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.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Tacos La Flama

Okay, I apologize about the effort I have withheld from this blog. I bring you today Tacos La Flama, the establishment which neighbors the previously discussed Chutney's. The two main things I learned from this restaurant are:
  1. Some people say 'cilandro' instead of Cilantro or Coriander.
  2. Less than satisfying restaurants may have beautiful murals inside.
Thus, the review of the actual food will be short. It was okay, nothing special. I had a burrito and it was sufficient but not delicious. I guess you could say it's pretty good for 'westside Mexican food,' but I think it's really lame to lower standards based on location. This is the kind of restaurant where you order and pick up your food from the counter and then you can eat at a table or not; no service, though. So, all the personality had to come from the woman of the counter, and she was less than happy, that's for sure. Moreover, their neon sign was incredibly uncreative. On the other hand, they do have some market that sells particularly disturbing-to-me cuts of meat. If you are 1) Mexican and/or 2) carnivorous, I may have just unwittingly found you a really great spot for your butchering needs. The mural, however, was stunning. So vibrant!
Do be warned that the parking at this mini mall is a mess!

2404 S Barrington Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chutneys Indian Fast Food

A review of Tacos La Flama is coming, but for today we'll talk about its neighbor, Chutneys Indian Fast Food. The idea of Indian fast food is great. I love Indian food and am frequently in a rush. However, I already have a favorite Indian restaurant (Nizam) which has a lunch buffet for $7.99 and you can eat that pretty quickly, too. I went into this ready for a new place, but Chutneys didn't win the challenge. I don't imagine myself going back unless Nizam is closed for some reason.
The above picture is what Rachel ordered. They do have a lot of vegetarian options, so yay for that. Nevertheless, I don't think she enjoyed her meal. Perhaps she will weigh in in the comments.
I ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala. Overall, it was satisfying, but it wasn't great. The sauce was too watery and oily--which you can see in the above picture was kinda grossly separating as it sat there. Also, there wasn't enough chicken in it. It did come with an ample amount of rice and salad and naan for quite a reasonable price. It was also very speedy. Their restaurant name is, indeed, correct. But it just wasn't good enough.

The 0% juice Lemonade was also a bit disconcerting. ;-)

The restaurant has a Barrington address but its door faces Pico, so it still counts.

Chutneys Indian Fast Food
2406 S Barrington Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Beware, the parking lot is a disaster.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Don Antonio's

What a gorgeous photo, if I may say so myself. This photo belies the outward appearance of Don Antonio's, however. It's in the middle of whatever-land, very non-descript and then you get here and it all seems very Disney's-idea-of-Mexico. But, the neon sign is glorious and I heard they have $1 tacos on Wednesday nights. So we venture in.

First, be warned, it is fairly difficult to find parking around here so you might have to pay for valet. Second, if you go on one of these Wednesday nights, you may have a substantial wait. We were willing to sit outside, so we only waited about five minutes. It was actually very pleasant outside--a good choice. The inside had some super cheesy non-fitting aquariums (what?) and was very crowded. Outside, it was only slightly lit with candles and christmas lights, plus some nice tiling.

Okay--to the important stuff. They give you chips and salsa, as to be expected. I couldn't tell if there were two distinct salsas or if one was just way watery. Either way, they were sufficient but not great.

This $1 taco deal is fairly limited. Or at least we thought from the extremely unclear answers the waiter gave us. We each ordered different tacos. I ordered two crispy chicken tacos because I was led to believe that a soft taco was more expensive (even though that didn't make that much sense). Anyways, they tasted mediocre and were dripping with grease. I was still hungry, and, since the first two were only a dollar each, I decided to order a soft taco even if it wasn't a dollar. This taco was delicious, much better than the crispy ones. Highly recommended.

It turns out the soft taco was a dollar, as well. The waiter was crazy. He also was a bad waiter--very slow. Plus, our water was never refilled! Tsk tsk. I know we're in a drought, folks, (run-on sentence alert!) but the law is that you can't serve water until someone asks for it, not that you shouldn't ask if we want water, which I most definitely did!

Don Antonio's
11755 W Pico Blvd Los Angeles, CA 90064

I'll try to go back soon to try non-Wednesday night fare and report! Especially something with fish, since their sign says glowingly, SEAFOOD.

You get another chance to see their beautiful sign. Now from the other side, later in the evening. All together now: Oooooo.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tuk Tuk!

A Tuk Tuk is a Thai automobile rickshaw, especially popular in highly congested areas like Bangkok. Tuk Tuk is also a delicious restaurant on Pico Blvd where it crosses Swall.

First, you must admit that they have pretty good signage--in addition to the tuk tuk jutting out of the wall! The atmosphere on the inside is pretty great. Little tables with high-backed wooden banquettes on one side fill up the very small space, but it doesn't feel cramped. The tops of these banquettes are filled with little tuk tuk sculptures, super cute. One complaint is that it is a bit too dark, even in the middle of the afternoon. Hence, the following picture is of obvious low quality since I had to manipulate it a lot to be anything other than a big dark mess.

Nevermind the graininess, in this picture you can see my favorite dish--the one that has brought me back to this restaurant three times since I first tasted them! These are the Thai curry shrimp and scallop dumplings. It should be known that scallops and shrimp are my favorite seafood (in that order, too). If we were eating Dim Sum, my favorite would be Har Gow (shrimp dumpling) and whatever the real name of the shrimp and scallop dumpling is. So when I first went to Tuk Tuk several years ago, I immediately ordered whatever had scallops in it; this dish did not disappoint. The dough is light but substantial, the filling is hearty, and the carrots provide a nice crunchy counterpoint to the smooth texture of the dumpling itself. The most important part of this dish, however, is the Thai curry sauce. Oh man, it is amazing. After finishing the dumplings, I make sure the waiter doesn't take away the plate so I can use the sauce on whatever else I order--it's that good.

I also recommend the garlic pepper chicken with brown rice. The sauce is really strong but smooth and the chicken works really well with the thicker brown rice rather than the usual white rice. But you definitely need to like garlic for this one.

The prices are slightly expensive but totally worth it. Your best bet is to go with a couple people and share several dishes. You'll probably each want 1.5 dishes.

Tuk Tuk
8875 Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035

P.S. Blogger, thanks for letting me upload multiple pictures simultaneously!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Welcome to my new blog! This is where I will document my quest to eat at every restaurant on Pico Boulevard. This quest was started when I was eight years old and it will probably continue for a very long time, indefinitely as new places keep appearing. I've so far covered about 16 blocks. Look out for posts about once a week. Leave suggestions of restaurants on Pico Blvd. you really like in the comments.