rules are simple: Each trip has to have three stops. Each trip should try to feature highly divergent food/drink opportunities in a specific geographic area of Los Angeles on a reasonable budget. Basically, the gist is to blow their minds [just a tiny bit] so that rather than complaining about L.A. the whole visit they are constantly intrigued by the peculiarity of the strange meta-geography and diversity of the place.

Trip 1:

K-Town & Adjacent

This route is my favorite as it is designed to be as jarring as possible. I had a thought that the surrealism inherent in this could be ratcheted up if you took drink stop one and replaced with a trip to the Edison (make reservations!)


Guelaguetza (at 3014 W. Olympic Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90006)

It's the best Oaxacan restaurant in L.A., has an astounding assortments of mole, grilled cactus and homemade chorizo dishes. Try the mezcal and chile salt cocktail. They have a bakery and even serve grasshoppers cooked with chiles. This place is huge, and blaring live music and Oaxacan families (L.A. has the largest population of folks from this region outside of Southern Mexico).


Drink Stop One:

Tiki Ti's (at 4427 West Sunset Boulevard Los Angeles, CA 90027-6017)

Possibly the most old-school Tiki bar on the west coast. This place is run by a grandfather, father and son as the only employees. You can smoke inside, they have the original recipes for many classic drinks, and it's a tiny hut in a parking lot. It is worth the extensive price to get your visiting friends a Blood and Sand or Ogabooga. Once they see the whole, tiny, place cheering for ages as they pour the float of tequila you might see the dawning realization that they are in trouble. Get here early before the line forms and make sure the driver sticks with one drink!


Drink Stop Two:

Dan Sung Sa (at 3317 W 6th St Los Angeles, CA 90020)

So, in good form for the game, I'm going to take you from some of the strongest drinks in Los Angeles and dump you in a bar from a culture that swims in alcohol - a seriously authentic Korean soju bar. The crowd depends on the night, but on off-nights it's mostly filled with middle-aged Korean men sitting in small groups and drinking soju shots while smoking. The decor looks like you stepped in to an early 1900's bar in Seoul. Exposed wood beams hanging low, rickety basic furniture, with yellowed Korean newspapers that have been graffitied to hell plastering the walls. There is some food, but even though they recently added an English menu for the first time, the focus here is on the cheap drinks. Order a bottle of anything but Chum Chu Rum and close your night out huddled in a corner trying to ignore the impending hangover.


Next time, a trip to the Westside!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Hiya all! I wanted to diverge slightly, but in honor Tucson AZ deciding to sue the state over it's draconian immigration bill, I thought it would be nice to showcase a few of the neat things to do in that city that my girlfriend and I found while visiting recently:

Cool stuff to do in Tucson:


Frank's Restaurant (3843 E. Pima) -

This place is the platonic ideal of a greasy spoon breakfast joint. Every southwestern breakfast classic served in a tiny, ramshackle venue. Amazing biscuits and gravy, fantastic huevos rancheros, and cheap prices.

Tucson Tamale Company (2545 E. Broadway) -

A local favorite that only serves tamales of a plethora of varieties. No beer or wine and closes around 5PM, so this place is the perfect quick, cheap lunch restaurant. Two tamales and a soda make the perfect lunch. The cold rice salad is actually pretty amazing too. Order as many different types as possible with your group and share. The green corn was fantastic as was the Tucson.

Cafe Poc Cosa (110 East Pennington Street) -

This is a fantastical southwestern restaurant. The food here is literally changed twice daily on chalkboards that are brought to the tables. A bit pricey, but by far the most innovative and important restaurant working with Mexican cuisine in Tucson. Average entree price is around $25, so this is a bit more expensive than most places, but the various preparations of mole sauce or curious use of obscure chiles make this a true gem. The pear cobbler desert is perfect for those of us who like our deserts less-than-sweet. Worth making a reservation. For some reason I felt that the margaritas were a touch weak (though I felt this way about most of the establishments in Tucson).

Guadalajara Grill (1220 East Prince Road) -

Well above average Southwestern Mexican food. Plenty of neat dishes with twists (like a tilapia in a poblano cream sauce) and a fun selection of enchilada combination plates that are a great start to any trip. The margaritas were fairly nice here. Notable for two reasons: 1) They use a mortar and pestle to make salsa fresh at your table side. 2) They are actually open on Sunday night. A great alternative to El Charro (which only shines with it's Carne Seca dishes).

Hotel Congress / Cup Cafe (311 East Congress Street) -

An old-west hotel that is rumored to be haunted. The food here is really solid, if not jaw-dropping, Americana with a Southwest flare. But of more note is the large selection of classic and invented cocktails made with a deep passion for mixology. The invented cocktails tend to be a bit on the simplistic side, but the classics tend to be impeccably balanced and flavorful. Certainly a classy place to start your evening. Also, I was once locked in a bathroom in one of the tiny old hotel rooms on a road trip. I don't know about the haunted part, but hotel staff was surprisingly understanding when I handed them the doorknob and explained how I had to kick the door in to escape.

El Guero Canelo ( 5201 South 12th Avenue, Tucso) -

"Geuro" is pronounced "weh doe" btw. This is THE singular place for Sonoran hotdogs in Arizona. Which if you don't know are a Mexican invention of a bacon wrapped dog with beans, chiles, cheese, mayo, onions and other items. In old Tucson (which looks like a rundown industrial district from Mad Max) this place is worth the drive just to grab a couple of dogs and hang out on the tented porch. Open until midnight.

Other Things:

Kon Tiki (4625 East Broadway Boulevard) -

Tucson's favorite spot for strong, fruity drinks. While probably not, heck, certainly not, the best nor most authentic Tiki bar around, it's a fun place to stop in for a couple of drinks on a lazy weeknight where you have no where else to be, and want to get slightly tipsy and ramble. Cute tropical interior with many nooks and crannies and fake palm trees. Designated driver warning: these drinks might taste girly, but some are exceptionally strong (especially any at $6+) so make sure to have someone who only plans to have a drink or two handy with the keys.

Center For Creative Photography (Park at the NE corner of Speedway Blvd. and Park Ave.) -

This is one of the strongest collections of art photography in America. Located on the university campus, this free museums feature free admission and rotating shows. Very near the university art museum as well, so if you are up for it, make it an art twofer.

The Surly Wench (424 North 4th Avenue) -

This decidedly non-tourist destination is the main rockabilly bar in Tucson located on 4th. The perfect grungy place to kick back with a PRB and a cheap shot of whiskey and listen to some live music while examining an ever-changing assortment of tattoos. Apparently the food is pretty good for a bar as well.

Luxor Cafe (3699 North Campbell Avenue) -

A middle-eastern restaurant and more interestingly Tucson's main hooka bar where you can lounge on low chairs, drinks some tea, have a piece of baklava and relax with some Guava-flavored, or any of dozens of other flavored, hooka after dinner but before you go get cocktails.

The Loft Cinema (3233 East Speedway Boulevard) -

A two screen art movie theater in which the upstairs theater has couches. They also serve beer and wine. So check out an old, obscure film on a relaxing night so you have something to chat about over cocktails.

Let me know if you have any other places you like there!