Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Good Side of LA -- Part Two

Note:  No, I haven't lost my mind and turned BS&T into some kind of lame travelog/food blog, but with my Hollywooden career now over and done, I'm devoting a few posts to Los Angeles itself -- a city the rest of the country loves to hate. This is the second post about the good things in LA, but I'll get around to those aspects of life in LA that I absolutely loathe next time...*


                           Poster at the entrance to the Paramount Studio commissary...
As a true global melting pot, Los Angeles offers a cornucopia of food from all over the world. You can get fantastic Chinese food in the San Gabriel Valley, great Mexican food in East LA, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, Greek, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Cambodian, and Ethiopian food -- and that's just for starters. Name a cuisine and LA's got it, and if you get bored with brick and mortar restaurants, there's a rolling convoy of food trucks patrolling the vast expanse of Los Angeles, their menus and time/day locations posted on the internet.

Food really is one of the great things about LA.

Here are some of my favorites:

Musso and Franks (technically, the Musso & Frank Grill) has been around long enough to acquire some serious Hollywood history.  F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler did a lot of their writing there back in the day, along with William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Aldous Huxley, John Steinbeck, and Dorothy Parker, among literary luminaries -- and that makes Mussos the closest thing to New York's legendary Algonquin that you'll find on the West Coast.  

You can absolutely feel the history when you slip into one of those red leather booths.

More to the point, Mussos grills fabulous lamb chops and steaks, makes a mean Caesar Salad, and a crisp, dry gin martini that hits like Joe Frazier's famously lethal left hook. The waiters have all been here forever -- last time I had dinner at Musso's, we got the "new kid" who was probably 55 years old and only been working there for fifteen years. Those waiters are no-nonsense pros who won't introduce themselves or fawn all over you while oozing phony sincerity, nor are they wannabe actors waiting for their thespian ship to come in. These men wait tables for a living, and they do it right.

Musso's isn't cheap. A good dinner will run each person well over a hundred dollars with a drink or two, wine, and a tip -- but as an occasional night out, it's worth the price. Put it this way: when the time comes to depart LA for good, I'll be sure to have one final dinner -- the last supper, so to speak -- at Musso and Franks.  
And oh will I miss it once I'm gone...

As the sign says, Versailles is the place to go in LA for Cuban food -- or at least the place I go when I crave that wonderful roast pork and/or garlic chicken, black beans and plantains.  There's always a long line out the door, but Versailles is big enough that the turnover is steady, and I've rarely had to wait more then ten or fifteen minutes to get a table -- and it's always worth the wait.

Pink's might not be everybody's favorite hot dog stand, but it's an LA institution. Working the long hours demanded by the film and television industry, I've driven by Pinks at all hours of the day and night -- and there's always a line. I don't eat hot dogs very often, but when I do... well, it was usually on a show that brought in a hot dog truck for the night. But I like Pink's hot dogs -- and maybe you will too. If nothing else, you have to go there at least once just for the experience.   

Lucy's El Adobe Cafe is an LA classic, with good mexican food, a wall of headshots from Hollywood's Golden Age, and a dark, cozy atmosphere that makes you want to stay all day... or all night. Across the street from Paramount Studios (and just down the block from the landmark independent lot Raleigh Studios), Lucy's has been around since 1939. One of the waiters started there a few years before I arrived in LA, and he's still there today, offering low-key, no pressure (but attentive) service. It's a great place to bring your family or tourist friends when they're visiting LA, or meeting an old friend (or new flame) for a quiet, discreet lunch or dinner -- a tradition Lucy's holds dear.

You can bet on one thing: I'll be hitting Lucy's at least one more time before I leave... 

Another favorite Mexican restaurant is El Cholo, where the margaritas are killer, and their green corn tamales -- available for a limited time each year -- are worth the drive. Th original El Cholo (there are several) is down on Western, and at 90 years old this year, still going strong.

On a busy stretch of Lincoln Boulevard way out on the West Side (Westchester, actually), sits a great little Italian place called Alejos. There are two of them, actually -- a much smaller offshoot a few miles north that does mostly take-out business -- but the original is the place to go. Their pre-dinner bread with olive oil alone is worth the trip, but the salads and pastas are really good. The place has a warm family vibe that takes the chill out of that coastal air.  Back when I had a girlfriend who lived in  Santa Monica, we'd go there all the time, and never had a bad meal. The price is right, too.

I just wish they'd open another one up north...

When it comes to burgers, Tommy's and In 'n Out are the sentimental and cultural favorites here in LA, and who am I to argue?  Both make great hamburgers... but I've said it before and I'll say it again -- proximity matters in this era of terminal gridlock -- which is why I favor Astro Burger.  There's one just around the corner, and that's hard to beat.  Taste is a highly individualistic and utterly subjective factor, of course, so your mileage may vary -- but give Astro Burger a try. You just might like it.

Not every famous restaurant in LA is good, though -- and as a preview of the upcoming Bad Side of LA post, I offer Exhibit A: El Coyote CafeThe place has a great name, and looks like a classic LA mexican restaurant... but the one time I had dinner there was so disappointing that I never returned. Having ordered Sopa de Albondigas -- meatball soup -- as a first course, I was astonished to see it arrive in the form of a single ginormous meatball sitting high in a small bowl, surrounded by a thin circle of broth. I thought this was a joke at first, but nobody was laughing. And the margarita? It was made of some insipid wine concoction rather than tequila. 

Okay, so they didn't have a hard liquor license... but a wine Margarita???

The rest of the meal was similarly undistinguished, which is why I never gave El Coyote (the trickster) another chance to take my money.
The young hipsters of the day loved El Coyote thirty years ago, just as their modern counterparts love it today -- and that's all you need to know about the place.  Let's face it: hipsters are wrong about pretty much everything, from the odious crime against humanity that is the "man-bun" to absurdly expensive artisanal coffee... a certain highly-prized variety of which is brewed from beans eaten, partially digested, then excreted from the alimentary canal of the Civet Cat in the jungles of Sumatra.   

You think I'm kidding? Think again.

None of this means you shouldn't try El Coyote, of course. It's a scene, if nothing else, where the young and restless can seek each other out in answer to the primal drumbeat of our culture's modern mating rituals.  

Just remember -- you're not there for the food.

All of my favorite eateries have been around for a long time, but Hollywood has changed a lot in the past forty years. Walk down Melrose, La Brea, or Larchmont and you'll find new restaurants springing up like flowers after the winter rains. Your choices are much wider than mine when I first came to LA, and you'll find favorites of your own. I was surprised when the Uber driver who was ferrying me to Musso's a few weeks ago said he'd never heard of the place... the oldest, most storied restaurant in Hollywood.  

So consider this post my attempt to clue in the current generation of young LA immigrants to what they've been missing -- and when you get a chance to try out one of these venerable classics, don't pass it up.

* In case you missed it, here's Part One...

Next: The Bad Side of LA 

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