Finding Food in LA - It's Gonna be a Haul*

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In downtown LA, there is of course, a Chinatown.  Within the Chinatown boundaries are loads of Vietnamese restaurants...which of course is the best of all the Asian cuisines.  Their magic with flavors makes Thai food taste almost dirty, very unsatisfying (unless we're talking Palms in Hollywood which has the best Thai iced tea I've ever had).  I cruised down to Chinatown this past weekend to get some of those big Chinese lanterns for my new place and was immediately overwhelmed by the traffic, smells, people, trinkets, and just damn good looking food visible from every window I strolled past.  But, again...Vietnamese is where it's at*

You gotta cruise all the way down to the end of the main drag before you happen upon one of my faves--Pho something or over.  Could be 666.  Could be 777.  I just know it by looks, really.   They have these intoxicating crispy fried rolls that are most delish when tucked into a leafy piece of lettuce stuffed with basil and mint and then dunked in the super special, super sweet fish sauce.  Best thing ever.

Here's the thing about LA that I'm just gonna have to realize...my fave foodie treats don't really exist much in Marina del Rey. I'm gonna have to venture far and wide to appease my cravings.  Persian over there, Mexican over here, Lebanese down there, etc...which is a slightly tough transition from my Chi hood which has every ethnicity in the world within a 10 minute walk of my place in E. Rogers Park.

But...LA does have Indonesian food complete with ymmy Bintang, whole fried fish and sambal out the ying-yang.  Just a few more weeks and I will have it for real, but in the meantime, point 1 for LA!

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Killer El Salvadorean Food in LA: El Guanaco

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So, I have a feeling that the next 4th World Love will be opened in El Salvador (possibly Baja)...you never know which country/people/spirit will strike you and after eating what was possibly one of the Top 5 meals I have ever wolfed down in LA last weekend at a tucked-away storefront El Salvadorean joint in Hollywood, well let's just say that El Salv is looking mighty fine.

There was a smoky chicken tamale, an oozing cheese pupusa con creama, some sassy huevos rancheros and the best super-thick, hand-slapped tortillas EVER.  The whole mess was just over $10 and easily fed two straving bellies.  Reminded me of all my favorite pupuserias in Chicago, up on N. Clark St.  Full as I was after a few bites of the pupusa, I soildered on when the perfect tamale rolled out.  Then came fluffy rice, then came poached huevos, then came an aching belly.  But, such a happy belly.  Joy.  Lot's of it.

El Guanaco Restaurant & Pupuseria
5656 Santa Monica Blvd.

Hit it up.  And, the funny thing is, after breakfast there, later in the day, I headed up to Malibu to get some dessert at this little funky grocery store up there -- all kinds of gourmet things peppering the shelves -- and after spending a wad on practically nothing, I walked away so unfilfilled. 

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

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Santino's on the West Side of LA = The Perfect Little Bar

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I can't believe I'm leaving LA already.  Just when I've found all sorts of amazing places to hang out--places that aren't your typical LA places--I'm back on the road. 

Tomorrow, I'm outta LA, headed south to Kentucky to film this TV show I'm working on.  Much as I'm loving hanging out at Santino's (the coolest little tapas joint on Lincoln in Santa Monica)..it's time to hit the road.  I love movement.  The idea of living in a hotel for a few months is actually not that bad.  And, for real, Louisville is the most adorable town ever.  I never knew it was so hip, so chill, so cool.

I'll be back to LA in December to wrap this show, so I'll have plenty of time to explore the menu again at Santino's.  Check out those chick peas, though. So delish.

More updates soon on the evolution of 4th World Love.  Stay tuned...

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Cantalini's in Playa del Rey and The Best Bar in LA

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Yup, after exhausting El Texate...and I mean beating it down to where if I thought about eating there and/or Mexican food again, I got all looped in the head...I finally stopped in Cantalini's in Playa del Rey. 

This old-school Italian restaurant is perched directly on the edge of my favorite strip of road in LA.  Where PCH picks back up and shoots past Dockweiller on the way to Hermosa Beach. I've driven past it a trillion times and last Sunday me and Lis decided to stop in.  Ahhhh, the bliss.  Perfect al dente pasta; icy cold Peroni; the most incredible double grilled, parmesan coated garlic bread; crispy Caesar salad with thumb-sized croutons; and clams linguine that will blow your mind.

I had to drag Chez in there a few nights ago and after we'd shoved down enough noodles to knock an army out, we swarmed the back bar, a dark hole-in-the-wall called, The Harbor Room.  It's now my new fave bar in LA.  Not that I ever had one before this, but still...

We were just settling down and chillin at the bar when I got into this heated convo with a nice fella named Sandy about Baja.  It was pretty incred that he knew of the same places we did--very remote, lawless places deep down the peninsula.  He was even more blown away than us though---to the tune of calling his sister who lives down that way and waking her up to tell her all about meeting us.  He tossed his cell phone my way--keep in mind it was almost the stroke of midnight--and I could have just chatted with his sis all night.  That's what Mexico lovers do--they gab and gab and gab about all their fave places.   

After Sandy the dentist tore out, we practiced our Spanish on the bartender who happens to be from Oaxaca.  A perfect place--and, one where the beers are $4.50.  I like that they aren't $5 bucks.  I swear that 50 cents makes all the difference in the world. 
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El Texate in Santa Monica = My Fave LA Haunt

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Earlier this year, I was in LA for about 3 months and I had good Mexican one time.  And, that was due to a late-night getting way lost situation in East LA.  Other than that, everything I put into my mouth that was called Mexican was just a huge waste of bites.

Ahhhh, but now I have discovered a small Oaxacan restaurant just around the corner from where I'm staying in Santa Monica called El Texate.  I love, love, love it.  I've been in town about 5 days and have already eaten there 3x.  The waitress is simply stunned/happy every time me and my pals roll in. 

A few reasons why I adore El Texate:

1.  They toss some candles on the table come dinner time, but during the day the big screen TV's are blaring the Olympics.

2.  The mole is for real mole.  There is nothing jarred about this sauce.

3.  The Dos Equis is frosty cold every single time.  Sometimes they have lime, sometimes they don't.

4.  I can practice my Spanish on the waitstaff.  And, it seems as if I know what I am talking about.

5.  The hulking bowl of chicken soup is bar none one of the best things I've tasted.  So homemade.

6.  There is free parking in the back lot and there is never a wait for a table.  Nothing trendy about Texate.

7.  The menu is pages long and every time, it's so hard to decide.  Chayote?  Tortilla soup?  Chile rellenos?

8.  The chips and salsa are insanely addictive and the salsa is pureed down so much that there isn't a trace of what was used to create it.  You could literally drink the stuff.

9.  All the corn tortillas are tiny and homemade.  I doubt they even have flour tortillas.

10.  Three people can spend $70 bones at lunch or $35 at dinner.  Go figure.  Could be those DE's.

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Eating LA

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Lately, I've been complaining about food in LA to anyone who will listen.  Not that there isn't good stuff out there, it's just that you have to haul so far to acquire it.  I'm used to having the world at my feet back in Chicago--every cuisine you can imagine just around the corner.  Not so here in always-perfect LA.  It's all just one big sprawl across dozens of miles and you gotta really be on the lookout to spot a place that isn't So-Cal influenced.  I've almost wrecked a trillion times on my random food quests.

I have to admit, though...I have managed to have some good food--not great, mind-blowing, daydream about it all the livelong day food--but good nonetheless.

There was some fantastic goi cuon (with a Tiger, of course) at a small, jam-packed Vietnamese place in Silverlake; I wolfed some interesting Peruvian food--tofu mixed with french fries and doused in lime--in Burbank (Choza Mama); I inhaled a buffet of Indian goodies washed down with a big fat Kingfisher just off Montana Ave. (with one very new, very confused waitress making a mess of the order); there was some insanely rich shrimp in a bath of cream sauce at a fish place on the edge of Venice (the seared tuna sandwich was even better, though I was sick as a dog after the meal); and I've been privy to a whole lot of faux Mexican. Gross.

Nothing has really made my heart swell here--and I believe it's just because I haven't had time to truly research or explore as I'm used to.  Too much work (which I try not to do), too much fast food (which I never eat), too much orange Fanta (which I never drink), and too much time spent driving all over the place (though traffic is def. not as bad as in Chicago).

I did spy a stretch of eateries along Santa Monica Blvd. today--as I was heading toward Westwood and a bit of Indonesain food (my new extreme favorite hideaway).  That tumble of restaurants is definitely gonna be my next stomping grounds when I have a minute (There was Oaxacan, Lebanese, Persian, Thai and Indian--all lookin' cheap and good...and all in strip malls).

Oh..and there was a just fried donut shovedown topped by a just-baked cupcake attack that put me into a coma soon thereafter.  Healthy in LA...not so much.  Full in LA...all the time.  Ready to beat it?  And then some.
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