Monthly Archives: February 2012

Sunny Delight

Roy Choi is my hero. After being laid off from his then-current chef position, classically-trained Choi did the unimaginable: he and a couple friends leased a food truck and began selling tacos filled with Korean BBQ in the streets of Los Angeles. Choi’s Kogi BBQ truck launched the modern food truck movement, which now has thousands of food trucks across the country tweeting their whereabouts and introducing people to all kinds of creative dishes and exotic cuisines. Not one to rest on his laurels, Choi has built a food empire in three short years that consists of five Kogi BBQ trucks and four amazing Los Angeles restaurants: The Alibi Room, Chego, A-Frame and his newest place, Sunny Spot in Venice.

I visited Sunny Spot recently with friends and fellow bloggers Angela and Mark from I Flip For Food and was blown away by Choi’s latest creation. Sunny Spot is a Caribbean-inspired “roadside cookshop.” Think hipster cocktail bar meets kitschy Caribbean beach shack, but with amazing food. It’s a festive atmosphere. The bar serves up rum-based cocktails such as the Dry Harbour (pot still rum, lime, absinthe and habanero pineapple shrub) and the San Juan Sling (white rum, cherry brandy, Angostura, Benedictine and lime), while the kitchen serves up small plates of sweet and savory goodness.

We started our dinner with Pineapple Lollipops, sweet spears of fresh pineapple liberally sprinkled with chili salt; a simple but tasty appetizer that I will no doubt replicate at home. Because of the name alone, I knew we would have to order the Muh-F*K*N Mofongo, a stew made with overripe plantains, bacon, garlic and black pepper. Plantains and bacon are two of my favorite things and not surprisingly, I absolutely loved this dish. Another winning menu item was the Sugar Cane Fried Pigs Feet, which were deliciously crispy, salty and fatty. The Sugar Scotch Bonnet Short Ribs (pictured above) were finger-lickin’ good!

Any respectable Caribbean-themed joint has got to have goat and Choi’s Slow Roasted G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) with Lettuce Wedges and Pickled Mango was pretty tasty. But my absolute favorite dish was the Cuban Torta with Pork Terrine, Prosciutto, Provolone, Pickled Jalapeno and Mustard. It was one of the best sandwiches I have ever had and I’ve craved it often since my visit to Sunny Spot. To end this incredible meal, we had an awesome dessert called “We Be Yammin,” which was a sweet potato tart with a walnut crust and toasted marshmallow ice cream, as well as a plate of decadent and delectable Housemade Caramels sprinkled with Maldon salt and crushed toasted cashews. Good stuff, Mon!

Sunny Spot is located at 822 Washington Blvd. on the Venice/Marina del Rey border.

Muh-F*K*N Mofongo

Sugar Cane Fried Pigs Feet

Slow Roasted G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) with Lettuce Wedges and Pickled Mango

Cuban Torta with Pork Terrine, Prosciutto, Provolone, Pickled Jalapeno & Mustard

Broiled Yellowtail Collar

We Be Yammin (Sweet Potato Tart with Walnut Crust and Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream)

Housemade Caramels with Maldon Salt and Toasted Cashews

Yummy Cocktails

Sunny Spot on Urbanspoon

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Filed under Marina del Rey, Venice

Little Osaka’s Groovy New Gastropub

What do you get when you pair a former Umami Burger executive chef with a local real estate developer turned restauranteur who takes inspiration from a municipal office charged with overseeing construction? You get Plan Check Kitchen + Bar, a great new gastropub which officially opens today in the Westside’s Japanese restaurant mecca known as Little Osaka. Plan Check is located adjacent to the Department of Building and Safety, which inspired Plan Check’s name and industrial-chic decor. Once you’ve been seated, the hostess carries out the theme further by stamping part of the drink menu onto the paper covering your table, using a large ink stamp like the ones used next door to approve architectural plans.

Besides its unique building plan approval motif, a couple things distinguish Plan Check from most of its neighbors on Sawtelle. First of all, although there is house-made yuzu soda and a dish made with rockshrimp tempura, this isn’t a Japanese restaurant. Plan Check serves elevated versions of traditional American comfort foods like Burgers and Fries, Pot Roast and Fried Chicken with exotic and unusual touches. Their eponymous burger is made with Akaushi Red Wagyu Beef and “Americanized” cheese, served on a crunch bun, and dressed with a strip of ketchup leather (like a fruit roll-up), savory onions and house-made pickles. It’s delicious, as is their “Pastrami Nosh” (pictured above), which has double smoked pastrami, Swiss cheese, kimchi mustard, pickles and is served with a fried egg on top. I also recommend the PC Tots (tater tots stuffed with cheddar and parmesan cheeses), which are served with smoked milk gravy and, upon request, an amazing house-made ketchup.

Another thing that sets Plan Check apart from most of the other eateries in Little Osaka is its cool bar and array of fun and tasty cocktails. You can order a Spaghetti Western (made with Vida Mezcal, Tapatio, Red Bell Pepper, Lime, Agave and Beer), a High & Low (which I assume is named after one of my favorite Akira Kurosawa films and is made with Zaya Rum, Fino Sherry, Cointreau and Grenadine), or one of their house-made sodas spiked with “moonshine.” Plan Check is as much a bar as a restaurant and is a great place to meet friends for drinks on the Westside. Whether you’re there for lunch, dinner or a late-night drink, I highly recommend getting dessert. The Cruller Donuts, which are cooked to order and served with cream and fresh bananas, are not to be missed.

Plan Check Kitchen + Bar is located at 1800 Sawtelle Blvd. in West LA.

Warm Crab Dip with dynamite sauce, masago, blistered tomato and toast

Plan Check Burger with Akaushi Red Wagyu Beef, Americanized cheese, ketchup leather, savory onions, mixed pickles and crunch bun

PC Tots with cheddar and parmesan cheeses, served with smoked milk gravy

Cruller Donuts cooked to order with cream and bananas

Banana and Dulce de Leche Ice Cream Bar

A cool bar with fun cocktails

A great new addition to Little Osaka

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Plan Check Kitchen + Bar (opens 22 Feb 2012) on Urbanspoon


Filed under West LA

14 Best Peanut Butter Treats In LA

I am a peanut butter fanatic, a peanut butter fiend, a peanut butter junkie. I am nuts about peanut butter and I love it more than almost anything else. If a restaurant or bakery has a peanut butter dessert on the menu, I automatically order it. And I always keep a jar at home in the fridge for snacking or adding to other desserts. After years of dedicated research, I share with you my 14 favorite peanut butter treats in Los Angeles (in no particular order).

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cream Cookie from Xtreme Desserts

1. Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cream Cookie from Xtreme Desserts (11990 Ventura Blvd., Studio City) A peanut butter cream cheese filling sandwiched between two soft chocolate chip cookies with chocolate ganache drizzled on top. One of the best things ever!

Peanut Butter Meringue Pie from Pie 'n Burger

2. Peanut Butter Meringue Pie from Pie ‘n Burger (913 E. California in Pasadena) This is one awesome pie. Creamy and delicious peanut butter pudding in a delcious butter crust topped with meringue. They serve it every other day, alternating with Butterscotch Meringue Pie.

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream from Mashti Malone's

3. Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream from Mashti Malone’s Ice Cream (1525 N. La Brea Ave. in Hollywood) Rich and creamy with chunks of peanut butter and chocolate. It’s surprising that a store famous for their Persian rosewater ice creams and sorbets would make the best peanut butter ice cream in the city, but they do!

The Huell from Stan's Doughnuts

4. The Huell from Stan’s Doughnuts (10948 Weyburn Ave. in Westwood) Stan’s actually makes three amazing peanut butter doughnuts: a Peanut Butter & Banana Doughnut, a PB&J Doughnut and “The Huell,” with chocolate chips and peanut butter, named after local TV celebrity Huell Howser.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Macaron from 'Lette Macarons

5. Peanut Butter and Jelly Macaron from ‘Lette Macarons (9466 Charleville Boulevard in Beverly Hills, 333 S Alameda Street in Downtown and 14 S. Fairoaks Ave. in Pasadena) The exciting marriage of a simple childhood favorite with a refined French pastry. Tastes really good too!

Peanut Butter Chip Cupcake from Sprinkles Cupcakes

6. Peanut Butter Chip Cupcake from Sprinkles Cupcakes (9635 S. Santa Monica Blvd. in Beverly Hills) My all-time favorite cupcake. Chocolate chip-studded peanut butter cake with peanut butter frosting covered in chocolate sprinkles. They only have them on Tuesdays and Sundays.

Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Cakewich from Cake Monkey

7. Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Cakewich from Cake Monkey Bakery (available in all Umami Burger locations as well as other restaurants and gourmet shops) Yummy yellow cake sandwich filled with peanut buttercream, housemade marshmallow and coated with bittersweet chocolate.

Pnut Butter Puff from The Groovy Gourmet Pnut Butter Bar Truck

8. Pnut Butter Puff from The Groovy Gourmet Pnut Butter Bar Truck Los Angeles has its own peanut butter-themed gourmet food truck and this sinful confection is their speciality. It’s like a large fluffy peanut butter beignet and is topped with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich from Down Beat Cafe

9. Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich from Down Beat Cafe (10202 N. Alvarado St. in Echo Park) This funky hipster coffee shop bakes the best crispy peanut butter cookies in the city. They take two cookies and make a sandwich with a filling of peanut butter. Super delicious.

Peanut Butter Icebox Pie from Magnolia Bakery

10. Peanut Butter Icebox Pie from Magnolia Bakery (8389 W. 3rd Street in Mid-City) This is one of several peanut butter offerings from one of my favorite bakeries in the city. It has a super light, creamy and delicious filling which sits atop a denser crust. I can devour a slice in about five seconds flat.

Peanut Butter Stuffed Mochi from Fugetsu-Do

11. Peanut Butter Stuffed Mochi from Fugetsu-Do (315 E. 1st St. in Little Tokyo/Downtown) This sweet shop has some of the best mochi in town and my favorites are these soft and chewy mochi disks stuffed with peanut butter. It’s the Japanese equivalent of an Abba Zabba bar!

Deep Fried Fluffer Nutter with Fresh Bananas from Black Market Liquor Bar

12. Deep Fried Fluffer Nutter with Fresh Bananas from Black Market Liquor Bar (11915 Ventura Blvd. in Studio City) Top Chef’s Antonia Lofaso has created this dessert sandwich of peanut butter, marshmallow and bananas on sweet brioche, which is covered with panko bread crumbs and deep fried until golden. It’s wicked good!

Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar from Joan's on Third

13. Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar from Joan’s on Third (8350 W. 3rd St. in Mid-City) Joan’s on Third makes amazing baked goods and this dense peanut butter bar with jam on top is no exception. It’s the perfect combination of sweet and salty, and excellent with a cold glass of milk.

Peanut Butter Pinkberry

14. Peanut Butter Pinkberry (numerous locations) Pinkberry hit it out of the park with their rich and luscious peanut butter flavor! Try it with the peanut butter crunch topping, strawberries and a dollop of jelly. They don’t carry this flavor at all locations (what’s with that?!), so call first.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwich

HONORABLE MENTION: Diddy Riese Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwich (926 Broxton Ave. in Westwood) There always seems to be a line outside Diddy Riese, which bakes up delicious cookies. I love their ice cream sandwich made with Dreyer’s Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream and peanut butter cookies. At $1.75, the price can’t be beat!

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Diddy Riese Cookies on Urbanspoon

UPDATE: The Groovy Gourmet Pnut Butter Bar Truck is no longer on the streets. Xtreme Desserts closed their Studio City store, but you can find their Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cream Cookies at many LA locations including Crave in Sherman Oaks and Studio City.


Filed under Beverly Hills, Downtown, Echo Park, Food Trucks, Hollywood, Mid-City, Pasadena, Studio City, Westwood

The Fastest Pizza In the West

I am a huge fan of Umami Burger and what they’ve done to elevate the common hamburger. So when I heard that Umami creator Adam Fleischman’s next venture would involve pizza, I was giddy with anticipation. 800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria finally opened in Westwood Village last month. It’s a cool looking restaurant and I love the concept: assembly line pizzas that are custom made on the spot with high quality ingredients. It’s kind of like Subway, but nicer and with pizzas instead of sub sandwiches. After your pizza is assembled, it goes into a super-hot 800 degree oven where it fully cooks in about 60 seconds. You can also design your own burrata cheese appetizer or salad. Sounds great, right?

But here’s the problem: as much as I wanted to love 800 Degrees, I didn’t particularly care for the pizza. First of all, I didn’t like the crust. There’s a sign when you walk in advising that the crust is intentionally not crisp, but soft and chewy. I don’t mind soft and chewy, but the center of the crust was very soggy and I just didn’t like its flavor. Furthermore, I don’t recommend taking out unless you like cold pizza because apparently the quick cooking time results in a very quick cooling time. I did like the toppings, especially the freshly cut meats and the pappadew peppers, but I thought 800 Degrees was too stingy with their dispersement. If a pizzeria is going to charge you for a topping, it should make sure you’re getting at least a piece of such topping on each slice, which was not the case with some of the pizzas I got.

Nevertheless, I predict great success for this future chain due in great part to the fact that the food is priced very inexpensively. Pizzas are only $5 or $6 plus $1 per topping. The pizzeria is located right near UCLA and it’s already a big hit with the budget-minded students. Since it just opened, I’ll check it out again in a few months to see if I like it any better.

800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria is located at 10889 Lindbrook Ave., Los Angeles (in Westwood Village).

The assembly line

Burrata with Caponata and Pine Nuts

Tartufo Pizza with truffle cheese, roasted mushrooms, caramelized garlic and arugula

Gelato for dessert

800 Degrees Neapolitan Pizzeria on Urbanspoon


Filed under Westwood

Attack Of The Killer Burrito

It’s surprising that until a few weeks ago, I’d never been to Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac Cafe in Boyle Heights. Serving up traditional Mexican food since 1955, El Tepeyac is an LA institution known for its legendary “Hollenbeck Burrito.” The restaurant was suggested to me by my friend Frank Buckley, anchor extraordinaire of the KTLA 5 Morning News, who does not play jazz flute like Ron Burgundy, but does knows a thing or two about good food. While Frank had heard about El Tepeyac, he too had never actually been there so we decided to check it out together to see if the burritos lived up to the hype.

Walking into El Tepeyac was like walking back in time into a different era. The restaurant is a small and lively diner packed to the gills with affable Angelenos of all races, ages, shapes and sizes. Presiding over the party is diminutive (in stature only) 78-year-old owner Manny Rojas, who arrives for work at the restaurant at 3am every morning and stays until early afternoon. Manny is incredibly charming and treats all of his customers as if they are his family or close friends. He loves to flirt with the ladies and greets many of his female customers with a kiss, while he welcomes the male clientele with a warm handshake or a hug. Manny poured Frank and me shots of tequilla from his private reserve and regaled us with stories of his youth interspersed with bits of his life philosophy. He is quite the character and no doubt a large contributing factor to the restaurant’s success.

But the food is also a huge draw at El Tepeyac, especially the delicious burritos that we devoured. My favorite was the Machaca Hollenbeck Burrito (pictured above), which contained shredded beef, sautéed onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, eggs, melted cheddar cheese, rice, beans and guacamole and was topped with ranchero sauce. There was a lot going on inside that flour tortilla but it all worked and I loved it! I also really enjoyed the original Hollenbeck, which contained chile verde (pork meat in chili sauce), rice, beans and guacamole and was topped with more chile verde. El Tepeyac has other burritos on its menu as well, including “Manuel’s Special Burritos,” which are ridiculously gigantic six-pound versions of the Hollenbecks. I seriously think that a family of four could come in, order only a single Manuel’s Special Burrito, split it four ways, and each family member would have a filling meal. There is a wide assortment of other Mexican dishes on the menu including huevos rancheros, chile rellenos, tacos, taquitos, tostadas and quesadillas, but the real stars of the show here are the burritos, and of course Manny.

Manuel’s Original El Tepeyac Cafe is located at 812 N. Evergreen Ave., Los Angeles (in Boyle Heights). A second location recently opened at 13131 Crossroads Pkwy South, City of Industry.

Original Hollenbeck Burrito de Chile Verde

Chile Relleno

An LA institution since 1955

Frank and Manny

El Tepeyac Café on Urbanspoon


Filed under Boyle Heights, City of Industry