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Open since 1949, El Gallo Bakery is an East L.A. tradition. Mention the famed panaderia to anyone who grew up in the neighborhood, and you’re sure to hear one word over and over: “payaso.” If you’ve ever had a Payaso, you understand why, and if you haven’t, you need to learn stat. The perfect marriage between pan dulce and a doughnut, Payasos (“clown” in Spanish) are cheery pink-frosted buns that stand out—visually and flavor wise—even among the rows and rows of beautiful sweet breads and cookies that El Gallo puts out everyday.
The Payaso’s texture is pitch perfect. Made with egg dough, the baked bread has a dense, yet soft and moist, consistency similar to a concha or an elote. Overpowering sweetness is a hallmark of mediocre pan dulce in this writer’s opinion, but Payasos (and pretty much all of El Gallo’s offerings) don’t have that problem. The bun, itself, is subtle—it’s sweet, of course, but you taste eggy bread (think: challah bread if you’re not all that familiar with pan dulce) more than sugar. You also taste cinnamon, which is crushed not ground, so flecks of the spice punctuate each bite, making it an ideal match for a good cup of coffee.
Because sweetness doesn’t override the flavor of the bun, the contrast of the sugary frosting takes the Payaso into heavenly territory. While definitely reminiscent of a pink doughnut, its complexity and lightness make it much, much, much more satisfying. Plus, it’s so dang cute.
If you want to try one, go early because Payasos, which will set you back a mere 75 cents, are best when freshly baked and they go fast.
Photo Credit: the photo directly above is the work of Tom Chavez, the owner of TLC Realty and Investments Inc. and a very nice guy who let me borrow this beautiful photo from his Instagram.
El Gallo Bakery
4546 East Cesar E Chavez Ave.
Los Angeles, 90022
Christmas is next week, and if you’re sane, you’ll stay away from the mayhem of the malls and big box stores. Trust me, there’s nothing there that anyone wants anyway. The stuff people will really use can found in your local neighborhood markets, bakeries and gourmet shops—gifts of the food and drink variety are great last minute options, and you can be sure that they won’t sit around in someone’s closet or junk drawer. Plus, price doesn’t determine deliciousness as some of the best food gifts will run you less than $5.
Here are some great food gifts to buy on this side of town:
Sugar Cookies from Elsa’s Bakery
Elsa’s Bakery in Highland Park makes stellar sugar cookies, and they only cost 30 cents. I’m not lying! These cute little galetas are one of the bakery’s best-selling items, and owner Edmundo Rodriguez says they ship them all over the country to former neighborhood residents. The long-distance craving for these soft, buttery cookies with a hint of cinnamon makes perfect sense. Buy a dozen each for all your friends—you can afford it! 5102 York Boulevard
Morning Glory Artisan Brittle
Peanut brittle is one thing, but Thai curry peanut brittle is quite another. Morning Glory Confections makes a slew of wonderful artisan brittles with an experimental bent. The New Mexican Chili & Pumpkin Seed is spicy-sweet in the best way while the Chocolate Bourbon & Pecan brings on that warm southern charm. Boxes range from $5-$10. Buy online or at Auntie Em’s, Cheese Store of Silverlake, or Atwater Farmers’ Market this Sunday.
Growlers from Golden Road Brewing
Your beer-loving friend is easy to please. Just head over to Golden Road Brewing in Atwater Village and buy him or her a Growler. The jugs of beer come in two sizes: 64 oz or 32 oz at $12 and $7, respectively, for Golden Road’s regular varieties, including their very versatile Hefeweizen and the surprisingly accessible Point the Way IPA. Specialty beers will run you slightly more at $14 and $10. The best part is that the bottles are reusable, so the lucky person you gift this to can get a refill at a discounted price. Suddenly, you’re a hero. 5410 W San Fernando Road (Photo courtesy of Golden Road Brewery)
Chocolates and Petits Fours from Valerie Confections
Maybe your See’s Candy routine needs a shakeup. Enter: Valerie Confections. The unassuming storefront on First Street is easy to miss, but once you’re inside, you’ll be blown away by the bounty of beautiful sweets. The petits fours are made the traditional way with four layers of cake and three layers of filling—try the Rose Petal, vanilla bean cake and rose petal granache surrounded in white chocolate (I know, right?). A box of 4 is $18, and so worth it. If you want to go bigger, they have grander boxes, and if you want to go smaller, just give some chocolate bars. 3360 W First Street or at the new Echo Park location: 1665 Echo Park Avenue or buy online
Sugar Pretzels from La Mascota Bakery
La Mascota Bakery has been a Boyle Heights tradition for over 50 years. They sell really tasty pan dulce and tamales, but I’m all about the Sugar Pretzel. With its crispy texture covered in big flecks of sugar, it’s so simple, but so delicious. Each one costs 50 cents. You could get a stack of them, wrap them in some fancy cellophane, and make someone really happy. They also have these cute miniature versions of the essential panaderia pink and yellow cookies that wouldn’t make a bad gift either. 2715 Whittier Boulevard
Cathy Chaplin’s Food Lover’s Guide to Los Angeles
While not technically food, Cathy Chaplin’s Food Lover’s Guide to Los Angeles will afford you and your friends a 2014 full of great culinary experiences. The popular food blogger and writer for Los Angeles Times has compiled the ultimate reference book for LA foodies, including a full list of food festivals, specialty shops, farmer’s markets and restaurants. Organized by neighborhood, it covers old and new establishments plus recipes from local chefs. Available on Amazon, in bookstores, and at Good Girl Dinette in Highland Park.
Cheese from Say Cheese in Silver Lake
Cheese is not a bad gift. Just throw it into a basket with a box of crackers and a bottle of wine. Or don’t. A true cheese lover will be happy with a nice, fancy wedge without any fixings. Say Cheese in Silver Lake is a small space, stacked high with a wide variety of mostly Euro, and some domestic, cheeses. When it’s crowded, the service can be a tad unfriendly, so try to go earlier in the day and avoid after-work hours if you know what’s good for you. However, even if there’s a line of people tapping their feet behind you, don’t be afraid to ask questions and request samples. They’re pretty good about that at Say Cheese, and they’ll work with your budget. 2800 Hyperion Avenue
DIY Soda from Galco’s
If DIY gifts are your thing, make your way to Galco’s. The Highland Park pop purveyor now has a Soda Creation Station, which means you can make your own handmade sodas with over 80 traditional-to-exotic flavors that are begging to be mixed and matched. Plus—and this is big—you set your preferred carbonation strength! Each bottle is only $2.99, and the label lets you personalize every soda you make. Grab some old timey candy while your there and give your friends the sugar shock of their lives. 5702 York Boulevard (Photos by Martha Benedict)
Pickled Veggies, Jams and Granola from JamIam
One of my favorite food finds of the year is JamIam. From chutneys to granola, this Silver Lake-based company makes small batches of all my favorite things. Owner Carolyn Cooper has been canning since the ’70s, and she kills it with her Dilly Beans, pickled green beans that are so addictive you could eat the whole jar in a day, or maybe an hour. A jar of those, along with her Blueberry-Lime Jam and Cranberry Orange Sauce would make a good additions to any gourmet gift basket, though they can all stand alone provided you pop a festive bow on the lid. They’ll run you anywhere from $7-$10. Buy online or at the Atwater Farmers’ Market every Sunday.
Heirloom LA’s Lasagna Cupcakes
Give the gift of lasagna, in the cutest form possible. Heirloom LA‘s Lasagna Cupcakes are famous for a reason, and that reason is two fold: they’re delicious and you can eat the whole thing yourself. They come in a variety of flavors, including Confit Baby Artichoke, Heirloom Tomato & Basil, and Smoked Mac n’ Cheese, plus they freeze like champs. At $9 a pop, they’re a little pricey, but even just one is a nice, thoughtful gift. Buy them online or at Silver Lake Wine (Photo courtesty of Guzzle & Nosh)
Cookies from Proof Bakery Cookies from Proof Bakery
Proof Bakery might make the best chocolate chip cookie in the universe. No exaggeration. It’s sweet, rich, a little bit salty, and completely heaven sent. The Ginger Molasses isn’t bad either. Get a few of them for the most special people on your list, remembering that jerks do not deserve them. Each costs $1.75, and Proof is open on Christmas Eve, so go early for the best variety because those things sell out. 3156 Glendale Boulevard
Anything/Everything from Auntie Em’s Kitchen
Auntie Em’s Kitchen has an unbelievable marketplace. Every shelf of the small space is filled with jellies, jams, mustards, chocolates…you name it. There’s also a nice cheese selection, and of course, their famous cupcakes and cookies. You could do all your shopping here and call it a day. Highlights include flavored (think peppermint and chocolate) marshmallows from Little Flower Company, brittle from Morning Glory (see above), beans and spices from Rancho Gordo and a well-curated selection of cookbooks. 4616 Eagle Rock Boulevard
One of my favorite finds at this year’s Artisanal LA’s Fall Show was this Quinoa + Hemp Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie made by Sugar Beak Bakery. The hefty baked treat feels like pure decadence—it’s salty and sweet, rich and chocolatey—but it’s also packed with high-protein, nutritious ingredients like quinoa, hulled hemp seeds and ground flax. That, along with organic coconut butter, make this cookie equal parts dreamy and satisfying. And, it honestly doesn’t leave you wanting more. I mean, you will want one again tomorrow (for sure), but in the moment, it renders you totally blissed out.
When I mentioned this pure bliss on Twitter, Sugar Beak owner Ashley Fiocco offered to send me more of her vegan treats to try. I said yes, and I got a smorgasbord of deliciousness dropped off at my door. One of the standouts was this Salted Caramel & Sweet Potato Chocolate Tartlet. It’s gluten-free, if you’re living that lifestyle, and it’s outrageous. The crust is made form raw nut and deep, dark chocolate sweetened by coconut sugar while the very creamy and gooey layer of caramel is quite surprisingly made with sweet potato. That frosted top is chocolate heaven. Seriously.
I was also quite taken with the Spiced Pumpkin and Carrot Cream Pie. This sweet treat is made with a silky blend of spiced up organic carrots and roasted pumpkin. The effect is subtle but delicious. Seeds and raw almonds are combined to create the crust. I would love a big version of this to take to every holiday party. It’s only around ’til the end of December, so think fast.
I appreciate Sugar Beak’s is all about healthy, high quality ingredients and zero refined sugar. They sneak in spinach, chia seeds, goji berries and all kinds of good, wholesome stuff into their luscious treats without sacrificing indulgent flavor. Everything is vegan, and almost everything is gluten-free, plus they’re into anti-oxidant-rich ingredients like raw seeds, nuts, whole grains, and organic produce. Just like me–when I’m not eating nachos.
Get yours on their website.
I was pretty despondent when my best friend moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area a couple years ago, but it’s been great visiting her and getting to know San Francisco, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite cities. She’s a culinary school graduate and an extremely talented baker, so of course, she knows some of the best spots to eat and drink in the city. Here are some of the places she introduced me to on my last visit:
Loqui 3609 18th Street. Friday and/or Saturday (7:30ish-11:00 p.m. or sold out)
The food adventures started at Loqui, a Mexican street food pop-up that opens on Friday and Saturday evenings in the back of Tartine Bakery. Each weekend brings one type of antojito, and on the night I was there, there were two carne asada taco options—regular and primo. After consulting with the chef, I got the primo, which is the standard taco (meat, onions, cilantro, salsa, guacamole), plus a layer of beans and cheese. So many good things about this taco, starting with the incredible homemade flour tortilla with its charred blisters and soft, flaky layers. The meat is grilled then braised, making it tender and flavorful, and the thin layer of beans and cheese gave the taco the perfect amount of creaminess and saltiness. Adding some dry salsa—ground chilis and seeds—took it to a whole new flavor and texture level.
Linea Caffe 3417 18th Street
Newly-opened Linea Caffe combines several concepts in its compact 300-square-foot space. The shop is a collaboration between Andrew Barnett, founder of Ecco Coffee, and Anthony Myint of Mission Chinese Food, Mission Bowling Club, and Commonwealth. The coffee menu consists only of espresso-based drinks, and food options include sweet and savory waffles as well as substantial salads. My macchiato was excellent, sweet and balanced, and aesthetically enhanced by the gorgeous Heath Ceramics demitasse and saucer. Intrigued by the savory waffle choices, I ordered the egg soufflé waffle topped with chèvre and fines herbes. The waffle was light and airy, and the fresh, bright combination of herbs was especially wonderful paired with the pungent, melted chèvre. I’m not sure how well salad goes with espresso, but they sound pretty delicious, and as an added bonus, $1 from each salad goes to 350.org, a grassroots movement devoted to solving the climate crisis.
Craftsman & Wolves 746 Valencia Street at 18th Street
Peering at the pastries in Craftsman & Wolves is like looking into a jewelry counter—everything is so beautiful and artfully executed. I ordered the chocolate croissant stack, mostly because it was so pretty. Unfortunately, it was a bit of a disappointment. The dough seemed tough, like it had been overworked or over baked, and there wasn’t nearly enough chocolate in each bite. The passion fruit poppy seed madeleine was much more successful, with the sweet tartness of the cake and crunch of the seeds making it a perfect companion to my coffee. My friend decided on the B-A-N-A-N-A-S (brown butter, blond chocolate, vanilla, marshmallow, banana shortbread), which turned out to be the absolute winner of our combined order. It was a study in textures and tastes with the sweetness and softness of the banana mousse and delicate layer of blond chocolate, the slight saltiness of the banana-infused shortbread crust, and the chewiness of the toasted marshmallow garnish.
Bi-Rite Creamery and Bakeshop 18th Street soft serve window, next to 3692 18th Street
Adjacent to the perpetually long lines of Bi-Rite Creamery is their much calmer soft serve window, which offers two flavors of soft serve every day AND (previously unknown to me) cookie ice cream sandwiches! I was tempted by the dark chocolate cookies with mint chip ice cream, but my all-knowing friend steered me toward the sugar cookie balsamic strawberry sandwich. It was an unseasonably warm day in the Bay Area, so we walked across the street to Dolores Park, where we could sit and enjoy our treats. Immediately after finding an unoccupied patch of grass at the park, I tore open the wrapper and promptly entered ice cream heaven. The soft cookies would have been a tad too sweet on their own, but the tang of the balsamic complemented them perfectly.
Tartine Bakery 600 Guerrero Street
Any trip to the Mission would not be complete without a stop at Tartine. Having just gorged on my cookie ice cream sandwich, I didn’t get any pastries, but I had to stop in for a freshly baked loaf of bread. Tartine bread occupies a league all of its own—deep, rich brown loaves with crackling crusts and moist, chewy interiors. My favorite is their sesame bread, the basic country loaf encrusted with toasted sesame seeds. The sweet, nutty seeds work so well with the complex, earthy, slightly sour dough. Fresh loaves come out around 4:30 p.m. daily, expect to wait in line for them.
Mission Chinese Food Inside Lung Shan Restaurant, 2234 Mission Street
The nondescript exterior of Mission Chinese Food gives no hint of the inventiveness happening inside. But once you enter, you know you’re in for some excitement. There’s a party atmosphere, with loud music blaring from the speakers and a brightly lit, red paper dragon hanging from the ceiling. My friend is vegetarian, so we stuck to the meatless options. Two of our dishes—Ma Po Tofu and Egg-Egg Noodle—were lackluster, but the Tiger Salad was fantastic. In simplest terms, it’s a minty green salad wrapped in thick rice paper and drizzled with spicy chili oil. The flavors were diverse with the nuttiness of the white and black sesame seed garnish, slight bitterness of the greens and herbs, savory saltiness of the roasted seaweed, tang of the turnip vinegar, and sweetness of the rice wrapper. The restaurant was packed, so we shared a four-top with a couple who was awesome enough to let me try their squid ink noodles, and I am so glad they did. This dish was absolutely incredible! The noodles were stir-fried in lamb fat, with chickpeas, fennel, cumin, and mint, and served with lamb broth for dipping. I wanted to be polite and only had one bite (it was a struggle), so I can’t make too many comments on the dish, but let’s just say, if this is on the menu when I go back, I’m ordering a whole plate for myself.
Bob’s Donut & Pastry Shop 621 Polk Street (open 24 hours, cash only)
Several hours later, close to 1:00 a.m., we turned up at Bob’s Donuts in Nob Hill, where a line had formed for fresh, hot donuts. Bob’s is the place to go for quality, classic donuts, made entirely from scratch. It’s also the place to go if you want to participate in their donut challenge, which entails consuming a donut that’s around a foot in diameter in under three minutes. (Someone attempted it while we were in line. The donut won.) I settled on a raised crumb donut that I’d seen coming out of the fryer. I was excited about having a different texture alongside the basic glazed, but the flavors of the yeast donut and the cakey crumbs didn’t mesh well for me. Fortunately, my friend ordered a few more donuts for us to try: a glazed, a maple glazed, and a buttermilk bar. The glazed was one of the best I’ve ever had—light, fluffy, with just the right amount of sweetness. The maple glazed was also great, a touch light on maple flavor, but not overpoweringly sweet. I’ve never been much of a buttermilk bar girl, but Bob’s version is amazing—dense and moist inside and covered with a thick layer of glaze. We put the leftover half in the refrigerator when we got home, and it was just as good—maybe even better—having it cold the next morning.
Outerlands remains one of my favorite spots in the city. The interior with its wood walls and organic decorations is so cozy, and blankets are provided for those sitting at the outdoor tables. It was my first time at the restaurant for brunch, and my friend recommended that I get their popular Dutch pancake. I ordered the savory version with bacon, maple syrup, and housemade ricotta cheese, and she chose the sweet one with fresh strawberries. We also ordered hot ginger lemon apple cider with bourbon. I’ve since replicated the sweet, spicy beverage at home; it’s a perfect remedy for colds and chilly autumn nights. Baked in a cast iron pan, the pancakes looked like pieces of art, perfectly browned and impressively puffy. The dough was slightly sweet, and paired equally well with the salty, thick chunks of bacon and the jewel-like strawberries. The ricotta was absolutely elegant—so smooth, so creamy, so subtly sweet and salty. Absolutely dreamlike, just like the restaurant as a whole, and a perfect way to close out the weekend.
Tip: if you don’t have a reservation, kill some waiting time at tiny Trouble Coffee with a brew and their delectable cinnamon toast, or next door at Celia’s with a margarita.
Jessica is staff writer for Eastside Food Bites. Read more about her on our Contributors page.
The overhaul of Echo Park Lake was a seemingly endless one, but now that it’s finally up and running, I find myself strolling its picturesque path often. The long walk brings a combination of sights, including neighborhood joggers (of varying fitness levels), dogs galore, picnickers, and lots of bench-sitting old men just enjoying the day—the scene is downright European.
Of course, for me, one of the best perks of these new digs is the Echo Park Lake Cafe, situated in the lake’s boathouse. Operated by Square One Dining, which serves up a killer brunch at their Fountain Avenue location, the little eatery offers a succinct menu of breakfast and lunch options. The seating is all outdoors and comfortable enough to make you want to linger.
The prices are fair ($3-7), especially considering the much of the produce and some of the meat is organic. A well-assembled veggie sandwich with sprouts, radish, cheddar and avocado is served on hearty 5-grain bread with smatterings of grainy mustard and aioli. While it doesn’t quit live up to its perfect counterpart at The Trails, it’s still a keeper. The burger comes on an English muffin, so it’s small, but it’s also grass-fed, and tasty when you add on Gruyere cheese and a pile of sweet potato fries. Also promising are the Kale Salad, Potato Taquitos, and Chorizo Chili Dog.
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.
Sure, Griffith Park is one of LA’s most majestic treasures. The Central Park of LA, it’s truly an outstanding public space with lots of fantastic attractions—Travel Town, the Carousel, pony rides, hiking trails, baby swings…you name it. But, something it also has, though rarely acknowledged, is one of the best veggie sandwiches in LA.
The avocado sandwich at The Trails Cafe, a cute little outside eatery at the base of the Griffith Observatory trail, is a lunchtime triumph, stacked high on dark, sweet bread with at least half an avocado, tomatoes, red onion, cheddar and mayo. It’s even sprinkled with soy bacon bits, which would normally scare me, but on this sandwich it works very well, adding salty crunch.
I could eat the thing everyday.
And as if that weren’t enough, Trails also makes a bevy of baked goods, vegan and otherwise, all from scratch. This cheddar and chive scone is buttery, flaky, dense, and draped in cheddar that once bubbled and dripped. Other savory options include quiches, hand pies, cheesy tarts and even some fancy pigs in a blanket called “Snakedogs”.
I have a thing for miniatures. I have a thing for pie. So, I guess I’m the target market for Cutie Pie That!, makers of single-serving pies. I was sent a few to sample and got quite a kick out of their just-for-one size. Taste wise, I was also impressed.
The crust, as you can see, is gorgeously golden and flaky. The kind you fork slides right through.
I liked how subtle the filling of this little guy was, so it didn’t overtake the crust. Pictured here is the Peerless Pear Pomegranate, which had a nice balance of sweet and tart. The fruit had body and firmness, and it wasn’t some mushy mess, which is a pie sin if you ask me.
Really, every bite was great, and the best part was that I had the whole thing to myself! I was able to indulge my greedy impulses without actually being a total oinker.
The specialty of this local micro-bakery is fruit pies, which change with the season. For summer, they’re serving up blueberry, apple, rhubarb and cherry. You can get yours or give one as a gift on the Cutie Pie That! website or at these Farmers’ Markets: Sierra Madre , La Cañada-Flintridge, Larchmont Village Farmers’ Market. The mini pies are only $6, and they also sell lollipies, pies for dogs, and full size pies.
The speed at which York Boulevard’s food scene is developing has hit break-neck status recently. There’s that new French place Ba, a little place called Fusion Burgers has quietly opened across the street from Maximiliano, and now there seems to be enough room for two cafes.
That’s right. Highland Cafe has opened a few doors down from mainstay Cafe de Leche. The new place, housed in what was the Guatemalan restaurant El Chapin just a few months ago, stakes its claim with a small, Mexican-tinged breakfast and lunch menu along with a full coffee bar fueled by Downtown’s Handsome Coffee Roasters.
The new restaurant/coffee house courts a college crowd, offering a 10 percent discount to Oxy students and plenty of room (plus a few easy chairs) to hash out the deets of a class project. Even so, the crowd is mixed enough that older-than-22 patrons won’t feel out of place and probably won’t mind paying full price for above average egg dishes, pastries, sandwiches and salads.
I was invited to attend Taste of the Eastside, which I sadly had to miss last year. The whole shebang took place last Sunday at Barnsdall Park in Los Feliz. I got there right on time, so I was able to try everything relatively unmolested. Here are some of the things I tried. Those up there? Pavlovas with blackberry and lemon meyer preserves from Atwater Village’s Proof Bakery.
Here’s the rest:
Conchinita pibil taco from Yuca’s in Los Feliz. Very tender.
Buffalo-style cauliflower with vegan blue cheese from Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. I hardly missed the chicken.
Cinnamon rolls and red velvet cupcakes from Auntie Em’s in Eagle Rock.They were nice enough to turn over two rolls for me.