What do you do when you can’t find just the right sauce to complement your dish? You make it. That’s exactly how Huy Fong’s Sriracha was born. Fun fact: the lesser known, but eponymous Sriracha is actually a Thai sauce, sweeter than Huy Fong’s and originating from the town of Sri Racha in Thailand.
Last month, I toured the Huy Fong factory in Southern California during the last day of the chili grinding season. Huy Fong Foods actually makes three sauces in their shiny new, state-of-the-art factory: the famous Sriracha sauce: Sambal Olek, a more pasty chili vinegar sauce; and their chili garlic sauce. Conveniently, they’re all made from the same few ingredients, so harvesting and grinding the chili each season covers all three products.
Apart from owner David Tran’s humbleness, the other thing I admire most is his use of local ingredients to make this Asian staple truly American. The chilis are trucked in from Underwood Ranches, which has locations in Southern and Central California, and the garlic is from Gilroy, California, the self-proclaimed garlic capital.
The tour of the factory itself can actually be booked year round. What’s special was watching the trucks of chili roll in and get selected, crushed and packaged into the blue bins. Another surprising fact I discovered on this tour was even the Sriracha bottles were made in this factory, so the labels can be screen printed right onto the bottle. Having been inside much smaller foods factories, it was amazing to me how automated everything was here, from the chili selection, to the bottle making and packing of the bottles.
The tour ended with a sampling of various items made with the famous sauce. While Tran knows his famous sauce has peak popularity, he doesn’t hold back those who get creative with it. In fact, Huy Fong embraces it in their Rooster Room, with souvenirs and snack creations ready for purchase.
The other day, a girlfriend pointed out that San Franciscans (I guess I’m one now) are made fun of because we like to wait in line for things. In fact, we watched this video while we also were waiting in a line.
Compared to my expansive hometown of Los Angeles, San Francisco occupies a tiny space of roughly 49 miles (hence the 7×7 reference), with an ever-growing (hungry) population, looking to sample the best/newest/hippest things. It’s no wonder there’s a line everywhere you turn. In fact, I skipped out on Outerlands today for this sheer reason — I was too hungry, impatient and unprepared to wait. However, to say that this waiting game is played only in SF is a little unfair. The fact is people will go to great lengths for goodfood, no matter where you live.
To that end, I made it a point to spend my 10-day staycation doing just that: experience the good food I’d normally have to wait for. Some of these places I’ve frequented, but others I’ve shied away from because of their lines.
Operation Line Hack: Los Angeles
For my roughly 6-day trip home to Los Angeles, I scheduled in quite a few meals to make the most of my trip, planning to beat the line at places that normally would have 30+ mins wait time.
Din Tai Fung is quite possibly one of the handful of restaurants my dad will wait for. I’ve been to a few locations, and like that this one is adjacent to a mall, so I can spend my time in Nordstrom while I wait my turn. I went with my parents on a Monday afternoon, and we were still met with a roughly 20 minute wait — the lunch crowd — but not as bad as the usual 45+ min wait on a weekend. And for those of you in the Bay Area, no fear! The soup dumpling chain is finally making its way to us, after much anticipation. Get ready to queue up this winter, while you browse the luxury collection in (former client) Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose :).
Left: The Fairfax, soft scrambled eggs with chives and cheese, with bacon added, on a brioche bun. Right: The Slut, a specialty coddled egg in a jar with whipped potatoes, with a salad instead of a baguette.
Downtown Los Angeles is certainly making a comeback, and nowhere have I seen this more than in the Grand Central Market – hipsters rejoice! I’ve been itching to try Eggslut for some time now, but the last time I was in LA for a three day weekend, the line was too long to wait for, and we ended up at the equally delicious Sticky Rice for Hainam Chicken Rice (my kryptonite). This time, we were determined. A girlfriend and I stopped by on a Tuesday around 11am. Forgetting about the lunch crowd, we encountered a line that seemed to move pretty fast as we caught up over G&B lattes. The best part of the weekday trip to Eggslut was how easy it was to get a seat at the counter. It really didn’t disappoint, but I think you can’t go wrong with eggs, if you like eggs and breakfast as much as I do. I got the Fairfax sandwich, and added in a slice of bacon — best decision ever.
The next day, I found myself in downtown again with another girlfriend visiting from NYC. We walked past Grand Central Market and saw the empty counter and line-less Eggslut. Thought we just had lunch 2 hours before, we couldn’t resist. This time, I tried the Slut, an interesting take on coddled eggs, mixed with whipped potatoes (and copious amounts of butter, I’d assume). It’s usually served with a baguette, but i got it with a salad instead, having devoured the brioche bun the day before. No wait and still tasty. I’m not sure if I’d wait in a 45 min line for Eggslut — Fred 62 has pretty unbelievable breakfast sandwiches and are open 24 hours — but it was worth the trip.
Larchmont Village has always been one of my favorite parts of town, and it’s changed so much since I’ve left, including the addition of this Portland-native ice cream shop. I stopped by on a Wednesday night with two friends after an indulgent meal of truffle pasta at Angelini Osteria. But, as everyone well knows, we women have a separate stomach for desserts 😜. The stantions outside of the ice cream shop indicated that long lines were inevitable, but seeing that we arrived 30 mins before closing, we lucked out on the lines. I’ve patiently stood in the Bi Rite Creamery line time and time again, so waiting for ice cream wouldn’t have been a problem for me. No wait was even better and it really did not disappoint. I got one of the shop’s best-selling flavors, the Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons, which was a perfect blend of salty sweet. I especially loved the partnerships the shop did with local schools to create ice cream flavors — very clever, though I was not adventurous enough that day to try.
I’ve been highly fascinated with Chef Andy Ricker for quite some time now. Mainly, because his grasp of the Thai language is pretty excellent, as is his understanding of Thai, particularly Northern Thai cuisine. I have yet to make a trip to his first restaurant in Portland, Pok Pok, so was so glad to see he opened this hawker style/street food Phat Thai place in Chinatown (a neighborhood also going the hipster route). I met up with a few friends on a late Thursday night, around 8pm, and we didn’t have to wait in a line. However, the tables outside were in a wind tunnel, so we did sit in the cold to eat (did not feel like Bangkok). I appreciated Ricker’s attempt for the Thai-style feel: the self-seasoning of dishes, throwback Thai-style decor, and drinks that took me back to Thailand. And perhaps it was my fault for not ordering the namesake Phat Thai (I’m usually not a big fan of Phat Thai) and getting my staple Pad See Eww instead, but I was sadly not enamored. Yes, I believe you should season dishes to your taste before you eat them, but they usually do come seasoned to a degree. It also might be that I’ve just returned from Bangkok, where I had my favorite Pad See Eww of all time at Ma Yord Phak. Good stir fried noodles need to have that wok-burnt charred taste, which this was lacking.
Promisingly, I’ve heard positive things about Pok Pok in Portland and look forward to trying that, which has a wider selection of dishes.
Verdict: Drive a little further into Thai Town. Don’t wait in line.
Back home for a few days before I embarked on my next career adventure, and i found myself in the line I mentioned at the beginning of this post. A girlfriend thought it’d be a great idea for us to finally try the highly hyped cruffin at Mr. Holmes Bakehouse. We met at 8am, when the shop had just opened, and proceeded to devour croissants and coffee before getting in the cruffin line. Cruffins came out of the oven at 9am, and there is a 2 per person limit. That day’s cruffins were brownie, so the filling was chocolatey. We were about the third group of people in line, happily filled our pastry boxes, then trekked to Grace Cathedral for a good walk to burn off the previous baked good before devouring another.
Mr. Holmes should get credit for their other baked goods as well. The regular croissant I had was on par with the ones I’ve had in Paris. The California Croissant was an interesting take on smoked salmon sushi in a croissant, and the Ferrero Rocher Choux Bomb was pretty….well, bomb.
The cruffin was indeed tasty, and interesting. The flaky croissant layers enveloping a cream filling was more of a dessert than breakfast to me, with its sugar sprinkled exterior.
Verdict: Try it once, but come back for their other pastries.
That same day (yes, after eating all those pastries), my girlfriends and I walked down to 4505 Burgers & BBQ. I hadn’t heard of this place before, but have always joked that if I wasn’t Thai, I’d probably be either Korean or Southern — I love BBQ and Southern food! The four of us got a few different items to try and share. The ribs and brisket were tasty, but I must admit, the burger was surprisingly amazing — juicy and prepared at just the right temperature. The sides were also to die for — the baked beans had pieces of pork in it, the coleslaw was creamy and peppery, and (not pictured) there was a fried mac n’ cheese side dish with hot dog bits that was delicious with some Crystal hot sauce sprinkled a top.
I couldn’t let my last day of staycation go to waste. After running a few errands about town, I plotted where I wanted to go eat — it was a toss up between Orenchi Beyond, one of my favorite South Bay ramen spots that just opened in the Mission, or this gem, Brenda’s French Soul Food. I’d heard so many great things about this place – including the inevitable weekend line. On a Tuesday afternoon around 1:30pm, there was no line in sight, so after a (heartracing) walk through the Tenderloin, I plopped myself on the counter to try what all this hype was about. I must’ve looked like a lunatic because in addition to the watermelon sweet tea (delicious) that I ordered, I also got an order of crawfish beignets and the pork belly and grits — enough food for two. (No, I didn’t eat it all, but also doggie bagged it for hubby to try 😉
The crawfish beignets were surprisingly delightful — i’ve never had savory beignets, but the bread was still a slightly sweet cornmeal. You really can’t go wrong with grits and a poached egg, so the pork belly dish was amazing, though a bit heavy for me, given all the fatty pork belly. I need to go back and try the gumbo and shrimp and grits.
Verdict: I’d wait patiently for 30-45 mins for this!
I still have about a dozen hyped, line-lingering places to try in San Francisco, but in all, I’d say most of the places I’ve been to have been worth the wait. I’ve waited for food in a few different cities — all with folks who love to eat, so really, it’s not just San Franciscans that “love” waiting in lines. It comes down to how patient you are for the prize 😉
Trying to get back into a regular cadence of posting. Being on vacation more than a month ago and the curveballs of life have thrown me off from daily routines (including proper diet, sleep and exercise)….
Eating pig parts has never seemed “exotic” or weird to me, as it’s something I grew up with. My mom often says that the Chinese (and those cultures with Chinese-based population, including Thailand) don’t let food go to waste — every part gets used. So when pig ears became popular at new restaurants, I had to chuckle a little bit. They’ve always been a favorite of mine growing up. Something else I grew up eating lots of was pork blood. Eaten in many different forms by many Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, I grew up with it in soups and some curry dishes. One of my favorite comfort foods, often served at breakfast, is a soup with ground pork, pork blood, vegetables and pig parts, usually kidney, stomach, intestine — you name it. It wasn’t until much later that I realized a popular Northern style noodle dish (not khao soi) used pork blood as well.
kanom jeen nam ngiew: a Northern style curry noodle dish, with a tomato-based curry containing pork, pork blood and eaten with pickled cabbage and bean sprouts. Here, a homemade version from Mama V 🙂
You’ll be surprised what other Thai favorite dishes contain blood. I mean, how do you think boat noodle soup is that color? Granted, the versions in the US aren’t really heavy on the blood.
As I began exploring other culture’s foods, I was pleasantly surprised to see other countries didn’t waste their food either. Morcilla, or blood sausage, is also a favorite of mine. Somehow, having the blood mixed in with the sausage provides depth and texture to the meat. The Taiwanese have also perfected the culinary art of transforming pork blood into tasty forms by mixing it with rice cakes. I first was introduced to this form by some Taiwanese friends while we were at Taiwanese hot pot (which should never be confused with Japanese hot pot, but is equally delicious). The pork blood is mixed with glutinous rice cake, masking the iron-y taste of the blood but producing a unique flavor that is delicious in hot pot, but equally as tasty in a street food version.
Tawainese style pork blood cakes, here in a street food version. It’s sprinkled with peanuts and eaten with a thick peanut sauce.
Perhaps my favorite pork blood product is in (surprise) Korean food. I’d first heard of soon dae from Korean dramas, then had to look it up to see what the big deal was about. Made with pork blood, rice and Korean vermicelli noodles, when done correctly, soon dae should be flavorful and not have an overpowering iron-y taste. It’s often served as its own dish, with other porky friends — heart, lungs, intestines, kidney, liver — a soup, or as a spicy noodle dish (soon dae bokkum). It’s eaten dipped in a Korean sea salt/pepper mixture, with Korean spicy sauce, and sometimes a Korean shrimp paste.
A typical soon dae plate. Counter clockwise from right: Soondae, lungs, heart, stomach
Left: A Korean fermented shrimp paste, eaten with the meats. Right: Korean Salt and Pepper to also eat with the soondae
I’m used to fermented shrimp paste, as Southeast Asians consume a version called kapi. This version was much more pungent and equally as tasty. If it weren’t for it’s saltiness, I’d tried to consume it plain.
One of my Korean friends, Sun, took me to the best soon dae place I’ve ever been to, of course in Los Angeles. Eighth Street Soondae is a mom n’ pop run shop in an unbeknownst area, off the normal beaten path of Koreatown. And because I can’t always go for soondae while I’m in LA, I’ve finally found a place in the Bay Area to satisfy my cravings (suggestions always welcome for new soon dae places to try!). Obok is located in the small Korean community area of the South Bay. I’ve realized that soon dae restaurants don’t get many reviews on yelp, so I gave this place with only 5 reviews a shot. Gladly, it did not disappoint. Now, I just have to curb my visits here (to get back into the aforementioned diet/exercise routine) for when I really want some comfort food. 🙂
Each year, one of my college friends and I have a holiday tradition: I make/bring treats or alcohol, we pick up our favorite indulgent fast foods (usually involving her fave KFC, McDonald’s and the like) and we exchange gifts amidst watching The Holiday. The film takes place primarily in LA, which makes us not feel too bad that our Christmas really isn’t that white. The tradition has morphed a bit since I’ve moved up to the Bay Area and our stomachs are less capable to handle copious amounts of fast food. This year, we continued the tradition at Top Chef Michael Voltaggio’s restaurant, ink.
It was my second time at ink, my first being in the small private room towards the back of the restaurant. I always feel a special sense of authenticity when seeing the celebrity owner-chef I admired a
To me, it feels like there’s a level of authenticity when seeing renowned owner-chefs in action in their restaurants’ kitchens. It’s as of they not only made that restaurant famous, but still put their dedication into it. I love seeing Nancy Silverton make her famous Nancy’s Chopped Salad at Pizzeria Mozza, Chris Cosentino in his signature black and white striped apron at Incanto, and that night we saw Michael Voltaggio at work in his kitchen at ink.
Like many new restaurants in Los Angeles, ink bears the concept of small tapas-style share plates. What I love most is the interesting pairing of food combinations in each dish, and the curious, fun plating. There were three of us, so we ordered seven dishes and got a good sampling of the menu.
Main course menu at ink. Plates are listed from light to heavy dishes
My drink for the night, the chef’s favorite Islay Scotch
We began with drinks, mine this Islay Scotch, a smoky flavored drink containing my favorite citrus flavor: yuzu. ink was about unexpected pairings, and this traditional Japanese flavor with such an American style drink was definitely unique. Unlike most scotch drinks that came with many ice cubes, this had one giant ice cube that gradually melted as you sipped your drink, ensuring the perfect consistently (and temperature) for your drink all the way through. This concept was very reminiscent of the drinks I had a few months back at the famous Aviary in Chicago (more on Chicago another time).
Little Gems (photo credit to my friend Sara): Creamy burrata with lettuce and anchovy crackers. I have never had a burrata this texture before: creamy, but also less stringy than usual. Served very cold, it was delicious. I also couldn’t get enough of these anchovy crackers which reminded me very much of Thai/Chinese breakfast foods.
Hamachi: Fresh fish with fresh wasabi and the tartness of the green apples that cut through the milkiness of the fish perfectly. Very reminiscent of a ceviche with a clean, fresh taste.
La Querica Berkshire Ham: When this dish arrived, I truly forgot what we ordered and thought, “I don’t recall dumplings on the menu.” It finally clicked and I can’t get enough of this plating: sheets of beets cloaking a yogurt sauce, paired with this delicious ham.
Egg Yolk Gnocci: Favorite dish #1 of the night. I kept trying to figure out how in the world Voltaggio managed to get egg yolk into these pillowy gnocchi. I’m a sucker for egg yolk, so this dish, with the pairing of tasty sauce and mushroom, really hit the spot.
Cereal: Favorite dish #2 consisted of more egg, this time fried, atop fried chicken skin and what was basically grits to create a glorified breakfast dish (get it, cereal?). My friend Qi and I couldn’t get enough of this dish and scraped every bit of it.
Octopus: I love tako, so this dish was all parts welcoming to me. Served piping hot, the octopus was perfectly smoky and deliciously chewy paired with the fennel to cut through the creamy texture.
Potato Charcoal: For me, this is the dish that drove me back to ink. The clever plating of the pot, presented with a charcoal grill that’s removed to reveal these curious little lumps next to silky delicious sour cream. To go along with the unexpected pairings, this dish is served with a spritzer of Chinese-style black vinegar, which seems to enhance the smokiness of the potatoes. I can’t help but smile every time i see this dish.
Apple: For dessert, I ordered this deconstructed apple pie. Equal parts buttery (graham cracker pieces) tarty (the green apple balls) and creamy (that semi freddo shell atop), this was the perfect ending to the meal.
I much preferred ink to Animal, which is also growing in popularity for its small plates and “unusual” foods (pig ears, which are a childhood favorite of mine, are much raved there). Service was swift and the drink menu boasts twice as many pages as the food menu.
Looking forward to a year of good eating and hopefully lots of travels, and wishing you all a very happy, healthy New Year!
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.
Frito Pie at Bar Ama, Los Angeles
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.
Cupcakes at Big Man Bakes
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
All in all, it turned out to be a very productive visit home. I’ve yet to explore some of the new favorites like Bestia or Son of a Gun, so look forward to those tasty places.