Dining in Los Angeles

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The Summer of Loving LA 

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The New Normal in LA is Back to Normal

In the same way that you don’t notice your kids growing up day-to-day, but others exclaim how much the kids have changed when they haven’t seen them in a while — the people living in LA are not as keen to how dramatically the city has transformed over the past few years, like I am, as a visitor a couple times a year. Vacationing in LA this past summer, I was delighted to find that the city had emerged from its unruly phase after the pandemic, and now acts like a nice, well-mannered city.  

One obvious difference is the shrinking number of tent encampments. Though they still dot the freeway underpasses and median strips along the side streets, the sprawling bivouacs of campers across the city have vanished. Also, traffic is significantly lighter at all hours as a byproduct of the new remote work culture. Likewise, the streets, stores and restaurants are less crowded. Around town, very few people sported masks, and generally, people seemed kinder and more relaxed. The tiny cookie shop where last year I was barked at by the masked clerk when I entered because I did not see the sign, “one customer allowed inside at a time,” had a short line inside, and the unmasked clerk was cheerful and buoyant.

For a tourist, these are good changes overall, though some of the pandemic fallout has diminished LA, such as permanent closures of restaurants or businesses and others that still struggled to make a comeback.

A favorite restaurant of mine in the Valley, Sun Café, an oasis off Ventura Blvd near Universal Studios, used to be a thriving spot for vegans in the know. After the parking lot across the street was commandeered by homeless and drug dealers during the pandemic, patrons stopped going to the eatery. The proprietors were forced to sell, and sadly the new owners continue to experience sparse crowds.

Other of the old haunts I frequented when I lived in LA for nearly two decades were back to normal. The WeHo Bistro was again serving their to-die-for garlic truffle fries and the gorgeously colored Aperol Spritz drinks to a full house. Trejos Tacos was back to dishing up their inventive bad-ass street tacos. And the Michelin Plated Restaurant, The Lobster, at Santa Monica Pier, is back to packing in locals and tourists for incredible sunset views and outstanding lobster bisque.

Enjoying Aperol Spritz at WeHo Bistro
Plentiful chips and salsa at Trejos Tacos.

Otherwise, most attractions around town have recovered well. A year ago, when we toured the Peterson Automotive Museum, we had to make reservations, submit to a screening that included taking our temperature, and wear masks. This year, the experience was completely carefree. My son and his cousin, both aged 16, who initially balked at the idea of going to a museum, were marveled by the expansive collection of vehicles. They snapped dozens of pics posed next to one-of-a-kind antique cars along with famous rides like the time-traveling DMC-12 DeLorean of Back to the Future, Scooby Do’s van, and the Honda S2000 from “2 Fast 2 Furious.” As a special treat, we toured the Vault, a vast garage of priceless and historical cars parked end-to-end. We were regaled by the docent’s stories of the bulletproof Mercedes owned by Ferdinand Marcos that could produce an oil slick to escape pursuers, and a 1998 Cadillac De Ville Parade Phaeton, more commonly known as the Popemobile.

Another attraction that rebounded with vigor is Cinespia, arguably the greatest outdoor movie event in LA, or anywhere. With thousands gathering blanket-to-blanket on the lawn of Hollywood Forever Cemetery to see films projected on Rodolph Valentino’s mausoleum, this exciting night of picnicking, music and movies has provided memorable film fan experiences for more than 20 years. My teen tourists where thrilled to see Fight Club under the stars, surrounded by patrons wearing black-eye make-up and dressed in flamboyant fur coats and torn and bloodied button-down shirts and ties, like Brad Pitt’s and Edward Norton’s pugilistic characters in the movie. As with every classic and modern classic film screened at Cinespia, the event featured a photobooth recreation of the set, in this case a boiler-room fighting ring. As a generous perk, the photos are posted for viewing on Cinespia’s site for free.

Of course, no trip to LA is complete without cruising Hollywood Boulevard. Compared to the near-empty streets with shuttered shops during 2021 and 2022, the place was buzzing during our visit. On a lively Saturday night, the strip was best explored in the luxury and grandness of a Ford Expedition, the vehicle that served as our crib on wheels for the week.

The boys loved rolling down the windows and opening the enormous sky roof and cranking up the bass on their Apple Music playlist, aptly named Mosh Pit; and I loved that they could sit in the 3rd row and adjust the stereo to play as loud as they desired on the rear speakers without splitting my eardrums in the driver’s seat.

Living large in LA, in a ride that was a trip in itself.

They had a prime seat to sightsee around Hollywood, and I won Mother of the Year by driving them around town in this impressive ride. At first, I was intimidated to drive such a wide-body vehicle through the streets of LA, but I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to maneuver; plus, when other drivers saw me coming, they would pull to the side to let me pass. It was almost like a parting of the crowd for the guest of honor. It seems when people see a car like this approaching, they show deference, perhaps because of its large size, or perhaps to get a better view to see if there’s a celebrity passenger in the back.

Ready to roll, on a midnight cruise in Hollywood.

After day after day of tourist-ing and partying into the wee hours of the morning — which for the adults in our group included some curiously strong drinks at the Abbey in WeHo, leading to a search party and a missing person’s report, which is a whole ‘nuther story – we departed LA feeling feted, entertained, and well hosted. Our trip was like a lovely dinner party, with a guest list of people you actually like, good food, enjoyable conversation, and a few antics to make the experience memorable. Our week stay was just the right amount of time too. Los Angeles is again a great place to visit, and in fact, one day, I might just want to live there, again.

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AutomobilesDining in Los AngelesEntertainmentThe Left CoastTravel

Loving LA Despite Itself

cinespia screen

How a Black Eye Made Me Remember Why I Keep Going Back to LA

I usually visit Los Angeles a couple of times a year, returning to the hangouts I frequented when I lived in the city six years ago. I also make it a mission on each trip to discover new places and adventures. My most recent trip didn’t disappoint, as the good and bad of the town never fails to bubble up, like the ooze of La Brea Tar Pits.

It had been a year since my last trip to LA in summer 2021, which had started well with COVID’s dissipation but then ended badly with an unexpected surge in infections that sealed up the city once again. This time, the pandemic was almost a memory, as masks were the exception, tent encampments were fewer, and crowded public events were back in swing.    

Not knowing what might happen with the COVID situation, I planned a lot of outdoor and open-air activities, which I figured were a safer bet for avoiding rubbing elbows with the unmasked masses. I also found a way to avoid waiting in line to buy tickets for attractions like Universal Studios and the Van Gogh exhibit by using Tiqets, an online booking platform. The service offers a flexible cancellation policy, in case circumstances change, and they offer special deals and packages, like express access passes for Universal Studios Hollywood, perfect for short vacations so you can skip lines and enjoy more of the rides and shows.

The incredible surround-sight-and-sound Van Gogh Experience was pleasantly uncrowded, especially since my group took advantage of the VIP access tickets with an hour early entry. Plus, we all got a cool poster and $10 for the gift shop, which I applied toward a Starry Night jigsaw puzzle, which I will put together, someday.

As I always do on my LA visits, I explore the touristy attractions. It only makes sense when you’re in one of the world’s biggest tourist destinations to enjoy cruising the Sunset Strip and strolling the Hollywood Walk of Fame — but also to do the things that makes LA LA, like hiking Runyon Canyon, and going to Cinespia, my favorite outdoor movie event, where thousands of movie lovers flock with their blankets, coolers and LED votives for an alfresco dinner to DJ tunes followed by a modern classic movie. While the Cinespia enterprise has grown exponentially since I first started attending 20 years ago, expanding into multiple cinematic locales, I still gravitate toward the original venue of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There I have enjoyed beloved films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Point Break, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Die Hard (yes, in December, because it is a Christmas movie), and Dirty Dancing (the latter on July 4th, complete with fireworks timed for Patrick Swayze’s climatic lift of Jennifer Grey, projected on Rudolph Valentino’s Mausoleum.

As has been my LA story, when I am in LA, something dramatic, and sometimes traumatic happens. This time, I had a bad fall, breaking and spraining my fingers, suffering a concussion-inducing face contusion, and banging and bloodying my knee, thanks to the dark alleyway and awkward steps leading to my Airbnb accommodations. After a trip to Cedars-Sinai Urgent Care, I was wrapped in a cast and doped up on pain killers. This is when my perspective became a little foggy yet clearer about what was different in LA this trip.

While many of my plans – like my favorite bike ride on the path from Santa Monica to Manhattan Beach — had to be scrapped due to my injuries, I carried on, as the show is apt to do in Hollywood. So I did what I could, which was eat and drink, at least a few times a day, at some of my favorite restaurants and bars, like Hugo’s in West Hollywood, Real Food Daily (where I never fail to see a celebrity enjoying the city’s finest vegan menu), WeHo Bistro (for to-die-for French onion soup), Sun Café on Ventura Blvd., (best vegan smoothies around), and the Abbey (where the burgers and fries are passable, but where else can you drink and watch nearly naked men dancing on the bar, surrounded by statues of saints?).

In a couple of days, I was cleared to drive, so my friends were relieved of taxi duty. Luckily, I had the next best thing to a chauffeur, which was a Jeep Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve 4×4. Of course, I was doing the actual driving, but it hardly seemed like it. Despite busted fingers and my hand bandaged up like Rocky, I was able to navigate the side streets like a champ. I’ve been driving SUVs for 16 years, so I am used to sitting up high, which is a definite advantage driving LA streets, otherwise known as Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. For instance, I was easily able to steer around a guy dancing in his underwear in an intersection (an actual event during my trip), and quickly react to the usual entitled LA drivers cutting me off to get one car length ahead. I felt insulated and protected by the heft of this car, such that if, heaven forbid, someone pulled out in front of me, I would probably plow through them War of the Roses style and be just fine. I was also thankful for driver assist and auto parking features that helped compensate for my compromised dexterity.

During every trip back to LA, I take account of what got worse, what stayed the same, and what changed for the better. For instance, my old go-to grocery store in Santa Monica, formally a Lucky’s, then an Albertson’s, is now a Gelson’s. Chalk one up for improvements. Other upgrades include my son’s old playground in WeHo by the public library, which is now the home of a spanking-new aquatic center; and new green bike lines that sprouted up throughout Santa Monica and West Hollywood – though even with these dedicated bike lanes, motor vehicle drivers still encroach on biking right-aways, but it has it helped improve biker safety by a degree. Another sign of progress was that almost every public bathroom was all-gender.

Things that have changed and stayed the same can be summed up in an incident that occurred when I was leaving T.J. Maxx in Santa Monica. A security guard tackled a homeless guy stealing a purse. That’s the usual thing. The new thing was that the guard was wearing latex gloves, presumably for COVID.  Another stayed-the-same thing was that the Abbey was packed. The new thing was large screen TVs behind the bar flashing, “Warning. Beware of pickpockets. “Again, I presumed this was due to the COVID-driven pre-recession climate ratcheting up crime rates. There were fewer tent cities, especially at the beaches, though there were plenty of the usual vendors selling sage and crystals.

Despite my spill at the Airbnb, I felt lucky for the rest of my trip. Maybe because of my injury and not in spite of it, people treated me nicely. Like the woman at the Walgreens who looked at my broken fingers and my blackeye and whispered quietly to me, “Are you OK?” Others stared sympathetically at me, held doors, smiled and otherwise extended kindnesses to me, possibly assuming I was a victim of domestic violence. I experienced this kinder-and-gentler LA all the way to my gate at LAX, when the United Airlines boarding agent took a look at me and invited me to board early, gave me an entire row to myself despite a full plane, and checked my carry-on for free.

As I clicked my seatbelt around me, I realized I had forgotten my scapular, a religious amulet I wear on flights for the protection of the Virgin Mary. Usually, I would’ve considered this a bad omen and freaked out; but as I reached into my jean pocket, I found a scapular patch, which I had found lying on a bench during my visit to Universal Studios. I pinned the scapular to my shirt, over my heart, and I relaxed into my five-hour-10-minute flight back to DC. So went another typical, atypical trip to LA, where good, bad and the surgically enhanced come together in a way that happens “Only in LA.”

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkLifestyleTravel

Almost unmasking LA before a summer surge sent us packing


Trying to stay ahead of the curve during a pandemic vacay to LA

I went back to Los Angeles this summer, taking a vacation from my new hometown of Washington, D.C. My second trip to the city since the start of the pandemic started much better than when I visited over spring break, in April 2021. LA had made huge strides toward reopening. Restaurants welcomed diners indoors, attractions and theme parks re-opened, and stores removed mask mandates for the vaccinated. But then that all changed.

How it started, and how it ended

When I arrived in early July, all over LA, there was an aura of optimism, from Hollywood to the beach cities, the populace was eager for a return to pre-pandemic life. Then, a few days before the end of my three-week visit, things took a turn. Just like that, COVID-19 case numbers went up by 60 percent in a single day, and city officials renewed mask orders for indoor public spaces.

After two weeks of feeling a new sense of freedom in the air and sunshine at the end of the tunnel, a stop into the Insomnia cookie shop in WeHo took me aback. As I donned my mask and entered the store, a vigilant employee loudly ordered me outdoors because only one customer was permitted in the store at a time. The tide had turned, again.

Mask, and mask again

Over spring break, masks were still ubiquitous, and tensions remained high between the cautious and the anti-maskers who felt face coverings were unnecessary — or an encroachment on their freedom. As the city readied for July 4rth Independence Day celebrations, it was rare to see a masked face anywhere, except for those behind the register or prepping and serving food, and most businesses had taken down signs regarding masking.

Shopping at Bay Cities Deli
Customers were not allowed inside to eat at the counter at Apple Pan

The only hold outs for masking I visited were the Apple Pan, the historic luncheonette on Pico Blvd., and Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica, where their vigilant masking enforcers put the Soup Nazi to shame.

Most of the “hygiene theatre” had faded away. At store entrances, gone were attendants whose job it was to politely screen patrons for masks and offer a squirt of hand-sani. While most people maintained some semblance of social distancing, the six-feet directive was six-feet under.

A rare sign of the times, before the renewed masking edict

Nobody puts LA in a corner

At Cinespia, LA’s longest-running outdoor movie event, the July 4rth screening of Dirty Dancing hosted a crowd of more than 2,000 attendees, sitting blanket-to-blanket, across the Hollywood Forever Cemetery lawn. As patrons dined al fresco and grooved to the tunes of the pre-show DJ, they were as high as Baby’s triumphant lift, without a mask or any other reminder of the pandemic in sight. When post-show fireworks exploded, the throngs cheered wildly. It was a true celebration of freedom.

Cinespia picnic before the show
The throngs at Cinespia, a welcome reprieve from social distancing, and masks
Mingling before “Dirty Dancing” started at Cinespia, like old times
The exhileration of freedom, celebrated with fireworks at the July 4 Cinespia event

At Knott’s Berry Farm, it was child’s play as usual. Despite reservation-only admission, the park seemed as busy as any pre-pandemic summer. Early in the day, patrons wearing masks were sprinkled about, but as the sun rose and temperatures hit 85 degrees, masks came off. Social distancing was almost nonexistent. Picnic tables were more spread apart than usual at eateries, but lines of closely packed-in kids were the norm. Even in indoor settings, such as the in-park restaurants, it was rare to see a mask. The good part was that kids seemed oblivious that there ever was a pandemic, as they squealed with abandon on the thrill rides.

Cool kids enjoying a sunny day at Knott’s Berry Farm theme park, without a pandemic cloud over their heads

Museums along the Miracle Mile were open, though operating at a reduced crowd capacity. Petersen Automotive Museum offered pre-purchasing of tickets and required an online wellness check and masks for visitors. Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) also featured reservations-only entry for specified time blocks plus on-site wellness screenings and temperature checks before entry for indoor exhibits. Outdoor public art exhibits, such as the Urban Light lamppost field, and dining at the Resnick Pavilion were free and open.

Checking temperature at LACMA
Mask required at Petersen Museum
Social distancing but mask-free at the outdoor public art “Urban Light” installation at LACMA

Pandemic after-party

Nightlife continued to pick up where it left off when lockdowns started in March 2020. Cooped up for nearly a year and half, clubbers were out in droves. In West Hollywood, the world’s most famous gay bar, The Abbey, was crammed with people, though there were slightly fewer tables than usual, spread out on its expansive patio.

In Hollywood, with COVID case numbers falling midway through the summer, The Hollywood Partnership (THP), an organization dedicated to promoting patronage of the district center, ramped up its efforts to attract more visitors.

“By all accounts, domestic tourism is thriving,” said Kristopher Larson, President and CEO of THP.  “Hotel occupancy is back into the 60th percentile, a figure which already exceeds previous recovery projections for the year. We’re also seeing continued growth in pedestrian vibrancy on the Walk of Fame, and our pedestrian counts through June 30 have already reached levels comparable to fall and winter of 2019 pre-pandemic.”

Many Hollywood establishments, like The Dudes’ Brewing Company, did their part to help revive the strip by appealing to its lifeblood of tourists the good old-fashioned way: great happy hour prices for drinks and food, along with offering expansive fresh-air patio seating. Art Paz, a Dudes’ manager, also doubled down on providing attentive customer service, despite the fact that most restaurants remain understaffed due to many service workers staying home during the pandemic. “Good drinks, good food and good service will keep them coming back,” said Paz.

Hanging with Gus the manager at the Dudes’ Brewing Company in Hollywood
Happy Hours made happy again, with spaced-out outdoor seating at Dudes’

Sheltering space

Starting early in the summer season, tourist draws like Marina del Rey were flourishing. The newly renovated Marriott Courtyard Hotel on the harbor welcomed a steady flow of guests through July, and its upscale waterfront eatery, Brizo Bar & Restaurant, was fully committed nightly, requiring reservations at least 24 hours in advance. Like many of the properties across LA that saw a precipitous drop in clientele during the pandemic’s worst surges, the hotel took the opportunity to remodel as well as revamp its offerings, including expanding its outdoor dining and contactless mobile room-service, enhanced cleaning protocols, reservations for the pool, and 24-hour turnarounds on rooms.

An empty pool at Marriott Courtyard Inn in Marina Del Rey
The gym to ourselves at the hotel
Lucky to get a reservation at Brizo to enjoy the scenic outdoor patio overlooking the Marina
Lots of open space around the hotel grounds
The deep cleaning procedures showcase on the hotel’s private channel

Enhanced cleaning throughout the hotel are intended to help pandemic-stressed guests sleep well at night

Glossing over deep cleaning

If the sparsity of available accommodations in July was any indication, tourism was on track to surpass pre-pandemic occupancy levels. Hotels across LA maintained premium season pricing, and even reasonably priced Airbnb places were rare to find, partly because many hosts who bought investment properties were driven out of business when COVID hit, and guests canceled in droves.

For our family’s extended stay, I opted for a no-frills two-bedroom, two-bath Airbnb rental in Beverly Hills for $250 per night. But despite promises of “deep cleaning,” the wipe up after the last guest was cursory at best. Even if there were no pandemic, I would’ve appreciated a quick sweep under the bed, which would have netted a previous guest’s credit card along with medical papers indicating the person was being treated with antibiotics.

Boom or bust

No one needs to tell anyone in LA, whether they are a tourist or a full-time resident, about the high cost of housing there. While many Californians are suffering the economic impacts of COVID-19, wealthy buyers have capitalized on low interest rates, driving elevated prices even higher. In September 2020, California’s median home price reached $712,430 — outpricing homes for working families.

This fact hit home when I took a trip down memory lane to my old residence in South Carthay from which I moved five years ago. I met the new owner of my duplex, a 29-year-old retired adult film actress. She was one of the lucky ones who bought early in 2020, landing a deal of $1.6 million for my former 4,000 sq.-foot duplex, complete with a pool and four-car garage. In today’s market, it would be at least $2 million. Ridiculous home prices have driven people onto the streets and are the reason many Airbnb hosts don’t give a darn about meticulous housekeeping, because rentals right now in LA can demand a premium price without grand offerings.

The mean streets of LA

One major visible consequence of COVID-19 remains the tent towns of homeless people, who have encamped along highways, beaches and the even borders of some of LA’s most affluent neighborhoods. With the lifting of eviction bans expected at the end of summer, putting more people out of their homes, surely these homeless camps would have grown, but due to Biden’s recent stay on the ban, this explosion of homelessness may be abetted a while. For now, LA has adapted to their new living situation, such as when I got directions from a seller on Craigslist who advised, “You can park beside the building, next to the homeless camp.”

Tent cities along the beach and across LA highlight a depending housing crisis

Social distancing disorder

While they may be a few feet farther apart, people are once again all up in other people’s faces in LA. After an 18-month hiatus from normal socializing, it’s no wonder people have forgotten their manners. Servers at restaurants, where a labor shortage has impacted their ability to properly service customers, told me that patrons have become more demanding and have less patience for slow service, ironically blaming those who are working – and not those sitting out the pandemic and collecting unemployment.

A usually decorous friend who lives in West Hollywood told me she was shushed twice in one week, at a hair salon and then at a nail salon, because her voice was disturbing others. She surmises either she has forgotten how to use her indoor voice after many months of quarantining, or other people have become less tolerant. From my own observations and experience, it seems to be a little of both, not just for her but for many of us.

Traffic signs

Indeed, both the good and the bad of LA have re-emerged post pandemic. Traffic has returned across the city. While I enjoyed quicker travel times over spring break, it was exciting to see the activity on the roads again, including an only-in-LA experience of being caught in the middle of a literal Ford-versus-Ferrari drag race on the 405 when a Mustang and an 812 GTS blew past my Lincoln Nautilus at a minimum of 100 miles an hour.

One drive I have always loved in LA is along the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu. On a quiet Monday night, I cruised up the coast to see how my old favorite hot spots had weathered the pandemic. As I turned onto PCH in Santa Monica, an overhead sign flashed a warning to any covidiots still undecided about what they should do if they wanted to get to the end of the pandemic. It read, “This Is A Sign to Get Vaccinated.”

A sign to help those who are lost find the way out of the pandemic

On a Monday night in Malibu, the Gladstone’s crowd was not applauding the sunset like they had done for 44 years, because the restaurant was closed up tight – a casualty of the pandemic, but other hotspots like Moonshadows, Geoffrey’s, Dukes, Malibu Seafood and our ultimate destination, Paradise Cove, were hopping, proving that you cannot keep a determined tourist down and out, in Beverly Hills, or the beach cities.

Masks are the new black

Midway through my visit, Mayor Eric Garcetti called for people to mask up again indoors. With the revived orders, the rancor of the arguments about them resuscitated, casting a pall on LA once again. But while LA was the first, they were not the last to call for a reshowing of face coverings. In the weeks to follow, one by one, as the Delta variant surged, cities and states asked people to once again mask up indoors, vaccinated or not, based on their area’s incidence of COVID-19 cases.

Ebb and flow

With a wave of new COVID cases sweeping across the city, there was a sudden and sad turnabout in the lightness and liberty that I had experienced during the first part of my visit.

Perhaps as a cosmic analogy to the changing tides in hopes, a massive dump of 17,000,000 gallons of raw sewage off the shore of El Segundo closed down the beaches for the rest of our trip. It was too stinky to even get out of the car at the Blue Butterfly Preserve, which we hoped to visit on our way to LAX.

As our plane soared over the ocean, I looked longingly at the City of Angels beneath us, with great optimism, on a wing and a prayer, that our next trip back in a few months will be maskless, carefree, and coronavirus free.

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Dining in Los Angeles

Figueroa Phillys Serves Up Authentic Eats for Discerning Cheesesteak Fans


Former stand-up comedian leaves the stage, gets rave reviews for his crowd-pleasing subs

Danny Hizami awaits his next cheesesteak fan

With franchise sub shops on every block serving up mass-produced generic sub sandwiches, many of us have forgotten what a true Philly cheesesteak tastes like. If you want to experience the real deal — the Philly cheesesteak that hardcore Philadelphians clamored for at the recent Eagles vs Rams game at Exposition Park, then get in line at Figueroa Philly.

At the corner of Figueroa 39th Street, across from the stadium, the fast-and-friendly restaurant that Danny Hizami opened up seven years ago has stayed on top of its game by offering up the highest quality ingredients, like Boar’s Head meats, that give the eatery the edge that has kept crowds coming back year after year.

When Hizami, a former stand-up comedian, decided to convert his father’s former Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant into a Philly Cheesesteak shop, he made it his mission to bring the most authentic and delicious cheesesteak to LA. He traveled the eastern US researching and personally tasting the best hoagies, and he brought back the proverbial secret sauce that has made his restaurant famous. From his inauspicious opening day, when he sold just six subs, Hizami is now filling the house, selling upwards of 500 subs on peak days.

With an original menu of traditional subs, like their most popular sandwich, the Figueroa Philly — made with steak, fresh onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and your choice of cheese, Hazami began attracting cheesesteak fans. As diverse patrons, from students from nearby USC and sports fans, to conventioneers and tourists, frequented the restaurant, Hazami expanded the menu to please his clientele, adding specialty subs like “Flaming” Hot Cheeto Cheesesteak, The Yin Yang Philly, and the Texas, Buffalo and Boston Philly subs.

The menu also includes a line-up of deli delights, Mia’s Famous Hoagies, named for his daughter, featuring a variety of thickly-layered Boar’s Head meat sandwiches; and Laura’s Hot Wings, named for Hazami’s wife, available with Mango Habanero or Buffalo Hot Sauce.

For regulars, the restaurant has a “secret menu” of subs that are available by request. The menu also features limited-time subs, like the LA Street Dog Cheesesteak, a $12 sub that will be served only on Sunday, December 30, 2018, as a nod to National Bacon Day. The sub includes a bacon-wrapped hot dog, steak and topped off with melted Cheese Wiz.

Hizami’s inventive sub creations and careful sourcing of ingredients have earned Figueroa Phillys the distinction of Best Cheesesteak in LA by CBS, an honor which Hizami says is made possible due to simple economics and real estate values. He says as the owner of the premier real estate where the shop sits, which has been in his family for 40 years, he does not have the overhead of a lease, which enables him to spend more where it matters to his customers.

“I can buy the finest ingredients, which my competitors can’t do,” he says. “Our quality is what sets us apart.”

No matter what you order, if “Danny” — as he’s known to regulars — is behind the counter, it will be served with a broad smile. Its clear to see by his charismatic personality, exuded as he greets customers by name, patting them on the back, thanking them for their patronage, and cracking jokes like you’d expect from a former comedian — that he loves his work. By the faces of those enjoying their food, his clients love him too — or at least they love their Philly cheesesteak. Ba-dum-ch.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurantsSports

Five of LA’s best sports bars to watch the Super Bowl


The Super Bowl LIII is set to take place on February 3, 2019 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia. Of course, nothing compares to watching the game in person. But not everyone is blessed with the funds to attend. Luckily, sports fans who want to watch the Super Bowl with a crowd of fellow fans have the option to attend viewing parties at sports bars.

Going to a sports bar instead of the stadium has its benefits. The costs for transportation, parking, and food are cheaper. Depending on which sports bar, one may also get to enjoy free wi-fi. During a game, it’s important to have internet access, especially if a person want to wager.

Sports betting has become legal in several states, which is why sports fans are now free to place their bets online. Aside from traditional bets, the Gambling website notes that unique bets are also trending. For instance, one can bet on wardrobe malfunctions, the duration of the national anthem performance, and more. With the free internet connection, fans will be able to wager in the last minute.

In LA, there are tons of sports bars to consider, given that the city is home to ten major league franchises. Here is a short list of some of the most popular sports bars in the area.

Sonny McLean’s

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The Irish pub in Santa Monica has always been a hot spot for Patriots fans. On Super Bowl Sunday, the place opens as early as 8 AM. The bar offers 40 beers and ciders on tap, and fans get to enjoy the game on 23 flat screen TVs. House specialties include Chicken Pot Pie, Fish and Chips, BBQ Herbed Meatloaf.

The Standing Room

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The Standing Room offers an eclectic menu selection of Korean-American items. For game day, it offers the $6 off-menu food specials, like chili dogs and wings. There’s also the $45 all-you-can-drink special on both beers and wines. The sports bar is located on Hermosa Avenue. Doors open at 11 AM, but the deals are usually available starting 1 PM.

Barney’s Beanery

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Barney’s Beanery dubs itself the “Eagles Nest West”, hence is another popular spot for NFL fans. One would have to reserve a seat here in order to watch on game day. Each reserved table includes complimentaries, but Barney’s reveals them on the day itself. The bar opens at 9 AM.

Tony’s Darts Away

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Tony’s Darts Away’s party hours run from 10 AM to 1 AM. Here, fans are treated to 4 quarters worth of beer on tap, and complimentary bar snacks like chips, pretzels, and crackers. The bar also offers a vegan-friendly menu. Additionally, fans get to enjoy raffles and gift certificate giveaways throughout the game.

Brack Shop Tavern

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50 cent wings and $15 pitchers on beer are the benefits fans get at Brack Shop Tavern’s viewing party. Also, if one reserves a table, it would include 40 wings and two beer pitchers.The bar also has a game room where fans waiting for the game can play darts, Pac-Man, and ping-pong. Brack Shop opens at 1 PM.

In case you need help on places to stay, refer to the Windy Side’s LA hotel guide.

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Your own private peninsula at Portofino Hotel & Marina


Redondo Beach’s boutique hotel offers visitors what they want from a waterfront hotel

Sometimes the road less traveled is the simply the one that others have not yet discovered, and that’s fine with me, if I get to keep the best-kept-secret of The Portofino Hotel & Marina to myself. Well, maybe it’s not just I who stumbled upon this quant boutique property on the water on its own peninsula, off the beaten path of tourists, but I was glad to share it with other appreciative visitors who value its unique locale and attendant amenities.

While this hidden gem is in plain sight in Redondo Beach, a waterfront community flanked by other, more-crowded beach cities, it remains subdued and quiet – unless you count the barking sea lions (hence the sea lion plush animal in every room). It offers just about everything you would want when visiting a hotel in a coastal city — a harbor view; ocean breezes; plenty outdoor activities, like boating, paddle boarding, biking and other recreational activities; and easy access to shopping, dining, nightlife and places you want to be around LA.

The hotel itself is an oasis in the area, with its nautical-chic décor, ocean- and harbor-view rooms with private balconies, and a laid-back luxury vibe, where guests are encouraged to relax and breathe in the Southern California lifestyle. Visitors can unwind in the large lobby lounge, boasting floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the King Harbor and marina, or enjoy fresh California fare at the hotel’s own fine casual dining restaurant, BALEENkitchen, which features its own front-row seating to the Pacific Ocean.



The Portofino has become a haven for both business and leisure travelers, who relish its location on the water but out of the crush and stress of some of the jam-packed LA beach cities. Redondo over the years has relaxed and mellowed with age, attracting those who seek an escape but also those who appreciate the city’s history and its potential for revitalization.

A $300 million waterfront project was recently stalled, but swells of locals and visionary developers see the Redondo Beach area, and it’s historic pier and waterfront, as ripe for new life. Residents and business developers continue to advance plans to recapture some of the city’s history as a renowned vacation spot and create a new look and vitality that will propel the area into the future, as a magnet for those who gravitate to all that the waterfront can offer.


The Portofino is poised either way, to serve as a port for those passing through or those seeking a staycation, where guests can feel the ocean air and look out from their room – or from a chaise lounge by the hotel’s harbor-side pool — and see the sail craft gliding across the water, among paddle craft, and of course, the harbor’s resident sea lions.

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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkLifestyle

LA is seeing Pink Dots again


LA’s legendary Pink Dot rises again with craft cocktails and fresh fare on demand


When I moved to LA nearly 19 years ago, my new bestie told me the joke of how she knew when her neighbor was on a bender.  The Pink Dot VW bug was basically on shuttle mode, appearing in his driveway multiple times a day. I learned Pink Dot was the LA-unique delivery service that would bring beer, munchies, whatever, to your door, within minutes.

For the partiers, workaholics, social-adverse, lazy, and other shut-ins, Pink Dot would bring them the goods to keep them going.  But after the original owner, entrepreneur Bill Toro, who launched the concept in 1987 and by 1999 had opened 12 locations, expanding too soon too fast, the darling of LA side streets was on the verge of bankruptcy.


A new owner, Sol Yamini, took over in 2001 to revive the service that he had grown up on, keeping alive the flagship store on Sunset Boulevard, and adding upgraded items, like sandwiches made with Boar’s Head deli meats and Clark Street bread, and first-ever delivery options, such as a Cocktails on Demand kits.


Pink Dot is hitting the streets of WeHo and LA again, with a vengeance. With a new logo to refresh their look, a new website to make ordering easy, and tons of new products available – from condoms to cupcakes, the polka-dotted bugs are back, zipping around the city from 9 am to 2 am, getting LA loafers what they want, when they want it, within 45 minutes.


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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurants

Tumbi Takes Modern Indian Cuisine to the Next Level


From street food to haute cuisine, Santa Monica Indian eatery is an epicurean journey across India

Forget everything you know about Indian food when you step into Tumbi. On a trendy stretch of Santa Monica Boulevard, where a common Indian restaurant would not survive the what’s-next Westsider crowd, this upscale craft Indian kitchen is bustling, even on a typically slow week night. Certainly, the food itself is an allure, but the cool ambiance and outstanding service at this Santa Monica Indian eatery round out an excellent dining experience.


Chef Imran Ali Mookhi’s modern twist on Indian faire is inventive and daring, but of course first you must figure out what to order on a menu that seems exotic even to Indian food fans. Luckily, the serving staff is eager to help.


As our server was quick to note, Tumbi is unlike any other Indian restaurant. The menu is a mix of Indian gourmet foods and traditional street food, organized in categories equivalent to appetizers, entrees, and sides, listed as Start, Street, Tandoor, Dosa, Pot, and Side. With a quick primer, we learned that on average people order about five different items from the menu to share.

20180724_045227617_iOS20180724_050654561_iOS20180724_050953601_iOSEven for someone like myself who is intimidated by Indian food, due to my lack of knowledge about it, the server’s enthusiasm and warm manner was inviting, and her descriptions of the food and its preparation made the menu intriguing yet accessible. When the chef learned I was a newcomer to Indian cuisine, he came out to give his recommendations.

We started with a bursting-with-freshness heirloom tomato and caramelized pineapple salad with turmeric yogurt and mustard oil. This we enjoyed with a side of garlic naan. Our server relayed that the nanna bread here is known as “phenomenal,” in varieties of traditional, garlic, and malai.

We followed with a signature dish called Butter Chicken, figuring you can’t go wrong with any dish with both ‘butter’ and ‘chicken’ in the name. The savory boneless leg meat is simmered for 10 hours in a in mildly spicy tomato curry sauce, which adds to the rich vegetable flavor. The laborious process to cook this dish was well worth trouble.


Next we had Apricot Curry Patagonian Toothfish Masala – a soft and flakey seabass steak, which was cooked in the tandoor Indian clay oven. This method cooks the fish at a high heat, with the fat dripping onto the coals at temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, preserving the juices and sealing in the flavor. Again, the means were worth the end result. This fish steak was delectable.

From the Street category, we munched on the Vada Pav & Ildi Fries, which are spiced potato patties with gun-powder seared pav bread, along with rice fries, which are sticks of steamed rice that is breaded and deep fried into satisfyingly crispy treats.

We wrapped up our meal with a delicious crunchy empanada-style dessert, a hard-shelled pastry filled with sweets and nuts and drizzled in chocolate and served with a small dollop of barfi Indian ice cream.


All the courses were presented with artistry that matched the extravagant flavors and spices, inspired by tastes from Rajasthan, New Delhi, Goa, Chennai, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Tumbi is a hot mix of authentic street food with Indian haute cuisine, with a laid-back chic vibe that makes an Indian food newbie’s epicurean journey across India an inviting experience.  If Tumbi – named after an Indian musical instrument – is the music of Indian food, play on.


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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurants

JSix Degrees of Deliciousness


San Diego’s Jsix offers American-Filipino fare at its finest

Named for its location at the corner of J Street and Sixth streets adjacent to the Kimpton Hotel Solamar in the East Village, JSix is known for its California Cuisine with Filipino influences from Executive Chef Anthony Sinsay.


The garage-door-sized dining room windows allow guests to enjoy the scenes of the street outside as they dine in the modern, lofty space with vaulted ceilings and original brick walls. The vibe is cool yet relaxed, like the servers. Suited to the swanky bar, the drinks are hip, fun and flirty, like the Designated Drinker cocktail of Greenmark vodka, aperol, lemon, vanilla, berries, and mint; or Morning Thunder, a blend of Pisco encanto, elderflower, giffard banana, malahat spiced rum, chareau aloe, grapefruit, and greek yogurt.


Chef Sinsay has created a menu of what he deems “honest food and drink,” featuring many of his favorite dishes from his childhood, with a modern twist. The appetizer plates, which he calls “shares,” include Lumpia Shanghai, Filipino crispy spring rolls served with a garlic chili vinegar – served on a homey floral “grandma plate,” wrapped in aluminum foil, just like it’s served by the street vendors in the Philippines; or Foie Gras Short Stack, buttermilk pancakes served with apple-brandy syrup and Foie Gras mousse. Even those foods that one might think are ordinary, the chef can make into a work of epicurean art, like the local melon and prosciutto, decorated with tiny edible floral garnishes and farmer’s market melons, with speck, burrata and espelette – comprising one of the most beautiful dishes I have ever beheld.



While I am generally not a sushi fan, I swooned over the yellowtail ceviche with its blend of flavors of coconut, citrus, chilis and red onion. Chef Sinsay visited our table and enthralled us with the history of the trading of these flavors and ingredients from the Philippines and how they became incorporated into this classic dish.


It was no surprise to us that when I suggested he should write a book about this fascinating culinary history, he informed us that he already is. The book is inspired by his journey from first believing that his Filipino culinary heritage was not “good enough.” As a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu and someone who began his career opening restaurants, such as at SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills and in Las Vegas at the Platinum Hotel, he thought that French cuisine was superior.


Luckily for us, Sinsay didn’t get discouraged and continued to hone his Filipino recipies, adding his flair and attitude, to create a menu and dining experience that is extraordinary and unique, and one that an adventurous diner does not have to travel half around the world to enjoy.



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Dining in Los AngelesEat & DrinkRestaurants

San Diego’s OB Surf Lodge is a beachy place to eat


Ocean Beach après surf hangout offers more than expected

If beach casual is your thing, the OB Surf Lodge, located on the corner of Santa Monica Avenue and Abbott Street in Ocean Beach, offers everything you’d expect from a casual beach bar and restaurant. For starters, there’s the spectacular view from the dining room, which features large open windows overlooking the beach across the street, so diners feel more like they on a patio than sitting indoors.


Some nights, the restaurant becomes front row to a free show of Venice-Beach-style street performers, drum circles, hula-hoopers, fire dancers, neon baton twirlers and a homegrown group of Cirque du Soleil wannabees called AcroYoga, which can be boisterous, but really, this is a place to drink, laugh, and talk loud, so crowd – a mix of local and tourists – do not seem to mind.

Despite the primo real estate, the restaurant does not rely on the draw of the sunsets to bring in patrons but also features a terrific menu of plenty strong drinks and good food.

20180726_023122195_iOSThey are famous for their Swell Times Mai Tai, topped with a signature froth of guava foam. The staff is accommodating, such as gladly squeezing up a tall glass of fresh lemonade that’s not on the menu and providing a carafe on the side with the rest of the batch.


A favorite entrée is the hanger steak, which was perfectly cooked to order on the rare side of medium rare and served with a decorative medley of diagonal sliced carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

The Grilled Romaine salad is one of tastiest and most unique Caesar salads I’ve ever had, with a generous coating of shaved Parmesan on top, and sliced cherry tomatoes. For a big finish, the Chef’s Bread Pudding ‘Du Jour” features a regularly changing recipe for this hearty dessert.


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