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Nachos are one of life’s little luxuries and maybe the guiltiest of food pleasures since some people won’t even admit to liking them. But these people are liars because tortilla chips and melted cheese are an undeniably delicious union—though not a perfect one. Bad nachos do exist (just go to the movies if you don’t believe me), yet the beauty of nacho nirvana is that there’s no exact formula to reach it. Some work with guacamole, some don’t; sour cream is essential for some but terrible on others. This food truth is proven by two recent nacho experiences, different as night and day, but both so so so good.
Hugo’s Tacos in Atwater Village (pictured left)
Hugo’s Nachos Grandes don’t go overboard with any one ingredient, allowing the warm, crispy chips to stand out. Mild white beans are used instead of pinto or black, and the salsa (pico de gallo here, but there are many choices) is fresh and plentiful. We chose smokey-sweet al pastor for our meat, but you can get anything from mixed veggies and soyrizo to grilled fish and carnitas. The cheese, melted to bubbling perfection, is a mixture of Oaxacan and Cotija, resulting in rather refined nachos. 3300 Glendale Boulevard
Tacos Savannah (pictured right)
A group of mothers at my Catholic grammar school used to make and sell nachos every Friday at morning recess. They took great care, mixing two types of cheese sauce to create the holy mother of all cheese sauces–I would push other kids out of the way to get in line for them. Since then, though, I’ve rarely enjoyed saucy nachos, which are generally flavorless and soggy. However, Tacos Savannah, a truck that parks at York Boulevard and Avenue 64 most nights, has won me over because somehow their cheese sauce-laden nachos work. It’s probably because the meat, carne asada in this case, is so flavorful. It also helps that they throw in pico de gallo, onions, and cilantro. These might get soggy, too, but you’ll probably eat them too fast for that to ever be an issue. 6305 York Boulevard (in front of Rite Aid).
Summer heat gives you the right to indulge in ice cream at least every other day, right? You’re lucky, too, because there are so many great ice cream shops on this side of town, most of them making beautiful ice creams, gelato, and frozen yogurt on the premises. Here are three great beat-the-heat-icy-sweet saviors from an ice cream fanatic (me):
Tejuino Los Reyes: This Lincoln Heights ice cream shop is really just a storefront where people line up in droves for nieves—there’s no seating, minus a bus bench. You can choose from ten or so flavors of this Mexican-style ice cream, with either a leche or agua base. Milk-wise, the chocolate has a rich cocoa taste, a light, airy texture and the occasional chocolate chip while the pistachio is outrageously nutty. Mixing a milk-based flavor like creamy coconut with a water-based one such as tart lime or subtly sweet mango is a good move. The medium gets you four scoops in a big styrofoam cup. Tejuino Los Reyes 2707 N. Broadway.
An Italian sub can be a glorious thing, but cold cuts aren’t for everyone. If you’re a vegetarian, or if you just prefer a meatless lunch now and again, finding a good veggie sandwich can be a task. Sometimes all you get is lettuce, tomato and cheese. Talk about blah. Still, there are some satisfying veggie sandwiches out there that demonstrate real deliberation and craftsmanship. Here are three good ones:
The Trails Cafe: The Avocado Sandwich and The Trails in Griffith Park is one of the best citywide. Thick chunks of ripe avocado, tomato, red onions, alfalfa sprouts and cheddar cheese are stacked high between two slices of sweet squaw bread. Mayo and soy bacon bits complement each bite. It’s the kind of sandwich that you miss when it’s gone, but the lavender shortbread cookies they sell are will console you. 2333 Fern Dell Dr Los Angeles, 90068
If there’s one thing Figueroa Boulevard needs it’s breakfast. There are some notable staples—Antigua Bread, Metro Balderas, La Fuente—but there’s no denying that some new blood is in order. That’s why I was intrigued when I heard that Good Girl Dinette is now serving breakfast! Owner Diep Tran says she labored over the new morning menu, and it shows. The meticulously edited “American diner meets Vietnamese comfort food” menu hits all the necessary sweet and savory notes while offering something novel to the complacent breakfast goer.
Ordering oatmeal at a restaurant is usually a mea culpa for eating three chili dogs the night before. Inspired by chè, a Vietnamese pudding, Tran’s Coconut Oatmeal isn’t useful for such self-flagellation. Steel-cut oats are made creamy and decadent with coconut milk and topped with sweet ginger maple syrup and crushed sesame seeds. The oats are soaked overnight, so they’re only minimally cooked, giving the dish a lightly grainy texture.
With summer afoot, fish taco season has officially begun. In Los Angeles, especially on the eastside, we’re lucky enough to have plenty of top notch fried fish tacos within reach. What makes a good fish taco? It starts with a quality tortilla that isn’t too brittle or soggy, a flavorful batter that has a little crunch, and a well-cooked piece of fish that stays moist in the deep fryer. Fresh toppings are a must, too, and those limes better drip when you squeeze them.
Here are three of my favorite fish tacos. Note: Ricky’s Fish Tacos is not listed because they’re closed until “further notice”. (Update: Ricky’s is operating again in Chinatown. Find his locations by following Ricky on his Twitter. )
Tacos Baja Ensenada: There’s usually a line a this East LA joint, and it’s well earned. The dark golden batter is crunchy, giving way to a delicious piece of pollock in a chewy corn tortilla. The fish taco/shrimp taco combination is a good bet, or forget the rice and beans and just add another taco. I would. And don’t forget the salsa bar—the gorgeous yellow roasted chiles gueros aren’t as hot as they look. Mexican sodas and aguas frescas available, fish tacos are 99 cents on Wednesdays. 5385 Whittier Blvd, Los Angeles.
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
When Ba Restaurant opened on York Boulevard almost a year ago, it gave a decided yank to Highland Park’s gentrification tightrope. Part of the new wave of restaurants and shops on the neighborhood’s trendiest street, the French restaurant came on the scene with a teeny menu of 20-something dollar entrees and without the populist bent of fellow newcomer Maximiliano.
Despite some detractors who view the relatively fancy restaurant as a foreshadowing to a Silver Lake-like future, Ba seems to have found an audience. And now, they’re even serving weekend brunch, which is a good option if you, like me, have been weary of the nighttime price points.
By all rights, Garvanza’s should be wildly popular, but its tucked-away location keeps it undercover. The neighborhood restaurant focuses on pan-Latin flavors with an emphasis on high quality local ingredients. The produce is fresh and seasonal, and the service is super friendly. A lot of people, including me, are rooting for it.
The bulk of Garvanza’s menu is burritos and tacos, including tender barbacoa with pickled onions, pork shoulder slow cooked in garlic and peppercorns, and flaky mango-salsa-topped fish tacos. Plates, comprised of those same meat choices and some of the most flavorful rice and beans in a 10 mile radius, are also served.
The one must of the appetizers is the Garbanzo Bean Salad, a simple mix of fried garbanzos, tomatoes, onions and cilantro. The cool veggies and a drenching of lime juice really brighten up this highly addictive dish. The chips and salsa are also notable for the same reason—the chips are thick and greasy, making them the perfect match for the tangy salsa their served with.
I feel like a jerk showing you something you can’t have, but I’m also no good at keeping delicious things to myself. This pie was available for order at Good Girl Dinette for Labor Day…only. There were three flavors available: peach, apple and plum. I chose the O’Henry Peach.
If you’ve ever had a curry pot pie from Good Girl Dinette, then you know that owner Diep Tran is a crust-making maestro. This fruit pie crust was flaky and buttery with that perfect punch of sourdough. The ends were crispy while the lattice and bottom were tender, but not too delicate—it stood up to the peaches.
Here’s the scoop: Scoops is now open in Highland Park. You’d hardly know it, but the LA ice cream shop has opened its third location on York Blvd. Currently incognito—there’s no signage—the small storefront is right next door to Italiano’s and not much more than white walls and an ice cream case. There are just a few seats inside right now, but we can expect more decor in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, don’t let its plain Jane exterior hold you back. Go in and try what is arguably the best ice cream in town. Today they were serving up Brown Bread, Banana Oreo, Cherry Rum, Olive Oil Marscapone, and Chocolate Almond to name a few. I’m hoping for Guinness Chocolate in the near future.
They’re open from 2-9 Monday-Saturday, and the prices are great. Together, these two came to about $5.80 total.
5105 York Blvd.
(near the corner of York & Ave. 51)