Tag Archives: restaurants

Orange County’s Ultimate Mexican Food Guide

0213MexicanFoodCover

Apropos of Orange Coast‘s previous look at the best Asian food in Orange County is my somewhat belated recognition of the magazine’s guide to the county’s best Mexican food. Many fantastic tacos, tamales, chilaquiles and pounds of carnitas were consumed for this, but I know I (and I trust fellow writer Gretchen Kurz) would surely do it again. Read more here.

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Leftovers: Del Tomate

Argentine-Italian comfort for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by ALLEN J. SCHABEN / L.A. TIMES

There’s a kind of heartland excess at many Argentine restaurants, palaces of meat that offer as good a lesson in bovine anatomy as any abattoir. But Del Tomate doesn’t indulge in steakhouse gluttony. Instead, the 2-month-old Tustin restaurant busies itself draping ribbons of prosciutto and kneading handmade pastas, the essentials of a streamlined and simplified Argentine-Italian cafe.

Del Tomate’s cooking is a South American invention, a hybrid cuisine that evolved after waves of Italian immigration to Argentina. It’s a cross-cultural heritage shared by owners Guillermo and Susana Giacobbe, the husband-and-wife team who one minute might be streaking butter across spongy Argentine white bread and the next piping dulce de lechemousse into delicate profiteroles.

The restaurant is an all-day affair. Warm your morning first with a cortado (an eye-widening espresso cut with a measure of milk) or mate cocido (toasted yerba mate steeped like herbal tea). Those who start sweet can linger over one of Susana’s wonderful pastries while others fill up on Del Tomate’s substantial tortilla Argentina, the egg and potato frittata localized and assimilated into the Argentine diet.

Of course, there are always empanadas. They’re objects of admiration here: Shells that shine with the luster of burnished pine, braided edges that barely contain their contents.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: Habuya

Okinawan cuisine’s entry into Orange County for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by GLENN KOENIG / L.A. TIMES

A skein of flat, linguine-like noodles and shards of ginger are so fine they all but dissolve in the broth. There are pork ribs, with brawny slabs of meat thick as a Little Leaguer’s baseball bat. But the soki soba is all about the bones, marrow-filled ribs stewed until they can be eaten.

If there’s one thing Mayumi Vargas wants everyone to know about her native Okinawa, it’s the island chain’s affinity for pork. And at Habuya, Vargas’ new Okinawan restaurant in a hidden corner of a Tustin mini-mall, pork is a uniting force.

Okinawa is a Japanese prefecture apart. Although the subtropical islands have been absorbed nominally into Japan’s national identity, they remain culturally individualistic. Habuya reflects that in its humble cooking, which is less like that of a refined seaside restaurant and more like that of a salt-licked coastal pub.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: Zait & Za’atar and Wraps Xpress

Manakeesh‘s Orange County moment for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by KATIE FALKENBERG / L.A. TIMES

There’s a moment in a cuisine’s acculturation when a dish morphs into a movement. In Orange County, that moment belongs now to a multinational influx of Middle Eastern flatbreads.

Like banh mi before them, manakeesh have here become the accepted ambassadors of an entire region, pizza-like flatbreads thin as gauzy sheets of vellum. At Zait & Za’atar and Wraps Xpress, restaurants already in the purview of the county’s most seasoned eaters, they’re an herb-rubbed and meat-smeared gateway to the eastern Mediterranean.

Anaheim’s Zait & Za’atar is a big step toward manakeesh modernity. The city’s Little Arabia is already crowded with similarly specialized Lebanese bakeries, but Zait & Za’atar may be the most accessible. It’s a case of aesthetics — brick-red walls and a counter set in stone — but, more important, one of clarity, as the restaurant plainly details every dish.

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Leftovers: Merry’s House of Chicken

Indonesian fried chicken and coal-black kluwak for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by MARIAH TAUGER / L.A. TIMES

There’s a glistening chicken somewhere under the blanket of crispy rice-flour crumbles. The crystalline snowflake-like particles are scattered over the entire bird, its skin sluiced with a squeeze of lime and spiced with a dab of sambal, shrimp paste and chiles ground into a pungent, penetrating blast of heat.

Time seems to stand still for that chicken: Phones quit chirping and fidgety kids suddenly snap to attention, transfixed by the fried delights of the ayam goreng kremesan at Merry’s House of Chicken, a months-old Indonesian restaurant in West Covina.

The eastern edges of the San Gabriel Valley might be L.A.’s epicenter of Indonesian cuisine. Sprawling across strip malls and city lines is an archipelago of food-court cafes and full-fledged restaurants, some serving offal-intensive curries and others sweetly lacquered barbecue. But there isn’t a single stick of satay at Merry’s; the restaurant instead purveys classic Javanese cooking.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: Uyen Thy

A French-inflected breakfast in Little Saigon for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by LAWRENCE K. HO / L.A. TIMES

In Little Saigon, modest fortunes have been made on spring rolls alone. Entire legacies have been decided by the buttery crunch of a warm baguette. Diners anoint only the most exacting items: fresh-pressed sugarcane juice with muddled kumquats, whole baked catfish with skin caramelized into candy. Here, restaurants are immortalized in the details.

It’s with that diligence that Uyen Thy Bistro so often succeeds. This is a restaurant innately aware of its strengths even when the immensity of its menu sometimes indicates otherwise.

Uyen Thy is predictably secluded in a sliver of space at the bottom of a three-story strip mall behind a 7-Eleven. But the restaurant isn’t easily eclipsed — it’s the namesake of Uyen Thy, host of a well-known Vietnamese cooking show on the Garden Grove-based Saigon Broadcasting Television Network.

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Leftovers: Olive Tree

Abu Ahmad’s regional Levantine cooking for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by KATIE FALKENBERG / L.A. TIMES

The fatit hummus at Olive Tree is a dish of geological depth, a dip of distinct strata. Slicked across its top is a layer of yogurt puddled with olive oil and dusted with cumin and paprika. Pine nuts dot the surface like pale pebbles. Embedded in the warm hummus below are fragments of crunchy pita.

It’s an elaborate rendition of the Middle Eastern meze, but not an untraditional one. At Olive Tree, the fatit hummus is both staple and symbol, representative of a certain kind of detailed and familial Levantine cooking lost among the monotony of low-cost shwarma shacks.

Olive Tree isn’t a complicated place. Nor is it a secret to those who regularly bowl down Brookhurst Street, the arterial passage through Anaheim’s Little Arabia. All the dishes you’ve come to love are here — classics soon to be fully absorbed into the American appetite — but owner Abu Ahmad’s 5-year-old restaurant is not one you go to for the familiar.

Olive Tree also explores the underserved and overlooked regional recipes of Palestine, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere. They’re the dishes of weddings and homecomings, celebratory meals delivered here via a set schedule of daily specials.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: Eatalian Cafe

Shockingly thin pizzas, ethereal gnocchi and a true gelato sandwich at Gardena’s improbably industrial Eatalian Cafe for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by BOB CHAMBERLIN / L.A. TIMES

They’re the sounds of blue-collar commerce: the pneumatic squeals of an impact wrench, the resonant clangs of metal striking metal. Out on the boulevard, a chorus of tires thrums across the asphalt. Together, it’s something like jazz, an improvisational soundtrack of working-world rhythms and melodies that coalesce around Eatalian Cafe, a 4-month-old restaurant in the middle of an industrial zone in Gardena.

It seems a mirage at first, an apparition of a restaurant improbably hidden among manufacturers and repairmen. Yet Eatalian bustles with a very real and unexpectedly upscale energy: Its parking lot is a stable of European luxury, and inside are the power brokers who hold the keys.

Owner Antonio Pellini never intended to transform this former textile factory into a restaurant — the space simply demanded it. Pellini originally envisioned only a production facility for fresh cheeses, gelati and baked goods. But Eatalian is so cavernous — whispers could probably echo for hours here — that a dining room built itself into the plans.

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Leftovers: Oumi Sasaya

The udon (and tagines) of Oumi Sasaya for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by STEFANO PALTERA / L.A. TIMES

A queue of naked noodles waits to be dressed with delicate daikon sprouts, quivering poached eggs and oil-slicked strips of blackened bell pepper. Ingredients are plucked from bowls, plates, bottles and jars and laid onto the loose nests of udon, each shard of seaweed and ring of green onion in its right place. Lomita’s Oumi Sasaya is a noodle house of seemingly effortless elegance, minimalism maximized to the fullest.

It’s a feat achieved in the details. Here, waitresses pour pitchers of broth with one hand guarding against even the smallest splash, and hourglasses accompany orders of hot sake, which aren’t to be sipped until the last grain of sand tumbles down to the dune below. The restaurant is dedicated to these simple rituals of service that reflect its meticulous Kansai-style noodling.

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Leftovers: Nosh Cafe

A taste of Australia in San Pedro for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by CHRISTINA HOUSE / L.A. TIMES

Morning clouds float through downtown San Pedro like dandelions caught in a port breeze. In the distance, cranes sprout from behind stacks of cargo containers like trees atop a corrugated mountain range. It’s a collision of industry and history, a nascent neighborhood of century-old stores and glistening new lofts. And feeding it all is Nosh Cafe, a homey hub of a restaurant that prepares simple, seasonal cooking with an Australian accent.

Tins of golden syrup (a viscous amber treacle) and jars of Vegemite are edible ornamentation. Squat bottles of Bundaberg ginger beer sit in kangaroo-clad four-packs. Nosh surrounds itself with these Aussie essentials, flavors of empire and independence alike. For owner Susan McKenna, they’re tastes of home.

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