Category Archives: good eats

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
$

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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
$$

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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.

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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.]