Friday, February 25, 2022

The Irreplaceable Foods of L.A.

We really don't have much of a call to visit the Los Angeles area anymore except to visit family (you can catch up on some of our 57 years experience of the area here) but, when we are there, we try to catch up on some of the foods that we just can't find up in the northern half of the state. 

While many of our favorite places didn't survive the covid pandemic, there's still some gems there we try to hit whenever we're in the area.

Here are some places that are on our irreplaceable list...

Pastrami...yes, we can get pastrami anywhere but not like this. The Hat has is a chain of 11 fast food restaurants in the Los Angeles area. 

The farthest north is Simi Valley so that is still too far for us. If you've had it, you know...the juiciest, steamiest, moistest pastrami piled very high on a dipped bun with pickles and mustard (and a slice of swiss cheese, if you desire) for $12 in 2022. A small order of fries will feed a family of four with some left over.

(If you're in the area, you may want to stop at the original location on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra for a real time-traveling treat.)

Covid has killed their massive condiment bar but you can still get what you need from the counter person plus they still have those killer picked peppers.

In addition to The Hat, Capri Deli in Covina also has an equally good and almost identical sandwich at a slightly lower price.

Taquitos at Olvera Street really have no equal. This deep fried, rolled taco was invented at Cielito Lindo at the northern end of Calle Olvera but is taken to its zenith a few doors south at the oldest restaurant on Olvera Street, La Noche Buena.

For just under three bucks, you can get these piping hot out of the fryer with their signature watery and slightly spice guacamole sauce. I like to add their hotter red salsa to it for an incredibly delicious and cheap meal.

And, yes, you can get taquitos and guacamole almost anywhere but nothing like this.

Pizza...again, you can get pizza anywhere. Good pizza, even great pizza, but Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock is truly one of a kind, sublime, great pizza we just can't get anywhere else.

The key is the house-made, fennel Italian sausage that give this thin-crust pie a truly unique and delicious flavor. Get whatever topping you want, but...if you don't mind meat...make sure it has some of this sausage on it.

The only problem is the restaurant knows how good it is so it's not always so customer friendly. Oh, you'll get great service there but don't go for lunch (they don't open until 4), no reservations (you may be waiting over an hour for a table), extremely limited street parking, cash only, closed on Sundays and Mondays, and they tend to just take a two-week vacation whenever the feeling hits.

But, if you can get around those obstacles, make sure you give that pizza a try.

French dip...another staple in many, many restaurants. Yes we can get French dip sandwiches up in our home in the Motherlode. Some very good, even stellar French current favorite is the version we can get at the Lodi Beer Company. But none are like the original.

Philippe's...technically, Philippe the Original, but everybody in L.A. just calls it Philippe's...invented the sandwich which legend says was an accident when the counterperson dropped the bun in the drippings. The cop who was ordering the sandwich was in a hurry and just took it that way. He liked it so much, that he came back with all his buddies who wanted to try this delicious dipped sandwich.

Although the current location isn't the original 1908 location (it was moved to make way for Union Station), it still feels like the early 20th century when you step in with the news and candy stand at the entrance, the bank of wooden (working!) telephone booths, long communal tables, sawdust on the floor, and the uniformed and very professional ladies at the counter who will expertly carve and make your sandwich on the spot.

Along with the traditional beef, you can get lamb (a big favorite), ham, turkey, pork, and pastrami. All three of us prefer beef, double-dipped (bread is dipped twice in the drippings, you can also get single dipped, wet, or au jus on the side), with jack cheese. Oh, and don't forget that spicy and hot Philippe's mustard. There are jars on each table and you'll probably like it so much you'll want to buy a bottle or two to take home from the newstand.

Full disclosure compels me to mention that another restaurant claims to be the inventor of the French dip, Cole's, located six blocks south which also dates to 1908.

Darryl Musick
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