Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Do you see how many pictures there are? A ton. That's because I would go to this place even if the food was disgusting. But, thankfully, it is not. It's pretty great. And CHEAP. Just remember, cash only.

Update: the important information I previously withheld:

Rae's Diner
2901 Pico Blvd.
Santa Monica, Ca 90405

Monday, July 28, 2008

La Serenata Gourmet

Let me preface this post by saying that this was previously my favorite restaurant. I loved it and had been there tens of times, including on several birthdays, before this most recent visit. This fact is what makes it so hard to accept the horrible service and mediocre food I received.However, the chips are pretty good. Make sure to get some of the tomatillo salsa (it's free; just ask for it) and mix it with the regular salsa for a fantastic and delicious flavor combination. Even though I had to ask four times to get it on this last visit, it is worth the hassle!I always order the same thing - crispy chicken tacos. They usually (I hate that I have to include 'usually' in all my claims about this restaurant ) have a superb mixture of textures. The crunchy outer shell perfectly envelopes the soft chicken, fresh lettuce, and slightly spicy pico de gallo. On this visit, there was also some cheese. This is unusual and didn't add anything to the taste. The accompanying rice is also usually quite delicious, although they rotate through different kinds. On this trip, the rice had some vegetables in it, such as corn. A couples others I regularly encountered were mint rice and one that seemed garlic-infused. My friend ordered the sopes and enjoyed them.
The decor is quite regal, as well. Try to bypass the first room and sit in the main space for views of the street and beautiful chandeliers such as the one pictured above.

La Serenata Gourment
10924 W Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
310| 441-9667

Friday, July 25, 2008


All right, so it's high time that I write up this baby. I was invited by our esteemed web hostess to write a review of local Pico favorite Lares. We were at a party. There was an awkward exchange. She divulged her secret hobby of chronicling the culinary delights of Pico Blvd. Oh, that's fun, I remarked, Lares and all that. No, she said, what's Lares? I found myself inches from her face. WHAT? You haven't covered LARES?!?! She had found herself a contributor.

Google Lares and you will find a wealth of commentators from Yelp, Chowhound, City Search, and all the other review sites I hate to love get down with the perennial argument in Los Angeles: what's the best Mex in town and who the eff does Lares think it is in the pantheon? Many claim that the old Santa Monica establishment hasn't been the same since "the fire." I google "Lares restaurant fire" and discover that on May 17, 2005, a kitchen fire forced Lares to close its doors. Post-fire, a Chowhounder with the apropos username "critical" reports that a recent trip to Lares yielded only limp quesadillas, watery cheese, rubbery shrimp, dry pork. Matthew R claims that the ceviche and margaritas ain't what they used to be. Even the most ardent fans of Lares concede that the service is sub-par. Defenders of the Westside point to Monte Alban, Juquila, and Don Antonio's as the last bastions of Mexican greatness beachside of Western.

Of course, note the date-stamp on these comments and you'll see that they hark from 2006. A lot can happen to a restaurant in two years.

Stepping into Lares, I feel like a world weary traveler in the 19th century happening upon an old hacienda on the high Mexican plains. Whitewashed walls supported by sturdy wood beams echo beer halls of a past age - for me, located in one of Juan Rulfo's ghost towns. Framed portraits of Emiliano Zapata and Frida Khalo evoke a recognizable enough history, matched by the opposing Lares family crest that adorn the restaurant entrance and interior. I later recall half melted candelabras, but I'm pretty sure that's a false memory. The scent in the oil however is very real: steaming meats and moles suffused with the crisp snap of frying dough. For all the negative web presence regarding Lares, the haters got nothing on the restaurant's atmosphere.

It is a surprisingly roomy Friday night on the first floor. While chips and a surprisingly bold salsa are set before us, I sense that speaking with the waiter in either Spanish or English would be comfortable. The choice is important to me. I don't like to be lingually handcuffed when I enter a Mexican joint. All the non-hispanic hispanohablantes out there understand. The waiter takes our order and within minutes - minutes! - our food arrives. Now, some may take this as an offense. The same thoughts pass through my mind: This shouldn't be fast food. I imagine real abuelas in rural Oaxaca who must take hours - if not days! - to slow cook a pig with fire, wood, sweat, and tears until it is melting off the bone for la familia. Nope, it's clear that things are ready to go in the Lares' kitchen. Especially when you're ordering the typical fare of enchiladas and tacos.

But enchiladas and tacos of great quality. Like the real start of any good Mexican meal, the chips and salsa are abandoned and I dig into a moist, non-rubbery, non-flabby enchilada that loves to love me. The carnitas are far from dry, rehydrated hunks: they are little pieces of Mexican heaven dancing all over my palette. In the past I enjoyed a few of the restaurant's regional mole slathered specialities, but it is clear that Lares can get down and dirty with an all-American gringo crispy as well. This economical taco-burrito-enchilada special is framed, like all loving combos, by a rich-but-not-too-rich side of beans and rice that I imagine was just spooned from a pot overflowing with heavy caldron steam. I surprise myself at the end of the meal by returning to the lure of the meal's origins: Lares' salsa is the most astonishing equilibrium of savory and spice that I've encountered in a long time.

While future trips will have to be taken to determine the current state of the restaurant's shrimp and margaritas, I can declare with confidence that Lares' basic fare can stand against any of the standards of the Westside with extra style to spare. The menu is varied enough to deter diner's boredom and breakfast is even offered, stretching the hours of Lares from 8AM to 1AM - 17 hours of potential Lares! The mid-range prices are typical of any Mexican sit down and some combos are down right deals. Not deals like Del Taco's $2.99 Two Bean and Cheese Burritos, One Taco, and a Drink Del's Deal deal, but still a deal.

I look forward to squeezing in a few more Pico Blvd Food posts before I move this fall. Maybe they have a Pico Blvd tucked away somewhere in the streets of Shanghai?

Lares Restaurant
2909 Pico Boulevard
Santa Monica, California
310) 829-4559

Friday, July 11, 2008

Chan Dara

There's about to be a new contributer to this here blog, so I better write one more post before he gets a chance to show me up with his actual writing skills. And, for a change, this won't be about a Mexican restaurant.

I haven't been able to surmise (actually, I just haven't spent that much time looking) if the Chan Dara on Pico Blvd. is related to any of the other Chan Dara(e)s around the city, such as the House of Chan Dara on Larchmont or the Chan Darae on Cahuenga (I can tell you that it is better than the one on Cahuenga, though; that one was quite disappointing). This post is already so full of words Blogger isn't accepting as real--a sign of a good post, I'd say.
First, the decor of this place is a little overwhelming. There are more than enough colors and textures and shapes and sizes, et cetera. My dining companion hated these hanging orbs, but they were the only thing I thought to be at least slightly innovative. They do have a pleasant assortment of vegetation on the left side, if you are facing away from the street, although you can only see it through glass. Perhaps someone familiar with Thai culture could tell me if that neon squiggle means anything or if it is just a particular Thai affinity towards them--I have seen several other Thai restaurants with similar, if not exactly the same, squiggles.
I ordered the Ginger and Black Mushrooms Stir Fry with Scallops, but you can order it with chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or tofu, as well. Surprisingly, a good number of scallops come with the dish and they were perfectly cooked. Additionally, the vegetables were crisp for a great textural contrast to the plump scallops. The dish comes with one egg roll and either white or brown rice. I got the brown rice, once again for the texture contrast. The sauce that comes with it is sweet and is most likely for the egg roll but also works well with the gingery scallops. As all Thai food seems to be in LA, the prices are a little expensive--this was $12.50.
The menu just says Black Mushroom, so I don't know if that's what it is called or if that is just what it is, 'cause it's true--that mushroom is pretty black. It is also terrifyingly weird looking. And, yet, it is delicious--once you get over the decidedly awkward texture.
They call the Vegetarian Pad Thai "Poor Man Noodles." This dish was fabulously colorful, as you can see by the above picture, and also a great combination of textures. There could have been more of the noodles and less of the carrots, however.

None food details: the waitresses (and they are all waitresses) seem to be required to wear really tall heels and awkwardly almost revealing clothing. The food comes pretty quickly, but they are slow to refill your water!

Chan Dara
11940 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
310 | 479 4461

Saturday, July 5, 2008

La Talpa

This post was started June 24th; I am an appalling blogger. La Talpa has a pretty great sign and a nice motif of the sleepy-man-in-sombrero-against-(undoubtedly) painful-cactus which appears not only in the signage but also in the swell stained glass. There is also nothing like a neon arrow to announce greatness. I have no idea what Talpa means; do you?
There is very little lighting both outside and inside, and I hate using flash, so these pictures are going to be dark. The neighborhood is also kinda whatever. We went in the evening of my friend's 21st birthday, which turned out to be a silly decision since they don't have a liquor license. But she had a classy Corona with some lime and all was good. Plus, the service was excellent and the waitress ( a very grandmotherly woman) was very nice. They tell you it is good food and they don't lie.
But it's not great food. It's pretty solid basic food at reasonable prices. The quesadilla was tasty.
This mural that you can't really see is a nice landscape, but not nearly as pretty as the murals previously shown at Tacos La Flama or the murals at El Serape, which will be reviewed as soon as I am able to take some pictures.

Overall, this is more of a neighborhood stop than a destination restaurant, but it's not bad. And it's certainly less crowded and cacophonous than the nearby Don Antonio's which has mean waiters.

La Talpa Restaurant
11751 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90064
310| 479 9884

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tandoor India

I just finished my last final of junior year in 35 minutes when it was scheduled for three hours! Which means I can now blog about restaurants!

Tandoor India is another in a long list of mediocre Indian restaurants--nothing spectacular but hardly unsatisfying. The food is fairly bland but okay. The prices are satisfactory.
The outside completely belies the inside.You expect some pretty good hole-in-the-wall authenticity, and I kinda love the neon window painting, but inside the decor is like the inside of your grandmother's very pastoral home with a few token Indian motifs thrown in. Plus, it is way too dark.They automatically serve you this chip-like bread before your meal. I don't like them at all. They are so crispy that they quickly disintigrate into crumbs and don't have much taste. They are a bit spicy but don't have any real flavor.See how those two bowls of chicken curries look exactly the same? Well, they are according to the menu two different dishes. They do taste the same though, except the Chicken Makhni, which is the one in the upper right corner, tastes a little buttery. At the risk of being too repetitive, the sauces don't have enough flavor and the naan is too greasy. I do have to hand it to them, though. Those little bowls manage to disguise a very good amount of chicken.

Tandoor India 2622 Pico Blvd Santa Monica, CA 90405 (310) 581-9964

Friday, June 6, 2008

Robert Palmer

I apologize for not posting in so long. Very, very soon will appear a review of Tandoor India in Santa Monica. Until then, enjoy this amazing post on Eater LA. Pay close attention to the last sentence of the first paragraph.

Then, watch this video. Sadly, I forgot how to embed them.