Thursday, December 15, 2016

2016's Top 16 LA Foodstuffs Under $16.

Congratulations! We did it! Some how, some way, we made it through 2016! While there were many positive distractions during what might enter the record books as the most sobering year in American history, I sincerely want to tip my cap to the LA culinary scene. You guys distracted us well this year. Really, really well.

Obviously, as is my annual wont, there were certain foodstuffs I enjoyed most. And, like years of yore, I've decided to include them in this here listicle: "2016's Top 16 LA Foodstuffs Under $16." Also, per ushe, this "Best Of" is based on my favorite 16 LA dishes I ate for the first time ever in 2016, costing under $16. Some were new Southland dishes, some classics. But they were all new to me.

[2015's Top 15 LA Foodstuffs Under $15]
[2014's Top 14 LA Foodstuffs Under $14]

Photo by Stan Lee.
Everything Pretzel at The Cannibal (Culver City) - Like Fievel, this year The Cannibal went west. While most of the hubbub surrounding the New York-transplant has been on the carne-heavy menu, do not overlook the Everything Pretzel, available daily at the restaurant's deli/butcher counter. A darlingly distinctive pretzel-bagel neouveau hybrid, the Everything Pretzel oozes New York-upbringing with an LA citizenship. Added bonus: it comes with an extra creamy scallion cream cheese dip.

Famous Chicken at Dino's (various locations) - Dino's is not new. An LA institution since forever, it somehow slipped my radar. Joyfully that is no longer the case. And thank fucking God. It is LA's best Below $7 meal. The chicken as juicy and flavorful as your Drunk Uncle Who Went To UCLA Thirty Years Ago But Now Lives In The Midwest Begrudgingly Tells You Every Time You See Him. 

Flautas at Gracias Madre (WeHo) - Blame my caveman instincts: when I eat vegan, I don't want it to taste vegan. At all. Gracias Madre does not taste vegan. It tastes like fresh, delicious food, that just so happens to be plant-based. Their Flautas start with house-ground corn tortillas, then stuffed with roasted garnet yams and caramelized onions. After frying, the crispy flautas are topped with a gracious, delicious dribble of (non-dairy) cashew nacho sauce and served with fresh pico and guac.

Plain Bagel at Maury's Bagels (Farmers' Markets) - LA bagels suck. Like, really blow. There are a few standouts amongst the establishment (word up, New York Bagel in Mar Vista!); generally though, the local bagel scene very much necessitates a real kick in the ass. That's where Maury's comes in. They take bagel-making seriously. We're talking an east coast-esque crisp exterior, with an almost velvety soft chew (when hot). The sort of bagel maker that encourages you to eat a plain, with no cream cheese - because it's that good. Although currently only available at farmers' markets, Maury's is working on a brick and mortar in Silverlake. Opens in the Spring. Hallelujah.

Poke at Jus Poke (Redondo Beach) - Before poke was a Southland phenomenon to Ariana Grande stupidity levels, there was Jus Poke in Redondo. And as the moniker suggests, they only do one thing and they do it damn well.

Yellow Falafel Sandwich at Madcapra (DTLA) - Bold claim: Madcapra is Grand Central Market's shining stall. Sure, Egg Slut may have the lines and Belcampo the press, but if you go to GCM and skip Madcapra, you're a down right fool. They serve up falafel four  ways, yet I recommend you steer "Yellow." Yellow means generous, flavor-bursting falafel nodules, accompanied by feta, harissa, cucumbers, pickled sweet peppers and parsley. All wrapped in Madcapra's secret weapon: their flatbread. Baked in stall, it's a mix of organic bread flour and whole wheat flour. Allowed to rise, it's then shaped, before rising again, rolled and grilled TO ORDER. Extra extra: the chefs open Kismet, a more formal Los Feliz affair in the new year, as well as forsee an eventual Madcapra expansion. ((Note: the pic is of "Green" because the picture was too good not to use.))

Cast Iron Cornbread at Preux & Proper (DTLA) - Preux & Proper is known for their fresh juice alcoholic slushies, which are the pinnacle of the such in town. While you're there though, I highly recommend you also order the Cast Iron Cornbread. An ode to the establishment's Orleans roots, it's a straight forward corn bread recipe, baked to order, topped with a fresh blueberry compote and brown sugar. It teeters the fine line between sweet and savory, while pleasantly satisfying both.

Flour Tortilla Tacos at Loqui (Culver City) - Loqui produces transcendent flour tortillas. I know that sounds melodramatically hyperbolic. Trust me though, bro. These are the sort of tortillas where you could put a goddamn tire in them and still think it's a Top 10 taco. Why are you putting a tire in the tortilla? Beats the hell out of me. You're the one that did it. Personally, go with the chicken. Holding tight to a secret recipe, Loqui hand makes approximately 750-1k of these bad boys in house daily. For those bemoaning the west-y Culver location: they're currently looking for a potential second LA spot.

Whirley Bowl at Bondi Harvest (Santa Monica) - Bondi Harvest's Whirley Bowl is the best healthy AF dish I ate all year. The enchantingly scrumptious, yet nutritious amalgamation of mahi-mahi, slaw, avocado, a tzatziki-adjacent yogurt sauce and a citrusy salsa tops chimichurri-dressed cauliflower "rice." Based on BH's Sydney surfing roots, the Whirley Bowl probably powers many shredders pre- and post-waves globally. For me, it's a solid lunch before I go home, hit the couch, watch "Fixer Upper" re-runs and call it a day.

Bittersweet Chocolate Budino Tart at Bestia (DTLA) - The wife figure in my life surprisingly arranged Bestia for my birthday. Special day vibes aside, it was probably my favorite meal of the year. Unfortunately, per this enumeration's guidelines, almost none of the ordered foodstuffs fell below the $16 limit. The exception: their signature sweet thang. A dense dark chocolate pudding/mousse, in a cacao tart crust, topped with some sea salted caramel and olive oil. Alongside Mozza's superlative Butterscotch variety, they got the budino game on lockdown.

Photo by Alexander Garcia.
Platos Cubanos at Porto's Bakery (Various Locations) - Whenever a meeting takes me over them hills, I make a Porto's stop - to get pastries. And only pastries. Porto's apparently took notice, as they've evolved some of the savory menu recently and their newer "Platos Cubano" is now my go-to Valley Lunch. You can get Grilled Citrus Chicken, Grilled Steak, Ropa Vieja or Roasted Pork Lechon. All tasty in their own regard, served with a side of steamed jasmine rice, black beans and fried sweet plantains. It's a fresh, filling lunch - to feel real good about before... downing a mini-Dulce de Leche bundt, or two.

Green Garlic Hash at Sqirl (East Hollywood) - (pictured atop the post) The Sqirl staples are wonderful and all (what up, Sorrel Pesto Rice Bowl and Ricotta Jam Toast!), but every time I visit I'm sure to order their "seasonal hash." Of which, the Green Garlic varietal their superior 2016 offering. Already serving the east side's best breakfast potatoes, Sqirl cooks in a very charitable portion of fresh green garlic and adds a sunny-sider on top. It's simultaneously a hearty, yet extremely LA breakfast.

Corn Almond Soft Serve at Magpie's (Silver Lake) - Ever wish a well-accomplished local chef went, "Fuck it. I'm devoting my every waking hour to making superior soft serve?" That's exactly what Chef Warren Schwartz and his wife Rose decided to do after an enlightening Dairy Queen visit. After a year of R&D, the swirling result is Silver Lake's Magpie's. Although they feature many flavors of both the dairy and non-dairy persuasions, the chefs' favorite/my favorite/the customer favorite is the very creamy and flavorful (yet vegan!) Corn Almond. As an added bonus, Magpie's make all their own toppings, which just happen to be LA's finest. I suggest the Hazelnut Wafers or Chocolate Covered Honeycomb; the chefs say Butterscotch Krispies. Due to the success of the first location, there are plans for a second spot by Summer 2017. Location TBA.

Carnevale at DeSano Pizza Bakery (East Hollywood) - Back in August, DeSano's hosted one of the world's most renown Neopolitan pizza makers, Attilio Bachetti. Luckily for Los Angelenos, Attilio brought his beloved "Carnevale" recipe with to East Hollywood for that one fateful eve. An eight-pointed, ricotta-stuff crusted masterpiece surrounds a traditional margherita and sausage pie. It was so popular DeSano's CONTINUES TO SERVE IT - ON THE SLY. It's not on the menu. You must request it. So, what the eff are you waiting for, bud? Go request it already.

Grilled Avocado at Roku Sunset (West Hollywood) - Let's be real: grilling avocados is not revelatory cooking. But when you aggressively char it and add a generous portion of yuzu and soy and a squeeze of lemon? Well, then you got something avocawesome.
((Read about other RS menu highlights here))

The Sandwich at Howlin' Rays (Chinatown) - Most of you know about my cathartic three hour-plus Howlin Rays sojourn. If you don't, I highly recommend you check it out as I consider it a life-changing afternoon. Live tweeting the long lines and slashed tires aside, Howlin Rays makes LA's best sandwich. Whew, there, I said it. Feels good. I know there will be arguments. Or claims of "Liberal Chicken Sandwich Bias" or something. But they do. They really, really do. I've only had it twice now, but I can't imagine relishing a sandwich chomping enterprise more. It's spicy. It's juicy. It's massive. It's Nashville. It's LA. It's Chinatown. It's the best.


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