Fate (aka a Groupon) recently brought me to El Vaquero Restaurante in El Sereno, where I was pleased to see that their specialty was Tortas Ahogadas. A popular sandwich Guadalajara, Mexico, it consists of a hard roll filled with carnitas and a smattering of beans, drowned—that’s what “ahogada” means—in sauce and served with a pile of onions.
Kind of like a Mexican French dip.
When I first set eyes on this daunting sandwich, I didn’t think I could possibly finish it, but I was quickly addicted. The bread was dense enough that it stayed in one piece under all that delicious tomato broth, the pork was tender, and the pickled onions brightened the whole thing up. I read that they sell these things at soccer games in Mexico, and that people eat them with their hands. Could that be true? This one definitely required a knife and fork.
You can order your torta ahogada mild or spicy, or even half mild, half spicy. The spicier version is drowned in chile de arbol. You can also get it media ahogada—”half drenched”—or not drenched at all, but that’s crazy talk.
El Vaquero Restaurante
4884 1/2 Huntington Dr S
Los Angeles, CA 90032
While pupusas, tacos, mariscos and Jumbo Jacks abound, vegetables are hard to come by on the strip of Figueroa Street where Cypress Park meets Highland Park. Enter: Ayta Grill. The small Japanese “Teriyaki House & Tea Room” (Note: I didn’t see any actual tea on my visit) opened last month, gaining attention for its roof-bound Bruce Lee statue, but the real draw is simple plates of meat, rices and fresh veggies.
The menu has zero frills. Choices include steak, salmon, shrimp and chicken, curry or no curry, vegetables or no vegetables. Portions are satisfying, the meat is well-cooked and flavorful, and the broccoli-carrot-squash-cabbage medley doesn’t have that over-steamed mushiness you’ve come to expect from Asian fast food joints—they’re actually some crispiness to speak of. Prices range from $5-$9.
If there’s any extravagance here, it’s their fruity drinks. We sampled all four flavors and settled on the sweet cantaloupe, which brightened up the whole meal. Ask for their green sauce, a creamy mix of Serrano peppers, cilantro, and potatoes that adds the perfect spicy kick to the teriyaki flavor.
Mount Washington residents will eat this place up.
4017 N. Figueroa St.
Los Angeles, Ca 90065
Not too far from Verdugo Bar, hiding under a “Bakery #1″ sign in a strip mall, is a breakfast and lunch spot that should be packed every day. It’s not, and selfishly I’d like to keep it that way, but I believe in restaurant karma. So, here it goes: Lemon Poppy Seed Kitchen is a small restaurant run by friendly people that specializes in Romanian flatbreads called plachintas—two tortilla-like layers stuffed with feta, dill and scallion or bacon and cheddar, for example. They are divine, scrumptious, lovely, addictive, and served three ways: warm and sliced with a side of sour cream; folded over melted mozzarella, greens, olives and tomatoes; or under two yolky eggs, swiss chard and onions.
And that’s only half of it. Lemon Poppy Kitchen’s menu also covers big, meaty (and vegetarian) sandwiches, a breakfast menu that includes a biscuit sandwich and polenta cakes, a solid pastry case, real coffee and house-made sodas. It’s that place you’ve been looking for…that we’ve all been looking for.
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Drunk, ravenous and too late for anything else. For years, all three conditions had to be met for me to brave The Brite Spot. But, it’s a new day, and the classic Echo Park diner recently received a makeover by owner and habitual restaurant revamper Dana Hollister (she’s also behind renovations at Villain’s Tavern, 4100 Bar and Cliff’s Edge). The update brings new outside seating, a slightly more sparkly interior, fresher ingredients and an updated menu.
Breakfast is how I like to judge diners, so we decided to try out the new Brite Spot on a busy weekday morning. Chicken & Waffles, Brussels & Bacon Hash (yes, brussel sprouts) topped with poached eggs, and The Hangover, a scramble Chicken Andoullie sausage, potatoes and habanero pesto, all intrigued. However, we took one for the team and ordered the A Burger for Breakfast special—a turkey patty, hash browns, bacon, and fried eggs all crammed between a maple-aioli-smeared brioche bun. It was as tasty as it was ridiculous.
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