This post was originally published on The Unemployed Eater.
Without a doubt, I believe when Joe Esposito belted out the Karate Kid soundtrack: "You're the best! Around! Nothing's ever going to keep you down!" he had 2013's "Top 13 L.A. Foodstuffs Under $13" in mind. How is that possible for a 29-year old song? I'm not sure. But don't let that detract you from Unemployed Eater's fourth annual enumerating of the Southland's finest frugal food finds. This year the list culls far and wide from our fair city and county. Encino! Atwater Village! Sierra Madre! Miracle Mile! It also spans the gamut when it comes to cuisine. Breakfast! Lunch! Dinner! Snacks! Cookies! Appies!
A reminder of the rules:
1. 2013 must have been the first year I consumed the foodstuff.
2. The restaurant must be in L.A. County.
3. The item must cost $13 or less before tax.
So, why don't we just get to it already? 2013's Top 13...
13. Spicy Sausage Pizza at Wildcraft.
At first glance, Wildcraft's Spicy Sausage Pizza may not sound too much out of the ordinary. However, when you scientifically (or regularly) break down the elements, you realize what makes this pie transcend the competition. Just enough sauce, housemade spicy fennel sausage, above average cow's milk mozz, garlic "chips," provolone and calabrian chiles with a quick finish of sea salt, E.V.O.O. and parmesan. All this atop Wildcraft's unusual, yet exceptional sourdough dough -- a dough born of a 100-year old starter from Napa Valley that Chef Tin Vuong and crew nurtured and tinkered for close to a year to perfect. Now stop glancing at the pizza. Eat it already.
12. Greek Yogurt (Plus Toppings) at Go Greek Yogurt.
Beverly Hills' Go Greek Yogurt is not another froyo spot. Go Greek serves authentic Greek yogurt (mostly of the non-frozen variety, but they do offer a few frozen options for those in dire need) from Greece, the European country where this whole Greek yogurt hullabaloo commenced. Go Greek also distances itself from fellow yogurt peddlers by offering the most impressive toppings bar anywhere. My recommendation: reduced fat yogurt, local figs and blackberries, some sage honey and raw peanut butter chews.
11. Everything at Phorage.
Phorage certainly possesses the biggest cajones of any restaurant on this year's list. They opened a modern, approachable Asian spot -- in the former confines of a popular modern, approachable Asian spot. The beloved Chego, no less. Despite the pressures that come with the hallowed digs, Phorage has very much risen to the occasion. Chef/Owner Perry Cheung, along with his fellow owners, Jesse Duron and Eric Cho, felt the Westside lacked quality, affordable Vietnamese. So that's exactly what Phorage does: pho, broken rice plates, bahn mi and more, with locally sourced, sustainable, superior ingredients. Take note: Starting this week, every Wednesday, they will be doing $25-a-head, Farmers' Market dinners.
10. White Chocolate Raspberry Cookie at Milk Jar.
The 2013 en-vogue selection here would have most certainly been donuts. Fancy-schmancy donuts. And while I enjoyed my fair share of fried hole in the middles this year, the dessert I enjoyed most wasn't really fancy-schmancy at all. Rather, a simple White Chocolate Raspberry cookie from new Miracle Mile entrant, Milk Jar. Milk Jar does a tremendous job of assembling cookies that taste at once cake-y, doughy, gooey and a little sugar cookie-y. Next time you're in, grab a White Chocolate Raspberry and a Chocolate Chip, and don't share with anyone.
9. Turkey, Egg and Cheese Sandwich at EggSlut.
EggSlut expertly does eggs many ways, and you may be tempted to try something out of the ordinary. For example, their namesake, a coddled egg over potato puree. Don't, though. Order the Turkey, Egg and Cheese -- a taste bud explosion of an over-medium egg, cheddar cheese, house-made turkey sausage and a honey mustard aioli. Bonus: Since going brick and mortar at downtown's Grand Central Market, they now make their own brioche buns (and offer validated parking). I promise you this: It will be by far the most satisfying experience you've ever had hooking up with a slut.
8. Classic Butterscotch Ice Cream at Mother Moo Creamery.
Mother Moo may be all the way out in Sierra Madre, but that doesn't mean it's not worth the drive. In the upper L.A. echelon, with the likes of Sweet Rose -- both in creaminess and flavor profiles -- Mother Moo makes some incredible 'scream. Whether it's their classic mainstays, like Salted Chocolate (consists of three types of chocolate) and Butterscotch (which is made with a dose of awesomeness), or current seasonal flare, like Candied Triple Citrus (three types of local Ojai organic citrus fruits) and Bitter Orange Chocolate (using the somewhat rare Chinotto orange), they really have ice cream for every palette. Let's make a deal though: You go to Mother Moo, you bring some back to the Westside for Mother Unemployed Eater.
7. Grilled Artichokes at The Church Key.
Modern American Dim Sum spot, The Church Key, was one of my favorite new restaurants of 2013 (read full early review here). Despite the fact my heinous picture above does it no justice whatsoever, the dish that really stood out was the Grilled Artichokes. Trust me, these aren't your mama's Grilled Artichokes. Not that most mamas make Grilled Artichokes on the regular -- but you know what I mean. Chef Steven Fretz's preparation is unparalleled. After sous viding the 'chokes in a white wine broth for six hours, the hearts are halved and expertly charred. The smoky artichokes are then topped with a brown butter Hollandaise, brioche croutons, a little crispy rosemary ham and a couple sweet peppadews. Promise, these hearts will win your heart.
6. Fish Taco at Tacos Punta Cabras.
Santa Monicans have long languished over their fish taco situation. How can a city on the Pacific Ocean not possess a superior fish taco slinger? Luckily, as I mentioned in my initial review back in February, Tacos Punta Cabra is here to save the day. Chefs Josh Gil and Daniel Snukal just get mariscos. Using local ingredients in tacos that walk the fine line between classic and modern, not to mention constantly pumping out fresh tortillas throughout the day, there's just a vibrancy and satisfaction in every TPC bite. They also rotate their fish based on seasonality and sustainability. This week it's wild mahi mahi, last week was cod and before that was pink snapper. Average fish taco shack, Tacos Punta Cabras is not.
Photo Courtesy of Canele
5. French Toast at Canele.
You know how when you're young and you mention you love something and your friends annoyingly nag: "Then why don't you marry it?" Every time I was asked that question regarding French Toast, I smiled and happily replied: "I would LOVE to marry French Toast." Twenty years later? Well, things haven't changed much. And the city's finest example of the breakfast staple can be found at Atwater Village's Canele. Surprisingly, this isn't the restaurant's original iteration of the dish. Not long ago, they were forced to switch from their original base, a French batard, when their baker stopped making them. After testing dozens of breads, they found a worthy replacement in a special, airy ciabatta. In fact the ciabatta is so porous it doesn't have to soak over night like the batard had. Just an hour on each side. The result? Fluffy, eggy mountains of splendiferousness.
These are two very different burgers. Stout's namesake burger is a flavor bomb concoction of a finely charred/crusted beef patty, blue cheese, gruyere, rosemary bacon, carmelized onion, roasted tomatoes and horseradish cream. It's a man's burger. Seed's Southwester Burger is no slouch either. It may be vegetarian and vegan and macrobiotic, but there's certainly an underlying masculinity. Topped with a housemade ancho chili sauce and citrusy guac, it possesses the tastiest veggie patty in these here parts. While Chef Eric Lechasseur remains tight-lipped on all the patty's ingredients, he does divulge there's some whole grain rice, pinto beans, sundried tomato, hints of rosemary and something he calls "smoke," amongst other veggies. I can assure you this: You won't feel silly pounding your chest and roaring aloud after finishing either burger.
3. Bar B Cue Sandwich at Top Round.
It's no secret I adore Top Round. The roast beef sandwichery really filled a hole in the La Brea-Olympic culinary wasteland. Quick, casual, high quality, affordable sandwiches for hungry Mid-City Los Angelenos. They also do solid curly fries and concretes. Their magnum opus though: the Bar-B-Cue, a pleasing combo of chopped roast beef (slow-roasted for ten hours in house), barbeque sauce, provel cheese (a St. Louis area Swiss-cheddar-smoked provolone hybrid) and fried onion and jalapeno straws. Chef Fretz says it reminds him of Sloppy Joe's growing up. I think it reminds me of chubby puppies running through an open field.
These are three very different turkey sandwiches, but they have two things in common: first, they all start with housemade, juicy turkey and second, they elevate prim classics to another stratosphere. Craving a sandwich? Whether you're in Encino (The Carving Board), Studio City (Laurel Tavern) or Melrose (Marcona), you no longer need to think about where to go and what to order. You're very welcome.
1. Everything at Sqirl.
It's pretty crazy that Sqirl, now one of the city's most popular Eastside weekend destinations, not long ago was a mere toast and jam pop-up. But locals really, really adored Jessica Koslow's toast and jam, and soon a brick and mortar came calling. Then not too long after opening in a quaint Silverlake spot, Sqirl expanded again by taking over the adjacent space. And if you've been there on a Saturday or Sunday morning any time recently, you could probably argue it's still not big enough. I disagree though. The bantam quarters only add to the charm and character of the joint. As does the unique menu, consisting of their signature jams (Rose-Grenium is their most popular) and housemade ricotta atop brioche (see the picture way up at the top of this post), Sorrel Pesto Rice Bowls with preserved lemon, lacto-fermented hot sauce, black radish, French sheep feta and a poached egg, amongst other house specialities. There's something about Sqirl that is concurrently so L.A., and so not L.A. at all. There's just simply nothing like it.
For more food stuff, check The Unemployed Eater.