The Unvegan

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LA Mag’s Best New Restaurants 2017
The Best of 2016
Meatsgiving!
Ron Swanson: Unvegan Hero

A Hunger for Crave Burger

So many things happening here.
So many things happening here.

Highlands Ranch is a crazy distant suburb of Denver, which typically means chain restaurants galore. And that’s pretty much what I found, but I also found a place called Crave Burger that was anything but “chainy.” It felt like the kind of burger place I would open if I were ballsy enough to open a restaurant. The menu was loaded with all sorts of crazy and inventive burgers including toppings like peanut butter, jalapeno poppers and fried white cheddar and eventually I found mine.

Going Bleu at The Red Lion

Blue, like cheese.
Bleu, like cheese.

Vail, Colorado may be a beautiful place, but it is certainly not a place to go if you’re on a budget. Lift tickets are crazy expensive and the food isn’t much cheaper. But there are a couple more reasonable places in town and The Red Lion is one of them. As you might expect, The Red Lion is a British Pub and has your classic pub fare. When it came to my meal, I only really had eyes for the burgers.

A Touch of Canada at The Kroft

Canada goes down south.
Canada goes down south.

There can be no doubt that I am a man who loves his poutine. In a lot of senses I am a purist, but when a place gets the right kind of creative I can get behind it. The Kroft in Tustin, Orange County started lighting up my social media feed months ago with some beautiful food pics. It took a while to find an excuse to get down there, but when I did I couldn’t help but make a stop.

LA Mag’s Best New Restaurants 2017

Burnin' for you!
Burnin’ for you!

The latest issue of Los Angeles Magazine boasts an impressive list of the 10 Best New Restaurants in LA. But the magazine went one step further and set up a celebration at the Architecture and Design Museum downtown to feature a number of them, as well as a few other restaurants. Thus, I made my way there to see what passes for “best” and “new” these days. Here are the highlights:

What’ll Ya Have at The Varsity?

Can you guess which side is mine?
Can you guess which side is mine?

Every city has its share of iconic places to eat. In Atlanta, one of those places goes by the name of The Varsity and has been around since 1928. They still do the paper hat thing and the people taking orders are famous for asking “What’ll Ya Have?” As far as the food goes, it’s basically what you would expect from 1928: hot dogs, burgers, fries and onion rings.

But these weren’t just any burgers and dogs, they come in the chili-cheese variety and the slaw variety. I went with a chili-cheese dog, chili-cheese burger and onion rings. I made sure that the burger and dog wouldn’t include any veggies and then added a Frosted orange because it just felt like the right thing to do.

This is what I'll have.
This is what I’ll have.

The result was a greasy, amazing throwback meal. The hot dog was classic and snappy, while the cheese was just a straight up American slice and the chili was super beefy with no wasteful beans (and really very little texture to speak of). To some that may not sound like a good thing, but it’s reminiscent of the coney dog spots around Detroit that I grew up going to. It couldn’t compete with the coney dogs, but I may be a bit biased.

Those onion rings, by the way, were pretty glorious. They were fried to the oblivion that renders them barely onion-y and that batter was delicious. The only trouble was that I couldn’t find anything to dip them in. Ketchup didn’t really do them justice, but I couldn’t find the ranch that probably would have sealed the deal. Regardless, they were a force to be reckoned with.

The Varsity is not one of those places that will blow you away with unique and surprising flavors, and if you’re not from Atlanta, it might be lacking in the bonus seasoning that nostalgia brings. Nonetheless, I ate it all up and enjoyed every moment.

A Whole Lotta Ribs on ‘Cue

One half rib cage, please.
One half rib cage, please.

When you travel for business, you don’t really stop to think about just how much food you’re taking in. Thus, I felt it necessary to follow up my first BBQ dinner in Alpharetta, Georgia with another one. This time I went to ‘Cue and split ribs and brisket in an attempt to get enough meat to compare to the night prior at Smokejack.

Meat Stacks at Smokejack BBQ

Sidejack.
Sidejack.

Alpharetta, Georgia isn’t exactly a food blogger’s destination of choice. Yet, when the day job sends you off to such an exotic place, you make do. And that’s what I did when I made my way to Smokejack, a BBQ that I hoped would represent The South well. Smokejack is located in what can best be described as Alpharetta’s Main Street (because it is), and while all the other restaurants nearby looked good, Smokejack just drew me in.

The Best of 2016

unvegan squeeze inn 1We can probably agree that 2016 was a really bad year. Not like 1939, 1968 or 2001 bad. But certainly bad. Through it all, though, the food has been good. It’s good every year, but it’s something you can count on no matter what the year is. Sure, not every year is going to be filled with steaks, but some of America’s best culinary traditions were borne of the Great Depression. The point is: no matter how bad things get, good food can always be found. And since I lived in one place for the entirety of 2016, this year’s Best of solely features the food of the Los Angeles Area. I did travel a fair amount (including finally getting to The Squeeze Inn in Sacramento), though, so if you’re looking for that kind of food you can check it out here. Alas, here are the best places I ate food at in LA in 2016. And if you just want to see them all on a map, make your way down to the bottom.

Best Burger

unvegan burgers bourbon beer malibu cafe 2

The Malibu Cafe (Malibu/Santa Monica)

Question: What do you do when the best burger you have eaten all year is made by a restaurant at a food event, but that restaurant doesn’t actually have the burger on the menu? Answer: Make all your readers jealous. Unfortunately, I have not sighted the Cafe Couture Burger outside of the Burgers, Bourbon + Beer event, but I can always dream.

Honorable Nod goes to the Patio in Eagle Rock for potentially the prettiest bacon double cheeseburger ever (which also tasted really damn good).

Best BBQ

unvegan bludso's 2

Bludso’s (Hollywood)

I went to Atlanta and back this year and still nothing compares to Bludso’s brisket, which melts in your mouth and requires no sauce whatsoever.

Honorable Nod goes to Max City BBQ in Eagle Rock, where they have better ribs, but cannot compare to the transcendence of Bludso’s brisket.

Best Steak

unvegan altaeats 4

ALTAeats (Pasadena)

The tomahawk is not always available, but it is always a good idea. Just as long as you grab it by the bone to make sure you bite off every last morsel.

Best Hot Dog

unvegan the slaw dogs

The Slaw Dogs (Pasadena)

Perhaps it is more of a burrito that happens to have a hot dog in it, but the TNT Super Dog is like an Oki Dog, but cleaner, prettier and just really better-feeling.

Best Sandwich

unvegan 626 night market naughty churro

The Naughty Churro (Arcadia/Elsewhere)

Churros as bread. Fried Chicken. Little else needs to be said about this sandwich that pops up around LA at special food events. I found mine at 626 Night Market and couldn’t recommend it more.

Honorable Nod goes to Harlowe’s in Pasadena for cooking up the best French Dip sandwich this side of centuries-old restaurants.

Best Pizza

unvegan luggage room 2

The Luggage Room (Pasadena)

Pasadena/Altadena might be home to three of the top five pizzas in Los Angeles. The Luggage Room, with its unbeatable crust, is still the tops, even though the bastards won’t let you call in a carry out order.

Honorable Nods go to Pizza of Venice in Altadena and Pie Life in Pasadena because in any other neighborhood they would probably be the kings.

Best Brunch

unvegan fishing with dynamite 2

Fishing with Dynamite (Manhattan Beach)

You don’t really think seafood for brunch. Fortunately these chilaquiles are free of fish and they are damn good. But the Key Lime Pie dessert might have sealed the deal on this brunch victory.

Honorable Nod goes to Eagle Rock Brewery Public House in Eagle Rock, because Eagle Rock is apparently just doomed to be the bridesmaid of 2016.

Best ‘merican

unvegan braise and crumble 2

Braise and Crumble (Pasadena)

They have a sandwich called Oink and Moo. They have delicious fried chicken. They have deep fried mac and cheese. They have box lights. They serve food on red and white checkerboard paper. The is ‘merica at its best.

Honorable Nod goes to Grill ‘Em All in Alhambra for putting fried chicken on a burger inside waffles.

Best Mexican

unvegan lucky boy 2

Lucky Boy (Pasadena)

My first visit to Lucky Boy may not have been a prime example of just how good their breakfast burrito is (like, really really good). Just make sure to go to the Arroyo Parkway location.

Honorable Nod goes to Tacos tu Madre in West LA for getting all kinds of creative with burritos and tacos.

Best European

unvegan bestia 3

Bestia (Downtown LA)

Best is just part of the name and this Italian restaurant is now a staple in downtown LA because they don’t know how to make subpar food.

Honorable Nod goes to Good Greek Grill in Hollywood because they know their meats about as well as anyone.

Best Asian

unvegan szechuan impression 3

Szechuan Impression (Alhambra)

I know this category is ridiculous. How do you compare the best ramen with the best Szechuan food? I guess it comes down to the fact that Szechuan Impression gives a creative twist to its dishes, while the other contenders are simply traditional, albeit the nearest-to-perfect versions of traditional.

Honorable Nods go to Ramen Tatsunoya in Pasadena for having the best ramen I have ever had and Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village for pretty much doing the same with Shanghainese food.

Best Middle Eastern

unvegan raffi's place 3

Raffi’s Place (Glendale)

The koobideh here is nothing short of spectacular. And while the same could be said of the hummus at Corfu, this is Unvegan.com and ground beef will always beat ground chickpeas.

Honorable Nod goes to Corfu in Sierra Madre for, you know, dat hummus.

And now a map.