Los Angeles, like most major cities around the world, has not been itself in 2020. Backlots are empty, nightlife has evaporated, and even our glorious beaches have been barren for long stretches of the year. It’s been profoundly difficult to watch, and it’s only normal to wonder what it’ll all look like on the other side. I’m certainly no economist, but I’ll say this: Despite the crippling effects of a worldwide pandemic, LA’s soul hasn’t gone anywhere. It’s still here, completely intact, and places like Baja Subs are proof of that.
Now, to be clear, I’m not saying Baja Subs is the heart of LA. What I am saying is that a hidden Sri Lankan restaurant in the back of a Northridge convenience store is exactly what makes this city so special to me. Come in for a pack of cigarettes, an air freshener, or a Gatorade, leave with a takeout container filled with homemade egg roti and string hoppers. It’s a hidden gem, a spot that combines seemingly disparate cultures and cuisines (like the sign out front says, it’s also a “Mexican grill”), and gets by on an innate ability to do the most with what they’ve got - in this case, a couple tables and a deli counter inside a strip-mall corner store.
It doesn’t get any more LA than that. Which is part of the reason why I sought refuge here all year.
The other reason, obviously, is the food.
This is usually around the time where I talk about a specific dish you can’t leave a place without ordering. I can’t do that with Baja Subs - simply because I could make that argument for every dish on the menu. The pineapple chutney-topped biryani is one of the most unique and memorable versions you’ll find in town, the kottu roti (a popular street food consisting of chopped roti bread stir-fried with eggs, vegetables, and spices) is so complex and flavorful that my boyfriend tells me my eyes gloss over while I eat it, and once, I drove on a flat in Friday-night rush hour simply for a plate of their garlicky Sri Lankan-style noodles. Baja Subs’ set-up is certainly what makes it unique, but it’s the food that makes it so damn exciting.
Even before the indoor/outdoor dining-closure chess match of 2020, Baja Subs was, by nature, mostly a takeout operation. While that no doubt stopped owners Premil and Koshalie Jayasinghe from raiding their store’s Advil stock, it also meant that their takeout system has been a well-oiled machine for a while now. Give them a call at (818) 993-7064, and in 20-30 mins, your made-to-order Sri Lankan feast is ready.
In fact, do it soon. Because LA will snap back, there’s no doubt about that. And while we wait and wonder what the future will look like, places like Baja Subs help to remind us that there’s still so much to celebrate today.
This dish is somewhat hidden at the bottom of Baja Subs’ menu, but make sure you don’t miss it. This flaky, chewy, egg-filled roti is one of my favorite versions in town and is the ideal side for any other dish on your order.
I know I said I didn’t have a favorite dish at Baja Subs, but that might’ve been a lie. I really love this kottu roti. Chopped flaky roti sauteed with vegetables, eggs, and spices - it’s one of the most popular street foods in Sri Lanka, and a must-order anytime you’re within five miles of Baja Subs.
There is no shortage of good biryani in LA, but if you want a version that’s unlike any other in town, this is it. Topped with caramelized onion relish, cashews, pineapple chutney, and boiled egg, this dish strikes the perfect balance of sweet, sour, and spicy - and is also big enough to last for a few meals.
This is a great dish to balance out the bolder, spicier ones on your order. That said, just because these garlicky, fried noodles are mild compared to the rest of Baja Subs’ menu, that doesn’t mean they’re any less flavorful. In fact, I’d argue the opposite.
Commonly referred to as “lump rice,” this dish is a grab-bag of meat curry, sambal, long-grain rice, and fried egg, all wrapped in a giant banana leaf. It’s a fantastic quick-lunch option when you can’t decide what you want, but need to stay full until dinner.