Foodie Friday: Nicks Cafe

Today is Friday, and that means it’s time for another post in my series of restaurant reviews which I call Foodie Friday, where I get to eat out with my husband using a discount voucher.  Today’s meal was brought to us by Groupon.  A few weeks ago I bought a voucher for Nick’s cafe. The voucher was $10 and allowed Juan and I to buy $20 worth of food. $20 for lunch may not seem like enough for two people to eat lunch in a cafe, but once we arrived at Nick’s we knew we’d be just fine.

Blast from the past at Nick's Cafe

Blast from the past at Nick’s Cafe

Nick’s cafe is not located in a high rent district.  It’s situated outside Chinatown and across from a large park, in an industrial area north of the civic center where I work.  The place has been there since the 1930’s, and it looks like it hasn’t been updated in about as long. The place is kind of an institution but aside from that, the food also garners some pretty good reviews on Yelp.

Diner atmosphere and counter seating.

Diner atmosphere and counter seating.

The small cafe has only counter seating indoors, but it was so stuffy inside that we opted to sit outside at one of the few tables. The outdoor tables are opposite the park, and along Spring Street, a major street with a lot of traffic. It was an interesting view. At one point during our lunch a movie crew passed by with a camera aboard a flat bed truck, hauling a train car with passengers. Only in LA.

The service and the food were not trendy LA at all. The waitress took her time to take our order and when she spoke with us she kept calling us, “Baby,” and not in a LA kind of way. More like a familial way.  The food was classic diner food. I ordered the turkey melt and Juan had the club sandwich. The sandwiches were really good. Both our sandwiches had thick homestyle bacon slices, which was a delicious addition to an otherwise ordinary selection.  The portions were not huge and came with only a pickle and a teeny tiny taste of coleslaw. I don’t like coleslaw so it’s okay with me that the portion was so small.  We paid extra and I ordered sweet potato fries while Juan ordered regular fries.

Club Sandwich with a slab of bacon.

Club Sandwich with a slab of bacon.

Turkey Melt and Sweet Potato Fries.

Turkey Melt and Sweet Potato Fries.

I would like to come back to this place for breakfast sometime. Yelp has some good reviews for the ham and eggs and other old school breakfast items. Speaking of “old school, Nick’s doesn’t take credit cards.  It’s a good thing we had some cash because even with the $20 Groupon, Juan and I had to pay an additional $7.00. It may not be in a high rent district, but the food prices sure aren’t low.

Foodie Friday: ALTAeats

I live in a city with a lot of  very good restaurants, but my own neighborhood really doesn’t have any good places to eat. So, I was happy to hear about ALTAeats, a new restaurant within walking distance to my house, with a highly regarded chef. In fact, there was quite a buzz on our neighborhood Yahoo group even before the place opened.

I heard about ALTAeats before I even saw it, and once I learned where it was located I wasn’t even sure I found the right place. It is small and quite anonymous, so anonymous there isn’t even a sign out front. At first I thought he place was so new, the signage must be in the works. However, now that it has been open for about 8 months, I know that there is no intention for signage. It seems the owner wants the restaurant to survive on word of mouth and on-line marketing. It’s working.

I purchased a Living Social deal several months ago, and tried to redeem immediately it but the place was booked. Recently I decided to try again and was able to make a reservation for me and my husband Juan and another couple. Our neighborhood friends were glad to join us and commented that they didn’t even know the restaurant existed. I told them to bring a bottle of wine since ALTAeats did not have a liquor license or a corkage fee. Between us, we brought along three bottles.

It was so hot that evening that we opted to drive instead of walk to the restaurant. When we pulled up in front of the black awning we all hesitated. Was it even open? There weren’t any operating hours posted on the darkly tinted windows. We opened the door and were greeted with a very minimalist, modern and comfortable atmosphere. There were several booths and tables along the walls and a big communal table in the middle of the room. The smells of the open kitchen to the rear of the restaurant welcomed us in, even though the poor functioning air conditioning made the temperature inside nearly as stifling as outside. We felt like we had just been let in on a well-kept secret.

We were promptly seated and greeted by a very friendly and knowledgeable server. She brought us complimentary gazpacho in shot glasses and a plate full of warm bread. The Living Social deal I’d purchased allowed us to share two small plates, a shared entrée and a shared dessert for $36.00. Our friends decided to order their own small plate and each of us ordered our own entrees.

The shared plate my friends ordered was a beautifully presented arugula salad with grilled peaches and pork belly. It sounded weird but it was delicious. At least I think it was delicious. “Shared plates” imply that they are meant to be shared, right? I really only tasted their salad since my friends need to work on their sharing technique. We also ordered a shared plate of mussels which I decided were so good I kept them to myself. Maybe I need to practice my technique as well?

The shared plate that wasn't shared.

The shared plate that wasn’t shared.

I’m glad the entrees weren’t meant to be shared, because I didn’t intend to let anyone near my salmon. I think we all felt the same way about our entrees. They were all so good none of us offered each other more than a taste.

Hangar steak for the meat and potatoes guy.

Hangar steak for the meat and potatoes guy.


Duck breast for the breast guy.

Duck breast for the breast guy.

The salmon I didn't want to share.


My friend ordered the lamb chops. I don't blame her for not sharing.

My friend ordered the lamb chops. I don’t blame her for not sharing.

We didn’t think we’d want dessert but since it was included in my Living Social deal how could we refuse? If it wasn’t for the uncomfortable temperature inside the restaurant we might have lingered over dessert. Instead we devoured it and decided to go back to my house and finish off the evening with a nightcap.

I’m so glad we stumbled upon this secret hiding place of a restaurant. When the temperature drops I will definitely be back. And I won’t be sharing my food.






Foodie Friday: Mediterranean City Grill

Today’s installment of Foodie Friday finds me having a deja vu and discounted lunch at Mediterranean City Grill courtesy of Groupon.   A few weeks ago Groupon had an offer of two $12.00 vouchers for two people for only $12.00

Two for Two for $12. I think the deal is past now. :(

Two for Two for $12. I think the deal is past now. :(

This translates to two visits to the Mediterranean City Grill for just $12.00. What’s a girl to do? Well, buy them, of course! That’s exactly what I did.  This is my second visit to this small fast-foodish café in the heart of the urban loft/hipster area of downtown Los Angeles. 

The urban decor and order-at-the-counter atmosphere work with the location of this cafe.

The urban decor and order-at-the-counter atmosphere work with the location of this cafe.

It’s a good thing I liked the place enough to look forward to going back and using my Groupon again.  Even though I am using Foodie Fridays to help me out of my lunchtime rut, the last meal I had here was so good, I had to have it again, with a slight variation.

 I ordered the Greek Salad and added shwarma to it.  I liked it as much as the chicken that I added to the Greek Salad I enjoyed on my last visit. The serving was huge, with generous portions of fresh greens, feta cheese and kalamata olives.  The citrus/vinegar dressing combined with the saltiness of the cheese and olives,  made for a light-tasting and very satisfying lunch. 

When is a salad not a salad? When it comes with Shawarma!

When is a salad not a salad? When it comes with Shawarma!

Juan also ordered pretty much the same thing as last time.  This time however, he ordered the grilled plate without the chicken, so much for breaking out of our same-old-same-old routine.  His plate came with warm, thick and fluffy pita bread, which I shared with him.  

Q: When is a combination plate not a combination plate?  A: When it only comes with one meat.

Q: When is a combination plate not a combination plate? A: When it only comes with one meat.

The only downside to this place was the limited seating.  Both times I have been here the place has been full with loft dwelling hipsters, business folk and people who appear to be middle easterners. That says a lot about the broad appeal of the food. Lucky for us, we found a seat at the same table both times.  You think we would have spiced things up a bit and at least sat at a different table! Ah well! It was so hot we didn’t want to eat outdoors even though we might have been able to enjoy the view.  Maybe next time. . . .

Enjoying the urban view from the Mediterranean City Grill.

The urban view from the Mediterranean City Grill.

City streets near the Med City Grill. A neighborhood undergoing transformation.

City streets near the Med City Grill. A neighborhood undergoing regentrification.

Where do you like to eat lunch when you’re in a rut?


Foodie Friday: The Lazy Ox Canteen

I am introducing a new feature on my blog. It is my husband Juan’s idea to help me get blogging again, and it’s my idea to help us out of our “same old, same old” lunch rut. This routine involves brown bagging it everyday and eating at our desk or on a nice day, eating outside in the park. I am going to call this new feature “Foodie Friday.”

Foodie Friday will be my review of a local restaurant that Juan and I will enjoy once a week. And because we are parents of 4 kids and don’t have a lot of extra cash to throw around, I will review those places where we can eat at a discount. I mean discounts like Groupon, Living Social, Travel Zoo—any number of the sites which send me offers and I impulsively buy. (I can’t tell you the number of offers I’ve bought, only to have them expire). I figure a lunch out with my husband that doesn’t involve leftovers, or a turkey sandwich, and ends with a blog post, means that everyone wins! So, I give you my first installment of Foodie Friday.

The Lazy Ox Canteen

Juan and I work in the same building in downtown Los Angeles. It’s kind of nice to be in the civic center, but as far as restaurants go in this area, they are pretty scarce. Don’t get me wrong, Downtown LA is undergoing a huge revitalization, several blocks away. Grand Avenue is beautiful with its high rise apartments and office towers, Disney Concert Hall and what will be a stunning new museum, the Broad.  East of Grand, the area is crawling with Hipsters. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a young urbanite walking their dogs, or lounging outside coffee houses. Little Tokyo is another area which is experiencing some growth, perhaps due to the encroaching loft conversions and growing hipster population. This is great for those of us who work in the Civic Center because Little Tokyo probably has the most accessible restaurants, especially if you want Japanese food.

Not long ago a new restaurant (well, new to us anyway) appeared on the fringe of Little Tokyo, The Lazy Ox Canteen. Even more recently, I learned that Travel Zoo was offering a voucher, $29.00 for lunch for two, including two of their gourmet burgers and a flight of beer. I hesitated at first because after all, a flight of beer? On a work day? But then I remembered it was Friday, and how much work could I really expect to accomplish on a Friday afternoon! So I bought it and I’m glad I did.

We arrived after a short walk, made longer because it was blazing hot. It took awhile for my eyes to adjust to the dimly lit space, but once they did I could see that the place had a modern, upscale, tavern feel, and the majority of the diners appeared to be businessmen enjoying a cold one with their monolithic burgers. There was a chalkboard on the wall displaying the day’s beer offerings. We were seated immediately, but with only one waitress for the entire restaurant, it took awhile for her to take our order.

We ordered our burgers that were included with the Travel Zoo voucher and the waitress told us which beers we would be served. Not long after, she presented us with a “plank” of 4 glasses of 5 ounce pours of beer. They ranged in color and flavor, and maybe if I hadn’t enjoyed ALL 4 glasses and taken notes, I would be able to tell you what they were. Suffice to say, I liked them all.

Undaunted by the task ahead of me.

Undaunted by the task ahead of me.

The food was really tasty too. I love a good burger and The Lazy Ox’s was flavorful and cooked the way I like, even though the texture of the meat felt a little…crumbly? The best part of the plate though was the French fries. They were crispy but full of flavor. They came with a delicious aioli for dipping.

The fries and the aioli upstaged the burger.

The fries and the aioli upstaged the burger.

Between the fancy dipping sauce and the deliciously seasoned fries, it was a good thing Juan ate all his fries too because I could have reached over and finished his, even after eating my huge burger.

The walk back to my office took even longer, in part because of the heat, but more likely because of all the carbs I just ingested. Good thing there was a Starbucks on the way, and in keeping with my discount theme, I was able to use a gift card to buy us much needed caffeinated drinks. After a good lunch, a full flight of beer and a walk in the heat, I really needed it!

The finish to my carb loaded lunch.

The finish to my carb loaded lunch.