Early this month July, my sister Marie got married in Los Angeles. Days later, she packed up her apartment, her new PhD, and her hombre, and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. This saddened me, as my regular visits to LA had evolved into a food pilgrimage of sorts, with each visit yielding more and more daydream-worthy discoveries.
The only local food I’d heard reports of from Salty Lake was something called “funeral potatoes.” Eeep.
So, as you can see, I made the most of my ‘last’ visit to L.A. – and approached it with full gastronomic abandon.
As you can see from the pre-wedding cake photos above, my choices for the days leading up to the event were decadent, yet healthy. (Pat-pat.) I wanted to indulge without threat to my bridesmaid dress.
On my first day, I took advantage of my sister, mother, and future brother-in-law’s preoccupation with the wedding to suggest an outlandish lunch spot…which I’d read about in this NYT article. Based on a Tokyo fad of “fantasy restaurants,” the waitresses in Royal/T, a Culver City art space/cafe, wear French made outfits. Knee socks. Frilly aprons. Frilly headbands! The enticing, Japanese tea-house-gone-West-Coast menu was also a draw.
The space was big and full of colorful, anime-ish paintings and sculpture. Our “maid” was sweet, but not over-the-top or servile, as I’d been expecting (and secretly hoping).
The food was itself art. My mom’s yellow bell pepper broth, served cold, was a puddle of sunshine in a bowl, and tasted just as bright. My spicy tuna tar tar sandwich was delicate yet bold, with the daikon sprouts adding a nice spike. I thought the avocado, cucumber and chewy-on-the-inside sourdough toast made it very California.
I shared a pot of tea – the most decadent-tasting tea I’ve ever had – with my mom. It was brewed with soymilk, rose petals and fruit. Peaches…real peaches, that’s what I could taste.
At $9/sandwich, the prices did not qualify for cheapskate status, and I left a little hungry, but the experience made it worth the splurge.
My hunger was more than quelled by the hearty vegetarian food at The Spot in Hermosa Beach, a town where you know someone is a tourist if they are wearing shoes.
My big blue plate was loaded with organic beans, brown rice, and baked tofu in a whole wheat wrap, topped with soy cheese and red sauce. It beat every burrito I’ve ever had, including my favorite, El Coyote. The best part was the sauce, which you could tell was made from scratch, with just the right amount (a lot) of chili, cumin, and other spices.
The exquisite homemade veggie burger tasted meaty without tasting anything like meat.
But, just as Southern California is the cradle of health food, it is, paradoxically, also the fertile crescent of glut; the birthplace of burger baskets, chili dogs and drive-thru donuts.
And burritos the size of your face. Smothered in gooey cheese! From El Coyote…a place that has not changed much since the 1930 – and I like it that way. I can’t get enough of the guacamole, which is the plainest yet tastiest I’ve ever had…and the sangria, with a spritz of soda water. Something about a green maraschino cherry in my drink just makes me want to move into the place, put a rose in my hair, and wander from table to table singing romanticas.
The next day, my cousins and I went to the Santa Monica pier – which I like to think of as the Coney Island of the West. I went for the sun, but stayed for the corn dog, onion rings and funnel cake.
On my last night, bridesmaid dress safely packed away, I wandered down Marie’s street – teenage cousins in tow – toward the neon glow and char-grilled aroma of Westwood Village.
Our first stop was Diddy Riese, a little bakery where you pick two cookies and one kind of ice cream, and for $1.50, you get a customized ice cream sangwich. Earlier that evening (before a home cooked dinner), I’d had one; two candy cookies (M&M’s) with strawberry ice cream…so this time, I sat back and let the kids have some fun. And that they did, exchanging funny faces through the glass with the rowdy kids outside who had amassed in a line snaking down the block.
Random sidenote: My sister’s friend told me that the guys who work at DR speak to each other in a native Mexican dialect, possibly Nahuatl or some version of it. Kewl.
For my last snack, I led the pack over to In-N-Out Burger and ordered my #1 California craving: animal-style fries with a side of pickles. It is a basket of French fries, covered in a blanket of grilled onions, yellow cheese, and secret sauce (Russian dressing). The best part is the onions, which are grilled, with mustard, in the leftover grease and bits from the burgers. The end.