I heart LA
… Just kidding! I can’t really stand it, or rather, I can’t stand how frustrated I am every single time I drive into the city. The traffic, the smog, and the sprawl really kill me, and I hate how it’s impossible to get around on public transportation. Clearly I like my cities compact and accessible by subway (I miss you, New York), so LA isn’t really for me.
In mid-September, however, I sucked up my anti-LA bias and drove up with my buddy D. for a much-needed one-day food trip. The goal: to stuff as many yummy things in our mouths without breaking the bank, or our Weight Watchers point limit for the week (uh, yeah, more on that later!). I think we succeeded, but I’ll let the photos do most of the talking.
First stop, immediately after getting into the city around noon: Porto’s Bakery, Burbank location. My aunt, who’s lived in the area for 20+ years, turned me onto this place last year, when she presented me with an eye-popping assortment of Cuban pastries as if they were no thing. Clearly, she had no idea my incredible nostalgia for the guava-and-cream cheese pastries, mango cake, and tres leche of my childhood– the one upside of having a Cuban stepfather and living in Miami for a few years as a kid.
I’d never been into the storefront before, so was surprised at how huge and bustling the place was– D. summed it up best when she said that she “was expecting a tiny mom-and-pop shop, and then saw the assembly line.” So the ambiance is a little more commercial than we were hoping for, but no matter. The food was banging!
We each ordered a classic Cuban sandwich, but given how huge they are, we would’ve been better off splitting one. Good thing I brought a cooler for leftovers and take-aways (I come prepared!), so the hubs had a good dinner that night 😉
We ended the meal with a perfect, single serving of tres leches each. Just the right amount of sweetness, the cake held up under all that condensed milk, and the crema on top was the right whip, burnt just a touch like I grew up with. Wish I could’ve bought a whole loaf to bring home, but alas, the cooler wasn’t *that* big.
With all of the pastries on offer, but a huge line packed full of people yelling out their order deli-style, I kept it simple and ordered half a dozen guava and cream cheese pastries to go. They were gifts, y’all! I only had 1!
After lunch at Porto’s, D. and I went to burn some calories and satisfy our cultural tourist (aka bougie) urges by visiting The Getty Center. They had a fascinating, small but well-curated documentary photography exhibit up, and the architectural porn alone was worth the visit.
After the Getty, it was snack time! I drove us over to try the Persian ice cream at Saffron & Rose by UCLA. Our server was super helpful and let us taste a ton of flavors. They have the traditional Persian flavors– rosewater, saffron and pistachio– along with fresh fruit flavors (mango, coconut, guava) and the usual ice cream choices.
I decided to be frugal and do two 1/2 scoops of the guava and the rosewater, while D. got two entire scoops of the saffron/pistachio and rosewater. As we’re both lactose intolerant, I think my stomache was the happier for the smaller portion 😉
As we had a few hours to kill before dinner time, I drove D. to the Santa Monica Pier, since she’d never been before and hey, it’s free! As we were driving down Wilshire, however, the sky, which had been bright and gorgeous up to that point, suddenly darkened. Mist rolled in so quickly it felt like a bad horror movie . We spent our time at the pier shivering and walking quickly through to get back into the car… so much for that.
Finally, it was time for our last LA meal. We had debated beforehand about what would cap our night, and still hadn’t decided by the time dinnertime rolled around. What would it be? A stop at a trendy LA food truck? Salvadorian pupusa joint? Japanese izakaya? Since I had made the choices for the other two stops, D.’s pick won out: Chung Dam Garden BBQ in K-town.
In my past trips to LA, I’d hit up random places in Koreatown, always to be disappointed. My lack of local’s knowledge about the good spots resulted in bland kimchi, cold tea, and dirty tables. Thankfully, D. had done her research and we struck gold. On the second floor of a clean little Korean strip mall, Chung Dam was quiet, clean, and just the laid-back atmosphere we needed at the end of a long day of eating. The service was excellent- they knew it was our first time, and aimed to please.
The two of us ended up splitting a Kimchi Chigae (kimchi stew with pork and vegetables, cooked in a stone pot) and for the barbeque, the Chadolbagi (brisket). It was plenty for the two of us, especially with the the kimchi and other banchan being refilled on a constant basis. I had been worried about ruining my diet with this meal, but it actually turned out to be healthier than our first stop at Porto’s.
By the time dinner ended around 8:30, D. and I were pretty wiped and ready to head back to San Diego, but it wasn’t the end of the night yet! My friend M., who’s originally from LA but is in school up in Seattle, was in town for the week; It had been a year since we last hung out (we spent all last summer together in Madison), so of course I had to spend some catching-up time with my girl! We ended up at some random bar in Los Feliz, had a beer, and chitted our chat. By 11:30, I was back on the road back to SD, and at 2:30am (crazy traffic on the 5! don’t even ask) I was back in my bed.
Was it worth it, driving for hours in LA traffic and smog, just for a few good eats? Hell yes! Will I be doing it again any time soon? Not planning on it! But we’ll see… those Cuban pastries may call me back yet.