Tag Archives: east los angeles

Eating on the Eastside: Not Just for Hipsters

The Unpaid Gourmet is (finally) back after a long hiatus, which involved studying for (dreaded) law school exams, moving out of a (grungy) Philadelphia apartment, spending two (glorious) weeks at home in Los Angeles, and settling down for the next month in Washington, DC.  In between all the chaos, I managed to enjoy more than a few noteworthy meals, which I’ll be recounting right here on this blog.

I’ll start with some memorable meals from my trip to Los Angeles.  Growing up in Silver Lake, I’ve seen the neighborhood transform from dull and quiet to happening and hipster.  Before, I couldn’t convince my friends to go east of Larchmont.  Now, my former Westside-centric friends flock not only to Silver Lake, but also as far east as (gasp) Pasadena to visit the latest restaurants and bars.  The Eastside has definitely become a dining destination, for hipsters and old-timers (like me!) alike.  I’ll share some of the new places that I enjoyed most on this trip, along with some oldies that remain just as fantastic as before.

Golden Road Brewery (Glendale)

It’s pretty difficult to find Golden Road Brewery, hidden behind the railroad tracks and industrial warehouses, but well worth the trek.  Locals flock to Golden Road not only for its awesome craft brews, but also for the fresh, local fare served at its gastropub.  The pub is surprisingly big, with a huge patio out front and warehouse-sized dining room inside.  But even more surprisingly, on a Wednesday night when I attended, the entire pub was filled.

I ordered the famous Point the Way IPA ($5), ground pork & bacon meatballs ($7), and coconut “noodle” salad ($9).   The Point the Way IPA was mildly hoppy, and went down smoothly on a warm summer night.  The meatballs, served in a warm tomato-bacon sauce over chili corn bread, were underwhelming.  Though moist and tender, I thought the meatballs lacked in flavor, and the chili corn bread lacked any remnant of chili flavor.

The coconut “noodle” salad, however, more than made up for the underwhelming meatballs.  Thai coconut, julienned vegetables, napa cabbage, and fresh herbs were dressed in an almond chili sauce, and topped with spicy cashews.  The sweetness of the coconut “noodles” balanced the heat of the almond chili sauce beautifully, while the cabbage, julienned carrots and bell peppers added a lovely crunch.  I devoured the entire plate, and believe me, that almost never happens when I order a salad.

Golden Road’s convivial atmosphere, respectable beers, and sophisticated pub fare seems to be a hit with the crowds, as evidenced by the full dining room on Wednesday night.  I’ll definitely be back for happy hour with my friends.

5410 West San Fernando Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
(213) 373-HOPS (4677)
The Pub at Golden Road Brewing on Urbanspoon

 Fiore Market Cafe (South Pasadena)

Fiore Market Cafe is the perfect spot for ladies-who-lunch, with its charming garden and rustic menu.  The cafe itself is tiny, occupying one small room in the back of a community theater.  But what Fiore lacks in indoor space, it more than makes up for with its outdoor seating.  Grab a seat at one of the umbrella-covered picnic tables, amidst the manicured hedges and idyllic vegetable garden, and you’ll forget all about the city traffic outside.

The food mirrors the setting at Fiore: lovely and ladylike.  I ordered the short rib sandwich ($9.25), served on Fiore’s homemade bread.  The bread was light and airy, but substantial enough to soak up the juices from the short ribs.  Pickles and red cabbage slaw gave the sandwich an Asian accent, but the addition of chipotle mayo seemed at odds with the other flavors.

I also ordered a side of the spicy udon salad ($4.25), with pleasantly chewy udon noodles, crisp napa and red cabbage, carrots and scallions in a spicy soy dressing. I would have liked more heat since the salad was billed as spicy, but overall, I enjoyed the dish.  For a lovely and leisurely afternoon lunch, Fiore Market Cafe and its adorable garden can’t be beat.

1000 Fremont Ave.
South Pasadena, CA 91030
(626) 441-2280
Fiore Market Cafe on Urbanspoon

Tomato Pie & Intelligentsia Coffee (Silver Lake)

I, along with GQ food critic Alan Richman and legions of other fans, am absolutely hooked on Tomato Pie, a retro neon-orange jukebox of a pizza joint, located on Hyperion Blvd.  Since it opened a few years back, Tomato Pie has become a neighborhood staple and one of my must-go-to spots whenever I am back home in LA.  Their pizza simply can’t be beat; not only because it’s one of the few authentic NY-style pizzas on the West Coast, but also because of its commitment to fresh ingredients and dedication to the sheer craft of pizza making.

I can’t go to Tomato Pie without devouring ordering a slice of its infamous Grandma Pie.  To the uninitiated, the Grandma seems, well, old and boring; it’s just another Margherita pizza.  But devotees know the Grandma is so much more, and it’s all in the sauce.  Soulful, intense, just-garlicky-enough tomato sauce is topped with a handful of fresh basil and interspersed with mounds of melted mozzarella.

Another favorite of mine is the eggplant parmigiana pie, and it couldn’t be more different than the Grandma.  While the Grandma is an exercise in restraint, the eggplant parmigiana just piles it on, with crispy breaded eggplant, spinach, ricotta, and mushrooms.  It’s rich and satisfying, especially for eggplant lovers.

And if the top-notch toppings aren’t enough to win you over, Tomato Pie’s crust will definitely convert even the staunchest of haters.  Crisp and brown on the outside, chewy with a hint of salt on the inside, it truly is the best crust ever.

If you still have some room left after visiting Tomato Pie, walk a few blocks down to Sunset Junction, the heart of Silver Lake’s hipster revolution.  Now, I’m normally averse to hipster spots, but this one is honestly worth the aversion.  Intelligentsia Coffee (pictured above) is definitely a scene, with its perpetually filled tables (even in the middle of a weekday), minimalist interior, and strict ban on skim milk.  But its stellar single-origin coffees, expertly made espresso, and funky pastries (baked by Cake Monkey) make it easy to get past, and maybe even embrace, the hilarity of it all.

2457 Hyperion Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 661-6474
Tomato Pie Pizza Joint on Urbanspoon

3922 W. Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 663-6173
Intelligentsia Coffee on Urbanspoon

Cook’s Tortas: Where the Westside Meets East LA

Though many of my Westside-centric friends believe East LA begins in Silver Lake, they are woefully wrong.  They speak proudly of venturing as far east as Echo Park, where all the hipster bars and new age restaurants are opening.

But true Los Angelinos know that East LA really begins off the 60 highway, encompassing Boyle Heights, Montebello, and Monterey Park.  While authentic ethnic food abounds in these neighborhoods, few would ever venture to describe the dining scene here as anything resembling hipster.  With the opening of Cook’s Tortas in  spring 2008, however, things have started to change on a formerly sleepy stretch of Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park’s main drag.

Many reviews of Cook’s Tortas have noted that it is more reminiscent of Westside eateries, with its daily-changing chalkboard menu, bright mint green walls, gourmet ingredients, and upscale flavor combinations.  I agree, but where I think Cook’s has succeeded the most is upgrading a classic Mexican sandwich while keeping prices down and flavors accessible to the general public.  This success is apparent in the never-ending lunch lines at the restaurant, the crowd a mix of East LA College students, neighboring firefighters & police, office workers, and adventurous foodies (like myself).

Cook’s menu features over 20 rotating varieties of tortas, each one with a unique flavor profile.  There are heaping entree salads and an array of sides as well.  I ordered the Ranchito torta ($7.39), filled with chorizo, carne asada, nopalitos (cactus) salad, queso fresco, and guacamole, with a side of sweet potato fries.  The Ranchito is not for the faint of heart.  Though smoky and rich from the steak and chorizo, the intensity was balanced by the slightly acidic nopalitos and creaminess of the cheese and guac.  The best part of the torta to me, however, was the bread–made fresh in-house everyday.  Porous and light, but still dense and chewy enough to stand up to the fillings, it was truly a feat of engineering genius.

To wash down the torta, I ordered a melon agua fresca.  Aguas frescas, a popular Mexican beverage made by infusing water with fresh fruits, grains, or flowers, are also made daily in house and are available in rotating flavors.  The melon agua fresca was refreshing and not too sweet–a perfect compliment to the intense flavors of the torta.

I found the desserts at Cook’s to be a bit disappointing.  Grandmother’s corn cake, topped with raspberry preserves, had a slightly goopey texture that was off-putting.  And while the chocolate chip cookie was large enough to share, it wasn’t really worth the effort.

The stars at Cook’s Tortas really are the tortas.  Fresh, innovative, and affordable, these tortas are definitely worth the drive and may even lure insular Westsiders further east than Echo Park.


Cook’s Tortas
1944 South Atlantic Blvd.
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(323) 278-3536

Cook's Tortas on Urbanspoon