Monday, December 14, 2015

2015's Top 15 LA Foodstuffs Under $15.

I'm going to let you in on a little industry secret that may blow your freaking mind: when you write a food blog, you eat a lot. WHAT?! I know, it's crazy. And like Peter Parker, with great power comes great responsibility. In that I mean, there's an expectation to sift through the thousands of dishes consumed to note the praiseworthy. Which, I'll be frank: isn't always so easy. I'm not complaining, just that's a heckuva lot of sifting. Lucky for you, amigo, I've gone far beyond sifting in compiling my Best of 20-15 Under 15. I've excavated. I hope you enjoy. 

(((As in past years, to qualify, a dish must cost $15 or less before tax. It does not have to be brand new in 2015, rather be the first time I consumed it. Unlike past years, there's no longer a ranking. All these dishes are kick ass and this is a Top 15, rather than a 1-15.)))


Poké at Sweetfin Poké - It seems like just yesterday I had to brave the Venice strand crazies for my poké fix. Then, all of sudden, that changed in a very big way. In 2015, poké spots became the new thang and started popping up EVERYWHERE. The paramount of the lot is certainly Santa Monica's Sweetfin, which offers pre-set options and also a do it yourself potpourri menu. I usually make my own; let's call it The Unemployed Eater (because that's the name of the blog you're currently reading) - green bamboo rice, yellowfin tuna, classic yuzu sauce, fried onions, fried garlic, fresh ginger, red onions and mango. Good news for non-Santa Monicans: Sweetfin envisions expansion. 

Sliced Brisket at Maple Block Meat Co. - Maple Block is the BBQ spot Los Angeles has been praying on Sundays for. Top quality meats, rich in flavor, with deep in the heart of Texas-like smoke rings. Don't believe me? Well, first off, that's weird because I know my shit. But you want more evidence... the nation's top BBQ critic named Maple Block's brisket the Golden State's apex. Even more impressive: at the time of nomination, they had been open a mere two nascent months. 

Spicy Fried Chicken Pizza Panino at Pizza Romana and Grilled Chicken Sandwich at The Moose Den - First off, sorry. Those pictures suck. I blame it on my Chicken Sandwich Infatuation. Love me a good chicken sandwich and I probably don't take the proper time for photographic evidence before digging in. That being said, I eat many a chicken sammie. These were my two favorites of 2015 and they came from the oddest of locales: a make-your-own pizza spot on La Brea and a Glendale basement sports bar across from the Americana at Grand. Imagine them as The Laney Boggs of Chicken Sandwiches -- super simple, unknown underdogs that, when they remove the glasses, wow you. The Pizza Romana take is crispy, spicy, fried chicken breast with a vinaigrette slaw, stuffed in a pocket of pizza dough. Moose Den even simpler: tender grilled chicken with the normal accoutrement, on ciabatta (w/ top drawer fresh cut fries). 

Choc O Lot Doughnut at Sidecar Doughnuts - In anticipation of Sidecar's Santa Monica opening, I wouldn't shut up to my LA friends how good their doughnuts were. I must stop at the Costa Mesa original every freaking time I drive to my parents in San Diego!, I proclaimed. What makes it so damn special?, they'd retort. The answer: they care more. Their Choc O Lot, for example, is based on a family chocolate puff recipe. The light, cloud-like chocolate dough contains Callebaut chocolate chips in it (!). The dark chocolate ganache? It's smooth and rich, offering deep chocolate-y flavor tones. The same attention to detail can be found on the entire menu (note: major, major doughnut porn there). An added bonus: Sidecar finds itself so busy most of the day, you're almost guaranteed a piping hot 'nut, which means you win at life. 

Bacon Breakfast Pesto Kyerito at Kye's - Full disclosure: first time I ate at Kye's I was confident I was not going to like it. Seemed WAY too healthy for this cat. But as you can probably ascertain since it's on my Best Of list... uhh, I like Kye's. A lot. It's healthy dude food at it's finest - and I ate the Bacon Breakfast Pesto Kyerito a heckuva lot in 2015. Adapted for the owner's son's food sensitivities and an admiration for the Austin egg taco, the BBPK starts with organic spinach blended into free range eggs, then add a dairy/nut-free superseed pesto, uncured/nitrate-free bacon, organic tomatoes, arugula and brown rice. And like most kyeritos, it's all wrapped in a toasted seaweed. It's the healthiest breakfast burrito that doesn't taste like a healthy breakfast burrito.

Farm Egg at Leona - Recently Chef Nyesha Arrington broke down to waterworks just thinking about her new Venice restaurant, Leona. I don't cry because I'm, like, manly, but... I feel similarly toward my favorite westside restaurant opening of 2015 and their signature dish, the frankly titled, "Farm Egg." Don't be a fool though. Like most of the menu, the execution is far more complicated than its moniker: the egg softly cooked, then wrapped in hand-diced matchstick potato sticks, DEEP FRIED AS A TANDEM, placed in a smoky bacon broth and finally topped with chunky house-cured bacon bits.

Farro and Brussels Sprouts Salad at Picnic LA - I know what you're thinking, "He better NOT be wasting my at-work-procrastination-blog-reading-time with a freaking grain salad on your list, bro. YOU BETTER NOT." Fret not, this is no ordinary grain salad. Recently opened in downtown Culver, Picnic LA is very much the schmancy Lemonade we've all been waiting for - and they take their grain salads very, very seriously. Based on a Vietnamese duck dish, al dente farro is mixed with coriander-flavored beet-dyed pickled shallots, roasted and chopped peanuts, roasted Brussels sprouts, nuoc cham (fish sauce, palm sugar, lime juice), Thai basil and a little mint. In conclusion, this is nothing like your grandma's grain salad (if your grandma made a grain salad). 

Brioche French Toast at Republique - Like Steph Curry from three, Trump's hair and going through a punk phase in college, there are certain givens in life: the best French Toast is the least complicated French Toast. Republique proves this true with their brioche rendition, which is both not frivolous and not-not delicious. A thick slice of housemade, buttery brioche, soaked in custard overnight and then pan-fried to order. That's it, folks. They do, however, caramelize sugar in the pan, which gives the bread a welcome textural crunch and sweetness.

Waffles at Dinette - I adore Dinette so much I wrote them a letter pleading for a westside location. They haven't responded yet, but that does not diminish my infatuation with their rectangular divots of amour. No where else in town can you get an affordable waffle that provides such satisfaction. I dare you to try. I double dog dare you. I-- you get the point. Go to Dinette, eat the waffles, be happy.

Lahaian Sliders at Komodo Venice (pictured atop the post) and Beef Sliders at Michael's - Although they differ slightly -- Komodo's ground sirloin sliders are partnered with seared center cut bacon, homemade chipotle Thousand Island, sunny-side up quail eggs, sauteed Maui-style caramelized onions and jalapeno, compared to Michael's less dressed sliders with Russian dressing, maui onion, pickle and Gruyere -- they're both equivocally satisfying. And on the restaurants' respective new-to-2015 Happy Hour menus (note: read about Michael's here and Komodo's here). Furthermore, Michael's isn't that far of a drive from Komodo. So... you could have both, on one night. Which I am or am not saying I've done multiple times.

Meatballs at Jon & Vinny's - Okay, you got me. You're good, man! Real good. Jon & Vinny's meatballs DO cost a quarter over the $15 threshold. I apologize for being a liar. Yet, they are so special  and so fifteen dollars adjacent, I had to include them. What makes them so damn splendiferous? I'm not so sure. But like everything on the menu at J&Vs, they're elevated Jersey red sauce classics that went through a meticulous (and on going) recipe tinkering. The beef-pork balls are braised in pomodoro sauce, served with house-made and whipped ricotta, and served with their also homemade first-class focaccia (which is brushed with olive oil, grilled on a wood grill and then smeared with garlic butter of the Gods). Also note: Jon & Vinny's serves my favorite pepperoni pizza of 2015.

Cash Burger at The Standing Room - Rather than repeat myself, this is the burger you should be eating right now. So go eat it. 

(Photo Courtesy of Belle8Sprinkles)
Dark Chocolate Meringue Cake at Milo + Olive - It comes as no surprise that a Zoe Nathan restaurant serves a razzle-dazzle dessert. But, of all the pastries and pies and cookies I've ever devoured of Zoe's, I think Milo + Olive's new'ish Dark Chocolate Meringue Cake may be the pinnacle. It sort of mad scientist ingeniously combines two great desserts, making one greater dessert: flourless chocolate torte and meringue. Not just any flourless chocolate torte though - a dense as all heck dark chocolate one. Made with Compartes chocolate, which is not just local, but some of the best in the US of A. The result, with the generous meringue atop, is a real Mary Berry Showstopper.

"Rice & Beans" at BS Taqueria - I rarely order rice and beans anymore. What's the point really? They all taste the same and I'd much rather get fat on a la carte burritos and an extra side taco. That's probably why I'm tickled pink by BS Taqueria's refreshingly inventive and flavor-packed take on the old standby. Wild rice is puffed in very hot oil. The "beans" - garbanzo and butter beans - are cooked once in water, before getting deep fried along with garlic, shallots and Fresno chiles. The rice and beans are then combined with hot sauce, lime and fresh herbs. And lastly, some cojita cheese. The result is a pop-able snack you wish they sold at the movie theatre.

Clay Pot Jidori Chicken at Phorage - Along with the Kyerito, I probably ate this dish more than any other in the year twenty-fifteen. Admittedly, part of the reason is pure lethargy - Phorage is near my house. But why wouldn't I eat it all the time? It's one of the tastiest, thriftiest warm lunches in LA. How did this dish come to the Phorage menu? Apparently Los Angelenos don't want pho when it's 90 out, so the Phorage guys added Clay Pot Chicken - boneless, skinless jidori thigh meat, a super addictive, aces ginger-soy-based sauce, a little fish sauce, all cooked in a clay pot and served in said clay pot, accompanied by a side of broken rice. I'm going to go have it for lunch right now, so kay, bye.

Honorable Mention: Veggie Potstickers (Pine and Crane), Chicken Sausage-Stuffed Dates (The Tripel), Salted Caramel Bread Pudding (B Sweet Dessert Bar), Sicilian Square Slice (Prime Pizza), Apple And Doughnuts Ice Cream (Salt and Straw), Honey Nut Ricotta Toast (Blacktop Coffee).


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