Echo Park: Elf Cafe Keeps it Real

It’s not that I’m anti fake meat. I actually enjoy a good “chicken” mole or “B”LT once in awhile, and places like Flore and Cinnamon do the veg-meat thing really well. However, there’s a special place in my heart for Echo Park’s Elf Café, where whole foods are the focus of their all-vegetarian cuisine, and there’s no tofu, tempeh, or wheat meat to be seen…or tasted.

With a creative and drop-dead delicious menu, this tiny restaurant with no sign to speak of has become a mainstay on Sunset Blvd. since opening in 2006, and even carnivores like me lust after their eastern Mediterranean fare. There’s nothing I love more than introducing “I-have-to-eat-meat-every-meal” friends to this place and watching their looks of skepticism (read: complete and total resistance) turn into utter satisfaction.

The starters at Elf are very tempting, and I love going with a group in order to justify getting at least two. One must is the Labneh, which I’ve praised here before. The light, fluffy texture and tang of the goat yogurt cheese is the perfect match for the richness of the date and kalamata tapenade that sits atop it. Spread on the whole wheat pita with a bit of roasted garlic to punctuate it, this is exactly what I look for in an appetizer.

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Salvation in Brentwood: A Perfect Lemon Macaron

LA is so huge that, even if you grow up here, you might never venture into some of its many nooks and niches. Case in point for me: Brentwood.  Aside from the repeated news footage of the Mezzaluna restaurant during the OJ Simpson trial, I never set eyes on the neighborhood until this very weekend.

My maiden voyage landed me in the Brentwood Country Mart. I’m not judging the whole neighborhood by one little shopping district, but this probably wasn’t the best entrée. While it’s a perfectly beautiful place—very peaceful, with lots of greenery and pony rides to boot—it just wasn’t my scene, and I quickly felt like a stranger in a strange land.  The stores were frightfully out of my price range, and the closest thing I could relate to was the taqueria in the middle of the shopping center.

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Posted in Cafe, Desserts, Westside | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Food for Thought: Favorite Foodie Posts of the Week

Truffle Burger from Umami Burger in Los Feliz

Here’s what I read and liked this week:

  • Peanut Butter cookies, anyone? The Gastronomer shows us how to make some à la Bouchon.
  • Street Gourmet LA illustrates the talent of Baja California’s best chefs in 39 dishes.
  • Table Conversation tells us where to get the best shrimp taco, outside of Mazatlan. I was there for this taco, so I can vouch for the veracity of this claim.
  • New beer store from the minds at Colorado Wine Company! The Eastsider has the sudsy details.
  • In more drink news, Echo Park Now lists the best margaritas in the neighborhood. Cheers!

Have a great weekend, and eat good stuff!


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Eat at Home: The Quest for the Perfect Ice Cream Sandwich

I’ve never really been one for ice cream sandwiches. The traditional rectangular chocolate cookie/vanilla center version sold by ice cream men and lunch ladies is just too mushy for me—the ice cream always melts so quickly and that limp, cakey cookie gets cemented to the roof of your mouth. Not my idea of a good time. There is, of course, the more appealing Chipwich, but alas, the cookie is a little overpowering for my tastes.

This has been my sad ice cream sandwich reality for far too long, so I decided to find a solution. My vision: an ice cream sandwich with a crisp, not-too-sweet cookie that would complement any ice cream. Result: Success!

Here’s how I did it:

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The 3rd Annual Taste of East LA: Food, Music & Art

Birria (goat) Taco from Birrieria Chalio

My dad invited me to this year’s Taste of East LA, and I’m glad I went.  The event is organized by the  East LA chamber of commerce to bring attention to local businesses. While it’s true that there are some obvious absences from this collection of the “best restaurants in East LA” and some strange inclusions (i.e. Coffee Bean and Juan Pollo), there were some great bites to be had while taking in good music and art.

To be honest, I actually had more stress-free fun here than at the recent LA Street Food Fest, where each tasting was separated by a 20-minute wait in line. Maybe it wasn’t the foodie event of the century, but vibe at the Taste of East LA was less competitive and the price was only $20 for a one shot at every booth, which garnered enough tasty food for two people. Plus, I even got to meet Lalo Alcaraz (see his “Tacos Sin Carne” print after the jump) of La Cucaracha fame.

Here’s what I ate and saw:

Fish Taco from Fish Taco Express

Pork Mole Sope from Moles La Tia

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Highland Park: Cinnamon’s Hopelessly Addictive Vegan Pies

In a neighborhood known for its meat-centric cuisine, Highland Park’s Cinnamon definitely stands out. The vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant offers a large menu of Mexican favorites, including their much-celebrated “chicken” mole, burritos, pozole, sopes and homemade tamales. They also serve a bevy of salads, sandwiches and even a “shrimp” cocktail—all soy-, wheat-, or vegetable-based and completely meat free.

I’ve been a fan of this friendly little place for a while, and more often than is respectable, I find myself craving their delicious vegan pies. On my first visit, they gave me a sliver each of all four flavors: blueberry, keylime, chocolate and pumpkin. They knew what they were doing because ever since, I’ve been hopelessly addicted to these unbelievably creamy desserts.

Made in-house daily by Cinnamon’s chef Esperanza Cano (she runs the restaurant with her brother), these impeccable pies are sweet, but not too sweet, with a crumbly crust. The flavors are so authentic, without a hint of artificial flavor that plagues so many of even the most famous pies in town. I recommend taking a friend and sharing a slice of the rich, chocolate pie along with any of the others because the contrast is pretty spectacular.

All pies are $3.50 a slice or $25-30 for an entire pie (order a day in advance). A little pricey, but so worth it.


5511 N. Figueroa St
Los Angeles

Cinnamon Vegetarian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Posted in Best in LA, Desserts, Highland Park, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Best Sunset Junction Ever: Mussels and Margaritas

Sunset Junction just kind of happened to me this year. I almost never go for all the complainy reasons you can imagine, but this year, a friend gave us some free passes. That seemed like a good deal, so we hopped on the train to see what was doing in Silverlake.

We did go into the fest for a while and even watched a band. However, most of our time was spent recoiling from the sun (I was really getting used to this “no summer” scam we had going) indoors and in the company of good food and drinks, an action for which we have no regrets! In fact, I think this was the best Sunset Junction ever.

The Red Line stops at Sunset and Vermont, just a short walk to where the festival starts. The best part of the trek is that it put El Chavo in our path. We had to stop in. Their bar, in all its 1970s Mexican restaurant decor glory, is one of the best places to have a drink in LA, especially on a Sunday afternoon when the crowds are non-existent. The margaritas were strong, the salsa was hot and the somberos florescent. It’s just what we needed before stepping into the fest.

After about an hour of walking around, taking in some live music, and wondering who in their right mind would risk their lives on those rickety rides, we headed over to Cafe Stella for some (more) restoration. The French bistro fare offered at this smallish restaurant is always solid, and the atmosphere, which is low-key in the evening and lively at night, is usually what I’m in the mood for.
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Eat at Home: Coco-Mango Ice Cream—No Ice Cream Maker Necessary

I’m a big fan of Tes at Home , a super-inspiring food blog that focuses on (mostly) Thai home cooking. Almost every day, the lovely Tes teaches her dedicated readers (like me!) how to cook impressive-looking dishes, making every curry, rice dish, fritter and dessert look like a cinch.

Her recent post on coconut ice cream caught my attention because a.) it looked delicious and b.) she did it without an ice cream maker—I’m telling you, she’s a genius. I decided to try the technique, which required only a freezer, a blender, Tupperware, a whisk and a few easy-to-find ingredients.

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Posted in Desserts, Eat at Home, Recipes, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reader Tip: Homemade Salsa and Guacamole from Figueroa Produce

A while back, a reader named Adrian tipped me off to “the best damn salsa and guac” he’d ever had. Naturally, I was intrigued and excited that such a find was available minutes from my house at Figueroa Produce in Highland Park.

Figueroa Produce is a great little market located in a strip mall at the corner of N. Figueroa and York. Dedicated to offering high-quality food at discounted prices to the local  community, they carry harder-to-find international food brands, dairy products, and snacks. Plus, their meat and deli sections include grass fed, organic and free-range options—I’ve heard amazing things about their carne asada.

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Posted in Highland Park, Mexican | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Lincoln Heights: Perfecto Mexican Breakfast at El Huarachito

Disclaimer: This picture is awful, but it looks much more appetizing in person.

You might as well know right now, I didn’t get a huarache. Yes, I know, this place is called the El Huarachito, but I was craving Mexican breakfast, and the other diners were all eating delicious looking egg dishes. I would have been too jealous, even if the huarache was spectacular. And I’m sure it would have been, judging by what I did eat.

I went for the Chilaquiles Rojos con huevos, over easy. I’m not opposed to saucy chilaquiles, but I prefer them to be a bit dry and dark, so that you know the sauce has been thoroughly absorbed into the tortillas. This really allows all the flavors to be distinct, instead of everything just blending together in a big mushy mess. El Huarachito’s are pretty near perfect and the rest of the plate followed suit, including beans were too delicious not to have been refried in lard and potatoes that tasted like meat.

In a good way.

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