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Restaurants & Bars 32

Overdue homecoming report

Leslie Brenner | Dec 1, 200101:01 AM

After fifteen years spent living in NYC, I have moved back to L.A. (two weeks before 9/11) with my husband and small son, who are newcomers to California. I did love living in New York, though my cravings for tacos, Thai, and great sushi sometimes became overwhelming. What happiness I found right away! It's so easy here--you barely have to look for great food: it almost seems to find you! Which is fortunate, since I've been too overworked to venture too far from home, except to Pasadena, where I was doing research. Back-to-back-to-back deadlines kept me from posting about my experiences since August, and then a sudden attack of gallbladder disease (bane of the chowhound!) and subsequent surgery stopped my chowhounding dead in its tracks. I have, I must confess, been lurking now and then.

So here's my long-overdue report:

I was barely off the plane when I stumbled into Cholada Beach Thai, on PCH in Malibu, just next to Wylie's Bait Shop. Wow! I do plan on digging into Jonathan Gold's book and hitting some of the serioso spots therein (and I have been to a few of them), but man, for a local spot, this was great: all the fresh, bright flavors that you don't find in NY. Very good green papaya salad.

Oooh, baby. Amazing Oaxacan in a scruffy strip mall on Santa Monica Blvd. in WLA. Cute inside, very friendly, family owned and run, with attractive murals. The restaurant started when the owner, a Oaxacan, married a guy from another region of Mexico, and he fell in love with his wife's mother's cooking. Her mother created the menu, taught her recipes to the cooks, including son-in-law, who got so turned on he became the chef. Mole heaven here, folks, in rainbow colors: black, green, red, yellow. Mole negro con pechuga de pollo--their best sauce, though the chicken breast can be a little dry. Carnes Monte Alban is a super assortment of cesina, tazajo, a velvety puree of black beans and ensalada de nopalitos. Tamales de salsa are a great starter, filled with chicken and mint leaves. Taco de barbacoa are also good; chile relleno is great.

A few blocks east of Monte Alban on SMBlvd., also Oaxacan, but more rustic, with a real working man (and very friendly) clientele. I've only tried tacos (five or six kinds) so far, and they were compelling. I'll be back...

On Pico in WLA. A killer. I've eaten my share of sushi, and I'd venture to say that this is the best I've ever had. We did omakase, and I'd highly recommend it for the first time here. Sushi genius Morihiro Onodera presides from the right side of the small bar. Fresh wasabi brings everything up a notch. If anyone's interested, I'd be happy to do a post about what we had: for now I'll just mention wild abalone (outrageous) and fresh octopus, so tender and succulent it seemed to be a different creature. Inspired sake list. Came back soon after for lunch.

I had been wondering about this Santa Monica (Wilshire + 23rd) hole-in-the-wall for years; it's been there forever, and the sign proclaiming "Home of the Zwiebelburger" finally got the better of me. With a name like that, it had to be good. And was! A lusty burger, piled high with grilled onions. Really messy and good, with a huge plate of curly fries. It was filled with regulars, so I worried we wouldn't get seated. Who knew there was a swell patio in back? I'll be back for breakfast, which also looked good.

Had a wonderful lunch at Saladang Song. Someone recently criticized the decor on this board, but I actually quite liked it--found it spare but very appealing. Loved the food. The som-tum (green papaya salad) with tiny dried shrimp of just the right chewiness was so good I almost cried. My husband couldn't eat it (a bit spicy for him), so I took the leftovers to go, and despite the fact that it sat in the car for four hours in 106 degree record-breaking heat, I actually risked food poisoning and ate it all the next day. Ping-ping-ping combo skewers were very good, a seafood curry special, spectacular. Loved the cha-ma-nao sweet iced tea with lime essence. Returned to try Saladang (next door) a few weeks later. It's a little more predictable California-Thai than its neighbor, and quite good, but I didn't love it as much.

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