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Cypress Park’s Antigua Coffee House, with its friendly, familiar vibe, vibrant decor and strong brew, is an easy place to love. Owner Yancey Quiñones treats every customer like he’s known them forever, setting a communal tone for the daily crowd of laptop-pounding and just-hanging patrons, which makes this cozy space so welcoming and without the attitude that ruins many a coffee house in Los Angeles. It’s one of Northeast L.A.’s sweetest spots.
But, it’s not just the atmosphere that lures me to Antigua, or even the Mayan Mocha Latte. It’s the Vegetarian Sandwich. Stacked sky-high with thick slices of cucumber, raw zucchini, tomato, onion and avocado, it’s almost too big to bite. I look past that slight inconvenience, though, because on top of all of those vegetables is a strip of green chile, which adds a cheeky Latino twist that sets it apart from the average veggie sandwich. The bread is a simple sliced whole wheat, generously spread with chipotle dressing, so it ends on a smoky, spicy note. Did I mention the provolone cheese?
If you like your sandwiches paired with a good cup of coffee, you won’t be disappointed. The coffee here is sourced from Quiñones’ family’s coffee plantation in Guatemala, which dates back to the late 1800s. The result is a particularly good iced Americano and perfect Cafe con Ché (coffee, steamed milk and cinnamon). If coffee isn’t your thing, the Xol Maya, an icy orange citrus drink blended with vanilla, is a neighborhood favorite.
Antigua Coffee House
3400 N Figueroa Street
I’m not really a ham and cheese kind of girl. I like a good turkey or veggie sandwich for everyday and maybe an Italian sub when I feel like going for it, but I barely give a passing glance to ham and cheese on a menu. The fact is they rarely impress, and ham usually has one flavor profile–salty.
There’s one variation that refuses to be ignored: Auntie Em’s Black Forest Ham And Mustard Seed Gouda. This sandwich is something special and (caution) crave inducing. Perhaps the most important thing is that it comes on delicious pretzel bread, which is thick but pleasingly pillowy. None of that hard stuff they try to pawn off at you at, say, Whole Foods. Secondly, the smokey ham is folded and stacked high above a couple of slices of creamy Gouda, which is flecked with mustard seeds, giving it a fantastic intensity that wakes up the whole combo. It’s definitely as crucial as the pretzel bread and should never be substituted for a simple cheddar or jack. Dijon mustard is spread on the top piece of bread, complementing that robustness of the cheese while a healthy schmear of mayo on the bottom slice keeps the flavors under control. Lettuce and tomato finish it off.
I’m not usually one to crown anything “the best,” but for my money, it really is the best ham and cheese sandwich I’ve ever had (not counting trips to France). Plus, it’s so hearty that you only need to get half, which opens you up to the full array of Auntie Em’s lovely seasonal side salads.
4616 Eagle Rock Blvd
Los Angeles, 90041
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.
Ever since finding out that Ô Bánh Mì offers pig roast sandwiches every Friday, I’ve been surreptitiously plotting and patiently waiting for a day I could escape my downtown desk and head to Silver Lake for lunch. That day finally came last week.
Ô Bánh Mì is a tiny storefront, tucked behind a stretch of trees on Hyperion Avenue. You can easily drive past and completely miss the neon “O” above the front door (which I did on Friday. Twice.). I arrived promptly at noon, just before Jens, one of the owners, pulled up in his truck, bringing with him the pig that he’d roasted for several hours that morning.
Once inside, I was lucky enough to get a preview of the deliciousness to come, when one of the employees brought over pieces of the pork for my friend and me to try. The meat was tender and juicy, wonderfully enhanced by the crackle of golden skin and permeated with the garlic and herbs that had covered it in the roasting box.
Vegan food has become quite the rage in past few years, breaking through to the mainstream with chains like Native Foods, Veggie Grill and Real Food Daily. Still, by my estimation, none of them have managed to even come close to Silver Lake’s Flore Vegan Cuisine. This mainstay cafe has been a go-to for omnivores and vegans alike for years because it’s so damn good. The comfort-driven menu, grounded in organic ingredients, has all the hits, from sloppy burgers and classic sandwiches to fat burritos and breakfast til 1 pm. Their brunch menu even includes a gravy-drenched “Chicken & Waffles.”
I find it hard to veer from Flore’s generally gluttonous sandwiches. The Tempeh Tu-No Melt is close to the real thing but stands on its own, plus any deviation is made up for by the fact that it isn’t chock-full of mercury. Chunky with ideal crunch, the tuna-like tempeh mixture mingles with cashew cheese, which adds a luscious texture and light sweetness. It does the same for the Tempeh Reuben, grilled on rye and absolutely gooey with layers of cheese, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing. All sandwiches come with mixed green salad or potato salad.
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.
Montreal is not only beautiful, it’s also one of the best food cities I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. The people are so nice, and they’re seriously dedicated to good food. My kind of population. Meat, bread and cheese seem to be the general appetite, and I swear, poutine is beyond ubiquitous. You see it advertised in every restaurant window—more than a mainstay, it’s an obsession, and one I was quite happy to take on for the 3 days I was in Montreal.
I didn’t have a bad meal, but there were some heartbreaks: Patisserie Au Kouign Amann, whose version of the buttery pastry is reportedly life changing, was closed for vacation; I was just too freaking full to fit any of La Pretzelleria’s twisted wares in; and I didn’t get to experience the chocolate babka bliss of Cheskie’s Bakery. However, I will go back to avenge my losses.
In the meantime, here’s what I did eat:
Beauty’s Luncheonette has been around since 1942, and the Beauty Special is a big reason why. The bagels with lox sandwich is a thing in Montreal, and this one is just about perfect, served on a sweet and sesame seeded St-Viateur’s bagel (more on those later). The restaurant itself is cute, cute, cute, with classic diner ambiance and friendly conversation with the original owner’s son, Larry, who points you to your seat from his perch at the counter. They serve a good cup of coffee, golden, buttery pancakes, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Beauty’s Luncheonette, 93 Mont-Royal West, Montreal, QC H2T 2S5
Au Pied de Cochon:
I fell in love at first sight with Au Pied de Cochon when Cathy Chaplin wrote about it on gas•tron•o•my, and then I saw the Quebec episode of No Reservations. What can I say? The over-the-topness sang my name. Chef Martin Picard’s restaurant is a foie gras fantasy and maybe the best heart attack you’ll ever have—a great big gob of gourmet. The Duck in a Can is a gimmick, of course, but it sure is tasty. They undo the can table side, plopping a pile of duck, foie gras, garlic and cabbage over toast and celery root puree. I guess we didn’t need to get the foie gras poutine, too.
536 Avenue Duluth Est Montreal, QC H2L
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
Fate (aka a Groupon) recently brought me to El Vaquero Restaurante in El Sereno, where I was pleased to see that their specialty was Tortas Ahogadas. A popular sandwich Guadalajara, Mexico, it consists of a hard roll filled with carnitas and a smattering of beans, drowned—that’s what “ahogada” means—in sauce and served with a pile of onions.
Kind of like a Mexican French dip.
When I first set eyes on this daunting sandwich, I didn’t think I could possibly finish it, but I was quickly addicted. The bread was dense enough that it stayed in one piece under all that delicious tomato broth, the pork was tender, and the pickled onions brightened the whole thing up. I read that they sell these things at soccer games in Mexico, and that people eat them with their hands. Could that be true? This one definitely required a knife and fork.
You can order your torta ahogada mild or spicy, or even half mild, half spicy. The spicier version is drowned in chile de arbol. You can also get it media ahogada—”half drenched”—or not drenched at all, but that’s crazy talk.
El Vaquero Restaurante
4884 1/2 Huntington Dr S
Los Angeles, CA 90032
Not too far from Verdugo Bar, hiding under a “Bakery #1″ sign in a strip mall, is a breakfast and lunch spot that should be packed every day. It’s not, and selfishly I’d like to keep it that way, but I believe in restaurant karma. So, here it goes: Lemon Poppy Seed Kitchen is a small restaurant run by friendly people that specializes in Romanian flatbreads called plachintas—two tortilla-like layers stuffed with feta, dill and scallion or bacon and cheddar, for example. They are divine, scrumptious, lovely, addictive, and served three ways: warm and sliced with a side of sour cream; folded over melted mozzarella, greens, olives and tomatoes; or under two yolky eggs, swiss chard and onions.
And that’s only half of it. Lemon Poppy Kitchen’s menu also covers big, meaty (and vegetarian) sandwiches, a breakfast menu that includes a biscuit sandwich and polenta cakes, a solid pastry case, real coffee and house-made sodas. It’s that place you’ve been looking for…that we’ve all been looking for.