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For me, the best measure of a great city is the ratio of quality to pretension. A place like San Francisco is really great, but this greatness may be balanced by its inflated self-image. Boston, by comparison, is both not really that great and it has an even more inflated self-image. At the farthest extreme for me is my current place of residence, Boulder, where there‟s absolutely nothing to do (unless you snowboard, mountain bike, or listen to bluegrass), yet the sense of self-worth is completely off the charts. Los Angeles, by this scale, is quite possibly the perfect place, in spite of all its flaws. I‟ll try to give an eye to the quality of the place in its totality below, but it‟s worth appreciating lack of pretension as something that adds value by not overinflating your expectations and not having the locals annoy the fuck out of you with their prognostications of the city‟s greatness. But how, you might ask, will I manage to seriously apply the use of the term “unpretentious” to a city littered with any number of boulevards of broken dreams, a place expressed almost entirely in myth, a place crawling with sleazoids in big Cadillacs wrapped in bimbos with fake boobs? Two ways. First, I draw a distinction between ostentatious, which LA most certainly is, and pretentious, … Second, I would point out that LA‟s ability to wrap itself in myths, both glamorous and sickening, both real or apocryphal, is the greatest evidence of all that it‟s a city that places form, function, image, and most of all, quality of life, ahead of prestige, grandeur or, yes, even self-respect. Los Angeles has a distinct lack of pomp not found in any other truly great city, this lack of pomp may indeed be the factor preventing it from being perceived as a great city, which in turn may be what keeps the place so fresh. I was living in LA during the millennium, and remember all the talk in every city in the US of a planned major terror attack. At the time, I thought somewhat flippantly, what on earth would they attack in LA? Beyond the fact that no place here holds all that many people (except the Rose Bowl and the Coliseum), there‟s also no place in LA that holds any symbolic meaning to anyone. Except maybe the Hollywood sign, which is sort of the exception that proves the rule. A symbol that‟s not really a symbol of anything, has no people anywhere near it most of the day, cannot be seen from a vast majority of the city on most days of the year, and has come close to being torn down in favor of housing any number of times in its life span. It‟s a cliché to say that LA has no center. In fact it does have a center, but even those of us who are fans of downtown and who center our guides to LA on downtown, have to recognize that LA‟s downtown is at best a node of nodes, and at worst just one of many centers, perhaps first among equals. But if you were choosing the most important, symbolic part of LA to attack, even on Millennium Eve, which part would you choose? On Millennium‟s Even, LA had five different municipal parties in five different parts of the city. Needless to say none of these parties faced serious security concerns, nor did anyone really show up. As we know now, Los Angeles did seemingly face the threat of a terror attack that week, but the attack was planned for what is perhaps LA‟s lone landmark of strategic and symbolic importance: Los Angeles International Airport, the first place most people see as they reach the city of the angels. LAX makes the perfect strategic landmark for this unpretentious city. Garish and gaudy, sprawling and sketchy, overcrowded and overburdened, much derided by everyone but indispensable, and perched on the edge of town, well out of the reach of public transport even after the city seemingly provided a transport link.
The charms of Los Angeles are many, some apparent – eternal sunshine, style, space, and freedom – and some less so. It is my firm belief that anything you are looking for, any scene, any food, any club, you will find in LA. Not only that, but you will find it in its most undistilled, unadulterated, authentic form. But you will have to search long and hard, you may never find it, and ultimately you will have to take it on faith that if you didn‟t find what you were looking for, it‟s not because it wasn‟t there, merely because you didn‟t have the persistence, the hookups, or the gasoline. I always tell people that in San Francisco, you will food from anywhere in the world within a few blocks walk, but it will be in its most yuppified, lowest common denominator form. In LA, by contrast, you will find the real deal, but you will be driving forever. This quest for authenticity, and the frustration that it can engender when you don‟t find Shangrila, has been the undoing of many an LA night owl, lounge lizard, or foodie, and ultimately it‟s not worth it. If you‟re moving to LA, choose your neighborhood wisely, cuz you‟ll be stuck with it. Barriers both natural and unnatural (traffic jams, high speed chases, low speed chases) will leave you trolling through your own neighborhood over and over again, or traveling to the same easily accessible neighborhoods by the same tried and true secret shortcuts every weekend. The odds against finding a place to live comfortably, work fruitfully, and play endlessly and to your satisfaction all in oen neighborhood of the Southern California Basin are approximately 18 billion to one, but such is the price of perfection. If you‟re just visiting LA, then put the top down, grab a Big Gulp, a bubble tea or a latte, pop some Tupac or that old Concrete Blonde album you just picked up at the swap meet into the cassette deck, and start driving. You‟ll never face the existential frustration of not finding exactly what you want, but you may suffer under the burden of too many things to do and not enough time (or tolerance) to see them all. Don‟t sweat it too much – LA will still be here when you come back, and just about the same… only better. And if you can‟t stomach all that driving, well then grab your headphones, cruise down to the Nix Check Cashing, and buy yourself a bag of tokens and the Nix Check Cashing LA Transit System Map. Either way, it will be a bumpy ride (especially if you take Normandie), but a heavenly one. The urban areas of Los Angeles typically thought of by young singles lie west of downtown. They basically follow a west-east axis guided by Interstate 10, the city‟s major west-east boulevards – starting in the north with Sunset, Santa Monica (tricky, nor perfectly east-west), Wilshire, Olympic, Pico, Venice. When most people talk about the east side vs. west side dichotomy in Los Angeles, what they really mean is west of some boundary -- usually La Cienega or La Brea -- versus everything else. And again, this zone would be bounded by Sunset on the north and Venice on the south, unless you are rich enough to live in The Hills. This is the easiest way to understand the geography of LA‟s interior. Overall, the easiest way to understand things are by its telephone area codes. 213 – Downtown 323 – A perfect ring concentric to downtown. Most of the city‟s truly urban residential quarters lie in the 323. 310 – The West Side (fashionable) and the South Side (lots of hidden wonder and beauty here) 818 – The Valley (San Fernando that is) 626 – San Gabriel Valley (the “other” valley that is), home to a majority of LA County‟s population of Asian descent 562 – Long Beach. Huh? 562? 714 – The O.C.
213 As a dense microcosm of the city itself, Downtown Los Angeles is of course big, complicated, and completely surrounded by freeways. On the other hand it displays LA at its most vibrant, bustling and historic. It also features numerous transit options, and you can see the forgotten beauty of the Los Angeles River, which isn‟t all concrete. Downtown covers the entire area, about 6 square miles, from Sunset Blvd and the Hollywood (101) Freeway on the north to Venice Blvd and Interstate 10 to the south, Pasadena Freeway (110) and Figueroa Ave to the west, and the Los Angeles River and Interstate 5 to the east. Working clockwise you begin in the central business district, on the western edge of downtown, between Wilshire and 3rd. Note that things have changed a lot since this was first written, the gentrification has been dazzling. Visit the beautifully restored Central Public Library at 5th and Hope Street. From there climb the stairs or escalator up Bunker Hill, the historic home of LA‟s power elite, and now home to Library Tower, the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Mixed in are an attempt at recreating the Spanish Steps, and a bunch of bad chain restaurants. To the west lies the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA). Heading further up the hill you reach the performing arts complex, including the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Concert Hall. As you look down the hill towards Chinatown and the old downtown, you see on your right LA‟s dramatic city hall looming, as on the start of Dragnet. Look to your north at the gargantuan building and plaza that looks like a giant yellow armadillo: that‟s The Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels, the Catholic Church‟s first major cathedral construction project in over 50 years. Hideous on the outside, but go inside and tour the courtyard and the sanctuary, and it‟s far more impressive. Walking east down Bunker Hill you walk alongside Angel‟s Flight, the funicular railroad that was found lying in mothballs in a warehouse 15 years ago, reassembled and then closed after it broke free of its moorings and crashed into a crowd of pedestrians. Across from Angel‟s Flight is Central Market, the city‟s lively and functioning retail produce and meat market. There‟s an array of high quality, low cost produce, as well as some tasty kiosks selling tacos, pupusas, horchata and other tasty treats. Walking north and east from there you walk through the old downtown on your way to the old Pueblo, the original 17th century Spanish settlement. Lots of interesting old buildings and missions, as well as the very touristy Mexican cafes and shopping of Olvera Street. Cross through Olvera Street to Union Station, the restored Art Deco train station serving all Amtrak, regional rail, Metro and regional buses. The restaurant inside, Traxx, is both elegant and tasty, if a bit overpriced. Just to the north is Phillippe, which claims to be the inventor of the French Dip (also visit Cole‟s Pacific Electric Buffet, at Sixth and Spring, which holds a rival claim to inventing the French Dip). Heading back south from the station you reach Little Tokyo. While not the preferred place to get the most authentic Japanese food (for that head to Sawtelle Ave in West LA, or the southern suburbs of Torrance and Gardena), there are still some great restaurants and bars and karaoke joints in the pedestrian plaza and the adjacent Yaohan Plaza Mall, anchored by the large Japanese grocery chain, Mitsuwa. Try Honda Ya for exceptional Izakaya. North of Little Tokyo is downtown‟s museum district, including the temporary collections of the MoCA and the Museum of Japanese American History. Little Tokyo also has a growing group of galleries and little clubs hosting poetry slams and multiethnic hip hop and fusion shows. Further east, in the old furniture district, is the fairly recent artists‟ loft district, itself rapidly gentrifying. Hang out with the urban reconquistas at Novel Cafe at 811 Traction Ave and Urth Caffe's urban outpost at 451 Hewitt St.
Heading further south along Los Angeles, Main, Central and Broadway you see the city‟s historic core. Many of the old buildings are being renovated and converted aggressively into pricey loft housing, but there is a lot of ground to gentrify and much of the area remains as it was over the past few decades. On Los Angeles Street, the makeshift shanty town of tents and cardboard shacks that once appeared every night at sunset is all but vanquished by a police crackdown and loft renovation effort, but the official Skid Row on San Julian Street carries on in spite of the many forces arrayed against it. On Spring Street the velvet ropes of exclusive dance parties and expensive lofts still mingle with mom-and-pop stores and street people. On Broadway, grand old movie houses now run movies mostly in Spanish and wholesale fashion reject stores stand alongside the Standard Hotel and a slew of techno music concerts playing at the historic Mayan Theater. Here is a neighborhood where every other storefront seems to be a makeshift church and yet you can buy wholesale clothing, a fresh tres leches cake, bootleg cigarettes, or a quickie divorce on Christmas Day. Deep in the heart of the Jewelry District, you can visit an idyllic urban venue that is ten times more Lower East Side than the Lower East Side: St. Vincent's Court, a little warren of old-timey Italian sandwich shops, falafel stands, and Persian cafes, surrounded on all sides by historic wholesale buildings and the catwalks and fire escapes connecting them, where old traders huddle together for a quick Arabic coffee or a smoke. Also be sure to visit Clifton's Cafeteria, a Los Angeles relic which serves as a functioning cafeteria (jello, anyone?) and one of the world's most impressive terraced indoor dioramas. Heading further south towards 9th street a mix of family-run Mexican restaurants and after hours parties bleed into the city‟s sprawling wholesale district. Nestled right in the heart of downtown are the city‟s wholesale jewelry, fashion and home furnishings districts. These areas tend to operate on a 24-hour schedule: when the front offices close, designers and drafters start filling the back offices, before their shift gives way to the early morning bustle of traders. Heading to the south and east corners of downtown, along Interstate 5 and the expansive rail yard, are the city‟s economic powerful food processing industry and the city‟s various wholesale food, produce and flower markets (hence the name Flower Street on one of downtown‟s main drags). The produce market, near Central and Venice, is a hive of activity starting at about 3am. Going west from the fashion district you pass through some of the still-abandoned and downtrodden sections of downtown before reaching the convention center and the Staples Center (home of the Lakers and other sports teams). Dead most of the day, this area lights up during sporting events and shows (particularly when they were protesting the 2000 Democratic National Convention) and now includes some lonely loft apartment buildings and the atrocious sports bars that cater to sporting complexes. It is still a lonely part of downtown. Okay, not anymore. As of 2009, it is the site of LA Live, the gigantic shoppertainment complex surrounding the Staples Center. For a taste of old time LA, do visit The Original Pantry, where they griddle fry your steaks and provide unlimited sides and fried toast 24 hours a day. Back when Mayor Dick Riordan first introduced LA's ubiquitous restaurant sanitation rating letter grades, Riordan actually owned the Pantry (he may still). The story, perhaps apocryphal, holds that the Pantry received a failing grade but pleased that they couldn't close because they had no locks on the door and hadn't closed since 1957, so they apparently got some relief and bought enough time to get up to code without closing.
323 The 323 area code forms the city's inner ring, a perfect circle surrounding downtown's 213 area code. The easiest way to follow it mentally is by the hands of the clock. You also tend to find, however, that each section of the 323 clock will tend to have both an urban half close to downtown and a somewhat suburban half further from downtown. Needless to say you also can find similarities between the area of the 323 and the adjoining area code further to the south. Starting, somewhat arbitrarily, I start at 9 O‟Clock. Midtown – Midtown is the best way to characterize the area west of downtown stretching to La Cienega. In the mental map, this area can be considered the part of LA that is not the West Side that west siders will visit on occasion. For this purpose, Midtown will have Fairfax Ave as its Western boundary, though I‟m not really sure where 323 really ends. It will have Melrose Ave as its northern boundary, and Pico Blvd as its southern boundary. Running west from downtown you pass 1) the tough, mainly Latino but formerly Jewish areas of MacArthur Park / Westlake 2) Then Mid-Wilshire aka Korea Town 3) Hancock Park, an area perhaps richer than Beverly Hills 4) Miracle Mile / Fairfax, the haven of Hasidic Jews, Ethiopians, oldsters and hipsters The Westlake District directly west of downtown is fascinating, mixing the hints of its onceglorious past with a dismal recent past and an uncertain future. Compare the classic art deco apartment buildings here to the well-maintained equivalents of Hollywood, the refurbished luxury of those in downtown, and the stately decline of those in Mid-Wilshire. Compare the shoddiness and the customers of the still-beautiful MacArthur Park to its sister to the north, Echo Park. Note: LA‟s original map was based loosely on William Penn‟s original design for Philadelphia: four quadrants with a park at the (original) center of each, including MacArthur, Echo, Lincoln (to the east) and what became Exposition Park (to the south). In the past few years the area has undergone further economic decay and the indignities of systematic police brutality. Traces of Westlake‟s past still reside here and there, including Langer‟s Delicatessen, perhaps the best west of the Mississippi, at 6th and Alvarado (only open until 3pm) and the Brooklyn Bagel Company (also keeping early hours), on Beverly Blvd just west of Alvarado. Westlake‟s present is perhaps brighter than its past. A Metro station on the heavy rail Red Line opened in 1992. A new middle class of Central Americans have added wealth, some influence and considerably greater dining options to the area, including the first US location of the famous Guatemalan chicken chain, Pollo Campero (Olympic and Union). Yet it still remains one of the tougher areas west of downtown, particularly around the Pico/Union district. Korea Town / Mid Wilshire occupies a huge and growing area west of downtown, in what used to be called Wilshire Center (a kind of alternate universe downtown where all the insurance houses used to headquarters along the wide promenade of Wilshire Blvd. Now it is a hub of overseas Korean business and culture, and it's currently the hub of LA nightlife. It now roughly covers the area from Hoover to Western, Olympic to 3rd. Something like 1,000 Korean bars, restaurants, clubs, and cafes are open mostly 24 hours. The area also contains huge concentrations of Bangladeshis, Salvadorans, Indonesians, and Pilipinos, with their own set of restaurants, groceries, shops, etc. K-Town has some amazing housing from both the modern and early 20th-century eras. Wilshire has a bunch of high-rise apartments, while the surrounding streets have miles of the 3 to 6-story apartment buildings that give LA its surprising density and make the Metro surprisingly popular. Korea Town is the best-connected district to the subway, with stations on Wilshire at Western, Normandie and Vermont. The Wiltern
Building (just across from Wilshire-Western station) is a green marble art-deco classic, with the famous Wiltern Theater and the Atlas Supper Club and Lounge at its base. The Ambassador Hotel, the forlorn architectural classic where Robert Kennedy was shot in 1968, sits about ½ mile to the east. For the pure culture shock of historic architecture meets post-modern entertainment, visit Chapman Market or the Brown Derby Plaza, both near the Ambassador. Chapman Market, at 6th and Alexandria, was billed as America‟s first drive-in market dating to the 1920‟s, but its beautiful courtyard now includes an array of Korean high fashion and entertainment venues (cafes, bars, karaoke, etc). Brown Derby Plaza, at Wilshire and Catalina, is a mini-mall put up by Koreans on the former site of the famous Brown Derby restaurant. Though preservationists cried foul, no English-speaking businessperson would save the place, and the Koreans gave a nod to history by preserving the head of the derby itself as the dome on the very bizarre bar on the 3rd floor of the mall. Around the corner and back on Wilshire, at the base of the Gaylord Apartment Building, a very old and very red pub called the HMS Bounty gives a taste of Mid-Wilshire‟s past. Check out the OG, sleek, and enormous Cho Sun Galbi, always reliable for Korean BBQ, if not on the cutting edge. For a late night shaved ice, hit Mr. Coffee at 6th and Western. Hancock Park is rich rich rich, and frighteningly so. While the stars and the producers may live in Beverly Hills, the studio execs and the Getty heirs tend to live in Hancock Park, with its enormous houses on tiny lots nestled right in the heart of the city. Its only commercial quarter, and also its only moderately affordable area, is on Larchmont Ave, where well-financed but struggling screenwriters and various underemployed millionaires can be seen hanging out at the Starbucks, the Noah‟s Bagels, and disgustingly overrated Thai restaurant Chan Dara. For a real treat, cuirse by the Youngwood House 3rd and Muirfield during Christmas, or really any time of year, to see the collection of David sculptures and one of the world's most elaborate in-home Christmas light displays just driving the all the Hollywood superagent and studio head neighbors completely batty. Miracle Mile / Fairfax – This area of the city is perhaps most popular with young hip people who actually have a job and/or a savings account. It tends to have a mix of the young and the very old. Some blocks have classic LA cottage homes, while some mostly have apartment buildings. The area is now anchored by the ghastly Park La Brea housing development (3rd b/w Fairfax and La Brea), which includes about 30 identical 17-story apartment buildings flanked by a lot of low rose condos. Across the street and attached to the old Farmer‟s Market (mostly a tourist attraction now) is the brand-new Grove shopping mall, which includes its own train system that looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel. The nearby Fairfax Ave shopping hub includes Canter‟s Deli, a wonderful all-night hangout, and a long line of thrift stores, falafel, kosher butchers, and Judaica shops catering to the area‟s large Russian and Hasidic Jewish population. You will see them walking on Friday night and Saturday morning. Heading further south down Fairfax, around Olympic, is Little Addis Ababa, the hub of the city‟s Ethiopian community. Heading back to the Wilshire, the Miracle Mile was the art-deco hub of entertainment and shopping for West LA in the 1920‟s, running along Wilshire between Fairfax and La Brea. Now it is a densely populated but quiet residential district with lovely Spanish arthitecture and convenient access to the West Side, downtown, etc. Some of the city‟s major museums line the south perimeter of the La Brea tar pits, including the wonderful LACMA. The NIMBYs stopped the Metro from coming out this far west, but the Wilshire Rapid bus, which skips stops and controls the stoplights, makes a remarkable fast journey the entire length of Wilshire from Santa Monica to Downtown (the 3rd St bus is also known as one of the fastest in LA). The whole area includes a bunch of good cafes such as Insomnia on Beverly and Poinsetta. Beverly Blvd and 3rd St offer a wide assortment of cute cafes, yuppiie dining establishments, and boutiques. La Brea Ave has all the really swanky vintage and handmade
clothing and furniture shops. And of course the famous Melrose Ave is supposed to be the Haight-Ashbury of LA: lots of tattoos, piercings, bongs, leather, etc. Merkato. Hollywood – There is Hollywood the concept, and then Hollywood the place. Confusingly, Hollywood is not a city apart from LA, although West Hollywood is. Hollywood has definitely had a touch six or seven decades, having gone from really being “Hollywood”, to an area only suitable for hustlers and dealers, to an area suitable only for 1) scientologists; 2) the 16 year old runaway standing outside the pizza parlour; and 3) nervous tourists warily rushing in and out of the old Hollywood tourist attractions (Mann‟s Chinese Theater, Max Factor, Ripley‟s Museum, crummy pizza parlors) before their purse got snatched by the 16 year old runaway standing outside the tattoo parlor or their own 16 year old got converted by the Scientologists of the runaways. In two words, it was Times Square. Somewhere along the way things changed. The Metro came, in 1992, to the now notorious corner of Hollywood and Vine. In 2000 the Metro worked its way to the hub of Hollywood and Highland, followed a year later by the Hollywood/Highland project: a mall, a hotel, extra screens at the Chinese Theater, and the new home of the Oscar‟s, the Kodak Theater. Similar projects have begun at Vine Street and further down on Santa Monica, and Berkeley‟s Amoeba Music opened a huge store on Fountain, but the flat parts of Hollywood are a still a pretty useless mix of cruddy, touristy, and kitschy. Some blocks are cleaner. The air is certainly cleaner, as you can now see the famous Hollywood sign a couple days a week. Up above, the Hills are a beautiful place for those who can afford them. East Hollywood / Thai Town - This is now one of the preferred neighborhood for urban hipsters who simply can't afford Silver Lake. It is basically Hollywood east of the Vine Street demilitarized zone (soon to be the Vine Street Big Box shopping Zone). Hollywood Blvd itself is Thai Town, with easily the best and most authentic Thai food in the US. Sanamluang is the preferred choice of hipsters. Vim and Torung cater to a large Thai-Mex population. Vim is family oriented, closes early, amazing rice and noodle dishes. Torung is open till 3 and is probably best overall. Check out Palms, where equally good food is accented by the vocal stylings of the Thai Elvis. Silom Thai SuperMarket is attached. There is also a Thai jazz bar across from Sanamluang. Armenian groceries abound. Espresso mi Cultura is a great cafe on Hollywood Blvd. Paru's is a wonderful, family-run South Indian restaurant in a courtyard on Sunset. Nearby is the world famous Zankou Chicken, only for the carnivorously inclined. Visit Savi the bitter Israeli hot dog vendor at the NW corner of Hollywood and Western and engage him in a political debate. Miles and miles of apt buildings going up, and more to come. Further uphill the houses begin. Franklin Ave has a cute strip of shops and restaurants including the Bourgeois Pig, a great cafe. Metro stops on Hollywood at Western and Normandie. Los Feliz – Moving east from Thai Town, roughly to the corner of Hollywood and Vermont, is Los Feliz. The setting for the movie Swingers, Los Feliz is either a perfect cute little neighborhood, or a useless oasis of suburban living for people too rich to bother with the surrounding neighborhoods. Swing bars still exist. Some good coffee shops and diners, some artistic types swear by House of Pies as their hangout. Skylight Books is a real gem, LA's answer to City Lights. The Vista is perhaps the nicest and most pure of LA's enormous old 1screen movie houses. And there's a little art house as well. Walkable to Griffith Park, and as you move up the hill the houses just get bigger and bigger and bigger. Also vaguely walkable to the Vermont/Sunset Metro station. Parks – There are theme parks, mountain parks, beach parks. But not many real parks, in spite of the fact that so many towns and neighborhoods have park in the name. Enjoy the mountain
parks of Hollywood. Griffith Park has the Greek Theater and the carousel. Runyon Canyon has great trails. Climb to the Hollywood sign. Silver Lake - This is the most popular neighborhood for young hipsters, but it is also expensive. Nestled against the Hollywood Hills, there are lots of cute bungalows on zig-zaggy, barely passable streets. Lots of cafes and retro shops and gourmet shops. Spaceland is the city's main venue for experimental/indie music. Great cheese shop, a German restaurant and a Trader Joe‟s. The reservoir is a wonderful place for a jog. It is largely transit inaccessible, which marks it down a few points. Silverlake Lounge is also a nice pace to hang out. The Sunset Junction festival happens on Labor Day weekend (I think) at the Hollywood/Sunset Blvd split, right near Los Feliz. As you head up towards the hills along Glendale Blvd, Silver Lake gets more spread out and suburban. The Coffee Table is a great place to sit in a cute coffee shop yet still spread out half your worldly possessions on the large, mosaic tables. Go too far and you might accidentally end up in The Valley. Echo Park / Bellevue - A more urban, transit-accessible ethnic, cheaper (perhaps not anymore) refuge from Silver Lake, Echo Park is the end of Sunset Blvd as it drops into downtown. Echo Park itself is gorgeous. Small, like all of LA's few interior parks, it has a beautiful lake with paddle boating, a huge fountain shooting up (a la Geneva) and the largest stand of Lotuses in the Western Hemisphere. It is urbanism unparalleled, lovers walking, families playing, old men fishing, homeless resting. The neighborhood surrounding is a montage of every era of LA architecture, capped by the bizarre Angelus Temple. Sunset Blvd is choc full of Mexican/Chinese groceries, juice stalls, Mexican restaurants and salsa clubs. Taix is a very underrated provincial French restaurant. The neighborhood has a monthly art walk featuring its many galleries and kitsch shops (I think it‟s first Friday) and I think it links up with Silver Lake‟s galleries as well. Further up Sunset, Cafe Tropical is the preferred Cuban sandwich shop of unrepentant hipsters. Echo Park is very transit accessible by day (via the DASH, a strange, cheap non-MTA commuter bus service) but less so at night. Heading south towards Beverly Blvd and the Rampart District, you see similar houses, yet not as well maintained and often on even windier, hillier streets. There are deals to be had up in them thar hills. Echo Park, located just north of downtown LA, might be one of the most perfect urban landscapes I‟ve ever seen in my life. Built when a dam on the Los Angeles River broke and flooded the area in 1906, the Park is a bite sized, picture perfect morsel of LA urbanism. The lake anchors the park, with a magnificent fountain shooting up through the center a la Geneva, and paddle boaters plying the waters. The park is occupied by the full range urban denizens: young lovers, drug dealers, old men fishing, vendors selling corn on the cob and ice cream, drug addicts, picnicers and families out for a stroll. To the northern edge of the lake lies the largest stand of lotus blossoms in the Western Hemisphere. To the south you see one of the densest views of the skyscrapers of downtown LA. Surrounding the park on all sides emblematic examples of LA‟s most distinctive architectural styles: Spanish terrace, Spanish cottage, Italianate apartment house, modernist block, faux Oriental community center, and art deco cult. And yet something is not quite right about the place, or rather, something is uniquely LA about the place. Along the western edge of the park flows the broad Park Avenue, with views of lotuses in the northbound lanes, and downtown in the southbound lanes. In many of the world‟s greatest cities, this would be a perfect spot to build a grand boulevard, replete with a chaotic, unnavigable roundabout, several enormous statues of old white men on horseback, and a grandiose marble arch, the kind of arch that Hitler or Napoleon could march his troops through upon conquering the city. But that‟s not what you see in Echo Park. No grand boulevard. Indeed hardly any marking of the park. The only statue is a most obscure bust of…
Elysian Park / Chavez Ravine – As you head even further east on Sunset and all the freeways begin to converge, you see Dodger Stadium looming above on the left. Although many barrios and slums were cleared for the sake of baseball, numerous cottages and apartment buildings still dot the landscape of hills between Sunset and Elysian Park. There are also some really obscure hiking trails up around the police academy. Some good rental deals, but ultimately you will be depending on Echo Park or Silver Lake for entertainment and commerce. Chinatown – As Sunset Blvd drops into Downtown and turns into Cesar Chavez Blvd, you see Chinatown on your left. As in most places in the US, the real Chinatown is now in suburbs and their strip malls, but Chinatown still has lots to do. It may not be a place to live, unless you speak Chinese, but is has some real high points. Chinatown has a great art gallery scene now, and 1st Friday is the art crawl on Chungking Road. Check out the old Chinese nightclub/lounge called the Grandstar. It's right on the main plaza in Chinatown. Downstairs it's basically an old man bar with a jazz combo and people come up and sing, strong drinks and red leatherette furnishings. Upstairs my friend Daryl used to run a big dance party, and I think there are still events now and then. Chinese and Vietnamese food in Chinatown are great by most standards (Hong Kong Harbor especially), but only okay by LA standards (Monterey Park, a suburb east of downtown, is where the best southern Chinese food is found, including some amazing Chinese Islamic and vegetarian restaurants; Arcadia, east of Pasadena is for northern Chinese food). Chinatown has a thematic station on the new Metro Gold Line to Pasadena, though it‟s pretty much close enough to walk to the end of the Gold Line in downtown. Angeleno Heights / Mt. Washington / Highland Park – Heading north along the Gold Line, the Pasadena Freeway (110) and Figueroa Blvd from downtown you pass through the breathtaking Arroyo Seco Canyon. At the start of the canyon, as you pass out of Chinatown, you pass through the historic Latino district of Angeleno Heights, with its many narrow streets and breathtaking downtown views. Mt Washington has some of the oldest Victorian buildings in Los Angeles spreading along the top, including the California Heritage Museum. Further up, at around 65th and Figueroa, is Highland Park, a historically working class and Latino district that is also a favorite of struggling young hipsters. Mr T‟s bowl holds a lot of indie music events. There are also lots of shops along Figueroa. Each of these neighborhoods is considered tough by some, but they are safe, beautiful and very family-oriented. Once considered a bit out of the way and accessible only by the winding Pasadena Freeway, the Gold Line makes them much more desirable. East LA – East LA has for years been the city‟s principal Latino quarter, suffering all manner of social and environmental ills. There are in fact some beautiful, fun places to go and see. As you head east on Cesar Chavez and cross the lovely old bridge over the Los Angeles River, you enter Boyle Heights. Boyle is a hub of Latino shopping and dining (including the famous El Tepeyac and La Serenata Garibaldi) whose street names (Brooklyn, Chicago) reflect is history as the Jewish quarter. A few years back the Population Association of America meetings were in LA and I wanted to show some friends the real LA, so we went to the original La Serenata. Halfway through our meal, who walks in but Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa out for a quiet -- very quiet -- dinner with war criminal and then Attorney General of the United States Alberto Gonzalez. If current events at the time (May 2006) are correct, I believe this was a "you keep your people in line during these May Day rallies and I will give you some anti-gang dollars" conversation. La Serenata is just that kind of place. There are a number of great festivals and community events in the area, and a walk through Lincoln Park is really nice as well. Heading further east you drive through a number of the other
hilly neighborhoods surrounding Cal State University – Los Angeles and LA County Medical Center, before heading towards the suburbs of Monterey Park, Alhambra and South Pasadena. As you head south on I-5 and skirting around the edges of downtown, you pass the city‟s main industrial areas, including the rail yards, the food processing districts and the city of Vernon, almost completely devoted to warehouses. Heading west or south from the East LA interchange (where the 5, 10, and 60 freeways converge), you head towards south LA Exposition Park / USC / Watts / South Central – Since the decline of the old Pacific Electric streetcar system, the areas directly south of downtown have been economically downtrodden. Traditionally the home of the city‟s booming post-WWII African-American population, the area now has an equally large Latino population. You can take the Metro Blue Line to Watts and see the Watts towers, a homemade bricolage of old sheet metal, girders, bottles, cans and other detritus built by an old Italian day laborer in the depression era. Towering up to 100 feet, the towers sustained barely any damage during the 1994 earthquake. Also just south of downtown are the University of Southern California, Exposition Park (including a number of museums and the Los Angeles Coliseum) and the famous Shrine Auditorium. Just south of Korea Town and Interstate 10 is the Historic West Adams District, where a number of intrepid preservationists have been renovating the neighborhood‟s dilapidated old Victorian mansions. 310 The 310 area code encompasses the city‟s West Side, the Beach Cities, and the suburbs of the South Bay. Starting from where 310 meets 323 in West Hollywood, let‟s go south and west. West Hollywood – Known as the area‟s gay cultural mecca, WeHo, actually its own city, also includes a huge Russian immigrant population and plenty of wealthy yuppies of every sort. The area includes an enormous Whole Foods Market, the beloved Erewhon natural foods market, and plenty of other draws for the holistic crowd. Its two main drags are the Sunset Strip, the hilly, metropolitan portion of Sunset Blvd (between La Cienega and Robertson) that includes tall buildings housing record industry businesses, nightclubs and bars ranging from the swanky to the pubby and inexplicably popular (House of Blues, Dublins), hip fancy hotels (Chateau Marmont, The Standard, and The Mondrian), and boutiques and cafes aplenty. The Sunset Strip also has Book Soup, one of the city‟s best book stores. Santa Monica Blvd is the center of gay nightlife, with a long line of clubs, restaurants, stores, hotels and gyms catering to gay residents and visitors (again roughly from La Cienege to Robertson). Down on Melrose near La Cienega, Urth Café is a pretentious and crowded but worthwhile coffee and dessert hangout. Beverly Hills – Also its own city, Beverly Hills‟ reputation precedes itself. Driving down Beverly Drive (not Beverly Blvd, two totally different things, very confusing) or Canon, you can pass from the mansions of Sunset Blvd to the glitz of Rodeo Drive (near Wilshire). Through miles and miles of bizarre, creepy office parks and office buildings housing some of the vertebra of the entertainment industry (for instance, Larry Flynt Publications, Wilshire and La Cienega). To the endless nondescript apartment buildings and Spanish quadplexes near Olympic. Then down to Beverlywood, or Beverly Hills Adjacent, an exciting enclave centered on Pico where Arab neighborhood meets Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. My friend who lived there called it The West Bank, but it was quite safe and quite friendly. Butchers tend to run both Kosher and Halal. Restaurants, cafes, clubs, everything in Beverly Hills tends to be over-thetop, though Nate and Al‟s, on Beverly Dr. just above Wilshire, is a treat.
Westwood – What a fabulous idea!! We‟ll put the preppie private school in the ghetto, and we‟ll put the public school in one of the 10 or 15 wealthiest neighborhoods in a disgustingly wealthy country!! Well sure, it‟s mostly apartments, but unless you‟re directly descended from royalty (preferably of the corporate or Persian variety), your chances of outbidding that wealthy matron who wants to be walking distance to Chow Chow and a Ralph‟s is nil. Most UCLA students seem to live in the shiny, dilapidated sprawl of West LA, Mar Vista, Palms, etc. Worse fates could unfold if you‟re the type of person who wants to be in LA, or the kind of person who thinks shiny is a perfectly acceptable way of life. In the meantime, Westwood‟s movie theaters are fabulous yet suburban, its food ostentatious yet suburban, its bubble tea joints overrated yet suburban. The shopping is useless. The campus is lovely. The cemetery (where Marilyn Monroe is buried) is intriguing. Heading south on Westwood Blvd you find the best Persian food in the Western Hemisphere (Shamshiri; Canary; ice cream place on Westwood); a wonderful little Japanese joint (Sushi Masu); the most amazing Lebanese food I‟ve had (Sunnin); and a nice little Indonesian/Chinese restaurant (Ramayani). The venerable Rhino Records is now split in two locations. The main one is closer to Olympic. The unwanted stuff fills the original location, above Santa Monica. Further south, check out the burgers and pies at the famous Apple Pan (Westwood and Pico). Century City – Not much to do here per se, but it is impressive to drive through Century City, perhaps the world's original mega edge city. Visitors to LA, whether just driving past or viewing it from atop the Santa Monica Mountains, are perpetually confused as to how this massive fortress of 50-story high rises cannot be downtown. In fact it is just a modern, sterile collection of studio and agency offices and fancy hotels sitting right atop... a massive series of oil rigs. That's right, that crazy ginormous steam vent that sits at the corner of Olympic and Avenue of the Stars and occasionally gets a new floral design around its sheath? That's not venting LA's natural geothermal energy, it's an oil rig. On a fault line. Situated next to millions of square feet of a office space. And a country club. Drive down Olympic Avenue past that oil rig at 4am, possibly a little too fast, perhaps giddy after a night of partying in downtown LA back to Santa Monica, and you can almost channel the souls and the zeitgeist of the 16 million inhabitants of the greater Los Angeles basin. Hard to explain, but try it. On a more mundane level, Century City Mall remains a primo place for outdoor mall shopping and people-watching 1.0, for those who are just too overwhelmed by The Grove. One highlight. The food court includes a supreme rarity, a real live shoe shine stand. My first time there I was getting my shoes shined by a former Honduran rebel while sitting next to Akbar Tanjung, former Indonesian strongman. West LA / Sawtelle – For the most part the area called West Los Angeles is not just the areas of the Westside that are too middle brow to be WeHo, the Bev, Brentwood, or SaMo (no one calls them any of these things, I just get tired of typing) and too nondescript even to be called Palms or Mar Vista (perhaps they just prefer being nondescript). More to the point, West LA is not merely the places that are not the genuine enclave, but are also not even close enough to associate themselves. What do I mean? Lovely courtyard apartment for rent, Santa Monica Adjacent. Split level Spanish quadplax for rent, Beverly Hills Adjacent. Etc. Etc. Etc. A good general rule of thumb. The enclaves tend to be good at forcing you to pay a premium to live in a particular sort of constructed reality: beautiful people (WeHo), super elite (Bev), gauche caviar (SaMo), there are others. If you deeply value a particular scene, choose your enclave, and decide whether you want to pay a huge premium to live that life (though perhaps not afford it) or pay a still substantial premium to live adjacent to that life and aspire to / resent that life. If you don‟t desire the enclave scene or proximity to it, avoid Adjacency like the plague!! Is adjacency a geographic, social or psychological condition? Perhaps a mix of things. An adjoining neighborhood of LA wouldn‟t be adjacent if it didn‟t want to be called as such. When I lived at near the corner of Bundy and Wilshire, I could safely be called Brentwood or Santa Monica
Adjacent. But my Republican neighbors all paid too much for Lexus SUVs and were clearly desperate to upgrade to a mansion, not an architects‟ townhouse on the beach. Therefore, Brentwood Adjacent. The real point is you will always pay less per square foot for West LA than you will for something adjacent (and less for something central than something west). West LA is a gentle microcosm of the LA environment. Long, flat, dusty, shiny, tatty-looking streets lined with strip malls, car washses and auto dealers seem neither as shiny nor as tatty as they do in other neighborhoods. Entertainment biz office parks are also not as shiny. Gyms don‟t have valet parking. If you were to use West LA in an LA film, you‟d need a pretty good cinematographer. West LA does offer utility, however, and at the right price. On Pico Boulevard at Barrington, you have perhaps the most perfect restaurant known to mankind, Don Antonio's cantina, with just the right mix of hominess and kitsch, situated in a former seafood grotto, with excellent carne asada and margaritas. Some years it is a big UCLA frat boy or grad student hangout, but just wait, it will go out of fashion eventually and always endure and remain perfect. Also nearby is an inferior outlet of the East LA's high-end Mexican restaurant La Serenata Garibaldi. Also nearby is the super high-end Japanese omakase restaurant Mori (11500 Pico Blvd). The stretch of Santa Monica Blvd from Sawtelle to the east to Centinela to the west offers a metropolis‟s worth of good food and entertainment in an unassuming package. Le Saigon has passable Vietnamese food (for the west side) and great atmosphere. Javan has terrific Persian food. A hut at Amherst (I think) serves Korean BBQ. Separate split-level strip malls at Wellesley (I think) and Saltair (I think) serve good Indian food (again, for the West Side): All India Café is quite good for general, Madhu‟s Dasaprakash for South Indian and veg. JR Seafood (at Armacost) provides amazing Chinese seafood by any other standard, but fairly lackluster for LA. My favorite Persian bakery shares a strip mall, at Santa Monica and Barry, with my great hairdresser CieJai. Café Balcony (really on Rochester, set off from Santa Monica and Centinela intersection) was a favorite hangout, a very tiny, artsy coffeehouse run by a wonderful Taiwanese guy named Cookie, who serves high-intensity coffee made in bunsen burners. It was like a clubhouse for a while. Across the street is the very quirky Black Box Theater, a community theater house that doubles as a bar. Back towards Sawtelle is a clutch of little restaurants and cafes, and the NuArt Theater, one of LA‟s questionable excuses for a rep movie house. Any of the Japanese places around there will be terrific, and New Japan (in the strip mall at Sawtelle, is open late), but just a bit south on Sawtelle lies one of the most vibrant Japanese-American cultural enclaves, or really any kind of enclave. Sawtelle (the area between Olympic and Santa Monica) was the old gardening district. As a result a Japanese and Mexican community formed around the area (often mixed ethnicity). For years it quietly housed some of the best sushi in the city (Hide is simply unstoppable, higher quality than almost any restaurant in the states, yet cheaper than any place in Boulder) alongside other little restaurants, Japanese hardware stores, nurseries (of course), etc. Then things started to happen, thanks in part to a new community of young Japanese burnouts looking for a taste of home while slumming in Santa Monica. Now the area is pretty much open to all comers. It has the best boba (bubble tea) places on the west side. You can get great shabu shabu, ramen, any kind of Japanese specialty. Also quite a number of restaurants are I guess reverse Japanese fusion. Western food cooked to Japanese tastes: spaghetti with Pollock roe sauce, calamari cutlets, Japanese-infused salads, curry rice. Sawtelle Kitchen fits that category, but stands head and shoulders above the others for its food and its outdoor patio and cozy atmosphere. BYOB, but there‟s a liquor store in the futuristic looking strip mall at Olympic. Furaibo is a Japanese chain specializing in Ishikawa, or Japanese tapas. Small traditional dishes and stews are served alongside lots of beer. Attached is Karaoke Bleu, a very
high-end karaoke bar. Really, it‟s endless!! Now more non-Japanese restaurants are opening. Sawtelle also has shopping: plenty of great things at the Japanese hardware stores, a couple vintage shops, and, most importantly, the original store of Giant Robot Magazine, the seminal Asian and Asian-American culture watchers. Across the street is the GR2 gallery, where they have events and exhibitions. Brentwood – Brentwood is not even a separate city from LA. Brentwood is dull. Brentwood thinks that an overrated, overpriced Italian restaurant is good and interesting if the mini-mall is very white. Brentwood thinks Baja Fresh is ethnic food. Brentwood sucks. And I don‟t need to bring up OJ to build my case. Santa Monica – This should really be a separate document, since I live in SaMo for most of my time in LA. There‟s a lot to do and see, although most of it is not nearly as interesting as things you‟ll find in the actual city of LA. That said, Santa Monica is perfect in many ways. Quiet, but dense. Wealthy, but fairly mixed. The sunlight glistens, except when the marine layer protects you from the sizzling heat the rest of LA is experiencing. The buses are cheap and efficient. The bike lines kinda work. The beach is spectacular, though not for swimming. The mountains and hiking are close by. It‟s like Berkeley meets Baywatch. Santa Monica can be divided roughly into three parts: east of Lincoln looks a lot like West LA, only more expensive in some parts, and actually more dangerous in others; West of Lincoln and above Pico is basically the Third Street Promenade area; West of Lincoln and below Pico is Ocean Park or Main, the more artsy part of wealthy Santa Monica. Let‟s assume for a moment that there‟s really nothing to see or do east of Lincoln, its only virtue being that it is often cheaper than west of Lincoln. The Promenade area is peculiar. Third Street Promenade itself is artificial, garish and completely geared towards Euro Trash and gaggles of teenyboppers in from the eastern suburbs. Yet it‟s just really nice all the same. Somehow the flower displays and weird sculpture seem better than at other prefab pedestrian malls. The buskers seem a million times more talented. The buildings are a startling mix of the old and Mediterranean with the futuristic prison motif that is so popular throughout Santa Monica. Santa Monica Mall forms the south end of the promenade. It‟s a really bad mall, and yet it redeems itself with its incredibly international, incredibly Eurotrash people watching opportunities. The food court, while still bad, is substantially better than any other mall food court in the US. Too bad they knocked down the wonderful people‟s food court, an ethnic foodies‟ hangout in SaMo‟s former socialist paradise. Only a couple spots are worth a special visit: Toppers, the rooftop bar at the Huntley Hotel was a happy hour favorite when I worked at RAND; great views, strong margaritas, free buffet. The bar on the fourth floor of the Mall, facing out to the ocean, has a similar cozy yet alienating vibe and more good margaritas. Harvelles is a nice jazz hangout on 4th St. Border Grill is beloved but disgustingly overrated. La Serenata Garibaldi, on the other hand, is some of the best Mexican seafood around, even if not as good as the original in Boyle Heights. It‟s nice to grab a drink sometimes at one of the overpriced, swanky resort hotels: Casa del Mar, Shutters, Miramar (skip Loews and Le Merigot). Shutters hotel also has Pedals, a surprisingly terrific restaurant right along the oceanfront path that probably singlehandedly convinced me to move to LA. Though I can‟t explain why, just don‟t order a second lemonade, they will charge you. Second Cup is a nice little coffee house / Eurotrash hangout located on Colorado, just west of the mall. It is always featured in Curb Your Enthusiasm, as Larry David‟s office appears to be directly above. There used to be an interesting Central Asian restaurant next door. Ocean Seafood, on Ocean Ave, is great, esp if someone else is paying. Santa Monica has a strange British thing going on, best exemplified by Ye Olde English Pub (a somewhat authentic football
and darts pub), and Tudor House (a strange little tea house and English food fetish shop – think hob nobs and Ribena), not surprisingly both located across from the youth hostel. The Laemmle theater on 2nd st is a pretty good mainstream art cinema, but on Saturday and Sunday morning it features some of the most obscure, exciting new genuinely indie films. It‟s things like this that make up for the lack of a legitimate rep house in LA. Then of course there‟s the beach: the pier is terrific fun, go get yourself a hot dog on a stick, check out one of the cheesy jazz/blues bars on the pier, and then go sit on the ferris wheel, or take a walk up towards Venice. The original Muscle Beach, destroyed and moved to Venice when the town decided weighlifters were a bad element, has been restored in prefab fashion. Heading north past the mall and on the way to Venice, Main Street begins with RAND, my former place of employment. I hear the new fish-shaped building is a doozy, but the old building, with its 1950‟s elementary school meets 3rd World Health Ministry motif, will be sadly missed by some of us. They say it will become a park, but I expect more high end boutiques. Duck down below RAND on Ocean Ave., amidst all the little motels and the office buildings that will replace them. There you will find Chez Jay, a wonderful cozy little bar with peanut shells all over the floor. Avoid Friday nights (too crowded) and early lunch (too many RANDites). Across fro RAND is Santa Monica‟s city hall and courthouse and community theater. Notice the lovely sculpture of a mushroom cloud, constructed as a fuck you to the city‟s militaristic tenants across the street. Oops, I forgot the most important thing. Lincoln Ave, near Broadway, is Bay City Imports, the best Italian Deli around. Amazing!! Call ahead or be ready to wait a while. The Ocean Park / Main Street area really is a mild (very mild) form of paradise. I lived there for over a year, paying $1050 for a really cute one bedroom apartment in a converted old flophouse that would have been better off as a studio if they‟d taken down a wall. Most of my neighbors were adorable little bungalows, cottages and Victorians (probably in the $500k-1m range) and a sickening array of condo buildings that evoke futuristic prisons (2br plus a crack of ocean were $695k in 2001). It is probably the most pricey primary rental market in the city: you‟ll pay more to rent a condo in other areas, but there aren‟t many places you‟ll pay more to rent an apartment. The reason: three blocks from the beach and the oceanfront trail, 2 blocks from Venice without actually having to live in Venice, and the laid back cuteness of Main Street, Santa Monica‟s original, formerly dilapidated downtown, is right outside your door. As you stumble out of bed at 11am on a weekday, you‟ll find the many great cafes littered with the wealthy, casually-dressed underemployed set of screenwriters, producers, agents and heirs mingling with the equally insouciant masses of struggling young actors and screenwriters. Walking up and down Main Street, trolling through its mostly indie boutiques, are wealthy young moms decked out in their best sweat pants pushing strollers (which I presume have babies in them, though you never see them). The cafes: Starbucks and The Coffee Bean are inexplicably popular. Peet‟s coffee shares the lovely, Frank Gehry-designed Edgemar mini-mall with Rockenwagner, a popular and somewhat tasty German (??) restaurant and the MOCA store. It‟s great to hang out in the courtyard. Mani‟s is a great coffee house and breakfast place that doubles as a furniture store. The pick of the group is the Novel Café, reason 2 that I decided to move to LA. Although it‟s no longer 24 hours, it still mixes great coffee with a wonderful atmospheres – loud down below, quieter on the balcony – and a wonderful assortment of screenwriters, partiers, hangover victims and the Santa Monica‟s charming, friendly and conversational population of the chronically homeless. Then of course there are the restaurants. Chinois, where Wolfgang Puck invented fusion, is the most famous. But there are other swanky establishments. Holy Guacamole has some good burritos and fish tacos. There is a great Belgian beer place (forget the name) mixed in with all the detritus along the
oceanfront walk. I‟m forgetting some. Surf Liquors, at Main and Ocean Park, has some amazing hot dogs and cheese fries. There are more bakeries, boutiques and high-end salons and spas further north towards Pico. I‟m leaving out the farmer‟s markets, which is a crime. Main Street has a little scaled-down farmer‟s market every Sunday in the yard of the adorable California Heritage Museum. More a place for snacking and pony rides for the kids than actually procuring fresh produce, but it‟s still a great, year-round option. The big farmer‟s market actually takes place in a parking lot at Pico and Cloverfield, inland. But then the promenade has two big farmer‟s markets, a strictly-organic one on Wednesdays, and another on Saturdays. Organic Chinese broccoli is not to be believed. A great way to spend an afternoon if you can put the possibility of some old guy crashing his Buick into the market and killing a bunch of people. Oops, I shouldn‟t have said that. I‟m sure it will never happen again. While we‟re on the subject, midtown has a great farmer‟s market Fairfax High School. Hollywood‟s is great and features the fruits of a great local community agricultural program. Beverly Hills has one as well I believe. Venice – Difficult to draw the line between Santa Monica and Venice, but really it‟s at Marine Street (not Rose). It‟s still the same as Santa Monica, and yet totally different, a mixed-up vortex of luxury, Bohemia and squalor that could only happen in LA. Inland towards Lincoln Ave is a mix of cute bohemian bungalows (you too could live on a street called Superba) and the notorious Oakwood government housing project, a very tough area. Mixed in are a growing Mexican immigrant population. You‟ll usually find a taco truck somewhere along Rose, mixed in with some strange boutiques and fashion outlets and Pioneer Bakery‟s outlet store. Lincoln Avenue between Ocean Park and Venice Blvd provided the ultra-bleak sprawling backdrop for the movie Ghost World. Heading back into cute, you find the beloved Rose Café at Rose and 3rd. A great spot to hang out, but I always had a difficult time finding anything I really wanted to order. Main Street in Venice is largely indistinguishable from the Santa monica Part. Ina minimall at Rose is Schwarzenegger‟s awful restaurant, Schattzi‟s. As you head south, the area divides between the artsy part just inland and the classic Venice of surfer films, just on the ocean. Abbot-Kinney Ave, which breaks off from Main, is a favorite haven of Venice‟s Hollywood types. Previously a burnt out gentrifying neighborhood where one article said you could see Julia Roberts noshing on tapas on one side of the street and a crack deal on the other, it is now mostly just gentrified. Mostly a lot of galleries and furniture stores. Lulu‟s is a great little country French restaurant. Heading back towards the ocean you get the real Venice Beach Boardwalk, replete with youth hostels, thousands of tourists, drum circles, dreadfully disrepaired overpriced single-occupany apartments, hawkers selling all nature of garbage, massage booths, etc. The roller disco rink and the skate park feature some impressive displays of the human form, as does muscle beach (of course). Heading just a little bit inland is the backpacker‟s ghetto at Beach and Windward. Mao‟s Kitchen serves a bizarre but tasty sort of People‟s Liberation Army cuisine and is open late. Lots of other little bars and restaurants. Marina Del Rey – I heard Marina del Rey had Killer Shrimp, but then I went there and realized that most everything there sucks with a few exceptions. It does have a Ritz Carlton and a marina to dock your boat. For me though, Marina del Rey is the place where you have to leave the Oceanfront bike path, otherwise unimpeded from Pacific Palisades to Palos Verdes, and ride on really busy streets so as not to disturb the Marina. In Marina del Rey they line up for 1, 2, even 3 hours to eat at the original Cheesecake Factory. It‟s either that or some other chain, or a place waiting to be a chain like the aforementioned Killer Shrimp. One notable exceptions is Hinano‟s Tahitian bar on Washington Blvd. But don't worry, lots of great stuff nearby in Culver City and Inglewood.
Manhattan / Hermosa / Redondo Beach – The beach cities are nice, they‟re expensive, they each have a pier and some nice hot dog stands. South Redondo is cool!! Culver City – Culver City downtown rawks!! Well, not really. But the Conservatory, across from Sony Studios, really does have the best coffee in town until 3pm (when it closes). The Museum of Jurassic Technology is one of those places that just makes you realize why LA is so damn cool. Freaky!! The old buildings are pretty in Culver City, sort of like a museum of Jurassic reality. See the tracks where they used to have streetcars. How bout the beautifully restored old former electric switching station that used to power the streetcars they used to have? Some really good Brazilian restaurants. I can‟t help but like Culver City. It‟s humble and nice. If you‟re stuck on the Westside idea, why live in Mar Vista or Palms when you could live in something approximating a place? Ladera Heights / Fox Hills / Baldwin Hills / Inglewood – Somewhere between Watts and the ocean lies the center of Los Angeles‟s powerful African-American middle class, the “Black Beverly Hills”. There are some neat hills, and even a state park on some former oil field. Oil fields? Lots of them, you see „em as you take the La Cienega shortcut from LAX to Hollywood. There‟s also some amazing Caribbean restaurants (esp. The Caribbean Treehouse). There‟s the Magic Johnson Mall with the Magic Johnson movie theater, the Magic Johnson TGI Friday‟s and the Magic Johnson Starbucks. Kind of an alternate Magic Johnson reality, in a Magic Johnson town just blocks from the Forum, where Magic Johnson was Magic Johnson. For a trip into the truly 3rd World, visit Lenox, the unincorporated area between Ladera/Inglewood and LAX. Strange place. For an only-in-LA and only in this particularly bizarre, airport adjacent part of LA experience, check out Mutiara Food and Market, a small steam table restaurant and grocery that specializes in Burmese Muslim food (225 S. La Brea). On our last trip to LA in 2010 we had our getaway meal at Mutiara and it was everything I'd hoped for, a perfect mix of Bangladeshi and Malay food, incredible fish noodle soups alongside robust rich biryani and kebab. Probably my best meal of 2010. South Bay – The South Bay (that‟s Santa Monica Bay) has some really great moments and some fascinating sights. Many of the highlights amount to weird redneck karaoke bars that would seem more appropriate in Oklahoma. Highlights: San Pedro / Palos Verdes – San Pedro is literally LA‟s tail, tenuously attached to the city by a little strip of highway (conveniently, the mayor is from San P). San Pedro is home to the Port of Los Angeles. Seeing Terminal Island, the artificial home of the port, and the gargantuan Vincent Thomas Bridge might be excitement enough, but San Pedro is an eclectic mix of longshoremen, old world charm, intrepid artists, and immigrants. The downtown area has a great art walk on the First Thursday of the month, which is really more of a classic car drive, but that‟s okay. There are a few interesting galleries, and some bizarre surplus and vintage stores. Last time I went, Jim Morrison‟s sons‟s Door‟s tribute band was playing. San Pedro‟s flagship tourist attraction, Ports O Call, is cheese par excellence, though the seafood can actually be quite amazing given its proximity to the fish mongers. Pacific Diner is a great diner. San Pedro also has the Korean Bell, an impressive bell given by a sister city in Korean with a breathtaking ocean backdrop. The Wayfarer‟s Chapel is a lovely chapel made of glass. To the west, in the hills overlooking the sprawl of the south bay, is Palos Verdes, home of elite tennis players. On average folks are richer and houses are more valuable than Beverly Hills. But gosh some of the views are beautiful. Like Santa Barbara without the long drive.
Gardena / Torrance – Torrance is, for lack of a more original term, the Japanese Beverly Hills. It would be impossible to enumerate the varieties or numbers of different Japanese restaurants and bars in this area, so let me recommend a few approaches 1) Go to the corner of Western Ave and Redondo Beach Blvd. Check out the big strip mall. Or go to Umemura, the Japanese diner across the street. 2) Ask Mr. Gold. The LA Weekly‟s resident ethnic food expert is a true LA treasure. Check out his features, or his regular advice column, Ask Mr. Gold. http://www.laweekly.com/ink/04/43/ask-gold.php. 3) email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will try to help. 562 Long Beach is really underrated. No one appreciates it one bit. Even with a light rail connection, the Queen Mary, and a big ole aquarium, still no one appreciates it. Except Sublime, and he‟s dead, and his songs were hardly an advertisement for the town. That said, the coastline is nice in a lot of places. The 2nd St promenade yuppie area has its moments, especially Fingerprints Records, probably the best in a region of 16 million people. Obviously the biggest draw in Long Beach – aside from the oil wells and tankers – is the growing presence of Jet Blue Airlines at Long Beach‟s bizarre airport. Get your tickets to NY. Drive down. Take in a play at the dinner theater in the airport. Head out on the tarmac – no jetways – and you‟re on your way!!! 626 The San Gabriel Valley rests in the shadow of the impressive San Gabriel Mountains. Although friends who grew up there say they couldn‟t go up there as kids due to the smog, now it is a great place to explore the beauty of California, and I suspect what my friends really meant is they or their parents just didn‟t want to go. The Other Valley can be divided into west and east, somewhere around The 605. West consists of towns that have really been suburbs of LA since their inception, most notably the old-money haven of Pasadena. East consists of towns that rose slightly, then fell, then rose again as suburbs, before restoring their old town centers. Because San Gabriel is old (esp compared to San Fernando), because it had water, because it had agriculture, because it had the railroads, because it had Route 66, even the dinkiest little places were actually places. As a result, with a few exceptions, every little suburb will have a little old town, main street, or downtown area that it has sought to preserve and project as a source of their uniqueness. This goes on throughout California, and in outer rim suburbs throughout the Western 2/3 of the US, but perhaps not on quite the scale as in San Gabriel. To help out with appreciating these places, perhaps I can describe the difference between these three constructs. Old Town says come visit me for I am very old. (In LA that means it dates back to the 1920s or maybe even the 1880s. To see a really old town, visit the Puebla in downtown, which dates to 1781.) You can come here in the day with your kids and walk around, have some brunch. When your kids get older and can’t stand you, they and their friends can bring their skateboards down here and do some tricks, and hit old people up for money. After they graduate from college, they and their vermin yuppie friends can troll from the Crocodile Café to the Cheesecake factory to a meat market dance club. Fifteen years ago I may have been a no-go zone suitable only for skaters and the chronically homeless, but now I am a destination, a lifelong destination. Sure I may have a substantial amount of office space left over from way
back when, but don’t expect any deals. Unless major Hollywood action is moving into my offices, I’m looking to convert all of that into lofts pretty soon. (example: Pasadena; less good example: Monrovia) Main Street says I am Main Street, and you know what that means? You don’t? Well, I used to be pretty important, at least to shoppers and diners. I had a bank branch, back when those weren’t on every block. I had a men’s clothing store back when you couldn’t buy that stuff at Wal-Mart or Target. Now? I’ve been restored to my former glory, at least aesthetically if not functionally. I have new retro lampposts, slightly ornate sidewalks and host a variety of civic events, either on my pavement or at the small nearby park cum little league baseball field. I have a brochure that describes all you can do here. The very old (but corporate-owned) local newspaper recently ran a feature article about the man who used to be a homeless vagrant on my streets, yet now he owns a quirky cyber café cum art studio funded by that quaint, Coloniallooking Washington Mutual Bank down the block and Clinton-era enterprise zone legislation. Now that’s a story! I am very cute. Se habla Español. (examples: Alhambra, San Gabriel, South Pasadena). Downtown Morrissey once sang: “I know I’m unlovable you don’t have to tell me, I don’t have much in my life but take it it’s yours.” Downtown says, I am a place, come love me. Back when only rich people could get to Santa Monica in 45 minutes in their helicopters, I mean cars, I was really important. Business were based here. The old Pacific Electric Street Car System that you’ve heard so much about had a hub here, from where you could connect to any number of pitiful little main streets and old towns. Nowadays, I’ll admit you’re probably not going to want to bring your kids here and make a day of it, but chew on this. I have 60,000 square feet of leasable office space, about 1/10th of your standard suburban office park. That corporation you work for has figured out that once they downsize, I will be able to satisfy their space needs at .50 cents on the dollar. It won’t be so bad though (unless you get laid off). I have a bunch of cute but slightly overpriced restaurants that would probably be insanely popular if they were in Beverly Hills; you do not have to have one more meal at the La Salsa in your office park, I’m just a six minute walk away, even closer once your corporation moves. Come see me. Also, I have a coffee house. Meet my friend coffee house: “Sure I close at 3pm, charge $9.95/minute for narrowband internet access and haven’t hosted a single open mic, poetry slam or activist meeting, but believe it or not my coffee tastes better than Peet’s and it’s cheaper. I’m not kidding. Here, try some, on the house. It’s not Fair Trade, but I’ll tell you it is if you will just stand here and talk to me until the morning rush begins. Then you’d better get the hell out of here cuz it’s just me back here and they don’t pay me shit.” (examples: Culver City, Santa Ana) Pasadena – Pasadena is old. The buildings are old. The money is old. Even CalTech is pretty old, by LA standards. Pasadena could have a sort of elite, east coast intellectual and financial elite feel. After all, it‟s got one of the 5 best university in the country in CalTech, one of three major defense and aeronautics labs (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), the venerable Rose Bowl football stadium, a top 5 arts school (which also happens to be #1 for automotive design), a beautiful Ritz-Carlton Hotel, and a moneyed elite population that dates back past the first oil strikes to the first gold strikes in Southern California. But it doesn‟t so much feel like the east coast as the midwest. Pasadena reminds me of the sprawling, wealthy suburbs of Midwestern cities like Shaker Heights in Cleveland, where you can walk 2 miles and you‟ve moved from 10600 to 10800 because the yards are so big. As a town devoted to old industries and dominion over the less sexy (aviation) of the two new industries (entertainment being the other) that defined post-WWII LA, it has always had this very conservative, creepily communityoriented, and yes, midwestern, feel. Don‟t park your car over night in Pasadena, for you will be
towed. Don‟t drive late at night if you‟re black, even though the town is 15% black. Nowadays Pasadena has an increasingly large Asian population, a recurring theme in the 626. Perfect looking place… Yet Pasadena cannot be denied. It‟s got too much good stuff going on. Beyond all the mountains and the beauty of the Arroyo Seco and the canyons and streams in and around the Rose Bowl, you have so much more. The Norton Simon is one of my favorite museums, great collection, great scale, always improving itself. The Huntington Gardens and Library are lush and well-kept, a real oasis. Cal Tech has a beautiful campus. There are other botanic gardens lying here and there throughout Pasadena. Or even just drive or walk by all the impressive homes in Pasadena or its even wealthier little neighbor, San Marino. Old Town Pasadena is in some senses unavoidable. It tends to swallow up more interesting, less planned parts of Pasadena. You have to work hard to avoid the Cheesecake Factory and its customers, but there are ways and reasons. Great book stores (xxxx). Some really good pubs. Now that the Metro Gold Line has arrived, Pasadena has become a transit-oriented community. Mid-rise apartment buildings going up everywhere, old office buildings being converted, some new buildings even have the light rail going right through the base of the building on its way to less attractive suburbs. Some really important restaurants in Pasadena, too. Burger Continental, at Fair Oaks and California, is an Armenian restaurant that is a culinary and cultural adventure. Amazing grilled foods, all kinds of salads, and people dancing on the tables. The Hat, which also has locations in Alhambra and Monterey Park, has some interesting beefy sandwiches. Fu Shing, on East Colorado, has outstanding Sichuanese food. There‟s also a Roscoe‟s Chicken and Waffles. If you‟re a vegetarian, you might just want to check out the major motion picture “Roscoe‟s Chicken and Waffles”, available on the New Release rack at Blockbuster. Everything in Pasadena is closed by 10pm. Head north into Altadena and Sierra Madre and things get even more bumpy. First you are in one of the toughest neighborhoods in all of LA County, then you are at the famous Altadena Dairy, then the quaint pilatesness of Sierra Madre Village, and then into peaceful hiking trails. South Pasadena – If Pasadena encapsulates the grandeur and humility of California livin', then South Pasadena captures the humble side (at around $2 million per house, of course) to absolute perfection. An ideal bedroom community full of perfect, well-adjusted, mixed-income (relatively), mixed race families surrounds a picture perfect courthouse square and park with farmer's market. Kaldi, right on the courthouse square, is one of the greatest cafes you could imagine, both for the atmosphere, the coffee, and of course the parking. Monterey Park / Alhambra / San Gabriel – They say it is impossible ever to eat at all the amazing Chinese restaurants in these three cities. They open faster than you can keep up. They close faster than you can get to them. But it‟s not just the churn, it‟s the volume. And of course the quality. Visiting Monterey Park – otherwise known, as you might expect by now, as the Cantonese Beverly Hills – is a truly eye-opening culinary and sociological experience. I had the inside track on the place because about 2/3 of my friends in college grew up in Monterey Park and Alhambra and went to Alhambra High School, where my Chinese friend Simone was the prom queen, my Chinese friend Rob was student body president, and the football star was Turkish. Monterey Park was in fact the first city in the mainland United States to register a majority population of Asian descent in a census. It was quickly followed by Alhambra,
Rosemead, San Gabriel, and subsequently by a bunch of towns in Orange County and a few in the San Francisco Bay Area. Books have been written, needless to say. Both towns show some evidence of acceptance of, or at least, indifference to Asian Americans, starting with the movement of some well-off Japanese and Chinese immigrants fleeing Chinatown and Little Tokyo in the 1920s to 1940s. For the most part, however, the places were largely white on the day, in 1965, when the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) removed immigration quotas requiring the bulk of immigrants to the US to reflect the existing ethnic makeup. Suddenly, the gates flew open. The middle class of Hong Kong began to stream in, building a strong community that soon attracted the wealthy of Hong Kong (who, fearing Chinese takeover, wanted second homes), followed by Chinese professionals from everywhere. Pretty soon, every town in the area had an Asian American majority, signage was more and more in Chinese, and it is certainly not a necessity to speak English in the area. Getting back to the cuisine, however, San Gabriel quickly makes you realize that there is no such thing as Chinese food. Cantonese seafood. Cantonese dim sum. Sichuanese. Shanghainese. Shanghainese dim sum. Islamic Chinese. Vegetarian Chinese. Hakkanese. Taiwanese. Hainanese. Malaysian Chinese. Etc etc etc. But it‟s tough to find a Chinese restaurant, in the sense that my old Jewish meant it, anywhere in this area. It‟s thus a long, arduous process to explain the entire restaurant scene, and I once again ask you to ask me or Ask Mr. Gold for specific suggestions. For exposure to a bunch of different options at once, the following places are helpful 1) Monterey Park, corner of Garvey and Garfield. Monterey Park‟s main drag has numerous great options in a combination of store fronts and strip malls. 2) Alhambra Main Street is more of a real Main Street, one that was reconstructed and suddenly attracted a big contingent from outside the area and outside the Chinese community for a while at the turn of the century. It‟s still a wonder compared to the burned out shell of a main street I first saw in 1991. The Cantonese restaurant on the NE corner of Main and Garfield is great. It‟s less and less really a Chinese area though. 3) If you head south on Garfield to Valley Blvd, you begin to see the most impressive restaurants. Valley Blvd forms the heart of San Gabriel in most parts. Here in Alhambra you find Old Country Café, on Garfield just south of Valley, a Taiwanese fast food place that probably was the first place in the US to serve bubble tea. Nearby are a number of Hong Kong Cafes, 24-hour establishments serving a combination of Chinese and colonial cuisine (club sandwiches, lobster newburg). ABC is probably the best, on Valley, about 2 blocks E of Garfield. Heading further east, visit San Gabriel Square, the enormous mall at Valley and San Gabriel Blvd, where just about every kind of Chinese specialty can be found. Further north in San Gabriel, near the old Mission District (another popular euphemism for “Really Old Town”, Las Tunas Blvd (the continuation of Alhambra Main St), has three or four key restaurants. Golden Deli is easily the best Vietnamese food you can get without making the trek to Westminster (aka Little Saigon) in Orange County. Newport Seafood, in the same strip mall, redefines the parameters for crab and lobster, but don‟t go expecting to spend less than $30 / person. Dong Nguyen, in one of those bizarre western-themed strip malls, has some of the best Hainanese Chicken Rice around. 4) There‟s also an important hub of dining options in Arcadia, to the east of Pasadena. Arcadia, surprise surprise, is now known as the “Taiwanese Beverly Hills”. In the hub of restaurants along Baldwin Ave near the corner of Duarte (just south of the 210 and Santa Anita Raceway), is Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese dumpling house that was voted 10 best restaurants in the world
by New York Times. Arcadia is still their only US location, and it is not to be believed. Their shau long bao (soup dumplings) have skin so think you could read through it, so strong you could carry things on it, yet so smooth you could spread it on your bread. Check out Life Plaza, the weird stationery/housewares store meets Hong Kong Café hybrid next door. Life Plaza has about 6 locations throughout the San Gabriel Valley. Of course it keeps going and going. Every town in the east San Gabriel Valley seemingly has its own revitalized Old Town, Main Street, or Downtown and a series of mega strip malls featuring the unalloyed best of some country's cuisine and culture. To the north is Monrovia, where the Sundanese liberation movement serves Indonesian food at the farmer's market, and Duarte, almost alone among the 88 towns in LA County in actually sharing the overall ethnic composition of LA County itself. To the northeast you have old farming communities in transition like Asuza. To the east you have Rosemead, home of the world famous Sriacha hot sauce factory. To the southeast you have the new Chinese suburbs like Hacienda Heights, home of that Buddhist temple where Al Gore took those illegal contributions, and the wealthy Cantonese hubs of La Puente and Rowland Heights, which have the most impressive Chinese megamalls of all. 818 The less said about the San Fernando Valley the better. Not that it is universally evil or anything. I mean you have all the white folks. And the quintessential flat, bleak, dingy, sickeningly yellow stretches of strip mall after strip mall after drive-thru bank for miles and miles and miles. Throw in Speilberg types hanging out at Jerry‟s Famous Deli in Studio City, and you‟ve got a lot of problems to work off. Most of all, you just have a place with no heritage, a place where the somewhat sensible zoning of the early 19th century didn‟t have the opportunity to preempt the destructive, inhumane zoning of the late 20th. All those little town centers in parts of the San Gabriel Valley that used to be towns and are now suburbs really make a difference. They give us a plan. Compare that to Panorama City, the town built on a game show, where returned GIs could win a robust little house made of papier mache (or something) until they moved up in the world or the repairs bankrupted them. Not that there aren‟t some nice things in the Valley. Glendale is more like a real town, and boasts the best Armenian food around. There is some genuine cuteness – in the Silver Lake Adjacent sense – to be found in Valley Village, Frog Town, et al. Canoga Park has some terrific Peruvian food. There are some nice walks and bike rides around the river. Great hikes up along the Sepulveda Pass (405) and coming into the Hollywood Hills from Van Nuys or Studio City (though some of them are really land fills). Calabassas Peak is one of my absolute favorite hikes, though coming in from Topanga is probably the more attractive choice. And then there are the places on the Metro Red Line. What can you say about Universal City? It‟s a city, I suppose. And it has a City Walk, which is free, you do not have to pay the Universal Studios admission price. There are lots of bizarre edge city buildings. North Hollywood, on the other hand, is actually really nice. It‟s a cute little town, housing stock is growing, Red Line is there, thus verrrrry convenient to Hollywood and Downtown. The downtown arts district is actually quite nice and has run some decent plays. There are a few good restaurants -- one good Bangladesi place, and the not so good singin‟ sushi joint Sushi Delves – on Lankershim. NoHo is a pretty good place to live in a lot of ways, most of all because it‟s not a “destination”.
The Cosy Confines of Los Angeles County Here‟s a political map of Los Angeles County, with the city of Los Angeles marked in grey. You can see two important things here. First, Los Angeles County is huge, as in larger than Lebanon, Cyprus, or Jamaica, as in 10 million people, or more people than the City of New York and 4 times as many people as any New York borough/county. Second, you can see that the city looks something like a menacing gargoyle with a very long, bushy tail. This should give you an idea of why Southern California is so completely dysfunctional politically. That bushy tail is the Port of Los Angeles and the neighborhood of San Pedro (conveniently where the soon-to-be former Mayor James Hahn lives), which is connected to the rest of the city by a long long stretch of the Harbor Freeway that, as you can see, creates one sensibly contiguous political grouping. http://www.lacity.org/lahd/cosupcd.pdf So just to help you keep things straight, not that anyone in LA knows or cares about, here‟s the rundown. Beverly Hills is its own city, but Brentwood, Westwood and Bel Air are not. West Hollywood is a city, Hollywood is not. Santa Monica is a city, Venice and Marina del Rey are not. Culver City is a city, Century City is not. Los Angeles International Airport and its environs are located in El Segundo, which is a city, and Westchester, which is not. The San Fernando Valley, much to its chagrin, is still part of the city of LA, though the town of San Fernando (the white space at the very top of the map), is not. The city of Long Beach, with xxx,xxx people, is the 8th largest in California. Pasadena, with xxx,xxx, is xth largest. The city of Vernon, right next to downtown LA, has a population of 12 permanent residents and about 15,000 truckers picking up shipments. The city of Signal Hill, completely surrounded on all sides by Long Beach, has a population of 8 people and 5,000 oil rigs. When I was living in Santa Monica during the great electricity crisis of 2001, while Santa Monica was undergoing “rolling blackouts” (that‟s Californian for loadshedding), the dysfunctional City of La‟s biggest problem was not getting paid for all the surplus wattage they were selling to other cities. The Perils of Adjacency – So you‟re moving to LA and wondering what it means when a neighborhood is “adjacent”? Well, it‟s about as simple as it sounds: some neighborhoods or towns are just so terrific that landlords looking for any edge at all find it efficacious to identify the apartment not with its own neighborhood, but with the nearby fashionable neighborhood. This tendency obviously applies to Santa Monica, Brentwood, and Beverly Hills Adjacent, but also to lesser-known fashionabities such as Torrance and Palos Verdes Adjacent. A couple words about this insidious trend. First, what does it mean? Well, first it means that the adjacency (for lack of a better term) is a dumping ground for people who would like to live in the real deal, but cannot afford it. It means that if you would like to pay less than you would pay to actually live in Brentwood but more than you would pay in a place just down the road that‟s name is “West LA”, this place is for you. What it may also mean is that everyone in the adjacency is in fact bitter and self-hating because they do not yet live in the real deal, and therefore disdainful of you because you do not live in the real deal either. In theory it might mean that you get some of the benefits via proximity to the real deal, but then again, is a neighborhood called “West LA” that‟s 12 blocks from Brentwood really that different from “Brentwood Adjacent”? And in any case, why would you want to be near any town that is so pretentious that it provokes adjacency envy? Having lived for a time in
a place known as Brentwood Adjacent, I found that it was slightly cheaper than Brentwood, but way more than West LA, the neighbors were uptight fascist
LA Driving Tips
The laws of North-South Travel. LA‟s axis clearly runs East to West, and this is never more pertinent than when it comes to driving around. The major East-West thoroughfares often make a completely efficient, entertaining, and less apocalyptic substitute for a freeway. But don‟t make this mistake with the North-South roads. Two realities stem from this. First, if you‟re mostly going east-west, you may want to consider using Olympic, Wilshire, or even 3rd Street in lieu of the 10. Second, there are times when you may want to go well out of your way to take a northsouth freeway instead of a street. The extreme corrolary of North-South travel. In navigating the West Side, the extreme corollary to the aforementioned law arises when you try to travel to Hollywood, which is about as far from The 10 as you can get. So say you want to get from Santa Monica to Hollywood, as shown in the map. The most obvious route would seem to be taking The 10 East to La Brea or Western, and crawling up to Hollywood. One alternative would be to cruise the whole way down Santa Monica Blvd., taking advantage of its northward drift. In fact, by the distorted logic of LA travel, the quickest route is to take the 10 East to the 405 North, all the way over the Sepulveda Pass into the Valley, transfer to the 134 South, which becomes the 101 South, which takes you over the Cahuenga Pass and into every corner of Hollywood. Or you could take the bus and bring a good book with you. The exception that proves the rule. The above rules go out the window when you try to get to LAX. There is no good way to get there, and it is a free-for-all. For each part of town, you will hear more than a few ideas about how to get there. From Santa Monica, you take Lincoln to Sepulveda to the airport. From other parts of Santa Monica, you take Centinela to Washington to Centinela to Jefferson to Centinela to Sepulveda to the airport. From midtown you take La Cienega to Century to the airport. Or you take La Brea which becomes La Cienega to Century to the Airport. Jumping the Off Ramp. Often in LA you will see people get off a freeway only to get right back on. These people are not confused. They are just taking advantage of the thru lane, using a fairly empty on-off ramp to jump ahead of about six cars that are languishing on the freeway proper. In LA this sort of behavior is not strictly the domain of taxi drivers and tourist from developing countries. In fact, it is encouraged by signs saying “Thru Traffic OK”. So that’s The 10 East to The 110 North to The 5 South to The 10 East??? Yup, that‟s right!! You see, the 10 makes a long, looping, aesthetically displeasing arc around the messy sprawl of downtown LA. So if an Angeleno is headed eastbound on the 10 towards East LA, Monterey Park, or Las Vegas, and the traffic is light on the 110, and there‟s no Lakers game or Dodgers game (and no one good is playing the Clippers), that means it‟s time to take the direct route, described above. But remember this: when you reverse directions, you take the 10 West to the 101 North to the 110 South to the 10 West. Take the 5, and shortly you will be spit out in the San Fernando Valley. This trick is not for the faint of heart. Take Fountain. One of the great Hollywood quotes of all time comes to me via my brother-inlaw Freddy. Apparently when Bette Davis was asked what advice she would give young starlets on the best way to get into Hollywood, she replied “Take Fountain”. 60 years later, and this logic
still rings true. If you want to get from West Hollywood to Hollywood, Fountain is definitely preferable to Sunset or Santa Monica. But as with all pathways to success in Hollywood, the train you rode in on is not the train that will get you to the top: no sooner has Fountain taken you to Hollywood than it peters out in an endless maze of broken connections, turnoffs, and menacing electrical-fenced residential compounds that look for all the world like the suburbs of Sao Paulo. Don’t drive the Wilshire Corridor between 5 and 7pm. Wilshire Boulevard between Westwood and Santa Monica is sheer hell. And there is no way out. Beverly Drive and Beverly Blvd are not the same thing. Beverly Blvd is a major east-west street running from West Hollywood to downtown and on out to various eastern suburbs. Beverly Drive is the biggish north-south street just off Rodeo Drive. They do not intersect, but you may find yourself thinking you‟ve found your street when you haven‟t. Or maybe I‟m the only one who has this problem?
LA Transit Tips
What‟s with all these transit systems? Make sure you're on the right system Don‟t use the airport light rail. Nightmare. Santa Monica buses from airport to westside rock Is the Metrolink safe? Favorite LA MTA bus lines: 16 (3rd Street hip spots), 4/304 (Santa Monica Blvd all the way, like a Greyline tour), 720 (Wilshire Rapid). For serious anti-car foodies, the 487 dumpling express bus cannot be faded. It will carry you from Union Station to the Great Mall of China in San Gabriel (and its adjunct, the great minimall of xiao long bao) and on to Din Tai Fung in Arcadia. Continue on to Sierra Madre Villa to work off the savory porky soup goodness with a hike or a pilates class. When you are downtown, use the Dash. Take the Santa Monica Big Blue Bus and get a cut-rate transfer to LA MTA. Ride the 10 to downtown. Get the Nix Check Cashing LA Transit System bus. Ride the Gold Line to Pasadena.Beautiful. All night transit!!! LA Restaurant All-Stars: Classics Note, Some of these descriptions are lifted from external sources including Jonathan Gold or LA Times. Sorry. Burger Continental (Armenian) – Meat, meat, salads, meat, breads, meat, fish, meat. Burger Continental is like an orgy of food and entertainment. The salad bar, which features a whole lot
more fish than salad, is enough for a full meal. And then the grilled meats arrive. After the droves of Anglo Pasadena families clear out around 8pm, the bands and belly dancers start, Armenian families pack the place, and ladies in red dresses dance on the tables. Some friends seem perplexed when I ask to be taken to Burger Continental on a short trip to LA, but it‟s not just about the quantity, it‟s the whole package. 535 S. Lake Ave., Pasadena, (626) 792-6634. Golden Deli (Vietnamese) – This Vietnamese strip-mall dive overwhelms you with the size of its menu, the quality of the food, and the presence of meat even in the vegetable dishes. Golden Deli isn‟t just a nice fill-in if you don‟t feel like driving all the way to Orange County for the real thing. Every single item on the menu is fragrant, fresh, cheap, and authentic. 815 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, (626) 308-0803. La Serenata de Garibaldi (Mexican) – La Serenata is the real deal, the food of the great but short-lived Mexican empire, the rich reds and whites and greens that would be equally appropriate in Chapultepec Palace, a family wedding in Zacatecas, or a villa in Zona Rosa, the food of a country that spans the salsa bars and rice and beans of the Yucatan and the ranchero bars and tortillas of Jalisco. La Serenata is the ultimate poetic reflection of the transposition of this diverse nation to the hilly barrios just east of downtown Los Angeles, in past centuries and this one. Refined, flavorful, and welcoming, both the food and the atmosphere. La Serenata serves the best in Mexican seafood, the best seafood casseroles, the best fish, the best mojo de ajo sauce, the best citrus sauce, the best of everything. Whether you go to the original family style location in East LA, the intensely trendy Santa Monica location, or their newest, quiet spot on Pico in West LA, you cannot miss. 1842 East First St., (323) 265-2887; 1416 4th St., Santa Monica, (310) 656-1017; 10924 W. Pico Blvd., (310) 441-0597. Din Tai Fung (Taiwanese) – First US outlet of renowned international dumpling chain from Taiwan. Fast-paced and close to perfection. Shau lom bao (soup dumplings) have skins that are thin enough you could read through them, strong enough you could use them to carry your fine China. But it‟s that first explosion of hot, salty broth gliding down your throat that makes you realize why people line up out the door and place their orders before they ever sit down. The noodle soups, shumai, and black sesame buns for dessert would all be worthy of their own trip, but at Din Tai Fung they are almost an afterthough to the shau lom bao. 1108 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, (626) 574-7068. Newport Seafood (Cantonese) – High-end Cantonese seafood restaurant serves crab and lobster in ways that you never imagined. Spicy salt, for sure, but also something new and innovative every night of the week. Avoid the appetizers, which are a ruse to separate you from your money. Stick to the main event. Crab. Lobster. Not cheap. 835 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, (626) 289-5998. ChoSun Galbi (Korean) – At any point in time, there is probably LA Korean barbecue establishments that are more hip, more popular, or more tasty than Chosun (though not necessarily the same establishments), but none is such a consistent and dominating performer. Chosun is a colossus that must seat 400 people. It keeps getting bigger and bigger, shedding locations like a snake sheds skin. But the quality of its meat, particularly the galbi, remains stellar. I can taste it in my mouth just writing this capsule review. Food is in the air at Chosun, both in the grease particles and in the psychology. All conversation centers on food until more and more food engulfs the table in silence, leaving nothing but hundreds of empty plates, bowls, glasses, and bottles. The futuristic table-to-ceiling heat vents at the new location have reduced the smoke and grease, but nothing can cut the pervading sense of foodiness in the place. 3330 W. Olympic Blvd., (323) 734-3330.
Don Antonio’s (Mexican) – Hearty portions, juicy carnitas, and filthy margaritas in a dark former seafood grotto. There‟s just something about this place that makes it a cut above the more popular and adjacent Talpa restaurant. Perhaps it is the pain I feel when I think of how tender and juicy were the carnitas. Perhaps it was how the beans and rice almost seemed to climb into my mouth. Perhaps it was the aquatic theme. And then there were the margaritas. 11755 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 312-2090. Bay Cities Deli (Italian) – Where else but in a jammed parking lot alongside a Sav-On drugs could you find Santa Monica‟s only authentic Italian deli? Open since 1925, Bay Cities is perfect for a quick power lunch or a takeaway beach picnic. The Godmother sandwich (mortadella, prosciutto, salami, ham, provolone and Italian dressing on a fresh-baked roll) is otherworldly. A half-sandwich should carry you well into the night. The hot sandwiches are easy to miss, but excellent as well. The lines and the chaos are a bit overwhelming, but it‟s a pleasure to wander through the store identifying old and new favorites from among the Italian wines, soft drinks, cheeses, and pastries. Just don‟t let the ladies catch you grabbing a third piece of the same cheese sample. 1517 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 395-8279. Langer's Deli (Deli) – Considered by many to be the best remaining deli in the US. Langer’s carries on at the edge of the notorious MacArthur Park even as this formerly Jewish neighborhood transforms from a crack den to a transit-oriented Central American hub. Only the hours reflect the time, as Langer’s closes around 3pm. Langer’s rep as having the best pastrami in the West is well-deserved. Unlike specialist places like “The Hat”, they also serve a full complement of delicatessen and breakfast foods. Dine in, take out, or call ahead and have them bring it to your car, but come. Langer’s is one of the greatest examples of LA’s culinary diversity in spite of or because of years of transition. Pastrami is outta sight. The rest of the menu is fun. And the tense atmosphere smack on the corner of MacArthur Park is precious. They close at 3pm but will bring your sandwich to your car at the curb. 704 S. Alvarado St. (corner of 7th St), (213) 483-8050. Paru’s Indian Vegetarian Restaurant (South Indian) – Why shlep all the way out to Pioneer Boulevard (fucking Orange County) or New Jersey when you can enjoy authentic South Indian food, table service, warm greetings and hugs, and al fresco courtyard dining at this Hollywood hideaway. Vegetarian thali is outta sight, Kingfisher is cheap. 5140 W. Sunset Blvd., (323) 6617600. Cole’s Pacific Electric Buffet (French Dip) - Seventy-five years before anybody thought to dress a squab salad with raspberry vinegar, Los Angeles was known across the country for French-dipped sandwiches, sliced roast meat layered on a French roll that had been sopped in meat juice. Dank old Cole‟s, which is the oldest restaurant in Los Angeles and looks every week of it, has the best French dip: roasted brisket or pastrami, carved to order, dipped and served on a crusty roll. Mon.-Sat. 9 a.m.-7:30 p.m. (bar until 10 p.m.). Full bar. Street parking. AE, MC, V. Sandwiches $5.29-$7.29. American. (Jonathan Gold) ¢Sandwiches $5.29-$7.29. 118 E. Sixth St., Los Angeles, CA, (213) 622-4090 Clifton’s Brookdale Cafeteria (American) – Iconic LA kitsch dining, Clifton‟s Cafeteria, one of the few non-Mexican restaurants remaining in the historic downtown core on Broadway, serves old-style cafeteria food (haddock, fried or baked, jello, mac and cheese) with a local flavor (you can get little 8-ounce glasses of horchata along with the iced tea and prune juice, flan alongside key lime pie). The real draw at Clifton‟s is the motif – a Northern California redwood theme, with elaborate dioramas and terraced seating – and the crowd. It‟s the Boulevard of Broken Dreams meets Heidi!! http://www.cliftonscafeteria.com/ 648 S. Broadway, (213) 627-1673.
LA Restaurant All-Stars: Lesser-known Classics Sunnin (Lebanese) – Just south of UCLA, this former lunch counter serves fast, cheap, and amazing Lebanese food. Focus on the mezza (hummus, baba, falafel) but the meats are plenty great as well. Crowded at lunch time. 1776 Westwood Blvd, (310) 475-3358. Also Long Beach. Sushi Masu (Japanese) – Dine on sushi, fusion appetizers, and yummy desserts while chatting with the interesting chefs at this tiny, elegant place. Located in a little Italianate strip mall on a nondescript stretch of Westwood Blvd. best known for its Persian food, this place has plenty of character to burn, and food that‟s twice as interesting and half as expensive as the world famous Matsuhisa. 1911 Westwood Blvd., (310) 446-4368. Hidé Sushi (Japanese) – This family-run, family-friendly sushi restaurant has been the social epicenter of the old Sawtelle gardening district for 30 years. Trendier restaurants have popped in a decade of rapid-fire development (even Giant Robot Magazine now runs a restaurant on the same block), but no place in the city offers such top-end sushi at bottom-end prices. Better yet, there are no distractions. No celebrity chefs, no runny wasabi, nothing on the menu but sushi, sashimi, and a single sunomono salad. Keep you eyes on the prize though, or you might miss it. Hidé is about as unassuming as they come: so sign, just a little door with a curtain, jam-packed, no reservations, and it closes at 9pm. Alejo’s (Italian) – In a city with too many bizarre and exciting dining options to give you much time to bother with Italian food, how fitting that the only decent restaurant within 3 miles of Los Angeles International Airport is an Italian restaurant. A divey, hole-in-the-wall, family-style, getto-know-the-strangers-on-the-same-bench Italian restaurant. And an excellent one at that. Alejo‟s slings huge portion of pasta in the kind of zippy, exciting sauces that make you forget you ever uttered the words, “I‟m not eating Italian again.” Alejo‟s draw Angelenos of all ethnic and social background to dine under the bright fluorescent lights of its Marina Del Rey hangout (in a strip mall, next to a 7-11) or on the dank, musty carpets of its Westchester trattoria. More importantly, it‟s the perfect first stop on your way in from the airport. 4002 Lincoln Blvd, Marina Del Rey, (310) 822-0095, 8343 Lincoln Blvd., Westchester, (310) 670-6677. Merkato (Ethiopian) – Tasty Ethiopian food, honey wine, and great music in the shadow of velveteen depictions of Jesus. 1036 ½ Fairfax Ave., (323) 935-1775. Shinsengumi Yakitori (Japanese) – Just one bit of Gardena‟s Shinsengumi Japanese food chain, this tiny, warm, loud place just a stone‟s throw from the 405 will grill just about anything, and makes a mean cheesy egg roll. 18517 S. Western Ave., Gardena, (310) 715-1588. OK Café – One of the best of the San Gabriel Valley‟s many late night Hong Kong Cafés. Serving Chinese and English country club favorites until 4am. 301 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 282-8899. LA Restaurant All-Stars: New classics Quan Hy (Vietnamese, Huenese) - A swank spot tucked away in one of Little Saigon's many many great strip malls, Quan Hy specializes in Bun Bo Hue, the dainty little open-faced shrimp dumplings native to Vietnam's ancient imperial capital of Hue. Great people-watching, desserts, sweet beverages, and salads. Worth the drive, especially if coupled with a trip to Disneyland, Laguna Beach, Knotts Berry Farm, or something else OCish. 9727 Bolsa Ave, Westminster, (714) 775-7179.
Mutiara Food and Market - Mutiara concentrates mostly on the halal highlights of Islamic Burmese cuisine, a hearty cast of curries and kebabs more closely resembling those of India and Pakistan than Myanmar. Samusas are a staple starter, bulging triangles of either potato- or chicken-stuffed pastry fried so perfectly it's a wonder they're not hawked at all county fairs. The crepe-like Malaysian murtabak is perhaps a greater surprise, a tidy package of skillet-grilled flatbread filled with ground chicken and onions. Entrees initially seem to skew toward the (relatively) familiar. Boti kebabs, excellent yogurt-marinated blocks of beef, lamb or chicken accompanied by rice and nan, recall dozens of Mughlai meals. Similarly, the dal gosht curry, an appropriately viscous stew of lamb and lentils, could've been cribbed from a Hyderabadi kitchen. Though both resemble dishes from other cuisines, they're not imitations. They're unique, cross-cultural interpretations good enough to stand on their own. The same goes for Mutiara's biryani. Chicken is the standard, but the weekend-only lamb biryani is the one to covet, the meat so tender and finely spiced that it tastes as though it took a whole pantry to produce. Rice mitigates whatever heat the biryani is hiding, but the accompanying raita-like side of cucumbers and chiles packs an unmistakable punch. Mutiara also has a small seafood selection. Whole, fried tilapia dominates, its skin transformed into a crisp casing that seals in every ounce of moisture. There's also sambal petai, sautéed shrimp in a thick chile sauce with petai beans, known elsewhere as sataw beans, and that possess a certain funk. Plates of water spinach tossed in sambal or with dried shrimp and garlic can serve as shared sides, but consider instead the daging lembu soup, a Malaysian stew of beef, black pepper, cilantro and green onion that's simmered for hours. The weekend brings Mutiara's most distinct Burmese dishes. Moh hin gha, which is as central to Burmese cuisine as laksa is to the Malay Peninsula, is ladled into immense bowls befitting of such a popular soup. The powerful fish chowder is loaded with rice noodles, fried split peas, slivers of banana-tree trunk and a hard-boiled egg. Ohn no khauk swe, a coconut-broth noodle soup that contains the same fried split peas and hard-boiled egg, is similarly good, as is khauk swe thoke, a noodle salad doused in fish sauce and chiles. 225 S. La Brea Ave., Inglewood, CA, (310) 419-7221 Cafe Spot - This place is like Hong Kong Cafe 2.0. It's not 24 hours, but it's open plenty late. It looks a bit more like a downtown brunch place and less like an aging Applebee's. The crowd tends more towards a mix of high schoolers, late niters, and even families out for the waffles for breakfast. No secret smoker's rooms and little chance of a John Woo gunfight breaking out at any moment. The entrees include much of the usual mix of Cantonese and colonial favorites including skillet dishes like lobster newburg, but also some more 21st century options like salads. But there's really only one reason and one reason alone to frequent Cafe Spot. Steamed milk puffed pastry. Steamed, curdled super sweet condensed milk heated in an individual deep dish pie pot and covered with a hot filo pastry that you mix into the milk. Pure heaven. 500 W. Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, (626) 308-3233. Wat Dong Moon Lek - Scrawled across a huge, zanily illustrated chalkboard in vibrant pastel tones, Wat Dong Moon Lek's bilingual menu is a crowded pastiche of witty drawings, slogans and photographs. It has the feel of an interactive website, and like the décor at this 4-month-old spot, the food takes a hip, updated cue from an archetypal Bangkok noodle house.Stylized, yes, but it's not a touristy dumbing down of the genre. The clean bright flavors and subtle refinements preserve a Thai noodle shop's soul, yet the cooking reflects the urban Thai culinary trends inspired by owner Billy Jalanugraha's visits to his native Bangkok.But the Thai customers flooding into this light-filled café in Silver Lake first come to try its namesake dish, Wat Dong Moon Lek noodle. Also get the rambutan salad with shrimp and other noodle dishes. 4356 Fountain Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90026, (323) 666-5993
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