February 8, 2008

Just When You Think You Know Los Angeles

Wow. Where have I been? I thought I knew Los Angeles. I thought I knew about all sorts of quirks.

I mean, I can point out where Gorky's used to be, from forty-six stories up on the Aon Tower, and calculate how long it would take Johnny Depp to walk from his refurbished loft across the street from the Federal Reserve Building to the Staples Center. I know where, when and how to buy 150 roses for forty bucks (which I did as an antecedent to proposing to my wife). I know the best ways in and out of Dodger Stadium. I can navigate directly from Bunker Hill to Palos Verdes from memory, without getting on a freeway or making a left turn until I hit Sepulveda. I learned how to shoot a handgun at the Beverly Hills Gun Club and I can show you where to watch silent movies in a theater.

But Los Angeles is about the food. And I ain't talking about health food, G:

  • Do you like roasted chicken? Go to Zankou for the bird, and keep coming back for the garlic sauce.
  • Randy's Donuts? Please -- that's for tourists. If you want serious donut action, you're going to Stan's and getting the peanut butter-chocolate donut.
  • For my money, the best pastrami in town is Johnnie's in Culver City, although I realize that there are many who swear by Langer's -- but that's just because the Reuben was invented there. Johnnie's has tender, juicier meat, and the sandwich is about as big as a football.
  • Get your French Dip on at Philippe and your green corn tamales at El Cholo.
  • While it was a strange concept for the Waffle House in Knoxville, Roscoe's House of Chicken and Waffles offers an out of this world combination of tasty southern-fried chicken and waffles in sweet maple syrup.
  • You want New York pizza? Lamonica's is so committed to getting the flavor of a New York pizza right, it imports not just the flour and sauce from the Big Apple, but even the water for mixing its dough comes from a supplier in Brooklyn. Fold that sucker and point it down and away from your nice suit when you eat it.
  • When I was in law school, my roommate and I would study late into the mornings at the Won Kok Palace, which distinguished itself for having both the tastiest pork fried rice in Chinatown as well as the numerically lowest health code rating in the 213 area code.
  • The concept of an Ethiopian banquet used to be a joke made in very poor taste. But one dinner at Nyala in Fairfax will change the way you think about that.
  • Los Angeles invented the rock-and-roll Sushi Bar. And if you're going to do it, do it right at Tokyo Delves on Lankershim.

Yes, L.A. is about the food. Junk food, mainly, but on the other hand, if you need high-end dining -- white linen tablecloths, silver flatware, a powerful wine library and a stiff cocktail, prime rib and lobster, and Gran Marnier souffles -- and you want to walk in and get seated at quarter to four in the morning? Pacific Dining Car has two locations. If you're out at a more reasonable hour, downtown Pasadena offers the highest density of high-quality restaurants anywhere in the country -- including Manhattan and Chicago. If you make reservations, Urasawa is ready to help relieve you of the weight of all that excess money. And if you think that $20 a plate is a fine price to pay for meatloaf with a side of mac and cheese, Kate Mantilini will serve you expensive comfort food all night long with the promise of maybe seeing some celebrities sharing onion rings in the booth next to yours.

So I've got all this Los Angeles food lore floating around in my head, but I'd not heard of the Heart Attack Dog until tonight. The L.A. Weekly describes it in near-pornographic terms:

You can smell one from blocks away. The grilled bacon, twisted around a wiener, is topped with grilled onions and a mountaintop of diced tomatoes, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise. Then one whole grilled green poblano chile is plopped impossibly on top. You take a bite and think, This is so good, no wonder it's illegal!

And, as the article describes, it really is illegal. Because the dogs are sold from push-carts, the health department makes the vendors steam the dogs so they cook all the way through. Alas, a grilled dog simply tastes better, as any true-blue Dodger fan can tell you. In fact, the "grilled" dogs at Chavez Ravine are boiled first, and then grilled so that some of the taste and texture of the meat coming into contact with hot metal can still be created. Still, it's better than nothing. And no one's wrapping a piece of raw bacon around the dog and then grilling it at the stadium. They're not doing it at Pink's, either -- although you can get a strip of bacon on the side of your dog there, which may not be quite the same thing but it is still a cardiologist's delicious nightmare.

Well, that's part of the joy of the big city -- there's always something else going on, something new, something you haven't discovered yet.

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