Monday, June 29, 2015

The Best Things I Ate on My SoCal Sojourn

by Sydney "Brown Nose" Blanchard

Long before I began working for Jay, I had an appreciation for good food.

Fun fact: The cover letter I wrote when applying to intern at Bite and Booze was about my love for specialty meats. 

I attribute this love to two things: my Cajun heritage and growing up in Baton Rouge where eating out is considered weekend entertainment. 

Among my friends, I'm the token "food snob." I don't care how great the drink specials are at Chili's, I'm not paying good money for something that came from the freezer and was heated in a microwave.

Needless to say, when I planned my post-graduation California vacation, my biggest concern was food.

My girlfriend Ryan and I would be flying to A-Camp two days early to explore Southern California a bit before our week-long stay in the mountains of Angelus Oaks.

Check me out on the bottom left with some of my fellow campers on a hike

If movies/media have taught me anything about California, it's that everyone is vegan and that smoothies and fruit-infused water are a primary source of nutrition. 

And that terrified me. 

I'm happy to report we were pleasantly surprised by the food we ate in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Long Beach.

It's a good thing we got our gourmand on before camp, because the camp kitchen was kosher, and they tried to pass off nachos for lunch one day. We literally starved the whole week.

Without further adieu, here's a list of some of the best things I ate in my two days in SoCal:

Santa Monica | Tacos Por Favor

The Tacos Por Favor spread

Like all great Mexican restaurants, Tacos Por Favor looks sketchy as hell from the outside. Big red block letters spell out the restaurant's name on its teal blue storefront, and mismatched chairs and tables make up the interior decor.

Chorizo and cheese soft taco at Tacos Por Favor
But $30 fed me, Ryan, and our friend/tour guide Michael at Tacos Por Favor. Don't assume their Taco Bell prices mean Taco Bell quality. The tacos were amazing.

We ordered a variety of tacos a la carte: potato, chorizo, and al pastor, all topped with salsa, onions and cilantro. The chorizo and cheese taco was my favorite – seasoned, crispy, and topped with a dollop of guacamole, it made the perfect meal after a 4-hour flight following three hours of sleep.

I highly recommend this tiny, hole-in-the-wall joint for a cheap and satisfying meal.

Los Angeles | In-N-Out

If you've ever scrolled through Tumblr, you've seen the stylized, filtered images of In-N-Out burgers and fries that are ubiquitous among the cool California teens of the blogosphere. 

The chain burger restaurant has made a name for itself by serving nothing but high-quality (for fast food) burgers and by paying their employees a livable wage. 

Fast food burgers don't usually excite me, but when in California, do as the Californians do. 

Burgers and fries from In-N-Out at Signal Hill in Los Angeles
We got a couple Double Doubles and one Animal Style burger (items on their not-so-secret "secret" menu), along with regular fries and a couple milkshakes. I wasn't blown away by the burgers, and the fries were over-cooked and under salted in my opinion, but the customer service and speed at which our food got to us was notable.

Also, they hooked us up with some rad paper In-N-Out hats. Points all around. 

Long Beach | Tee's Donuts 

Fruit Loop topped donut at Tee's Donuts
In Louisiana, it's rare I enter an establishment where I am in the minority.

At Tee's Donuts in Long Beach, we were the only white people in the store. And it was everything we ever dreamed of.

The shop was inexplicably an Asian-Mexican hybrid. They served traditional (and sort of wild) donuts, breakfast and lunch sandwiches, and boba teas and shakes in a huge array of flavors.

I got a decent breakfast sandwich, a donut topped with Fruit Loops, and a Thai iced tea with boba. I'm a sucker for boba tea, and I wish I'd have been able to try the green tea with boba or the avocado shake with boba.

(For the uninitiated, boba, or bubble, tea is a cold tea with sweetened tapioca pearls added.)

Long Beach | Open Sesame

Refreshing glass of Jalab at Open Sesame
After a long day of riding up and down Long Beach on rented cruiser bikes, we'd worked up quite an appetite, although, not a sweat (bless California weather)!

We were desperate for a good meal, and our Uber driver recommended Open Sesame, a trendy Lebanese joint that wasn't too far.

Once we were seated, we understood the hype. The food was the usual Lebanese fare, and we opted for an appetizer of kibbi, and grabbed some chicken shwarma and gyros.

What impressed me most were the beverage options.

I ordered jalab, a rose water and grape syrup mixture infused with incense and topped with pine nuts and almonds. The flavor is nearly impossible to describe, but the words "refreshing," "syrupy," and "nutty" come to mind.

They also offered something called tamarind, an Indian date syrup infused with rose water, and laban, chilled yogurt with dry mint. 

The atmosphere definitely made this spot worth checking out, and the locals are obsessed with it. 

The one thing that surprised me the most about my SoCal sojourn was that the mid-level restaurants in the area were no better or worse than the mid-level restaurants back home. Maybe Baton Rouge lacks those super fine dining experiences, but I'd pit Louisiana food against California cuisine any day. 

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