LA is back on lockdown, which, for me, means no more sneaking bottles of gamay for socially distanced hangouts at Silver Lake Meadow, no more drinks on friends’ rooftops, and, of course, no more outdoor dining at restaurants (for now). Thankfully, LA’s takeout game remains top notch.
Recently, Infatuation LA has been focused on new restaurants - last week, we brought back the Hit List, filled with all our favorite new restaurants and pop-ups, and next week, we’re revealing our favorite meals and pop-ups of 2020. So today, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite decidedly not-new spots for takeout and delivery, including a classic Silver Lake Cuban restaurant, an excellent soul-curing Weho seafood spot, and a Boyle Heights burrito stand that always manages to temporarily cure my pandemic-related depression.
MY NEIGHBORHOOD FAVORITE:
Though non-Angelenos might only know Silver Lake as part of what The New York Times called “LA’s Hipster Trifecta,” there’s a lot more to this part of town than poorly researched caricatures. For example, there’s the lasting impact of the large Cuban community that blossomed in the neighborhood in the ’70s and ’80s. The family-run Cuban restaurants here are a prime example of that, and my favorite is El Cochinito - their lechón asado is damn near perfect, with tender and crispy slow-grilled pork punctuated by bright citrus and cumin. There’s also their Cubano, which was literally named the best Cuban sandwich in the world. You can also get an impressive selection of tropical cocktails and natural wine here, too. Owner Daniel Navarro, whose grandmother founded the place in 1988, also recently took over Cafe Tropical, a bodega and cafe down the street that has been open since the ’70s. I frequently hit this spot up, too, for Cuban espressos and tremendous guayaba and queso pastries.
FOR A NEW ENGLAND FEAST:
I typically travel back to Massachusetts for Thanksgiving with my family, but this year, I stayed in LA. That didn’t stop me from ordering way too much seafood, in honor of our typical Cape Cod Thanksgiving feast, from Connie & Ted’s in West Hollywood. The meal consisted of some New England family staples, like sausage-stuffed quahogs, fisherman’s stew filled with mussels, and fried clam bellies, plus some stuff I’ve definitely never attempted to make at home, like lobster pot pie and smoked black cod dip. This meal cured an especially bad case of holiday homesickness, and didn’t even involve me splattering clam oil all over my clothes while cooking.
FOR SOME COMFORT:
I frequently feel overwhelmed when faced with too many options (browsing Netflix with me is my girlfriend’s definition of hell), so I love when I find a place where I know exactly what I’m ordering every time. That’s the case at Al & Bea’s, the burrito stand in Boyle Heights where my order never changes: Two bean, cheese, and green chile burritos. The pinto beans, stewed for 16 hours, are gloriously flavored with lard, and they’re topped with a bit of melted cheese and a splash of mild green chile sauce, before being wrapped in a locally made flour tortilla. The burrito is small enough - and cheap enough ($4.50) - that I don’t feel bad ordering two.
I’m going to be honest - I’ve eaten a sh*tload of pizza lately, because there are a ton of great new pizza spots in LA. But Hail Mary is an Eastside staple that has been my top go-to this year. After a tumultuous opening in Atwater Village in 2017 that involved changing names and concepts multiple times, this place has been remarkably consistent since reconfiguring as a pizza shop in 2018. They reliably serve some of the most interesting pizzas around, like one covered in slow-roasted lamb neck and nettles, or a fennel sausage and gooey Mornay cheese pie, or, my personal favorite, the Savannah, with salami, Calabrian chilies, and pickled jalapeños. Each pizza is served on excellent, chewy, and doughy sourdough crust that actually might be my favorite part of the whole slice.
FOR RARE BEERS:
Not counting the bottom shelf of my fridge, there are very few places as committed to hard-to-find beer as Glendale Tap, the dive bar that’s turned into one of the best craft beer shops in town during COVID. Each time I stop by, they have a new set of incredible beers I’ve never seen before in LA, like hazy IPAs from Equilibrium, sours from De Garde, and barrel-aged stouts from Anchorage Brewing. If those don’t mean anything to you, trust me when I say that list will make any beer nerd’s head explode. For Thanksgiving, I picked up a bottle of De Garde’s Ivy, a wild ale aged on spruce pine tips for two years, and it was among the best beers I’ve had this year. This bar will also continue to host vendors serving food to-go, even with the new stay-at-home order, including some of our favorite pop-ups in the city, like Kuya Lord, Bootleg Pizza, and Uncle Johnny’s Burgers.
PREVIOUSLY, ON BRETT'S FAVORITE SPOTS IN LA (RIGHT NOW)
I’ve developed a lot of weird habits during quarantine, and, upon some introspection, most of them tie into food, either directly or indirectly.
I channeled my profound sense of hopelessness about the world - and my carbohydrate intake - into training for a marathon. (I’m actually running it on Saturday, wish me luck!) I also started to cook a lot, and have visited basically every market between East Hollywood and Pasadena. I even went full mad scientist, spending multiple nights attempting to make the perfect Night + Market nam khao tod from home. And, like Brant and Kat, I’ve been obsessively ordering takeout and relishing LA’s burgeoning pop-up scene, racking up a record number of random Venmo charges on my monthly expense report (many apologies to the Infatuation’s finance department).
So, after months of cooking, running, drinking, sobbing, and eating, these are my five favorite spots in LA - right now.
I’ve visited a lot of amazing pop-ups in the last couple months - Dough Daddy, Metztli Taqueria, and The Bad Jew, to name a few. But no spot is anything like Perilla. Chef Jihee Kim, who runs this Korean pop-up out of a tiny kitchen on South Harvard Blvd., puts a level of thought and care into every single dish that I’ve rarely seen in a restaurant. The menu is mainly banchan, ranging from delicately balanced meat dishes, like the sweet-and-salty bulgogi and tofu skins, to fresh vegetables, like crunchy green bean muchim or tender marinated okra, and there’s not a weak spot in the bunch. When I say you should order the entire menu - it’ll run you about $100, and last at least two meals for two people - I mean you should order the entire menu.
When I moved to Los Angeles, a friend who grew up in East LA took me to this tiny tortilleria for what he said were the best breakfast burritos in town. Five years later, I still love La Azteca - but my favorite thing there isn’t even the breakfast burrito, it’s their chile relleno burrito. It gets stuck in my head like a Carly Rae Jepsen song, and I can’t stop thinking about it until I eat it. The flour tortilla is perfect, dense, and pliable, and the warm tomato and onion salsa complements the deep-fried chiles and smooth, melty queso. Get it with carnitas - the salty shredded pork works wonders as a contrast to the chile relleno.
FOR SEAFOOD (AND CHICKEN):
When people say that a certain food “tastes like home,” they usually mean it reminds them of home - maybe it’s something their parents cooked, or a dish they always ate around the holidays. But the Little Namskaket oysters at Found quite literally taste like home to me - they’re farmed on the sand flats of Skaket Beach on Cape Cod Bay, less than a mile from where I grew up. The second I shuck one, I’m hit with the sulfuric low tide scent that defined my childhood summers. Beyond just helping me out when I’m feeling homesick for New England, Found is one of my favorite spots for a lot of reasons - I always shape my order around their salty, crispy fried chicken (added to the menu mid-pandemic), and the accompaniments usually include their unique, bisque-coated lobster roll, the creamy, smoky clam chowder, and the wedge salad, which is somehow just as good as the seafood here.
FOR COOKING AT HOME:
The best thing about high-quality seafood is that you don’t have to add much to it to make it taste great. And that’s exactly why I love Fish King, the Glendale seafood shop that has a wide range of incredibly fresh, sustainable, and downright gorgeous seafood. Their sushi-grade ahi, hamachi, and Scottish salmon are all ideal when I want to make sushi at home (they also sell nori and sushi rice), and if I’m in the mood to grill, they have what is genuinely the best swordfish I’ve ever eaten. I never leave without a container of their house-made poke, either - it’s a great appetizer for any seafood-based meal. The employees here are super helpful, too, and they’ll give you pointers about anything you want to cook.
FOR A DRINK:
Echo Park taproom/bottle shop Sunset Beer Co. has been a personal favorite of mine for a very long time now, and that’s because they’ve got the most knowledgeable staff of any beer spot in town. During the pandemic, they’ve done a remarkable job capitalizing on that strength - you can call (or order online), tell them what you like and how much money you want to spend, and they’ll put together an order for you. It’s sort of like having my own personal Cicerone (beer’s version of a sommelier) one phone call away. Which hasn’t been very good for my alcohol intake (or my stated goal of “not spending half my salary on beer”), but it’s worth it for the incredible options they have at Sunset.