Thursday, November 12, 2015

Ta Eem Grill with Rabbi Denise Eger

Ta Eem Grill
7422 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 944-0013

I've been planning for some time to feature Ta Eem Grill, an Israeli shawarma and falafel joint on Melrose, for my first post back from the long hiatus. For two reasons: one, it's so freaking delicious, and two, it would be a nice way to acknowledge my recent embrace of my Jewish heritage. After a life of disinterested secularism, some mild Zen Buddhism, and some hardcore radical atheism, I decided to look into the history and culture of my maternal ancestors. I took an Introduction to Judaism class (Much needed. Seriously, I didn't know Rosh Hashanah from a hole in a bagel.) I loved it. I learned so much, made lifelong friends, and have totally Jewed up. Best part is? I'm still an atheist by most definitions of the term, and Reform Judaism is cool with that.


[WARNING: this is a long post. They won't all be like this!]

Rabbi Denise Eger—full disclosure, my rabbi—is the spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Ami, an LGBTQ friendly Reform Judaism synagogue in West Hollywood, CA. She's also the first openly lesbian President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the oldest (founded 1889) and largest rabbinic organization in North America. Needless to say, she's a total badass, committed to championing social justice and equality for people of all races, nations, sexual orientations, and genders.

Rabbi Denise Eger of Congregation Kol Ami.
Photo by Yahoo! News
She kindly offered to be the first guest diner for my rebranded blog. She was headed off the next day to deliver the benediction at last weekend's Biennial of the Union of Reform Judaism in Florida (maybe you read about it—they officially and warmly embraced the transgender community), but generously took the time out for a leisurely lunch.

We got in line to order at Ta Eem, which is just a few blocks from Kol Ami. "You've been here before, I assume?" I asked her.

"Oh, yeah, I love it!" she effused. (Rabbi Eger, like any good spiritual leader, is effusive). "It reminds me of Israel."

Ta Eem is indelibly Israeli. The proprietor wears a kippah, (hey, that's the Hebrew for the Yiddish yarmulke. I learned that in class!). The staff speak modern Hebrew behind the counter, and the cashier, on a previous visit, had my wife batting her eyelashes languidly over the "dreamy Israeli soldier boy." The menu is a simple array of chicken shawarma sliced off a vertical spit (the mediterranean version of the Mexican trompo, the source of true al pastor) a couple of other chicken, beef, and sausage dishes, and of course falafel, all served either as a sandwich (in either a house-made pita, on a baguette, or in a laffa flatbread wrap) with all the trimmings, or in a larger "plate" format with a side of hummus and greens and a selection of Israeli salads. One orders at the counter and takes a number, Carl's Jr. style, grabs a drink and takes a seat at one of the heavy oak tables, many of which are communal. It's not a quiet place: there's convivial Jewish chatter at every table, a cacophony of Hebrew, Yiddish and English. During the short wait for our food, Rabbi Eger riffs on the Hebrew numerological symbolism of our order number, 35. "In the Talmud there's a great story about the lamed vovniks, the thirty-six people who do good deeds, don't ask for anything in return, and are filled with unconditional love."

"But we're one short of that," I note.

"And that's good. Because anyone who says they're a lamed vovnik, who has so much hubris to say they're one of the thirty-six...they're clearly not."

The Rabbi's Schnitzel

The food arrives. She's ordered the chicken schnitzel plate, breaded and deep fried yet delightfully crisp and un-greasy.

Denise, as she is happy to be called, knows my proclivities for burritos, and giddily points out the similarities to Israeli pitas. "That's like your tortilla. They even opened it up so you can fill it with your hummus, your chicken, your veggies. And that's Israeli salsa," she notes, pointing to the small dish of red spicy, garlicky red and tangy green sauces.

Israeli Salsas
I dutifully make an "Israeli burrito" in one of the pieces of pita bread, which are fresh from the oven, and thicker than I'm used to. As I'm slathering it with salsa, there's a pause.

I'm new to this interview/conversation format, so I lamely segue to the newsy part of the discussion. "So how about those crazy Republicans?" This is the day that Ben Carson's theory of pyramids-as-grain-silos dominated the news cycle.

She sighs.

"We're in such an illiterate period in our country's life," she says. "I don't know if it's particular to Republicans or if they're just exemplifying it. But illiteracy is a serious problem. These people who try to claim there's no climate change, despite evidence and evidence and evidence. They simply refuse to believe anything."

"I'm not sure if it so much illiteracy," I say. "A lot of climate deniers, these people are actually smart. I mean, they write books, they're erudite. I think they're just so isolated, and living in so much of an echo chamber. I'm not sure it's illiteracy. I mean, they can read."

"The echo chamber is a problem," she says. "But I don't mean illiterate as in they can't read. I mean a denial of science. Almost a denial of Western values, in a way."

She points out that such cynicism is not the province of just Republicans. "Look at Bernie Sanders. He blasts Hillary for her change of position over the years on gay marriage. But he has an equally suspect relationship with gun control. Because he comes from Vermont, where there are hunters! I get that, but people get so jaded! I mean, that's his position. He's representing his constituency as best he can. Leave him alone."

"And at least Bernie gets some credit for telling Hillary that people are tired of hearing about her damn e-mails."

"That's right," Denise says. "And you can say the same of Chris Christie, who got questioned about fantasy football! Who gives a damn? And he called them out on it."

Not letting on how much of damn I give about Fantasy Football (A LOT!) I ask her how her food is. "Fabulous!" She looks around. A boisterous birthday party has taken over the large table near the back where we had hoped to have some quiet. "It feels like you're on a sidewalk in Tel Aviv or Haifa or Jerusalem. It's a good taste. As good as there."

I ask if, despite the country's small size, there are regional differences in Israeli cuisine. She laughs. "There are! In Jerusalem it's kosher, and in Tel Aviv, there's a lot of treyf," she says, using the Hebrew word for all un-kosher deliciousnesses like pork and shellfish. [Sidenote: I will not keep kosher. I tried and failed miserably. I will retain my unholy love of carnitas, lobster, oysters, and cheeseburgers, write about it here, and hope I don't get smote.]

Ta Eem makes me want to go to Jerusalem and eat the kosher sidewalk food. The mezze-style Mediterranean salads alone are worth the price of admission: four come with our lunch, one creamy purple cabbage, one tender beets, one yams, one potato. On other occasions there have been a heavenly eggplant in olive oil and an eclectic corn salad. There are perfectly thick-sliced baby could eat just the side salads here and walk out stuffed.

A Falafel Plate, with Israeli Salads
"So where do you go for lunch in this neighborhood?" I ask. "We're just a couple of blocks from Kol Ami [the synagogue of which she is the spiritual leader].

"Well, I haven't been yet, but my friend Susan Feniger [!], who runs Border Grill, and I go to Mud Hen Tavern, where Street used to be, for dinner a lot. And they opened a lunch window called The Blue Window, and they have a lot of banh mi." On the recording of our chat, you can hear me make gleeful, hands-rubbing-together sounds. "They're Street style," she qualifies. More like banh mi mashups, if you know what I mean."

I mention that my wife is currently at an acupuncturist in the San Gabriel Valley, and will be bringing home some real-deal banh mi from Mr. Baguette. Rabbi Eger hasn't heard of Mr. Baguette, and when I explain the mini-chain purveying Vietnamese sandwiches, she gets equally excited. We are literally bonding over bread.

Chicken Shawarma Plate
We both begin to slow down on our meal. I can't help but continue to pick at the chicken shawarma: the crispy crunch around the edges of the small shredded slices makes it almost like nibbling at chicken chips.

The conversation reaches its heaviest, having turned from her interest in my recently discovered Jewish genealogy to the subject that invariably comes with genealogy: death. There's a history of suicide in my family, and I mention that it's caused somewhat of a rift between me and my cousins: They simply don't want to talk about it. It freaks them out.

"People can't handle that stuff very well. Have ya noticed?" she says, dripping with irony.

"So many people," I say, "don't have a structure anymore [such as the elaborate death rituals in Judaism], for how to deal with the death of loved one."

"They don't," she agrees. "I don't know if you saw this headline, where white people ages 45-60 have a greater propensity for suicide?"

In fact I had. I even shared it on Facebook. It's worth a read. The depressing thing about it is that the statistics actually show that death among that group in the U.S., unlike any other demographic over the past hundred years, has actually increased. Mortality rates worldwide have, with almost no exceptions, only declined, but not among U.S. white males. And the increase isn't because of heart disease, lung disease, obesity, or the other things you might suspect: it's because of a spike in the numbers of suicide, drug overdose, and alcohol poisoning.

"That speaks to the fact that people don't have social support," Eger says. "Because of the secularization of society. They don't have family support. It's the 'rugged individualism' that we have, especially here in the West. You handle things on your own, you don't talk about it. It's very bad. That's a breakdown in social structure."

She believes such woes fall especially hard on men. "Men process differently than women. And that's good, but I think the pressure is still on men in society. Being the breadwinner. Even when they're cool in their relationships, there's still this silent code. I think for a lot of men who can't be in the marketplace anymore, who can't compete for whatever reason. They don't have— I mean, where do they make friends? Male friendships are usually built around the workplace."

"For me, that's a part of it, especially in the current outsource, work-at-home economy...throw in a little ageism, here in Hollywood, and you're sitting alone at home in front of the computer trolling political message boards."

"Yeah, it's very isolating."

We discuss the implications for those isolated people who are now 45-60, like me, often childless, as they age into their golden years. I mention that my wife, who was conceived in the house we live in, will never, ever, move into assisted living or a nursing home without a machine to pull her fingernails from her kitchen linoleum.

Rabbi Eger sees signs of hope, and is working for change in that very area.

"We started this program, with two other temples, Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills and Temple Isaiah in West L.A., to help people stay in their houses longer: 'Age In Place.' It's a 'village network,' where people volunteer to help people stay in their homes. So say Sadie Horowitz can't climb her ladder anymore to change a lightbulb, she can call the centralized number and have someone come and do that. And Sadie Horowitz is, maybe, the best chicken soup maker, so she can provide some of's a kind of barter-y thing."

"So wait a minute...somebody literally comes and changes her lightbulb, and they walk out with some chicken soup?"

"Right, exactly. Why not?!"

Mmm...Sadie Horowitz's chicken soup.

Ask Rabbi Eger if she's traveled recently, and you'll get more than just the details of a getaway to Catalina or Palm Springs.

"Last week I was in D.C., for the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East," she says. "The Cardinal of Washington D.C., the head of the Lutheran Church, one of the heads of the Armenian Church of America. I was there representing Reform Judaism, along with two other colleagues, two Reconstructionist rabbis, Episcopalians, and three of the major Muslim organizations in the was that level. And two members of the State Department. We're trying to urge Obama to get back involved in bringing peace between Israel and Palestine."

 A bigger and more intractable problem than even aging and death, I'm thinking. I say, "Okay, so now we get down to it. Peace in the Middle East."

"Not lookin' so good these days," Denise says with pointed understatement. "According to the representatives from the State Department, they're thinking they're not going to do anything for the next 14 months. They've kinda had it. They're frustrated. And we're trying to convince them that they haven't exhausted all avenues. Because lifelong diplomats tend to think only in diplomatic or political terms. One of things we've been talking about with Secretary [of State John] Kerry is to take seriously that religious leaders have a bully pulpit. Also, with our constituencies that we represent, to bring all kinds of pressure to bear both there in Israel and Palestine—because remember not all Palestinians are Muslims."

"Bringing pressure to bear there, who do you talk to? Because the Orthodox rabbis in Israel are intractable, right?"

"Not all of them. And you have to remember, they can't ignore the Jewish community in America. Israel knows that it can't function without the support of the American Jewish community. The North American Jewish community is very strong. This whole Iran deal thing? The lightbulb finally dawned over some of them that the message of the Prime Minister [of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu] was not playing so well in the US. They realized how big he lost here. So though Netanyahu will never admit that he's wrong, ever, the core of of the diplomats and politicians in Israel understand how much he squandered here in the US, in Congress, in the Democratic Party and among North American Jews. So they're just now starting to pay attention to us. They're beginning to realize that everything you give to the far right in Israel, to the Ultra-Orthodox, does not help you among American Jewry, because American Jews are only ten percent Orthodox. Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet refusenik, who's now the head of the Jewish Agency, has been able to help broker some very important conversations between north American Jewish leaders and Israeli political leaders."

"Obama and Netanyahu are meeting this week, aren't they? Is this going to be the make-up sex?"

"Yeah, I think they have to, as much as they don't really like each other. Obama has no more patience for him. Obama's busy building his legacy, as every President does at this [point in an administration.] I think there are some very serious issues in Syria that I'm sure will be on the table for discussion. Israeli air strikes against Hezbollah, our own special ops forces...and how there could be another war there, right?"

"People are asking, 'Is this Obama's Vietnam?'"

"I think that's something to be considered. But it's much worse than Vietnam. Much worse."

"Because there are more players involved? Higher stakes?"

"Multiple players involved, they're not all unified in what they want, and there are a lot of chemical weapons that Assad has already used and will use again. I think Obama made a strategic error when he retreated a couple of years ago, after the 'chemical weapons red line,' when he did not get rid of their chemical weapons. He just did not. And I don't have a solution. It's a very complex issue."

She tells the tale of meeting a Muslim Syrian at an Israeli hospital, who had brought his two and a half-year-old son across the border for treatment of a leg wound. "We asked the father, 'Why did you bring him to Israel?' And he said, quote unquote, 'Israel is the devil. But I also hear that they have great medical care, and I would do anything for my son." So he carried him to the border, where the IDF let him in, for humanitarian aid. They brought him to the City of Ziv hospital in Svat, in northern part of Israel, where the hospital has an entire floor of nothing but Syrians in treatment. They come back and forth across the border, for ongoing care, all kinds of serious surgeries. And who pays for that? Israel."

"And then it's, 'Thanks for fixing me up, I'm going to go back to Syria and strap on another bomb now.'"

"Well, here's the problem. They can't let anyone know they've been to Israel, because then they're murdered as collaborators. It's a no-win situation. And that's why sometimes religious leaders can bring to bear in a different way, the pressures to come to the table to stop incitement to violence. It's very complex, and fascinating to be involved with."

"I can't imagine being involved at that level," I say. "It must be both horribly depressing but also exhilarating."

"Horrifying on so many levels, how intractable it is. While knowing what the right thing to do is, and not being able to actualize it. We in America want to sit in our armchairs and say, 'It's so simple. This is Palestine and this is Israel.' Or, 'Let's just have one state. Can't we all just get along, Rodney King style? We'll have a secular constitution.' But it just doesn't work that way when you're over there. If there's one state, there's no Israel. So that's a non-starter. But it's also not so simple to just divide them. Because let's talk about the practicalities of providing security, and electricity. Right now, Israel provides all the electricity to Gaza and the West Bank. How do you divide infrastructure? There's a lot to be worked out."

"But over the years, they've gotten close." Yasser Arafat famously walked away from a nearly-completed deal at Camp David in 2000. "All that has been worked out before," I point out.

"It has! But what the Arabs want is 98% of their homes and farms. Including having part of Jerusalem as their capital. The reality is they don't really want a [separate] Palestine in that way. What they really want is the whole thing."

[Of course there's a flip side to this narrative, as I'm sure the comments here will reflect.]

"That's the dealbreaker," I say. "[Palestinians refusing to acknowledge] Israel's right to exist."

"It's going to take a while. It's so hard for all of us who care. On both sides, there are people who care desperately. I don't think all Arabs are bad, or all Muslims are bad. There are people who are really working for peace at a grassroots level. But it's hard."

"Hate speaks with a very loud voice, here and there." I say in an attempt at profundity. "Haters tend to scream, where we peacemakers are quieter."

"Yes," she agrees.

We close our conversation when I pose her one more ethical dilemma. News had just come out that Volkswagen diesel engines have been responsible, statistically, for 59 deaths in the USA alone. I drive a diesel Jetta. "How can I in good conscience justify driving that car at all, even just down to the store, when I know it's killing people?"

"That's a real challenge. How do you answer any ethical question? There's always a balance between the personal and the communal. The Christian golden rule is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But the Jewish version is, "First, do no harm." So it's a serious question, and I'm not sure how your resolve it."

"I'm thinking of just taking Uber or Lyft everywhere and sending Volkswagen the bill."

"That's a great idea!"

"But even if we drive a 'clean' gasoline car, or a hybrid, there are still emissions. We're still killing people all the time. So what do you do?"

She shrugs rabbinically. "So you limit your trips. Do the least amount of harm you can do, given the situation. Be fair to yourself, be fair to others."

I'll do my best, Rabbi. And that, at the end of the day, is all any one of us can hope to do.

Rabbi Eger blogs at

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

L.A. Food Crazy is now BREAKING BREAD NEWS

It's been three years since I posted here. A lot has changed. Open Table, Yelp, Siri, and OK Google are full of ideas for where you should eat. FourSquare is still a thing. Or has it come and gone already? The world is melting. Donald Trump is being taken seriously.

There are a lot more food resources on the Interwebs than there were in 2012. You really don't need yet another self-appointed expert going on about the epicurean qualities of this or that chili cheese dog. That's what Yelp and a hundred other sites out there are for.

So sitting down today to relaunch my blog, I stared at it, and thought: "How boring and trivial. I have so much more to talk about than just food. I'm interested in politics, ethics, literature, film, TV, art, pop culture...If only there were a way to incorporate that stuff into a food blog."

Then it came to me: Food is about more than just ingredients, recipes and seasoning. Dining out is about more than value, preparation, and presentation. At its best a good meal is what we bond over with friends, loved ones, and colleagues while we talk about the news of the day and try to align it with our hopes and dreams for ourselves and for the world. As we order one or two more beers, glasses of wine, or cocktails, we talk ever more vociferously. We might argue. We might agree.

But at the end of the day, we have broken bread together. We've shared ideas and opinions, and perhaps even posited a course of action. We've reaffirmed that we're friends and fellow travelers on this careening orb.

So that's what I plan to focus on here.

I'll try to find interesting people to dine with, and I'll ply them for their views on whatever is making headlines, or perhaps inexplicably not making headlines. I'll still seek out and find new places and tip you off about my current favorite Mexican food truck, or dim sum place in the 626. But I'll also revisit places. Perhaps, with the new perspective offered by a different dining partner(s), or something new on the menu, there'll be a new insight or opinion.

If I dine alone (and I should do less of that!) I'll try to at least debate with myself  about the food, and discuss what drove me to eat out alone in the first place. If I'm dining with someone else, I'll discuss what we discussed: What we agreed on, what we disagreed on (be it the appetizer or US policy in the Middle East) and whether we were able to find room, even where we disagree, to open our minds and our mouths to new things.

Finally and most importantly, this is a conversation I want to have not just with myself and my dining companions, but with YOU. I hope you'll comment, complain, kibitz, whatever—just join the conversation, because we're all in this together.

If this sounds like something you might like, I hope you'll tell people about this blog via bookmark, share, follow, like, tweet, pin, tumbl—whatever it is you do to engage with the world. Sheet, you could even tell a friend about it over lunch!

Which reminds me...would you like to have lunch sometime? Dutch treat. ;-)

Look for my first "Breaking Bread" post on Thursday. Until then, good news and bon app├ętit!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Top Ten Favorite Los Angeles Restaurants

L.A. Food Crazy is going on indefinite hiatus. After five years, I've already written up most of the restaurants I love, and my wife Sa has become such an excellent cook that we don't go out as much anymore. So my job here is, for the time being at least, done.

If you're looking for another well-written, informative blog to follow, you might check out There my friend Don Miguel de Los Angeles no McDonalds (pictured here with sidekick Maria Sanchez) will be holding forth about, yes, burritos, but also whatever else strikes his foodie fancy.

For a final post, I thought I'd leave you with a roundup of my top ten favorite restaurants in the City of Los Angeles, most of which I've already reviewed here.

Note that these aren't necessarily the best restaurants in their category. In fact, most aren't. It would be easy enough to create a list of "bests" that included places like Red Medicine, Providence, Animal, Angelini, and the like. But those aren't my favorite restaurants. They're all too expensive for me to indulge in any of them more than a few times a year. They tend to be cramped. Many of them are noisy. Staff can be haughty or downright rude.

My favorite restaurants, on the other hand, tend to be comfortable (red Naugahyde booths and birdbath martinis preferred), have some history and legend to them, and an affable if slightly nutty staff. The kind of place where you become a regular, and they actually notice. And many of my favorite restaurants aren't restaurants at all, but lunch counters, pop up stands and trucks. No trucks made the final list, though Lobsta Truck would certainly be an honorable mention.

So here they are, in no particular order:

El Cielito Lindo
23 Olvera St. E
Los Angeles, CA 90012
(213) 687-4391

El Cielito Lindo invented what we know as the taquito, with its unique green avocado sauce that isn't quite guacamole but isn't quite salsa verde. I often make trips to Olvera Street just for taquitos, and although there are better ones than Cielito Lindo's to be had (try Juanita's or Rodolfo's), I always get a couple from the originator of the dish just to pay respects. There's something comforting and iconically Angeleno about Cielito Lindo's spot at the bottom of the street, anchoring Olvera Street, Cesar Chavez Blvd.,  and Alameda Street all at once. And knowing the legend that Orson Welles once ate 44 taquitos at a sitting always makes me feel better about my own gluttonous scarfage.

Taylor's Steakhouse
3361 W 8th St
Los Angeles, CA 90005
(213) 382-8449
Google Map

Some will say there are better steaks in L.A., but Mastro's, my other favorite, is in Beverly Hills and costs a small fortune; Dan Tana's is West Hollywood and I've had disappointing steaks there. Musso and Frank has never impressed. Haven't been to Cut yet, cuz it's too expensive. No, when I go out for steak (unless I just sold a novel or something) it's Taylor's. Classic, slightly funky steakhouse ambience; red booths; waitresses who call you "hon;" signed pictures of John McKay (if you don't know he is, you don't know L.A.!) on the wall. Wedge salads with bleu cheese or Thousand Island; the best baked potatoes around; and big, delicious, impeccably prepared steaks, including their famous "Culotte" cut. And for steak, the prices are utterly reasonable: (steaks $19.00-30.00 with all the trimmings). Small but decent wine list, too.

Original Tommy's2575 Beverly Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 389-1682
Yelp It

The cheeseburger is (arguably) a SoCal invention, and Tommy's is the apotheosis of the chili-cheeseburger genre. On your way back from downtown and a little hungry after a long show? You have to at least MENTION the possibility of stopping at Tommy's on the way home. Someone in the group will inevitably say, "Ugh, I can't eat a grease bomb at this hour," but every once in awhile you'll get lucky. Or you'll have to slip out on your own once a year or so for a quick lunch there. You might need a nap that afternoon, but it's worth it. God I love dem burgers. For some reason, none of the spin-off shops, even those with the true Original Tommy's "hut" that signifies the genuine article, aren't as good; you gotta go to 1st and Rampart.

Noshi Sushi
4430 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
(323) 469-3458
Open 7 days til 9 pm
Google Local Info

Katsu-ya's great, and I loved Ike until he retired, and I love Shintaro, the nearest sushi to my house. And someday I hope to become a billionaire and be able to afford dinner for two at Urasawa. But if I want to go out and eat a big platter of raw fish without breaking the bank, it's to Noshi we go. Fair prices, fresh fish, big portions...and it's the only sushi bar I know of with—you guessed it—red pleather booths.

8351 W Sunset Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Neighborhood: West Hollywood
(323) 654-8300
Yelp Info

If I'm JUST going out for a chili dog, you might think Pink's, but the line is absurd. (One of the many reasons I love the L.A. County Fair is because I can get a Pink's dog there with no wait.) And if I'm JUST going for a chili cheeseburger, it's Original Tommy's But if I don't feel like the long haul to First and Rampart, or I'm not sure what I want, or I want one of each...Carney's on Sunset Strip is the burger and dog joint for me. I love the kitsch of the train car and the people watching on the Strip. They make great burgers, great fries. And you know what? I think their basic chili cheese dog is better than Pink's, full stop.

Ricky's Fish Tacos 
1400 N Virgil Ave
Los Angeles, CA 9002
Yelp Info

When I wrote the first draft of this post, this spot was held by Henry's Tacos (may it rest in peace) but they closed their doors amid much media outcry on January 15.  It's probably just as well; as iconic and nostalgic as Henry's crispy ground beef burritos and tacos were, Ricky's is probably, actually, better. Because it's AWESOME. If you're a fan of Baja style—as in, deep fried, mofo!—fish tacos, these are BY FAR the best you'll find north or Rosarito Beach or Ensenada. There are only two things on the menu: shrimp tacos and fish tacos. On Sundays, sometimes lobster tacos. A cooler full of drinks. A bucket of horchata. some shredded cabbage, pico de gallo, and three salsas. The fish is battered and deep fried before your eyes, and it comes out perfectly: hot, not too greasy, perfectly seasoned. Ricky uses swai, a mild fish popular in southeast Asia; a perfect choice for the dish, it has flavor that complements the rich batter without overpowering it (as cod can) or getting lost in it. The only caveat with Ricky's is that it can be difficult to find. It's just a pop-up stand: a couple of portable tables under a couple of Easy-ups, three small tables and a dozen chairs. I guarantee you'll drive right past it at least once. It's located in the tiny parking lot of a tiny office building a half block off of Sunset Blvd, across from the loading dock for Von's. There's no sign. Hours are variable, although he's usually there Thursday-Sunday, weather permitting. You should check his Twitter feed to make sure he's there on any given day.

2056 Hillhurst Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 662-1214
Mon - Sat. 9-6
Cash Only

Click here for Google Info & Map

Yuca's invented the use of whole beans in burritos, so that alone gets them a prize. Plus how many L.A. taco stands do you know that have received a James Beard award? Go to the stand, on Hillhurst, not the restaurant on Hollywood Blvd. It's just better somehow. Get the Cochinita Pibil. They're also doing a good business in cheeseburgers these days; some blogger raved about them, and now they've been "discovered." As yet undiscovered, but just as good, is their chili cheese dog.

TAIX French Restaurant
1911 Sunset Blvd.,
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Info on Yelp

Back's just the kind of restaurant I love. Sprawling, comfy, with a great bar that pours big drinks, big plates of quite reasonably authentic country French cuisine, and an extensive selection of fairly priced French wines, for great prices. Almost everything here is good. I especially love the Thursday special of lapin (rabbit) in a mustard-shallot sauce, the oxtail, the duck a l'orange, the pork chop, the ratatouille, the seafood pasta, the macaroni au gratin... really, just about everything. The goofy chatty waiters not the least. And there are booths. Not red pleather, but booths nevertheless.

El Coyote Cafe
7312 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90036
Google Local Info

It's where we go when we don't know where to go: the classic iteration of 20th Century California style Mexican food: Gringo Mex, as some call it. I've posted here about it enough in the past that I don't need to go into detail. But I will say that they've been upgrading and simplifying their menu, so if you haven't been in awhile you should check it out. Welcome new additions are shrimp burritos and tacos, fish tacos, chicken and steak "street" tacos with excellent new salsas, and a tasty tortilla soup in place of the old vegetable soup. "Spaghetti" is no longer on the menu, but you can still get your old school tostada (now labeled "eclectic") with industrial grade beets, green beans and garbanzos if you want; you can also get the tastier new Tostada Fresca. Also try their fantastic new chicken tortilla soup.

Beverly Soon Tofu
2717 W Olympic Blvd # 108,
Los Angeles, CA 90006
Phone: (213) 380-1113
Open 7 days 9:30 am - 10:30 pm.
MC Visa, no Amex.
Beer, sake, and soju.
Click here for Google Map.

I didn't have Beverly Soon in my original list, or any Korean food. My wife was appalled, and she's right. Tough call, this category; Seoul Garden is wonderful, so is Toad House. But Beverly Soon was my first Korean foodie kiss, so sentiment wins the day. Aside from the delicious, deadly-spicy (when ordered that way) tofu stew, their grilled meats are just awesome. Get the combo of stew with Tender bulgogi, delicious kalbi ribs, or the sizzling whole squid in chili sauce snipped up into ringlets by your waitress with kitchen scissors; add decent banchan and copious amounts of soju, and it's no wonder the out of towners want to come back.

Del Taco

Okay, I'm making it 11, because it wouldn't be a Los Angeles list without at least one drive thru fast food chain, and for me it has to be Del Taco. (Sorry, In 'n' Out; the bible verses on the cups are a deal-breaker.) Ever since our beloved Hollywood/Santa Monica Del Taco location shut down, I've been craving it with an unholy craving, and can't drive past one without swerving in. What's good here? Quesadillas, fish tacos, shrimp burritos, and one of my all time, I-could-live-on-these faves, the 99¢ half-pound bean and cheese burrito with green sauce. Warm, beany, squishy, tangy, comforting goodness.

There are so many places I haven't mentioned. No Italian on the list. No Chinese (most of the truly great Chinese in the San Gabriel Valley. Try Lu Gi, Harbour Seafood, Chung King, and 101 Noodle Express; Chinatown restaurants pale in comparison).  But you can always explore this blog further for my recommendations.

If you like my wrting, and you like food, you should really check out my mouthwatering new e-novel, at

That's all folks. Bon appetit and thanks for reading.