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Posts Tagged ‘California’

burger, fries and onion rings from Hodad's in San Diego

burger, fries and onion rings from Hodad's in San Diego

I’m back in London after spending five days in La Jolla, California, which included quick trips to LA and the ‘burbs of Orange County. I couldn’t get enough of the sunshine and wide, sandy beaches of SoCal, but sadly, my year-old Canon Elph drowned in seawater during a kayak outing off the coast of San Diego (Ziploc, how could you fail me?!?), so all the food photos I wanted to share are now lost.

Nonetheless, here’s a picture-free roundup of three seriously good meals in case you ever find yourself hungry in SoCal (and click here for my earlier post about our phenom meal at Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica):

Hodad’s. It’s a San Diego institution. And once you’ve tried the goods, it’s easy to understand Hodad’s popularity. The sweet, crispy onion rings are alone worth the 11-hour flight to LAX and 2.5-hour drive down to San Diego. I ate so many of them that I failed to save room for their equally-fabled milkshakes. Next time (and there surely will be a next time) I won’t make that rookie error.

Hodad’s, 5010 Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107; +1 619-224-4623.

Hodad's on Urbanspoon

Cho Sun Galbee. My close friend and Orange County-Korean-chick-about-town, Jane, recommended this Korean barbecue in the heart of Koreatown. In the heat of summer, I had my doubts while driving past ugly concrete-block strip malls, but Cho Sun Galbee is an oasis. Jon and I sat outside in a shady garden and devoured Cho Sun Galbee’s tender, smoky-sweet bulgogi, which may be the best we’ve ever had. It wasn’t cheap ($24 a portion), but good Korean barbecue never is. Job chae and bibimbap were also tasty, but paled in comparison. Sleek interiors tells you this isn’t your grandmother’s Korean barbecue, but the food is classic and quality. The restaurant offers free valet parking, which I think is so L.A.

Cho Sun Galbee, 3330 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90019; +1 323 734 3330.
Chosun Galbee on Urbanspoon

Nha Hang Van. OC-born-and-bred, our friend (and talented wedding photographer) Lu knows his Vietnamese food. And when I told him I was craving banh xeo, he took us to Nha Hang Van, which specializes in banh xeo, of course. Perfect. The pancakes were thin and crispy and the prawns and beansprouts plentiful. A first for me, Nha Hang Van’s version included mashed-up mung bean which glued the fillings together and added a creamy texture. Also on offer were gorgeous sweet-potato fries and banh khot, which are coconut-scented mini-pan pizza versions of banh xeo. Basically, the cooks at Nha Hang Van know how to work a fryer and pancake batter, and with most dishes costing about $5, it’s no wonder that the place is busy all day. Wrap everything in lettuce and mint leaves and you can pretend you’re not clogging your arteries, but for a “lighter” dish, the steamed banh beo were excellent, too.

Nha Hang Van, 14122 Brookhurst Street, Garden Grove, CA 92843; +1 714-530-6858.

Nha Hang Van's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

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interior of Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica, California

interior of Tacos Por Favor in Santa Monica, California

Jon and I are in SoCal right now, and although I’m an East Coast girl, I must confess I’m enjoying the sea and sun around these parts.  And I’ve definitely been loving all the great Cal-Mex food.

Our fave Mexican fix so far has been at the divey Tacos Por Favor, which is just a dozen blocks east of the ritzy bits of Santa Monica.

huevos rancheros at Tacos Por Favor

huevos rancheros at Tacos Por Favor

Being jetlagged, we were counting the hours until the place opened at 8 am for breakfast.  And once in, I had a sinfully-good plate of huevos rancheros.  It doesn’t look like much, but I assure you there’s no better way to start your day than with fresh corn tortillas, smoky, spicy salsa, sour cream and an oozy poached egg.  The sides of fluffy, sweet tomato rice and creamy beans was a bit overkill at 8 am, but I’m on holiday, you know?

breakfast burrito at Tacos Por Favor

breakfast burrito at Tacos Por Favor

Jon opted for the breakfast burrito, which he felt was more 8 am appropriate, and maybe I’d be convinced he had a point if he hadn’t also wolfed down all the freshly-fried tortilla chips on the side.

The perfect accompaniment for all this heavy “I’m-ready-now-to-work-the-ranch” food were the light and refreshing watermelon agua frescas, the original flavored water.

With both our main dishes costing about $6 and all our food being made on the spot only after we’d placed our order at the cash register, I don’t know why we ate anywhere else while in Santa Monica.

Tacos Por Favor, 1406 Olympic Boulevard (14th Street), Santa Monica, CA 90404. (310) 392-5768.
Tacos Por Favor on Urbanspoon

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Fish taco at Pancho Villa, San Francisco

Next to seeing so many close friends and family in the Bay Area, I was very excited to stuff my face with as much Cal-Mex as humanly possible over 72 hours. Jon and I were lucky to have so many local experts in the area to indulge us, so though we had to move around a lot during our trip, we managed to eat Cal-Mex in San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland.

In San Francisco (the city proper), we ate at Pancho Villa Taqueria and Puerto Allegre. Pancho Villa started in the Mission district, which, you might already be aware, is ground zero for taquerias. But the location we tried is across the street from the posh gourmet Ferry Building, and you know, even at the fancier location, Pancho Villa feels like a dive where it’s all about the fresh, corn tortillas (that smell and taste like corn – a crazy concept if you think about the dominance of El Paso-brand, floppy yellow grossness in London groceries).

Because we went to Pancho Villa within an hour of leaving San Francisco Airport (i.e., we had been stuffed silly by the plane food you eat solely out of boredom), Jon and I were only able to scarf down one cheese-and-mushroom quesadilla and a fish taco. But wow, what a difference a quality tortilla makes – flour in the quesdadilla and corn in the fish taco. Salsas were fresh, spicy and varied. My kindgom for tomatillo salsa! Overall, I was happy with my sampling of Pancho’s offerings.

Generally, the Cal-Mex we ate tasted good, but my photos of the food didn’t come out looking so fantastic (see, for example, the photo at the top of this post. It’s of my fish taco at Pancho Villa). So there aren’t any entertaining snaps for this post, I’m afraid.

Puerto Allegre is in the Mission district, and when we dropped by on a Thursday night, our travel-exhausted selves were not amused by the 40-minute wait to get in to the restaurant. The decor is modest (think bowling-alley booths and tables), but the vibe is energetic and chatty. Margaritas are strong, and the nachos were outstanding – piled so high with spicy meat, cheese, and salsa that the server left us an extra bowl of plain nachos to get the right ratio of topping to cripsy, corn-tasting nachos.

My carnitas burrito was a little disappointing. It was enormous and slathered in a green sauce, necessitating fork and knife usage, which was too bad since I’m a big believer in foil-wrapped burrito as portable meal. I also thought the rice in the burrito was kind of damp and overly dense, but this could be my Asian bias for fluffy, dry-textured rice coming through. In any case, I’d go back to Puerto Allegre for the nachos and drinks, but I’d skip the burrito.

In Oakland, even though I wasn’t at a taqueria, I couldn’t resist ordering the huevos rancheros at the friendly, casual Somerset restaurant. My friend Margaret tells me Somerset is the place she goes for brunch, and I can see why. Our party of eight had servers who were happy to customize orders (just try asking for a customization in London!), and the menu included creative twists on brunch classics (e.g., lemon-ricotta pancakes). I was happy but not surprised that my eggs arrived fluffy and hot, spiced up with salsa and cheese, and accompanied by rich, black beans. The eggs sat on a thick corn pancake, which soaked up a tad too much oil, but no big complaints as everything tasted fresh. After ordering a separate side of avocado to complete my idea of perfect huevos rancheros, my state of well-being was complete.

In Berkeley, I went with another party of eight to Cancun Taqueria, a super-lively place near the Cal campus. The place is large and the seating is canteen style. When we arrived, a Cal football game had just ended, so the place was packed with crowds of students and Cal fans wearing college paraphernalia. The noise and cheery enthusiasm were a little too much for boring, old me, but we managed to snag eight seats at a long table, and then I happily guzzled down several flavors of agua fresca, which never ceases to amaze me with its “essence of fruit” tastiness. The nachos were good, though not as yummy as the ones at Pancho Villa, and my shrimp taco cost a rather pricey $5 for a single taco housing four overcooked shrimp. I was also thrown off by the black beans in the taco. I won’t pretend to be a Cal-Mex expert, but I’ve never had a taco that included black beans. If I go back to Cancun, I’ll just focus on drinking all the agua fresca flavors and maybe try a burrito.

It’s amazing how quickly I get spoiled. Any one of my Cal-Mex meals in the Bay Area would have kicked ass in London, but of course, being in the land of taquerias meant that I got pretty picky. I’m most likely to return to Pancho Villa before visiting Puerto Allegre and Cancun again, but they were all pretty good.

Despite the fact that I ate Cal-Mex for four out of six restaurant meals during my weekend in the Bay Area, I’m still craving more. I saw an article in the Times recently about the revamped test for naturalization, and there was, of course, some analysis of what it means to be an American. Given how my mild, occasional homesickness takes the form of craving Mexican food, it seems obvious to me that the test should include a question or two about tacos and burritos.

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Sweet Corn soup and shrimp tempura at Redd

I’m just back from the Bay Area! Jon and I were there for a long weekend for our friend Maura’s wedding, and after spending an excruciatingly-boring 12 hours on a BA flight from LHR (the on-demand system broke down – tragedy!), we arrived to bright sunshine and mild, breezy weather in San Francisco.

On Friday, we drove with our friends Margaret and Dan to Napa, which was rather ambitious considering we had to be back in San Fran by sundown for Yom Kippur services.

Nonetheless, we managed to visit an excellent wine cooperative in Napa (the Ancien and Destino wines were especially tasty and the snob in me loves that only miniscule numbers of cases are available) as well as enjoy lunch at Redd Restaurant in Yountville, just down the street from You Know What.

Yountville is a small town, and best I can tell, it consists of a main street lined with Thomas Keller-owned restaurant (Bouchon, Ad Hoc, French Laundry), but mixing it up is Redd.

The restaurant serves fresh, high-quality ingredients in attractive presentations. It’s all so no-fuss and casual that I took the food for granted, and it wasn’t until after the meal that I really appreciated how delicious our meal was.

My pork belly starter was tender and meaty, and at first I loved the sweet-and-salty teriyaki-ish sauce, but after a few bites, not even the crunchy frisee greens could soften the overwhelming richness. I ended up eating greedy spoonfuls of Jon’s cool, refreshing sweet corn soup, served with shrimp tempura for crunch (see photo at top of post).

Scallops at Redd

I loved my main course. I normally like scallops pretty raw, but even though these were cooked through so as not to be pink in the middle, they were still sweet, plump, and far from overcooked. The cauliflower-raisin-and-sliced almond “hash” served on the side, while not pretty, added texture and a nice variety of sweetnesses. Delish and worth every penny. (I tried hard not to think this way, but even at $25 a dish, that’s less in dollars than a main course at the gastropub across the street. Eating in USD was like – you know – Christmas came early!)

My one complaint about Redd (this one’s for my vegetarian friend, Margaret) is that it was too bad the lunch menu we had lacked vegetarian options. C’est bizarre for California foodie country, no? But the server was gracious and flexible about accommodating requests for customizations.

I’d certainly go back to Redd the next time I’m in Napa. The food is what I think of as California style . . . fresh and creative and served in a casual-luxe way.

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