If you’ve never had Ethiopian before, get a group of good friends together and go to Rosalynd’s. Tell your waitress or waiter that you’ve never done it before and you want them to guide you through it. The delight of Ethiopian food is that everything is served community-style on a large plate of injiri bread. Your food is laid out on the communal plate. A plate of injiri bread is served separately, and you use a small piece of the soft bread to scoop the food into your mouth by hand. Part of Ethiopian dining is to feed your friends by hand, it is a sign of love and care. I think it underscores how infrequently we touch one another, and how we’ve disconnected ourselves from simple, intimate experiences like dining. The food really does qualify as exotic to most people’s palates. Ethiopian spice combinations are complicated and rich. The vegetarian platter will come with greens, yellow lentils, marinated cabbage, red lentils, and a savory potato salad. All of these are really quite good, each different, each even more wonderful when scooped together. We usually order our meat dish a la carte, and both the lamb and beef are delicious. Food for three or four tends to be about thirty to forty bucks before tip.
(323) 936-2486, 1044 S Fairfax, Los Angeles
It took me a while to warm up to Ronnie’s. There’s nothing really remarkable about it at first, until you realize that their menu is basically without crappy food. Most diners I go to are a process of choosing something “less bad” for me. I’ll figure out some sort of combination of eggs and meat and try to avoid ordering the huge, pillowy biscuit, or the complimentary cinnamon bun – or worse – the deadly combination of the two (damn you, Dolores!). But at Ronnie’s, the whole menu is diner food made by an ex-bodybuilder health nut so the rice is brown, the beans are black, and vegetables are steamed and few things are fried. Give Ronnie’s a whirl sometime when you’re looking for an unpretentious, healthy meal served by nice folks just running a good joint. (With possibly the most uncomfortable bench seats.) About ten bucks per person.
(310) 578-9399, 12740 Culver Blvd, Los Angeles
I used to be one fat fuck. The only reason I’d be caught dead in an REI was because I outgrew my pants and needed a tent. But things are different now. I bike, I swim, I run, and my wife is slowly, slowly introducing me to the idea of camping. Yes, camping. As a Jew, the idea of “camp” has never quite sat well with me. My people and “camping” didn’t quite work out last time around, no matter how hard we concentrated. I also see civilization as linear progress away from sleeping on floors and around animals. But by Gods, have you seen the Design Within Reach Airstream trailer? Tow-alongs that pop up into mansions! Thule cases that let you bring as much disinfectant as you want. REI sells pretty much everything you could want for any sport you might fancy. While they don’t drill down into super fine levels of sportiness like triathlon, you can still get supplies for individual sports that work well. They carry Pearl Izumi and Descente bike clothing, hiking gear, camping supplies, rock climbing, floating vests, even full sized Kayaks. They also stock enough flavors of Gu to keep your mind off how bad the stuff tastes. Personally, I’m a “chocolate outrage” guy, but only because the stuff is so thick with chocolate it’s like having Bill Duke cum in your mouth. *Ahem* If you buy enough sporty stuff I suggest joining their co-op which earns you dividends on purchases.
When you want to know how you should be eating, it’s time to take a trip to RFD. Mostly vegan, RFD specializes in making incredibly healthy, incredibly tasty vegetarian meals. I am an avowed carnivore and I love this place. Start with the walnut pate appetizer and then try one of the bowl combinations with tempeh, sea vegetables, brown rice, and your choice of sauce topping. I could eat here every day and not only love every meal, but also feel better about what I put in my body. Most vegetarians you meet are sickly malnourished creatures because they don’t know how to make a complete protein to save their lives. The vegetarians you see at RFD are healthy; they glow from within. I wonder what they taste like. Average cost for two people is around twenty five to thirty dollars.
242 S Beverly Drive, Beverly Hills
414 N La Cienega, West Hollywood
514 Santa Monica Blvd, Santa Monica
Nancy Silverton (Campanile, La Brea Bakery) and Mario Batali’s (Iron Chef, clog model, and candidate for gastric bypass surgery) new pizza restaurant absolutely freakin’ rocks. My belly is filled with insanely delicious carbs! The menu is specifically for foodies with a strong knowledge of Italian specialties, and while the wait staff is happy to translate, the environment is so noisy it will be impossible to hear. (The only bad thing about Mozza is that it is designed in the modern fashion of amplifying the ambient noise into cacauphony.) But it is so worth it. My wife and mother swooned over the oven roasted olives, while my father and I took the porcine train to pigtown with Batali’s father’s carne sampler plate. The La Quercia Speck was pure animal fat heaven. My mother pounded the table over her arugala, mushroom, and piave salad – which we all agreed was the right response. The mushrooms were damn near buttery, with fine slices of perfect piave cheese. But though we delighted in these antipastis and insalates, the real reason to go is the pizza. Simply put, it is spectacular. You cannot replicate these pizzas at home. Perfect pizza can only come from a 750 degree oven, taking all of three minutes to completely cook the pie. Your oven at home maxes out at 500 degrees (if you’re lucky) and adding a pizza stone helps cook the bottom quickly, but it’s still an issue of temperature. An outdoor grill doesn’t even get hot enough to do the job. L.A. has a remarkable dearth of good pizza, primarily because few restaurants are willing to invest in the right tools. Mozza’s brick oven, combined with the pure ecstacy of flavor that Nancy Silverton and Batali bring to the menu means we finally have an incredible pizza joint in L.A. Each of us ordered our own pizza and were thrilled. The white anchovies on my mother’s pizza were tart and salty in new and startling ways. My three cheese white pizza (bianco with fontina, mozzarella, sottocenere and sage) was a thing of otherworldy delight, and my wife’s rapini, black olives, cherry tomatoes, and anchovy pie was swirling in salty and veggie goodness. At around $13 per pizza, and anywhere from $8-$15 for each appetizer, Mozza gets pricey quick
641 N. Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, (323) 297-0101
Philippe’s, The Pantry, and Cole’s PE Buffet remain the very last of the 1920’s dive restaurants. Philippe’s claims to be the home of the French Dip sandwich, and though others profess the same few do it as well and with such old-school panache. This is the place to lunch when touring downtown, Union Station, and the parts of L.A. considered “old”. Coffee costs $0.10 and there used to be a sign left over from the ’70’s apologizing for the hike during the coffee embargo. Philippe’s is a place that clings tenaciously to its brief history, a desperate plea to be remembered in a city that worships the young and beautiful and erases its sawdust floored past.
1001 N. Alameda St. downtown Los Angeles
I’m not sure that I could have written this review a few years ago. To understand the difference between a good meal and a great meal requires having had enough great meals at great establishments to work up an operating language. I worked in a video store for half a decade and I’ve seen probably over 10,000 movies in my lifetime. I’ve got a pretty good command of film language. I’ve been reading and writing for over thirty years, so I’ve probably got a working vocabulary well into the five digit range. After about a half decade of eating well at enough varied locations, I think I’m in a pretty good position to make judgments about quality and experience. Patina is the crown jewel in the Splichal Patina Group empire, and there are cracks in the gem. I assure you, this is one of L.A.’s best restaurants, but it is missing an essential component. It is a refined, elegant room with an incredibly friendly and attentive staff. The waiters and busboys operate smoothly, functioning as a team to cater to your experience. The Sommelier is gregarious, knowledgeable, and knows his wine list has something for every taste. Ingredients are of outstanding quality, there is no question these are market fresh vegetables, top choice meats, and the best fish from the finest fisheries. But somehow, each of the dishes, while having excellent flavor and precision, were missing the pizzaz one looks for when dining in a world-class building, built for a stellar orchestra, in a city known for favoring the bold over the cautious. The Tahitian vanilla underneath the heirloom tomatoes was interesting, the black bass over beets and ginger was a fine combination of flavors, and my truffle risotto, grated fresh at table, was a rare treat. But each dish felt almost Germanic in its structure, and monochromatic in range. It’s hard to fault a restaurant for its lack of daring. But when we’re talking about a restaurant that has a monopoly lock on L.A.’s art landmarks it ought to be as daring as the work inside. The truth is that the art in L.A.’s landmark museums isn’t as good as what’s happening on the street, and the food probably reflects that very same reality. If you have people coming into town looking for a fine dining experience, you won’t be disappointed at Patina. But it’s rather like MOCA’s definition of “conteporary art”, which happens to stop at 1970. A highlight of the meal was the cheese wagon and the Japanese fromagier who customized two cheese plates ranging from mild and smooth to “fasten your seat belts” rough and rangy. The rough and rangy was a sheep/cow/goat monstrosity that burned the tongue and sent stinky fumes from our mouths in a wild blast. The truffle cheese was by far the best I’ve had, mellow and perfectly infused. But the duo of triple-washed rinds had me blissing out and rolling my eyes. For $21 a plate, they provided more and better cheese than the $25 plate at Ford’s Filling Station, so that’s a huge plus in Patina’s favor. In short, Patina is very, very expensive and very, very safe for elegant dining. But if you’re looking for flair, this ain’t it.For the price and complexity of the experience, I desperately wanted to have my socks knocked off.
(213) 972-3331, 141 South Grand Ave, Los Angeles
The thumping, olive oil lubricated heart of the Byzantine-Latino quarter of Los Angeles is Papa Cristos. Part restaurant, part import grocery, part wacky tourist trap, this is the place to go for an authentic Greek experience. That is to say, it’s authentic because all over Greece there are places like this that cater to the foreigner’s expectations of what Greece is like. In truth, you have to push past stores like this and enter the smaller towns and neighborhoods to find genuine Greek life, but it’s the garish front line stores that bring in the tourists and their Euros that make up the bulk of the Greek economy. Papa Cristos is very good food, albeit fairly predictable and muted in flavor and style. They were a stellar way to cater our housewarming party, with hummus, tzatziki, dolmades, and gryos. I was thrilled to have 7 lbs of leftover gyro to snack on for a week. The grocery stocks the best Greek honey, wonderful olive oils, and a variety of traditional Greek booze from retsina to ouzo to Metaxa. We’ve also done their “My Big Fat Greek Family Style Dinner”, which is wacky fun for an evening if you don’t mind getting friendly with the strangers sitting next to you at a long table and potentially being forced into public belly dancing. For some reason when we’re at a restaurant that has some sort of belly dancing entertainment, the woman always finds me. Somehow she knows my attitude towards public displays of dancing are like my attitude towards tattoos – go big or don’t bother. However, shaking my moneymaker while full on gyros is not my idea of fun.
(323) 737-2970, 2771 W. Pico Blvd, Los Angeles
They claim that the Pantry has been open nonstop and without a customer for over 75 years. This isn’t true. They were shut down a few years ago for a day when the health department was appalled by what they found. Ironic, Richard Riordan owns a majority stake in this L.A. landmark and even he couldn’t prevent the shutdown. Opening a day later, having scraped the yellow off the ceiling and moved the trash bins away from the griller, the Pantry is one of Los Angeles’s best institutions. A strong, believable rumor has it that the waiters are all ex-cons. This may or not be true, but they’ve all been there for decades. Lifer waiters are hard to find. But this place is the tops for a great diner steak. Go for breakfast and load up with pancakes, eggs, and bacon. With a grill that’s been going nonstop for so long, everything is saturated with a rich, savory flavor. It’s a dive, a greasy spoon, and it’s perfect. Your typical dinner starts with homemade sourdough bread and coleslaw made from scratch. Dinner comes with the vegetable of the day and a side of glorious potatoes. They do other dishes, but who wants stroganoff when you can have steak for $13?
877 S Figueroa, downtown Los Angeles
Ohäam is the easy Persian dining experience you want. Less expensive and just as good as Javan or Shimshiri, Ohäam is a strip mall joint that could only exist by serving quality food at decent prices. And they deliver! A great selection of kebobs in beef, chicken, lamb, and fish versions as well as a goodly choice of entrees. Under “exotic rices” you’ll find an exciting set of dark meat chicken served with either cherry rice, buttered orange peels and almonds, or saffron and lima beans. Two can eat well for under forty bucks
(310) 444-0088, 11033 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles