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As a noodle enthusiast, I give every cultures's offerings a chance whenever I can. Up until a few years ago, I didn't think Korean food had much to offer outside of their cold noodles (naeng myun), fried vermicelli noodles (jaap chae) and more popular amongst pimple-faced, brace-wearing teenagers, the instant kimchi noodle bowls loaded with MSG. Then I was introduced to Ma Dang Gook Soo and Myung Dong KyoJa, both of which are popular noodle joints in Koreatown. It was the first time I had eaten Korean-style knife-cut noodles and it was pretty good. I lost interest in MDGS pretty quickly because the soup was just too starchy. MDK's style of soup noodles also reminded me a lot of Chinese ground pork noodles (rou zhao and ja jiang mian). The dish itself is tasty when you add all the necessary condiments but the overcooking noodles was sadly consistent and really killed it for me. Korean noodles are good, but in the minor leagues compared to Chinese knife-shaven noodles (dao xiao mian). This style of noodle was done really well at places like Heavy Noodling and Kang Kang Food Court in SGV, and more recently, JTYH Restaurant in Rosemead. But there's a certain simplicity and homeyness to Korean food that I really enjoy. I'm not Korean but I certainly eat a lot of Korean food.
Given the option to spend $12-15 for a lunch in Culver City, I'd rather take El Diez down to Crenshaw for a place almost 1/2 the cost of it – and that's where I've been eating a lot of lunch. The fact that I've been back here nearly 10 times... bringing my wife Jeni, 3-4 coworkers and in the near future, the members of the Le Club de Grub project at work, it is clear that I really do enjoy this place.
You can expect your typical Korean restaurant set-up and decor here. Wood-laminate walls, a TV blaring Korean soap-operas and a large fridge loaded with condiments. The majority of the clientele here during lunch are older Korean businessmen, wearing napkins to shield any oily splash-back from the broth. But what you'll notice here if you pay attention is just how silent it is, with exception to a few loud slurpers. Everyone is pretty busy with their face in the large metal bowls. Always a good sign.
Here's the first reason why I like Olympic Noodle: their kimchi. It's not that bullshit watery, acidic kind from Cosmos jars. It's fresh, pasty, spicy and garlicky kimchi that is made like every few days. If you touch the kimchi with your fingers, you can still feel its pulse. Also, the servers are as nice as your own mother (hopefully). When it's not busy, they'll come and cut up your kimchi, making you a prince instantly for that $7.69 you're spending on their soup noodles – not bad right? AND, peppermint candy for your breath.
The Chinese make solid dumplings. I never had a huge liking for Korean dumplings because (A) they overstuff their dumplings, (B) don't go beyond meat and green onion filling and (C) I can't for the life of me figure out why a bag of 40 Korean dumplings will cost $12 at the market. And after trying Myung Dong Kyoja's dumplings, which I know is a big Koreatown favorite as well, I think I decided to stay with Chinese dumplings. And then, I find this place thanks to a coworker and I am liking Korean dumplings again. You can order these steamed, boiled or fried but I highly recommend steaming because you'll get the maximum flavor. But either of these will taste good unless you have your dipping sauce. A simple mix of soy sauce, vinegar, red chili paste and a few dashes of sesame oil – you're good.
Portrait of a Dumpling About to Be Eaten, 2009, Oil, Paint, Printed on Canvas
It was steamed perfectly and full of flavor. My coworker and I downed these in like 5 minutes. Note: Korean-style fried dumplings usually mean they are dumped in the fry-o-lator, not pan fried like potstickers or gyoza. Fried is good as well.
Main Event: Chicken Noodle Soup
This is what most people order and it's tasty. You can tell the soup is boiled with bones when it has that muddier color like tonkotsu ramen, which is known for its rich, pork bone broth. They give a lot of chicken actually and boiling it for a while is probably the easiest way to eat a dry-ass piece of chicken breast. The noodles have curves and jagged edges from inconsistent knife-work but have a nice bite to it. On the side, you'll see a red chili powder/scallion paste that you add to the chicken soup noodles. Then there's a soy sauce/scallion "relish" jar too for you to flavor the broth if needed. A few dashes of sesame oil can make it taste pretty good too. I prefer the Anchovy broth noodle soup because it has that nice dashi taste to it. But with first-timers, I always order them the chicken incase the word 'anchovy' makes them run for the hills.
Just a note, one bowl of soup noodles is usually good between two people if you order the dumplings – only costing you $15 total with tax. Actually at Olympic Noodle, I usually see TWO GIRLS, ONE BOWL. K, bad joke – I'm not even going to provide a reference link. If you're in the mood for something homey and tasty, Olympic Noodle will do the trick. Thanks for reading.
4008 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
I never knew just how much pollution there was in Los Angeles until I flew back from Portland a few months back. I've lived here all my life and have been immersed in this gray cake of smog for so long that we've all become so used to it. It IS the norm. Proof: there are millions of stars when you look up in a place like Santa Barbara. But in LA, you'll see 17. So much for making wishes.
In addition to thousands of commuters, people that evade smog checks and freight trucks that paint our skies gray, I've recently noticed there's a new contributor to our lovely pollution, that in my opinion, isn't so bad. But you'll have to part the nose hairs like Moses on the Red Sea to deconstruct the smog. If you're lucky and in the right part of town, you may hit the goldmine: roadside grilled chicken. If you read this site, you know that I love street food and wouldn't back down on this. And I'm glad to share my food findings with you guys.
Besides the obvious preparation of the chicken, there are a few other things essential to this equation. There's a commonality in the equipment used to produce such a succulent piece of work, that I am most interested in. Let's cut to a random island out in the middle of nowhere. You're in your loin cloth with one oil barrel, a soldering iron, a grill plate, matches, charcoal and a few stupid chickens clucking away. What would YOU do to survive? Not much probably. But if your name was MacGuyver, things might change for the better. How about cutting the barrel in half and soldering them on top of each other lengthwise, adding some legs and a grill plate? Voila, you've got yourself a mean-ass looking BBQ grill. One that makes a Weber look like a puny Foreman Grill. When J and I buy a house, I know exactly what's going in the backyard next to my Dora the Explorer jumper. The grill itself is built to accommodate more meat but still a bad ass piece of work.
Another thing I found to be essential is the type of charcoal used: mesquite charcoal from Sonora, Mexico. I learned that the vast majority of charcoal production happens in Sonora, Mexico and in Arizona, due to the concentration of mesquite trees. This particular charcoal really does have a more robust, distinct smokiness that is a palate pleaser. I've never achieved this taste because I've always used Trader Joe's charcoal mix, Kingsford briquettes and old shoes. But now we all know how to.
A few things before we indulge:
(1) The chickens are usually served with rice, beans and tortillas. Extra tortillas will cost more.
(2) Grilling takes practice, and not everyone is perfect. So if you see pink in your chicken, ask them to grill it longer.
(3) Never settle for the chicken that's already been grilled. I've waited a good 25-30 mins at places like Dino's and Pollo ala Brasa for my chicken, and it's always worth it. How do you know if that chicken's been out for an hour, slowly overcooking itself? Aye, unacceptable.
(4) Say no to BBQ sauce. Latinos don't deviate too far from their common culinary rituals. They've always got a hefty supply of red and sometimes green salsa for you to "dip your chick in."
(5) If you want to make the most out of your meal, may I suggest this really miniscule, geeky food tip? Because I am patient enough to wait for a chicken hot off the grill, I'm getting a really hot piece of food. What happens though is that the food is still cooking even when you've removed it from the heating source and all the juices have not rested. Once you get your boxed-up chicken, give it 5-7 mins before you eat and you'll find that you've basically caused a mini steam-box that allows the chicken to rest and 'sweat'. The result? A nice pool of chicken broth that tastes so good with tortillas and salsa. Mmmmm.
(6) I don't usually like to give 'judge's score' on food because I just like eating/talking about food, and not pretend I'm a self-appointed food critic, but because the competition is FIERCE enough to be on ESPN, and within inches of each other, I had to.
Price: $6.50 half chicken; $12 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: A+
Schedule: Fridays only, 9:30 am to 3 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: B+, 3rd place
I take Adams to work every day off El Diez and spotted these guys. I missed them twice, getting there too early and getting there too late. Finally, after a 3-week attempt, I got to try the chicken cooked by this sweet family from Colima, Mexico. The chicken here was fantastic. Nicely charred skin, generous spicing and strong flavor. I think the only thing was that the chicken was a bit overcooked. The hot sauce on the other hand is really pleasant. The day I picked up the chicken, I bought another 1/2 portion to divvy it up amongst 4 co-workers I've slowly turned on to places I enjoy. They all came back with me 3 hours later to get their own. Everybody was happy.
Price: $7 half chicken; $11.50 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: C-
Schedule: Everyday, 9:30 am to 11 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: C+, 4th place
Amidst all the Korean BBQ places adding to the good pollution quota, this Koreatown vendor is not ashamed to cause smoke signals off Western Avenue. This one isn't exactly a roadside griller as it is part of a Mexican restaurant. They just choose to help paint the sky more gray. But I do love the fact that I have basically 12 hours everyday to feed my face with tasty pollo asado and the people are super nice. The skin was excellent, with that right amount of char. The meat was cooked pretty nicely, but overall, it was a bit light in flavor.
Price: $6 half chicken; $11 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: B+
Schedule: Saturday & Sunday only, 9 am to 5 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: A-, 2nd place
Did you know that good things come to those that take the wrong fucking exit on the freeway? This is how J & I found these cool roadside grillers. J didn't know to look for smoke signals like I did. I could see these guys from blocks away because they were lighting up the street. The skin was very very good – thin and more on the crispy vs. charred side. Meat was very moist, even the breast meat was good. I hate that part, it's boring and dry. Zzzzzzzzzzz.
Price: $6 half chicken; $11 whole chicken.
Sides: Rice, beans & tortillas.
Hot Sauce: B
Schedule: Everyday, 9 am to 9 pm (or when sold out)
Overall: A+, 1st place
This roadside griller actually belongs to the cleverly-named Mexican market, Mercado Mexico. Of the four vendors I saw today, this would be the big formidable corporate monster of the roadside grilling industry. With an impressive 4 oil barrel length and at least 40 chickens grilling at one time, these guys will have me back here again in no time. Skin was nice, but the meat and flavoring was the best in my opinion. Jeni and I loved it. It's clear they are doing well when they have that many chickens grilling and a line of 4-5 people buying only grilled chicken.
This is also proof that the roadside grillers of Mercado Mexico have been around for some time now. I can barely read the sign on top!
The truth is, I'll take any of these places for a meal anyday. There's something about street food that really arrests me. The taste of the food? The honest authenticity? The unibrow-raising prices. The hardworking families doing what it takes to see the next day? Yes, but for me, I'm all about the experience.
Enjoy. Thanks for reading.
A while back, I spent some time checking out the Highland Park food scene. And by now, it's quite obvious that I see tacos the way Pac-Man sees those yellow pellets. I was attending Art Center for some night classes and by the time I've been thru an hour and a half of traffic – I'm hungry. I didn't want to give into fa(s)t food restaurants and eventually started driving on the surface streets looking for food, since it is quite difficult to locate a restaurant from the freeway. And that's where I ended up in Glassell Park and Highland Park – two parts of the Northeast side that I feel, along with East LA and the 710 freeway area, deserve a 'taco town' nickname. But I can't eat always tacos...
I eventually found myself driving further east on York Blvd. until I hit Figueroa. My eyes lit up with the numerous latino restaurants – mainly Mexican and Salvadorian cuisines. I was getting hit left and right by them. Here are my thoughts on a few of the places I decided to try out.
La Estrella #3, the Restaurant
Yes, this is the immobile brother of the three other taco trucks in Eagle Rock (Colorado Blvd.) and Highland Park (one on York Blvd. and one on Figueroa Street). I saw this place and stopped right away. I am a sucker for burger restaurant takeovers – the ones that are run by some guy named Jim or Tommy, and always claim they have the best burgers and fries. That can't be possible if all of them buy the same food from Sysco, right? Anyway, I had heard that it is not the taco and burritos they are known for, but their fish taco.
I was surprised when the counter guy rang me up for a $3.75 fish taco – I've never paid that much for a fish taco. Ricky's Fish Tacos over in Silver Lake clocks in at $2.50 each, but if you've tried it, you'll know it's worth it. Anyway, I then knew why La Estrella charged more for their fish taco when it was ready for pickup. It was massive, or at least, appeared to be massive. It looked like a Rose Bowl Parade float with a piece of fried fish on top with fixings.
Like a tribal man foraging in the bushes, I parted the lettuce and found what I was looking for. They gave two decent-sized pieces of nicely battered fish and served it with hot sauce and cream. I know some people prefer their fish tacos served as is, like at Tacos Baja Ensenada in East LA, while some others prefer dressing their own at Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada in Los Feliz. But I was completely happy with this set up. Eating this was quite messy and difficult, it's no wonder they give you a regular sized plate. The fish was fried nicely, moist and batter was not overdone. Cream and salsa were perfect. I just felt that they could have held back on cabbage, for the sake of making it look like a Rose Bowl float. I would come back here for more.
Mariscos Estilo Nayarit Mariscos Truck
I first experienced Nayarit-style seafood when I ate at Mariscos Chente in Mar Vista. Nayarit is a Mexican state located along the Pacific Ocean, near Guadalajara and Mazatlan. There, people eat, drink and breathe seafood. I was thrilled to find a truck serving Nayarit-style food. Screeeeeech. I'm not really in a position to distinguish the delicious types of ceviche available to us, but if I see lime-soaked seafood on a tostada with hot sauce and avocado, I'll drop my silk boxers. I parked my car, and got the usual stare down from the 100% latino clientele. I took a look at the menu and ordered the ceviche and the mixed seafood soup (caldo de mar).
Here we have a glimpse of a part of the menu. I love the signage and photos on roach coaches - so simple and so real. Straight to the point – no Photoshop or food styling needed because what you see is what you get. Notice, the shrimp cocktail image, the food stylist decided to place the lime in a standard Chinese sauce dish.
Caldo de Mar (Seafood Soup)
I also love when I get food in a cup. It totally makes sense if you're driving and feel the need to eat. I think beef noodle soup would be fantastic in a coffee mug. You could totally bring this into a meeting and NOT look like a ( o o ) ! Anyway, I haven't eaten enough of this to form a comparison. But for a few bucks, I was more than content with my soup. A slightly sweet broth comprised of shrimp, imitation crab (jaiva/jaiba), octopus (pulpo) and fish. I added a few drops of lime juice and hot sauce – good stuff but I know there are way better joints out there.
Tostada de Ceviche
Ceviche is one of those things for me that just work. Even if it was the worst ceviche in the world, some lime juice, smoky hot sauce and avocados can make a world of difference.
There are three seafood trucks on Figueroa. This one and the truck from Mexico City (D.F.) are pretty decent. Again, I don't know much about seafood trucks – I just eat the food from them.
Papa Pollo Restaurants
This is a chicken-chain originating from Mexico. A house-turned-restaurant screaming in yellow paint with a lovable mascot cartoon, I had to try it out. Who doesn't like rotisserie chicken?
When you walk into the 'patio' of the restaurant, you'll see the menu printed on large tarps. The orange reminded me of Little Caesar's growing up. I was surprised to see potatoes and taquitos offered as a side order to the roasted chicken. Looks like I'll be having a nap really soon.
Roasted Chicken (Pollo Rostizado)
From the outside of the restaurant, you can definitely smell the action-packed chicken. They have a lot going on in their spices which can be a good thing. The chicken is very moist and the skin full of great flavor. I've been here twice and the first time the chicken was fabulous, the second time, I found myself downing a ton of water because it was so salty. I'm curious about my third visit.
If taquitos are your thing, then I guess this wouldn't be that bad of a side order. But I had eaten so much chicken that when I looked at this, felt even more full. But I tried it anyway... chicken was kinda dry inside and the tortilla was over-fried. Definitely not the best flauta/taquito you'll have.
As if the taquitos weren't enough, you get roasted potatoes. For your information, these potatoes are not fried, but rather placed directly underneath the chicken carousel. So all the drippings fall gracefully into the cut-up starch grenades we call potatoes. I could taste a lot of Lawry's seasoning salt and man, I was thirsty. And very sleepy.
I think if I eat here again, I'm ordering chicken. Only. Good night.
And of course, on my journeys, I snuck in a few taco stands. I can't turn away a street vendor. Here's a brief description of the types of tacos offered by taqueros (taco vendors).
Asada (CA) - flap/flank/skirt meat. Usually grilled. Sometimes fried in oil.
Suadero (SU) - brisket. Fried in lard/roasted.
Lengua (LN) - cow tongue. Steamed/braised.
Cabeza (CZ) - head meat and cheek meat (cachete). Steamed.
Sesos (SS) - cow brain. Steamed.
Nervio/Ojos (OJ) - cow eyes. Braised.
Carnitas (CR) - pork shoulder/picnic/butt. Fried in lard/roasted.
Al Pastor (AP) - pork shoulder/butt. Spiced and marinated over a day and roasted on a spit. Originated in Mexico City by Lebanese immigrants. An onion or pineapple is usually placed above the spit for extra flavoring. Try with pineapple!
Chorizo (CH) - pork sausage. A mushier, spicier and oilier version of its Spanish counterpart.
Buche (BU) - pork belly/pig stomach lining/hog maw. Fried in lard. My favorite taco filling. When fried longer adds a nice texture.
Tripas (TR) - pig intestines/chitterlings. Washed, boiled and fried. People love these for the texture and 'filling'
CA, CZ, AP, CH,
This guy has a great visible location, right in front of an auto repair shop. Who knows, he probably works there during the day. I've learned that a lot of employees of businesses will stay on the property after closing hours to sell food. Pure diligence. I enjoyed the CZ.
CA, CZ, LN, AP, BU, CH, TR
In addition to the taqueros that operate right on business property, you've got some that will sell outside their homes. Like these two nice guys from Jalisco. You would never find them unless you were paying attention to the Home Depot clamp lamps. Out of the three taco stands I reviewed in this posting, they are my favorite because pretty much everything they offer tastes great. I enjoyed the CZ, LN, AP and BU. Ask for a crispier buche by saying "bien dorado, por favor."
Right at the end of the York Taco Town strip is this nice couple, also from Jalisco. I think I know which Mexican state I'll be visiting next as their is a pattern of good tacos from Guadalajra. Anyway, they've got everything you need. And if they like you, will give you a free deep-fried potato and offer you some boiled beans for your tacos. I enjoyed the AP, CZ, LN and BU here.
More to come from the Figueroa area of Highland Park. Thanks for reading.