posts displayed by category
Pupusas are one of those foods that I was convinced I didn’t care for. This belief had me perplexed because I love all the components, but I just had never been wowed. I am happy to say that Mayas Taco Market in Echo Park has single-handedly changed that belief.
Mayas beckons you with its brick red exterior, namesake in bold white letters, and Mexican style benches that line the front entrance. The interior of the small, humble establishment consists of 8 tables and a giant jukebox filled with Mexican Nortenos music. While also doubling as a small market with a random assortment of chips, bread, and staples, the restaurant offers a large menu of Mexican and Salvadoran cuisine. I come for two reasons: pupusas and the cochinita pibil tacos.
The pupusas come with the standard fillings: cheese; beans and cheese; loroco (Salvadorian edible flower) and cheese; and my favorite, revuelta, which consist of pork, beans, and cheese. I usually order 2 because I‘m greedy, but they’re on the larger side, so one would be enough for smaller appetites. The pupusas are made to order and come out toasty and fragrant. Inside, the salty, slightly crisp pork is enveloped by the bean and cheese mixture, which makes this combo a winning trifecta every time. The curtido (fermented cabbage salad that comes on the side) is crunchy with the right amount of vinegary-saltiness. They’re also served with a traditional non-spicy red salsa which yields a nice brightness, and a habanero salsa that’s seriously spicy, so tread lightly.
If pupusas don’t rock your boat, then the cochinita pibil tacos most definitely will. What makes their version a standout is the pork, which has a nice oregano bite, plus the meat is served in chunks as oppose to the common shreds. This method keeps the meat juicy and super tender. The tacos are topped with pickled red onions, and a generous amount of sliced avocados.
If you’re in the area on a Monday or Thursday, the pupusas are a steal for only 99 cents. Just keep in mind that the parking situation isn’t that great. There are only 3 spots, and it’s one way in and one way out, so street parking is usually best but might require a walk. On the bright side, if you work up a thirst on the walk over to Mayas, you can quench it with one of their vast selections of Mexican sodas.
Martha is a regular contributor to Eastside Food Bites. Read more about her on our contributor’s page.
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
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
Echo Park’s Allumette, in the former Alston Yacht Club space, had been on my list for a while, so I was excited when I was invited to try it out. I’d heard some complaints, mostly about portion sizes, but I rarely encountered any kvetching about preparation and flavor. I suppose that’s because both are meticulously spot on. Each and every dish at Allumette is conceived and served with careful deliberation and a boatload of ambition—I can’t imagine that head chef Miles Thompson ever sleeps. It’s true that the portions are small (it’s billed as a tasting menu) but if you can get past that, you’re in for an artful, and wildly unique, food experience.
The menu at Allumette is divided into five sections that go from light to more substantial. Close to the top is a must-have Fried Oyster served with a creamy kimchi dressing and diced Asian pear for brightness. You should not attempt to share this small and savory treat—order your own. You can share the Ankimo, which manages to be both delicate and rich. Its base is a very smooth round of monkfish liver that sits in ponzu sauce and is topped with sea grapes. The pretty little flowers are a nice visual touch.
The seafood theme, quite prevalent at Allumette, continued with the Poached Octopus. Beluga lentils made this dish hearty while the fried egg added a certain sultriness. “But grapefruit?” you ask. Yes, it’s true. You wouldn’t expect tart citrus to work with this, but it really lifted the combination and kept it from becoming too heady.
I love potato tacos. A lot of people don’t, and I blame the overwhelming amount of bad potato tacos (soggy, bland, and uninspired) for misrepresenting the entire category. Perhaps my appreciation comes from the fact that I usually make mine at home, giving them an Indian twist with Chef Raghavan Iyer’s smoky yellow dal recipe. This way, I get to bypass most restaurant versions, though I am guilty of pigging out on the greasy bombs they serve over at El Acator #11 after a few drinks and under the cloak of night.
There is one potato taco that recently came onto my radar that actually gives its brethren a good name: the Mashed Curry Potatoes and Carrot Taco at Xoia Vietnamese Eats in Echo Park. This one gets it right for so many reasons. For one, the filling is flavorful thanks to the sweetness of the carrots and, of course, the savory curry, which really pops. The crunch factor is also spot on. The filling of a potato taco is unavoidably mushy, so a certain amount of crunch is necessary—the crispy tortilla and shreds of red cabbage are perfect for the task.
The finishing touches don’t miss, either. Vietnamese coriander, which is similar to cilantro, and a house-made sauce of Oaxacan crema, coconut milk and Sriracha add to the overall flavor. I think about these tacos a lot.
Not bad for $6.99.
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.
There’s really not much I can say about Guisados that every other blogger, restaurant reviewer, or food enthusiast in Los Angeles hasn’t already said. It’s popular, to say the least, and now there are two locations: the original in Boyle Heights and a new one in Echo Park. However, if in fact you haven’t heard, here’s the story: this family restaurant turns out glorious tacos on thick, handmade tortillas filled with meats or vegetables that hold beautiful, complex flavors.
The chickens tinga and mole are particularly good, and veggies and non-veggies alike will appreciate that even the calabasitas (a mix of squash and corn) aren’t an afterthought. Note that the cochinita pibil is ordered according to a 1-10 spicy barometer, with even the lower end capable of setting your mouth on fire, so don’t get smart. There’s always the 6 mini taco sampler if you can’t decide—it’s chef’s choice, and he’s usually right.
Lastly, don’t miss out on the drinks. I like the cantaloupe agua fresca, which is cool, refreshing and not overly sweet. Horchata lovers won’t be disappointed, and neither will jamaica enthusiasts.
I was recently invited to a Dodgers food blogger event. It started with a tour of the Dodger offices, the press box, luxury suites, and members-only restaurants, plus a pre-game field walk on. We got to meet self-proclaimed rightfielder foodie Andre Ethier, and there were Nancy Bea and Fernando Valenzuela sightings to boot.
The whole experience came to a crescendo with an Extreme Loaded Dog tasting. If you don’t know, these are grilled Dodger Dogs “loaded” up with an “extreme” combination of components. Case in point: the Tailgate Dog (seen above), topped with beans, barbecue sauce, potato salad and cheese. Surprisingly, this potluck-in-a-bun works quite well and is easily the best of the bunch. In truth, there’s something to be said for many of these dogs—you just have to surrender your decency and commit.
If you’re ready to do that, then let me introduce you to the The Frito Pie Dog. It’s outrageous, but hey, my inner pig couldn’t deny a chili cheese dog covered in Fritos. By comparison, it was way more plausible than its sister, the Big Kid Dog, also sprinkled with chips but unsuccessful with its base of somewhat chalky mac and cheese.
I’m glad I live in a city where the mention of “vegan brunch” actually brings to mind more than a few delicious possibilities. Echo Park and Silver Lake, alone, have more full-on vegan restaurants (that are actually good) than most states in this country. It’s pretty exciting that, once sneered and rolled eyes at, vegetarian food’s hard-core sibling is becoming a cuisine like any other in L.A.
One of the best vegan menus in town, doing tons to make the cuisine more accessible, is at Sage Organic Vegan Bistro. Open for a little over a year—replacing their not-so-successful predecessor Mooi—Sage has evolved into a comfort food haven of non-meaty goodness. Think: bacon chili cheese burgers, eggplant parmesan, clam chowder, and bowls stuffed with everything from kale and quinoa to fried macaroni and cheese.