Although I was born in the Philippines, raised in Seattle, and currently live in South Florida, I think of Los Angeles as my home.
Having lived there from the formative years of 18 to 28, I loved and still love everything about the City of Angels, even the posers and the smog. With their bohemian, eclectic and laid-back style, Angelenos trudge the streets and freeways for the latest and greatest anything and everything: clothing, food, homes, music, trends.
Food and going out is a way of life in L.A. Taco trucks rumble down familiar streets as eager clients await their noon and midnight snacks, and the furious aroma of carne asada captures any innocent bystander.
Macrobiotic restaurants taunt customers with the gorgeous colors of fresh foods and the ever-present miso soup. Steak houses keep their linens crisp with the corners harshly ironed, only to let the juices of a pricey filet mignon drip through the fabric. The love affair with frozen non-fat yogurt is hard to ignore, with exotic flavors like green tea and red mango.
Whenever my husband and I are in town, we like to frequent our old haunts and treat our taste buds to a thrilling feast.
For the surprisingly best lasagna in town, head on over to Spark Woodfire Grill. The Lasagna di Mauro is one of a handful classics the restaurant boasts.
There is a savory, smokey flavor that grabs you from the first bite. The mozzarella is gooey and, because of the smokiness, has a slight nutty flavor. The Bolognese sauce is hearty, and the noodles are heartier. The Classic Caesar with Garlic Polenta Croutons is a must have.
Make sure you ask for extra croutons, because you’ll definitely want more. Every table gets a delicate serving of olive spread and bread. If you don’t want to eat it all yourself, push the
spread away from you – far, far away from you. Spark Woodfire Grill in Beverly Hills, Studio City and Huntington Beach. $$-$$$.
There are too many delicious Chinese restaurants in and around the city to mention here. A local favorite for the Hollywood and Valley scene is City Wok.
Patrons of this restaurant get to look into the open kitchen, watching skilled chefs stir-fry and toss beef, noodles and vegetables.
City Wok has established itself as the place to go for quick and fresh Chinese food. They offer half orders on all the entrees, which is brilliant, although we rarely choose this option. We choose to go all the way and get full orders and pay for it later with our too-tight waistbands. The pot stickers and vegetable spring rolls taste as if they were made by someone’s grandmother – this is a great thing.
Everything on the menu is very good, but there is one stand-out: the famous City Wok Chicken is spicy, and is the restaurant’s version of General Tso’s Chicken. City Wok also serves as a unique place to people watch. City Wok – 10949 Ventura Blvd, Studio City, #818.506.8050. Locations also in Palm Desert, Orange and San Diego. $-$$
For the past 69 years, Pink’s in Hollywood has served as a bastion of hot dogs for Angelenos. They are the media darlings in the city. Throngs of people line up daily just for a Pink’s hot dog. During weekends, make sure you bring a chair, because the lines can maze around this little hut of an eatery very quickly.
But if you want something better with less attitude, go down a few blocks to the famous (or infamous) Sunset Blvd. and walk into Carney’s.
Housed in a restored train car, Carney’s offers hot dogs, hamburgers and the usual California fare of various Mexican foods, vegetarian sandwiches and Garden Burgers. It’s their hot dogs that keep me coming back for more.
I usually order the Chicagoan, which comes with mustard (regular or spicy), relish and onions. Make that two orders. The burgers and fries are exceptional. Also try the spicy Polish sausage.You’ll want more – trust me. Carney’s – 8351 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, #323.654.8300. In Studio City – 12601 Ventura Blvd, #818.761.8300. $
As you can guess, Mexican food is everywhere – that is, consistently good Mexican food. To satisfy those taco hunger pangs, run into Poquito Mas.
Known for their fresh fast food, this original Baja taco stand is a city favorite. The carne asada tacos melt in your mouth and the ahi tuna tacos are out of this world. Poquito Mas – nine locations throughout Los Angeles and the Valley. $
If you want incredibly large, outrageously delicious burritos, go to Manuel’s El Tepayac in East L.A. The taquitos and the burritos, especially the Hollenbeck (big enough to share between two very hungry people), are well worth the long, and sometimes arduous, wait in line.
You can also try Manuel’s burrito, but be sure to bring a small family with you because you will not be able to finish this one alone. Don’t expect to get in and out in half an hour during the lunch hours.
If you want to go here on the weekends for brunch, wake up early, because the crowds start lining up before 10 a.m. You’ll definitely not be hungry after a trip to this place. Manuel’s El Tepayac – 812 N. Evergreen Avenue, Los Angeles, #323.267.8668. $
And for my piece de resistance, I offer you: Fred 62.
In between the neighborhoods of Los Feliz and Silverlake sits Fred 62, a unique diner with a varied clientele and a charming array of servers.
You’ll be happy to know it’s open 24 hours a day, 365 days out of the year. Booths are fashioned out of car parts, and you’ll swear you’ve gone back in time to the 50′s in Bizarro World. The menu is in your face with items like The Dimebag (two pancakes, two hash browns, two eggs, two tomatoes and choice of bacon, chicken sausage or sausage patty) and The Charles Bukowski (grilled ham and cheddar cheese on sourdough). They also offer a diverse menu of more exotic foods like soba and Thai noodles. This is definitely one diner on steroids.
If you’re looking to find a restaurant that embodies everything about Los Angeles, then this is the place for you. Fred 62 – 1850 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, #323.667.0062. $-$$
Every time I’m in Los Angeles, I gain a few pounds, but it is so worth it.
$ – $10 or less (per person)
$$ – $11-25
$$$ – $26-50
$$$$ – $50-100
Pic of the Day: My Dog Can’t Stop Smiling