Category Archives: Los Angeles

Na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, Naaan Hut!

One of the things I miss the most about SF is its variety of good, cheap eats. There is always some place tucked away on a busy street, selling a fantastically yummy meal for under $10.

I know such places exist in LA, but such is the urban planning of southern California that they’re almost impossible to stumble across because this is not a pedestrian friendly town (more on this later). Good ethnic food are hidden in a myriad of identical seeming strip malls, clustered in their own counties, requiring a drive and an infuriating search for parking.

So when I was exploring my new neighborhood last year ON FOOT, I was happy to come across the Naan Hut, its nondescript storefront, tucked in between a frozen yogurt shop and a swiss bakery.

Naan Hut doesn’t actually make naan, the Indian bread most of us are familiar with. What it specializes in, is sangak, a crispy, chewy flatbread, speckled with sesame seeds. You can get a generous scarf sized piece of this bread for only $3. And you have to wait for it, because the oven is on the premises and they prefer to give it to you fresh, wrapped in brown paper. Like an awesome present of bread!

The first time I went into the shop, I passed by a woman who was smiling ear to ear, arms full of bread. I bought the same bread that day, and then returned a few more times when I realized that they also used the bread to make a uniquely delicious pizza.

At the time, they only opened for lunch and served the aforementioned pizza as well as a few wraps. All delicious and inexpensive. There were a few rickety tables and a television bolted to a corner, so the ambiance was somewhat lacking.

But a few weeks ago, I discovered that it was now open for dinner. Not only were aesthetic and gustatory improvements made, it is also open late, for those craving a late night meal that isn’t diner food.

Its owners have installed a large refrigerator case that houses all kinds of treats, both prepackaged and homemade. I spent a good deal of time googling the names, and everything sounded delicious, (as well as unpronounceable.) Among its shelves, there were saffron puddings, eggplant stews, and hummus, all neatly stacked and labeled. The rickety tables have been replaced with comfortable cafe style tables and chairs and I spotted a samovar bubbling away in the back; must come back for tea!

I’ve been back twice for dinner already, and the host was extremely hospitable and enthusiastic. I don’t know if he’s the owner, but if he isn’t, he should get a raise because he is clearly delighted and proud of what the establishment offers.

Anyway, if you find yourself in L.A. and on the Westside, pop into the Naan Hut!

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(This is some kind of tomatoe-y, eggplant stew thing that is so good, and has a lot of garlic. So only eat it with someone who loves you already, or someone you don’t care if they love you or not.)

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OMG! Pie!

I have no desire to get into the hugely controversial pie vs. cake debate. For one, why must there be a debate? Forcing people to choose is just cruelty, and one of the many casualties in this current climate of polarization!

Anyway, pie and cake. Both good, and  the fact that I recently visited two places that focus on pie, is not indicative of me taking a side on this issue. #foodpolitician

The first place I visited Atticus Creamery and Pies, located in West L.A..

So the name instantly makes me think of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, but as far as I can tell, there is no egregious miscarriage of justice requiring the services of a good, noble man, taking a doomed stand against the racism emblematic of his time.

The second part of the name is accurate and not mysterious; you can get ice cream and pie. There are clever, somewhat hipster foodie combinations like lemon lavender and salted caramel popcorn.  But there are also plenty of options for people who complain “What’s wrong with just chocolate and banana cream!?!”

The pies themselves are more like tarts; small, single crust confections, with cold fillings; think coconut cream rather than apple pies. Atticus offers free samples of both their pie and ice cream options, which is a really nice touch.

It’s located across from the Landmark theater, so it’s easy to drop by before or after a movie. However, seating is limited and not really designed for socializing, so don’t plan on hanging out with there. I did smuggle some of my pie into the theater with me though.

For those whose pie in the sky dreams run more towards meat pies (cue: Sweeney Todd music), Aussie Pie Kitchen in Santa Monica is the place for you.

Now, I knew I was predisposed to liking this place because I have more of a salty than sweet tooth, and I was not disappointed. In addition to flakey, buttery crusts surrounding chicken, beef, and lamb fillings (with a vegetarian one for you joyless souls out there) they also offer what are essentially sausage rolls, but with croissant pastry, bacon, and cheese!  SWOON! I am coming back for you, bacon roll!

You can order said pies plain, or with any combination of mashed potatoes, minted peas, or creamy thyme gravy. For those who are unsure about the sides, the staff happily makes up little sample cups. I went for all of it, and it was delicious. The coffee was good too.

The pies are solidly into meal time, rather than snack time, territory, especially with the sides. Seating indoors is limited, but comfortable, and if you swing by slightly before or after lunch, it’s not a problem to snag a seat.

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I caught a little bug…and ate it?

There’s a restaurant in Santa Monica that serves bugs.

I don’t mean that families of cockroaches hang out, ordering drinks. I mean that bugs are on the menu.

Specifically, scorpions, crickets, ants, and pupae.

I know.

Gaaaaahhhhhh.

Recently, NPR did a story about “cricket flour” which is exactly what it sounds like: flour made from crickets. The creators of the product extol its virtues: high in protein, low cost, and gluten free! Although I guess not vegan or vegetarian friendly, since it’s made from crickets. You can even buy it on Amazon.

I’m hippie enough to understand, appreciate, and even respect all these pro “eat bugs” arguments. I also understand that the “ick’ factor of foods are largely cultural, and that there is nothing more inherently icky about eating crickets than say, eating shrimp, which are pretty much the insects of the sea.

But knowing something logically fares poorly when pitted again decades of cultural conditioning. I did not grow up eating bugs, so insects viscerally read to me as unsanitary. A few years ago, I had found a cockroach in my dish at a Thai restaurant, and my response had not been:

“If only they had put EXTRA cockroach!”

However, if you’re the kind of person who does have that response when finding an unexpected, exotic protein on your plate, then I highly recommend going to Typhoon in Santa Monica, CA.

My more adventurous friend ordered a plate of the fried crickets and I was impressed when he actually FINISHED it. He described the flavor as slightly grassy and reminiscent of something else, but he couldn’t pinpoint what.

The apocalypse, perhaps? I don’t know. I didn’t have the guts to try. Although I did like, in true gourmet fashion, the menu lists the provenance of the insects. Were I a connoisseur, I would have been able to debate the merits of Taiwanese crickets over say, those from Vietnam.

Instead my reaction was a pretty solid…ewwwww. Ew ew ew ew ew!

Typhoon is located at the Santa Monica airport and does serve a lot of other dishes. So even if you’re not inclined to eat bugs, you can order a drink, some non creepy crawlers, and watch the planes fly in, feeling rather continental.

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Discovery #4 about LA vs SF: differing access to dim sum

After moving to Los Angeles, I was happy to discover that there was an active food culture here as well.

In fact, there is not much that I could get in San Francisco that I can’t also get in LA.

BUT…it is less convenient to get to in LA.

In LA, the best Korean food is often in Koreatown, the best Japanese food is in Little Toyko, etc. Since most neighborhoods in LA are about 45+ minutes away from each other, this does not help me much for cheap, tasty, weekday dining options.

In SF, this is not the case. A good Japanese restaurant is close to a good Chinese restaurant, which is close to a good Mexican place.

And the best Chinese restaurants are not in the tourist Chinatown, but off in the foggy avenues, away from crowds or interesting architecture. The avenues, most notably around Clement and Geary, and Irving and Judah, are packed with Chinese restaurants, Chinese takeaways, and Chinese dim sum bakeries.

I really, really miss the bakeries. You could get a ridiculous amount of BBQ pork buns, shrimp noodles, taro puffs, and turnip cakes for about $10. And a big bowl of jook (Chinese rice porridge) for about $2. And while some were better than others, they were all pretty good.

Now that I’m living in a place that requires a significant journey instead of 5 minutes to get any of these things; I wonder why I wasn’t eating dim sum every day when I lived in SF. *

My sad workaround to get a facsimile of what used to be extremely convenient, is to buy frozen versions of these items. Trader Joe’s sells BBQ pork buns which are decent. But their recommendation that you microwave the buns under a damp paper towel if you don’t have a bamboo steamer? Pfffffft! They turn out rubbery.

However, I found this works perfectly!

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I got it in Japantown years ago. I put a bit of water in the bottom, and the little, vented, white tray sits above the water, keeping the BBQ bun from getting soggy while it steams in the microwave.

I have yet to find a suitable substitute for the roast duck that hang in the Chinese takeaways though.

*and then I remember, “oh yeah. Because I didn’t want to gain fifty pounds.”

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The bar’s been set, and no, you can’t reach it

People in LA are, to quote Zoolander, “ridiculously good looking.”

It’s a bit like living in a television show…not something from the BBC, mind you, which still manages to cast ordinary looking people in their shows. No, this is like being in a perpetual episode of “90210”, the old one or the new one…it doesn’t matter. Point being, it’s very easy to feel below average here.

Years ago, I was in LA for a business trip and I found myself in the elevator with Tyra Banks, she of supermodel stardom. Before Tyra had entered, the other occupants of the elevator had seemed quite normal. Suddenly, it was as if we were all unwashed, covered with lint, and my goodness..don’t we look tired? The elevator was conveniently mirrored so we could appreciate the abrupt nosedive our appearances took.

In some parts of LA, every day is like being trapped in an elevator with Tyra Banks. A few weeks ago, I got coffee in a place where there was a woman who looked like Frieda Pinto, if Frieda Pinto was less attractive.

Remember when you were in school, and some classes graded on a curve, but there was always that one kid who ruined it by getting 100%? Well, that’s what LA is like, except a lot of people are getting 110% in looks, so the average here is so skewed that normal can look almost disfigured.

I can imagine what it does for the reluctantly single, as everyone walks around feeling entitled to someone who looks like they belong on a magazine cover. I mean, why can’t I have one?!? Look, they’re everywhere!

We can discuss personalities later…

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Discovery #3 about SF vs LA: Traffic

There’s a sketch on SNL called “The Californians“. All the characters, regardless of the compromising positions in which they find themselves, always end up discussing the traffic routes in L.A.

That skit wasn’t funny before I moved here.

While it doesn’t take much longer to drive from Santa Monica to Silver Lake than it takes to get from Sunnyvale to SF, the first journey is infinitely more frustrating. This is because in L.A., it can take a half hour to travel five miles. Psychologically this is pretty devastating, especially if you have a GPS that keeps reminding you of how long it should take.

However!

Once you arrive to your destination in L.A., you actually get to exit the car.

With the exception of Hollywood, parking is cheap and plentiful in L.A. If you go shopping, the first 90 minutes of parking is often free with validation. No where in Union Square has that kind of deal. In fact, in SF, it is cheaper and more convenient to just buy everything online. Especially since most places have free returns.

Moreover, street parking exists in L.A.! Therefore, when visiting friends (or coming home) you are not haplessly orbiting your destination for a half hour. I have had more spontaneous visits and last minute coffees, dinner dates, and after work drinks, because no one is concerned about parking.

In SF, there is no quick “popping” by unless everyone lives within walking distance, because you’re always calculating the extra time for parking or the extra money for a cab. The latter which can run you an extra forty dollars for the evening, making that “let’s just meet for a quick drink” idea, super expensive. Yes, you can take public transport in S.F., but here are some of the highlights of my experience with Muni in SF.

1)A bus driver closed the door on my arm and leg, and drove away, leaving the rest of me hanging outside.

2)A crazy person picked a fight with my friend and followed us off the train.

3)A driver inexplicably announces that he is going no further, leaving all of us, twenty blocks from where we were supposed to be. (This happens frequently.)

So taking Muni to a supposedly fun event is a good way to guarantee that you will arrive late and in a bad mood…if you’re lucky enough to arrive at all.

That being said, the mythical awfulness of L.A. drivers can rival the mythical awfulness that is Muni in SF.

To be fair, the majority of L.A. drivers are fine, but the two percent that make up the stereotype are jaw dropping.

I’ve seen someone speed in a left hand turn lane, as if it were a third lane, cutting in at the intersection. I’ve seen guys drive ON THE SIDEWALK to get around cars waiting at a four way stop. At an intersection before a freeway entrance, I saw a guy stop, hit his hazards, to send a text, blithely waving traffic past him.

I know sexist jokes about bad drivers are generally directed at women drivers, but these were all men, with heavily gelled hair and sunglasses, driving sports cars. They could have achieved the same result with a lot less effort and danger to others by tattooing “cliché douchebag” onto their foreheads.

But ultimately, on this topic, rather surprisingly, I prefer LA. This is probably because I live less than five miles from work, which isn’t something that occurred much when I was living in SF.

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Discovery #2 SF vs LA: the helicopter thing is a real thing

I first became aware of the helicopter car chase during the OJ Simpson trial when I, and millions of other people, watched his car hurtle down the freeway and we all wondered; where does he imagine he’s going to go? WE CAN SEE YOU!

However, being an SF dweller. I had thought helicopter chases were a rare occurrence used for dramatic emphasis in movies or restricted to situations for men who murder their exes and are later acquitted.

But no. Seriously, it’s like baby Blue Thunder here, several times a week.

When I was in SF, the only time I heard a helicopter was when one buzzed by Golden Gate park during a concert, drowning out the musicians. (I’m not positive but I’m fairly certain that helicopter was piloted by an asshole.)

In any case, helicopters do seem extremely effective when chasing down criminals, so I suppose that’s the major upside.

The downside is, of course, they are very noisy.

I’d say I’m with SF on the no helicopter thing*, except that I think SF doesn’t need them in the same way LA does. Regardless of Steve McQueen and “Bullitt”, there’s a limit to how far and fast a car can travel in a city as compact and hilly as SF. Moreover, SF has so many pedestrians that I imagine should a criminal abandon his vehicle, there would be like 50 witnesses watching him wheezing up one its vertiginous streets.

*I was informed by an ex-colleague that SF was very strict about rules re: helicopters and city airspace.

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