Friday, August 29, 2014

Have appetite. Will travel.

Grubbing in the Golden State? It's definitely a trip!
Illustrations by Phoebe Thomas for love, -j.

When my family and I were visiting our home state of California this summer, we did it the best way we knew how: meal by meal. Oh the delectable dishes we ate! The delightfully thirst-quenching drinks we drank! The sights and smells and tastes! Glory and gluttony all wrapped tightly together like the perfect spicy tuna roll.

For a month we road tripped our way up and down the state, putting more than 3,000 miles on the car, not wanting to miss seeing and spending time with family and friends. Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, San Diego, San Francisco and the Bay Area. 

We ate our way through California. We visited tried-and-true spots. We went to a few new places. And every time I bit into something wonderful I thought, "I need to tell everyone about this!!" So here I am, telling you about it.   

For my California friends: if you're looking for places to eat this Labor Day weekend, you may find something worthwhile on this list. To my friends not in California but planning a trip in the not-too-distant future, print out this post and save it for that day when you find yourself walking along the blue Pacific and among the swaying palm trees.

Tutti mangia!

I had the best vegan eggplant parmesan of my life at Mohawk Bend in Echo Park. The eggplant was cooked to perfection, the marinara sauce flavorful and spicy, zucchini stripped like pasta noodles and topped with a delicious cashew cheese. Oh man, my mouth is watering just writing about it! Upping the cool factor is the building -- a retrofitted 100-year old Vaudeville theater. Mohawk Bend, 2141 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. 

Little Tokyo in downtown LA is our go-to place for ramen. And the best bowl of ramen can be found at Daikokuya. The noodles are always perfectly al dente. The broth rich and flavorful. You'll probably have to wait in line for a table, but it's totally worth it. Daikokuya, 327 E. First St., Los Angeles (locations also in West LA, Arcadia and Monterey Park).

My family's absolute favorite fast food joint in California is Zankou Chicken. I hate using the words "fast food" because our beloved Zankou is so much more than that. You'll find the best shwarma (beef) and tarna (chicken) pita wrap. Plus deliciously creamy hummus and mutabbal (eggplant hummus). Zankou Chicken, 1415 E. Colorado St., Glendale (locations also in West Hollywood, Burbank, West LA, Pasadena, Van Nuys and Anaheim).

We were most excited about getting our fill of Asian food. The options are slim here in Cleveland, so we jumped at the chance to nosh on noodles, pot stickers and various BBQ. Mama Lu's Dumpling House offered up yummy dishes like pan-fried pork buns, xiao long bao, fish dumplings and chive pancakes. Mama Lu's Dumpling House, 153 E. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park.

I had more than my fair share of boba during our travels. If you want to do the tasting tour, definitely include Flour + Tea in Pasadena for the regular milk tea, Cha for Tea for their almond milk tea, Tea Brick in Monterey Park if you like your tea strong, and Ozero Tea & Desserts in Little Tokyo for a delicious and refreshing brown sugar milk tea.

Speaking of Asian food, when we're in Orange County we always hit Sam Woo for some of the best Chinese food ever as well as anything at the Diamond Jamboree strip mall in Irvine (85°C Bakery, Urban Seoul, Ajisen Ramen, Guppy Tea House Cafe, Chef Hung Noodles, among others). Non-Asian fare Native Foods is worth a mention for the most delicious organic vegan fare (I'm seriously addicted to their Greek Gyro Bowl and my kids can't get enough of the Watermelon Fresca).       

While in San Francisco we spent most of our time in the Inner Sunset District, which is where my brother and his family live. A few eateries worth mentioning: the Beanery if you want a good cup of coffee; Lime Tree Southeast Asian Kitchen for the Singaporean Glass Noodles with Shrimp, Beef Rendang and crispy Roti; and Park Chow for brunch (try the organic French Toast and Quinoa Ragout).       

When I was a college student at UC Berkeley, Blondie's Pizza was my saving grace when I needed a midnight study break. It was so fun to introduce my kids to what I think is a little slice of heaven. Blondie's Pizza, 2340 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley (location also in San Francisco).

We ate really yummy sushi at Sushi Huku in San Marcos, a suburb 30 minutes outside San Diego. Spicy tuna is my sure thing and they sure got it right. Sushi Huku, 727 W. San Marcos Blvd., San Marcos.

Santa Barbara is like a second home to my family. We've been spending summers there for almost 15 years. That's plenty of time to figure out our favorite dining spots. We love the artisan sandwiches at Panino and always make trips to Blenders in the Grass for their awesome smoothies (my fave is The Blue Apple). There's delicious veggie and vegan options at The Natural Cafe and wonderful pastries, cakes and lunch options at Our Daily Bread.     

For pasta you must go to two spots: Olio e Limone for a fancy Italian dinner or Via Maestra 42 if you prefer something a little more low-key. Both are delizioso. 

And finally our favorite Santa Barbara spot to get a bite: Fresco Cafe. I always get the Warm Spinach Salad with Maple Bacon Vinaigrette. Fresco Cafe, 3987 State St., Santa Barbara.

I ate my way through Palm Springs with my girlfriends. We love the sleek interior design and indulgent dishes at TRIO. My favorite dinner items are the Center Cut Pork Chop with Tangerine Horseradish Marmalade and the Yankee Pot Roast with Sour Cream Mashed Potatoes. TRIO Restaurant, 707 N. Palm Canyon Dr., Palm Springs.  

We visited Si Bon for Belgian brunch. The Lobster and Porcini Mushroom Crepes were divine. As was the Gulf Shrimp Salad with Avocado and Papaya Tarragon Swiss dressing. Si Bon, 40101 Monterey Ave., Rancho Mirage. 

My folks live in the Inland Empire, a gigantic swath of mountains and desert one hour east of Los Angeles. The dining options aren't as diverse as LA or San Francisco, but we still found a gem of a Vietnamese restaurant. Pho Ha offers hearty pho noodle soup as well as a mouth-watering Banh Mi (Vietnamese pork sandwich). Pho Ha, 9319 Foothill Blvd., Rancho Cucamonga.  


THANK YOU to the gorgeous and extremely talented Phoebe Thomas for her original illustrations for love, -j. See more of Phoebe's work here.