What is Montrose? For the first 6+ years I lived in LA I probably would have answered that it is some sort of mythical creature composed of combining a mongoose with an albatross. The fact is that it is neither. Instead, it is a town up near Pasadena, built into the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. And in that town is a restaurant called Zeke’s Smokehouse.
Right next to perhaps my favorite restaurant in Pasadena (The Luggage Room) and owned by the same people is a spot called La Grande Orange. The menu is very American, French and Mexican, being filled with sandwiches, tacos and, most importantly, a Prime Rib French dip (you know, the most French food of all).
In a city filled with all kinds of fun events, one event (aside from a plethora of farmer’s markets) can be counted on every week. It’s Smorgasburg, which originally started over in Brooklyn, and it’s kind of like a miniaturized, hipster version of 626 Night Market. On my first venture, I made my way to Ugly Drum Pastrami.
The Eatery in Pasadena is undoubtedly one of the city’s hidden gems. It’s off the beaten path and in a building that seems much more likely to house a Mexican grocery store than a fancy restaurant (in fact it does share the building with such a store). But once inside the candles, dim lighting and intimate ambiance scream non-pretentious fanciness. Of course, none of this would matter to me if the food didn’t satisfy my unvegan desires.
Koreatown is so damn big that the only way you can possibly figure out which restaurants are good is by word of mouth. Thus, my buddy suggested Myung In Dumplings, which is essentially a Korean-ized Chinese dumpling spot right in the heart of Koreatown. I think he found it by watching some TV show, which generally means delicious food and I was hoping the TV would lead me right again.
A lot of the time, a burrito is just a burrito. Fillings vary in quality and variety, but they are generally the same basic thing. Not so much at Burritos La Palma in El Monte. These burritos came straight from Jerez, Mexico and if you didn’t know any better you might think of them as enchiladas. Burritos La Palma specializes in birria and so that’s what I got.
We 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.
Torta is Mexican for sandwich and there is a sweet semi-new spot in Pasadena that deals pretty much exclusively in that hand food from south of the border. It’s called Tortugas, and is either a reference to turtles, an island in Haiti or a national park (the dry one). Regardless, the place has a great variety of Mexican sandwiches and one in particular screamed out to my unvegan belly.
The French Dip is one of food items that is not actually French. You know, like French Fries. In fact, it is originally from LA, with a couple spots claiming to have the original. While French Dips are nothing new to Pasadena, it is definitely new to have a place totally dedicated to those moist sandwiches. That place goes by the name of Harlowe’s.
The Malibu Cafe might be one of the coolest places to hang out in LA. The sprawling grounds are like an Anthropologie fan’s orgasm, with box lights, upside down umbrellas, giant chess pieces and pillows with words on them. Plus, it’s super family friendly. After winning me over at the Burger Battle in Santa Monica earlier this year, I was eager to find out what the restaurant itself would be like.