Little Osaka, West LA, 2057 Sawtelle Blvd 90025
There are a good many days when the craving for Tsujita comes over me like a tsunami and compels me clear across the city to Little Osaka, even though I live 3 easy miles from Little Tokyo downtown. The aroma of that deep, rich tonkotsu broth, which simmers for 60 hours, wraps around me in the sweetest greeting after my hour-plus journey. When a seat finally opens up, I like to prepare my pallet with a dark green matcha tea for Ajitama tsukemen, with the ramen cooked hard and served hot, broth extra hot. This meal is pure pleasure from beginning to end.
I start in the proper way, dipping the ramen in the broth as served, but I can’t resist adding takana (hot leaf mustard) for long. I do manage to hold off on the perfect, seasoned soft-boiled egg until at least half way through by adding squeezes of lime to the broth and alternating strips of bamboo or pork for noodles at intervals. Finishing the egg is the climax that leads me to request free soup wari to thin my remaining broth from a rich, meaty, meal to a subtle delicacy. I skip the kaedama (extra noodle for $1.50) so I can balance out the savory excellence of my meal with a giant green tea or strawberry-filled cream puff from across the street at Beard Papa’s, next to Nijiya Japanese Market.
Pure eating pleasure; fabulously gratifying cheat days; splendid savory fixes
2. Sunny Spot
Venice, 822 Washington Blvd 90292
Inside Roy Choi’s “cookshop,” filled, as he says, “with fruits and spices, music and love” everything is alive with color and texture, from the bright, eclectic décor to the dangling chandeliers and hanging plants, to the mirrors, prisms, and glowing candelabras everywhere. They have not one, but two happy hours every day of the week, from 4pm-7pm and 10pm – close. Add $17, bottomless, mix-and-match mimosas, Bloody Marys, and Sunny Rum Punch to the poppin’ music, and brunch is nothing short of a party on the weekends. The main room of the restaurant opens to the outdoor patio that’s enclosed and trellised in plants and glittering lights and may present the only real contest between sitting inside or out for me.
Of all the West Indies-inspired creations, Muh-F K*N Morongo and Eggs makes me muh-f k*n crazy with its smashed ripe plantains, Applewood bacon, fennel, garlic, herbs, and ginger oil making an incomparable base for my runny eggs. I try to go with someone who will order Ropa Vieja so I can intermittently balance the bright sweetness of my delicious dish with the dusky, savory, spiciness of the braised pork, cooked with peppers, cilantro, yellow rice, chili vinegar. If they prefer something else, I try to motivate them toward the unearthly Cuban Torta that layers pork terrine, prosciutto, provolone, and jalapeño on a perfect roll alongside slaw and flakey yucca fries and banana ketchup. Extra yucca fries can be walked off on the beach after and serve as a good sponge for all that punch!
Immediate mood elevation; starting the party early or keeping it going; creative flavor profiles; big group celebrations (Make reservations for groups over 3!)
West Hollywood, 7916 W Sunset Blvd 90046
I sometimes beg friends to visit me in LA because it not only legitimizes, but necessitates, an excursion to The Griddle Café. I would be a remiss hostess, after all, if I didn’t take every visitor to experience stacks of pancakes the size of flying saucers, with names like Mounds of Pleasure, and bricks of French Toast called Devil’s Daydream, not to mention probably the best French press coffee in the city.
If no friends are in town, I sometimes treat myself with the rest of the local set, using the excuse that making a dent in the BLUESberry pancakes (with their blueberries that do make up at least 1/3 of the meal’s mass) is the only thing that will keep me from ordering a basket of tater tots and mini corn dogs, with a side of cannoli, at the Sundance Cinemas Sunset 5 up the street.
See-it-to-believe-it portions and combinations; truly delicious pancakes, French toast, and coffee; fantastically good-looking waiters.
4. Blu Jam Café
Fairfax, 7371 Melrose Ave 90046
When I don’t have time for a double feature or a four-hour food coma after breakfast, I head to Blu Jam for a wonderful treat that takes creative decadence in an organic, more delicately-proportioned direction than The Griddle. This is a place I also prefer to frequent with a pliable friend.
I would find it nonsensical to go without getting the Crunchy (egg brioche) French Toast, fried in corn flakes to crunchy perfection, topped with locally-grown berries and served with that vanilla bean sauce on the side.
At the same time, I can’t resist the Italian Breakfast, a perfect little disk of mushroom and sun-dried tomato risotto, with fresh chili, basil, tarragon and Parmigianino, and topped with two poached (cage, hormone, and antibiotic-free) eggs and drizzles of herb pistou. If my agreeable friend and I will busy ourselves after on Melrose at the vintage shops and the Trading Post, we may fuel up with a risotto and say a Norwegian Benedict, with its perfect smoked lox and dill hollandaise, and indulge in the Crunchy French Toast for dessert. If it’s really sunny, we may even be obliged to create a fresh juice to-go at the bar to stay responsibly hydrated.
Delicious, creative variations of traditional breakfast favorites; a laid-back, hip, healthy scene
Hollywood Hills, 1999 N Sycamore Ave 90068
Speaking of healthy, laid-back and organic, there’s nowhere better to enjoy live music, splendid city views, and locally-produced foods than the Thursday night, bi-level market at Yamishiro. I like taking the free shuttle from Mosaic Church on Hollywood and La Brea, where parking is $2, into the hills around 5pm so I can maximize my time sampling hummus, olives, and cheeses and still beat the lines at the food trucks and stands.
My typical routine: debate each and every crepe and taco, especially the duck confit tacos; try to turn a blind eye to Tornado Potato, but be duped by my nose; finish my tornado potato by the time I reach Heirloom LA so I have a free hand for both a to-die-for lasagna cupcake with sausage ragu and a glass of wine; marvel at the always stunning LA sunset and take a picture or two; walk up through the gardens to visit the Koi and the Giant Laughing Buddha and importantly work up appetite for an “architecturally inspired” gourmet ice cream from CoolHaus; debate between Avocado Sriracha, Nutella with Almonds, with Whiskey Lucky Charms ice cream before getting chocolate peppermint sandwiched between snickerdoodle and chocolate chunk pretzel cookies; go home extremely self-satisfied and totally in love with my city and with whomever I shared the perfect evening.
A perfect date with your true love or your BFF
Beverly Hills, 465 South La Cienega Blvd 90048
Everything about this restaurant is sexy. For me, the glittering red, black, and white dining room, with its huge glamor photos and plush red draperies, is the most sensual of the seven distinct dining areas.
I may begin a course of small plates with the Jicama Wrapped Guacamole, presented like gorgeous flowers waiting to be plucked from the plate. After, I’d like to take the Philly Cheesesteak, unbelievably tender wagyu beef carpaccio atop air bread that explodes and fills your mouth with white cheddar cream.
I could follow with the Not Your Everyday Caprésé of cherry tomatoes and liquid mozzarella before moving on to the most perfectly seared scallops in a romesco sauce that begs the dish be licked clean. The cotton candy foie gras is the most amazing single-bite-delight imaginable — the sweet cotton candy melts away to reveal the buttery treasure of the foie gras inside, and so must be saved for last. To transition from the dining room to the Patisserie, the rum-based LN2 CaipirinhaIt, prepared tableside with liquid nitrogen, creates a smoky dreamscape that leads beautifully into the marbled, French-inspired patisserie for my dessert of choice — passionfruit vanilla pate de fruit.
Go for:Sampling many gastronomic wonders; outstanding and friendly service, to see and be seen
Marina del Rey, 31 Washington Blvd 90292
This Italian American restaurant overflows with people waiting for a table every weekend. A half block from the beach, with an honor system for the serve yourself wine fountains dotting the walls of both the Picasso-inspired dining room and the large, enclosed patio resembling an Italian village, this place is nothing if not laid back and fun, especially if you participate in the regular sing-a-longs to classics like That’s Amore as the waiters float around and toast everyone. Cheese and Olives is an especially American leaning when it comes to the “gargantuan” portion sizes of the pastas and the overabundance of fresh garlic knots that flow and flow and flow from the oven to your table to your mouth like magic.
I am very partial to the creamy linguini with lobster because of the good balance of portobellos, asparagus, tomatoes, and shallots to big pieces of lobster. The Insalata Gorgonzola is a great salad accompaniment if none of the daily specials jump out at me. When I’m in a celebratory mood, I order a giant plate of fried calamari with extra lemon to begin and a tartufo and cappuccino to finish, since it is Italian American, and we can make horrendous coffee faux pas here! Love!
Unpretentious fun, tasty abundant food, lively, interactive ambience
Downtown, 429 W 8th St 90014
This BYOB Italian restaurant also overflows on weekends, but it’s tiny and unassuming from the outside and it’s the only Italian restaurant to which I will bring my European Italian boyfriend. With plenty of complimentary warm bread and hummus dip, you don’t need to precede the homemade pasta with appetizers, but given the no corkage fee, you can relax and make room for many courses of authentic, traditional, countryside fare. The calamari steak topped with garlic sauce is light and refreshing and wonderful to start with.
The Lasagna della Nonna, while not of my grandmother, is perfectly crafted, home-cooked goodness. On the lighter side, the Taglioni Mare Monte in tomato sauce is robust with plump tiger shrimp and mushrooms and is my personal favorite. The lemony dressing of the endive and arugula salad makes for a deliciously bright finish, unless you have brought your own dessert, for which the awesome wait staff will clear your table and allow you to enjoy freely. The small tables and partially brick interior give the restaurant an intimate feel, while the open kitchen and the friendly cooks add an element of lively family energy.
An unpretentious but high-end meal before a show
Koreatown, 3014 W Olympic Blvd 90006
When I’m missing my former home in Oaxaca, (where I settled a while for the regional food) I head straight for Guelaguetza for my fix of mole, tlayudas, and chilacayota. Their breakfast, lunch, dinner and mezcal menus are huge, but some choices are essential. For breakfast, sometimes I must have chilaquiles de pasilla, and I’m sure there is nowhere better north of the border to get it. The shrimp cocktail in its sweet, chilled tomato sauce sets me dreaming and the festival of mole creates a literal culinary party on the dinner table, with black, red, and coloradito moles and sweet estofado stew, served with sliced chicken, rice, and handmade tortillas. A tlayuda vegetariana adds cabbage, mushrooms, cactus, avocado, and tomatoes to the fiesta, atop a giant tortilla layered with black bean paste and queso fresco.
The nightly, live, super lively music creates excellent opportunities for making space between courses with enthusiastic singing, or better, dancing which is a must, at least, before some flan de queso and nieves Oaxaquenas for dessert! The market along the outer wall blessedly offers jars of their moles and pasteles to take, along with colorful alebrijes, pottery and jewelry, for those emergencies when you can’t make it out.
Homemade tortilla chips with mole and sprinkles of cheese instead of chips and salsa; excellent live band; happy, friendly servers