Category Archives: comfort food

Fearless food – Dino’s Chicken, pure manfood

Dino's chicken

The neon orange chicken that made Dino’s

The trouble with franchise food is it is standardized to the average taste. To appeal to the largest number of people, it must be salty but not to salty, savory but not too savory, sweet but not too sweet.

In three words: bland, boring, blech.

And so I’m on the quest to try all non-franchise food in LA. My quest brought me to the heart of LA’s gangland, where your stomach needs to be a strong as your courage, to Dino’s Chicken & Burgers. This neighborhood is defined more by the Playboy gang that dominates here than by the cartographers, who have dubbed it Pico Union.

Dino's Chicken Los Angeles hole in the wall restaurants

Manfood, my buddies say.

Pay no attention to the hyperbole: the danger is fake news. The real news is the unique zing of prison-jumpsuit-neon-orange sauce charbroiled onto chicken that makes almost everything else on the menu irrelevant. Called pollo maniaco (maniacal chicken), this is the one-of-a-kind concoction is the 1968 maniacal brainchild of Greek immigrant Demetrios Pantazis, which makes it at least partly Greek in origin.

DUI fries Dino's Ultimate Invention

DUI Fries at Dino’s Chicken & Burgers in Los Angeles.

As this was my first time to Dino’s, I was instructed what to do: get extra sauce on the fries. I watched from the window of this prodigious hole-in-the-wall wonder as they slopped two splashes of the chicken sauce on the fries (with a thick and wide paint brush from Home Depot) that made for the soggiest fries I’ve ever eaten. Normally, soggy fries are a disaster, but Dino’s has flouted conventional wisdom and conjured up one of the Seven Wonders of the Culinary World.

The portions are huge. The price is small. It’s served in foam boxes. The seats are hard. Who cares?

What more could you want?

But there is more. I had to try the DUI Fries. A plate of fries is covered in a layer of cheese, a layer of carne asada and a layer of pastrami. They christened this mouthwatering mess “Dino’s Ultimate Invention.” And I drove home under its influence, a tad of indigestion.

This is pure madness manfood, as my buddies said. Sure girls are welcome, but be warned: this type of gluttony and sensory overload and gut-busting has a price tag. Entirely worth the pilgrimage.

Dino’s Chicken & Burgers
2575 W. Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90006
213-380-3554
$

bamboo steamers[Advert: The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.]

Tamales Liliana’s in East Los Angeles

tamales liliana's pescado fritoFor some reason, one would expect more options for Mexican food in East Los Angeles (a neighborhood dominated by Mexican-Americans), but we always only seem to find Tamales Liliana’s, which gets the job done but doesn’t seem to register the highest marks.

tamales liliana's tamaleWe went for my daughter-in-law’s pining as a nurse, a whole group of us. Only my daughter wanted to try the house namesake, the tamale, which graded as somewhat dry. Maybe this is because we got there very late, at the end of the day, when the tamales are on their last living breath. Or maybe she’s just used to Guatemalan tamales, which are wet. She grew up on Guatemala.

tamales liliana's pozoleI broke with my same-old same-old of enchiladas and tried the pozole, and it was appropriately spicy. The hominy was outstanding, and the cabbage fresh and crispy. I definitely recommend it.

Tamales Liliana's enchiladasI like how the enchiladas come with drizzled cream like they do in Mexico.

Of course, my wife went for the fried fish, which comes whole, with scales, head, fins and tail — the right way. She was content.

Tamales Liliana's wet burrito

Dee ordered the wet burrito. It was too salty. That’s normal for Mexican restaurants.

Of course, there were people who ordered the regular burrito, the taco, the quesadilla.

This restaurant is recommended, though not highly. If you’re in the area and want Mexican, it pretty much won’t disappoint. But I would not drive far to go to this restaurant.

Tamales Liliana’s
4619 East Cesar E Chavez Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90022
323-780-0989
$$

bamboo steamers[Advert: The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.]

Baja-California style fish tacos with Brazilian-Chinese twist at Wahoo’s

Wahoo's Gringo Bandido hot sauce

Zoom in. Does the guy in the logo look like me? I’m taking a vote. Did they steal my image without paying me royalties?

Wahoo’s is my go-to for quick food. It is super-tasty and healthy.

You may imagine my consternation when the West Los Angeles/Brentwood one closed, since it was the closest to my work at the Lighthouse Christian Academy.

Wahoo's fish tacosWe recently went to the Marina Del Rey Wahoo’s with the full squad, even the terrible teen who unleashes his fury easily, to evaluate a spread of items. Naturally, Wahoo’s earned top marks, though not universally.

My favorite is the citrus taco with grilled Mahi Mahi. I like to zip it up the the Gringo Bandido hot sauce, which has a nice vinegar flavor and not too hot. I am struck by how much the logo appears to my likeness and have even considered a suit for using my image without paying me royalties, but that hasn’t got off the ground.

Wahoos fish tacos

With the whole crew of evaluators.

What did get off the ground, was our appetites. Dianna ordered the fish salad, and she says she could have done better herself. Dee ordered the quesadilla because she adores cheese and said it was fantastic. She liked it more than the fish tacos, which she got last time. This sparked an intense debate with me because I am a virulent defender of Wahoo’s. As a matter of fact, I’ve only had one fish taco ever come close to competing in my entire life.

wahoo's interiorRob ordered the burrito, which he flunked for being small and expensive. Hosea ordered by accident the wrong thing and said he usually is a huge believer in the Wahoo’s burrito.

Wahoo’s exudes a skater-surfer ethos. Founded by three Chinese brothers who immigrated from Brazil (where the family had escaped to initially to escape the Maoists taking over China). And that’s how they concocted the tangy unique flavor for the sauces in their eatery.

They opened their first in Costa Mesa, to the South and have quietly taken over Southern California. They’ve expanded into Hawaii and Japan and opened one in New Jersey.

Wahoos Tacos menuWing Lam can still be see driving around Los Angeles in his Ferrari. Invariably, he dresses surfer garb and wears long hair. He’s the face of the company.

Wahoo's shangri-la teaWahoo’s distances itself from fastfood culture; a server will always come to your table to make sure everything is OK.

Wahoo’s Fish Tacos
4716 Lincoln Blvd Unit C
Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
310-821-0300
$

bamboo steamers[Advert: The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.]

Habanero Mexican Grill in Thousand Oaks

sopes Habanero Restaurant Thousand OaksIt turns out, the Aztecs weren’t the only ones capable of building pyramids, as I found out at Habanero Mexican Grill in Thousand Oaks. I ordered the sopes, and the piles of beans, chicken, rice, lettuce, cheese and salsa.

Mmm.

I was impressed by the creative twist of serving the beans in a small fried tortilla shell.

My friend took advantage of the fact that we arrived on Taco Tuesday. He ordered three for a very favorable price. They were oversized and delicious in crispy shells.

oBig portions is what Habanero specializes in. The vegetables are fresh.

The tortilla soup is recommended, as are the fajitas.

I haven’t yet tried the desserts, but I can see from the pictures that I must.

bamboo steamers[Advert: The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.]

The exterior of Habanero belies the interior, which is double in size. The restaurant occupies two locals, but the frontage only shows one. The interior decoration is NOT typical Mexican but modern, sophisticated, urbane, designed to attract the well-heeled patrons and nouveau riche of the region.

The chips came without any salt, which I consider a blessing because some might be trying to cut down on sodium. You can salt to taste, always preferable to having the kitchen staff salt it for you to their taste.

burrito Habaneros Thousand Oaks Newbury ParkWhen I first saw the restaurant, I thought it was Cuban food because unconsciously I associated “Habanero” with the people who live in Havana, Cuba. Obviously, it is associated with the habanero chili, which is pretty darn hot. I used to indulge chilis but can’t anymore. It doesn’t seem like Habanero is trying to be so authentic that they risk “burning” their customers.

sarahzing-100

Habanero Mexican Grill
520 N Ventu Park Rd
Thousand Oaks, CA 91320
(805) 375-0755
$$

stocking stuffer mini[Advert: The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.]

Juicy Dumpling Restaurant in San Gabriel (greater Los Angeles)

Juicy Dumpling restaurant San Gabriel, CA

Juicy Dumpling Long Xing Ji in San Gabriel, with viewing room to watch them form dumplings like origami

This will, no doubt, leave some people SMH and others will laugh outright, but one of the ways you can KNOW you are in a legit Chinese restaurant is you enter in-between hours and the staff is napping on the booth couch.

Yup, Chinese workers in a REAL Chinese restaurant — ones run by Mom and Pop — work long hours. They take a nap between meals.

juicy dumpling san gabriel menu page 1

Juicy Dumpling San Gabriel menu page 1

That’s how I knew Juicy Dumpling in San Gabriel, which has become a huge ethnoburb for hua qiao. Outside China, where are you going to find more Chinese? For more than two decades, the Chinese have been moving in to Alhambra, Arcadia, Rosemead, San Marino, San Gabriel, South Pasadena, and Temple City.

juicy dumpling san gabriel menu page 2

Juicy Dumpling San Gabriel menu page 2

Juicy Dumpling Restaurant is located in the 12-acre San Gabriel Square, known affectionately as the “Great Mall of China.” I expected to find authentic Chinese food here. Immediately cluing me in to success was a waiter napping because I got there at 4:00, too late for lunch and too early for dinner. I expected great Chinese food. I didn’t expect a viewing window through which you can spy into the kitchen, especially the dumpling maker. This is quite fascinating, since dumpling folding is on par with origami. It certainly gives you an appreciation for the labor of love they pour into your soup dumplings.

juicy dumpling san gabriel menu page 4

Juicy Dumpling San Gabriel menu page 4

Andrew and I didn’t get dumplings. He wanted barbecue pork ribs with a hearty portion of meat hanging from them. They were fabulous. Since Andrew lives mostly in China, I let him order, and he also got shrimp fried rice. It was out of this world. As in, out of America and in China.

Juicy Dumpling San Gabriel menu page 5

Juicy Dumpling San Gabriel menu page 5

Juicy Dumpling San Gabriel menu page 6

Juicy Dumpling San Gabriel menu page 6

Juicy Dumpling San Gabriel menu page 7

Juicy Dumpling San Gabriel menu page 7

One day I will try this Chinese cola:

Jia Dua Bao soda
Juicy Dumpling (Long Xing Ji)
140 W. Valley Suit 211
San Gabriel, CA 91776
626-307-1188
$

bamboo steamers[Advert: The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.]

Pink Pepper Thai food in Hollywood

Pink Pepper Restaurant HollywoodFamous for movies and music, Hollywood is great too for munchies. It turns out all those stars — and would-be celebrities — like foreign fare, evocative entrees, daring dainties.

Pink Pepper fits the bill. Its memorable moniker hails its Hollywood heritage.

Thai yellow curry Pink Pepper HollywoodThe Thai food eatery is aptly decorated with Thai Buddhas — thinner than the Chinese versions — and golden furbelow. The interior decorating is tasteful, the food even more so.

pad thai Pink Pepper HollywoodMy friend Andrew ordered and we shared yellow curry chicken and pad Thai noodles with ground peanuts. This is the sort of stuff you look for in a Thai restaurant — a clean break from meat and potatoes.

Pink Pepper beef entreeThere are entrees that beckon: Crying Tiger Angus ribeye  with spicy dipping sauce, Siamese Fish crispy fried in tamarind-chili sauce, Lamb Curry  stewed in Mussamum curry, Tom Yum spicy hot and sour lemongrass soup, Rot Paratha for dessert.

pink pepper entree 2It’s an intimate eatery on the west edge of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Pink Pepper
1638 N La Brea Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90028
323-461-2462
$$

bamboo steamers[Advert: The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.]

Pink Pepper entreePink Pepper Hollywood menu page 1Pink Pepper Hollywood menu page 2Pink Pepper Hollywood menu page 3Pink Pepper Hollywood menu page 4Pink Pepper Hollywood menu page 5Pink Pepper Hollywood menu page 6
bamboo steamers[Advert: The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.]

A mountaintop experience at Central Grille in Glendale, CA

Monster burger and tortilla soup Central Grille GlendaleAfter climbing Mount Watermen, we three men were hungry. “Monster” burgers were the order of the day.

As famished as we were, probably anything would have satisfied. But instead, we pulled into one of those destination restaurants that you drive miles for because it’s that good.

Monster Burger Central GrilleMy serendipitous discovery came as it usually does, by way of a local. Wanna find good grub without Yelp? Ask a local.

Andrew had lived nearby when the hipster joint was an oldster joint called Shakers. The owners smartly revamped it for the changing demographics of influx of professionals. Not only did they update the interior and exterior, they crafted a new menu that combines traditional classics with enticing twists: white America cheese on the burger with sweet caramelized onions to offset the salty burger and house aioli.

Central Grille Glendale hipster restaurantCrispy asparagus fries. Deviled eggs with bacon. Truffle fries. Fish and chips with jalapeño tartar. Chilled gazpacho. Burrato-tomato caprese. Sesame-almond crusted salmon. Short rib street tacos. Popcorn curry chicken.

Central-Grille-2-82(Whimper. I’m growing hungry as I write.)

Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Like heaven yeah! When can I get an excuse to jet over there again?

Central-Grille-2-15I’m normally a fries guy, but Nathan Williams was from Salt Lake City where soup is the thing, and he had a picture from the last time. He showed me. That was that. It looked more mouth-watering than the fries.

bamboo steamers[Advert: The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.]

Central-Grille-242Mercifully, the menu is one large page. Just one. If it were more, I would probably need to go this restaurant for the rest of my life to sample all the goodies.

central grill saladCentral Grille has one-upped the competition. They’ve shown that you need to do more than just an “e” to the end of “Grill” if you want first-timers to become faithful.

Central Grillle Glendale CA exteriorWaterman Mountain in the Angeles National Forest, about an hour north of Glendale, was an exhilarating hike with snow and ice. I won’t need to be a famished mountainman to seek the eatery again.

hike Mount Waterman

Nathan Williams on Mount Waterman (not the peak)

Final tip: Grab some zucchini bread on your way out at the cash register. Goes great with butter on it and a cup of coffee for breakfast.

Central Grille
801 N Central Ave
Glendale, CA 91203
818-246-4994
$$

Central Grille menu Glendale, California

After a mountaintop experience on top of the mounain, we had a mountaintop experience at the base of the mountain in the restaurant.

Central Grille Glendale dinner specials menu

bamboo steamers[Advert: The author sells 10-inch bamboo steamers on Amazon to broaden your culinary cooking experience. They are great for vegetables, fish and especially Chinese buns and dumplings that can be picked up frozen in specialty food markets and warmed to perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.]