>> Eat the World Los Angeles

Thursday, 23 January 2020

El Carrito Restaurant

MΓ‰XICO πŸ‡²πŸ‡½

When you have a soft spot for chilaquiles, one that does not go as far as snobbery, you are always on the lookout for good renditions, even those that are not classic. They can be done in many ways, with different meats and salsas, topped with egg or not, but the unique satisfaction that cleaning a plate of chilaquiles for breakfast gives you is hard to replicate.

It was with this excitement that El Carrito was stumbled upon during a recent visit to San Diego's Chicano Park. Opened in June 2018 in front of a Victorian home on Logan Avenue, the restaurant uses a 1930's cable car (its namesake) with a much longer history. It is a block away from the park, and has some great picnic tables in the front that are perfect in the morning or days that are not too scorching.

Chicano Park is also at the center of Barrio Logan, the oldest Mexican American neighborhood in San Diego. More than 80 murals all made by Chicano artists are on each and every surface of the I-5 and Coronado Bridge interchange. A National Historic Landmark as of 2017, it is home to many dance, music, and culture festivals.

The park is succinctly described in its own literature as an "outdoor cathedral to community activism," and this is probably the best representation possible.

Across the street, the claim of "BEST CHILAQUILES IN SAN DIEGO" right on El Carrito's intro needed to be investigated. This dish is eaten throughout the day sometimes but is mostly considered breakfast. Rather than the normal choices of salsa verde o roja, there are five options here at El Carrito, ranging from $7.99-$8.99. Meats, seafood, egg, or soyrizo can be added for an extra $2.50.

Like the others, the namesake El Carrito chilaquiles ($8.99, above) is a somewhat modern interpretation of the dish using beloved ingredients. The star and focus is their delicious creamy salsa poblana which is then topped with fire roasted corn, poblano chiles, cheese and crema. The menu does not say anything about the tortillas being homemade, but they are great and stay crispy until the very end.

On the day of this visit, tostadas de ceviche ($10, above and below) were on special and hard to resist. They are fine, especially for $10, but it was hard not to see these as an afterthought. Future visits for breakfast and lunch will stick to the tried and true fixtures. Their eggs always seem to be very popular in the morning, and there almost always seems to be someone tucking into a burrito.

Be aware that these early meals are the focus here and on most days the closing time is 3pm sharp.

SAN DIEGO California
2154 Logan Avenue


Thursday, 16 January 2020

Max's of Manila


In the Philippines, everyone has an opinion of Max's of Manila. The restaurant has been around in some form or another since 1945, touting the history of Maximo Gimenez and his relationship with US occupying forces during the second world war, a group of which convinced him to open up his first shop. Now that a second and third generation have taken over the operation, second and third generations of families are coming to enjoy the fried chicken and everything else.

This branch opened almost fifteen years ago in downtown Glendale, a busy area of town close enough to the epicenters of Filipino populations. There is little fanfare for the place outside of this group, but walk in on any day or evening and you will see it is a hugely popular spot for groups of friends and family. As it is in Metro Manila, Cebu, or any one of its over 100 locations in the Philippines, Max's is a destination for happy times.

While the signature dish of Max's is indisputably their fried chicken, the success is ultimately based on the combination of this with a full menu of traditional Filipino foods like lechon kawali ($15.99, above), fried pork belly. This beloved dish is handled with real precision here with an almost unbelievably thick and crispy exterior layer. While the meat inside is juicy and delicious, be careful biting down as that crust can mangle the more tender parts of the mouth.

The sauce typically served with lechon kawali is called liver sauce, but this ends up being one of the last tastes that you find in it, especially when paired with the crispy pork. It is mostly sweet and slightly sour, from brown sugar and calamansi juice, respectively. The combination is great, although you can easily eat the succulent pieces of meat all alone if desired.

"Sarap to the bones"

Even if you are dining here alone without your Filipino family and friends, Max's makes it easy to try a few things with their chicken combo meals. Max's fiesta plate ($13.99, above) includes a leg quarter of fried chicken, rice (or fries), and a fresh or fried lumpiang ubod. It also comes with the essential garlic vinegar sauce, which beats out the banana ketchup or worcestershire sauce that they recommend for the chicken, and a side of small dessert.

The chicken once again is extra crisp on the exterior with incredible crunch, while still juicy inside. The lumpiang ubod is a flaky egg roll made with hearts of palm, pork, shrimp, and crabmeat. That dipping vinegar was actually meant for this, but no one is looking. To further the garlic experience and make sure no vampires (or humans) approach you for the rest of the night, upgrade the plain white rice to the garlic version.

Since you obviously have not had enough fried and gluttonous food already during this meal, grab the turon a la mode ($5.95, above) to finish things off. Turon are lumpia made with bananas, joined on this plate by mais keso ice cream. Anyone reading Spanish can sound this out to corn and cheese, which sounds a bit odd for ice cream but is marvelous. The combination is undeniably right.

Wash everything down from the start with a tall glass of calamansi juice ($4.50, below), much sweeter than the fruit juice would be alone, but so good as a beverage. There is a reason this Filipino citrus is so ubiquitous in the country.

313 W. Broadway

Monday, 13 January 2020

Lynda Sandwich


If you have ever spent time in Vietnam, one of many vivid memories is the smell of fresh breads early in the morning. Banh mi vendors set up their carts before the sun comes up, stacking loaves of French-style baguettes in front of their work stations, ready to be carved up and stuffed with meats, pickled vegetables, condiments, and spicy peppers.

The early morning nature of this sandwich should be taken into account when searching for the right banh mi shop. To be honest, any place that waits to open for lunch and promises a good sandwich is probably lying. The Beach Blvd shopping plaza that Lynda Sandwich lives in actually has two early opening banh mi places, but skip the chain behemoth and stop in here for your sandwich and coffee.

While the coffee is not served dripping but is still strong and does its duty, the bread is magnificent. An ultra-thin and crisp exterior layer gives way to the soft and fluffy insides. The mark of a good bread is sometimes how messy your lap looks when you finish a few bites, the flaky crust should be crumbling everywhere. Make sure to take a seat at their nicely shaded and cool outdoor tables rather than try to eat this in your car.

The dac biet/Lynda special (not pictured) will set you back the princely sum of $4.25, an incredible deal just like most in Orange County. "Dac biet" is seen on menus across the Vietnamese food spectrum and basically translates as they have here: Daily special. Here at Lynda that means a layer of pork pΓ’tΓ©, thin slices of Vietnamese pork roll, and grilled chicken.

The thit nuong/grilled pork ($4, above) substitutes chicken for the red-edged slices of pork seen in the sandwich here, but keeps the rest. These meats are joined by a mayo full of garlic and a lot of white pepper hiding somewhere. Pickled carrots and daikon bring crunch and sweetness, while fresh cucumber and cilantro add a cooling element. It is all kind of just right in taste and texture.

The display full of desserts is always hard to pass up as well, with cups like this coconut jelly. While dense, it is still light and airy and not an assault of sugar.

15380 Beach Blvd

Friday, 10 January 2020

Sticky Rice


Back in 2014, after realizing that its small stall in the Grand Central Market was not large enough to hold the aspirations of its kitchen, Sticky Rice was able to take over the adjoining space behind it and serve customers from this much larger arrangement. With the shift, the menu also added a bunch of mainly noodles dishes, but kept with the theme of street foods.

For Grand Central Market, and those in need of quality Thai food downtown during their lunch break, Sticky Rice remains an invaluable option in a great setting. Its noodles and rice dishes are strong and fresh, if not the most perfect renditions in the city. But where the stall truly excels above all else is the beautiful plate of kao man gai ($12, below), the Thai take on Hainanese chicken.

Every component of this dish is done right. The rice is cooked in chicken fat stock and ginger, fatty but never greasy. The steamed chicken is juicy and fresh, almost as if you can taste these birds were happy. The chicken soup served on the side is no afterthought either, full of flavors and those tastes like you have back home [EDITOR'S NOTE: This description was transcribed from our Senior Khao Mun Gai Correspondent, who grew up in Chiang Mai].

What most lovers of Hainanese chicken will agree upon is that a good sauce can make or break the dish. The sauce here, made from fermented soy beans, ginger, and fresh red chili is one of the best ever sampled including many in Thailand. While the plate looks simple, the components each have to have great care taken in their creation, something that Sticky Rice achieves while most restaurants in the city have failed.


Thursday, 2 January 2020

To Soc Chon ν† μ†μ΄Œ


What happens when you boil a pig's intestines and stuff it with cellophane noodles, barley, and pork blood? Well, you get soondae, of course. And now you know about the specialty of the house at Koreatown's To Soc Chon, a two year old member of its growing international family that also includes locations on the east coast and Chicago.

As almost the only customer in for a late lunch, the service seemed a little overbearing, but this could also have just been concern for the poor fellow who walked in on some unknown Korean food. The waitress made some good recommendations and far more was selected than could possibly be eaten. Even before those dishes arrived, a presentation of the following arrived:

In lieu of a full complement of banchan, a large plate of kimchi arrived with a small iceberg lettuce salad, as well as herbs and spices to use with the dishes. On the far left of the above photo were chives, and on the far right is crushed green pepper and red pepper paste. Finding the right mixtures of these in the soup is pretty fun. In the middle is a small pinch of salt and a bowl of salted shrimp that is good for dipping in pieces of pork and soondae (below).

Jung-sik refers to a course of food, and the soondae jungsik ($13.99, above and below 3 photos) is a course for one person that includes the appetizer plate above and the soup below. It is said to be a good hangover cure, and also is popular during the overnight hours with drinkers back home.

Unfortunately they close very early here in Los Angeles, but regardless the waitress will soon come and snip the pork into smaller pieces for you, perfect for dipping. The soondae itself (below) is slightly tinny as blood sausage can be, and seems very fresh.

The soup is very mild and filled with more pork and soondae. Add in portions of each spice to get the perfect taste to suit your mood. While it is definitely not the most complex or intense of flavoring, the soup is very warm and comforting. You can tell this would be a good food to be eating after a long night, especially during colder months.

Another good order when you can not decide between the two is dakdori tang ($11.99, below), a fiery soup with chicken, potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables. After eating half of the other soup, the spices can get you choked up after shoving a mouthful in quickly. After acclimation the dish is beautiful, with moist pieces of chicken still on the bone and a very hearty stew.

The menu here is very limited although perhaps "specialized" is a better term. They also do larger casseroles for groups with many of the same ingredients. The menu is good value especially considering all the extras they bring you, and is the same day and night.

356 S. Western Avenue


Monday, 30 December 2019

Jidaiya Ramen Dining

JAPAN πŸ‡―πŸ‡΅

A few years back, five minutes south on Western Avenue, a restaurant named Torihei famous for its yakitori and oden became such a success that the owner felt passionate about opening another with a different focus. Not a ramen master by trade, Sasaki Masakazu is still the type of professional that can pull things like that off, and thus Jidaiya was born.

Impressions and feeling were a big part of the draw here in addition to the food. It has not changed much since opening in the spring of 2012, care is taken to make you feel like walking into not only a comfortable neighborhood ramen joint, but also into a bit of a time warp. This is done on every surface with posters and signs, fabric and materials.

Jidaiya has accomplished itself on many city-wide or South Bay lists, but it was never really intended for that. Gardena and Torrance are full of similar small family-run businesses where wow factor is not the first goal, but rather to welcome those that live nearby and create a place that offers an economical and supremely satisfying meal.

Ramen aficionados might come here and be disappointed by their bowl, for there is a wide breadth of options and some can admittedly be hit or miss. Some might say that the kitchen attempts too many styles and fails to master them, but this is by design and not the appropriate way to approach a meal here. There is rarely a long wait, so come hungry, settle into the warmth of the restaurant, and enjoy.

A perfect start to a meal might be with the takoyaki ($5.80, above), deep fried balls of octopus that are covered with a lather of slightly sweet takoyaki sauce and a thorough slashing of Japanese mayonnaise. The bits of octopus are combined with wheat flour batter before molded in a special pan.

The most popular appetizer based on looking around at the neighbors was their UFO gyoza, which are cooked in a pan so that an impossibly small layer of batter connects all the dumplings with an irresistibly crunchy blanket. Served upside down, the flat crunchy connector is the first thing you see and have to attack.

On this night the table was more in the mood for the fried gyoza dumplings ($4.80, above), another method of experiencing the same tastes and textures. Whichever choice you go for, the crunch is a perfect complement to a ramen meal because of the great contrast in mouthfeel.

In a move that can be enjoyable and overwhelming at the same time, the ramen menu is separated by region, with the highest concentrations on Sapporo, Tokyo, and Yokohama styles. They also do what they call neo-Tokyo style, and have a few bowls listed under their own name and reflective of the chef's creativity.

Chef-owner Sasaki Masakazu has went back to Japan and left the shops in the capable hands of his team, but as mentioned the bowls can be hit or miss and it could take a while to find the right one for yourself. When you do though, the place becomes somewhere you crave to be over and over.

The once standard-bearer bowl of tonkotsu has unfortunately lost its flare since the departure of Sasaki-san, and the high LA praise for the bowl of Tokyo yatai shoyu ramen might be misplaced, but there are better options like the dip ramen ($11.95, above), a delightful bowl of thick noodles served tsukemen-style with the hot broth on the side for dipping. The noodles are topped with chashu, egg, bamboo, seaweed, and bonito.

Also using the thick, springy noodles and possibly the most interesting offering is the kai-shio ramen ($12.95, above), found on the neo-Tokyo portion of the menu. This is a seafood soup with turban shell, abalone, asari clam, scallops, flying fish roe, and seaweed. It is briny and tastes of the sea, definitely enjoyable to lovers of these tastes.

Slipped to the bottom of one page, but definitely not an afterthought, even the vegetable ramen ($9.95, below) is quite good here. The tomato-based broth uses bordock root and is full of sweet peppers and broccoli, all over a thinner wavy noodle that is appropriately picked for this rendition.

A page of Jidaiya "originals" is also worth exploring for unconventional options like the garlic tan-tan men ($9.95, below), a bowl that arrives looking like molten lava. This is a shio (salt) style ramen using the thick noodles once again. Ground chicken, egg, and garlic are all hiding underneath the top layer of chicken broth, presented without garnish.

Tan-tan men is a descendent of the Sichuan dan dan noodles, here only slightly spicy but fueled more by sesame paste and the namesake garlic.

Each lift of noodles pulls up just the right amount of broth and egg with it, creating a deeply satisfying bowl when in the mood for this type of thing.

Even if you come from another part of the city, Jidaiya is the type of place that makes you feel like a regular, wanting to come back more. Nothing here is going to make the jukebox scratch to a halt when eaten, but as already mentioned this is not the intention. For what it is, there are few places better to sit down with a couple friends and enjoy each other's company over warming bowls of noodles.

18537 S. Western Avenue


Friday, 27 December 2019

Bane Phonkeo's Food To Go

LAOS πŸ‡±πŸ‡¦

Because they have so much less familiarity with the majority of people of Southern California and the rest of the nation, Lao business owners often offer some foods that are claimed by Thailand as well and insert that comforting "Thai food" into their names and menus. This is not the case at the lovely Bane Phonkeo's, which is attached to the Muang Lao Market in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of San Diego.

A hyper-focused kitchen attached to a market that together bring the products and tastes that a small community misses so much from back home? Was Bane Phonkeo's Food To Go created by some algorithm that was geared to exactly why this website exists in the first place? Even when driving up and parking you can tell this is an exciting place to eat.

Despite being part of the name, the "to go" is not forced, and there are quite a few tables in the open dining room. Each table is set up with a tray of condiments to spice or sweeten up your dishes, proving that they do expect quite a lot of eat in business During this visit, most of the customers were indeed getting takeout, but one Lao American woman brought her boyfriend in to share the wonders of the cuisine.

The menu seems limited, with two boards flanking the open window to the kitchen, but each time you return you will find that there is more on offer by snooping around the counter and asking. Try dishes like khao piak sen, a sort of chicken noodle soup that can only be found in Laos, usually at restaurants who set up for morning eaters. Or maybe the Lao-style beef jerky? There is nothing else like it in the world.

An obvious point of entry into the restaurant is the laab ($10, above), available in chicken, fish, shrimp ($6 extra) and the beef shown here. Sometimes a half portion could be useful because ten dollars gets you this heaping mound. Add in what they call a "small" portion of sticky rice, and you can almost feed three people.

This Lao-style laab is proper in every way, first and foremost by using a combination of mixed meats. Some restaurants that cater to western customers will only use the lean parts in a dish like this, but here they make it with all the insides that should be there to make it right. With mint leaves on top and full of galangal, onions, and kaffir lime, the dish is so crisp and refreshing and almost perfect. Ask for it as spicy as you can handle.

Checking out some of the packaged goods on shelves or in the refrigerator always seems to lead to finding something new to enjoy here or take home. One item they always seem to have (above) are what you commonly see in night markets over a charcoal grill. These eggs are not simply cooked over a flame though, this is just the last step. First the hole will be punched out of many shells, the contents emptied out and mixed with seasonings like salt, white pepper, and chives.

This mixture will be reinserted into the shells and then steamed to cook thoroughly. The grill gives the finished product the smoky flavor it is known for. It is like eating scrambled eggs that are ten times better than scrambled eggs. What will be on offer during the next visit? Already looking forward to it!

SAN DIEGO California
110 47th Street