Just got back from a trip to L.A. and Santa Barbara from Chicago. Thanks to all who gave recommendations. We enjoyed our meals quite a bit. However for much of the trip we were staying up in Santa Clarita, so our mobility was limited (we spent a lot of time in the car). We tried to hit some LA and Santa Barbara institutions, but were also compelled by geography to sample some local chains. Anyway, here are some notes and impressions on where we ate:
Thai Dishes - This appears to be a small chain of Thai places in the L.A area. We ate at the Santa Monica location. We didn't spend a lot of quality time in Santa Monica, but a few minutes on the Third Street Promenade was enough. Yuck. Im sure the rest of Santa Monica is more interesting, but we were a bit pressed for time. Anyway, Thai Dishes offered good Thai for reasonable prices. Most entrees, including fish, were below $10. A bottle of Singha was $3.50.
Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles - My friend who was showing us around raved about Roscoe's, and I must agree that this is an "L.A." place. We went to Roscoe's Hollywood location. It was quite crowded at 2:00 PM on a Thursday. We had to wait for about 30 minutes. The room was small with a mix of middle class black folks and hipster white kids. I dont think we have a chicken and waffle house in Chicago, so this was new to me. Picture a plate with a fresh waffle and three fried chicken wings. Spread some butter and pour some syrup on your waffle, dump some hot sauce on your wings. Let the spill-off butter, syrup, and hot sauce mingle on your plate and dip a wing or waffle in it. Quite a combination of sweet and hot flavors. The mac n cheese was bland, the greens OK. I suppose you dont go to Roscoes for the sides though.
Soot Bull Jeep - A very spare Koreatown BBQ. The room was unadorned, with a number of formica-topped tables with grills crammed into a small space. They don't lay out a ton of sides, just a few quality basics (the kimchi was perhaps the best I've had). The focus here is meat. We had the marinated spare rib and the squid. Both were first rate, particularly the beef. The service was pretty good. We had a few BBQ etiquette misfires, but that was on us.
Prince A Koreatown restaurant/bar that we just drank at (a lot). This is a pretty cool place. The kind of place I think of when I think LA. Where rapid neighborhood change produces odd juxtapositions of culture. Prince is a well-preserved, old school British-style pub/restaurant from the 60s with red vinyl booths and decorations ranging from miniature suits of armor to statues of lords of the manor to a lamp with the light coming out of a British colonial generals (redcoat) head. The catch is that its a Korean bar playing 80s pop hits serving a full Korean menu. And chips and salsa. We drank a lot of Hite and a lot of soju. It was a good time. For L.A. Koreatown drinking, Prince is recommended.
Pink's - This place is an L.A. institution, but Ive heard mixed reports. We stopped by for a couple chili dogs. They were OK, but not transcendent. Or even great. Just OK. Perhaps the bacon wrapped chili cheese dog would have been the way to go. Maybe next time.
Philippe Home of the French dip. Ive been on a bit of a French dip kick lately, and since it was near Union Station, we dropped by. The beef sandwich was ok. Being a first-timer, I got it plain, but double dipped with cheese might have spiced things up. Someone elses pork sandwich looked really good though. Again, maybe next time. BTW, I feel compelled to note that my wife raved about Philippes pickled beets. I cant stand the stuff myself, but she ate a big ol plate. I must say the sight made me a bit queasy.
Angel's Stadium We headed to the Cubs Angels game. A tip for those unaccustomed to LA geography (like I was): Anaheim is far from Santa Clarita. Really, really, really far. Especially in Friday afternoon traffic. Ticket prices in Anaheim are cheaper than at Wrigley (who isnt), but concession prices are actually higher. A beer in Anaheim will run you $6.25 compared to $5.25 at Wrigley. Also, Anaheim concessions seem to be dominated by chains. Even the sausages were presented by Weinerschnitzel. My friend and I got the Grand Slam Dog. $5 for a 1/3 lb dog. Not a terrible deal, and the dog was OK. My wife tried to $7 Italian sausage. It was OK too, but I like Wrigleys overpriced food better. The Angels have a nice stadium and good fans (surprisingly), but the experience was quite bland. So very Anaheim.
In-N-Out Burger I was disappointed in this LA institution. I ordered a cheeseburger animal-style. For those unaware, animal-style is In-N-Out slang for a burger that has extra pickles and grilled onions topped with a secret sauce (thousand island I believe). All served on a mustard-grilled bun. I probably should have taken my friends advice and ordered a double because all the toppings on the single overwhelmed the rather small meat patty. The burger was good, but the meat to topping ratio was way off.
Pollo Loco Another LA chain, this one specializing in rotisserie chicken. Not a bad place. I think we need something like this in Chicago.
Winchell's Donuts Bad coffee
La Super Rica Super cheap Mexican in Santa Barbara. We didnt eat much Mexican in California given that we get plenty in Chicago, but this place came recommended. Not exactly sure what Cal-Mex is, but I dont think this is it. Very casual place that had a very long line and a fairly informal outdoor covered dining area. To be honest, I forget what we had other than I had a something with steak, onions, and peppers and my wife had something with pork, peppers, and melted cheese. Both were good, but we agree that mine was better. We also had a side of beans mixed with bacon, chorizo, and pork that were surprisingly bland. All that and a couple beers for less than $20 in Santa Barbara. Not too bad.
Palace Grill Our final meal was at the Palace Grill in downtown Santa Barbara. The Palace serves Cajun food. It may seem odd eating Cajun food in Santa Barbara, but I liked this place quite a bit. The service was quite good. I had their Cajun martini which used vodka marinated overnight with jalapenos garnished with cherry peppers. Nice flavor. Their crawfish crabcakes were very good. Im not a big crabcake fan, but the addition of crawfish tails added an interesting texture and their jalapeno beurre blanc sauce added a nice subtle kick. My main course was their blackened stuffed filet mignon. The steak was good, but it was stuffed with smoked crawfish tails, which detracted from the flavor of the meat. My wife had the blackened tuna steak which was very good. For dessert we had their famous bread pudding. Not impressed, but Ive never been a bread pudding fan.
All in all, we liked SoCal a lot. Prices seemed comparable to Chicago with a very diverse food scene. I look forward to going back.
Also, on a completely unrelated side note, LAX sucks.