As I will be spending the next few months eating croissants and brie in a small town called Paris that knows a little about food, I have been thinking about what I consider my favorite part of the Los Angeles dining scene. In a day and age characterized by Wal-Mart and Olive Garden, these mom-and-pop restaurants are what make me proud to be a restaurant critic. At places like these, the owners feed their patrons each day with food full of love and flavor, and at the end of the day go home without much pomp and circumstance despite their exquisite product and work ethic.East Los Angeles is a culinary gold mine. For me, the capitol is
Los Cincos Puntos,
a sort of deli/taqueria/butchery/bakery/everything-under-the sun operation at one of the most confusing intersections known to man. The green chile tamales with cheese are breathtaking here, but the pice de résistance is Los Angeles’ most tender carnitas wrapped in homemade tortillas for a taco creation that even Escoffier would want to replicate.
is a humble spot in a regular residential community, except at this “home” one can get fantastic tamales with either red or green chile, as well as a warm smile, even when I visited at 8 a.m. Please do not leave Los Angeles without some delicious and extremely cheap (think 50 cents per pastry!) Mexican pastries from
La Fama Panaderia
, and cool off with a raspado next door at
. A raspado is a snow cone with much more finely shaved ice; instead of those fruit “flavors” made of whatever chemicals you get at the county fair, these flavorings are real fruit and nut juices, especially the unbeatable guava flavor.
Los Cincos Puntos3300 E. Cesar Chavez Ave., East Los Angeles
La Flor de Yucatan1800 S. Hoover St., Los Angeles
Meals by Genet1053 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles
Delilah’s Bakery1665 Echo Park Ave., Echo Park
Restaurants with table service are rated with a grade from 0 to 4 stars on food, service, and atmosphere, along with an overall star rating. Restaurants without table service receive only one overall rating and are assessed with more of an emphasis on their overall value. All overall ratings take into account a restaurant’s prices.
4 stars: Extraordinary3 stars: Outstanding, very reliable, perhaps 1 area to improve slightly2 stars: Good but several flaws1 star: Avoidable, I probably did not get food poisoning at least0 stars: Should be closed/dangerous to a diner’s sanity and health
I visited the Yucatan bakery
La Flor de Yucatan
on a slow Tuesday morning. As I left after a long conversation with the owner and tucked into my bag full of homemade lunch and pastry treats of the Yucatan peninsula, such as the coconut yam-filled atropellado and the outstanding cochinita pibil tacos, I took a deep breath of smoggy air and thought to myself how this place is the epitome of what I look for when eating in LA.Possibly the most delicious dinner I have had recently was at
Meals by Genet
, a wonderful Ethiopian spot on the groovy little block of Fairfax Avenue known as Little Ethiopia. Ethiopian cuisine deserves more recognition, with its various stews full of pungent spices. One gem is the chicken dorowot, served on an enormous plate covered with injera bread, which doubles as your starch and fork. My recent visit to the Shanghai cuisine specialist
in Rowland Heights, 20 minutes from Claremont, was absolutely delicious. Even at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, though, the place was practically empty. Although the servers barely speak English, I navigated through the menu that is thicker than Ulysses and greatly enjoyed the braised pork knuckle, presented as an enormous conical sphere of mutton-colored jello with tender braised meat inside.
in West Hollywood is a favorite burger shack of Pomona Music professor Jon Bailey. The place was recently saved from the claws of real estate developers by some kind-hearted residents, and thank goodness for that! The California-style cheeseburgers are some of the best I’ve ever had, and the incredibly affable owner, Sonia Hong, always draws a smiley face on your plate, even if you’re a heartless real estate developer.Closer to home are two favorites on Foothill Boulevard.
provided me with a wonderful birthday dinner and an enormous and tremendously fresh rendition of seviche, and
Thai Orchid Garden
sticks to typical Thai specialties but always hits the mark, like with its fantastic pad thai.And let’s not forget dessert! Though Sprinkles gets all the fame, the best cupcakes in Los Angeles are the ones found at
, a tiny operation in Echo Park. The impossibly moist chocolate cupcake with Jack Daniels frosting won’t get you drunk on alcohol, but it may intoxicate you on dessert bliss. For the best sugar high,
’ toffee and butterscotch fudge in a hidden nook of the Third Street Farmer’s Market cannot be beat. It’s almost as good as the heavenly fudge my grandmama makes this time of year.Finally, I want to give a shout-out to my two favorite places to eat on the 5Cs. It shocks me that so many students have never even heard of
The Grove House
, both student-run, organic cafés at Pitzer. The cookies at the Grove House are always perfect, especially when enjoyed on the relaxing, sun-drenched patio. Sometime I’ll see if the Shakedown’s Sensual Sensation Salad full of pears, walnuts, bleu cheese, and a sweet maple dressing could really win over my crush’s heart. It would certainly make me fall in love.
Au revoir everybody for the next few months! I expect you all to try these outstanding little restaurants that best exemplify what I look for when eating in this wonderful culinary area. They need your help to survive—and you need their food, because it is just so delicious.