Sunday, August 05, 2007

Cindy's Restaurant - Re-opening!

Many East-siders remember they day they heard about the awful accident at Cindy's Restaurant in Eagle Rock. On the weekend of July 15 a car crashed into the side of Cindy's taking out a huge chunk of the front wall. (It looked like a missile had attacked the place!) More than just damaging the wall however, the errant (ie. drunk?) driver destroyed foundation, windows and even some booths. Cindy's had to go into hibernation for nearly a month in order to repair and restore.

I called and spoke to the owner this morning and she said they were hoping to be open again this Thursday (August 9). When she heard that we missed Cindy's (it's one of the easiest places to take a baby or a young child for breakfast) she paused and said "That really means a lot to me." She sounded eager and very ready to be back open for business.

I've never done a review of Cindy's but I've always meant to. So here is a little photo essay of the "old" Cindy's whicih will hopefully do until I get to visit the "new" Cindy's this next week.

This is the old artifice. Note the full parking lot and the people hanging outside.

Cindy's is a simple, classic diner. There's nothing complicated or "Nancy Silverton" about this place. In fact, we're really only fans of the breakfast. It's greasy spoon, very affordable and totally kid friendly. In a city with perpetually evolving nouveau-cuisine, a standard goes a long way.

Egss, potatos, bacon.

Pancakes are perhaps Cindy's best item.

Simple. But when you want simple Cindy's is perfect. Perhaps one of hte best hang over spots in Eagle Rock.

Cindy's is located on Colordao Blvd in Eagle Rock which is also Historic Route 66. Cindy's is the kind of spot you'd find on Route 66 in 1955 on a cross country drive. Except it's in LA and serves multiple generations of diverse Angelinos a simple meal at a great price.

Please, support a local merchant who has been serving Eagle Rock well for decades. The restaurant business is a risky one no matter who an owner is or how long they've been operating. Losing a month of income and having to pay for major structural repairs is a huge burden (do they even have insurances?). It would be great to see the place packed each weekend as a tribute and a thank you to a local affordable greasy spoon. So, consider this an invitation to come to Cindy's on Saturday August11th, the first Saturday the restaurant will be reopened for business.

Cindy's Restaurant is located at
1500 Colorado Blvd. / Eagle Rock, CA 90041
(323) 257-7375. Open daily

Find Cindy's Restaurant on Google Maps

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Donut Man - Fresh Peaches available

I came across an online post that Donut Man was selling the fresh peach donut after months of the strawberry. So Jan and I circled this Saturday morning on the calendar and decided to make a return trip to Glendora. Our drive seemed considerably shorter than our first vist, likely due to the fact that we basically knew where we were going. However, we still got a bit lost on the way. *hint: Take the Grant exit in Glendora.

[Look here for my first visit to Donut Man for the Fresh Strawberry Donut.] Jim, the actual Donut Man, makes two fresh fruit donuts each year; Peach is offered second, for a shorter period of time and historically is not debuted until the last week in July or the first week in August. Put mid spring on the calendar for the berries and circle a late summer date for the peaches. The trip to Glendora is definitely worth the effort.

The best place to eat a Donut Man fresh fruit donut is by using the hood or trunk of your car as a table. This time I brought a quart of non-fat milk to help the donut go down. Nothing like 8 am breakfast in a parking lot.

The Donut Man peach donut is great. It's tasty for sure and is one of the best donuts I've ever had. The portion of peach in the donut was extraordinary, weighing in at more than a full peach per donut shell. My donut simply could not contain all the slivers of peach. However, the peach experience pales in comparison to that of eating the strawberry donut. The downside might have everything to do with the time of year. Peach season has just started and (hopefully) not yet peaked. There were slices from maybe three different peaches in my donut: one tasted heavenly -- soft, juicy and sweet, one was dull -- not yet ripe, thus crisp with very little flavor, and one was in between the other two. I can imagine what a Donut Man fresh peach donut tastes like with 100% perfect peaches. Believe me, it is likely so amazing I'm already planning on making a return visit before the end of the season (September?).

This is the tub of peach slices. I watched some donuts get prepared and each had at least 2 big scoops of peaches.

A tray of fresh peach donuts about to be served.

This is what the strawberry looked like...

Something that ocurred to us was that the Strawberry donut had lots of full bodied fresh strawberries, which, since it was the height of that season, all tasted perfect. But the lack of any cutting and slicing made for a dry donut vessal for some amazing berries. However the sliced peaches have a tremendous amount of juicy surface area that starts to dribble and drabble around the donut. If all the slices were fresh, this would be a wonderful mess of a desert feast.

I firmly believe that for a foodie, food blogger, etc. the quest defines the obsession. Donut Man is a perfect quest. The drive is just enough to have a deep but not epic conversation with a good friend and it's a very very quick drive in the early morning of a weekend. Luckily, Glendora is also not so close that I'd want to stop by for a donut more than once every few months or so. If the Donut Man ever expanded his fresh fruit donuts to other fruits (say nectarines, blueberries, etc.) ... I would find my self on Historic Route 66 in Glendora a lot more often... Gas in Glendora, by the way was a "low" $2.81!

Donut Man
915 E. Route 66
Glendora, California 91741
(626) 335-9111
Open 24 hours (cash only)

Find Donut Man on Google Maps

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Brooklyn Bagel Bakery

I discovered the Brooklyn Bagel Bakery simply by driving past it one day. I almost got into an accident because I was gawking at the sight of a Brooklyn bagel place a) in the shadows of Dodger Stadium and b) randomly in Echo Park near Alvarado Street. I would go to Brooklyn Bagel Bakery up to once a day at the height of my obsession. I even initiated a Bagel Day at work and would pick up a few dozen bagels once a month. This is my favorite bagel place in LA and -- I dare say -- compares favorably to NY Bagels.

Nothing is more annoying than a New Yorker pining over the lack of good pizza or a good bagel here in LA. Well no complaint about LA bagels is truthful without checking out the best LA has to offer first. I found this Grid Skipper list of the Top 6 Bagels in LA and Brooklyn Bagel is on the list! I've found the bagels to be soft inside anda chewy yet crispy exterior. These bagels are boiled just as are the NYC variety. Brooklyn Bagel Bakery offers 30 varieties of bagels from traditional to flavored (Starberry, Chocolate, etc.).

My favorite bagels at Brooklyn Bagel Bakery are the garlic, the sesame, the onion biyali, the cheese bagel. Other good items include the "New York style" water bagel, energy bar, everything bagel, jalepeno cheese, etc. Well everything is tasty. Brooklyn Bagel Bakery also scores points for being a one of a kind place with roots in Brooklyn, NY.

Are LA bagels the same as those in NY? Well my buddy Jan took a trip to NYC recently and brought back some real Brooklyn bagels and they were amazing. I also went to NYC recently and ate breakfast at the Bagel maven every day. There is something to a NYC bagel that is not found in LA. I think it is more the lifestyle than the water. Though there is something ot be said for the multiplicity of bagels there and what that obviously does for the collective expertise in making a great bagel.

Brooklyn Bagel Bakery is an example of why it is fun to be a foodie in Los Angeles: there are types of all foods, the discovery is fun and reveals treasures in all parts of our great city.

Brooklyn Bagel Bakery is located at
2217 Beverly Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90057
(213) 413-4114. Open daily, 7 a.m.–11:00 p.m. Cash only.
**Bagel Happy Hour (1/2 price!) is weekdays from 3pm to 5pm

Find Brooklyn Bagel Bakery on Google Maps

Saturday, July 07, 2007

El Huaraches Azteca

You know the famous Beach Boys song "Surfin' USA" with the line: ''We'll all be wearin' our baggies, huarache sandals too..." Well huarache sandals sandals are called that because they look like the Mexican dish the huarache which is a piece of flat fried dough topped with meat, cojito cheese, refried beans, cilantro, onion, & crema. The huarache is a lot more rare to find than a taco but there is a comparison to be made. A good huarache is defined by the quality of the carene, the cheese, the flavor toppings and the doughy "plate." Here is an introduction to my new favorite Highland Park restaurant: El Huaraches Azteca on York and Ave 52.

El Huaraches Azteca has been open 7 days a week for the past 11 years and -- according to Frank the very nice guy who works there -- has never closed for even one day. We went for an early Saturday lunch and found the place mildly empty (though we picked one table in the back that still had the remnants of a feast on it. Come to think of it, there were a lot of empty tables still needing to be bussed. I think that is a very good sign. (Sundays, Frank says, are the busiest.)

If it was mellow when we got there by the time we left El Huaraches had a line out the door. All the tables inside were filled, people were waiting for take out and the front patio was also standing room only. Clearly, El Huaraches is not a secret in our Highland Park neighborhood!

We settled into a nice comfy table and were quickly greeted by Frank who cleaned off the plates and dishes from the previous party. We ordered one huaraches con carne asada and one con pollo adobado with two drinks. I read one review online that described a huarache as "doughy, meaty, cheesy" and that is pretty right on and yet only part of the story. I was more than excited by the time the food arrived. This spot was recommended to me by more than a couple neighbors as a great taste / low price miracle. I wanted so badly for it to live up to the billing. When the huaraches arrived I could not believe my eyes. For $2.50 what we got was beyond satisfactory. The huarache took up nearly an entier picnic paper plate and the helping of meat was very generous (so much so that there was nearly a taco worth of pollo that rolled off the huarache).

The meat was tender, not overly faty and rich rich rich in flavor. While a different meat and a different preparation style, the pollo adobado compares very favorably to the Cactus al pastor. This is an adobado so rich and spicy in flavor that I will have dreams about. The pile of meat was lightly bathed in crema and sprinkled with cilantro, onions and cotijo cheese. I wanted to roll up the whole plate and put it all in my mouth with one gulp. The first bite was so good that I forgot to get extra cilantro and salsa at the salsa bar (which had many options). The fried dough that makes the base of the huarache was perfectly cooked: crisp without being overly hard, doughy without being too chewy. The only "problem" is that the dough broke a bit when folded. If it could roll a bit more it would have been easier to eat. (And easier to eat in under 10 seconds!)

Immediately after devouring my first huarache, I ordered another (but this time carne asada at the request of my lady). It was just as amazing to look at but I prefered the pollo to the asada. This time, however, I took a trip to the salsa bar and added a generous spoonful of cilantro, onions and got a small tub of salsa roja and salsa avacado.

Yum. The huarache #2 was just as good -- actually it was less greasy due to the change in meat. And the additional salsa made it a homerun. It dawned on my that I could proably stand to eat 3 or 4 of these at a sitting. That meant we had to leave!

But the huaraches are only half of the story at El Huaraches Azteca. I'm sure it can be gotten elsewhere, but their Agua Fresca is amazing. We ordered a watermelon and a pomegranate agua fresca and the fresh squeezed juice / water mixture was as addictive as the huarache! Other flavors include pineapple, Jamiaca, tamarindo and horchata. At $1.25 for a medium these are well worth it. Must haves really. The Agua Fresca tasted super fresh and while we were there I saw more than one variety refreshed and filled anew.

You can eat well at huaraches for well under $10. This is totally a place to tip well too. I can see myself coming here regularly for years and the food never getting bad, the prices rarely going up and the experience never changing. And on top of all that, the music was really cool Rock En Espaniol. There is also a Mole Verde special on Wednesday that I am dying to try. El Huaraches I love you!

El Huaraches Azteca is located at 5225 York Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90042
(323) 478-9572. Open daily, 9 a.m.–8:30 p.m. Cash only.

Find El Huaraches Azteca on Google Maps

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Porto's Birthday Cake - Catch a Wave!

We got the baby a birthday cafe for his 1st birthday and, after seeing a number of amazing cakes designed at Porto's Cuban Bakery, decided to get ours there. The cake was a vanilla cake with a layer of vanilla pudding and strawberry raspberry jam. The icing, as you can see, complemented our "California Beach Party" theme (with music from the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, the Ventures and Dick Dale!

They decorate cakes for all occasions: birthdays, graduations, baptisms, QuinceaƱeras, weddings, parties, etc. Porto's makes picture cakes (yes actually icing a literal picture onto a cake. (But only in Glendale.) There is a good selection of ready-made cakes too. (Check out the 2nd floor party store for pinatas, ballons, cake decorations, etc. It's pretty amazing.)

Porto's is highly recommended for birthday cakes. The one above cost $30. The week of the birthday I was reading a post on Consumerist lame Walmart cakes. I definitely fall into the category of you get what you pay for, The cakes at Porto's taste fantastic and have a level of artistry that rivals any major bakery in LA.

One really important piece of advice that will guaratee your Porto's cake experience is winning: pick up your cake at the very very beginning of the day or the very very end of the day. When we got there for lunch (we thought we'd eat and then get the cake) there were people who had been waiting for 2+ hours! And this is from actual conversations we had when we started waiting in line. Waiting 2 hours is BS and I can't really understand why the wait is that long. (One thought is that they do the final decorating of the salutation while the customer is present so as to prevent buyer's remorse I suppose.) Swoop in early or late and you'll wait only a few minutes. Follow this and I've just saved you hours of your life. For serious.

Check this out: a video of Porto's Cake Decorating

Portos has two locations:

315 N Brand Blvd, Glendale, CA
(818) 956-5996
Google Map Porto's Glendale

3614 W Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, CA
(818) 846-9100
Google Map Porto's Burbank

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Cactus Taqueria - Amazing Al Pastor

I read an amazing review of the Al Pastor at Cactus Taqueria and had to check it out. My first visit was pretty mixed. I beat a huge lunch rush and yet -- though I ordered first -- got served after a very long wait and after people who ordered after me. BOO!

I tried a range of tacos (carne asada, al pastor and even veggie!) and was just mildly impressed. Taco Hunt said that the Al Pastor was "tender and melts in your mouth" but mine was, while flavorful, over-cooked, crunchy and a bit over-dried. For some reason the tacos had the promise of a better experience in them so I thought I would try again one day. Some places do not warrent a second chance but Cactus Taqueria got 4 stars from Taco Hunt. I had to let them earn it with me.

So yesterday I was rouding up a group of co-workers for a Friday Taco lunch and learned that one co-worker is a serious taco afficiando. (A very exciting thing to learn!) It was music to my ears to hear that he was "searching for the perfect pastor!" Well! I was not sure if Cactus was the place for the "best" pastor but it certainly was at the top of my list of places I was rooting for to have the best. And what better than giving Cactus Taqueria a second chance with another passionate taco fan?

So we got in the car and drove over. The lunch rush either had died down or not really kicked into gear cause we swept in, ordered and got served pretty quickly. And the Al Pastor! It was sooo much better than before. Some pieces did truly melt in my mouth, but most were just tastry, crunchy, spicy and amazing. The salsa roja is totally dull (not bland but not really worth being in your mouth.) The inherent taste of the BBQ pork, though, is wonderful. This taco with La Estrella's roja would be amazing.

The Al Pastor tacos are small and only cost $1 and come pretty loaded with meat. The standard presentation is with cilantro and salsa verde which is also kinda dull. There is a habanero salsa they'll only give you if you ask. It's off the charts hot. Limes, radishes, etc are available for the asking too. My co-worker said the Al Pastor Burrito was amazing and it did come chock filled with meat (and rice, beans, etc.) I tried the carnitas too and it tasted foul. It seemed like it had olive oil on them. I threw them away and ordered more Al Pastor.

In the three times I've bene to Cactus Taqueria, the Al Pastor sometimes is more charred and cooked dry than I'd like. I wonder if that is particular to who is working there. It seems to have no connection to the time of day (I'd think lunch rush would be a peak performance time). For my taste, it's the only thing to order at Cactus Taqueria but it is among the best Al Pastor I have had in LA. Of the three times I think Cactus Taqueria is getting a B+ for the Al Pastor. But as my friend said "when its on point, like yesterday, it was divine." For a potential A+ Al Pastor taco, look no further.

Cactus Taqueria is located at: 950 Vine St, Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 464-5865

Find Cactus Taqueria on Google Maps

Folliero's Pizza - Favorite East Side Italian

Two of my favorite Italian restaurants on the East Side are Casa Bianca in Eagle Rock and Il Fornaio in Old Town Pasadena. ( Mi Piace in OTP is also good.) But Casa B's is really a fave because of their yummy pizza (the rest of the menu is not worth a 45 minute wait). Even eating the pizza has become more of a take out tradition anyway. So my need for a yummy, convenient, kid friendly restaurant brought us to...

Folliero's Pizza and Italian Food is a neighborhood Italian restaurant that has been in Highland Park since 1968. (In a building that dates back to the 1920s.) I sense a lot of history when I walk in there. Years and years of weekly family dinners. It's the kind of place where familes would celebrate baseball victories, end of a school year, or just any old Sunday. (This sounds like some ad for TGI Friday's but at Folliero's the family-riented dining is not simply an advertising pitch.)

The Folliero's menu has some neat options for a relatively simple place. I'd like to try the Eggplant Parmasean one day, but there is also spaghetti, lasagna, raviloi and chicken cacciatore. The food is tasty. Not gourmet but never bad. A brilliant simplicity. The real star of Folliero's is the prices. Dinner dishes in the $6 range this good are hard to come by.

My favorite dish at Folliero's is the pizza, specifically the Ala Ramano Pizza which comes with only cheese, ham and rosemary on some of the best pizza dough in LA. The dough had a nice sprinkle of flour dust on it with a perfect mix of crustiness and chewiness that reminds me of a great Brooklyn bagel. Supposedly, the owner Tony hails from Naples and in his 70s still comes into the restaurant each morning to make the dough himself. A large pizza is roughly $10 (less than half the price of a Casa Bianca pie and easily the best pizza for the money in LA!) The pies are traditional Napoli style but with some So Cal choices (ham and pineapple or chorizo). I've read that you can order a pizza "overdone" to get it crispier. I'm going to try that not for crispier crust but for a bit crispier cheese.

We've also tried the spaghetti with meat sauce (pretty light on the meat to be honest) and it's best with a side order or two of meatballs. The lasagna is good too. One of the things I would change if I owned Foriellos would be to bolster the base tomato sauce a bit. It's fine for kids but could use some oregano, spices and some slow-simmering love.

Speaking of kids ... I've rarely had to wait too long for a table (but Folliero's is always busy). But on the occassion where the wait is more than a few minutes, there is a window into the kitchen that faces Figueroa. A lot of time can pass while watching the pizza chef throwing dough in the air.

One of the most amazing features of Foriellos is that the difference between an ala carte order and a "dinner" is a mere $0.25. The extra quarter gets you a side salad heavy on the iceberg but still a nice diversion from the meat and bread that dominates a typical American Italian meal.

Basically, every meal at Folliero's is a great deal. A side order of meatballs (2 for $1.50) allows for a great additional pizza topping. The meatballs are homemade and are very good. (Though I prefer Casa B's, Folliero's are pretty great and pass the baby taste test.) A side of Italian sauage is also affordable and more than adequate. A full carafe of wine sets you back $9. There is also a $2 corkage fee, should you want to drink a really good bottle. But a couple glasses of basic chianti go a long way here. Foriellos is the kind of place two families can dine for $40 (including wine and tip!) In these times, I think Folliero's deserves a medal of honor!

I've read (but never tried myself) doing a double bill of a discount movie night at the Highland Theater (just next door) and an affordable Italian meal at Folliero's. But that sounds like an epic Los Angeles night out.

Folliero's is located at: 5566 No. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles 90042

Google Map for Folliero's