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LA Report, day 1 - Oaxacan changes everything

Vital Information | Sep 15, 200312:42 PM

Even though we made the decision to go to LA only a few weeks ago, I have been planning this trip for a long time. Years of reading the Stern's extol the virtues of Philippe, Cassel's, etc. made me hunger for LA. My yearnings gained traction each time I heard the Beastie Boys extol the virtues of Fat Burger (still extant?) and a law school buddy's constant praise of Tommy's. Finally, I purchased and nearly memorized J. Gold's Counter Intelligence. I had my list, checked twice by the extremely generous input of LA chow-board and re-checked by Chicago hounds, Erik M and Gwiv (the Ultimo). Then, all the planning went by the wayside.

Somewhere over the mountains, Ms. VI turned to me and said, "I want Oaxacan...mole." She stunned me. Had not I planned this whole trip already, to the minute. Had not I already compromised agreeing to sushi and Getty? What could I possibly give up. How could I adjust on such short notice. I had neither my well thumbed copy of Counter-Intelligence, nor Internet access. I was armed just with my Erik M annotated map and my Palm Pilot. I smiled outwardly at the suggestion but struggled inside. (And when my wife reads this, she'll laugh because it was not really such a veiled pain.)

We did not made no adjustments to the itinerary. We just pointed the rental card towards Sepulvada and gave in to fate. And what would appear shortly, but the Oaxacan, Guelaguetza. Truth be told, I saw it, not her, and I could have pretended otherwise. I did not, and the moment we drifted into the parking lot by Trader Joe's, I knew we'd have a blast regardless of what I pre-planned.

With giddy, we went through page after page of the Oaxacan specialties, rare in Chicago. We pledged to ourselves to eat mini-meals in LA, the better to try lots. And perhaps, compared to say, an Oaxacan wedding, it was a mini-meal: mememlo with chorizo chubs, the enormous clayuda, enough really for 4, a spicy tamal with peppers and cheese and the odd, un-sealed empanada with clove intense yellow mole. My only quibble, the masa products could have been fresher. Still, a great start to a great eating trip.

Then, my first of about five donut stops. Who is responsible for the LA style of donut sold at nearly every corner? I must send my gratitude!

We got to the corner of Pico and Sepulvda, and the words of J. Gold echoed in my mind, "my only articulated passion was to eat at least once on every restaurant on Pico," so we turned. Soon to pass the Apple Pan.

I know, as Chairman Kaga would say, "as memory serves me, the chowhounds rather dismissed Apple Pan..." but we were right there. We were right there but not especially hungry. We used purchasing half the stock at the AIDS beneficiary re-sale shop down the street to work up an appetite. Then, we sat down to the archetypical Apple Pan meal of steakburger, fries, apple pie, and scalding hot coffee with heavy cream, a light snack. Both my wife and I found the house sauce, not to our liking, adding an overly sweet element to the burger. But while it ruined it for her, I got over it, loving the fresh meat and the fresh roll. Neither of us especially like the apple pie, also too sweet.

No one told me of the Israeli area around Pico and Robertson. We wandered in awe of the dueling markets, Elat and Alef. Elat was much more crowded and featured a range of products straight from Israel, but Alef, niched to the population of Persian Jews, was more interesting. Peckish, we had some zatar dusted pita warmed in the stone oven at Bibi's Warmstone Oven. Mini-meals we told ourselves as we reluctantly skipped the gorgeous sambusacks (a/k/a bureks).

Still in the mind for middle eastern food, we went for dinner at Zankou. I found the whole chicken good but not great and only good depending on where in chicken I grabbed from. On the other hand, their version of baba ganoush was greater than good, the perfect marriage of smoke and eggplant. The chicken shwarma sandwich was nearly as special, a grand canyon of flavor layers. The garlic spread lived up to its advance billing. Even the pita bread was special.

So stuffed, we still needed to go to Sahag's Basturma as payoff the help that Erik M gave us. Of course Isaac remembered all of the basturma he sent to Chicago for Erik (already sampled greatly at Erik's house), and of course, we should have some coffee and cookies with him. That coffee, by the way, hit me like a valium, vastly improving my disposition as soon as it hit my blood stream. We did, however, skip more food in favor of buying tchokes for friends back in Chicago.

We were in bed by 9 after looping around Bunker Hill for a while to find the ideal parking spot. Nothing to do with chow, but we are extremely proud of the fact that, in total, we paid only $6 dollars the whole weekend for parking near the Omni.


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