Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rockin Crepes, Huntington Beach, CA

So I just turned... a year older, and I wanted to do something special for my birthday, but I wanted it to be different from the usual birthday feast that accompany me and my friends' passing of one more year. You see my friends birthdays are almost always an excuse to eat massive amounts of food. Good food, always good food, but I'm just waiting for, well one of them in particular to ask us all to go over to Home Town Buffet and eat until we pass out. Yeah, you know who you are. After years of eating mounds of beef at Korean BBQ's (calculating how many plates of meat you would have to eat to make up for how much you paid), or Dim Sum (stick to stuff you recognize, or bring along a native speaker), or Southern BBQ (of which I tend to gnaw on the bones afterwards, but that's another review), I wanted to go somewhere with an air of class, sophistication, where flavor and texture was valued over quantity, but not so nice or they wouldn't let me or my friends in. I finally settled on a little place a few blocks away from the Huntington Beach, Rockin Crepes.

We arrived around two, my girlfriend and a few close friends of mine, to a strip mall off Atlanta Ave. We strolled into a dimly lit room with a long row of tables each emblazoned with a different Metal or Hair Band. I was surprised to realize that I recognized most of them. From Anthrax to Aerosmith each table was a homage to the wild 70's, 80's and 90's of Metal. Every conceivable image of the band from concert pictures to guest appearances on the Simpsons was used. My friends and I went towards the back and choose the Metallica table. I think my seat may have been decorated with the Master of Puppets album cover, but at that point I was starving looking forward to the food too much to give it a second glance. As the waitress took our orders I looked round at the walls, a garish blend of black and orange paint with speaker box designs and rockesque sayings, I'll let your imagination take it from there. I looked around and I thought "This color scheme in here should be making me sick to my stomach, but it isn't". The design actually worked towards adding a much needed bit of grunge to the place, which was somewhat difficult in that nice a section of Orange County.

Finally, I pulled out a menu and was assaulted by a parade of sweet and savory crepes with names such as Alice Cooper and Def Leppard, followed by a brief description, and then a lyric, “Schools Out!”, and, “Pour some sugar on me!” Behind that they listed the amount of calories for each item, a strange addition considering the theme, but I guess even rock stars have to watch their weight. After spending way too much time reading the menu I finally settled on the Motorhead, partly beause I had that song in my head, The Ace of Spades, and partly because it had Cholula. My girlfriend got the Van Halen, and to be honest I forgot just what my friends got. I believe one of them got the Soundgarden (the one band I personally question being on the menu), and someone got a ZZ Top with a smoothie. I’m pretty positive it was The Randy Rhodes, and I’ll be honest I have no idea who that is. Finally my sister got a Cinderella. I won’t list the ingredients, just go to their web page, it is worth it to read the descriptions of the food if only for interesting use of lyrics in their description.

It was a bit of a wait, but not bad considering they had to make five crepes. The finished product was exactly what I had been expecting. Each crepe was well made, and had a light drizzle of sauce on the top. The insides were warm, fresh, and filling. Which was pretty amazing considering the highest calorie count for the crepes on the table was 395. That was mine of course. Not that I count calories, but getting something really tasty and filling while not eating a ton of food kept that warm feeling in my belly from spreading to my heart. The only sour note was my girlfriends Van Halen, the chicken in it was a bit dry. So the next time we will get what we got the first time we were there, The Pantera. It is the equivalent of a pepperoni pizza crepe, and it is even better than it sounds. The rest of us enjoyed our food so much we ended up splitting two desert crepes, The White Zombie, and the Iron Maiden. Both delicious, though not as good as the savory crepes, and both gone pretty quickly. Satisfied with our food, we stumbled out the front door, ready to Rock and Roll that night, or at least party for the rest of the day.

Rockin Crepes

8943 Atlantic Ave.

Huntington Beach, CA 92646

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gulf Coast Grill, San Diego, CA

The Place, Gulf Coast Grill. The time, Friday night, date night. It was go time. In an (continual) effort to keep my relationship fresh and fun, I grabbed the nearest Groupon for this little place off Park a mile or two north of Balboa. Despite getting out of work early, I was pretty much exhausted so I didn't quite dress to the nines, more around the sixes, seven and a half tops. My girlfriend, as usual looked much nicer than me, and with a nod and smile I went outside and knocked on the front door. Date night had begun.
I'm sure you're familiar with the idea of taking a lady out to a classy joint and wooing her back to your place. Well this was similar, only my place was her place, and the lady in question had already been wooed. Still sometimes it pays to liven up a relationship, so I'd thought I'd give it another go. After all, what's the worse that could happen? At this point I had already fallen asleep on the couch once or twice, and both times had been watching a movie.
Keeping in the tradition of returning to old haunts I decided to go back to the Gulf Coast Grill, not our first date, technically I cooked for her on that on one, and technically not the most romantic, that would be Buon Appetito in Little Italy for her birthday. No, this was simply a place that we had gone to before, and that the food had been better than average, at least for me. The first time we'd gone there had been because she'd overheard me going on and on about how I loved Cajun food, and that had coincided with a conveniently advertised Groupon. Actually I loved any spicy, flavorful food that was often a concoction of seemingly random things thrown together for taste. As long as the gumbo is flavorful and the jambalaya has got a kick, I will probably enjoy it. Still I'd missed out on a family trip to New Orleans, and have never had the real thing. Hey, someone had to take care of the dog! So when reading this review keep in mind I am making no claim that this place is the best thing outside of the bayou. I can't say that, all I can say is that it is good, really good.
We showed up at the restaurant ten minutes later than I'd made the reservation for, but they still had a table waiting for me. A nice little wooden table, with very strait backed chairs in the corner, affording a decent view of Park street. The place was packed. Three or four people at the bar, watching "the game", and almost every table, inside and out had a couple or group at it. Everyone of them looking happy, which I took for a good omen. Our waiter showed up in almost no time, and my girlfriend ordered a cocktail, something with the words Cajun or Bayou. I ordered some ice tea and a water and perused the menu, even though I already knew what I was going to order, the Cajun Combo with jambalaya, seafood gumbo, and hushpuppies. My girlfriend pondered a couple of low priced choices until I reminded her that I had a Groupon for the place, then she ordered the second most expensive item on the menu, the Blackened New York Strip Steak. I made my order and passed the time asking first date questions that I already knew the answer to. Still she found it funny so I didn't feel like a complete idiot doing it.

Thankfully I also ordered some Gulf Coast Chowder, which came almost immediately. The Gulf Coast Chowder had clams, potatoes, bacon, tomatoes, and cream, so it was basically a New England Clam Chowder, but with more kick. I think it was that extra bit of Cajun spice that pushed it beyond your average chowder. Each bite had a hint of fire that not even the addition of hot sauce or "exciter" as my girlfriends father would say, could have added. Finally I wiped up the last bits of chowder with a bit of sourdough and leaned back contently. I wouldn't have long to wait though as our entrees came out soon after that.
I'd had the Cajun Combo before, but the hushpuppies had been a bit dry that time. This time everything was perfect. The jambalaya had shrimp, spicy andouille sausage (so andouille sausage), smoked chicken, and a crawfish on top. My first bite reminded me of why I'd liked it so much last time. The shrimp is cooked perfectly, something I am a bit particular about. The andouille sausage had just the right amount of kick. The smoked chicken, my God, it brought me back to the first time I'd eaten there and I remembered just how much a perfectly cooked and seasoned piece of chicken can taste. The rice was just right, not too mushy and not too dry. The crawfish, which daunts most eaters of Cajun cuisine, sat atop it, staring at me with its black soulless eyes. I paused half a second and then remembered my aunt teaching me to eat crawfish at a Mexican place (don't know why they had it there, but it wasn't bad). I separated the tail from the head with a twist and dined upon the somewhat spicy and salty meat within. Next I ate the gumbo, with more shrimp, scallops, fish (my guess was chunks of salmon), and a variety of other sea food, in a heavenly brownish fish broth. In between I would take a bite of the hushpuppies, with a somewhat spicy sauce, chipotle-related I'm guessing, dribbled on them. They were great, which was a surprise as I usually am not a big fan of said puppies, usually finding them too dry. This time they were perfectly cooked.

Not to be outdone I had a bite of my girlfriend's dish. The New York steak was cooked a little more than I usually like, but my girlfriend prefers her steaks medium. Despite that it was great. Especially the blue cheese chipotle cream sauce. Though I must admit it was a bit more chipotle than blue cheese, the combination brought out an amazing flavor in the meat. The veggies and mashed potatoes were a nice addition, but nothing to write home about.
Filled to the brim with great tasting Cajun food, we exited the Gulf Coast Grill. Dinner was followed by a movie, and... well the rest is none of your business.

Gulf Coast Grill
4130 Park Boulevard
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 295-2244

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Hungry Cat, Santa Barbara, CA

Sometimes food reminds you of happier times, times when you were care free, and adventurous. I call this vacation food. On a vacation you don’t count calories, or worry about nitrates, or ponder the ramifications of dining upon non-renewable forms of seafood. You simply point to something on a menu, and enjoy. On my last vacation I went up the coast, and on my way back I stopped at a little restaurant in Santa Barbara called The Hungry Cat, where I had some of the best vacation food of my life.
It was on the advice of my boss that I made the reservation, she had gone on and on about how amazing the food was there, and this was a woman who knew her food. So the last day of my vacation I asked my girlfriend, who was coming down with a cold, if she felt up to dinner. Being the amazing woman she is, she dressed warmly, took some cold medication, and asked what time our reservation was for. Yup, she’s a keeper.

Later that night, we walked into a small, intimate, and very trendy restaurant a street away from the main drag. On the wall was a chalkboard with a list of wine, local seafood, and specials (not that you were going to save any money on them, but that didn’t matter to me because I was still on vacation.) Looking around I was happy I had made reservations ahead of time, the place was packed with a fair amount of people, a combination of locals and tourists, usually a sign of good food, or at least a pleasant atmosphere. Very quickly we were greeted by a pretty man with a large smile who showed us to a comfortable seat by the window.
I made a pretense of looking at the menu, but I already knew what I wanted, the chorizo and clams, the perfect combination of spicy and sea food. My girlfriend, who is not a big fan of seafood choose the burger. We passed the time reminiscing on the last few days, and watching the sun set quickly replaced by a light drizzle as the night descended. I stared passionately into her eyes, and then our food arrived, and for a short amount of time I forgot all about her.
My chorizo and clams, with shell beans, sofrito(very small aromatic ingredients braised in cooking oil), black kale (fancy cabbage), and a side of grilled toast was one of the best things I’ve ever put into my mouth. Everything was cooked perfectly, the chorizo was spicy, but not unbearably hot, the clams were soft and not rubbery, even the beans, which I thought I would not like, were full of flavor. I slowly devoured my meal and had just enough room left to taste a bite of the burger. It was cooked medium, with bacon, avocado, and blue cheese, and was one of the better burgers I’d eaten. Still I stopped at a bite, because I did not want to lose the taste of my own meal.

After that we finished our cocktails (don’t ask me to remember them, I’m not a mixologist, but they were good) and went back to our hotel. I fell asleep to the sound of rain hitting the windows, the smell of the sea on my skin, and the sound of the TV on the Food channel, and I dreamt of my beautiful girlfriend and my tasty tasty vacation food. Two things that still bring a smile to my face.

P.S.: For the life of me I can’t find a picture of the front, which is too bad because the Hungry Cat is a bit hard to find by car. We eventually just stumbled onto it.

The Hungry Cat
1134 Chapala
Santa Barbara, CA
(805) 884-4701‎

Gaglione Bros., Point Loma, San Diego, CA

Philadelphia has created a lot of great things over the years: revolutionaries, the Liberty Bell, and some pretty damn good Stromboli. Still, there is always one word that echoes throughout the halls of food history whenever you mention the city of brotherly love, cheesesteak. Whether you spell it as one word or two, the image always pops into your head of a long loaf of bread, cut down the middle, and stuffed with mouthwatering mounds of meat and cheese, but that is where the commonality ends. Over time this once great monument to unhealthy dining has been perverted by fast food conglomerates, mall outlets, and pseudo Philly restaurants that promise the most authentic replication of the cheese steak outside of Philly. I’ve seen and tasted a variety of combinations, from Steak Escape with its thin slips of steak and layers of American cheese, to Jack in the Box’s semi-long slices of wet bread with large sautéed onion slices and tasteless white goo. Still, I’m not here to condemn or even define what a cheese steak should be, they have enough trouble doing that in Philly. No, I’m here to tell you about the best cheese steak I’ve had a chance to eat, so save the hate mail, especially from you Philadelphians, for another day, like when I complain about the Stromboli.
The place, Gaglione Bros., the time, a few weeks ago, and the food, some of the best cheese steak I’ve ever had. My girlfriend and I pulled up to this very unassuming shop a couple of blocks away from the Sports Arena. At first I thought it was another hole in the wall eatery, and the inside did little to dispel my notion of that, white walls, with the occasional menu and placard depicting a write up in the local paper. A counter, behind which stood a single woman manning (womanning?) the cash register, and behind her five or six people running around putting together cheese steaks and other tasty looking sandwiches. The one thing I did not notice, and was very happy to see absent, was a heating lamp. When the Gaglione Bros. say they make everything fresh, they really do it. Though they also say you can watch them prepare everything fresh, but the counters are a little high for that so watching them put together your food is not really feasible. Still, if I wanted to watch somebody put my food together I would have gone to Subway or stayed at home.
Pulling up to the counter, my girlfriend ordered a Chicken Ranch Sandwich, while I resisted the urge to give her a dirty look for not ordering cheese steak. I ordered the Baja Cheese Steak, and we decided to split an order of cheese garlic fries. I gave my name and then found a seat outside where we sat and sipped on carbonated beverages until our order was ready. I went through two cups of root beer before they yelled my name, but when I took that first bite I knew it had been worth the wait.

My cheese steak was delicious. Not that you can see it, but the Baja Cheese Steak has the usual ingredients, cheese wiz included, along with jalapenos and onions. Now, I was expecting the usual big honking jalapenos you find in most Mexican restaurants, but instead I took a bite and found that the fine people at Gaglione Bros. actually minced the jalapenos and onions into itsy bitsy pieces before adding it to the cheese steak. It was different, and definitely in a good way. No more unexpected pieces of spiciness, instead there was heat and flavor in every bite. After wolfing down my cheese steak I hesitantly took a bite of my girlfriend’s sandwiches.
Now, I’m not a big fan of ranch, but for some reason I couldn’t stop sneaking a bite every few minutes. The Chicken Ranch has chicken, bacon, white American cheese, lettuce, tomato, and ranch dressing, and something about the combination was just magical. I mean, I liked my food better, but not by a whole lot. The only slight downside was the cheese garlic fries. If you look at the picture you will notice that there is a lot of garlic “clusters”, for lack of better words, on the fries, which is delicious at first, but can get a bit excessive before you finish them, besides that everything was perfect.

So ends another sunny day in San Diego, my stomach full of cheese steak, my girlfriend by my side, and thoughts of Philadelphia on my mind. For if the food at this fine eatery was any indication of what could be had there, was that not a land I was destined to travel to? So ran my thoughts as I sipped on root beer and wondered to how to convince my girlfriend that Philadelphia and not New York was the new mecca of rising culture and fashion in America, or at least see if we could stop there on the way over.

Gaglione Bros. Famous Steaks and Subs
3944 W. Point Loma, CA 92110
(619) 758-0646

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Phil's BBQ, Point Loma, San Diego, CA

It was another beautiful Saturday in San Diego and my sister had just dropped in to visit me. After commenting on the variety of great places I’d eaten since moving here she finally told me to choose a place for us to have lunch. A burning desire to eat BBQ chicken had been nagging me for the last couple of days so I asked my girlfriend, who felt too ill to join us, what the best BBQ place in the city was, and she replied without hesitation Phil’s. Now, this was not my first San Diego BBQ joint, and my past attempts at finding good BBQ were met with mixed results, some really good but not great, others downright horrible, but with BBQ sometimes you have to roll the dice. So after looking up the directions my sister and I departed on what was to become my favorite BBQ joint, ever.

A few wrong turns later we finally arrived at the Sports Arena, and to a very, very long line rounding the corner of Phil’s. We had seen the line before, via a web cam on the Phil’s BBQ website. In fact it was that line that convinced me to go there in the first place, because no place with bad BBQ would have such a long line of diners waiting to get in. It just defied the law of BBQ economics, where-in BBQ can be bought, made, and found in many places, some not necessarily BBQ specific locals, so a line that long could only exist at an exceptional BBQ joint, but I digress.
After a twenty minute wait we made our way to the front of the line. Once there a very friendly server, a trait which I found among all of the staff at Phil’s, explained the procedure for getting our food, a seat, and our eat on. First you order, then you find a seat, difficult but not impossible. In fact there is even a sort of maitre’d whose job was solely to find seats for people. In addition a large group in front of us, six or so, were found a seat ahead of ordering. So even before I sat down the place was already impressing me with their business model.

When we finally got to the counter my sis and I had come to an agreement as to what we would order. As we were both a fan of BBQ chicken, but wanted to try everything we ordered the “Best of Both.” I ended up getting the sweet baked beans and fries with baby back ribs and a half chicken, while my sis got the steamed veggies with Beef Ribs and four boneless chicken chunks, and we split a side of onion rings. While we waited for our food we found a seat in the corner, and got drinks, which they had ranging from the usual self serve soda fountain variety to sweet and non-sweet tea.
Now comes the part that impresses me the most. After being buzzed I went to get our food, only to be confronted by three giant platters. Without a second thought the server on the other side of the counter calls for someone to help me get my food to my seat. I know that may not sound all that amazing, but after sitting in some very nice restaurants with snooty waiters, and hole in the wall places where they wanted you out as soon as you started eating, it was a nice change of pace to have a staff that made it apparent they really cared about the people they were serving.

As for the food, it was amazing. Even the beef ribs, which a majority of BBQ joints seem to overcook or don’t offer at all, were great. The meat on the baby back ribs and the chicken slid off the bone, and was delicious. The sweet baked beans were dripping with sauce, and the fries were just the right amount of crispy. Even my sister’s steamed veggies were tasty. The amount of food was bordering on just right to excessive. Phil’s definitely does not scrip on the serving size. As you can see in the pictures I got about seven baby back ribs, and my sister got 3 gigantic beef ribs, and we both got a fair amount of chicken. All that along with the sides were more than enough to fill me up, though we did get a full rack of baby back for later, I mean for my girlfriend for when she was feeling better. Yeah that’s right. Love you baby.
So, Phil’s now ranks at the top of my BBQ focused restaurants through a combination of customer service, food, and portions. I would highly recommend it to anybody down in San Diego looking for a great BBQ at a great price. Only be prepared, word got out and relatives I haven't even heard of popping in for a visit, popping in, and they all want to stop off at Phil’s.

Phil's BBQ
3750 Sports Arena Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92110

Thanks to all the people at Phil's who made my visit so great. Also thanks to Yelp and whoever took the pic of the front of Phil's, because I forgot to. Finally you'll notice that there is a big ol' bite taken out of the chicken on one of the plates in the picture. Yeah, that's mine. The food smelled so good I couldn't wait.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hugo's, Studio City, Los Angeles, CA

Today I write of a subject I thought I would never tackle, eating healthy. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! I, who have indulged and overindulged in the most glorious of foods: ribs so tender that one could eat them with a spoon, chocolate cake so decadent a single slice could ruin a diet… forever, and who could forget the pizza large enough for a small child to use as trampoline (see review of Lefty’s Chicago Pizza). I, who have tasted of the greatest of delicacies have fallen, and fallen hard, brought down by the need to be health conscious. Let me relate to you of my downfall.
It was Sunday at around noon. I had just played a good three hours of basketball before a pulled groin took me out of the game. Sweat glistened off my body, I walked with a limp, and the air ran harshly through my lungs as I fought to slow my breathing. I sipped an overly salt and sugar filled energy drink and stumbled into my friend’s car, and wondered where we would eat today.
On previous occasions we have partaken of a great variety of unhealthy fare: the aforementioned ribs above, sweetened Hawaiian royals (concoctions of rice, egg, and a variety of meats to which I will usually add a healthy dose of teriyaki and hot sauce), La Monica pizza (of which I will review in a future installment), and real steak sandwiches, the kind that would put the poor fare of Steak Escape, Togo’s, and every mall based steak sandwich outlet to shame. Where, I wondered, would we end up this time? The answer to my query was Hugo’s
Hugo’s is located in a very non-spectacular building in Studio City that upon arriving reminded me of a glorified Denny’s. Entering the premises I continued this viewpoint, a Denny’s with nicer swag on the walls, but still with the diner feel to it. As my friends and I waited for our names to be called I noticed something about the people who were coming in to the restaurant. As opposed to the slightly opulent figures that strode into Denny’s, the people entering Hugo’s appeared fit and healthy, often sporting tight fitting yoga clothes, or running gear. Even the older women who entered betrayed a healthy glow to their aged and slightly wrinkled skin. Perhaps, I let the thought enter my head, this place was more than just another greasy spoon with a few fresh ingredients (organic Heinz ketchup!), perhaps this was my path to inner enlightenment and health. Perhaps the “healthy” food they served here-in would actually taste good. Oh what a poor demented fool was I.
My friends and I got a table pretty quickly and I set about perusing the menu. On it was a cornucopia of tasty sounding delights, a majority of which either contained many healthy ingredients, or were lacking in an unhealthy ingredient that I had previously found necessary to add flavor to a dish. K. a good friend of a friend and a stand up guy informed us that the burger was great here, so great that one could actually ask for it rare. Upon hearing this, my heart beat faster, and I wondered how much sooner they could get it to me if I asked for it in such a state. Then I glanced over at the people around me in their sweats, and tight tops and had a very strange thought, “Why don’t you order something healthy here?” At first I looked around to see if someone else had whispered the words into my ears, then I realized that everything was fine except that I was becoming delusional, most likely brought on by dehydration and pain from my injury.
Delusional though I might have been I thought maybe I would listen to the voices in my head this time, and so I took the idea under consideration. After a few moments I decided I would try something different, something… healthy. I decided on the Go Green Frittata, which was composed of egg whites, chard, beat greens, kale, spinach puree, broccolini, zucchini, asparagus, quinoa (a type of grain), and extra virgin olive oil, topped with bean sprouts, and an apple-mango mint sauce. Yes, I was definitely stepping way outside my comfort zone. My friends all got the Hugo Burger with a variety of extras (up to four before they started charging you) such as bacon (the best of all additives) regular, turkey, or vegetarian, various cheeses (the second best but perhaps my favorite topping) both vegan and natural, guacamole, mushrooms, grilled chilies, as well as the usual lettuce, onion, and tomato toppings. The waiter then collected the menus and I was left to stew over my choice of food.

Thankfully, I was happily distracted by a plate of Garlic-Parmesan Cheese bread that was indeed a great deal tastier than the norm, with the cheese crusted to the top, and bits of garlic baked into the bread, and a glass of iced tea (which apparently was so good that they could not refill it for free, the cheap bastards). As I consumed these little pieces of bready goodness I thought that if they put so much effort into the appetizer, then what I had ordered was bound to be good. Could I have been any more wrong?
About 15 minutes later I had a plate of something round and green covered in bean sprouts placed in front of me. As I eyed the impressively large burgers my friends had ordered I took my first bite of frittata. It tasted healthy, which is not to say it tasted bad. There was the barest hint of egg in the dish. The taste was more an interesting melody of mixed greens, but to my disappointment the apple-mango mint sauce was barely discernable, leaving me no relief from the overpowering greenness of the dish. So while not horrible, the concoction came off as being ambivalent in flavor. I quickly remedied the situation with a heavy dose of hot sauce, but the damage had been done.

K, perhaps seeing my initial reaction to my food offered me a bite of his. Unlike the others at the table he had chosen to get his burger medium, covered in bacon, cheese, tomato, and lettuce. He cut a small portion off of it, and I took a bite. I almost wished I had not. The burger, while not the usual fatty grease dripping concoction I was used to, was delicious, and perhaps even better for having been made with fresh ingredients. The inside was barely pink, and the wheat Ciabatta bread held the entire burger in place as opposed to the usual white bread the disintegrates into a gooey paste upon picking it up. I would highly recommend the Hugo Burger to anyone searching for a compromise between a tasty and a not incredibly unhealthy burger.

As for my food, I quickly finished it while hiding my distaste. There is a great deal of healthy food that also tastes good, I just haven’t found it yet. Until I do, I will chalk this attempt at expanding my pallet up to an interesting experience, and an excuse to get Korean BBQ for dinner.

Special thanks to K for letting me try the Hugo Burger. Also to Pleasure Palate (http://pleasurepalate.blogspot.com) for the pic of the front of Hugo's.

12851 Rivierside Drive
Studio City, CA
(818) 761-8985

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Lucha Libre Taco Shop, Mission Hills, San Diego, CA

It was a beautiful day in Mission Hills, the sun was bright, there was a slight breeze coming from the ocean, and I felt the need for some tasty Mexican food. My first thought was to stop by Mama Testa, really good but a bit pricey for me at the moment , and who can forget El Indio where everything is dripping with grease but after the first bite you don’t care. No what I wanted was somewhere between those two. I wanted tasty and just a little bit bad for me. I wanted something different a little out of the norm. So there I was coming back from the grocery store off Washington when what should I see on my right but the words, “Lucha Libre” and “Taco”.

My eyes lit up, they had had me at Lucha.

Now I’ve walked into my share of trendy/gimmicky eateries in my time. Ninjas, pirates, medieval wenches (by the way they hate being called that, they prefer pre-enlightened serving maids), but I had never been to a place that so thoroughly screamed luchadore in my entire life, outside of the wrestling rings of Mexico. Upon entering I saw a TV, no plasma for this place but an old fashioned square box, playing classic Lucha films, starring my favorite Lucha actor, El Santo. I glanced at the nearest seat only to find myself staring at a luchadore mask sown into the cushion. To my right I saw a large painting of a luchadore posing triumphantly, looking down at me as if to question if I was man enough to enter this establishment. Putting on my best swagger I approached the counter and looked at the menu.

I was happy to see some of the old favorites on the board, including all manner of taco and burrito with chicken, steak, or shrimp. I’ll admit the surf and turf appealed to me, and it was nice to see a vegetarian option on the board as well, a rarity in a taco shop outside of a bean and cheese burrito. I finally settled on the California burrito with marinated steak, while my guinea pi… I mean good friend who I had brought along to offer a contrasting opinion got a Carne Asada burrito. I usually go for more exotic fare like adobo, but I’ve found many of the smaller Mexican eateries tend to overcook the steak until it is like chewy rubber, and I really wanted to test this place out. I also ordered a TJ dog, wondering if it would be as good as the ones I’d bought in, well, TJ.

While I waited for the food to finish cooking my friend and I wandered around the restaurant taking in the atmosphere. The atmosphere consisted of many pictures of famous and some not so famous masked wrestlers that adorned the walls, a collection of lucha libre masks hanging along the far wall over the window, and a disco ball. I could understand the rest but not the disco ball, unless the place doubled as some kind of 70’s night club after it closed down for the night. Most impressive of all the luchedore swag was the seat in the corner reserved for “The Champion.” As you can see in the pictures it is roped off from the public, and, like a little kid, as soon as I saw it I wondered how I could get my butt into that little polished seat and eat off the gaudy gold utensils there-in. I guess that was for another day though because just after I had taken a picture of it the food was ready.

I collected my order from the counter, this is not the type of place where they deliver the food to you, and brought it back to my friend, but not before stopping at the salsa bar, with a fair selection from red hot to verde mild, where I selected some that were sure to leave me sweating for the rest of the day. First we tried the TJ dogs, which were not bad but would take a little bit of work to be classified as great. The overall taste was good, a combination of onions, peppers, and every condiment in the book except relish. There was also bacon wrapped around it, but it was difficult to see, which my friend pointed out to me, as it was wrapped so tightly and was so thin that it could easily be mistaken for the charred outer layer of the hot dog itself. Other than that it was small, about the size of a 99 cent dog from Weinerschnichel. Despite these minor drawbacks I would define it as a good appetizer to the main course.

My California Burrito was filled with French fries, pico de gallo, cheese, sour cream, and steak. I haven’t had French fries stuffed into my food since I was a kid, but they added just the right consistency and heft to my burrito. The ingredients tasted fresh, and the steak was marinated perfectly. As with all food I enjoy I found myself having to slow down so I wouldn’t wolf it down in six or seven bits. I say six or seven but this burrito was pretty hefty and it actually took me more around 20 bites to get through it, more than worth the price I had paid for it. My friend liked his burrito, which had the same ingredients as mine minus the sour cream and fries but with guacamole.

After dumping our trash I took one last look at the place and smiled. It was gimmicky and very tacky, but there was an undercurrent of respect and tradition, much like lucha libre. The food was tasty, the day bright, and I had found a new shade of Mexican food in which to indulge. Once again, life was good, until later that night when my stomach started bouncing around like a cruiserweight jockeying for the belt.

Lucha Libre Taco Shop

1810 West Washington Street
San Diego, CA 92103
(619) 296-8226


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lefty's Chicago Pizza, Mission Hills, San Diego, CA

There are certain days it is required by all Americans to stop and recognize just what makes this nation great. For the more patriotic this could be Veteran’s Day, for those who focus on ethnic diversity it could be Martin Luther King Day. Some bask in the historical and turn to Thanksgiving, while the less secular of us might prefer Christmas or Hanukkah. Now far be it from me to take away from these and other great days in our country's history, but there is one day that I believe truly expresses the beauty and diversity of this our United States of America, and that day is January 23… National Pie Day.
It was Saturday January 23, 2010, night had just decended and, how should I put this gently, I was tired and irritated at the world and everyone in it. I had just moved to San Diego and I was hot, sweaty, and most importantly hungry. I considered the various options to feed me, and the good friends who had taken the time to help me deliver the many items that would make up my new home. Chinese food felt too light, Italian too heavy, and steak too expensive. Then it hit me, Lefty’s.
There are two locations for Lefty’s Chicago Pizza, I attended the Mission Hills location, a slightly more spacious eatery, or so I’ve been told, than the original in North Park. My girlfriend had called ahead so when we only had to wait about eight minutes or so for a table for eight. We had also ordered two of their stuffed pizzas, of which you can have stuffed with any topping on the menu. Considering my friends more carnivorous nature I got one sausage and one pepperoni, sans salad. It takes about an hour for them to cook these monstrosities of bread, cheese, and meat, but they are well worth the wait. Each bite is filled with a meaty, cheesy burst of flavor, somehow achieving a perfect balance of flavors, despite the amount of meat stuffed into it.
A quick consensus afterwards showed that the majority of people favored the pepperoni. That and that either pizza could have easily been used as a trampoline for a small child, thirteen months to two years old. Sitting in the hardwood booth, savoring the taste of the closest I’ve ever come to authentic Chicago style pizza, I looked around at my friends, the overabundance of Chicago memorabilia, and my beautiful girlfriend, and I thought to myself, “This is the best National Pie Day ever.”

Special Thanks to my friends for helping me move, and to the great people at Lefty’s Chicago Pizza for the pies.


Lefty’s Chicago Pizza
North Park
3448 30th Street
Mondays - Closed
12 PM to 10 PM
Sunday to 9 PM

4030 Goldfinch
Mondays - Closed
11 AM to 10 PM
Sunday to 9 PM