Monthly Archives: December 2008

Leftovers: Kam Hong Garden

Niu rou mian and more in Monterey Park:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

If you’re anywhere in the San Gabriel Valley and determined to track the openings and closings of purveyors of exotic cuisine − say, soupy xiao long bao dumplings − you’ll end up absolutely dizzy. The area’s countless Chinese restaurants, offering regional recipes culled from every corner of the homeland, can be almost impossible to follow, with restaurants sprouting and closing like desert flowers in time-lapse photography. The scene shifts so quickly it’s sometimes too fast even for the kitchens that occupy it, as new restaurants are often stuck with vestigial signage still displaying the names of places one or two generations behind. And so that endless evolution produces some unintentional consequences: restaurants hidden in plain view, customers confused by non-existent dishes.

Kam Hong Garden is part of that great gastronomical stretch of Garvey Avenue. It’s a comparatively steady spot, but not immune to signs of transience: Above the register, for example, there’s a backlit menu once intended for counter-based ordering. Now, however, the menu is reversed, flipped away from the dining room and made into a dim, unreadable reminder of some other restaurant’s short life. But once you get hold of the actual menu, one thing is clear: Kam Hong Garden offers a primer on the power of handmade noodles.

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Leftovers: Chiltepe

Salvadoran classics from North Long Beach:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

You can see the torch-like tower for blocks, a monument to the movie-going experience that scrapes the sky with bubblegum-colored stripes. It rises up from the Atlantic Theatre, a pink and white prewar space that, over the decades, has hosted everything from live nude revues to the New Directions church. The theater is locked up now, but it was once an obvious anchor of the northerly blocks of Atlantic Avenue. These days, there are T-shirt shops, flooring stores, churches and bars in its shadow. But the neighborhood has accepted a new community cornerstone: Chiltepe.

Although there are fewer and fewer full-service restaurants in the northern corners of the city, Chiltepe hasn’t earned its reputation on the simple absence of culinary competition—its Salvadoran specialties are what make the place a destination. But even with its Salvadoran flags and coastal cues, Chiltepe, along with a number of Central American restaurants, also maintains a Mexican menu, which, at least in certain sectors of the Southland, seems more like an obligation than a mark of a kitchen’s flexibility. Chiltepe’s Mexican plates aren’t bad, but burrito-buyers beware: The Salvadoran cooking, not the tacos and tortas, is what makes the restaurant special.

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Leftovers: Toko Rame

Bellflower’s best (and only) Indonesian from the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

The only wind swirling around outside Toko Rame belongs to the 91 Freeway. It’s a hot rush of exhaust that shoots down to the restaurant after each passing car. But without a proper breeze, Toko Rame’s Indonesian cuisine isn’t always an obvious choice for a pre-summer meal, one stewed with spices that are bound to flush out even more sweat. But the restaurant does well in even our driest days; the place is built for the heat.

Like all of the best strip-mall eateries, Toko Rame is a family affair, staffed by smiling women swaddled in hijabs and waited on by the family’s young son—a necessary link in the effort to familiarize those unfamiliar with Indonesian food. That’s actually not that tough of a task, though, as there’s a geographical continuity with Indonesian cuisine—one already known to anyone who has eaten the dishes of Thailand, India or the Philippines.

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Ate 08: Best Bites of the Year

Journalistic tradition dictates the compilation of lists during these quiet times, so with an eye on cheap eats, here are the best things I ate in 2008 (in no particular order), from Santa Ana to North Hollywood:

Moles La Tía‘s mancha manteles
Don Huarache‘s steak huarache
The Nickel Diner‘s pulled-pork hash
Shin Okinawa Izakaya‘s fried chicken with shikwasa ponzu sauce
Providence’s tasting menu
Izakaya Zero‘s balsamic-teriyaki spare ribs
Toko Rame‘s nasi bungkus
Santouka Ramen‘s shio ramen
Surati Farsan‘s pani puri
Renu Nakorn‘s nam kao tod

Honorable mention: Peña’s Restaurant’s uchepo, Cook’s Tortas’ Zacatecas torta, Kam Hong Garden’s niu rou mian, Porky’s BBQ’s pulled pork sandwich, Pâtisserie Chantilly’s choux aux sésames, Lotus Chinese Eatery’s sesame bread, La Concha’s torta ahogada, Ikko’s octopus tentacles, Musha’s takotama, Citrus at Social’s orange soufflé

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Leftovers: Five Guys and MVP

A dual review of Five Guys Burgers and Fries and MVP Grill and Patio from the District:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

It’s been more than 50 years, but Southern California’s burger business is as crowded as ever. Those looking to break into the patty-flipping scene would now only be entering hostile territory, home to the fast foods that have morphed from simple midcentury meals to definers of generational gluttony. So, it’s not surprising that in these parts, the burger remains probably the single most-debated American dish, one that doesn’t inspire simple fans but rather devoted cultists who slander the stomachs of anyone unwilling to conform to certain burger beliefs.

Here in Long Beach, the vitriol might not be so focused, but there’s plenty of dedication. Whether your alliances lie with the customizable bites of Bouchees Bistro, the eco-friendly chow of Cisco Burger or the timeless tastes of Bake N Broil, everyone has a favorite. And rightly so—there are enough burger joints within our boundaries to sustain never-ending exploration. Still, it’s not enough to stop Five Guys Burgers and Fries, an East Coast import oddly similar to a coveted classic of our own: MVP Grill & Patio.

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Leftovers: Don Huarache

Pambazos, cemitas and (of course) huaraches at Don Huarache for CityBeat:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

It’s a dusty world out on Don Huarache’s solitary stretch of Burbank Boulevard, a dry drag where cracked concrete abuts only the occasional nursery or upholsterer. Drop off onto the side streets and the North Hollywood neighborhood fades into rows of apartments and ramblers; the restaurant is one of the block’s few shining storefronts. But even as removed as it is from the so-called NoHo Arts District, you can’t help but think that’s for the best: the restaurant’s excellent Mexico City-style cuisine deserves undivided attention.

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Art Alert: MOCA Bake Sale

Short notice, but here’s a chance to help out MOCA’s failing finances the easiest way possible: with your stomach. Today, between noon and 2pm, a number of artists will be hosting a bake sale outside the museum featuring everything from marionberry pie to Alberto Giacometti-style baguettes (above). More press released info after the jump:

UPDATE: Photos from the weather-wrecked event here.

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Leftovers: Nickel Diner

Downtown’s ideal diner from this week’s CityBeat:


PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

Call the Nickel Diner whatever you will – a harbinger of gentrification, a preservationist’s dream, a loft-livers’ love – but the spirit of the downtown restaurant is best represented by three little doughnut holes. They arrive on a sampler plate; at a recent brunch rush, they were strawberry shortcake, vegan blueberry and the famous maple bacon. The three seem derived from a common diner DNA of past, present and future, but the maple bacon doughnut is what captivates the crowds.

The bacon-crusted pastry has become the restaurant’s essential bite – like fried Snickers or chicken ’n’ waffles – a sweet hunk of Americana sought out for its Homeric gluttony. But lost in all that baconated press is the fact that the Nickel Diner is a relatively rare restaurant: not only does it have a clear sense of itself, but it can match any hypertrophied expectations, too.

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Leftovers: Izakaya Zero

A busy week, so here’s one from the District vaults:


PHOTO by RICK POON

Before dark, Izakaya Zero seems a clinical place—the white walls and white menus and white chairs aren’t so much clean and modern as they are austere. But at night it transforms, shedding the orange shadows of sunset for some carefully controlled lighting, which hits all those ivory accents with a kind of angelic glow. And before long, the restaurant fills up all the way back to the kitchen, every eater sitting in patience for the well-trained tastes of Chef Takashi Abe.

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Leftovers: La Española Meats

Harbor City’s Spanish stop from this week’s District:

PHOTO by ROSHEILA ROBLES

The Saturday crowd at Harbor City’s La Española Meats is angling for space. Up at the counter, customers are jostling to scan cases stocked with limitless links of sausage; others pass time by snacking on samples.

There’s barely enough room to turn around, and this even extends outside, where the shop’s parking lot is overflowing into the nearby industrial zone, creating a rare circumstance in which luxury cars are lined up along an empty lot that operates as a practice canvas for well-timed taggers. It’s a scene that, at least on this day, is driven by one desire: paella.

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