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Galco’s Old World Grocery is one of York Boulevard’s oldest businesses, and its staying power isn’t a mystery. The Highland Park shop sell a million different types of soda—okay actually about 500—from all over the world, old-timey candies and even a nice selection of beer. Plus, a soundtrack of 1950s malt shop hits is always playing in the background. Now there’s yet another reason to go: they let you mix and bottle your own soda with their Soda Creation Station, a simple, but genius set up comprised of a soda fountain, flavored syrups and a bottling contraption.
Galco’s didn’t skimp on quality for this venture. Owner John Nese told me he deliberated a long time at every step, including choosing Monin syrups, a high-quality (for example, the vanilla is made with, you know, real vanilla) French brand that uses pure cane sugar to create well-balanced, authentic flavors. Eighty varieties, running the gamut from the traditional cola, cherry, and lemon to the more exotic pumpkin pie and chipotle-pineapple, are kept on hand. At least 8 pumps are suggested, which was a little too sweet for me, but for most people, it seems to do the trick.
Once the syrup is in check, finding the right carbonation level is key. Taking into consideration that some like their soda sharp while others perfer it a little more low key, the machine dispensed the spectrum of bubbles, light to heavy. I chose heavy carbonation and wasn’t disappointed. Even a week later, the bottles I took home were still nice and fizzy.
When all is poured and mixed, you get to cap your own bottle, which is a fun perk among fun perks. The antique metal bottler has a lever that you push down on, and voilà, you’ve bottled and capped your very own soda. My result was a very delicious dark-chocolate-cherry combo along with an imitation Fago Rock & Rye for my Midwestern husband. With all those flavors, I was tempted to experiment and make a bunch more, but as a soda fanatic, I couldn’t be trusted to have too many in the house. I can’t wait to have a party, though, so I can go down to Galco’s and bottle my own mixers.
Each bottle is $2.99 and well worth it.
Galco’s Old World Grocery
5702 York Boulevard
Los Angeles, 90042
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
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.