A Culinary Tour of Los Angeles

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If you’re in the San Gabriel Valley, you cannot skip dim sum!

Every bon vivant knows that to truly appreciate food, you need a mix of the high and low. Beef Wellington is to die for, but so are street tacos.

Luckily, I’m able to write about food, and currently live in a city that takes it so seriously, they host an annual awards ceremony for chefs and restauranteurs.

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Coffee tastes better with old friends. With over 10 types of mochas, Oriental carpets and dark atmosphere, The Library is the best coffee shop in Long Beach.

But I often become homesick for my old stomping grounds – Los Angeles, California. Recently, I took a trip back to see old friends, and it inadvertently became a food tour. If a friend invited me over for cocktails, I’d suck air through my teeth and ask, “Actually, can we meet at Los Tacos? I’ve been craving their bean and cheese burrito.” This trip made me really think about where I wanted to spend my limited time, restaurants included. They’re rated first on taste, then price. I’ve eaten through a lot of second-rate establishments to provide this list, so take heed and bon appetit!

SUSHI STOP

At $3.00 a plate, they rival Sushi Mac in price, but not taste. Their menu is vast, more delicious and the yellowtail truffle handroll is perfection.

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The Vegas Roll at Sushi Stop

OMAR’S XINJIANG HALAL RESTAURANT

These guys are fusion without trying to be. China’s “Wild West” had been previously conquered by Middle Eastern countries, resulting in a heavenly mash-up of All Things Good. Their savory meat pie is addictive, their hand-pulled noodles are chewy and so thick they need to be cut with scissors, which is great because the texture helps drag out those sweet moments. Perhaps most exciting are their lamb ribs – deep-fried and dusted with cumin and powdered chiles. Once quiet and only known to Chinese immigrants in the San Gabriel Valley, the well-deserved hype for this place is steamrolling.

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Once obscure, now in-demand halal Chinese food in the SGV – get there early!

BAY CITIES

When you walk in, the unmistakable Italian deli aroma hits you. With chewy, heavenly bread that can hold together a monster of a sandwich, Bay Cities delivers top notch meats and cheeses with all the trimmings. I always go for the classic Godmother. And yes, there will be a line.

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Bay Cities is in Santa Monica, and I promise you the sandwich tastes much better if you enjoy it at the beach.

ZEPHYR

This California Craftsman home-turned-coffee house is a charmer. You can roam all the different rooms and sit anywhere you’d like. There’s always a Scrabble game going on. Local art hangs on the walls, making it a gallery as well. And the white chocolate mocha is fantastic. Recently, Armenians bought the place and turned the patio into a hookah bar, adding another dimension to the offerings, which include an open mic night, poetry readings, etc.

But mostly I love it because it’s in Pasadena.

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Soujouk Panini, salad and coffee

GOLDEN DELI

This place needs no introduction – it’s always rated the #1 Vietnamese restaurant in L.A. Plus, the L.A. Weekly/L.A. Times Pulitzer Prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold has raved about it. Luckily I once lived walking distance from Golden Deli, and would feast on their pho when it was cold and their vermicelli salad when it was warm.

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Pork Bun (vermicelli) with fried spring roll

MR. CHOW

I remember this restaurant from 80’s movies as being the place to be (pre-Spago), and it’s been standing since 1974 for good reason. Every single dish is impeccable. None of the fried, sugar-glazed take-out junk and not the obscure stuff – just authentic, mind-blowing Chinese food. Of note: Mr. Chow himself used to be married to Vogue’s Grace Coddington!

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Mr. Chow’s Potstickers (Beijing recipe)

LITERATI CAFE & BOURGEOIS PIG

Both have much to offer as far as great coffee, but the back room at the Bourgeois Pig still has more ambiance than any Anthropologie Illuminati can imagine. Part harem, part Enchanted Forest, words do it no justice. Here’s a photo.

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CASTLE II

Reader, never take all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ for granted. Ever! I live in a town where there’s no competition driving prices down. All-you-can-eat does not exist, and what’s worse, BBQ for two easily costs $75. The original Castle on Western Ave was seeing ridiculous lines (thanks to all-you-can-eat for only $9.99!) so they opened a big, shiny Castle II – a mecca of meat and endless sides. I had plenty of friends who wanted to see me. Here, specifically. Get the brisket, burn it a little, and you’re welcome.

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HONORABLE MENTION:

LOS TACOS

Get the gooey bean and cheese burrito and their carnitas tacos – open 24 hours!

INN OF THE SEVENTH RAY

Very Midsummer Night’s Dream in Topanga Canyon – a locally-sourced destination dinner

DU-PAR’S

The best pancakes I’ve ever had. Don’t ask how much butter is used. Breakfast 24 hours a day!

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