Category Archives: Toluca Lake

The 10 Best Things I Consumed in 2020

This past year was brutal for all of us, and the restaurant industry was hit especially hard. Like many of you, I have tried my best to support the eateries I love by ordering take-out or delivery. Plus I think we all need delicious comfort food now more than ever to make us feel better and provide a sense of normalcy. As in prior years, I have put together a list of my favorite ten dishes I wrote about (mostly via Instagram lately) during the past year. Here’s hoping for a happier and healthier new year!

Ube Creme Caramel (in the center) from Creme Caramel LA.

10. Ube Creme Caramel from Creme Caramel LA. This Filipino-inspired dessert shop specializes in different flavors of crème caramel. All are amazing but the Ube (purple yam) flavor is my favorite.

Bagels from Maury’s

9. Bagels from Maury’s. We are in the midst of a bagel renaissance in L.A. and these are some of the best. They are ideally consumed hot out of the oven with a scallion cream cheese schmear.

Crispy Soft Shell Crab from Rustic Spoon

8. Crispy Soft Shell Crab from Rustic Spoon. Crunchy, salty and crabilicious, this is my favorite dish at my favorite Valley Thai eatery. It’s served on a bed of Papaya Salad with a sugary Plum Sauce on the side.

Cheeseburger Potstickers from Ms Chi Cafe

7. Cheeseburger Potstickers from Ms Chi Cafe. These jumbo fusion dumplings made with Ground Chuck Roast, Diced Onion and Shredded Cheddar Cheese, and served with Tomato-bacon Jam, were a winning dish for Chef Shirley Chung on Top Chef.

Fried Clam Basket from Connie and Ted’s

6. Fried Clam Basket from Connie and Ted’s. Whole Belly Ipswich Clams are hard to find in LA., and the ones fried up at Chef Michael Cimarusti’s New England-themed restaurant are wicked good!

Bee Sting Pizza with Tomato, Soppressata, Chile, Honey and Basil from Roberta’s

5. Bee Sting Pizza from Roberta’s. Brooklyn’s most hipsterish pizza joint has expanded into Culver City, and this spicy, doughy, cheesy and slightly sweet work of culinary art is not to be missed.

Bread Pudding from B Sweet Dessert Bar

4. Bread Pudding from B Sweet Dessert Bar. In addition to her other incredible offerings, talented pastry chef Barb Batiste serves a rotating selection of 50+ hot bread puddings, each with its own accompanying sauce. My favorites are Salted Caramel, Glazed Donut, Banana Chocolate and Pumpkin.

Lobster Risotto from Melisse x Citrin

3. Lobster Risotto from Melisse x Citrin. There is no better place on the Westside to splurge for a special occasion. This fine dining establishment’s fixed price menu of gourmet delights changes every week and, when ordered to go, includes instructions on assembling each course at home. This heavenly Risotto was from their “Lobster, Lobster, Lobster” set menu.

Dulce de Leche Besito Cookies from Porto’s Bakery

2. Dulce de Leche Besito Cookies from Porto’s Bakery. “Besito” means “kiss” in Spanish and I am head-over-heels in love with these Cuban buttery cookies filled with gooey thick caramel and dusted with powdered sugar.

Uni Pizza with Santa Barbara Uni, Uni Cream Butter, Mushrooms and Truffle Oil from The Joint Eatery

Uni Pizza from The Joint Eatery. This gourmet seafood restaurant and market offers a seafood-themed pizza on Sundays. Every version of this pizza I’ve ordered there has been amazing, but the one that they occasionally make with Uni, Mushrooms and Truffle Oil is transcendent. It’s the best thing I consumed in 2020.

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Filed under Burbank, Culver City, Downey, Glendale, North Hollywood, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, Silverlake, Toluca Lake, Valley Village, West Covina, West Hollywood, West LA

The 10 Best Burger Joints in Los Angeles

Cassell's Hamburgers
If there’s one food that we excel at in Los Angeles, it’s hamburgers. There are no shortage of excellent eateries in this city at which to celebrate the holy marriage of grilled meat patty and bun, preferably with a thick slice of melted cheese, a whole mess of sautéed onions and a couple strips of bacon in between. It has been a life-long mission of mine to identify the very best of these local burger establishments. Here are my top ten favorites:

"The Burger" from Golden State with Harris Ranch Beef, Fiscalini Farms Cheddar,  Applewood Smoked Bacon, Arugula and Ketchup

“The Burger” from Golden State with Harris Ranch Beef, Fiscalini Farms Cheddar, Applewood Smoked Bacon, Arugula and Ketchup

10. The Golden State (426 N. Fairfax, Los Angeles) This little gem lies in the middle of all the hip hop shops and Jewish bakeries on Fairfax. All ingredients in their awesome burgers and other menu items are locally sourced from California including high-end Harris Ranch beef and award-winning Fiscalini cheddar.

Piku "Fig" Burger from Pono Burger with Housemade Drunken Caramelized Fig Jam, Organic Beef Patty, Fermier Brie Cheese, Niman Ranch Bacon and Crushed Hazelnuts

Piku “Fig” Burger from Pono Burger with Housemade Drunken Caramelized Fig Jam, Organic Beef Patty, Fermier Brie Cheese, Niman Ranch Bacon and Crushed Hazelnuts

9. Pono Burger (829 Broadway, Santa Monica) The funky looking metal structure that houses this joint (it looks like a mini airplane hanger) will draw you in. The Hawaiian-style burgers, sweet potato fries and salted caramel shakes will keep you coming back.

Chef Katsu's Original California Roll Hamburger with Snow Crab Salad, Avocado, Sushi Ginger, Boston Lettuce, Tomato, Nori, and Wasabi-Shoyu-Mayonnaise

Chef Katsu’s Original California Roll Hamburger with Snow Crab Salad, Avocado, Sushi Ginger, Boston Lettuce, Tomato, Nori, and Wasabi-Shoyu-Mayonnaise

8. 26 Beach Restaurant (3100 W. Washington Blvd in Venice) There are several places that have an extensive menu of over-the-top themed burgers such as a Peanut Butter & Jelly Burger. 26 Beach is the best of that lot. They are especially known for their “Sushi Burgers” including a California Roll Burger, and Spicy Tuna Burger and a Mori Eel Burger.

Cheese Burger from Pie 'n Burger with Homemade Thousand Island Dressing, Pickles and Lettuce

Cheese Burger from Pie ‘n Burger with Homemade Thousand Island Dressing, Pickles and Lettuce

7. Pie ‘n Burger (913 E. California Blvd, Pasadena) This old school diner with a long winding counter is a mandatory stop for me when I go to the Rose Bowl or am otherwise in Pasadena. As you can glean from the restaurant’s name, you’re missing out if you don’t order both a hamburger and a slice of one of their amazing pies.

Griddled Cheese Burger from Ledlow with American and Cheddar Cheeses, Red Onion, Dill Pickle, Dijon and Garlic Aioli

Griddled Cheeseburger from Ledlow with American and Cheddar Cheeses, Red Onion, Dill Pickle, Dijon and Garlic Aioli

6. Ledlow (400 S. Main St in Downtown) The newest restaurant of local superstar chef Josef Centeno (Baco Mercat, Bar Ama, Orsa & Winston), Ledlow is more than just a burger joint. However, their Griddled Cheeseburger seems to be the speciality of the house and has quickly drawn much-deserved acclaim from LA foodies.

Double Double from In-N-Out Burger

Double Double from In-N-Out Burger

5. In-N-Out (all over Los Angeles) Yes, it’s a fast food chain, but don’t hold that against it. At $3.60, the Double Double is the best deal in town and is better than most of the pricey burgers at nice restaurants. I like to add toppings from their secret menu, including chilies, grilled onions and pickles.

Hickory Burger from The Apple Pan

Hickory Burger from The Apple Pan

4. The Apple Pan (10801 W. Pico Blvd in Westwood) This 68-year-old diner is an LA landmark. All seating is at a U-shaped counter, where you’re served by uber-efficient grumpy old men. It’s super fun, especially late at night, and their Hickory Burgers are awesome.

Cheeseburger from Belcampo with Dry Aged Grass Fed Beef with Cheddar and Caramelized Onions

Cheeseburger from Belcampo with Dry Aged Grass Fed Beef with Cheddar and Caramelized Onions

3. Belcampo Meat Co (317 S Broadway in Downtown; also 1026 Wilshire Blvd in Santa Monica) It’s perhaps more of a gourmet butcher shop than a burger joint, but the cheeseburgers sold at this stall in Grand Central Market are phenomenal. They’re made with a special Wagyu-Angus meat blend and are served on fresh sesame seed buns. Belcampo just opened a fancier restaurant in Santa Monica where you can also get a burger, but I’m partial to the ones served downtown.

The Hatch Burger from Umami Burger with Roasted Hatch Chilies, House Cali Cheese and Roasted Garlic Aioli

The Hatch Burger from Umami Burger with Roasted Hatch Chilies, House Cali Cheese and Roasted Garlic Aioli

2. Umami Burger (multiple locations) In a short period of time, this revolutionary burger restaurant has expanded into a ubiquitous chain throughout Los Angeles and has been widely emulated. Their burgers are made from specially seasoned meat blends and their Portuguese-style buns are sweetened with milk and honey. It’s a toss up for me as to which of their burgers is the best: the decedent truffle burger or the spicy hatch burger made with four types of green chilies.

Cheese Burger from Cassell's Hamburgers with House Ground Prime Beef Patty and Cheddar Cheese on a Parker House Bun.

Cheeseburger from Cassell’s Hamburgers with House Ground Prime Beef Patty and Cheddar Cheese on a Parker House Bun.

1. Cassell’s Hamburgers (3600 W 6th St in Koreatown) This is my new favorite burger joint in LA. First established in 1948, this restaurant recently reopened in a cool retro space in the historic Hotel Normandie. Now under new ownership, their burgers have some similarities to the ones which made Cassell’s an LA institution, but are significantly improved. They are now the perfect combination of gourmet excellence and classic style.

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Filed under Burbank, Canoga Park, Downtown, Fairfax, Glendale, Hermosa Beach, Hollywood, Inglewood, Koreatown, Los Feliz, Marina del Rey, Mid-City, North Hollywood, Northridge, Panorama City, Pasadena, Porter Ranch, Redondo Beach, Santa Monica, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Toluca Lake, Tujunga, Van Nuys, Venice, West LA, Westlake Village, Westwood, Woodland Hills

Dog Day Afternoon

Umami Chili Dog
In the age old power struggle of hot dog vs hamburger, Umami Burger finally throws a bone to wieners. Umami Burbank, the 17th location of the ubiquitous chain, has all of the eatery’s usual hamburger offerings, but also specializes in hot dogs. The inspiration for this frankfurter focus is Umami Burbank’s locale, the former digs of Papoo’s Hot Dog Show, a Burbank/Toluca Lake institution that shuttered a couple years ago after a 62-year run.

Just like Papoo’s, Umami Burbank offers seven different hot dogs and a specialty burger called the Show Burger. These dogs have a lot in common with Umami’s signature burgers: a delicious proprietary blend of meats, a brioche bun sweetened with milk and honey, and many of the same delicious toppings. Hot dog versions of Umami burger specialities include the Truffle Dog, the spicy Hatch Dog and my favorite, the Manly Dog with beer-cheddar cheese, minced bacon, onion strings, house ketchup and mustard spread. And if you’re looking for something entirely new, check out the tasty Chili Dog or the gourmet corn dog called “The Burb.”

In further tribute to Papoo’s, Umami Burbank retained much of its building’s exterior, as well as some of the interior’s mid-century design, which it classed up with a chandelier, tufted leather booths and bar stools, damask wallpaper and large framed photographs of large dogs. There’s also a nice patio to dine in when it’s not a thousand degrees outside; perfect for that low-key pitch meeting with an exec from nearby Warner Bros., NBC Universal or Disney.

Umami Burbank is located at 4300 W. Riverside Drive in Burbank.

Looks a lot like Papoo's Hot Dog Show

The former location of Papoo’s Hot Dog Show


The Manly Dog with beer-cheddar cheese, minced bacon, onion strings, house ketchup and mustard spread

The Manly Dog with beer-cheddar cheese, minced bacon, onion strings, house ketchup and mustard spread


The Truffle Dog with roasted garlic aioli, house truffle cheese and truffle infused port onions

The Truffle Dog with roasted garlic aioli, house truffle cheese and truffle infused port onions


The Original Dog with roasted tomato, crispy parmesan and caramelized onions

The Original Dog with roasted tomato, crispy parmesan and caramelized onions


The Show Burger with Hak's BBQ sauce, onion strings, minced bacon and beer cheese

The Show Burger with Hak’s BBQ sauce, onion strings, minced bacon and beer cheese


Fried Pickles with Jalapeno Ranch

Fried Pickles with Jalapeno Ranch


Peanut Butter Cakewich

Peanut Butter Cakewich


PB&J Ice Cream Sandwich

PB&J Ice Cream Sandwich


Burgers and beer at the bar

The Bar


Back Patio

The Patio



Umami Burger on Urbanspoon

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Who Salted My Caramel?


Maybe it’s just a trend, but it seems as if in the past few years, most caramel desserts have become “salted caramel” desserts. Not that I’m complaining. I love the combination of salty and sweet. Salt enhances the rich, buttery flavor of caramel and takes it to a whole new level. Lately, I just can’t get enough of this delectable flavor. Here (in no particular order) are my ten favorite salted caramel desserts in Los Angeles:

Salted Caramel Cutie Pie from Simplethings Sandwich and Pie Shop

1. Salted Caramel Cutie Pie from Simplethings Sandwich and Pie Shop (8310 W. 3rd St, Los Angeles) This is my favorite of the dozen different miniature pies baked at Simplethings. It’s the perfect tiny dessert and I can eat a whole one in three bite. They’re available Wednesday through Saturday each week.

Salted Caramel Cupcake from Lark Cake Shop

2. Salted Caramel Cupcake from Lark Cake Shop (3337 W Sunset Blvd in Silverlake) Salted Caramel Cupcakes can be found at several bakeries in Los Angeles but this one is my favorite. It’s a moist white cake topped with an incredibly delicious not-too-sweet salted caramel frosting.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream from Sweet Rose Creamery

3. Salted Caramel Ice Cream from Sweet Rose Creamery (225 26th Street, Santa Monica) Sweet Rose Creamery in the Brentwood Country Mart makes some of the best small batch, artisanal ice cream in the city and Salted Caramel is my favorite flavor here. For maximum enjoyment, have them sprinkle sea salt on top.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwich from Carmela Ice Cream

4. Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sandwich from Carmela Ice Cream (2495 E. Washington Blvd, Pasadena) Carmela Ice Cream also makes amazing Salted Caramel Ice Cream; it’s one of their signature flavors. It’s especially good sandwiched between two dark chocolate cookies with sea salt sprinkled on top.

Salted Caramel Bar from Huckleberry Cafe and Bakery

5. Salted Caramel Bar from Huckleberry Cafe and Bakery (1014 Wilshire Blvd, Santa Monica) Dense and chewy with a delicious buttery crust, this is one of the best things on the menu at Huckleberry. It’s half candy, half pastry and the perfect companion to a latte or cappuccino.

Salted Caramel Macaron from ‘Lette Macarons

6. Salted Caramel Macaron from ‘Lette Macarons (9466 Charleville Blvd in Beverly Hills, 122 N. Larchmont Blvd in LA and 14 S. Fair Oaks Ave in Pasadena) French macarons are the “it” dessert right now and ‘Lette makes amazing ones including this delicate, sweet and slightly salty beauty. C’est Magnifique!

Salted Caramel Brownie from Sweetsalt Food Shop

7. Salted Caramel Brownie from Sweetsalt Food Shop (10218 Riverside Dr, Toluca Lake) With a name like “Sweetsalt,” you pretty much need to have a good salted caramel dessert and this brownie lives up to the expectation. It’s fudgy and chewy, and baked with large dollop of salted caramel.

Caramels with Maldon Sea Salt and Toasted Cashews from Sunny Spot

8. Caramels with Maldon Sea Salt and Toasted Cashews from Sunny Spot (822 Washington Blvd in Venice) You gotta love a dessert consisting simply of yummy hunks of buttery candy sprinkled with chopped cashew nuts and maldon salt. It’s the perfect decadent way to end a meal at Roy Choi’s awesome Caribbean-inspired eatery.

Salted Caramel Cookie from Olive & Thyme

9. Salted Caramel Cookie from Olive & Thyme (4013 Riverside Dr, Toluca Lake) The perfect marriage of chocolate and caramel. Thick and creamy salted caramel sauce sandwiched between two delicate dark chocolate wafers, one of which has a large hole to prominently feature the salted caramel goodness.

Salted Caramel Pot de Creme from Stella Rossa Pizza Bar

10. Salted Caramel Pot de Creme from Stella Rossa Pizza Bar (2000 Main Street, Santa Monica) While Gjelina, Bottega Louie and Mozza have their Butterscotch Budinos, Stella Rossa‘s pudding is a Salted Caramel Pot de Creme. It’s outstanding and a must-have even if you think you’re too full for dessert.

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Filed under Beverly Hills, Larchmont, Mid-City, Pasadena, Santa Monica, Silverlake, Toluca Lake, Venice