dineLA Summer 2014 (7/14-7/27) Picks

It’s that time of the year again. This is probably the bi-annual event most people in LA look forward to the most. For this Summer 2014 season, I’ll feature 2 new options at each price point – 12 restaurants that haven’t been featured in previous iterations of my dineLA analysis, as well as previously-featured options that remains such (let’s call those my “greatest hits”). Fear not, however, for I will also provide a breakdown of the other previous selections at the very bottom.

By the way, dineLA – what happened to the $85 dinner price point?

(all photo credits below belong to Discover LA)

LUNCH:

$15

ciboteca1779068_613688768680052_834865407_n0Ciboteca
(Sandwiches, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 8am- ) Optimal Lineup:
– Toscano
– Spinach + arugula
– Milk chocolate cupola mousse
– (soft drink)
Estimated Savings: $9
Notes: Ciboteca is a new panini shop from the Piccolo group (whose Hostaria was and still is a BUY at $15, and whose OG Piccolo is pretty much a dineLA HOFer at $45). They don’t feature the sexy $9 panini options for dineLA though…except for the Toscano, which has Finocchiona (a Tuscan fennel salami). That’s why I’m here folks – to dig this type of information up and game the system. But this is a very good deal for $15: you get a panini, a salad, a pastry, and a fancy soda. Not too shabby.

Settebello (Marina del Rey)
(Pizza, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 11:30am- )
Optimal Lineup:
– Panzanella
– Settebello
Estimated Savings: $8
Notes: This deal is only for the Marina del Rey location – sorry Pasadena folks. I like Settebello. I think it deserves more love amongst pizza lovers in LA, especially seeing how Neapolitan pizza is so hot right now. And for dineLA, you basically get the first course for free. There’s lots of parking, and they don’t get very busy from my experiences. lazy-ox-canteen533920_10150815488361072_476536022_n010GREATEST HIT – Lazy Ox Canteen
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm) Optimal Lineup:
– Shishito peppers
– 7oz lazy ox burger
– Rice pudding
Estimated Savings: ~$15
Notes: I’ve been disappointed by Lazy Ox Canteen by their progress (or lack of) in recent years. After Chefs Centeno and Rocher left, it’s as if the restaurant became content served a limited menu of their greatest hits from Day 1. In the case of dineLA though, this works to their advantage. Proven dishes at a STEEP DISCOUNT – this menu was already a BUY at the $20 price point, but they went ahead and took it a step further. Percentage-wise, this might be the best dineLA deal of the season, lunch or dinner.

$20

Border Grill (Downtown)
(Mexican, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am- )
Optimal Lineup:
– Scallop tiradito
– Enchilada de camarones
Estimated Savings: ~$9
Notes: The menus for the Downtown and Santa Monica locations of Border Grill, respectively, have different menus for dineLA. However, the savings actually look to be almost exact – which means both locations are a BUY. I chose the Downtown one to highlight, because it’s within walking distance from my work. But if you prefer tacos over the other entrees, go to the Santa Monica one.

Muddy Leek
(American, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Fri 11am-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Tomato salad
– Shrimp & grits
– Gluten free beignets
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: I actually don’t know much about Muddy Leek, other than that I used to live near the restaurant, and that J. Gold wrote about it last year. I had assumed it was just a run-of-the-mill farm-to-table restaurant. But the menu reads rather…Southern? Pretty interesting. The shrimp & grits is probably their signature dish, and it is on both the lunch and dinner dineLA menus. Lunch is the preferred choice, as you’re bound to save ~$10 no matter what you choose. This is what dineLA should be all about – letting people try out new places at a friendly entry rate without dumbing the menus down. GREATEST HIT – Lukshon
(Asian, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Fri 12-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Crab fritter
– Grilled squid salad
Estimated Savings: $4
Notes: I actually previously featured Lukshon at the $25 dinner price point. But with every one of my previous $20 lunch selections either moving weight classes or not doing dineLA this year (with the exception of The Pikey, but it’s really hard to determine value with their menu), it’s worth bumping the dineLA HOFer here. Two of their regular dishes at $20 is a very good deal. Minor rant though: their dinner menu at $35 looks like a HOLD this time around (for the first time ever – they’re usually a strong BUY).

$25

Bourbon Steak
(Steakhouse, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 11:30am-2:30pm) Optimal Lineup:
– Burrata
– Black Angus skirt steak
– Vanilla custard
Estimated Savings: $20
Notes: 3 courses for $25 at the new steakhouse from Michael Mina looks like a great deal. Even if you choose the cheapest options for the first and second courses, you’re still going to save ~$10. But for a restaurant with “steak” in its name – you’d probably want to choose the steak option as entree. The skirt steak is definitely not as sexy as the higher-quality selections of beef that the restaurant offers, but do you really need more than a prime-grade steak for lunch? Water Grill
(Seafood, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11am- )
Optimal Lineup:
– Roasted beets w/ organic apples
– Wild Copper River sockeye salmon
Estimated Savings: $23
Notes: I believe both locations of Water Grill (Downtown and Santa Monica) are offering the same menus for lunch and dinner. Dinner at $45 is a BUY – ~$20 in savings. But you’re saving just as much during lunch at a much lower price point. The entree options bottom out at $19 (the shrimp banh mi), so you’re guaranteed to save money. If you order either of the fish options as the entree (and why wouldn’t you), it’s a double-digit savings AT LUNCH. The Downtown one’s a block away from my office, so I’m very likely going to this one. GREATEST HIT – Bouchon
(French, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Salade de Chou Frise
– Saucisson a l’Ail
– Bouchons
Estimated Savings: ~$20
Notes: It’s difficult to lock down actual savings at Bouchon each season, but I am fairly certain one can saving at least $10 regardless of the selections every time (mostly because I take the cheapest dish of each category from the regular menu as a price floor). Every one of the previous choices at the $25 price point remains a BUY, too (at least the ones that have posted a menu online).

DINNER:

$25

Komodo (Venice)
(Asian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun -9pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Trio of Morsels
– Kimchi Nachos
– Mochiko Fried Chicken
– Traditional Mexican Flan
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: I’ve always assumed Komodo was a cleaner, more expensive version of Kogi, and after reading the menu I can say that I was right…somewhat. There’s definitely the Asian Fusion thing going on (with the tacos in particular), but the dineLA menu doesn’t include the tacos. Instead, you get to choose from some rather traditional-sounding SE Asian/island dishes. The savings might be even more if you choose the salmon, and I did go conservative on the appetizer trio estimate. As good of a time as ever to try Komodo.

Mohawk Bend
(American, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Thu 4-10pm, Fri-Sat 4-11pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Heirloom tomato salad
– Roasted king salmon
– Peach sorbet
Estimated Savings: ~$10?
Notes: I hate to keep bringing this up season after season, but the $25 dinner dineLA options remain weak in my opinion, especially considering how I’m trying to feature new options. You know how desperate I’m getting when I’m recommending a vegetarian/vegan spot… But Mohawk Bend is indeed a good value at this price point, and you’re more likely going for their excellent beer selection. Makes drinking all them carbs go down a little easier, knowing that you’re eating relatively healthy with the beers. GREATEST HIT – The Corner Door
(American, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Thu 5pm-12am, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am)
Optimal Lineup:
– Pappardelle
– Steamed mussels
– White chocolate snickerdoodles
Estimated Savings: $15
Notes: The Corner Door really has this dineLA thing down. What they’ve managed to do is include the majority of the menu without the restraint of serving them in courses to maximize diner choices (and savings). The choice of two dishes is already a BUY (as long as you’re not choosing two vegetarian dishes), but you get a dessert as well?!? This is a really, really good dineLA deal. Use the savings on their wonderful drinks, or on another dish to share with your crew – it’s a fun place to hang out with friends.

$35

Tipple & Brine
(Seafood, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Wed 5-11pm, Thu-Sat 5pm-12am)
Optimal Lineup:
– Fried octopus
– Market Fish
– Chocolate Cremeaux
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: Tipple & Brine is a new restaurant in Sherman Oaks that focuses on seafood. I’ve read pretty good things about it, and not just pretty good for Sherman Oaks, although you’ll probably want to wait until traffic dies down a bit before heading north for dinner. But the 3 courses at $35 looks like a great value. Feeling guilty about not visiting my mom in the area after dinner though? Not as great of a value. Willie Jane
(Southern, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Thu 6-10pm, Fri-Sat 6-11pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Hanger steak tartar
– Fried chicken thighs with pimento mac
– Willie Jane red velvet cake
Estimated Savings: ~$9?
Notes: I’m glad Willie Jane moved down from the $45 price point, because it was definitely not a good deal then. But it’s now following big brother Post & Beam’s footsteps in becoming a dineLA value fixture. It’s somewhat difficult to lock down actual savings (I averaged the appetizer prices, and I’m not sure if the fried chicken here is the same as the regular one – but it does come with a side as well), but it looks like you can save $4-9 here. Their fried chicken has a really good reputation, and you know how much I love fried chicken. Plus those first courses sound pretty darn good as well. GREATEST HIT – Black Hogg
(America, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Sat 6-10:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Pork belly taco
– Brussels sprout hash
– Marrow burger
– Milk & Honey
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: I was going to go with the clams caribena as the entree choice to maximize savings, but “limited quantities” definitely catches the eye – I’m assuming the marrow burger is a dish created specifically for dineLA. Anyways, the entrees’ price range is $16-18, so you’ll still save $5-10 regardless, depending on the combination of dishes. There are plenty who go to Black Hogg expecting this Animal Part Deux, but it’s just a really nice neighborhood spot serving well-executed dishes that are inspired by multiple influences.

$45

Abigaile
(America, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 5-10pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Pao de queijo
– Roasted medjool dates & kale salad
– Tuna tartare
– Scallops & slab bacon
– Snickers
Estimated Savings: $22
Notes: That Tin Vuong – so hot right now. The chef went from this one Manhattan Beach restaurant to a local empire that now includes the critically-acclaimed Little Sister, Wildcraft Sourdough Pizza, and the new Dia del Campo (the latter also a BUY at the $45 dinner price point). But let’s not forget about the OG here. Just stay away from the cheapest options from the “ruffage” category and the noodle dish from the “carnage” category, and you’re bound to save double-digits. Use those savings on their excellent beer selections. Faith & Flower
(American, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Thu 5:30-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-12am)
Optimal Lineup:
– Summer squash salad
– Longanisa sausage
– Mesquite grilled skirt steak
– Seared steelhead trout
– Peaches & Cream
Estimated Savings: ~$25
Notes: Man this place looks sexy. And the savings at dinner for dineLA look even sexier. I’m fairly certain about the estimated savings here – the dineLA menu items that are not on the regular menu have comparable counterparts on the regular menu. The floor here is probably $5+, but obviously in choosing the two proteins as mains, you’d get the ~$25 savings. The best idea, actually, is to go as a pair to get one of everything on the dineLA menu. You’ll still save $15/person, which you can apply towards drinks or something else off the regular menu (oxtail agnolotti?). GREATEST HIT – Fogo de Chao
(Steakhouse, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Thu 5-10pm, Fri 5-10:30pm, Sat 4:30-10:30pm, Sun 4-9:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– Menu the same as regular
Estimated Savings: $16.50
Notes:  Ah, Fogo de Chao – dependable as ever during dineLA. You know exactly what you’re getting, and you know exactly how much you’re saving. Just make sure to make a reservation, and preferably not at peak hours, because it gets PACKED during dineLA (including plenty of UCLA students – I know from personal experience). Luckily, service doesn’t get compromised, and selections remain consistent and plentiful…unless the Brazilians are still too depressed from the World Cup.

So there you have it – 2 new selections at each price point along with an additional “greatest hits” selection, for a total of 18 again this time around. I hope everyone enjoys these next 2 weeks of grubbin’, because I certainly will. And bonus: AMEX brought back the dineLA $5 statement credits! And it’s for each meal you spend > $21 too!

Previous Selections:

LUNCH ($15)

Fundamental LA – BUY (up to $7 in savings)
The Larder at Burton Way – BUY ($11)
MessHall – BUY ($4)
Next Door by Josie – BUY (~$4)
Short Order – ???
TLT Food – BUY ($6)

($20)

The Pikey – HOLD (~$3?)

($25)

AOC – BUY ($6)
Drago Centro – ???
Little Dom’s (up from $20) – HOLD (~$3)
Mo-Chica (also up from $20) – HOLD (~$4)
Paiche – BUY (~$10)
Rivera – ???
Tavern – BUY ($15)

DINNER

($25)

Blue Cow Kitchen & Bar – BUY ($8)
Hostaria del Piccolo – BUY (~$10)
Post & Beam – BUY (~$10)

($35)

Freddy Smalls Bar + Kitchen – HOLD? (???)
The Gorbals – HOLD? (???)
Gusto – ???
Lukshon – HOLD ($2) – surprise here, as they’re usually a strong BUY
Night + Market – BUY if you refuse to go to Sliver Lake, SELL if nothing’s holding you back
Waterloo & City – BUY (~$10)

($45)

The Bazaar – BUY ($22)
Craft – BUY (~$10)
Lawry’s The Prime Rib – BUY ($16)
Lucques – BUY ($15)
Patina (down from $85) – really hard to tell, but you’re getting 5 courses! Has to be a BUY.

dineLA Stock Legend:
BUY: > 20% in savings off optimal lineup
HOLD: 5-20% in savings off optimal lineup
SELL: under 5% in savings off optimal lineup

Tacolandia (2014)

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Obviously, I ate for free

Tacolandia 2014 @ El Pueblo de Los Angeles
6/28/14 – 3-7pm
125 Paseo De La Plz
Los Angeles, CA 90012
http://microapp.laweekly.com/tacolandia/2014/

I think it’s safe to say that last year’s inaugural Tacolandia was proclaimed a success. For a first-time event that focused on just one dish, albeit one that is synonymous with the city’s culture and identity, things ran very smoothly. Lines (both getting in and per vendor) were manageable, most vendors had plenty to serve from a wide variety of tacos, and the event itself was downright highway robbery for its attendees at $20/person.

This year, prices skyrocketed to the tune of…$25/person. Let’s just say that the even remains a STRONG BUY (although that can be somewhat argued for the premium tickets at $45 a pop in comparison – see The Offalo’s report on the issues regarding that). The event was moved from the parking lot of the Hollywood Paladium to a blocked off section of Olvera Street to accommodate a bigger crowd – no easy feat, as regulations were up the ass left and right (which partially contributed to the drinks issue everyone had). Bill Esparza, one who needs no introduction, told us there were approximately 1000 more attendees this year. No room for walk-up purchases, that’s for sure.

At least with the bigger venue to accommodate more attendees meant more vendors – I believe there were around 40 just for food (which meant that there was no realistic shot of me sampling every taco/tostada this year, though not for a lack of trying). I originally had a gameplan to survey the playing field first via scout run (a la my buffet strategy), but standing in line for 40 minutes to get in, plus the initial shock of seeing the lines at each vendor, had me on tilt.

But after 36 tacos of 30 varieties, I have no more regrets in life. After the event last year, I mentioned that I was 5 pounds heavier and had a hard time breathing. Well, for those who were there to witness, I could barely stand by the end of the day. To be perfectly honest, I should’ve just brought a wheelbarrow, and just had someone push my fat ass around throughout the day. Below are the 25 varieties of tacos/tostada I managed to take a quick photo of before devouring:

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Amor y Tacos – braised short rib taco

The restaurant from Cerritos executed a braised short rib taco w/ caramelized onions, cotija cheese, pickled radishes, and a raspberry salsa that actually worked pretty well. However, the handmade tortilla really fell short – it was thick and undercooked, resulting in a too-chewy texture. Still, this won’t deter me from trying the restaurant someday.

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Bistro LQ x C-V-CHE – guinea fowl teriyaki leg taco

A collaboration between a French and Peruvian chef that produced a taco that was neither French or Peruvian, this one had fusion written all over it. Solid taco, but could’ve actually used more seasoning IMO.

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Carnitas El Momo – sortido taco

I’ve tried an incomplete version of this taco, with carnitas and buche. But the official sortido taco from Carnitas El Momo contains the right amounts of juicy carnitas and fatty pig skin, and by the right amounts I mean plenty of each. Hands down, the current undisputed carnitas champ in town.

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Chef Katsuji Tanabe – fried clam taco

The chef of MexiKosher offered a definitely-not-kosher taco consisting of fried clams, after running out of fried smelt (surprisingly, more than one restaurant served a fried smelt taco). From what I can tell, the preparations for this fried clam taco was the same as the initial smelt one, and it was…kind of weird. The beets were a bit overwhelming, and the sprinkles were…just weird. Pass. Also, can smelt be kosher?

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Chef Timothy Hollingsworth – “Cochinita Pibil”

The former Chef de Cuisine of 3-star Michelin restaurant The French Laundry was definitely the most acclaimed chef at the event. He has relocated to LA, and plans to open a more casual concept in Downtown, one that’ll feature more of the Mexican flavors he has fallen in love with. If this taco was a precursor, then the chef is on the right track. This “cochinita pibil” was by far the most delicate version I’ve seen/eaten. Subtle flavor profiles and combinations of texture, and elegant “plating” (w/ tweezers, because of course).

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Chichen Itza – cochinita pibil

The Yucatan specialist stuck to its guns, and served their trademark cochinita pibil. As excellent as ever. Sorry for the poor(er) photo here.

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Colonia Taco Lounge – beef cheek taco

By now, every taco enthusiast should be familiar with Ricardo Diaz’s name. He was the chef and co-owner of Guisados, before striking it out on his own with Bizarra Capital (which was part of the festival last year), and now Colonia Taco Lounge. This was a solid taco, but I wished we could’ve seen them flex some muscles here.

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Coni’Seafood – marlin taco

Same as last year, as good as last year. I really need to try this place.

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Corazon y Miel – fried smelt taco

I’m a big fan of Corazon y Miel, a restaurant I consider one of the most underrated in LA. The restaurant served a fried smelt taco that had avocado, corn, heirloom tomatoes, and a nice hint of poblano. SOLID.

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Eggslut – braised/fried Nueske’s bacon taco

My boy Johnny and the Eggslut crew served a taco that was fitting of both the festival and what the restaurant’s all about, and that is breakfast and eggs on the regs. The fried quail egg was a nice touch. Can’t wait see what they do next year.

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FIG – braised lengua taco

Perfectly-cooked tongue, from a chef that knows his way around meat. This was an elevated version of the tongue taco Guerrilla Tacos served last year, and that one was quite good.

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Finca Altozano – D#ickhead taco (beef cheek, tongue, pizzle)

I was unfortunately unable to try Chef Javier Plascencia’s offaly-bizarre taco last year, but he managed to shock and awe once again with what they called the “D#ickhead” taco. It was beef cheek, tongue, and pizzle (bull penis) cooked birria-style. The penis tasted like beef tendon – very interesting. And yes, I fully admit to wanting the D that day.

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Flor del Rio – goat birria taco

Birria specialist Flor del Rio brought back the goat birria taco again this year. As good as last year’s.

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George’s at the Cove – Los 3 Cochinitas taco (pig tail, crispy ear, cueritos)

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George’s at the Cove – El Pescado taco (achiote-cured red snapper)

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George’s at the Cove – La Piña tostada (pineapple, espuma de mezcal)

George’s at the Cove ain’t nothing to fuck with. Sorry for the profanity and the lame Wu-Tang reference, but they came rollin’ deep with their A-Team (including Chef Trey, CdC Jon, and Pastry Chef Lori), and managed to not only serve 3 offerings simultaneously(!!!) that were all highlights of the event, but to serve them up until the very end. Mad respect to the team from the La Jolla restaurant, one that was responsible for the single best meal of my year to date (post still in the works).

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Guerrilla Tacos – wild porcini mushroom tostada

As fans of Guerrilla Tacos know (and I know there are plenty of you, because all of you are in my way), Chef Wes has a way with vegetables. This porcini-truffle collabo seemed like a can’t-miss, and was indeed good, but I just wanted…a little more. The problem with having set such a high standard for me, I suppose.

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La Guerrerense – seafood tostada (bacalao, octopus, scallop, sea urchin)

I’ve only tried La Guerrerense twice, both times at Tacolandia, but I can safely say that I LOVE LA GUERRERENSE. I would be willing to be a drug mule for the Mexican cartels in exchange for a regular supply of LG’s food. And crazy thing is, I know that what they serve usually is even better and more expansive than what they offered at the events. Sra. Sabina, te amo.

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Loteria Grill – fried grasshopper tostada

A surprising offering from the local mini-chain. I thought this were pretty good actually. A few ladies had the look of disgust while I was eating this, but I’m not sure if that’s because I was eating grasshoppers, or because of my face.

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Mexicali Taco & Co. – lomo al carbon taco

The Mexicali guys always try to mix things up at events, and Tacolandia was no different. I remember Dommy (a Chowhound veteran and Mexican culinary scholar) telling me how legit they were last year with their offering, right down to the wood they were using for the grill. This year’s definitely had the look and taste of a churrasco prep – very good.

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Petty Cash Taqueria – pork belly carnitas taco

Despite it being a pork belly carnitas taco (pork courtesy of Cook Pigs Ranch), the flavors were very clean. A pleasant surprise.

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Revolutionario LA Food – chicken tagine taco

I believe Chef Zadi actually had to go all McGyver with chicken from fellow chefs at the event, because he said that he had ran out. I tried Revolutionario LA Food during their pop-up last month, and it was a very playful take on the taco incorporating North African flavors and ingredients. Looking forward to seeing what Chef has up his sleeve in the future.

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Tacos Kokopelli – Polvora tostada (smoked salmon, chiltepin, chilmole)

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Tacos Kokopelli – Kraken taco

Tacos Kokopelli came with a trio of offerings this year, two of which focused around smoked salmon, and the other being their famous kraken taco which they served last year.  The kraken one was better than last year’s – don’t think anything changed, but was just executed better this time. And the smoked salmon preparations were even better IMO. Sidenote: are they opening a Chicago branch? If so, why not LA?

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Tortas Ahogadas Ameca – ahogada taco

A sweet and wonderful family operation, serving a taco version of their famed torta ahogada. Arguably the heartiest taco of the day, and held its own against the sexier, chef-driven ones.

Not Pictured:

– Aqui es Texcoco
– La Flor de Yucatan
– Mariscos Jalisco
– Tacos Kokopelli (Summer Dash tostada)
– Tamales Elena

So yeah, that sums up all the tacos I ate at Tacolandia, sans the ones without photos. I missed out on a few big names, like Taco Maria and Picca, but there’s only so much Chris to go around. That just means I have to go in with a more strict game plan next year. Not counting repeats, below were the six that served my favorites of the day, a true accomplishment given how many good ones I ate throughout the event.

Chris Hei’s All-Tacolandia 1st Team:

FIG
Finca Altozano
George’s at the Cove (2x All-Tacolandia) – MVT
La Guerrerense (2x All-Tacolandia)
Tacos Kokopelli
Chef Timothy Hollingsworth

Thanks again to Bill, LA Weekly, and especially to all the chefs and vendors that made this event possible and a success. Looking forward to next year’s, and many more to come!

#HeiKingTacoCrawl (2/8/14)

During this past weekend, food enthusiast friend Andy came down to LA  from NorCal for another weekend of gastronomic expeditions. For our Saturday lunch meetup, his one request was simple: tacos. We all know that tacos suck up north (I didn’t stutter, NorCal people – come at me bros), so this was a request that was forthcoming on one of Andy’s visits to LA. At first, I was a little perplexed – which one place should we go to in order to showcase the best of what our city has to offer, in a city full of amazing taco options. But then it hit me: we don’t have to go to just ONE place – WE CAN CONQUER THEM ALL!!!

My original itinerary began with some of my favorites, and a couple of consensus favorites I have yet to try. After some deliberation, I ended up with six taco joints fairly close in proximity to one another to hit up (in alphabetical order): Guerrilla Tacos, Guisados,  Los Cinco Puntos, Mariscos Jalisco, Mexicali Taco & Co, and Ricky’s Fish Tacos (while I came up with this list independently, I definitely glanced at Midtown Lunch’s post afterwards on how to attack this taco crawl). Okay, so that wasn’t going to work obviously (I just had a 14-course dinner the night before, one where I had so much food I had to run stairs between dessert courses – details to follow, and Andy had gone through a similar experience elsewhere), but we had such high hopes. Oh young Chris…

With my visions of grandeur all but assuredly dashed, we decided to focus on the three Boyle Heights places (Guisados, Los Cinco Puntos, Mariscos Jalisco) and Ricky’s Fish Tacos. We began the #HeiKingTacoCrawl at what has quickly become one of Boyle Heights’ institutions: Mariscos Jalisco.

Mariscos Jalisco
3040 E Olympic Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90023
(323) 528-6701
twitter.com/MariscosJalisco

While Mariscos Jalisco focuses on ceviches y cocteles from San Juan de Los Lagos in Jalisco, Mexico, the one thing they’re known for isn’t necessarily something true of the region, but rather something that developed into the food truck’s own identity: the fried shrimp taco known as the taco dorado de camaron. Not too big in size at $1.75 per taco, we each ordered one of these – corn tortillas stuffed with a spiced shrimp filling of sorts, then the taco is folded and deep-fried whole, and topped with a slice of avocado and unique salsa roja. Just genius. There are now multiple imitators of this taco, including a competing truck parked on the very same block (and with maybe 4x the number of patrons), but nothing compares to this one. To this day, the shrimp taco is still the only thing I’ve tried at Mariscos Jalisco, and there is much to be discovered here. But we were on a mission, and the next stop awaited…

Tacos de camarones @mariscosjalisco #mariscosjalisco #HeiKingTacoCrawl

A post shared by Chris Hei (@chrishei) on

Los Cinco Puntos
3300 E Cesar E Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90063
(323) 261-4084

The next stop might be the most surprising to the casual taco fan. It’s just a plain-old Mexican mom-and-pop deli/market of sorts, frequently by the local families of Boyle Heights. But insiders know that they have some damn good carnitas, and an impressive variety of different beef and pork offal parts. Not a word of ingles was spoken inside of the place until it was our turn at the counter. At first, the friendly tia that served us was caught off guard by the sight of an Asian guy and white guy ordering individual tacos (the vast majority of their orders are of their meats and tortilla sold in bulk), but once I busted out my ordering-level espanol (my Spanish comprehension is actually better than my Mandarin), she smiled and proceeded to stuff our tacos with carnitas, buche (pig stomach), guacamole, salsa, and their amazing nopales. We stood outside of the market, hovered over a counter barely a foot deep and a trash can underneath, and savored all the porky goodness in between the fluffy, almost pita-like tortillas hot off the press.

Carnitas + niche taco #loscincopintos #heikingtacocrawl

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Guisados
2100 E Cesar Chavez Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90033
(323) 264-7201
guisados.co

After feeling the local love at Cinco Puntos, we had a change of scenery at the original/flagship location of what looks like a future local mini-chain in Guisados (just opened a location in Echo Park, and opening another one in Downtown soon). Despite the expansion, the OG location still holds up very well, albeit one with more hipsters and Asians than I recall. We had been doing one taco each at the previous two stops, but that sampler – it was calling us. Seriously, what’s a better way to try the multitude of options? And you know what? They’re improved the mini-tortillas used for the sampler-sized tacos. Before, they were small, thick discs that held the meats and veggies like a sope, but they were quite difficult to eat. But now, while the amount of masa appeared to be the same, they’ve managed to flatten out the tortillas more, enabling a better grip and bite.

Sampler @guisados #guisados

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Ricky’s Fish Tacos
1400 N Virgil Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 906-7290
twitter.com/RickysFishTacos

Our last stop was more out of the way, but in my opinion, Ricky’s has arguably the best taco of any variety in LA, so it behooved us to visit (luckily, we had just enough stomach room for one more stop). As more of you know, Ricky’s is back at its old spot on Virgil Ave, but now in food truck form. This was my first time trying them in their vehicular form, and I think they’re doing better than ever. Fish was as good as ever, and I think the shrimp was better than I remembered. Not sure if Ricky was inside the truck himself, but I can safely say that the operation and experience overall has also improved.

Fish & taco tacos @rickysfishtacos #heikingtacocrawl

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Four stops, four different varieties of tacos, four amazing experiences. Mariscos Jalisco, Guisados, and Ricky’s Fish Tacos all continued their excellences, and Los Cinco Puntos – what a pleasant surprise. I had high expectations for them, but they’ve met those expectations…and then some. Definitely have to get a taco of each variety next time – or I can just buy a pound of everything + packs of tortillas. Overall, I thought it was a very successful taco crawl (I hope Andy feels the same way), and I have even greater aspirations to expand and improve the crawl if another opportunity arises.

Oh, and we technically ended the crawl with dessert – at Scoops Westside, sharing ice cream and dining accounts from the weekend with Mattatouille. What a day.

Ending the #Heikingtacocrawl at @ScoopsWestside w/ @mattatouille

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dineLA Winter 2014 (1/20-1/31) Picks

I know I’m a little late in posting this,  but I was bedridden all of the past weekend, and some restaurants still haven’t posted their dineLA menus online (as of Monday morning). For this season’s dineLA picks, there will be 18 new selections, some of which are classic standbys that I’ve previously failed to acknowledge, as well as some restaurant week rookies that appear to be taking the court by storm. I’ve also tried to include a sentence or two about my reasoning behind each selection, and some random notes scattered throughout the post (about past selections, observations, etc.).

First of all, however, a minor rant. I have no idea if the number of participants is lower than last summer’s, but in terms of the number of options that appealed to me seem much lower, particularly at the lower price points at lunch and dinner ($15 & $25, respectively). Of course, that’s just personal opinion. I’m sure that there are plenty of other options not mentioned here or that I dismissed that would please plenty of others.

Second, there is a group of 6 participants entering at a new dinner price point of $85. These are essentially your fine-dining restaurants that are offering a 4-to-5-course prix-fixe at a discounted price. I thought that this was a great idea, as it gives us a commoners an easier way of approaching these places without necessarily lessening the experience. Also, specifically with Patina/Spago, it eliminates the need for $$$$ restaurants that want to participate to dumb and cut down the menu, all while avoiding the massive crowds that would’ve flocked to the $45 price point.

(all photo credits below belong to Discover LA unless otherwise noted)

LUNCH:

$15

The Larder at Burton Way
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11am-5pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– market lettuces, cucumbers, radishes, herbs
– the argentine
– seasonal fruit buckle
Estimated Savings: $9
Notes: pretty standard American fare a la sandwiches and salads that is plentiful in these parts of town, but this is a Goin/Styne restaurant (the original Larder is attached to Tavern in Brentwood, which I previously recommended as a $25 lunch option). At $15, you’re basically getting the salad and the fruit for free – it’s arguably the best deal at this price point, but I’m sure that’s just Chef Goin’s way of getting people to eat healthier (ha).

Messhall
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– corn fritters
– fried chicken sando
Estimated Savings: $7
Notes: I haven’t heard much about Messhall since it first opened, to the flurry of reviews and blog posts, but their dineLA menu does seem to be a great value (you’re saving almost 50%). And fried chicken? People who know me know that those two words are like aphrodisiac.

Next Door by Josie
(American, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– brandied chicken liver mousse crostini
– sloppy roast pork sandwich, fried rapini, aged provolone
Estimated Savings: $4
Notes: the more casual of the two restaurants by Chef Josie LeBalch, right next door each other (get it?). The menu is actually more gastropub-ish than I expected – I was expecting more along of the lines of The Larder (then again, I’ve never been to Josie, so how would I know?). Assuming the crostini is along the lines of what Freddy Smalls served last dineLA, a $4 savings sounds right. Plus, that sandwich sounds pretty good right about now.

Previous picks: Fundamental LA, TLT Food. It doesn’t look like you’re saving as much at Fundamental this time around (probably only $2 max), but I continue to push it as a great lunch option in Westwood (I’ve certainly missed it since our office moved down to Culver City). TLT Food’s deal is just as good as the last one – just don’t go ordering two veggie tacos, and you’ll win out. As of Monday morning, I still haven’t seen Short Order’s menu online, so I can’t speak of its value.

$20

FIG
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sat 11am-2pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– warm quinoa salad
– brick-grilled chicken
– chocolate panna cotta
Estimated Savings: $23
Notes: that is not a typo – you’re saving $23. Sans the panna cotta, all of the dishes on the dineLA menu are on their regular one. Assuming portions are similar, you’re saving a lot of money at this critically-acclaimed farm-to-table restaurant. Dinner appears to be just as good of a value, too. I’m glad I waited until last-minute for the menus, because FIG’s became available online during the weekend. Go. Now.

Little Dom’s
(Italian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 8am-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– rice ball of the day
– poached eggs w/ shrimp, mirliton hash & creole hollandaise
Estimated Savings: $4
Notes: The casual version of Dominick’s, an Italian institution, Little Dom’s doesn’t lack in the classy vibe, but it just does it more comfortably and with a creole twist. I’ve been hearing great things about the restaurant for years, and this might just be way to get me in. Classic Italian + creole touch + breakfast for lunch = quite interesting. Re: the rice ball though: is it just one arancini?

The Pikey (photo credit: Serious Eats)
(British, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:45am-2pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– pig’s head terrine w/ watercress, pickled onions & grain mustard
– grilled trout w/ roast fennel & marinated olives
Estimated Savings: $5+?
Notes: it’s hard to determine actual savings here, because these dishes aren’t on the menu – I basically guessed based on average prices. Normally that’s not a good sign, but in this instance, they actually look as good as the ones on the regular menu, and perhaps even more British gastropub-ish, as the restaurant is such.  Plus, I kind of have this place on my mind, because my ex-coworker who’s a huge food enthusiast just raved to me about it recently.

Previous picks: Lazy Ox Canteen, Mo-Chica. These two have almost identical savings compared to last summer. Lazy Ox’s menu, in particular, is pretty much the same as last time (and pretty much the same in general for a long time), but it is a very good deal. No mention of Sotto, because they’ve discontinued lunch.

$25

AOC
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– spanish fried chicken, romesco aioli & chili-cumin butter
– farmer’s lunch
Estimated Savings: $3
Notes: this is the first time I’ve seen AOC doing dineLA, and it’s only for lunch. You actually might save more if you choose the charcuterie + cheese, but you know…fried chicken calls. Save 10% and eat well with sexy people around you. And with this selection, I think I’ve inadvertently featured every Goin/Styne restaurant in my two dineLA features…

Bouchon
(French, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– “porchetta” (+ $5)
– coq au vin
– riz au laut
Estimated Savings: $20+
Notes: bistro fare at fine-dining prices – what did you expect from a Keller restaurant? He’s not going to dumb it down, not even with the Bouchon bistros. It’s a bit difficult to determine actual savings, but I think it’s safe to say that you’re saving $20 during dineLA, which is really good for a $25 lunch. Take those savings and splurge at the bakery.

Drago Centro
(Italian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– veal carpaccio, crispy parmesan reggiano, toasted capers
– polenta stuffed quail, baby kale salad, barlett pears
– chocolate & olive oil terrine, salted caramel gelato, almonds
Estimated Savings: $10+?
Notes: Drago seems like an excellent place for Downtown workers to grab a power lunch, and dineLA makes it an even better choice. I’m going to guess ~$10 in savings based on average prices on lunch menu, so it’s a very good value.

Previous picks: Rivera remains a good value at this price, at ~$3-8 in savings (and regular menu dishes for the most part). Tavern’s value isn’t as sexy this time around – I estimated $2 max. So maybe no go for this round. As of Monday morning, I still haven’t seen Paiche’s menu online, so I can’t speak of its value. Note: JiRaffe and Vincenti’s dineLA menu are VERY good deals ($20+ in savings each), but they only offer lunch on Fridays.

DINNER:

$25

Blue Cow Kitchen & Bar
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sat 5:30-10pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– pink eggs & ham
– duck wings
– steak & smoked spinach
– strawberry butter tart
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: Blue Cow is like a more sophisticated, grown-up version of Mendocino Farms (same ownership I believe), and the menu reflects that. I’ve never been, but I’ve heard good things about the place in the past when it first opened. And it hasn’t really been in the spotlight since, so call this my dark horse pick – or better yet, my Hei horse pick.

The Corner Door
(American, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Thu 5pm-12am, Fri-Sat 5pm-2am)
Optimal Lineup:
– pappardelle
– smoked mussels
– frozen coconut meringue
Estimated Savings: $15
Notes: I actually went to The Corner Door for dineLA last summer, since it’s conveniently located from my friends’ apartment (and right next to A-Frame and Waterloo & City), and was pleasantly surprised at what I had (particularly the drinks). Instead of a prix-fixe format with 2-3 choices for each course, this time it’s choose-3 of anything on the dineLA menu, choices that basically encompass the restaurant’s entire menu. As long as you don’t just choose the cheapest dish + desserts, double-digit savings await. Buy a drink with that.

Hostaria del Piccolo
(Italian, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Thu 5-10pm, Fri-Sat 5-11pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– costicine
– pollo
– tiraminsane
Estimated Savings: $16
Notes: I’ve been told that the fancier Piccolo has been a great deal during dineLA for years (truffle supplements at no extra cost), but I believe this is the first year little brother(s) is featured. And it’s a great deal, too, at both the Santa Monica and Venice locations. Lunch is just as good re: savings. You’ll be saving money with any combination during both meals, I guarantee it.

Previous picks: Post & Beam is still decent at this price point, saving ~$3-6 this time around. As of Monday morning, I still haven’t seen Lukshon’s menu online, so I can’t speak of its value. Do note that Lukshon has a very good history during dineLA, so I have faith that it’ll deliver once again. And Freddy Smalls is now offering dinner at the $35 price point, which is still an amazing deal (~$10).

$35

Black Hogg
(American, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Sat 6-10:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– pork belly taco
– duck bun
– jerk chicken & coconut rice
– butterscotch custard
Estimated Savings: ~$10
Notes: the range of savings for this Silver Lake restaurant is $4-12, so any combination works really.  I still haven’t been here, but the menu seems to be quite appealing (if not all over the place), especially to those who love meat dishes and an Asian flare to things (we won’t use the “f” word here).

The Gorbals
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Wed 6pm-12am, Thu-Sat 6pm-2am)
Optimal Lineup:
– beets, burrito, sea beans, crispy barley, honey malt vinegar
– coulotte of beef, sweet potato galette, radish, turnip
– sticky toffee pudding
Estimated Savings: $6
Notes: it feels as if The Gorbals has been around forever, and even longer when you realize that Chef Hall won Top Chef in Season 2 (it’s now 11). From what I remember from dinner years ago, it was good, and the restaurant has now been flying under-the-radar for the last few years. But the menu still looks good (think Animal’s nose-to-tail approach with a touch of Jewish/British-Irish), and that sticky toffee pudding is up there with Waterloo & City’s.

Gusto
(Italian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Thu 6-11pm, Fri-Sat 6-11:30pm, Sun 5-10pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– polipo
– brasato al barolo
– panna cotta
Estimated Savings: $20+
Notes: another newish trattoria in LA? Gusto, unlike some of the new Italian hotness (see: The Factory Kitchen, Maccheroni Republic), hasn’t really gotten much love from publications and bloggers alike. But the few that have been have said very good things about the restaurant. And now you get to find out for yourself, at a very good price ($20+ in savings!).

Previous picks: Night+Market is again trying some new things during this dineLA season (had the tub hwan a couple of months ago when it was a daily special, and it was amazing), and I’ll most likely be going once again. Waterloo & City remains one of the most consistent performers with regards to savings, and that looks to be the case again this time around. R.I.P. The Spice Table.

$45

Allumette
(American, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Sun 6-10:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– kurodai sashimi
– branzino
– octopus confit
– chocolate ganache
Estimated Savings: $11
Notes: regardless of its hipster location or wunderkind chef, Allumette is definitely an intriguing restaurant. Menu looks extremely promising – reminds me a bit of Red Medicine in more ways than one. And this dineLA menu, if you go with what I chose for optimal lineup, is actually a better deal than their standard 5-course tasting (that saves you $5).

The Bazaar
(Spanish, dineLA website, website, Mon-Sun 5:30-11:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– “philly cheesesteak”
– jamon serrano fermin
– sea scallops
– seared quail
– “pan con chocolate”
Estimated Savings: $30+
Notes: my opinions are somewhat mixed on The Bazaar. I’ve been twice – once with a group of friends when it felt like we weren’t sexy enough to be seen and heard at such a place and pretty much disregarded, and another time when the food and experience was better. But there’s no denying the savings here, especially if you order a jamon platter. Not sure if they’ll let you double up on it (and you probably shouldn’t anyways, for your health), but you might be able to save as much as $45(!). And all the dishes are from their regular menu, and there are plenty of choices.

Craft
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sat 5-10pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– albacore tuna, kumquat & beets, baby gem lettuce, cranberry & avocado vinaigrette, smoked chicken rilette
– salmon creek farms pork, polenta & brussels leaves
– butterscotch panna cotta, lemon souffle tart
Estimated Savings: $20+
Notes: pretty much a dineLA HOFer (that’s Hall of Fame for those who don’t follow sports) at this point, I’ve never given much thought to the restaurant despite working so close to it these past few years. But I’ve heard way too many good things about Craft re: dineLA to not give it a proper shoutout. You’re getting plenty of appetizers/desserts to share in addition to your main, and I heard they’re plenty generous with amuses, etc. as well. Definitely not getting a “dineLA experience” here.

Previous picks: Fogo de Chao, Lawry’s The Prime Rib, and Lucques all remain excellent choices (saving $14, $15, and up to $16, respectively). I would like to mention that the $45 dinner price point is by far the most-stacked during this dineLA season – there are a number of good options. Looking at my spreadsheet very quickly, some are: Petrossian, The Royce, Scarpetta, Scratch Bar, Vincenti, and Wolfgang Puck at Hotel Bel-Air. So yeah, quite a few choices here. Note: Kiriko isn’t doing dineLA this season. It has always been a great value, but I felt that the restaurant always became a shitshow every time – not the food, but the experience, because it’s a small place and everything becomes chaotic. Plus, you shouldn’t want to go to a high-quality sushi restaurant like that and order the least of what they can offer (which is basically what their dineLA menu was like IMO).

$85

CUT
(Steakhouse, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Thu 5:30-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30-11pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– maine diver scallop “ceviche”
– slow braised oxtail consume
– pan-roasted maine black sea bass
– dry aged new york sirloin steak
– chocolate decadence
Estimated Savings: ~$40?
Notes: pet peeve about Wolfgang Puck restaurants’ website – they never list prices on the menus. I had to use MenuPages just to roughly estimate that $40 figure, and who knows how outdated those prices are. But I do think that’s the ballpark of how much you’re saving, and at least you’re getting a steak (albeit not wagyu). 5 courses at $85 is pretty damn good at a place like CUT – I spent ~$200/person last time I was there.

Melisse
(French, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Thu 6-9:30pm, Fri 6-9:45pm, Sat 5:45-9:45pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– naked cowboy oyster
– wagyu beef tartare
– chatham bay cod
– tea smoked & grilled beef ribs
– chocolate, peanut butter & coffee
Estimated Savings: $40
Notes: Melisse had an unofficial dineLA menu at this price point last season, so maybe the $85 price point was partly inspired by the restaurant’s efforts. Therefore, it’s only right to include it here. Like with CUT, I think you could be saving ~$40 here. And the dishes looks like it could be part of the regular menu (that wagyu tartare is actually a +$10 supplement on the regular tasting menu, so that helps).

Patina
(French, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Sat 5-9:30pm, Sun 4-9pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– amuse gueule
– american caviar
– wild striped bass
– slow braised kobe shortrib
– valrhona chocolate terrine
Estimated Savings: $20+
Notes: I’m completely guessing here, based on average prices on the dinner menu and of similar-sounding dishes, but I actually came up with a range of $26-35. Patina was always a popular place during dineLA at the $45 price point, and now they get to flex their muscles a bit without having to compromise anything.

The inaugural class of the $85 dinner is small – six restaurants total (the others: mar’sel, Spago, Valentino). All six presumably are great deals, but I didn’t choose these three because the savings for mar’sel and Spago are more ambiguous, and Valentino’s savings are a little less than the rest at ~$15 max. Mar’sel’s savings should be slightly higher than Valentino’s, assuming you don’t choose the “cheapest” appetizers + desserts. I really have no idea how much you can save at Spago, but 5 courses at $85 (exactly the same as CUT) sounds like a deal for the restaurant.

So there you have it – 18 new choices from yours truly. Enjoy these next two weeks!

P.S. no more statement credits for dining out AMEX?!? And I thought cutting down to a single $5 credit for last season was bad enough…

My Collections – Foodie.com

11/2/13 UPDATE: finished the 4 collections below, each with some descriptions to the restaurants in their respective collections. Enjoy :)

Foodie.com is an upstart website that allows users to collect certain recipes to their own tailored lists. Simple concept, but the website itself is easy on the eyes. Recently, they’ve been trying to extend their repertoire to including restaurants in their database, and have asked bloggers to contribute their own curated “collections” (the lists) onto the website. For some reason, I’ve been asked to contribute as well. So I did! The lists are somewhat incomplete, as the website’s database of restaurants isn’t too expansive. But here are 4 collections I made (my profile):

K-TownRamen InvasionMy Favorite RestaurantsMy Favorite Sushi Restaurants

Those of you who know me know that I love making lists (see: my foursquare lists). So foodie.com definitely has potential, in my opinion. They even had US & World Top 100 Restaurants lists curated by some big shots (including J. Gold). I’ll be adding more to the above lists as they add more restaurants to their database (the sushi one in particular).

dineLA Summer 2013 (7/15-7/26) Picks

Meme

I’m not the biggest fan of dineLA in general – dumbed-down menus, overcrowded dining rooms, diluted experiences – all for nominal savings. However, if you dig deep and do your research, there’s plenty of gold to be found. Again, the prix fixe menus are in 3 tiers, depending on the participating restaurant: $15, $20, or $25 at lunch, and $25, $35, or $45 at dinner (I like these price points much more than the $16/$20/$24 and $24/$36/$48 ones from a year(?) ago). Here are some of the menus/deals that had me saying “O Hei There!” along with what I’d order, estimated savings of the things I’d order, and some comments (complete list of participants/menus – the promotions run from 7/15-7/26):

(all photo credits belong to Discover LA)

LUNCH:

$15

Fundamental LA

Fundamental LA
(American, dineLA Menu, website, Tue-Fri 11am-3pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– BLT
– crispy pee wee potatoes
– real vanilla cream soda
– gooey chocolate chip cookie
Estimated Savings: $3.75
Notes: Fundamental LA is one of my go-to lunch spots, so saving even a couple of dollars is extra incentive for me to go. The BLT is my favorite sandwich of the ones I’ve tried so far in 2013 in LA, but you can’t go wrong with any of the other options like the mainstay chicken torta and the pork banh mi (very comparable to Mendocino Farms’ version). Basically, for a couple of bucks more than my usual order (or for free even if I’m ordering a different sandwich), I get a full order of the pee wee potatoes (it’s a side, but you get a big plate of them, and they’re quite good), and a cookie.

Short Order

Short Order
(American, dineLA menuwebsite, Mon-Sun 11am-5pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– grilled portabello mushroom
– s.o. reuben
– nancy’s chocolate chip cookie
Estimated Savings: $8.50
Notes: The signature burgers are not part of the dineLA menus at Short Order, but the reuben that’s usually available in limited quantities is (along with the other sandwiches on their menu). Add some grilled veggies on the side and a cookie, and this is the best deal at the $15 price point during this period of dineLA promotions. Plus, Nancy Silverton is a national treasure. Not sure if I want to deal with the Farmer’s Market/The Grove crowds, but this deal will certainly alleviate the headache.

TLT Food

TLT Food
(American, dineLA menu, website, opens @ 11am Mon-Sun)
Optimal Lineup:
– p.b.a.t. sandwich
– brussel sprouts
– fresh fruit limeade
– lime panna cotta
Estimated Savings: $4
Notes: Assuming you don’t get just the 2 cheapest tacos as your main option, you’re bound to save at least a couple of dollars. I’ve actually never been to TLT Food, but everyone I know who’s been there has sung its praises. Sure, Asian-Latin fusion fast-casual has been done to death now, but TLT (from the people who brought you The Lime Truck in OC) seems to be doing it right, taking a lighter and more refreshing approach. However, that pork belly sandwich (along with the carnitas fries) has my name written all over it.

$20

Lazy Ox Canteen

Lazy Ox Canteen
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– pigs ear chicharrones
– lazy ox burger
– rice pudding
Estimated Savings: $13
Notes: Lazy Ox’s website currently doesn’t have any prices, so the savings are based on the menu from the Centeno days (which could mean you might save even more now). Chefs Centeno and Rocher no long helm the kitchen, and the restaurant has decided to keep humming without an exec chef by continuing to churn out the signature dishes from those days, the 3 most popular ones being on the dineLA menu. I actually haven’t been since the first chef shuffle, but I’m sure most of the food is still good. If those 3 dishes above are close to what I remember, then this menu is a STEAL.

Mo-Chica

Mo-Chica
(Peruvian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sat 11:30am-2:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– lobster tartare
– arroz con mariscos
– tres leches cake
Estimated Savings: $10+
Notes: While Mo-Chica is no longer the commoner it once was while located in Mercado La Paloma, it’s still the most affordable one of Chef Zarate’s Peruvian triforce in LA. While they do have lunch specials, the options at lunch for dineLA comprise of some dinner items, as well as select dishes from the other Zarate restaurants (something I see at the 2 other locations as well). I’m kind of surprised there isn’t a supplement charge for the lobster tartare (unless it’s a minuscule amount), but even the cheapest options should yield a few dollars saved.

Sotto

Sotto
(Italian, dineLA menu, website, Wed-Fri 12-2pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– grilled pork meatballs
– crispy pork belly porcetto
– cannolo siciliano
Estimated Savings: $12
Notes: I’ve been to Sotto once. It was good, but I wasn’t exactly head-over-heels in love with the regional Italian dishes and the Neapolitan pizzas. Still, I vowed to return eventually – but I’ve failed to do so despite the restaurant being a mile from my work. Normally, I wouldn’t consider the restaurant for lunch (since it would most likely be >$20), but the porcetto sandwich is only available during lunch. And for basically an extra $6, you get the pork meatballs app that I’ve read great things about AND a cannoli which I really liked from my lone dinner. It’s time to go back.

$25

Paiche

Paiche
(Peruvian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 11:30am-5pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– albacore ceviche
– pacu ribs
– chocolate tart
Estimated Savings: $6
Notes: The estimated savings above is only true until 2:30pm – Paiche has a “happy hour” promotion from 2:30-5pm, where the entire bill is 20% off. So if you go after 2:30pm, you’re probably breaking even. But at that time, it’s not truly lunch, is it? Anyways, I’ve been to Paiche a couple of times since its recent opening, and I’ve come away impressed each time. It’s arguably the most ambitious of Chef Zarate’s 3 restaurants, and for the most part it’s seafood-focused. Things will only get better from here on, and dineLA is a great time to give it a shot.

Rivera

Rivera
(Latin American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 11:30am-2pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– piquillos rellenos, chorizo, golden raisins, gruyere
– braised kurobuta short ribs, poblano mashed potatoes
– olive oil cake, creme fraiche, strawberry sorbet
Estimated Savings: $9
Notes: By far the most progressive and ambitious Latin American restaurant in LA, Rivera always gave the impression that it was a bit too sophisticated and sexy for the likes of me. But the dineLA menu is a great way to approach Rivera for the first time, seeing how all the items are menu mainstays. At lunch, you can save up to $9 – use some of that money saved on an acclaimed cocktail (unless you have to go back to work after). DTLA workers should run, not walk, here during the promotions.

Tavern

Tavern
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Sun 11:30am-2:15pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– farro & kabocha squash salad w/ sage pesto & truffle cheese
– market fish w/ parsnip puree, celery leaf salad & pomegranate
– rocky road chocolate sundae
Estimated Savings: $15+
Notes: I’ve also been to Tavern once. Like with Sotto, it was solid – nothing more, nothing less. Dishes were well-executed with quality ingredients, but just seemed…kind of boring. I would describe the restaurant’s food as a dumb blonde version of the food from Lucques/AOC (since Tavern is also in the Goin/Styne family). But for food of this quality, saving over $15 at lunch is a pretty big deal (the market fish dish is probably $20 by itself – a version of it is $29 at dinner). And it’s within walking distance of my apartment, so definitely worth a try for me at least.

DINNER:

$25

Freddy Smalls

Freddy Smalls Bar + Kitchen
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Thu 5:30pm-1am, Fri 5:30pm-2am, Sat 6pm-2am)
Optimal Lineup:
– chicken liver mousse on toast
– grilled steak panzanella
– white chocolate namelaka
Estimated Savings: $15
Notes: Is this menu really $25? Using the regular menu as a base, the chicken panzanella is $28 and the rocky road namelaka is $8. I will assume that the steak and white chocolate versions are of similar size and value. So yeah, this is a STEAL. The menu is fairly set – the only real choice is between the buffalo deviled egg or the chicken liver mousse on toast, which are both $4 each. Despite living and working fairly nearby, I still haven’t made it to Freddy Smalls yet. But my friends really like it, and a restaurant like this that opens until 2am is always welcome in West LA.

Lukshon

Lukshon
(Asian, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Thu 5:30-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30-10:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– hawaiian butterfish
– tea leaf salad
– maryland soft shell crab (+$5)
Estimated Savings: $4
Notes: Most people consider Lukshon’s cuisine as Asian Fusion, but in reality it’s more of a survey course highlighting different SE Asian cuisines that are executed with fine-dining precision. The optimal lineup above is only if you’re going solo  – I’d highly recommend the beef & broccoli if there’s at least 2 people (its $10 extra, though since it’s for 2 people consider it +$5). You’d do plenty well (and save around the same amount of $) without the soft shell crab or beef & broccoli though. Plus, it’s by far the sexiest restaurant at this price point, so first dates are welcome.

Post & Beam

Post & Beam
(American, dineLA menu, website, opens until 10pm Tue-Sat)
Optimal Lineup:
– deviled eggs with house smoked catfish
– fried chicken thighs with black-eyed peas and greens
– sweet potato pie
Estimated Savings: $5+
Notes: I’m a big fan of Southern food, especially fried chicken, so Post & Beam is actually pretty high on my to-try list. The restaurant offers classic Southern fare executed in a more refined format and setting, although it’s still located in South LA. But who says that people there don’t deserve sophisticated food, which is something I believe Post & Beam does do. It’s a bit hard to gauge actual savings, but assuming the fried chicken is similarly priced as the cast iron chicken, a savings of $5 is as good of a guess as any.

$35

Night Market

Night+Market
(Thai, dineLA menu, website, Tue-Sun 6-10:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– peek gai hey-ha
– koi tuna
– khao soi haw
Estimated Savings: N/A
Notes: You’re probably not saving any money here, but there’s a reason I recommend Night+Market time after time during dineLA promotions: it’s the only participating restaurant that tries to do something different and new, instead of just providing the same menu for less or trotting out bottom-feeding dishes. It’s kind of like Chef Kris’ test kitchen period, and a few dishes do eventually make their way from dineLA menus to the occasional daily specials. But you don’t want to be the one who missed out on never-to-be-seen-again dishes like goong ten (think Thai shrimp aguachile).

The Spice Table

The Spice Table
(Asian, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Thu 5:30-10pm, Fri-Sat 5:30pm-12am)
Optimal Lineup:
– kaya toast
– raw yellowtail
– duck rice
– kaffir lime custard
Estimated Savings: $8
Notes: I’ve been to The Spice Table once, around their 1-year anniversary. Like with Sotto, I liked the food, but not as much as most people in LA, who’ve sung praises of the restaurant. But since then, the praises have only gotten louder, and the new dishes look even more delicious. This is the type of restaurant, like Night+Market, I strive to support, because it’s true to its cuisine, it’s approachable, and most importantly, it’s fun to eat there. Also, I should probably get my next visit in now, because who knows when it’s going to come back after MTA forces the restaurant to move.

Waterloo & City

Waterloo & City
(Gastropub, dineLA menu, website, Sun-Mon 5-9pm, Tue-Sat 6-10pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– housemade mortadella, quail egg in jelly, “grilled cheese”
– pan roast of beef, short rib spring roll, celery root flan, coleman’s hollandaise
– sticky toffee pudding, vanilla ice cream
Estimated Savings: $10+
Notes: Waterloo & City continues to be one of the most underrated restaurants in LA in my opinion, and one of my favorites. The food is always great, the charcuterie is the best in the city, the happy hour menu is extensive and affordable, and the dineLA menu is always one of the best deals. While no chicken liver mousse on this menu, there’s still a charcuterie option in the mortadella, which I believe is new. Add a great entree and the always-dependable sticky toffee pudding to that, and it’s a great meal at over $10 off.

$45

Fogo de Chao

Fogo de Chao
(Steakhouse, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Thu 5-10pm, Fri 5-10:30pm, Sat 4:30-10:30pm, Sun 4-9:30pm)
Optimal Lineup: your starting 5 is playing the entire game – same set menu as regular dinner
Estimated Savings: $13.50
Notes: My usual choice during dineLA week. You’re saving $13.50 (or $10.50 at lunch) for EXACTLY the same meal as you would get without the promotion. That means AYCE of over a dozen varieties of Brazilian BBQ meats, and unlimited access of the extensive salad bar – enough said. Just be aware that everyone else is in on the game as well – you might be forced to wait up to an hour past your reservation time due to all the young people feasting at the finest and most glorious meal of their lives.

Lawry's

Lawry’s The Prime Rib
(Steakhouse, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Fri 5-10pm, Sat 4:30-11pm, Sun 4-9:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– the famous original spinning bowl salad
– special 8 oz. cut of our signature roasted prime ribs of beef and broiled nova scotia lobster tail
– dessert
Estimated Savings: $14
Notes: Like with Fogo de Chao, Lawry’s is a mainstay at dineLA, offering basically their regular offering at a significantly discounted price (I mean, who’s going to go to Lawry’s to eat salmon, right?). I’ll assume the 8 oz. cut is similar in size and price to the California cut (the cheapest and smallest offering), which is $37. Add a $14 lobster tail to it, and what a deal this is. Dessert is fairly standard here, but it is usually $8 on the menu, so consider it free. I just wished there was a supplement option to increase the size of the cut, but that’s because I’m a fatass.

Lucques

Lucques
(American, dineLA menu, website, Mon-Thu 6-10pm, Fri-Sat 6-10:30pm)
Optimal Lineup:
– cucumber and cherry tomato salad with burrata, purslane and zhong
– duck confit with haricot verts, barbara’s greens and bing cherry compote
– chocolate-hazelnut napoleon with fleur de sel and coffee ice cream
Estimated Savings: $18
Notes: Wow. I didn’t realize how much you can save during dineLA promotions at Lucques until I took a closer look. That cucumber and cherry tomato salad? $17 on the dinner menu. The duck confit? $34. Desserts are $12 each. Enough said. None of these dishes are throwaways either – all of them are on the regular dinner menu. Lucques is the crown jewel of the Goin/Styne empire, and rightfully so, as it’s one of the most-acclaimed restaurants in LA, and well-known around the nation – basically the champion of farm-to-table cuisine in the city. I need to go to there.

So there you have it, 3 choices per price point for a total of 18 options selected by yours truly, and there are other good options as well, despite what I say about dineLA in general usually. Maybe I’ll see some of you at one of the participating restaurants, starting Monday.