LA Food Fest 2017: A Coliseum of Culinary Delights

One of the best parts of summer in Los Angeles are the outdoor festivals. This month, LA Food Fest had its eighth incarnation at the spectacular LA Memorial Coliseum amid the gloomy June morning, and I was ready with a pair of #stretchypants and a dream to consume as many foods as possible.

Lines are a big part of this type of event, from the line getting in, to the lines waiting for vendors. Patience and a sense of adventure are musts for those excited for the opportunity to sample so many different types of foods.

The crowds weren’t too crazy because of the ample space the location offered and the strategic organization of the vendors by the event organizers.  There were lots of folks, but for the most part, it wasn’t overwhelming.

I decided rather than attempt to feature every single morsel of food, a task that could make a nice relaxing day overwhelming; I would try to find my top five favorites.

Curried Shrimp Soup from Soup Bazaar

First, on the list, the was the Curried Shrimp Soup from Soup Bazaar, a Downtown LA spot which had recently revamped its menu and will be opening a new location just off the busy Spring Street. Soup Bazaar was one of the first vendors I tried, and I was blown away by the flavorful curry coconut milk base against the tender shrimp.

 

Breakfast isn’t my favorite meal. I know, I know, I’m a monster. And of all the fast breaking fare, pancakes are my least favorite. That’s why when I tried the Oatmeal Pancake from Breakfast by Salt’s Cure, I knew it had to be good because it was one of the best things I ate all day.  Light, but substantial, covered in butter and cinnamon sugar, I decided right then and there that I would be visiting for breakfast very soon.

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LASA Takes Over Unit 120 in Chinatown, Los Angeles, CA

When it comes to the LA food scene, pop-ups are how many of the most innovative chefs have brought their unique cuisine to the public. Many of the most successful new restaurants can trace their origins to this style of experimental restaurant development.

LASA is the most recent Los Angeles pop-up success story.

LASA
727 Broadway Ave. Unit 120, Los Angeles, CA 90012
www.lasa-la.com

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EASTSIIIIIIDE! – EastSide Food Festival Represents!

 

Image courtesy of EastSide Food Festival
Image courtesy of EastSide Food Festival

On a perfect LA Sunday, I was lucky enough to make it down to the 3rd Annual EastSide Food Festival in Silver Lake at Mack Sennett Studios. I arrived a little after 4 pm when the happy hour began, so I would be able to do as much damage to my waistline as possible before too many of my fellow Eastsiders arrived.

The crowd was stylish and relaxed as I plowed my way from one amazing vendor to the next, sampling everything from juices to noodles to oysters – Oh my!

The set up was well conceived – a small scattering of vendors outside with plenty of boxed water and tables to stand around and hobnob with other foodies. Inside the small, stylish studio was where the booze, lounges, and VIP area (with air conditioning!) were set up.  All around were hip locals and so much amazing food that my head was spinning.

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I tried some new spots and was pleasantly surprised.  Whether it was Challah Hub and their variety of flavored vegan challah, the fabulous chorizo nachos from El Condor, or even the surprisingly simple yet delicious queso from Homestate, just the first few bites I tried were so great, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t tried any of these spots before.

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To cool off after running around trying all these spots from the outdoor section, I walked over to farmer’s market regulars Todo Verde for some sweet Aguas Frescas.

One sweet surprise was the newly developed Frankie Lucy Bakeshop coming soon to Silverlake has a kick butt lady running the show, and some fantastic custards serving up traditional Asian flavors. The purple potato custard was a must have!

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Before exploring inside, I had to try to offerings of lobster from Knuckle and Claw and find my crustacean bliss.

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The potato tacos from the Mexican/French brunch spot, Trois Familia were cute, crisp and quite delish.

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The vegan tempeh chili with cornbread from Kitchen Mouse was as tasty as it was dainty.

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Winsome featured two fabulous cocktails for those who wanted a buzz with their food. Their “Prickly in Pink” cocktail featuring Opuntia was sweet and light and “The Forgotten Edge” featuring Wilder Gin was damn near the best martini-like cocktail I’ve ever had.

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The hawker of the delicious and legendary Starry Kitchen Balls made everyone laugh with his reverent demands to put his “balls” in our mouths while wearing a banana suit.

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The raw fish lover in me was well satisfied by the crudo from Kettle Black. With all that amazing-ness, it was hard to narrow down my top picks for the event, but after plenty of sampling and satisfied moaning, I finally decided on my top five offerings:

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No surprise to me, based on my multiple jaunts to Grand Central Market, Sticky Rice’s Green Curry Noodles were one of my favorites of the day.  Prepared fresh to order, the flavors were perfectly balanced and the multiple textures were a treat. fullsizerender_11

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Out of nowhere, the Crispy Rice with Spicy Pork from Same Same completely captivated my taste buds.  Hands down the most interesting, and spicy, sample of the day for me.

fullsizerender_19The Green Lentil Salad from Little Beast was light and refreshing with complex flavors.

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El Cochinito brought the rich flavor of Lechon Asado and represented the amazing flavor of Cuban food well.

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Finally, my favorite was a three-way tie between the three dessert spots that all got repeat visits from me – what can I say, I have a sweet tooth!  The ice cream artistry of Jeni’s Ice Cream featured their Brambleberry Crisp.

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Icy Rush Co. was well represented by Laura Flores, the CEO who brought with her an amazing variety of mini pops – the Sangria and Mexican Chocolate being my favorites.

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And finally, the most surprising favorite of the day was some Lord Jones which is a company that creates and delivers cannabis-infused products to those who enjoy or require THC in their daily lives.  Though I don’t partake myself, I was able to sample some of their medicine free wares – namely the gum drops and the dark chocolate covered sea salt caramels. They were fantastic without any additions, but I’m sure those who partake in edibles will enjoy the tastiness even more.  

All in all, this was a fantastic way to spend an afternoon on the eastside of Los Angeles, getting to know the local businesses better and adding some spots on my “must try” list.  The fact that the event benefited People Assisting the Homeless made it even better, proving that LA people not only care about great food but also about helping others.

T&L Pollos: Family-Owned Fast Casual in Whittier, CA

T&L Pollos
6518 Greenleaf Ave.  Whittier, CA  90601
www.tlpollos.com

For about ten years, I lived in Whittier.  When I first moved there, the food options were pretty limited, but I’m happy to report that over the years, the choices for great food has increased, not only with the more upscale spots but also with great smaller places. Fast food efficiency, but with big flavors and lots of heart.  T&L Pollos is one of those great new places in Whittier that has just that.

Hidden away in the back of a newer outdoor mall center, the sign will point the way to a great place to grab a beer and some damn good Mexican style food.

T&L is no frills.  But the variety, price, and speed make it a great option for lunch, or to try something from the very impressive beer selection and hang out while watching the game.

chicken-plateThe menu is simple but has lots of different combinations for anyone who wants good food – a lot of it.  The first dish we tried was the #3 Rotisserie Chicken with a side of rice and a salad.  The salad and rice were pretty standard, but the chicken was the real star, the skin was so tasty, and the meat was moist and delicious. The addition of grilled onions and jalepeno made it special.  I decided to grab a corn tortilla and make an impromptu taco and was very happy.

Next on deck was the Carne Asada plate with pinto beans and rice.  Again, the meat was the best part!  Lots of times, places use cheap, thin pieces of asada and over cook it – not T&L.  The meat was thick and juicy and was marinated in a citrus-based sauce. I could taste the notes of lime and spices.  This plate will be ordered again when my inner carnivore is looking to be satisfied!

carne-asada-plateHowever, the last dish I tried, guaranteed that I’d be sending a few friends over to T&L Pollos soon. The taco plate combo with two sides.  I ordered the seasoned fries and potato salad – which was a lot of starch for me.  But the flavors were good, and I appreciated how much I got for the price.  And the tacos – Lordy!  Three hard-shelled chicken tacos stuffed with sour cream, cheese, and guacamole? I’m in heaven.  I gobbled those things down even though I was already full because finding hard shell tacos this good shouldn’t be wasted.

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I was delighted to find out from the cashier – who was friendly and helpful – that the tacos were on special every Tuesday.  Hard or soft chicken tacos only one dollar all day.  So basically, I could sit down to half a dozen chicken tacos and a beer for under $15 and pretty much die a happy, stuffed, woman.

If you’re looking for some casual cooking, done right, check out T&L Tacos next time you’re in Whittier.  I know I’ll be back some Tuesday in the future for sure!

Eastsiders, Grab Your Forks! The EastSide Food Fest is Here!

I have always been a proud LA Eastsider and a foodie. That’s why I am so excited to be able to attend an event that allows me to celebrate both!

Image courtesy of EastSide Food Festival
Image courtesy of EastSide Food Festival

The 3rd Annual EastSide Food Festival will be taking place on Sunday, October 2nd in Silver Lake at Mack Sennett Studios (1215 Bates Ave, LA, CA) from 5 PM – 8 PM (with a happy hour starting at 4 PM). The list of vendors – which is still growing – has some of my local favorites and some who are new to the scene that I’ve been eager to try.

In addition to serving Eastside with the best food, it also benefits People Assisting the Homeless.

 

Image courtesy of EastSide Food Festival
Image courtesy of EastSide Food Festival
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Sticky Rice’s “Crying Tiger Beef” is so good; it makes me want to cry.

I can personally vouch for Eastside haunts like Sticky Rice, Ohana Poke Co., and Button Mash as purveyors of some delicious culinary treats that take traditional foods and add something special and innovative. And Jeni’s Ice Cream, a recent addition to the Eastside scene by way of Ohio, has flavor combinations that make their ice cream something unique to behold!

 

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The Buttonmash Eggrolls are amazing! I have them in the past and look forward to seeing them again.

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Ohana Poke Co. adds those wasabi peas to give an extra punch of flavor!

And although I’m excited to visit some favorites, what I’m especially looking forward to is trying some of the spots I haven’t been able to visit yet. The Starry Kitchen has been on my list for a while, Knuckle and Claw is a vendor I will be checking out, and Homestate, with their Tex-Mex – a hard find in Los Angeles, better watch out, because I’ll be there ready to eat it all!

Please check out their site for pricing and ticket options. I’ll see you there!

Image courtesy of EastSide Food Festival
Image courtesy of EastSide Food Festival

Chinese Food on the Third Floor: Chang’an Restaurant in San Gabriel, CA

Chang’an Restuarant
227 W. Valley Blvd. Suite 358, San Gabriel, CA 91776
http://www.restaurantchangan.com

I didn’t know what to expect.  Driving up to the three-story outdoor mall on Valley Boulevard, I almost missed this elegant spot located on the top floor.  After I parked my car and walked to the elevator, I wondered what I would experience.  Cashew chicken? Broccoli beef?

As the doors opened, and I turned the corner to see a lovely restaurant and got excited.

As I walked in, it was such a well-decorated room with lots of space.  There were long tables for groups, a huge bar, and an outdoor patio.  It looked like a great place to hang out with a group of friends.

IMG_0659I sat down to look over the menu, which was extensive and creative.  None of the run of the mill Americanized Chinese dishes I was expecting.  It was more like a Spanish tapas menu with Chinese inspired dishes and flavors.  There were starters, rice dishes, mains, even a grilled skewer section, not to mention a huge beer and wine list and some interesting cocktails. I started there.  I wanted something light and refreshing, and the staff told me about the Pearfection.  What arrived was a mojito-like drink with sweet pear flavors, mint, and citrus.  It was a great afternoon drink to get me started.

 

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Before the food arrived, I was brought three small dishes.  One was a simply sliced cucumber, another was rice jelly with a spicy sauce, and the last was soup boiled peanuts with small pieces of carrot and celery.  They told us that for every table, there is always a small offering before the meal but that those varied, I didn’t think I would like them, but they were all so tasty! The variety of textures and flavors got my taste buds ready.

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The first dish I received was the Sautéed Eggplant.  It had been suggested by my server and was a dish I would have typically passed up.  So glad I didn’t.  There were pieces of super soft eggplant and some that were firmer, lots of shrimp and bell peppers.  It was perfectly seasoned with a flavorful sauce and had pine nuts as a textural component.  Not only was the taste amazing and totally different for me, but his presentation was phenomenal.  It looked like a work of art on my plate.

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Next up, the Pork Ribs, they were perfectly glazed and served on a leaf, I didn’t even want to touch them because it was so perfect.  But when I finally took a bite, the sauce was a bit spicy and a bit sweet, a perfect balance to the meat.

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The Salty Egg Rice was next.  There were small pieces of pumpkin and huge plump shrimp.  The serving was huge! I’ll be enjoying the leftovers for a few days!

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Finally, the most beautiful of the bunch, the Prawn Tempura, arrived.  The black plate was the perfect backdrop to the two gigantic prawns fried in a mayo sauce and spun in crispy tempura, the plate was so decadent, I almost felt guilty eating the whole thing myself.

After I was done eating, I was so impressed that I looked over the menus again and made mental notes as to what dishes I wanted to try when I come back, because I will be coming back.  With a group of friends, probably for dinner to enjoy drinks on the patio and try a bunch of really delicious tapas style Chinese food.

On the way to Idyllwild – George’s Market in Calimesa, CA

George’s Market
1023 Calimesa Blvd.
Calimesa, CA
909-795-5320

My boyfriend likes road trips. The thing is, he only gets one or two days off at a time, so we are always on the lookout for road trip destinations that aren’t too far from home. One of the spots we like to visit is a sleeping mountain town called Idyllwild. It’s tiny, it’s cute, and it’s only a two-hour drive from LA.

Part of the fun of a road trip is the discovery of hidden gems. The problem is that I’m a food snob, and I have an app that helps me locate local restaurants, so I know what I’m getting into. Luckily, my trusty app got me into George’s Market.

This spot was a must on our way to the mountain getaway, and not only because of the amazing sandwiches served on homemade rye for under five bucks. Whether it’s the Black Forest Ham Sandwich, heated with extra mustard,

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or the more exciting (and frankly more flavorful) Mixed Lunchmeat and Cheese,

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or even, my guilty pleasure, liverwurst with pickles;
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These sandwiches are simple, delicious and affordable. And you saw that glass of German beer in the background? $3.50. No joke.

But, the sandwiches aren’t even the best part. The best part are the hard to find German noodles, sauces, candy and meats that George’s Market supplies. When I saw that they sold the impossible to find barley shaped egg noodles that we used to use in the family recipe of Hungarian sour soup, I squealed like a little girl. Not to mention the giant jars of sauerkraut juice, unique German mustards and my favorite – and extremely hard to find – beer…Speigl Radler Grapefruit.

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George’s Market is now a permanent stop on our frequent Idyllwild getaways. And every time we walk through those sliding doors and see the lovely ladies behind the counter, we know we’re going to have a great lunch and plenty of supplies for me to make my family recipes at home.
George's Market Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The Drive By That Caught My Eye – Ayda Ethiopian Restaurant in Loma Linda, CA

Ayda Ethiopian Restaurant
24940 Redlands Blvd.
Loma Linda, CA
909-799-6700

I was driving home from a two-day stint in Idyllwild with my boyfriend and his teenage daughter, we were tired, we were cranky, and we were starving. After doing some searching on my phone, we got off the 10 freeway to grab a bite. As we were on our way to the location I had found, we drove by a strip mall that had a very simple business front that made me sit up at attention and say, “Guys, change of plans. We are totally eating there.”

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For those not in the know, Ethiopian food is fantastic. If it hadn’t been for a good friend who enlightened me a few years ago, I, too, would still be in the dark. But I have seen the light, honey, and nothing is brighter than Ethiopian cuisine.

Ethiopian food is a sensory experience. The food is served on a platter of a special bread called injera. It looks like a circular ACE bandage and tastes like a fluffy sourdough. The stewed vegetables and meats are placed on top of a piece of this amazing bread along with a few extra pieces and it’s on. Rip off a piece of bread and scoop up some perfection.

Being that I was relatively well acquainted with this style of food, I decided to order the Vegetarian Delight.  It consisted of two types of lentils, collard greens, cabbage, green beans, fresh salad, tomato marinated injera, potato salad, split peas and a hard boiled egg set right in the middle of some flavorful sauce.

Vegetarian Delight
Each with seasoned differently, each had a different texture, and each made me want to cry it was so good. Even my very picky teenage homegirl was stuffing her face. In no time, the three of us were stuffed, but without that nasty heaviness that some meals cause. I felt good, sated, happy.

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It’s been a few weeks since we have last ventured into the cute little spot, and I have yet to try the traditional Ethiopian coffee that has it’s own small area at the front of the restaurant.

Coffee set up

I’m so happy this little spot caught my eye. And I promise I will return.