posts displayed by category
“VaKA is going places by thinking out of the box,” says Aaron J. Perez, a Boyle Heights native and the chef behind VaKA Burger. The new restaurant pops up a few times a week at Tested L.A., a house-turned-experimental-kitchen in a residential neighborhood in Glassell Park. The concept—gourmet, grassfed burgers accessorized with house-made everything—is certainly new for the area, and the long lines VaKA attracts regularly prove that it’s the right place at the right time with the right food.
The focused menu features only three burgers: The OG, with russian dressing, thick slices of red onion and beef steak tomato, and Tilamook cheddar; The VaKA, a fancy on take on a Western Bacon Cheeseburger, topped with a beer-battered maui onionring, bacon jam, smoky barbeque sauce and muenster cheese; and The Truffle, made with a hefty dose of truffle oil, arugula, fontina cheese, carmelized onions, and roasted garlic aoli. Perez blends three signature cuts of beef to create big, juicy patties and makes all the dressings and sauces from scratch. While undeniably decadent, these well-designed burgers still master a restraint that’s uncommon in today’s burger world—all the components are balanced, so the condiments and add-ons don’t overwhelm the meaty goodness.
Inspired by flavors from his childhood, Ramirez rounds out the menu with a list of “Sides” and “Mas Sides” that seem to have been given the same deliberation as his burgers. There’s the Truffle Mack, creamy with house-made bechamel sauce; and the sweet and spicy VB Wangs, which are easy to devour and shouldn’t be missed. The Maui Rings, served with sriracha ketchup, are some of the best onion rings I’ve ever had—the Old Rasputin beer batter is so light and crispy that I likened it to “savory funnel cake air” on my first bite. Oh, and don’t forget the russian-dressing-and-carmelized-onion-covered Dirty Fries.
For the time being, VaKA Burger will stay on this side of town, continuing to pop up at Tested L.A. and roaming through Glassell Park, Downtown L.A., Boyle Heights, Silver Lake, and Echo Park in their new food truck (you can’t miss it, just look for the black truck with the giant cow on the side). “We want to take VaKA to places that don’t have many local eateries….VaKA believes it’s the product, love, and passion you put in each dish that keeps the fans/customers coming back for more,” says Perez.
Top photos of Chef Perez photo courtesy of VaKA Burger.
I first tried EggSlut a year ago when it was serving out of a humble truck parked in front of Handsome Roasters in the downtown arts district. The gourmet egg sandwiches and imaginative potato concoctions (crowds fall over themselves for the often sold out pureed potato cooked and served in a dainty glass jar) coming out of its mobile kitchen were impressive. Recently, EggSlut upgraded just slightly to a permanent food stall as part of the changes to the Grand Central Market downtown. There was such clamor over a brick-and-mortar EggSlut that, on their opening day, they sold out of breakfast before 11am.
We stopped in for a late weekend brunch, and the hearty egg sandwiches left us feeling as happy and bright as the sunny-side-ups we just devoured. The egg, sausage and cheddar served on a biscuit was a triumph of baking chemistry and flakiness. To borrow from the recent craze over Cronuts, Cro-doughs and the like, this biscuit should be deemed a Cro-scuit for its combination of light, flaky layers and dense, hearty biscuit dough. I also give them an extra special gold star for heaping their sandwiches thick with ooey, gooey Tillamook cheddar cheese. Every bite left me going back for more, if only because the springy, melted cheese strands acted like boomerangs that returned me happily to the home base of my biscuit-wich.
We went big that morning and also ordered the EggSlut burger, topped with avocado, caramelized onions, over-easy egg, cheddar and served on a fluffy brioche bun. The beef patty was thick and juicy, with the full, buttery taste of quality meat. The melted cheddar and the runny yolk mingled beautifully together, and, with the smooth avocado, caused each bite to be creamy and indulgent.
The potato dish on offer that day was a Pavé—imagine a precisely layered au gratin, cut into individual bricks and toasted to a golden brown. It was a refined and delicate counterpoint to our messy runny sandwiches. Our meal ended with lots of discarded napkins as we wiped the yolk off our hands and from the corners of the huge smiles on our faces.
at Grand Central Market
317 S. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90013
Jennifer is a staff writer for Eastside Food Bites. Learn more about her on our Contributor’s page.
Monte 52 has been around for ten whole months, but I’m embarrassed to say that I barely found out about it in July—despite the fact that I drive by it almost daily. In my defense, it is tucked away inside La Tropicana Market, itself a Highland Park gem, where I’ve bought the occasional agua fresca but never ventured to the deli counter…until one fateful day. And that’s when I found it, the best sandwich shop in the neighborhood. Since then, I’ve been making up for lost time by making my way through their delicious, thoughtfully-conceived and well-crafted menu.
Brought to you by the folks behind Echo Park’s The Park, including chef Mitchell Jones who runs the counter, this deli is everything you want it to be. They serve salads, sandwiches, burgers, and soup, plus, rotisserie chicken and french fries. The meat and produce used are quality, portions are sizeable, and a lot of care is put into every order. Amazingly, the prices are still low, with almost everything on the menu costing about $6.
When I informed my social circle that my Thursday afternoon plans would involve alcohol, I was met with skepticism. “What’s the occasion?” they all asked, as though one needs an excuse to go midweek drinking. But if anyone had expected me to scrounge up a reason beyond, “… Thursday?”, I would’ve had one in hand. The plan was to try out Barbara’s at the Brewery, one of the drinking establishments nestled in the Brewery Arts Complex in Lincoln Heights–just a quick hop from Downtown LA.
Barbara’s is the kind of bar that you have to quest for. Once you wend your way into the heart of the art colony, good luck picking one unassuming warehouse out from another. Had I not been led to the doorstep of Barbara’s by someone in the know, I would’ve lost at least ten minutes to aimless wandering. Rest assured, though: your efforts will be rewarded.
As a member of the Very Introverted set, I liked the low-key, early Thursday afternoon atmosphere of Barbara’s just fine, not to say that those of a more extroverted slant should shy away. The interior is split into two spaces. One of them is a windowed cafe-like space, the other is the bar, which is lit only by a motley collection of neon sculptures and signs and lined with beer tap handles, most of which appear to have been out of commission for ages.
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.
If you’re not familiar with my hard-hitting journalism, then you should know, I’m always on the veggie burger beat. No fan of processed patties, it’s my mission to find vegetable-and-grain-centric burgers that aren’t packed with soy and other filler. By my estimation, the best veggie burgers are treated like their beef counterparts with tasty buns, pickles, cheese and all the usual All-American fixings. I’m not diametrically opposed to sprouts and other “health” toppings, but yogurt in place of mayo and cucumbers in place of pickles (heaven, help us) is just plain condescension. An insult.
Thankfully, none of that nonsense is at play at Echo Park’s The Park. The neighborhood restaurant makes their patty in house, and it holds together nicely with a combination that includes quinoa, carrots and zucchini. The patty isn’t thick, but it’s tremendously well seasoned, so the flavor doesn’t get swamped by the charred bun. I added Gruyere to mine, which played well with the red onions and the from-scratch tomato soup I opted for instead of fries.
I’m still calling Four Cafe’s veggie burger as the best in Los Angeles, but The Park is formidable competition.
The Park, 400 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles
Taking over the former Larkin’s space and making the absolute most out of it with ample outdoor seating, Little Beast is Eagle Rock’s newest restaurant. Behind the venture is Sean Lowenthal, most recently a sous chef at Chateau Marmont, and his wife Deborah Schwartz. The concept, first test driven as a pop-up at Le Petit Beaujolais, is “progressive American comfort food,” which I’d say is a fair description. The menu is full of recognizable standards taken up a notch or two, a pretty common find Mid-City and on the Westside, but harder to get in our neck of the woods.
Starters at Little Beast pack the most “wow,” but I’m a girl who likes an appetizer, so maybe I’m biased. Do not bypass the Wild Salmon Tartare, a three-tiered snack with a lot of soul that doesn’t skimp on fish or guacamole. Gyoza crisps act as tostadas, salsa verde gives it zest, and kumquats punch up every bite. We also had the duck liver mousse, nestled under sweet carmelized onions. It was good, but I’d probably forgo it for the Watermelon and Feta or Charred Melon Salad next time.
Well, since we’re on the subject of delicious veggie burgers, I thought I’d share my latest find. You have to drive a bit for it (or take the Gold Line), but you won’t be sorry. The veggie burger at Heirloom Bakery in South Pasadena has been a reliable daily special all summer long, and I’m hoping it’s here to stay.
Eschewing the loathed processed veggie patty that so many restauranteurs try to pass off on innocent veggie burger lovers, this one is made with grains and, you know, actual vegetables. Much like Four Cafe’s beauty, this one is treated like a beef burger, draped in cheddar cheese and dressed with mayo, dill pickles, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts. The bun is also lovingly grilled for a little bit of crispness.
This thing is hearty as heck.
Summer barbecues are traditionally meaty affairs, but there’s always room for a veggie burger. And I don’t mean a Boca Burger. I’m talking a homemade one that’s hearty, delicious and made with, you know, actual vegetables. I asked Eagle Rock’s Four Cafe owner Michelle Wilton how to make such a veggie burger, and she was nice enough to show us. On video. Check it out and then see the recipe and step by step instructions below.
The list of ingredients is lengthy but not too exotic, and the recipe makes about 12-15 burgers. Plus, you can freeze left over patties for 6 months.
1 red onion, diced
2 minced garlic cloves
1 cup of mixed kale and spinach
3 portobello mushrooms, chopped and grilled
3 c of cooked kidney beans
1 c of cooked black lentils
1/2 cup shredded carrots
1/2 cup shredded beets
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup quinoa
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground flax meal
1 1/2 tsp agave
1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
2 tsp soy sauce
Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Sautée diced red onion and minced garlic in a large pan over medium heat until softened. About 5 minutes. Add kale and spinach mixture and cook until softened for about 5 minutes more.
Step 2: Pulse grilled mushrooms, half of beans, onion mixture and half of lentils in a food processor. You can always mash and blend by hand if you don’t have a food processor. Transfer to a very large bowl.
Step 3: Add the rest of the beans, carrots, beets, quinoa and breadcrumbs.
Step 4: In a separate bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the sauce. Add it to the bean mixture. Mix very well.
Step 5: Form patties and lay them on a cookie sheet. For best results, chill them for 30 minutes. This will help maintain their shape once you begin cooking.
Step 6: If you’re using a frying pan, make sure the surface is very hot and well oiled. If you’re using a grill, make sure it’s very hot. Cook each side for 3 minutes. Melt cheese on top.
Step 7: Dress it up. Michelle uses a brioche bun, pickles, a thousand island style dressing, butter lettuce, red onions and cheddar cheese.
Is there a dish at an Eastside restaurant that you’d like to learn how to make? Let me know, and we’ll try to get the recipe for a future post.
As I type, I am basking in the afterglow of burgers and brats from McCall’s Meat and Seafood Company in Los Feliz. The small, “chef-driven” butcher shop has ruined me for all grocery store meat. All I added to their Fresh Ground Burger Blend was a little salt and pepper before forming the patties and throwing them on our new-to-us Weber grill (thanks, Craigslist). Some beautiful little burgers was the result. As for their house-made sausages—they were some of the best I’ve ever had, with a snappy casing and a loose (as opposed to creepily fused) filling that dripped with smokey, balanced flavor.
Ruined, I tell you! Ruined! But, on the bright side, I now have a favorite butcher, and that makes me feel cool.
McCall’s Meat and Fish Company
2117 Hillhurst Ave.
Los Angeles, 90027