Last weekend, I went home. Until recently, I still felt very much a part of Los Angeles. I was beginning to adjust to this Bay Area life, only to be rocked by all the goodness that reminded me of the city I’ve known as home for 95 percent of my life.
Going back to my childhood house not only evokes nostalgia, it’s also very comforting (and frustrating – ha!). That aside, each time I am back in LA, I have a checklist of things I want to do, see, eat — no meal goes wasted is my motto.
The Los Angeles food scene is as ever-evolving as the Bay Area’s. One thing I’ve learned to appreciate in my expansive city is the reliability in the unreliable. Such is the case for traffic (unlike what’s said in Clueless, it does not take 15 mins to get anywhere) and lines at restaurants. Timing is everything. I still have a hard time getting used to the incredibly packed lines at spots in the Bay Area.
Last weekend was very eat-ventful 😉 :
One of the biggest phenomenons in Los Angeles are the food trucks. They started becoming popular about 4 years ago, when I worked in the Miracle Mile area and Roy Choi was just starting the now-infamous Kogi Trucks. I worked out of my company’s Los Angeles office, located across from my favorite museum, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It’s always a sight to see the line of food trucks feed the hungry office workers for breakfast/lunch, and I happily become one with them each time I’m in the LA office. Today, it was a similar Korean-fusion dish: pork belly on a bun, with Asian-style slaw. Delicious (but sadly unpictured).
Day or night, one of the most magical places to visit in Los Angeles: the permanent Lights exhibit in front of LACMA. Photo credit: Love Me Sailor
Friday night: I needed to catch up on the the newest restaurants in the area, and had been reading about a couple, so I met up with some former co-workers in downtown at Bar Ama. I’d been to sister restaurant Baco Mercat for brunch before, but not here. The restaurant had the same vibe, and the great company made all the difference. We caught up over queso, spicy mole (delicious – not chocolately at all), and this gorgeous creation: the Frito Pie.
I’ll admit that when I read the description on the menu, it didn’t click to me they meant actual Fritos corn chips. I told the server it sounded dangerous and I was going to Pilates to ease the guilt. When the dish arrived, my Texas-native friend was so excited and told us the origin of the dish – a less fancy version, served in actual Fritos bags with said ingredients (cheese and chili, basically), and often eaten at sporting events/games.
It tasted like childhood. I often wondered how my favorite flavor of Fritos – chili cheese – originated, and there you have it: the Frito Pie.
After dinner and since I was in DTLA, I made an obligatory stop to Big Man Bakes. The cupcake trend is certainly hot in LA, too, but I am not a fan of Sprinkles (sorry). This local favorite wins my heart in Los Angeles. They aren’t kidding when they call it “Big Man.” The owner is 6’5″ and buff, but with a heart (and spatula) of gold. I love the different specials they have daily, my favorite being caramel apple. I picked up some minis in my husband’s favorite, the lemon.
We stumbled upon Wakasan, on the Westside, for lunch. I wasn’t quite sure how long it has been in existence, but I don’t recall seeing it from my days as a Bruin. This was definitely an unexpected Japanese meal. With the last minute, ravenous decision by hubby, I didn’t have high expectations and had to say i was pleasantly surprised. The restaurant is decorated in traditional Japanese decor, and the food is also served in a traditional Japanese style. My husband ordered his favorite katsudon (fried pork with egg over rice), which was served in a most special way, with the pork/egg combo soupy and runny and perfectly delicious.
I had the shabu shabu set, which was unlike anything I’ve ever had. It was well presented, the tastes were delicate, yet flavorful. We both happily cleaned our plates, and I made a mental note to come back here for dinner.
Shabu Shabu Set at Wakasan
After lunch, we headed to one of our favorite places to visit when in LA: The Annenberg Space for Photography. Aside from showing support for my other alumni (the one across town), I love photography and photo exhibits. It’s also located in the magnificent new(er) CAA building. I am still awestruck by this space after all these years, and Annenberg Space for Photography never ceases to impress. It’s always well curated, and the layout of the space changes with the exhibit. Right now, it’s a National Geographic spread, with cool animal photos and fascinating life depictions from around the world. Photos aren’t allowed, unfortunately.
Dinner was the meal we were prepping for the most, as it required a 45 min drive through Los Angeles traffic from my parents’ home over to San Gabriel Valley. Newport Tan Cang, or Newport Seafood (believe it’s another location), as we call it is always packed to the brim with hungry seafood lovers. It’s a Vietnamese-style seafood restaurant in the bustling heart of the new Chinatown in Los Angeles. I braced my parent for the one-hour wait, but somehow managed to bypass it by calling and putting our name on the queue before we got there. We only had to wait 5 minutes, and my parents were over the moon. Newport Seafood is known for their crab and lobster, with a variety of preparation styles, from their house style to the traditional ginger and green onion, or a dry fried salt and spice. The house one, which is a recommendation on their menu, is my favorite.
Wish there was a way to show the scale of these guys. Giant Alaskan King Crab adorn the cases by the lobby, where patrons waited for a table. How many people would it take to finish one of these crab?
It was almost time to come back to my new home, but there were still a couple obligatory stops. The first being the newest location of the best xiao long bao (soup dumplings) I’ve had yet: Din Tai Fung. While my parents loved this place, they have lost their patience with the usual 90 mins. wait. However, I was so excited to hear they opened a location in The Americana mall. An odd location for this place, but I embraced it for its proximity. We were meeting two other couples and their kids for brunch, and managed to get a table fairly quickly since we arrived so early.
I feel like the franchise is finally beginning to figure out what appeals to American consumers. This new location has a bar in the lobby area — perfect for waiting during lunch/dinner time. You can also go shopping at Nordstrom while you wait and have them text you (hoorah!). Also new to the menu here is the truffle dumplings which were so divine. A mix of ground pork with truffle, in a soup dumpling. Heavenly.
Xiao Long Bao (also commonly abbreviated as XLB) originated in Shanghai. Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung perfected it as a franchise, creating the perfect soup dumpling with not too thick of a skin or bite. They also have a dessert take to the XLB, with a red bean paste and a taro paste, both of which are delicious.
Since we were in the Glendale area, I felt it blasphemy to not stop at Porto’s. This ever-popular local Cuban bakery restaurant has the most unbelievable cheese rolls. Enjoyed in a few bites, they are equal parts flaky, lightly sweet and slightly savory — all parts delicious. I picked up a dozen (or two) for my colleagues and family. The potato balls, which are a savory fried potato ball stuffed with Cuban-style beef stew, are also a delicious option.
Clockwise from top: Giant Alaskan King Crab at Newport Tan Cang, Lobster in the house sauce at Newport; workers at Din Tai Fung making XLB dumplings; the newest dumpling on the block: the truffle dumpling
- Bar Ama – 118 W. 4th St, Downtown
- Big Man Bakes – Downtown (2 locations – visit site for details)
- Wakasan – 1929 Westwood Blvd., Westwood (near UCLA)
- Newport Tan Cang – 518 W. Las Tunas, San Gabriel Valley
- Din Tai Fung – The Americana, Glendale (visit site for other locations in San Gabriel Valley)
- Porto’s Bakery – Glendale and Burbank (visit site for various locations)