Hello, everyone. Happy New Year and congratulations on making it to week 10 of January! We only have about 10 more to go, so in the words of Canadian pop deity Avril Lavigne, keep holding on. And remember, at least we get one more minute of sunshine today.
OK, on to what I tell my tax guy that I do for a living: recommend restaurants! Between the long holiday break and, well, not really having any social plans whatsoever, I’ve had plenty of time to reconnect with old favorites while also trying out new stuff as well. Here are five spots I can’t stop talking (or thinking) about right now.
Cancel whatever InstantPot dinner plans you have scheduled this week and immediately order takeout from Holy Basil. This tiny food court counter specializes in dishes like tom yum soup, green curry, and pad thai - all things you can find fairly easily at other Thai spots in LA. And yet, at Holy Basil, it’s like I’m trying them for the first time. Sweet and savory with the kind of spice that stays on your lips until morning, the food at Holy Basil is operating on an extremely high level and I implore you to head Downtown to experience it.
FOR BURRITOS BY THE BEACH:
It was at about the halfway point in the holiday break that my boyfriend and I looked at each other and silently agreed that we needed to get the f*ck out of the apartment. A few minutes later, we were en route to Chori Man. There are several good options for burritos by the beach in LA (Phanny’s in Redondo and Lily’s Malibu, to name a few), but I love Chori-Man, because their chorizo is the ideal balance of sweet and smoky, you can buy it in bulk for at-home recipes, and the drive down to San Pedro scratches the itch of getting out of LA without technically leaving it. We recommend picking up your burritos (and a loaf of bread from Colossus Bakery next door, of course) and then head a few blocks south to Wilders Addition Park for great views and zero crowds. For a view on the way back, take the long way around the Palos Verdes peninsula for some of the best vistas in LA.
FOR SOMETHING ON THE WEEKEND:
West Hollywood Night Market
Weekends are boring as sh*t right now. You can’t eat out, you can’t see friends, and there are only so many times that you can hike the same canyon and post sunrise pics to your timeline (OK, once). Here’s a suggestion: check out the West Hollywood Night Market. No, I don’t mean the well-known Thai restaurant of the actual same name, this night market is a real one that pops up every weekend next door to Employee’s Only. There’s a variety of vendors selling everything from succulents to excellent wood-fired pizza, plus movies playing on the wall and a surprising sense of normalcy. You can either preorder online or go exploring while you’re there.
FOR SO MUCH MEAT:
My explore page tells me I should be eating healthier this month, and to those accounts I say, “But Ugly Drum.” The pastrami specialist rose to fame over the last few years at Smorgasburg, but since the fall, has been operating out of Bludso’s BBQ on La Brea. There’s steep competition in this town when it comes to great pastrami, but let it be known, Ugly Drum is creeping closer to the esteemed pantheon. If it’s your first time, the Pit Smoked Pastrami Sandwich is an obvious choice, but don’t miss out on the rest of their menu either. Everything from potato salad to the Turkey Stack to the seasoned fries should be on your order. They also offer pastrami and “uglies” (pastrami burnt ends) by the pound - another obvious choice.
PREVIOUSLY ON, BRANT'S FAVORITE LA RESTAURANTS (RIGHT NOW)
I went to Ackee Bamboo twice during election week - three times, if you count me raiding my refrigerator for jerk chicken at 3:45am on Wednesday. The classic Jamaican restaurant in Leimert Park has been a favorite of mine for years, but the tremendous menu, filled with oxtails, brown stew chicken, and Jamican patties, proved to be an absolute necessity that week. In fact, I think I owe them a “thank you” note.
Between Little Coyote in Long Beach, Prince Street in West Hollywood, and this city’s newfound obsession with Detroit-style square pizza, 2020 has been a very good year for pizza in LA. And now there’s Cento Pizzeria. If that name sounds familiar, you’re not going crazy - it’s the same people behind Downtown’s Cento Pasta, only now they’re slinging bubbly Neapolitan pizza perfection inside Tartine Sycamore. I haven’t tried a pizza there yet that I wouldn’t recommend, but the Green Goddess (hot pizza, cold salad, green goddess dressing, herbs, and feta) and Beef Birria are early standouts. They’re open Thursday-Saturday from 5-10pm for takeout, delivery, and patio dining.
FOR REVELING IN THE FACT THAT IT'S 65 DEGREES OUTSIDE:
Look, I’m just as pissed as you are that it’s dark at 4:47pm now, but I think we can all celebrate the fact that LA’s finally decided to give winter a try. Seriously, has 65-degree weather ever felt this therapeutic? I get to sleep with bed covers on, wear socks as an actual outfit accessory, and finally curl up with a warm bowl of soup without wrecking my couch in the process. You can find great soup all over LA, but in my opinion, nothing beats the laksa mee from Borneo Kalimantan in Alhambra. Shrimp, fish cake, tofu, and marinated egg all in a mildly spicy coconut milk broth, it’s one of my favorite noodle soups in the entire city (maybe the world), and should be a staple of everyone’s winter diet. The flaky roti prata for dipping is also a must.
FOR SOMETHING FANCY:
If a big sit-down dinner at a fancy restaurant isn’t exactly on your radar right now, that’s understandable. But if it’s something you are considering, I can’t think of a more exciting experience in town than dinner at Damian. Run by chef Enrique Olvera (Pujol, Cosme), this modern Mexican restaurant in the Arts District is easily the biggest LA opening in years, and if you don’t believe me, check out their reservation page - they’re basically booked up until 2021. I’ll admit, this was my first fine-dining experience since March, and while I was a little nervous walking in, all I can say is that every aspect of Damian is executed to perfection. The back patio is stunning and spacious, the staff has sanitary protocols down to a science, and oh my god the food. I can’t really name a standout dish, but between the tartare tostada, shrimp tlayuda, and albacore carnitas, this was a meal I’m going to be thinking about for a long time.
FOR GOOD FOOD (AND AN EVEN BETTER CAUSE):
I’m a huge fan of Adda, The Hangout, a new-ish Indian pop-up operating out of the Crafted Kitchen space in the Arts District. They only cook once or twice a month, and the menu changes often, but just know that no matter what, you’re going to be eating fantastic, homestyle Indian food. Standouts from their last meal drop include kadai chicken (cooked in tangy gravy with onions and bell peppers) and gobi matar, cauliflower and peas cooked together with turmeric, cumin, and other spices. But perhaps the best part about Adda, The Hangout is the cause that they support. A portion of all proceeds go to the LA Food Bank kids’ meals program, making a big meal here a no-brainer. Give them a follow on Instagram for all the latest ordering details.
Let me start by stating the obvious: Things are really messed up right now. For restaurants, for the world, for everyone’s personal Netflix algorithm. (Tip: Don’t house an entire bottle of wine and stream Pup Star: World Tour if you don’t want them to permanently assume you’re an 8-year-old animal enthusiast). But I digress.
My point is, despite all the craziness and terrifying unknowns this year has brought, I’ve been equally amazed by the sheer ingenuity of our city’s restaurants. I’m not lying when I say that the amount of mind-blowing meals I’ve eaten in 2020 rivals that of any year I’ve written for The Infatuation. Sure, meals might now involve at-home sushi kits or stuffing my face with Philly soft pretzels inside my Ford Focus as a singular, joyful tear rolls down my face (email for details), but that’s simply the name of the game right now.
So without further ado, here are five spots I’m completely obsessed with right now.
I’ve said this to just about everyone I know, so I might as well tell you guys - Kuya Lord is the best meal I’ve eaten all year. This Filipino pop-up is run by Lord Maynard Llera, a former sous chef at Bestia, and operates entirely out of his house in La Canada-Flintridge. I understand that DMing someone you’ve never met on Instagram and showing up at their private residence might be... outside some peoples’ comfort zones, but get comfortable, because pop-ups are here to stay, and Kuya Lord is simply too incredible to miss. Everything on the constantly changing menu is inspired by what Llera grew up eating in his hometown of Lucena, Philippines, and I’ve frankly yet to try something that doesn’t send me into a place of unadulterated bliss. What I’m trying to say is order everything that’s available that week. There will be leftovers… a lot of leftovers, but if someone in your household complains about that fact, at least you know where to make some relationship cuts.
I’m going to be really transparent right now - I kind of hate picnics. No matter what park or stretch of dead grass you end up in, there’s always a million bugs, chaotic sitting positions, and the same grocery store dip that you didn’t like from the last picnic. That said, I realized that if I wanted to see any of my friends this year, I needed to get over it. With the help of Chainsaw, I have. This Historic Filipinotown pop-up is run by the former pastry chef at Here’s Looking At You (RIP) and a sous chef at Providence and has wholeheartedly made me appreciate eating on the ground again. They do this fantastic $30 lunchbox on weekends that comes with a salad, a dessert, and an insanely delicious pork shoulder sandwich, but don’t get upset if you can’t get one (they sell out fast). Instead, focus on the homemade pies. I understand it’s hyperbolic to say a place makes the best pie I’ve ever eaten in my life, but Chainsaw does just that. And that’s a sentiment that’ll almost certainly be shared at whatever picnic you show up at.
FOR GETTING THE F*CK OUT OF LA:
I don’t think I need to over-explain why getting out of the city is paramount for mental health right now. While we have no shortage of great day trips around LA, I’m here to add another one to your list - Little Dom’s Seafood. Located in the tiny beach town of Carpinteria (about 70 miles north of LA), LDS is the kind of place you can either plan an entire weekend around or simply drive up for dinner and be back home in bed by 11pm. While many of the iconic dishes from their Los Feliz location appear on the menu (the meatballs, rice balls), you should definitely concentrate mostly on their excellent raw bar. Whether it’s raw oysters, live uni, or smoked albacore toast, lean into the fact that the ocean is only two blocks away and revel in the joy that you aren’t currently sitting home mumbling “There’s nothing to watch” until you fall asleep.
Honestly, shout out to wine in general this year, but also specifically Vinovore for helping me get through 2020’s roughest patches. My boyfriend and I have become pretty obsessed with this Silver Lake wine shop as of late, which focuses on female winemakers, but also has excellent snacks like hard-to-find cheeses to tinned sardines. We usually do their 12-bottle “Who Runs The World? Girls!” box (because why not?), which you can order online or by calling them directly and just letting them know what you’re in the mood for (tip: do that). Either way, they’ll have your order packaged up and ready for consumption in under a half hour.
FOR A PATIO THAT DOESN'T STRESS ME OUT:
I’ve been a massive fan of Kensho since they opened last year on the grounds of Yamashiro in Hollywood. And now, I’ve grown to appreciate this outdoor Japanese wine bar even more. With only a handful of tables, Kensho’s patio overlooking the hills of Hollywood can be full and you’ll still feel like you have the place to yourself. You’ll drink too much wine, snack on delicious yakitori and perilla bowls, listen to music, and watch the sun slowly set over the city. If you’re not eating on patios right now, that’s certainly understandable, but if you’re thinking of trying one out, I can’t think of a more inviting option than Kensho.