Tuesday, December 2, 2008
As I have written about previously, LA is full of really great cheap eats. From great drive-thru's and burrito stands, to diners and cafes, it seems like every block holds some gem. Here is a list of some of my favorites that are particularly good for kids.
With the motto, “eat now, dine later,” Fred 62 is a diner with a family-friendly, yet punk-rock feel. Started by renegade chef Fred Eric, the menu features great American and Mexican classics served to a rock-n-roll soundtrack.
For breakfast, the kids enjoyed sharing the dime-bag: pancakes, bacon, eggs, tomatoes and hash browns done to greasy perfection. They also liked the mac-n-cheese, a belly-bomb of noodles and crazy amounts of cheese broiled until slightly brown, the “Little Doggie Dog” and fries that must be inhaled, even by moms who are trying to watch their weight. Steve can’t seem to order anything but the Chill-Lee burger, a big juicy mound of overflowing beanless chili, blended smooth California-style, ground beef, crisp iceberg and surprisingly fresh tomatoes (in New York, tomatoes always taste out of season, no matter what time of year you order them) sandwiched between a toasted bun. With a ranchero habeneros sauce which is both spicy yet light, the breakfast enchiladas, made with black beans, egg whites, jack cheese and roasted pasilla chiles tucked into a couple of corn tortillas are my personal favorite.
The staff is always friendly and they have crayons and coloring pages for kids and the vibe is a mix of families, actress-types and tattooed Silverlake hipsters. Plus, the waitstaff wears shirts that say “Barack is Beautiful.” the only downside is the prices can be on the high side. 1850 N Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027-4215, (323) 667-0062
Annie Hall, Woody Allen's character Alvie Singer said about Los Angeles, "I don't want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light." My children, ages 3 and 5, have another reason: you can eat in your car! And while I would generally not allow such crude behavior, with In-N-Out Burger it's hard to resist to avoid!
As you might have read in the super-smart and eye-opening Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser, In-N-Out Burger is one of the only fast-food joints which uses real, fresh food and has decent labor practices. Political correctness aside, there is nothing as divine as an In-N-Out Burger--crisp lettuce, fresh tomato, and super light, sweet buns make the difference here. I find the double-double too much to eat, but the cheese burger is sublime. Skip the fries—they are merely mediocre, but go for the delicious and smooth iced tea. For access to secret, unlisted menu items, go here.
I am not a fan of San Francisco-style burritos, huge flour tortillas stuffed with everything you could think of: lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, rice, beans, cheese, salsa, guacamole and perhaps some protein. It's too many ingredients thrown together without enough thought. So I was pleasantly surprised that Burrito King on Sunset Blvd in Echo Park is still in business delivering Northern Mexican style burritos without a bunch of fussy ingredients. Take for instance the classic--bean and cheese. Simply rich, smoothly mashed pinto beans (with ample amounts of lard I assume) and shredded orange cheese. Or even the odd but delicious chile relleno burrito––a large green chile is stuffed with cheese, breaded then deep fried, and this whole yummy concoction is them placed in a tortilla with the lardy beans. While this is not the best place to order burritos in the area (let's face it, the competition is fierce), but it is very good and decidedly cheap.
The kids really liked their bean and cheese burrito--and one order filled our two boys' and their friend Ankha's stomaches. Steve and I made the mistake of each ordering our own chile relleno burrito--next time we will share. Also try the horchata, a rice milk drink flavored with cinnamin. 2109 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026, (213) 484-9859
Café Tropical makes the strongest café con leche I have ever sipped. I literally was wired for hours after drinking a medium cup in the afternoon--and I am a coffee addict. When I lived in the neighborhood in my early twenties, every weekend included a morning run to this café, for the coffee and one of their guava and cream cheese pastries—the sweet fruit jam and creamy cheese perfectly balanced by a crisp phyllo dough. The scene is Silverlake cool; a combination of screenwriters, rockers and AA folks (they hold meetings in the back). The kids love the peanut butter cookies and the chocolate croissants. Also try the delicious media-noche sandwhich. 2900 W. Sunset Blvd. L.A., CA 90026, (323) 661-8391