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Posts Tagged ‘downtown l.a.’

Pupusas in Grand Central Market

March 27, 2011 1 comment

Grand Central Market is a landmark in downtown L.A..  Not as widely known as the L.A. Farmers Market, it is a bustling gem of an open air market set amidst historic architecture.  Each aisle seemingly teleports you to a different region of the world.  My pioneering visit got me caught up in Central America, specifically El Salvador.

One of the busiest stalls in the market was Sarita’s Pupuseria.  The prevailing smell was that of wonderfully lard-y corn masa.  I’ve never had El Salvadorean food, so ordering was a bit of a shot in the dark.  Given the name, I knew I had to get a Pupusa.  But I also ordered a tamale as a safety net, and added a fried plantain ball to live on the edge (bungee jumping is next).

I watched as the uni-lingual cook stuffed pork and cheese into a corn masa dough ball (and it wasn’t English she was speaking, a great sign, if you ask me).  It was flattened and griddled on the flat top.  The result was a crispy exterior that yielded to a soft dough with an explosion of savory pork and cheese to complete the package.  Sarita’s Pupusas are complimented well by a side of tangy cabbage slaw.  Awesome!

The fried plantain was a nice surpise.  When plantains are deep fried, they mysteriously form a crispy exterior that resembles a batter.  They are naturally tangy and are, more often than not, served in savory applications.  The one I ordered had a creamy filling that was just sweet enough to make it a very pleasant dessert.  I would definitely order it again.  The safety net was completely unnecessary.  It was a nice tamale, with a slightly different texture than the Mexican version, but nothing special.  Next time I would skip the tamale and order an extra Pupusa.  Or two.

Pupusa hot off the grill!

Deep fried plantain goodness!

Sarita's Pupuseria on Urbanspoon

Culinary Clash #3: L.A.’s Best French Dip

January 27, 2011 5 comments

The French Dip sandwich.  Maybe Los Angeles’s most famous contribution to the culinary world.  Thinly sliced meats lovingly paired with a crusty french roll and served “au jus” (with the natural juices that collect in the pan during cooking).  Usually the bread is dipped prior to serving but some prefer to dip while eating.  Pre-dip or self-dip, the French Dip is a fine example of The Fun Foodie’s mantra, “Less is More”.

There’s not much doubt that this popular sandwich was birthed in L.A..  The controversy comes with trying to figure out exactly which “hospital” gave it its first spank.  A gamut of legends have emerged.  They range from a simple accidental falling of bread into the pan, to the appeasing of a customer complaining about stale bread, to the kindness of a chef helping a patron with sore gums.

Clash #3 is between the two purported originators of the French Dip: Philippe’s and Cole’s.  Both are 100+ year old institutions with ardent defenders.  But that’s where the similarities end.  Philippe’s is bright and bustling, rather large with a casual feel.  Cole’s is dark and subdued, yet cozy with a retro charm.  Philippe’s menu is extensive, offering a wide range of classic American comfort foods.  Cole’s is straightforward, sandwiches and sides.  I take it as a kind of “in your face” brashness that says, “we’re so good at what we do we don’t need to try to be anything else.”

Philippe's pork dip with potato salad.

Philippe’s roasts huge bottom round roasts for their beef dips.  I was shocked to learn that fact on the Travel Channel.  I had already experienced Philippe’s and it was truly one of the best sandwiches I had ever eaten.  The problem is that bottom round is one of the cheapest cuts of beef you can buy.  And for good reason: it is awful.  The flavor is bland at best (livery, usually), and it is a terribly tough and dry piece of meat (a heavily worked muscle at the animal’s hind quarters with little fat).  I have no idea what Philippe’s does, but they do it right.  They somehow transform a bargain cut into something fit for gourmet consumption.  All it needs is a touch of their house-made hot mustard (be careful, it is really hot!).  As awesome as the beef dip is, we actually like the pork dip even more (they also offer ham, lamb and turkey).

Cole’s uses a much better cut of beef, the brisket.  It is the go-to slab for corned beef, pastrami and Texas BBQ.  It has big, beefy flavor and melt-in-your-mouth succulence when cooked properly (low and slow).  Most foodies would agree that this would give Cole’s the upper hand right off the bat.  I walked into their historic building expecting a clash of titan proportions.  But it wasn’t really that close.  Cole’s beef dip was good.  Very good, in fact.  The meat was tender and flavorful, the bread had that classic crusty exterior, and the “jus” was nice.  Philippe’s is just better in every facet of “French Dip-ology”.

Cole's beef dip. Good, but not quite good enough.

Philippe’s array of creamy side salads are all very good.  Plus, you can get a good cup of coffee for nine cents!  At Cole’s, we had their bacon potato salad, which was extremely good.  If this had been a potato salad clash, Cole’s would’ve scored a knock out.  But this was a battle of L.A.’s finest, the famous French Dip.  Regardless of who actually invented it…

Philippe’s is the best.  Hands down.

Philippe the Original on Urbanspoon

Cole's on Urbanspoon

Nickel Diner (Part 2)

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment
Yes, research is ongoing for The Fun Foodie.  Just wanted to share the latest findings at the downtown L.A. gem, Nickel Diner (read my original review here).  We didn’t sit down this time.  They are very gracious to pack up their sweet treats to go.  I think they do it often.

Red Velvet Donuts. A very enjoyable pastry cream, but not any legit "red velvetiness" going on (more on the Red Velvet craze in a coming cupcake clash). Still, a great donut!

The Maple Bacon and Nutella donuts were as awesome as I remembered. The Strawberry Crumble was a bit too fake tasting for me.

Their apple-filled house-made Pop Tart is many times better than what we all thought was so wonderful as kids!

Nickel Diner

December 8, 2010 2 comments

Amidst the historic buildings and inebriated transients of downtown L.A., you’ll find a smattering of world-famous eateries that have been around since The Great Depression.  I’m not sure about the history of Nickel Diner, but its retro look makes it at least seem like it’s been there forever.  A good chunk of downtown has undergone a successful gentrification, but the block that Nickel Diner calls home is definitely not part of that process.  But you would be truly missing out on a gem if you let the surroundings intimidate you.  It’s not as bad as it might look to those unaccustomed to big city woes.  Rarely does anything worse happen than someone asking you for some spare change.  If that’s not encouragement enough to give Nickel Diner a try, take a look at this: 

Maple Bacon Donut with Nutella Donut in the background.

Brioche French Toast with house-made jam.

You read that right, Maple Bacon Donut!  Weird, I know, but think of the salty-sweet goodness of a HoneyBaked Ham, plus the pillow-plush luxury of yeast-risen dough.  Much more substantial and a bit more dense than a Krispy Kreme donut, Nickel’s creative pairing is magic!  The contrast in textures and tastes just works.  Please, trust me.  You must try one before you die.  The Nutella Donut is quite awesome, too.  The added crunch of the crushed hazelnuts is yet another testament to the fearless innovation of the folks at Nickel Diner.  I must return to try the Strawberry Crumble and Red Velvet donuts.  I would go tomorrow if it weren’t for that pesky obligation called a job.

And The Fun Couple makes yet another great French Toast find!  Brioche is a flaky and rich french bread that is a cross between a pastry and a yeast bread.  Nickel takes cinnamon brioche, lightly batters it, griddles to a perfect golden crispiness and serves with butter and house-made jam.  The strawberry-pear-rhubarb jam (I had to ask) was absolutely the best preserved fruit spread I’ve ever had!  I think they fill their homemade pop tarts with it.  Yeah, they make those, too.  Wanna go, dontcha?

We also shared the “Fifth and Main”, spicy BBQ pork hash with two poached eggs.  The shredded pork was tender, but the BBQ sauce was a bit on the sweet side for our tastes (not bad, though).  It did have a nice kick and was paired nicely with the fried potatoes.  The eggs helped tone down everything.  Nice meal, but probably not one we’d order again.  The coffee was good.  So was the service.

Our breakfast came out to be just over twenty bucks with the tax and tip.  My wallet thanked me.  My circulatory system, not so much.  With an ungodly rush of sugar and pork coursing through my system, I could hear my heart whisper:

“I know you hurt me because you love me.”

Nickel Diner on Urbanspoon