Monday, December 10, 2012

2012's Top 12 LA Foodstuffs Under $12

'Tis the season... of Best Of lists. Never to shy away from the holiday spirit, I am very pleased (for the third year in a row) to present Unemployed Eater's very own enumeration, 2012's Top 12 LA Foodstuffs Under $12. Twenty-twelve was a blessed year for the blog as I ate and drank my way through Los Angeles greater than I ever had before. Thus, in turn, I think this year's Top 12 is the most comprehensive to date. The list follows the previously set guidelines: 1) 2012 must have been the first year in which I consumed the item, 2) Restaurant must be located in LA/LA County and 3) Foodstuff must cost $12 or less before tax.

[[2011's Top 11 LA Foodstuffs Under $11]]
[[2010's Top 10 LA Foodstuffs Under $10]]

(Creating my own drum roll)
Here are the Top 12 LA foodstuffs under $12 that went down my gullet in 2012...

Photo courtesy of kevinEats.
12. Fried Brussels Sprouts at Freddy Smalls - Freddy Smalls' Brussels Sprouts were put on this Earth to convince Brussels Sprouts naysayers they're freaking idiots. It is impossible to not love these Brussels Sprouts. IMPOSSIBLE. Don't be fooled by the seemingly simple preparation -- slice the sprouts in half, dunk them in the deep fryer, toss with an apple cider glaze, throw on some smoked goat cheese -- there is nothing amateur about this dish's flavors.

11. Granola at Gjelina Take Away - Most flock in the morning to Gjelina's adjacent Take Away spot for their Breakfast Sandwich - and understandably so. But, in my humble opinion, it is their granola that is the true reason to make the early trek to Abbot Kinney. Don't be fooled: this is NOT the healthiest granola you're ever going to eat. But, let's also be honest: that's probably why it tastes so freaking good. The housemade, buttery, nutty and chewy granola comes on (not non-fat) Greek yogurt and is topped with a healthy amount of locally sourced honey and fresh berries.

10. Pizza at 800 Degrees - 800 Degrees is the best thing to happen to the LA pizza scene since Mozza. The reason for this is actually the latter's fault. Mozza burst on the landscape a few years back charging $15-$20 a pie - which was fine because it was Mozza. But, copycats soon sprouted up all around LA, charging the same high pricepoint, yet delivering a much inferior product. Enter 800 Degrees, where you can construct your own tasty Neapolitan pizza with quality ingredients for under $10 (and ready in mere minutes). It's not Mozza, but for the price it doesn't have to be.

9. Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich at Sprinkles Ice Cream & Salted Caramel Shake at U-Mini (TIE) - Sprinkles Ice Cream makes good ice cream, not great ice cream [review here]. The same can be said about U-Mini: they make good fast food burgers, but not great burgers [review here]. That said, both spots offer surprisingly splendid side dishes, if you will. Sprinkles Ice Cream's true star is their chocolate chip cookie (pictured at the top of this post). Thick, dense and splendidly buttery, the Callebaut chipped cookies certainly stand as some of LA's best. Stick some of Sprinkles' Red Velvet ice cream in between two of them? Forget about it. Similarly, U-Mini's Salted Caramel shake made from a special L.A. Creamery blend, at $3.50, stands as one of the city's best ice cream bargains.

8. Eggs & Laura Chenel goat cheese at Huckleberry - How could the best breakfast I had all year be such a basic combination of two sunny side up eggs, Weiser Farm roasted potatoes, sauteed spinach, goat cheese and a sprinkling of scallions? Because, like almost everything at Huckleberry, the eggs are cooked to perfection, the roasted potatoes delightfully crispy, the goat cheese wonderfully creamy and the wilted spinach packed with flavor - every time. And, well, as Huckleberry co-owner, Zoe Nathan, puts it, "Eggs, goat cheese and spinach are made for each other."

Photo courtesy of The Delicious Life
7. Caesar Brussels Sprouts at Baco Mercat - Chef Josef Centeno admits he loves Casear salad and Brussels sprouts, but in putting together his Baco Mercat menu, he wanted to avoid their associated cliches. The solution: combining the two, in hopes to "neutralize the cliche," he says. Man, did he succeed. By shredding warm Brussels sprouts and topping it with an anchovy and garlic dressing with shredded pecorino cheese and pickled onions, Centeno created one of LA's most innovative new dishes in the kitchen of one of 2012's best new restaurants.

6. Salted Caramel Pecan Babka Roll at Sycamore Kitchen & Kringle at Copenhagen Pastry - Like "West Side Story," 2012's best pastries came from opposite sides of the track. You have the divinely sticky and sweet Salted Caramel Pecan Babka Roll from Sycamore Kitchen, a much ballyhooed opening from the couple that owns Hatfield's. Then there's the perfectly flake and almond-y Kringle from Copenhagen Pastry, a Danish bakery owned by an ex-pat that sort of came out of nowhere when it popped up on Washington Blvd. in Culver City earlier this year. No gang fights here though, one bite of each and you'll be singing a sweet tune. NOTE: That was super cheesy. I apologize.

Photo Courtesy of Fundamental LA
5. Slow Cooked Turkey Breast Sandwich at Fundamental LA - Fundamental takes their sandwiches seriously. Don't believe me? This is how they make your $10 (phenomenal) turkey sandwich: they slowly confit the hormone-free turkey breast in duck fat, cook the apricot jam with white wine and jalapeno and flavor it with cinnamon and star anise, the lemon aioli is housemade and the arugula local. All between glorious slices of Atwater Village's Village Bakery bread. All that for the best turkey sandwich in town.

4. Garlic Knot at Milo + Olive - I guess landing high on my list last year for their Crostini wasn't enough for the venerable Santa Monica pizzeria and bakery. This year Milo + Olive's back with their epic Garlic Knot, that might as well be called Garlic Bomb. Delicious garlic bomb. By baking a substantial amount of fresh garlic cloves right into their housemade bread satchel, M+O totally changed the garlic knot game. Pretty hard to believe that, as Zoe Nathan notes, the restaurant initially didn't want a garlic knot on the menu at all. That would have been a total sad face.

Photo Courtesy of Haven Gastropub + Brewery.
3. McCormick Alley Burger at Burger Haven/Haven Gastrobpub - 2012 was a good year for burgers in LA. Pier Burger, Cook's County and Sunny Spot, amongst many others, all caught my attention, but LA's burger of the year definitely hails from Pasadena. After the house burger and lamb burger grew popular on his Haven Gastropub menu, Executive Chef Greg Daniels started a lunchtime only Burger Haven pop-up in the back of his own restaurant. Named for the alley in which it's located, the McCormick Alley burger is "a lesson to those other burger joints that try too hard," says Daniels. The goods: grass-fed Paso Prime beef, rich two-year aged Grafton cheddar, butter lettuce, raw onions and a bacon jam (bacon, onions, apricot, Imperial stout) on a custom bun from OC Baking Company with roasted shallots baked into it. Totally worth the drive to Pasadena, the burger is, simply put, the tits. NOTE: If you check in on Yelp and show your server, the fries are gratis.

Photo Courtesy of The Minty
2. Albondigas! at Manhattan Beach Post - M.B. Post opened to much fanfare in 2011. Then in early 2012 some dude named James Beard gave it some recognition. Yet, I still had never been there. In March I finally drove down to Manhattan Beach to see what all the fuss was about. I've been there five times since. M.B. Post does so many things right - inventive, tasty, well-portioned servings at a very reasonable pricepoint. Probably their best under $12 dish is their Albondigas!, veal and pork Mexican meatballs with Garnet yam puree, shishito peppers and a maple-miso glaze. With the meatballs, Chef/owner David LeFevre says he sought to do something atypical. Rather than braise them, he wanted something "smoky and grilled." He also expertly mixed a Mexican standby with an Asian-inspired sauce and a Southern starch. Brilliant.

1. Everything at Chego - I know what many of you are thinking. CHEGO? That place opened like three years ago! Get with it, bro! But, like MB Post, Chego some how slipped through the cracks. Also, I've learned from many of my peers, it did for them too. Once you visit though, you simply cannot stop returning time and time again. Even with the recent decision to go food truck as they temporarily close the restaurant, I still cannot imagine a restaurant that better epitomizes what Unemployed Eater is all about. Chef/owner Roy Choi describes his spot as "translating the rice bowl with an LA flavor and state of mind" that offers "liquor store food, but with fruits and vegetables." The often rotating menu features not one item over $10 and I beg (BEG!) anyone to put up an argument for another LA restaurant that delivers more taste and substance for your dollar than Chego. Personal favorites: The Beefy T, Sour Cream Hen House, Steak in the Heart... Hell, EVERYTHING.


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