I may be a wine connoisseur, but I am a beer novice. I tasted my first beer in England before I was old enough to drink in the US, and after one sip, I decided I would rather drink cider. Many years later I tried some Japanese beer with my sushi and discovered that it was a fine beverage, but it was not my favorite, nor my first choice with my Japanese meals (I prefer sake). My first encounter with a beer I actually liked was in Belgium when I tasted the brews of my friends and found that I actually would have chosen their beer instead of my very mediocre glass of wine. Once I moved back to the US and was faced with the exorbitant prices of good glasses and bottles of wine, I wondered if a locally produced craft beer might actually be a good alternative. I have several friends who are well versed in beer and very happy to introduce me to their world. Another great educational resource here is the wonderful American attitude of service which means that many places will give you a taste of several beers so that you can decide which you prefer (unheard of in Europe). Aside from one pub that served four tastes of beers that my friends and I literally spit out, most places that pride themselves in their beers, offer delicious choices.

Most breweries offer food, and sometimes their food is as tasty as their beer, e.g., I would go to eat at Abigaile in Hermosa Beach even if I did not drink beer.

Some of my dearest friends live in San Pedro so when I visit them, we head to the San Pedro Brewery. It’s a very casual neighborhood place that feels like a West Coast version of Cheers where everyone knows if you are a local, and yes, they may even know your name. My friends knew the other patrons and the owner, and visa versa. Out of towners are welcome and treated like guests who will become regulars. Their menu includes everything from huge salads, to ribs, pasta, and full entrées. Most prices are in the $10-$15 range including the sides. They brew their own beers (they have won 80 awards), and have a blackboard full of choices ranging from blondes to stouts if you prefer another brewer.

Besides beef burgers, they have chicken, with a side of pasta salad,

ahi with vegetables (the teriyaki sauce was too sweet for me),

and of course fish and chips (my favorite of the three) with a crunchy crisp beer batter and tender cod, served with coleslaw and fries.

This unusual shot was called “chocolate cake” and tasted like a slice!

Congregation Ale House has several locations, all playing along the theme of a church where you would want to give thanks to a Beer and a Burger for saving your weary body from trekking somewhere else. They aren’t a gastro pub, but they do decent versions of snacks and burgers all for around or under $10.

This is their regular burger, always made with rib eye,

as is their weekly special California burger. They tend to cook them more done than not, so if you like your burger rare, you will probably not find it here.

Every table seemed to have an order of the spicy wings, served up in a very generous portion (about 8 pieces) and fairly spicy heat, with great crudites.

The specials on tap change constantly, and they will allow you a taste or two before deciding, so you can be sure to find something you like before committing the sin of ordering blindly 🙂

Timing is crucial if you want your visit to Porto’s Bakery to be pleasurable. The line is usually out the door and down the street during popular meal times, so if you can visit between the rush times, you will be much happier and enjoy your visit much more. I came in one day around 1:30 PM and the wait was only about 30 minutes.

They are famous for both sweet and savory, with a selection that will leave you salivating and indecisive, especially if it is your first visit. There is a cafe on one side and the bakery on the other, so if you want to sit down and eat go to the cafe side, if you want to take it away, go to the bakery side. They also serve sandwiches and plates on both sides, so if you want more than pastries, you can also order a full meal for under $10.

 

 

 

 

They have full cakes to go and a shorter line in the bakery for the full cakes, as well as cakes that were ordered ahead of time.

 There is a hot section of their famous potato balls.

 I got two of the beef and one of the seafood (a seasonal specialty).

The seafood was slightly spicy and reminded me of NOLA type flavors, a great choice if it’s available.

They are famous for their beef potato balls and with a drop or two of tapatio or tabasco, they are addictive!

I got a sample of their sweets to go and liked every one, from the Polvoron cookie, with a crumbly almond flavor, to their cheese roll, and apple turnover. All were light, crisp, not overly sweet.

 The inside of the apple turnover; my only suggestion would be more apple please!

The three potato balls and three sweets all came to less than $7!!!!

Grand Central Market has evolved into a food mecca, with far too many great options to try all in one day, but a friend and I tried to eat our way through the market anyway 🙂

We started off at Belcampo with their $14 lamb burger, made with garam masala aioli, tamarind chutney, mint, cilantro, and red onion on a wonderfully soft bun. I love that all their meats are grass fed and that they have complete control of every aspect of their operation from raising the animals to processing and butchering them. Yes, the prices here are higher than your local chain grocery store, but I prefer to buy less from places with practices I want to promote, than feed the corporate machinery.

We split the medium rare burger and loved the textures and flavors. If we had not planned to try other places in the market, we would have eaten one of these each!

We also shared a plate of the sweet potato fries, seasoned with celery salt, and they were so crisp, salty, and sweet that we fought over the last fries!

Ramen Hood was our next course. It was the only vegan ramen I’ve ever tried, with sunflower seed broth, king oyster mushroom, bean sprouts, scallions, and chili threads, we added a vegan egg for $2 more making the total bowl $12. It was much better than we imagined, with full flavors and the “egg” not only looked like an egg, but the texture was very close to one. A satisfying bowl, but next time I think I would try the spicy version that I saw my neighbors eating at the counter simply because I think some added heat might enhance the flavors even more.

We were pretty full but wanted to try a small bite at Madcapra, made with locally sourced organic ingredients, so we got just the green falafels for $3.50. They were dry and bland on their own, but once we added the dipping sauces, they were good.

Sticky Rice serves organic locally sourced Thai comfort food, like this rice noodle plate with beef that was so big I had to take half of it home! The assortment of condiments was a very nice way to add heat and zing to any dish on their menu.

We ended our eating spree with a walk to the now closed Fabrique for some lattes; I chose the lavender, which was smooth and creamy

and my friend had the rainbow latte, a beautiful ending to a great day of food:)

I know Paul Martin’s American Grill in El Segundo in the Southwest portion of Los Angeles, but since I’m literally on the other side of town, I went to the Northeast location 🙂 The decor is just as warm and welcoming, like a business casual outfit that feels comfortably chic.

 Their wine selection is well sourced with local and international wines by the glass and bottle.

Their lunch salads are customizable with your choice of free range chicken, grass fed Angus beef, wild pacific shrimp, or Columbia river steelhead salmon. My friend and I both chose the Grill salad, with organic greens, tomato, red onion, grilled avocado, cucumber, radish, sunflower seeds, and a house dressing, but with a different protein. We devoured everything on our plates.

Their Happy Hour goes from 3-7pm and includes grass fed petit steak frites with a glass of wine for only $13!

Or you can order a glass of wine for $6

 and smoked free range chicken for $6.

I usually skip dessert, but I had to taste this Devil’s Food Cake made with three layers of chocolate ganache, accompanied with amarena cherries and fresh whipped cream. The cherries were an excellent counterpoint to the rich chocolate with a slightly bittersweet flavor; if you like coffee with your chocolate ice cream, then you will like the flavor combination on this plate!

After an order of Macallen, we were ready for a nap 🙂

Getting lost is one of the best ways to discover places and since I almost never use GPS, I get lost quite regularly since I don’t know the Eastside of Los Angeles very well, having lived on the Westside for decades; the only times I crossed town was to visit friends or to have a daycation in Pasadena. I had printed out a map (yes one of those paper things) but somehow I still made a wrong turn due to construction detour signs, and I ended up in San Gabriel.

Once I drove past this structure, I immediately pulled over and parked. Turns out it is the Grapevine Arbor, and since there was no event going on, it was open to the public!

 

Beyond the little courtyard at the entrance (with toilets), lies this gate into the garden.

There is a vine covered gazebo

and facilities with water and grills.

 

An antique wine barrel stands to one side,

while palm trees,

a covered shuffleboard space,

and covered walkways stand on the other side.

Part of the San Gabriel Playhouse can be seen from the arbor park,

but walk around for a full frontal view

with the cooling fountain just next door, to the Grapevine Arbor.

Tiles in the sidewalk commemorate the history,

but a walk around the street gives you a taste of the present charm of the city.

The team at Union showcase their talents in a small, discreet location, but their skills have brought people and press in from states and nations far removed from the town once renowned for little old ladies (for younger readers, this clip will explain). The dishes here are definitely old classics, but the flavors are fresh and robust, like Betty White 🙂

One of their signature pastas is the Spaghetti alla Chitarra with san marzano tomatoes, garlic, and fresno chili; simply great ingredients combined with skill and presented in a time honored cylindrical shape.

The fusilli with pork fennel sausage, spigarello, and pecorino-romano, hit all the accented notes of a savory mouthwatering ode to pasta.

There was a vegan in our group who ordered the special of roasted cauliflower that was so well executed that even the non vegans at the table wanted another bite.

As soon as I saw braised octopus, with chickpea  conserva, dukkah, and Meyer lemon yogurt, I knew that it would be my order. It was a tender, aromatic, and a generous portion, so it became my main instead of a starter.

Just as I was drawn to the octopus, another friend wanted the pork meatballs as soon as she saw them on the menu. Made with san marzano tomatoes, caper berries, lardo, and chile, they were juicy flavor bombs.

With stellar reviews from Jonathan Gold at the LA Times, The LA Weekly, and Zagat, I am just adding another voice in the chorus of voices singing the praises for this local gem.

There were many parts to the 626 Night Market, ranging from anime, art, plush toys, and live music.


After all the savory food, it was time for something sweet and cool to end the day:)

 I chose Hawaiian shaved ice, half pineapple, half lilikoi 🙂

 

After all the food and crowds, I wandered over to the Santa Anita Racetrack directly behind the festival.

Time to say goodbye 🙂

 

 

Although I have traveled to about 18 countries, I’ve never been to Asia. 626 Night Market brings a bit of the flavor of the bustling open air food stalls to the US, and like a tourist, I explored for the first time this past week-end. (There will be 3 more week-ends this Summer if you want to go). I took so many pictures, I will be posting a Part 2 tomorrow, but in the meantime, enjoy today’s photo journey 🙂

I went as they opened, so it wasn’t quite a “night” market, but the crowds grew so big by the time I left 2 hours later that I was glad to have missed the long lines I saw later in the evening.

The only downside to going early is that many of the vendors were not set up yet.

I don’t know if they had not yet put up any signage in English or if this it….

A few had displays of their food.

 

Some places gave out samples.

It was fun to watch some of the preparations:)

I decided on grilled squid for my first bite and just as in Asia, none of the cooks spoke English.

The squid on a skewer for $6 was HUGE and delicious with a spicy BBQ sauce!

After walking around all the food stalls twice, I settled on a steamed bun for my next bite.

This was the biggest bun I’ve ever eaten, at least 6″ in diameter and very very hot.

I chose seafood with a side of garlic sauce for $5.50 and it was a very savory filling choice in a pillowy fresh bun with a medium sized shrimp in the center.

Time to get some more cash before continuing my adventure….

Even though Sushi Gen is probably my favorite place for fish, their location and popularity requires advance planning. Maki & Sushi is a good Plan B, located in a strip mall with easy parking and easy freeway access. They have the usual combination boxes with teriyaki, tempura, and sushi, but I chose the chirashi, a generous bowl with some upscale ingredients like amaebi, scallop, and unagi. The octopus salad on top was an unusual bonus topping, and because I requested no salmon, my bowl was nearly all white fish. Miso soup came with the meal and for $23 this was a good value. The cuts and presentation were not spectacular, but the service was efficient.

 

Church and State was one of my favorite places to go for French food before I left for France, so I wanted to go back and see if they would be able to maintain their rank on my list. The short answer is, maybe. I chose their salad niçoise with seared yellowtail for $18. The presentation was very nice, and the piping of tapenade around the plate added a nice punctuation to the salad, but as you can see the circles of tuna were tiny morsels for what was supposed to be a main course salad. The vinaigrette and vegetables were top notch (organic). They do have a prix fixe menu at $23 for 3 courses at lunch that is a bargain, but for a la carte considering the other options in town at that price point, I won’t be rushing back.

Fish King is a market, a fishmonger, a cafe, and a family owned and run pillar of the community since the 1950’s. It’s a beautifully clean, neatly organized, and pleasurable place to shop. The fish will be better than at your local chain supermarket, Whole Foods included, but don’t expect any bargains for the quality. Since I was too hungry to cook, I chose to have them prepare my halibut cajun style with a side of vegetables and coleslaw. At a little under $15, this was a big healthy meal, but I was disappointed that a fish cafe overcooked the fish filet and undercooked the vegetables. Even with the large assortment of condiments, I couldn’t fix my plate. I would happily buy fish or sushi from them, but I won’t have them cook anything for me again.

At this point, you may be wondering if I found any good places, but I saved the best for last 🙂 Fanta  Sea Grill is nearly hidden in a complex with a large Rite Aid, and the only reason I saw it at all was because I was going to the drugstore. They are a wholesale seafood importer, so they procure fresh fish at excellent prices, and as they proudly proclaim, they use no butter or msg in their preparations. I chose the garlic shrimp to go, and they not only included a large portion of prawns, but delicious vegetables, rice, and salad with citrus ponzu, all for under $20. The prawns were cooked perfectly, with easy to peel off shells, swimming in a garlic broth that I used over the rice and vegetables for an added savory burst of fun. This was so good, I literally licked my fingers after peeling the shrimp!

Tender Greens only has tuna on their regular menu, but sometimes their daily specials are fish, and one day I lucked out with Artic Char. All their fish is sourced from responsible fisheries, so no worries about healthy sustainable fish on their menu:) I paired the perfectly seared filet on top of quinoa with an arugula salad, making my taste buds dance in happiness.

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