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“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.
Here’s what I know about poutine:
- Traditionally it’s a dish comprised of fries, gravy and cheese curds.
- It hails from rural Quebec, but can now be found Canada-wide—they even sell it at McDonald’s.
- It was invented in the 1957 by restaurateur Fernand Lachance. He shook up a bag of cheese curds and fries, and violà, poutine was born.
- In the 50s,“poutine” was slang for “a mess,” which is exactly what Fernand said when he saw what was in the bag.
- Up until a few years ago, poutine was considered pretty low-brow in Quebec, served mostly in greasy spoons, but like a lot of other comfort foods, it’s made its way onto some fancy restaurant menus. You can even get it with foie gras for $23 at at famed Au Pied Cochon in Montreal.
I should also add that it’s freaking delicious, which is why I was—and I never use this word—stoked when I got an invite to try out The Poutine Truck, Debbie Lee’s (also of the Ahn Joo truck) newest food project. Even better was that this gravy fries extravaganza was to take place at Echo Park’s City Sip, where Four Brix wine would be paired with each poutine course.
The Poutine Truck offers traditional and more laissez-faire varieties of the dish. The abbreviated menu gives you the choice 3 gravies (brown onion beef gravy and chicken or veggie veloute) and 3 locally-sourced, organic cheese curd varieties (plain, garlic herb and firehouse), which are generously laid upon freshly cut and made-to-order Kennebec potato fries. You can also take your poutine to the limit by adding bacon, chicken or flatiron steak.
If you ask me, 2010 was Heirloom-LA’s year. The catering company, armed with its “farm-to-plate” ethos and lasagna cupcakes, was suddenly everywhere—food blogs, coffeehouses, wine bars, neighborhood grocers… you name it. They even showed up on this blog when I tried and loved their hearty Wild Boar Bolognese.
As it turns out, this year might be even more momentous for Heirloom-LA, seeing that they just launched a food truck. Yeah, I know, it’s hard to get excited by the latest food-on-wheels concept, but Heirloom does it right. For one thing, Heirloom’s food is locally sourced from small farms, and for another, their menu will change daily. None of the usual food truck doldrums here.
There’s something going on in the 99 Cents Store parking lot in Highland Park. And it involves food. Every Tuesday night from 5:30 to 9, Figueroa Produce hosts Din Din A Go Go, billed as a “weekly food truck feast” with vegan-friendly options. A little more than a month old, the event has become an event, attracting a wide variety of local Highland Park residents—young folks, old folks, hipsters, families and more than a few dog owners.
I made my way over last Tuesday and, after finagling a parking space, I found a good selection of quality food trucks, including Ahn-Joo, the popular Korean snack bar on wheels, Lomo Arigato, serving Peruvian-Japanese fusion, The Dim Sum Truck and the Filipino Tapa Boy. Also present was a really friendly vibe aided by the most popular conversation starter of the night: “where’d you get that?”
My father despises birria de chivo (roasted goat meat). He won’t even consider taking a bite. “It’s too gamey,” he says with a look of disgust any time he’s confronted with the offending meat. He can’t tolerate the texture or the taste.
He always made it sound so god awful that I didn’t try it for years and years and years. When I finally did, I was surprised at how much I actually liked it. Turns out, gamey meat is my thing, and when you add a tortilla, sparks fly. I do understand the aversion, though. No matter how goat is prepared, it can be a tough-to-acquire taste and as harsh as liver to some people. However, it should be noted that my dad enjoys liver.
With a tall glass of milk no less.
When I lived in Alhambra, I ate my fair share of Vietnamese sandwiches. I tried Lee’s Sandwiches (pretty un-remarkable), Mr. Baguette (much better), and a few others up and down Valley Blvd. until I eventually settled on Baguette Du Jour as my Bánh mì haunt of choice. They make a beautiful baguette, and if you eat the chicken sandwich even once, I swear you’ll crave its spicy/tangy flavor forever….like those vampires on True Blood.
Naturally, I didn’t think I’d ever find a worthy rival for my Bánh mì affections, but The Nom Nom Truck fits the bill. I’m not saying it’s better that du Jour, but it’s on par for sure.I can’t wait to work my way through their menu.
I had the Grilled Pork sandwich per Nom Nom co-owner Misa Chien’s urging. I opted not to dress it with any Sriracha in order to get the pure flavor, and even without the spice, it was so delicious. The sandwiches are huge and stuffed fat with marinated pork, cilantro and pickled carrots and daikon. Plus, it’s slathered with mayo, which usually scares me away, but I loved the way it mixed with the run-off marinade.