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: 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.

Feeling like a Vegas High Roller Without Breaking the Bank

I am home from my weekend in Sin City with Juan. We decided to take some much needed time away from our hectic home life and celebrate Juan’s birthday and Valentine weekend by indulging ourselves in an Adults Only trip to Las Vegas.  As we planned our get away weekend, we knew we wanted to do something fun and relaxing. I immediately thought of staying in a quaint bed and breakfast  in a sleepy coastal town where we could stroll on the shore and curl up with a good book. Yawn! I searched the Internet for deals, but when I proposed the beach getaway to Juan, he didn’t seem too enthused about the idea.  That’s when when I learned he really wanted to go to Vegas. Vegas is about 180 degrees from a sleepy coastal town, but I’m Gemini like that, so I immediately switched internet search terms and began looking for deals.  That was easy too, because, February isn’t exactly high season in Vegas, and I get spam email from about a gazillion sites offering me travel bargains, hotel deals and discounts.

I looked at a lot of options from TravelZoo, Expedia, TripAdvisor and SpreeBird, and ended up choosing the air/hotel package deal on Southwest Vacations.  It was not the cheapest of options, but we decided we wanted to splurge a little on the accommodations and chose the elegant Wynn Hotel. We are not gamblers but the casino at the Wynn makes me wish I knew how to throw dice or play cards. I did find a fun slot machine with a Wizard of Oz theme,  and before I knew it I had doubled my $20. Then, faster than you could say, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road,”  my winnings were back down and I walked away with .30 in my pocket. Good thing I quit before it was a total loss.

Yes, it was a good thing too, because even though Juan and I splurged on the accommodations and travel, we wanted to save all our pennies on other activities. That’s where one of my favorite pastimes comes in handy–bargain hunting. I love a deal, and with the Internet, deals are easy to find. As I mentioned, I get a lot of emails from bargain hunting sites, so I took full advantage of them on this trip. The first thing I did to make sure that I didn’t miss a deal was to subscribe to daily Groupon Las Vegas email alerts. I did this a couple of weeks before our trip so I was on the lookout for any offers which I might be able to use. I love Groupon and have used it several times for all kinds of things, from plants to restaurants.

I caught several Las Vegas deals right away. One was a $25 Groupon for $50 worth of food or alcohol, at the Public House restaurant in the Venetian Hotel. The restaurant had a modern atmosphere and an interesting food and drink menu. We had wonderful service and a delicous lunch. After our Groupon, our bill came to $25 for 2 entrees and 4 drinks.

But Groupon wasn’t the only discount provider with good deals. One deal which was too good to pass up was an offer from Travel Zoo. The deal was $89 for a 50 minute massage, 25 minute facial or pedicure, and a glass of champagne at the Reliquary Spa in the Hard Rock Hotel. I purchased this deal for Juan and I, and we loved it. We arrived early enough to use the spa facilities, including the Roman style spa, then we lounged in our comfy terry robes, while we sipped on champagne and waited for our massage therapists to escort us to our individual services. Feeling relaxed and indulged we got ready for an evening out on the town.

Earlier in the day I received another email alert from Groupon for $15 tickets at the V Theater in Planet Hollywood for a comedy burlesque show called Sin City. Juan really enjoys live stand-up and keeping with our adult themed weekend I thought a burlesque show would be fun. While we were in line waiting to get into the theater we chatted with another couple from Phoenix who were also on an Adults only weekend. I asked how they heard of the show and they said Groupon! We started comparing deals and exchanging bargain hunting tips. The couple in line behind us heard us talking and complained to her husband that they had paid the full price of $50 for the same tickets!

The next day we spent around the hotel, relaxing and people watching.  We planned to spend the evening at a nice restaurant for a special dinner, and I found another bargain at  I did a lot of research on TripAdvisor, looking for a steak house that offered  discounti meal coupons. I found that offered a $100 off coupon for $45 at Envy at the Renaissance Hotel. When I used a promo code I found on the internet I saved another $10 on the coupon. We had a fantastic 5 course dinner, drinks, coffee and desert, with outstanding service, and with the coupon our total bill was $102.

Finally, on our last day we wanted to see a big Vegas show. We went to a popular discount ticket vendor, Tix4Tonite to see what show tickets they were selling.  They were offering Blue Man Group at the Venetian for $91 in the middle section.  I checked out TravelZoo and they had the same seats for $60. Needless to say, we bought the tickets through Travelzoo. But before we went to the show, we had to eat, so again we used a Groupon I purchased earlier. The Groupon I purchased was for the Queen Victoria Pub and was $10 for $35 dollars worth of food. When our bill came for our lunch of a steak sandwich, fish and chips and two beers, the amount was only $8!

Even though we splurged by staying at the 5 star Wynn Hotel, we saved some money with Groupon, TravelZoo and Our indulgent Adults Only weekend made me feel like a high roller, without breaking the bank.

If You Give a Girl a Groupon*

Groupon by WOVOX Team

If you give a girl a Groupon to buy plants at a nursery, she’s going to want to plant them.

She’ll start to till the soil and realize she needs to weed the flower bed.

She’ll weed the flower bed and realize her plants need plant food.

She’ll go to get the plant food and see that the recycling hasn’t been done.

She’ll get her sons to sort out all the cans and glass in separate trash cans and put them in the car to take to the recycling center.

When they come back from the recycling center, she’ll realize the car smells like old beer bottles. So, she’ll bribe ask her daughter to wash the car.

When the trash cans are emptied, she’ll smell that they are filled with stinky liquid and debris. So, she’ll get her son to wash them off.

When the trash cans are moved from their spots, she’ll see that the side yard needs to be swept and washed.

So, she’ll use the broom to clean it, and when it’s almost done, she’ll step back to admire her work. That’s when she’ll realize the rain gutters too, are full of debris.

So, she’ll ask her husband for some help and he’ll bring a ladder there. When he begins to clear the clutter, he’ll realize the tree needs to be trimmed.

Her husband will trim the trees and clear the gutters,  and uncover an ant colony. So, he’ll have the spray with ant spray. After her husband fumigates the gutters, she’ll have to hose off the windows and walls.

When the hose is unwound, she’ll take it to the flower beds.  That’s when she will discover she didn’t finish planting her new plants. Which she bought with a Groupon. Which started this crazy chain of events in the first place.


* Inspired by the children’s book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. by Laura Numeroff