Category Archives: eating

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.]

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
$$

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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

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Brutal or bomb? A 17-year-old reviews Dinah’s Family Restaurant in Culver City

dinah's chickenSeventeen-year-olds are merciless, so when I took my son with me to help review Dinah’s Family Restaurant, I knew he would cut through all the nonsense and deliver either a brutal or bomb grade.

Hosea didn’t like it. The chicken sandwich was overpriced and underflavored, according to him.

I thought my “monster burger” was stellar, and Kevin said his pulled pork sandwich did not disappoint. Perhaps we misfired. We arrived on the all-you-can eat Southern fried chicken night and didn’t.

chicken sandwich Dinah's Family Restaurant

The unimpressive chicken sandwich

Everybody agreed that the restaurant, which offers Southern comfort food, was overpriced, maybe banking on its historicity, old faithful clientele or its location in hipster Culver City. This restaurant has survived a 1000 remakes and trends in the restaurant business with the same menu from 1959 when it opened.

Dinah's Family Restaurant interior Culver CityIt even boasts that its bucket sign was the first of its type in Los Angeles. (Such was the trademark of Pioneer Chicken, which didn’t keep up with Kentucky Fried, which is struggling against an infinity of healthier options.)

Pulled Pork sandwich Dinah's Family Restaurant Culver CityThere’s not too much on the menu that borders on “ethnic” or “exotic.” The retro interior speaks throwback.

I’m a sucker for a burger called “monster,” so much so that I could distracted from the all-you-can-eat fried chicken.

Monster Burger from Dinah's Family Restaurant Culver Cityu

The Monster Burger (side view) at Dinah’s Family Restaurant in Culver City.

Somehow or other, I didn’t notice from the menu that it had not one but two huge patties. When the bulky burger came, I couldn’t fit my mouth around it. I actually had to give one of the patties to my son; he plays football and consumes mega quantities.

Monster Burger Dinah's Family Restaurant Culver City

Monster burger (top view, open) from Dinah’s Family Restaurant in Culver City

It had two onion rings in it, bacon, lettuce tomato, and a huge slab of cheese. The size of the pickle even fit the descriptor: monster. I surrendered the raw onion to brother Eric, since pungent onions make my stomach acidic.

bamboo steamers Chinese thumbnailThe fries were impressively thick but otherwise nothing special.

[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.]

Breakfast looks good.

There’s a same-logo Dinah’s Chicken in Glendale, but it appears they severed business relationship many years ago.

Dinah's Family Restaurant menu page 1Since the restaurant has been opened, it has served a lot of food. Its website provides the accounting:

More than 20 million customers.
More than 1 billion pieces of  fried chicken.
Dinah's Family Restaurant menu page 2More than 5 million apples to make apple pancakes.
45 million eggs to make breakfast.
Dinah's Family Restaurant menu page 32 million pounds of bacon and sausage.
1.5 million pounds of fish.
Dinah's Family Restaurant menu page 48 millions pounds of potatoes.
20 million pancakes
500,000 pies
More than 2 million pounds of beef.
15 million cups of coffee.
27 million dinner rolls.

I don’t think I will come here again unless invited. The grub is good, but the prices are not.

Dinah’s Family Restaurant
6521 Sepulveda Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90045
310-645-0456
$$

bamboo steamers Chinese thumbnail[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.]

Greek for lunch in Downtown LA at George’s

George's Greek Grill downtown Los Angeles

An Athens painting adorns the wall giving a cool feel to the hipster/professional lunch place.

The gyro made my tongue do cartwheels. It was that good. There’s nothing like Greek food to excite your tongue.

I met my wife for lunch in Downtown at George’s Greek Grill on Figueroa. This place is definitely the lunch spot for professionals.

chicken gyro at George's Greek Grill downtown los angeles

Chicken gryo

Greek food combines frequently with tzatziki — yogurt spiked with cucumber  — that provide an intriguing offset to the spicy and salty lamb and beef.

Roasted-Pepper-Hummus-2

Fried pita chips with roasted pepper hummus

I got the chicken. I wish I had gotten the beef and lamb, which my wife got.

lamb and beef gyro at George's Greek Grill in downtown Los Angeles

Lamb and beef gyro

George’s takes the traditional Greek and puts hipster twist on it. Hummus gets zipped up with jalapeño and cilantro. Fries come with feta cheese and protein.

Calamari_019

Calimari salad

There are salads and falafel. There are wraps and pita chips. The menu is pretty long for a mostly lunch place.

Kale-Salad-1280x1071-1

Kale salad with mango chunks and cranberries

George’s Greek Grill
735 S Figueroa St #131
Los Angeles, CA 90017
213-624-6542
$$

bamboo steamers Chinese thumbnail[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.]

 

My wife swears by Go Greek, and I’m pretty convinced too

Go Greek Santa MonicaIf I were a frozen yogurt sommelier, I could tell you why Go Greek is superior. But since I can’t place my finger on it, I’ll just say Go Greek tastes healthier. Supposedly the ingredients are all imported from Greece. There’s no corner cutting. And yes, it tastes a bit more tart, a bit more yogurty, a bit healthier.

My wife swears by it.

Go Greek toppings naturalActually, I’m a bit of a cuisine curmudgeon. Just because something is more expensive does not mean it tastes better in my book. Hence, I frown upon her notion that Menchie’s (more expensive) is better than Yogurtland. They taste exactly the same to me.

Go Greek convinces me, the cynic.

Go Greek natural yogurtThey have nontraditional flavors: peanut butter and jelly, passionfruit, rose, hazelnut, carrot. Greek honey is a perennial. They have rotating flavors.

The toppings are noticeably different from your traditional frozen yogurt joint. Chocolate goes in the form of dark chocolate cacao nibs, dark chocolate espresso beans and unsweetened carob chips. There are raw, sliced almonds and fresh fruit. No sprinkles, no whipped cream, no other cheap American unwholesome frills.

Go Greek Santa Monica interiorThey don’t offer chocolate syrup, which apparently is too sugary for their healthy pretensions. Instead, they have sour cherry syrup, which is spectacular; Greek honey and rose petal sauce (which I haven’t tried).

Go Greek yogurtThere are three Go Greeks in Los Angeles and one in Las Vegas. No doubt they will expand across that nation, at least to places where sophisticated tastes prevail. They need more in L.A.

Go Greek frozen yogurt toppingsIf we are in Santa Monica, we usually stop in there.

1431 Ocean Ave
Santa Monica, CA 90401
(310) 310-2167
$ (more expensive than the average frozen yogurt place)

bamboo steamers Chinese thumbnail[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.]

Hot! Hot! Hot!

bizmati rice Pakistani style Nihara House Arleta Los AngelesNihari House is pure fire — and it’s not a rap flow.

No, it’s spicy, spicy, spicy.

Nihari House ArletaIn my quest to try all the most exotic ethnic food in Los Angeles, I wound up in Nihari House in Arleta (in the Central Northern San Fernando Valley.)

Never having sampled Pakistani food before, I asked the waitress, who runs the joint with her husband, the chef. She was very personable and welcoming. Instantly, I felt part of the family.

Nihari in San Fernando ValleyBecause of her no-non sense recommendation, I tried the nihari, the house specialty. It is beef shank slow-simmered in chili oil for seven hours or so. The gravy is hot, hot, hot. There was no need to throw in the chopped jalapeño on the side. To squeeze in lemon juice would have pushed the acidic levels into radioactive. (Excuse the hyperbole, but I’m 52 and can’t take too much spicy anymore. Fortunately, there was a remedy.) It was delicious.

Lamb Karahi Pakistani food Nahari House ArletaMy wife got the lamb Lamb Karahi, which came in its own Pakastani wok (I didn’t know they had their own woks!). And that was just as hot. It wasn’t until the chef, an affable slightly overweight guy, came out to check if everything was up to our satisfaction. He explained that we could have ordered a less spicy version. It certainly gives me confidence in a restaurant if the chef himself comes out to check on our enjoyment.

mango yogurt Pakistani drink Nihara Arleta Los AngelesFortunately, there was an answer to the chili power. It was the mango yogurt drink to neutralize acids in the stomach. Even if you don’t need to chill the heat, this drink is absolutely worth the experiment. It’s delicious and different.

If you are tired of ho-hum meat and potatoes like me, then Nihari House is a hotspot to excite your palate.

bamboo steamers Chinese thumbnail[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.]

Nihari House restaurant menu Arleta Los Angeles page 2

Nihari House restaurant menu Arleta Los Angeles page 1

Here’s a big tip: try to hit the Sunday buffet 12:00 – 3:00 p.m. That way you can sample so many different flavors for one low price. Unfortunately, I missed the buffet because it didn’t coincide with date night with my wife.

nihari house Los Angeles pakistani foodI thought that Mexicans were the hot chili pepper-eating champions of the world. (I remember in Mexico City seeing a 4-year-old eating a jalapeño all by itself as if it were a banana. He didn’t cry until he accidentally wiped his eyes with his fingers.) Now I know that the Pakistanis are right up there competing.

pakistani buffet in LA

Nihari House
13920 Van Nuys Blvd.
Arleta, CA 91331
818-302-6291
$$

bamboo steamers Chinese thumbnail[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.]

Hop Li in LA’s Chinatown, the hot spot for locals

Hop Li Chinatown LA

My lovely wife, at the restaurant she grew up most eating

Forget about the big fancy expensive Chinese food restaurants in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Locals get their authentic grub at Hop Li, an unpretentious eatery that would necessarily stand out as a hot spot.

Peking Duck Hop Li Chinese restaurant Chinatown LA

Peking Duck in super-white flour buns with sprig onion, parsley and plum or hoisin sauce.

I was introduced to Hop Li, when in the 90s I was dating the lady who is now my wife. It was the most frequent place we went to.

spicy pepper beef Hop Li restaurant Chinatown LA

The pepper beef was my favorite of the day.

I’ve learned to ignore the worn-out red carpets that lead to the bathroom. They look like they were new in the 60s. I’ve learned to ignore the dust on the exit sign. People don’t

stocking stuffer mini

come to Hop Li for its immaculate interior. The decorating looks like it hasn’t updated

since the 70s.

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.]

hot and sour soup Hop Li Chinese restaurant Los Angeles

Hot and sour soup is a traditional favorite.

Nobody cares about that. They only care about taste. When it comes to authentic Cantonese food, there’s nothing better in Downtown LA (Chinatown is just northeast of DT).

sweet and sour chicken Chinatown Los Angeles Hop Li restaurant

The kids always love sweet and sour chicken

Having married American-born Chinese, I learned you always start with soup. My in-laws used to honor me (many many years ago) by ordering shark’s fin soup, which cost $100 and tastes fibrous (nothing special for my American taste buds, or bitter melon soup (which they cherish but tasted to me like the name, bitter). But on my recent visit we were treated to the more American-friendly hot and sour soup.

Hop Li restaurant in Chinatown LA

Hop Li’s decor is traditional old style.

Next, if the meal is special, you get Peking Duck. I like the dunk meat best, but the true stocking stuffer miniChinese way, apparently, is to eat mostly fried duck skin with plum sauce, onion sprigs and parsley.

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.]

Chinese crab restaurant

Crabs in the fish tank assure you you’re getting really fresh seafood.

Then the entrees start coming out to be served on the white rice: honey garlic spare ribs, asparagus, baby Spinach, fish in black bean sauce, pepper chicken, spicy beef and bell peppers, noodles, sweet and sour chicken. There is more than we can finish, which is the Chinese way for a banquet.

Chinese asparagus Hop Li Restaurant Los Angeles Chinatown

Delicious asparagus, one of my favorites.

There are a lot of exotic items for the truer Chinese taste buds, deep fried squid in light crunchy batter, crab and fried tofu in creamy curry sauce, whole steamed fish (my in-laws, to honor me years ago, offered me the fish eyeball, which is a delicacy, and which I dutifully ate. It was mushy like a pea, though harder.)

Chinese noodles Hop Li restaurant Chinatown LA

Chicken and vegetables in the noodles

Chinese like fresh, fresh, fresh food, so you can get the fish live and placed into the pot.  So Hop Li has tanks of living crabs for you to enjoy.

Chinese fish in black bean sauce

The black bean sauce is the bomb on the fish.

I always liked the orange pepper chicken but through the years of eating with my in-laws stocking stuffer minihave learned to go along with whatever they order. Another favorite of mine was kung-pao chicken.

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.]

honey garlic spare rips Hop Li Chinese restaurant Chinatown LA

Honey garlic spare ribs

You can come here for a quick lunch, simple dinner or a full-on banquet.

At some point, Hop Li, which started in Chinatown, expanded with two restaurants on the West Side of Los Angeles, aiming to capture the well-heeled crowd. Reportedly, even the best chef moved there. But here in Chinatown is where the legend began, so I’m not following the best chef.

historical map of chinatown Los Angeles

A historic map of Chinatown

Hop Li is part of Chinatown’s history. They even have a historic map that traces the beginnings of the section in Los Angeles. Some of the history is a stain because racial violence against Chinese is why the Chinese moved out of Downtown and quartered up near Dodger Stadium (which, of course, wasn’t there at the time).
whoa

Hot mustard sauce to add some zing to vegetables. Alternatively, oyster sauce makes the veggies delicious.

Chinese spinach Hop Li restaurant Chinatown LA

Baby spinach, savored for being tender

The Chinese apparently appreciate the baby vegetables, such as the spinach above. They say they are more tender. Not hailing from Chinese descent, I grew up learning that stocking stuffer minitoughness was roughage, which was good for your digestion, so I don’t think I savor it quite like they do.

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 menu is extensive.

Hop Li menu page 1 Chinatown LA

Hop Li’s menu page 1

Hop Li menu page 2 Chinatown LA

Hop Li’s menu page 2

Hop Li menu page 3 Chinatown LA

Hop Li’s menu page 3

Hop Li menu page 4 Chinatown LA

Hop Li’s menu page 3

Hop Li menu page 5 Chinatown LA

Hop Li’s menu page 4

Hop Li menu page 6 Chinatown LA

Hop Li’s menu page 5

Hop Li menu page 7 Chinatown LA

Hop Li’s menu page 6

Hop Li menu page 8 Chinatown LA

Hop Li’s menu page 7

Hop Li Seafood Restaurant
526 Alpine Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012
213-680-3939
$$

stocking stuffer miniAdvert: 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.]

Urban Plates, a notch above prepare-in-front-of-you concept restaurants

urban plates sandwich makingsThe secret to Urban Plates, a new concept chain exploding in Los Angeles, is not the taste, the natural ingredients, the decor or the super friendly staff. The secret is the food’s preparation.

urban plates wild line caught ahi tuna sandwichLike pioneer of the concept, Tendergreens, Urban Plates has all the food out in front of the customers. There is no need for menus hardly, no need for pretty pictures or enticing words. The enticements are right there in front of your eyes.

urban plates sandwich menuYou get in line with your train and pick the most succulent, the most inviting items you see. It’s not prepared in the back. Right there, in front of your eyes, the foods are put together in what you order.

urban plates interiorYour hunger grows as you wait AND WATCH.

I went to the Urban Plates in Thousand Oaks. It’s a new concept restaurant like Tendergreens and Lemonade. But it transcends these in its depth of menu and attractive interior decorating.

urban plates grilled grass fed steak sandwichI ordered the “Grilled, grass-fed steak sandwich with slow-roasted tomatoes and chimichurri aioli.” I had loved chimichurri in Latin America as part of the parrilladas, but wondered how it might be added into a sandwich.

The menu items use all the right key words for health and woke culture (there is “anti-oxidant” salad and “line caught” ahi tuna, not farmed or fished in nets).

urban plates fruit juicesI was quite taken aback that the steak was cut into thick slices for my sandwich. It was steak, like it could have been served on a platter with asparagus and mashed potatoes for $19.95, and here generous slices were being cut before my eyes to go into the sandwich.

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.]

urban plates dinnersNo ordinary bread was used, but baked in their own oven.

urban plates soupsOnce you get your sandwich, salad, soup or entre, you pass by — and are inevitably tempted by — a display case of pastries and cookies. Nothing is ordinary or regular. Everything could have come from an expensive hotel or pricey restaurant for the well-heeled.

urban plates teasThere are exotic teas and wines. Forget about going to the local juicery. You will get natural juice mixtures here with no added sugar to pique your palette and keep you slim. I got the acai apple beet & carrot while my buddy got passion fruit coconut lime. His was too tart for me.

urban plates makings of dinnersUrban Plate Thousand Oaks took pains for their interior decorating. No corner cutting, everything is done by a pro, impressive and attractive.

urban plates acai apple beet carrot and passion fruit coconut limeBy the team we received our sandwiches, “Chef Rosendo” showed up at our table and chatted friendly about the decoration (he noticed I took pictures). “I will do anything to make sure your experience here is enjoyable,” he said.

urban plates cakes and pastriesOur eyebrows rose.

urban plates desserts cookies pastriesOf course we knew about Chik-Fil-A’s custom — and Wahoo’s Tacos’ — of sending personnel around to proactively make sure customers enjoyed their meal. But this was “the chef” — and he took the welcoming to a higher level.

urban plates thousand oaksWhich is Urban Plates does. It takes others’ successes to a higher level.

urban plates menuOn another date, I will have to try to the dinner platter, the soup, the salad and the tempting desserts.

urban plates saladsurban plates thousand oaksurban plates decor

Urban Plates
162 W. Hillcrest Dr #100
Thousand Oaks, CA 91360
$$

stocking stuffer miniThe 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.

Where butter is supreme – Eclair Bakery in Arroyo Grande

eclairbakery arroyo grandeEspecially since the sugar and lard cinnamon buns from across town are such an overload, Eclair Bakery in Arroyo Grande is a positive relief for treat-seekers who don’t want an immediate cardiac arrest over a simple muffin.

eclair bakery pismo beach (arroyo grande)My wife and I discovered Eclair Bakery by chance taking a stroll down Arroyo Grande (right next to Pismo Beach). It turns out there are some quaint spots for tourists off the main drag of Pismo that are worth poking around.

huge blueberry scones eclair bakery pismo beachIn this case, it is worth the very short drive OUT of Pismo to Arroyo Grande — or AG, as locals call it. Eclair doesn’t dump sugar and lard on their pastries. But they don’t hold back the butter.

eclair bakery arroyo grande macaroonThe result is that treats are not so sweet but still mouth-wateringly delicious.

cupcakes eclair bakery coastal californiaI  had the blueberry scone. I can never resist a scone. These were HUGE. I couldn’t believe how big they were. With a decent cup of Joe, I was in Heaven.

muffins eclair bakery pismo beachMy wife ordered the coconut macaroons, which must be the biggest on the planet. There are two varieties, simple and covered in chocolate (not a thin layer).

The cupcakes were enticing, but we couldn’t eat everything there in just one day.

This spot has got to be THE PLACE you visit when you go to Pismo Beach.

Eclair Bakery
117 W. Branch St.
Arroyo Grande, CA 93420
805-481-7654
$

stocking stuffer miniThe 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.

Falafel Corner, an undiscovered gem in Koreatown

falafel
Falafel Corner has all the makings of an undiscovered sensation. It’a a tiny hole-in-the-wall hawking Lebanese food in Koreatown Los Angeles. It is so small and unassuming, hidden away in a not-so-prosperous corner mall, that people would be sure to overlook it.
beef kebab
But people discovered it and starting giving it great ratings on Yelp. The undiscovered restaurant gem had been discovered. Word got out, and so we came. It is good.
Falafel Corner Koreatown los angeles menu
Naturally, I ordered the falafel, since I hadn’t enjoyed that for quite some time and since it was the very name of the joint. This was a mistake because my daughter ordered the beef kebab, which was astonishingly tender and seasoned to perfection. Henceforth, I will stick with meat. The hummus was very good. We will be back.falafel corner korea town los angeles menu 2
And it is cheap. This is the place to get really good food at a really affordable price.

I also discovered why it is so good. It turns out the Armenian owner was neighbor in Lebanon and friend with the owners of Zankou Chicken, a veritable sensation in LA. They seem to bring with them a taste for deliciousness. I’m going to have to tell Trump to grant visas to all Armenians from Lebanon because they know how to cook!)

Falafel Corner
689 Irolo St. #103
Los Angeles, CA 90005
213-252-4435
$

stocking stuffer miniThe 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.

When in WeHo, do Joey’s Cafe

california burgerI have never been fuller with a hamburger than at Joey’s Cafe in West Hollywood.

I picked my buddy up from the airport, so he treated me. There’s nothing like a local to take you to the best spots.

joeys cafe west hollywoodJoey’s offers omelettes, burgers, salads, Mexican food. It’s continental casual cuisine. The setting is slightly upscale. The servers are friendly.

My California burger was super juicy. It had fresh avocado, bacon and cheddar and jack cheeses. Burgers should NOT be served with American cheese. There ought to be a rule that burgers should be served with cheddar, or some real cheese.

omelette avocado joeys cafeMy coffee was decent, and my buddy enjoyed his peppermint tea. The eggwhite omelette was great.

weho eateries

Joey’s Cafe
8301 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA  90069
323-822-0671
$$

stocking stuffer miniThe 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.

Socorro’s Restaurant: Authentic Mexican in the San Fernando Valley

family mexican restaurant los angelesWhat are the signs of an authentic Mexican restaurant? For years, I graded them exclusively on their chips and salsa. If the chips were stale or mass-produced and thus bleh, the eatery got a low grade. Similarly, if it didn’t have a decent hot sauce (and I mean “hot” not “mild hot sauce,” which is an oxymoron), then it failed the test.

best cheese enchiladas san fernando valleyBut now that I can’t eat hot hot sauce (because I got old and my stomach turns with the fire), I have to look at other factors. Socorro’s Restaurant has the other factors. They make their tortillas by hand. The cheese on the enchiladas stretches three feet. They have frescos (or refrescos) of fruit in the clear plastic buckets. The menu above the cash register is ONLY in Spanish. Yeah, that’s real.

frescos de frutasOh man, this is authentic. The green one is spinach and pineapple juice. Mixed with lots of sugar, it’s very delicious — and somewhat healthy.  It’s actually the eatery’s most popular drink.

spinach pineapple refesco

My friend got the horchata. Of course, I went for the exotic and tasty spinach juice

Recently, I had a buddy from West Virginia over. In West Virginia, the waitresses in the “Mexican” restaurants don’t know what horchata is. The hot sauce is about as hot as ketchup. My friends, and their kids, were absolutely entusiasmados to savor the flavor.

mexican carne asada LAI was pretty pumped too. I had to get my favorite, cheesy cheese enchiladas. Forgive me for the redundancy, but they were redundant with cheese. If you are a cheese addict, I suggest you go no further. There was more cheese in those enchiladas than in a lasagna.

handmade tortillas mexican restaurant san fernando valleyOne of my sons ordered the carne asada, which he rated highly. My other son got flautas. Our friends got tacos, quesadillas. The rice and beans are very good. The vegetables and lettuce were fresh and crisp.

best tacos los angelesMan, those are big tortillas, patted out by hand by a lady in the back and cooked over a comal. It doesn’t get more authentic.

mexican tacos los angelesI just love the hole in the wall restaurants that serve good food under the radar from the snooty foodies.

birriria in van nuys

The birriria wasn’t my favorite though.

mexican food los angelesAnd of course, the kids loved it.

By the way, you can tell the authenticity of the Mexican food by the amount of sugar in the refrescos. There’s a lot. They’re sweet. Enjoy!

socorros restaurant los angelesSocorro’s Restaurant
14853 Sherman Way
stocking stuffer miniVan Nuys, CA  91405
818-785-0505
$

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 perfection, almost as good as the restaurant.

The chicken and beef enchiladas were also outstanding.

beef and chicken enchiladas van nuys

 

But it was only $1!

cupcake heavenNeed a treat on a budget? Try Hansen’s Bakery in Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles.

They specialize in custom cakes and have a long list of celebrity clients whose birthday parties they have patronized. The workers are always in the back crafting their latest master works. Out front, they have unattractive tables and chairs with a very beckoning display of cupcakes.

cupcakes in LAI was surprised at the price — a buck each. The frosting was laid on thick.

At least the day I was there, the taste didn’t live up to the looks: it wasn’t moist and fresh, it didn’t taste as sweet and buttery as expected. But ok, it was only $1, so I’m not complaining.

chocolate cupcakeI’m thinking this spot makes a great place for anyone short of cash and wanting to have a little something to eat out. It’s good for people on a budget.

The pictures certainly are tempting.

IMG_3890 (1)IMG_3887 (1)
Hansen’s Bakery
1072 S Fairfax Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 936-4332
$

stocking stuffer miniThe 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.

Frozen custard and Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers

what is the difference between frozen custard and ice creamFrozen custard, I learned, was slow-churned for a smoother, creamier-than-ice cream delight with no ice crystals because of the painstaking preparation. Custard, a virtually unknown quantity in L.A., was what brought me into Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers when I was visiting my daughter in Salt Lake City. The throwback eatery throttled me: Was there one in L.A.? Yes, but it is far. It is in Thousand Oaks.

It turns out that frozen custard is more than slow-churn. It has more egg white and less oxygen, which makes for a denser product that doesn’t melt as easily as ice cream (the science). In short, it is a significant step up from ice cream (the non-science). You can find it scarcely around L.A., but I’ll only vouch for the quality of Freddy’s. When I was inducted into the wonders of frozen custard with my relatives around East Rochester (who schooled me as to the advantages), I embarked on a quest to find it on the East Coast. I have found it.

freddy's steakburgersFreddy’s, as I discovered in Salt Lake, doesn’t specialize in dietary or healthy. While other burger joints have made strides to cut calories or limit trans fats, Freddy’s wallows in the goodness of the way things were cooked in the 50s. (Quantities of salt and sugar, I think, register on the Richter Scale.) So don’t make this splurge a regimen regular.

bamboo steamer best[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.]

I went for the custard but discovered Freddy’s has more than just custard. Originally from Wichita, Kansas. This is part of the swath of America that likes Fry Sauce.

what is fry sauce

Wichita Freddy's Frozen Custard

What is Fry Sauce?

I asked. When I was in Idaho visiting my brother.

Fry sauce? Fry Sauce is Fry Sauce.

I’m not kidding. That’s what they told me.

I suppose those Idahoans never imagined life without Fry Sauce. Nor had they ever imagined there might be a barbarian who had never tried or even heard of it.

It’s worth a try.

Freddy's Frozen Custard hamburger and hotdog combo

The hamburger and hot dog combo. The side sliced pickles.

I’ve been a straight ketchup-and-fries man myself. So the prospect of something new and exotic is tantalizing. Could there be something better — or at least equal to — ketchup with fries? Some people swear by it.

freddy-s-frozen-custard-amp-steakburgersFry Sauce is mostly mayonnaise with a touch of ketchup, vinegar, pepper and seasoned salt. Freddy’s has a variety with jalapeño. The wheel has been reinvented. Break out of boredom and give it a try.

deep fried cheese curds at Freddy's Frozen Custard

The steak burger with the deep-fried cheese curds

Freddy’s shoe-string fries, which give more surface area for salt to cling to, will force you to fire them fast into your mouth to fill up. There’s no slow-eating those shoe-string fries. If you are a cheese lover, as I am, then skip the fries altogether because they have a thing I didn’t even know existed: deep-fried cheese curds.

Oh my!

The steakburger, too, is a notable break from routine. The patty is squared and comes with charred edges. It seems to hold together more loosely, giving the perfect circle patties with uniform thickness of other restaurants the feel of rubber hockey pucks, by comparison. The pickles are sliced lengthwise (even that is different from the norm!)

freddys-front_750xx1500-844-0-77To complete the exotic experience, sprinkle on some Steakburger & Fry Seasoning, which is made of salt, sugar, pepper, paprika, turmeric, onion salt, and garlic salt.

After reveling in the diet-busting, throw all restraint to the wind and get what you came for: the frozen custard. Savor it. Admire it. Bite it. Look at the denseness of the cream. I got the chocolate, and my buddy got the vanilla. (He’s not close enough of a buddy for me to ask for a bite of his ice cream.) They have sundaes, shakes and malteds.

Freddy of Freddy'sFreddy soldier WW2 Freddy's Frozen CustardInitially, I thought that Freddy, a World War 2 veteran, was the founder of his throwback restaurant. It certainly adds mystique to the experience. But, as it turns out, it was his son, who named the restaurant after his dad. Pictures of dad and his farming and war hero life are featured on the walls of Freddy’s.

When I found out that the nearest Freddy’s to me (in L.A.) was Thousand Oaks, I despaired because that’s a bit far. I was told there are only three Freddy’s in California. When my buddy moved to Thousand Oaks, I began to plot my visit. I will be back with my family.

Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers
Westlake Village, CA
(805) 497-3344
$

bamboo steamer bestThe 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.

Flame International Steak & Kabob House

A delight for trying new restaurants is finding something new. In the case of a Persian restaurant in “Tehrangeles” called Flame, my wife and I discovered sumac salt, which zipped up an already delicious boneless chicken kabob with saffron basmati rice.

My infatuation with Middle Eastern food started when I had a serious falling out with Mexican food. You see, I turned 50 and my stomach turned — with the chili sauce. Without the picante, Mexican fell out of favor, and I needed to move on. I made some friends among the Arabs and Middle Easterners — and the rest is history.

Flame International Steak & Kabob House beckoned me for years on Santa Monica, its flames dancing on the sign. But it either appeared too expensive or traffic was too strong (it’s right next to the Santa Monica Blvd. on-ramp to the 405 freeway — as in “four or five hours to get anywhere on it”). Friday was the day. Here’s what we discovered:

The place has a lush and garish look that the Persians love, but the price wasn’t too bad. They have the absolute best humus, which I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish but demolished with the nan bread. Not sour, like Yankou’s. Slightly accented with some kind of spice. Just perfect.

My wife ordered the lamb shank with eggplant, which was very tomatoey. Tasted like an Italian entrée.

I was  delighted by the pink mayonnaise given as dressing for my salad. The colorfulness of the presentation was inviting, and I accordingly dove in. The pink color came from beet juice. The salad had beets, which I like and don’t often find.

On the walls the restaurant has a four panels showing nature images, presumably from Iran, alternatively waterfalls or thermal waters bubbling up in rivers. This, which the New Agey music, has quite the calming effect.

What really caught my fancy was the sumac. It’s bright red like paprika but provides a strong flavor. Ground into powder from the dark red drupes, the tart lemony herb adds garnish color and flavor to salads, rice, beef or chicken. Where have you been all my life?

Basmati rice with sumac

You go about your life thinking you know it all, and then wham! something totally new and delicious invades your horizon. It causes me to know that Heaven will have limitless new delights for us.

By the way, at least 300,000 residents of Persian descent reside in Los Angeles, many of whom are clustered around Westwood Blvd and Santa Monica Blvd, about a mile from where Flame is. While “Little Persia” is an official nod from the city, “Tehrangeles” is a fun and common reference even recognized by Wikipedia. Tehran is the capital of Iran.

Flame International Steak & Kabob House – $$
11330 Santa Monica Blvd.
West Los Angeles, CA 90025
310-444-0045

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

Cheesecake Factory cheesecake

IMG_4144Special memories for my wife and me. The Cheesecake Factory is where I asked her to marry me — 29 years ago. Dianna and I went for our anniversary.

Don’t go to the Cheesecake Factory for Mexican Food. Or Chinese. Or Italian. Yeah, the food at the Cheesecake Factory is, at best, decent. But the ethnic food is meh.

IMG_4142Go to the Cheesecake Factory for cheesecake. Nobody does it better.

The great danger of the Cheesecake Factory is the calorie count. An entre usually is more than half you daily max, and the the cheesecake is at least half. If you order a soda and an appetizer, you blasting into the 4000 calorie range — IN JUST ONE MEAL! (The menu I saw said “2,000 calories is recommended daily, but intake may vary from person to person.” This is MISLEADING, meant to lull you into lowering your guard with the doubt that you might need more. If you play high school football, are a boy and a teenager, then you need more calories. If not, forget it.

IMG_4143

Looks healthy? It does. But HOW do they get more than 1,000 calories into a salad?

Anyhow, you can splurge once in a while. I skipped the fries because they weren’t fresh, and I saved calories.

But Dianna and I did good with the cheesecake. We ordered the mango key lime. It was mid-range calories — 1280. And it was sensational! The graham-cracker pie crust was laced with coconut. The tart lime was counter-balanced perfectly by sweet and creamy with sweet mango.

I have tried almost every cheesecake they offer. My favorites are the chocolate and raspberry ones.

bamboo steamer bestThe 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

Savory Indian cuisine at Urban India Grill

Urban India Cafe North HollywoodHankering for some quick Indian food but can’t afford the plane ticket to India? Try Urban India Grill on Sherman Way in North Hollywood.

The favorite item on the 2-year-old restaurant is the Chicken Tikka Masala, which we ordered super mild because we’re — without mincing words — getting old and can’t stomach the hot, hot, hot fare we used to love. The thick, sweet tomato-based gravy in which the chicken chunks are generously bathed was so good that we were spreading it on our bread and into our basmati rice. My wife and I couldn’t get enough of that sauce. It is the kind of thing you look for in an Indian restaurant, that authentic Indian flavor.

chicken tikki masala san fernando valleyWe also delighted on the Mixed Tandoori, a smattering of lamb, chicken chunks of the tikka and tandoori style served on a sizzling iron skillet over a thin bed of sauced, grilled bell pepper and onion slivers. They served us two dipping sauces: one a sweet tamarind and the other mint with lemon.

nan prati indian breadThe bread really is something. Baked in house, you have choose either nan or prati, which is a little thinner. The flatbreads have the best of all worlds, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. You could go to this restaurant just for the bread.

vegetable samosa fried turnover IndiaShireen, the proprietor, works the restaurant with her whole family. An immigrant from Bangladesh, she met and married her husband from Indian in America. Their adult children were both working the night my wife and I visited. They are both working on master’s degrees, he in marketing, she in biology, but they’re making money to pay for their studies. The son has helped establish restaurants in Dubai and Oman for an uncle. With a husky voice, Shireen made us feel like we were in family.

indian food san fernando valley

Shireen prevailed on us to try, insisting we try the vegetable Samosa, which was a deep-fried turnover filled with a pureed paste of an assortment of vegetables, again with the red and green dipping sauces.

On top of all the pluses, Urban India is way affordable. Way affordable. Apparently, before Shireen and family purchased it, the eatery was a teriyaki joint, so they still serve some Asian fusion.

Urban India Grill
12907 Sherman Way
North Hollywood, CA 91605
$

bamboo steamer bestThe 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

Ethiopian fare at Messob in Los Angeles

ethnic cuisine LAWhen I got to Messob restaurant in Little Ethiopia, I had no idea what to order, so I got the sampler plate, which I shared with my wife. It was the size of Captain America’s shield.

We sat at a basket weaved table with funny chairs because we wanted the authentic experience. My wife noticed that a few black couples (presumably, Ethiopians) didn’t bother with the hassle and sat at traditional American tables. Another white pair of ladies also opted for the funny table.

ethiopian cuisine los angelesThe platter had a dollop of this and a serving of that, all of it spread over a a thin round flatbread called injera the size of the plate. Except for the airholes in the bread, it tasted like a crepe. I wasn’t used to it with salty items.

The restaurant offers dulet, spicy country style ground beef, liver and tripe and bozena shiro, ground peas in beef seasoned with garlic, onions and ginger. There’s doro wot, chicken stewed in red pepper sauce with an assortment of spices, and yebeg siga alicha, a mild lamb stew delicately flavored with garlic, ginger and other spices.

messob little ethiopia LAThere are steamed peas, collard greens, split lentil and yatakilt alicha, steamed vegetables with onions and seasoning. The menu is mostly in English, but there is Ethiopian for immigrants (or to just assure you the food is authentic).

If you live in L.A., you have to try ethnic restaurants. Aside from making a memorable experience, such restaurants broaden your horizons and get you out of culinary boredom.

Messob Ethiopian Restaurant
1041 S. Fairfax Ave
Los Angeles, CA  90019
$$

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.

10 inch bamboo steamer

 

Best (secret) restaurants in the San Fernando Valley #10

Weiler’s Nosh & Bakery –

9028 Balboa Blvd.
Northridge
$

witch's brew cold coffee weilers san fernando valley

I was going to present Gayle’s Perks, which offered “witch’s brew” cold coffee with coffee ice frozen into the bottom of the glass. It was novelty, dark and delicious. Tucked away into a corner of the corner mall, this homegrown coffee shop was the perfect hideaway for those burnt out on standardized, automated coffee shops.

avocado toast spanish olives sunny side up egg weilers san fernando valleySince then, the coffee shop merged with its parent restaurant Weiler’s, which lost its lease. The menu has diversified to include sandwiches, deli lunch and avocado toast with sunny-side-up eggs and ground Spanish olives in a paste. Weiler’s is not doing the Monte Cristo sandwich anymore. They made me a similar one. It had 58 layers of ham and 49 layers of chicken deli meat and with some provolone cheese. They covered in egg and fried it. I guess the authentic Monte Cristo is deep fried, and in their new, smaller space, they’ve done away the deep fryer. Best (secret) restaurants in the San Fernando Valley.

Best (secret) restaurants in the San Fernando Valley #8

papillonPapillon International Bakery –

17305 Roscoe Blvd.
Northridge
$

Somebody needs to explain the rudiments of publicity to these guys. They recently had billboards up saying “Best Ponchiks in Town.” No picture of a ponchik. No explanation. The picture was of some Armenian dude, I think. No idea.

They could have posted a picture of a ponchik, let’s say opened up and oozing out with Nutella. They could have publicized a picture of someone eating one and being transported to Seventh Heaven. No. They didn’t do that.

ponchikFortunately for me, somebody — bless his soul — tipped me off to this Armenian pastry. It is a dough ball stuffed with filling and deep fried. Think of a jelly donut that is deep fried like a churro, and your imagination still won’t scratch the exponential blast of sweet goodness.

What Papillon lacks in advertising savvy, they compensate for with sheer taste bud pleasure. If this is “comfort food,” then you just got one week’s worth of comfort in one mouthful. The effect is about the same as a cream filled chocolate Easter egg.

The only downside to these treats — and the reason why I don’t eat them more regularly — is they probably contain about 50 kabillion calories each. But once in a while… Read the rest of Best (secret) restaurants in the San Fernando Valley.

Best (secret) restaurants in the San Fernando Valley #7

o (1)It’s all good House of Kebab –

6800 Reseda Blvd.
Reseda
$$

Want to visit Iran? You don’t need a visa. Don’t worry about the State Department’s travel ban. You can go to Iran simply by visiting It’s all good House of Kebab. The decor covering the wall of the small eatery comes from old Persia, such items as license plates, old style shoes and even some scourges used by fanatics to punish themselves to appease Allah (not exactly appetizing, but legit).

But what’s really good in this restaurant is the food. I had the The bread, or nun, is crisp on the outside and chewy and warm on the inside. Had it not been for some Iranians with me when we went, I never would have ordered the deezy, a stew of beans, lamb chunks, cinnamon, lemon, pepper, salt and who knows what else magic goes into it. The Persian have imported and toned down from Indian Beryani, an outstanding curry dish. The rice all comes with saffronRead the rest: Best restaurants in the San Fernando Valley.

Best (non franchise) restaurants in the San Fernando Valley #6

best pastrami sandwich in the San Fernando ValleyHoliday Burgers

15520 Devonshire St.
North Hills
$

Supposedly all the mom and pop restaurants have disappeared off the face of the planet, victims to the tsunami of multinational food franchises. The mom and pop joints can’t compete, we are told. They can’t maintain the consistency or keep prices down compared the economies-of-scale wholesale purchasing power of McDonald’s and crew.

Thank God, there’s Holiday Burgers to prove that Mom and Dad can find a niche and beat the big boys. Specifically, this joint offers a pastrami sandwich absolutely glutted with mouth-watering pastrami that causes competitors to pale. Holiday Burgers is a needle in a haystack. You probably wouldn’t pick it just driving by. No, this restaurant runs on word of mouth. That’s how I found it.

Just forget about the recommendations of other websites purporting the “best pastrami” in LA. Go to Holiday. Read the rest Best Restaurants in the San Fernando Valley.

Best (non franchise) restaurants in the San Fernando Valley #4

oChio’s Peruvian Grill –

7755 Sepulveda Blvd.
Van Nuys
$$

To live in LA is to enjoy exotic food. Now that Mexican food has spread across the U.S., Angelinos are now in a quest for new tastes from the remotest parts of the globe. Apparently over a 1,000 Peruvians call Van Nuys their home, so you can find a cache of Andes-styled eateries. Among them, Chio’s stands out. The restaurant started on Sepulveda Blvd, the grubbery is opening restaurants elsewhere in the Valley.

I can see why they are expanding. I had the Lomo Saltado, which dares to put the French fries right in the savory beef slivers with liquidy sauce. There’s a healthy dollop of white rice too. I was impressed that the serving size was generous for the price — no leftover hunger. The inadequate parking reflects the humble immigrant beginnings of this gem. Let me assure you, it’s worth the trouble to get parking once you’re inside the cozy restaurant watching flames leap up in the kitchen grill. They have Peruvian beer, but being a teetotaler, I can’t opine on its craftsmanship.

Best (non franchise) restaurants in the San Fernando Valley #3

crave cafeCrave Cafe –

14505 Ventura Blvd.
Sherman Oaks
$$

Does your husband want a burger and you want sushi? No worries. There’s a place that caters to both.

No, I’m not kidding.

Crave is definitely pushing the outer limits of the envelope of “eclectic.”

There are actually two Craves because the owner sold them to two different buyers. I’m talking about the one at Van Nuys Blvd. in Sherman Oaks is the one that has the Crave sushi house right next to and with a door between the two so that you can order from. So it’s easy to savor both sushi and hamburgers at the same table (not in a Food Court).

As a kicker, Crave has gourmet coffees and pastries. I’ve spent a nice evening spooning in a smooth and creamy cheesecake while watching American Ninja with my wife. The ironies were not lost on me.

And it’s open 24 hours, which is good to know because your options for a late, late dinner are few and far between in the Valley. Read the rest of Best Restaurants in the San Fernando Valley.

Best (non franchise) restaurants in the San Fernando Valley #2

korean mexican tacosCorner Grille –

8261 Sepulveda Blvd.
Panorama City
$

I had a hard time believing this store front eatery — in modest digs, and in not the best of neighborhoods — had 976 reviews on Yelp with a 4-and-a-half star rating. I wouldn’t say it looked from the outside like a dive. I just never would have ventured in had it not been for the ratings on Yelp. That caught my attention and made me want to give it a try.

Good thing.

The place features fusion Mexican tacos made with Korean barbecue beef. The exotic mix sounded enticing and the delectable morsel did not disappoint. You might expect such audacious fusion food from a Michelin-ranked chef at a five-star hotel. But no, it’s right here in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, at the crossroads of Nowhere and Anonymity. This is definitely a hidden gem. There’s also Korean barbecue beef fries to die for.

And it’s cheap.

The Corner Grille is now my go-to for a quick and cheap meal whenever I’m in the neighborhood and hungry. What’s more, it’s the place I surprise my Westside friends with when I take them. Read the rest of Best restaurants in the San Fernando Valley.

Best (non franchise) restaurants in the San Fernando Valley #1

Pita Pockets Northridge mediterranean foodPita’s Pockets –

9127 Reseda Blvd.
Northridge
$

Don’t be put off by the unpretentious name or the low price. For exotic Mediterranean, this joint’s the real deal. For starters, the proprietor Fatin Elmor is a friendly Palestinian Israeli. He speaks a half a dozen languages and combines cultures for some of the most audacious and tangiest fusion food creations.

You’ve got to try the feta fries, which are other-worldly delicious. The lamb gyro transported me to other side of the planet for a lot cheaper than a plane ticket. He bakes his own bread right there on the spot, which means it’s crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. Try the dessert with Nutella, which is a Mediterranean approximation to a churro.

The joint is located to cater to the students of CSUN. College students are usually looking for good, cheap, exotic food — and Pita’s delivers on all three. The good news is you don’t have to be a college student go there and enjoy the concoctions dreamed up by Fatin.

Read the rest best restaurants in the San Fernando Valley.

Shed stress, shed pounds

Maybe your problem is not sugar after all.

It might be cortisol. It’s a useful hormone that helps you kick into “fight or flight” mode.

Your adrenal glands dump into your blood system during stress. Its purpose was to — occasionally — heighten blood pressure and heartbeat when in danger of a predator or war in ancient times.

stress and sugarNowadays, sabre tooth tigers, Black Plague or invading mongols are not a threat. No, your problems are worse- bills, deadlines, domestic friction, rejection, loneliness, competition, low self esteem, weight gain, sickness. Plus, the world is coming to an end (again)

We have more stress points than any civilization ever, and as a result our cortisol levels are puncturing the stratosphere. Excess cortisol cues hypertension, high blood sugar, inflammation, depression, insomnia, atherosclerosis and a bunch of other cools ways to die or live in misery before dying. This is serious! There’s even a full-blown academic journal dedicated to its study: The International Journal on the Biology of Stress.

We’re stressed about stress.

Of course, people develop coping mechanisms to lighten the overload. There are some that are escapist and some are counteractions: alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, binge-watching, oversleeping, social isolation, scape-goating, gaming.

One more: dunking donuts.

Or candy, or soda.

Sugar gives an instant pleasure from a dopamine release in your bloodstream. Dopamine is the happy hormone. It counteracts the cortisol and offsets it, if temporarily. It’s an tangible relief.

Behold then!

Excessive obesity then is not just a product of the prevalence of added sugar in grocery store items. It’s not just a product an overly sedentary lifestyle. Lack of information about nutrition alone cannot be blamed — nor can the marketing fusillade of the food industry.

Our weight problem can be traced to unhealthy stress levels.

You don’t need to strengthen your willpower to resist that chocolate bar. You need to lower your stress levels. Read the rest of the article for practical tips to lower stress and thus shed pounds.

In other words, sugar makes you want to eat more food. (Why you don’t feel full.)

food ratsSo the food industry only provides what people want. Right? And people want, time after time, what they crave. So sugar is sinking America’s health.

To be sure, there are many culprits — more sedentary lifestyles (read: gaming), for example. Also of surety, sugar is a huge villain.

That two of three adults are chubby? Um, yes.

Are we surprised that 30% of boys and girls under 20 are overweight in 2019 — up from 19% in 1980?

Is it any wonder that 160 million Americans are obese?

Sugary foods represent a double whammy for health. First the calories add on the fat. Then the overeating, induced by sugar, brings on the fat.

Consider a college grad student named Anthony Sclafani who was only being nice to lab rats under his care: As a treat, he’d give them Fruit Loops.

But then Sclanfani noticed they really loved the sugary cereals. So he started conducting experiments in the 1960s: Would rats abandon their wall-hugging rambles to venture into the dangerous center of the room for Fruit Loops? They did.

(And so do our teenagers.)

When he needed to fatten up mice for another experiment, he found the critters stayed slender no matter how much chow he gave them. They ate to satiety — feeling full — and no more. He remembered the Fruit Loops and quickly got fat rats.

Still more experiments. They loved sugar — even when they couldn’t taste it — and never stopped scarfing it. Sclafani has made a lifetime of studying sugar-indulging  rodents and his findings are frightening: sugar suppresses satiety.

The implications? The food industry has made lab rats out of us all.

What now?

Excess body fat leads hypertension, high LDL cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, cancer, mental illness and depression, and body pain.

It’s easy to slam the food producers. They fill up the supermarket with sugary items — up to 73% of grocery store items contain added sugar. Because we reward them for it.

So what is to be done? Read the rest on Medium:  how the food industry made rats of us with sugar.

Eating to die young. Here’s how.

eating to dieFor decades, Bible-believing Christians have been told and retold that one of God’s promises is they can live to a ripe old age, 80 years to be exact. This “promise” is based on Psalm 90:10 NIV: ” “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures…:” It was a mantra for decades.

There’s a problem with this thesis though. First off, this psalm was written by Moses, who lived to 120. Secondly, there’s another verse equally valid that seems to have been overlooked. It is Genesis 6:3 (NIV): humans’ “days will be be a hundred and twenty years.”

Why was the promise for Psalm preferred over Genesis? There is no exegetical reason.

So I adhered to 120 years. I started proclaiming in faith, as we Christians are wont to do, that I would live 120 years. “If you want to live only 80 years, that’s fine,” I would tell my friends. “But I’m believing the promise in Gen. 6:3 for 120 years.”

I was onto something. I mean, who wants to die?

But I also understood that I played a part in the fulfillment of that promise. I knew enough to understand that my body is “temple to the Holy Spirit,” as 1 Corinthians 3:16. I wouldn’t “trash” the temple. In Christian terms, I would “steward” by body as a precious gift from God, not to be abused.

Here’s what you need to do if you want to push the upper limits of the Bible’s longevity promises:

Exercise – So much good comes from a vigorous walk through the neighborhood or a trip to the gym! God didn’t design the body for today’s sedentary jobs; they were supposed to labor in the fields. The switch to desk jobs has been a death knell for health: obesity, heart disease, even cancer. Make time for exercise and it will make time lengthen in your life.

Cut down on fat – Nor did God intend for us to eat so much meat. In New Testament times, some sort of porridge was the everyday fare. Only on special occasions did the common man enjoy meat. Modern man has multiplied exponentially its consumption, and the the overload has clogged up our blood vessels and burdened the heart. Saturated fats are loaded into processed foods to improve taste. Is it any wonder that heart disease is the leading cause of death in America?

Read the rest of the tips for longevity.