Turkish is an Inspired Addition to Westwood’s Eclectic Culinary Mix

Our exhilarating explorations through Istanbul, GaziantepUrfa and Cappadocia in Turkey last year, left us hungry for the UNESCO honored cuisine we sampled there.  Special thanks are in order to culinary connoisseurs, Faye and Yakir Levywho introduced us to The Kitchen @ Westwood.

This quaint, centrally located, gem of a restaurant, offers dishes we thought we could only indulge in after a 13 hour flight.  For starters they display samples of the quintessential Turkish snack and breakfast specialty,  borek. These flakey pastries, either baked or fried, savory or sweet, are filled with a wide variety of tempting ingredients from meat to cheese, potato to spinach and feta. But alas these tasty wonders are just the beginning of an array of inspired Turkish delicacies.

A sampling of The Kitchen’s dips proved to be a great choice.  We savored the smoothest, creamiest hummus from a secret recipe (all we know is that tahini is involved) that is worth its weight in gold. The smokey eggplant dip is about as habit-forming as they come and the refreshing yogurt with cucumber revitalizes the palate when eaten with or between any items on the menu.

The Fusion Salad is a reminder that although Turkish ingredients are used, this restaurant is firmly planted in Los Angeles, where our quest for the best tasting and healthiest salads mimics what the Turks have known all along; healthy food can be delicious. This combination of dark leafy power greens, broccoli, quinoa, strawberry, apple, sliced almonds and a pomegranate vinaigrette are the pinnacle of cuisine combining. We could eat this riot of health and wellness on a plate every day and strongly recommend doing just that.

Pide, is often referred to as Turkish pizza because of its obvious resemblance to the world famous pie. At the kitchen we found a delightful version topped with cheese, egg and Turkish sausage that rivals pide in Istanbul. A meal in themselves, one can also share a variety of uniquely topped pide as an appetizer when dining with a large group.

Turkish doner is recognized locally as shawarma and prepared traditionally on a rotating vertical spit. The dark meat and skin elevated by Turkish spices, keep the chicken well marinated and succulent.

Shaved hot off their towers, the doner is presented in numerous ways, from stuffed inside sandwiches to plates piled high. The luscious, moist, mildly spiced meats showcase the high quality ingredients and skill that go into the preparations.

The beef doner is topped with crispy lamb skin and fat, keeping it super tender.

Kebabs of chicken, beef or salmon are also charred to perfection, plump chunks, complemented by grilled vegetables and rice or layered into sandwiches with customers choice of pita or French bread. Try not to miss the in-house baked focaccia which exemplifies the culinary diversity and expertise of the talented chefs.

Another Turkish, under-the-radar dish is manti, which are beef stuffed ravioli smothered in yogurt and paprika sauce. This pasta plate is a warm and comforting tradition enjoyed throughout Turkey.

Iskender Kebab starts with beef doner that is lovingly placed on top of cubed bread and then doused in a rich tomato sauce. It is served with yogurt, pickles and pita bread.

Turkish tea is a staple at breakfast and throughout the day. We consumed more cups in Turkey than anywhere else we have traveled. So our meal was not complete without many glasses that we enhanced with just a touch of sugar.

However the sugar may not be necessary if you choose the flakey, buttery, pistachio laden baklava that is the pride of Gaziantep. The Kitchen’s version is on point and a scrumptious interpretation we would happily indulge in with our Turkish tea for an afternoon snack, dessert or anytime we need a well balanced sweet.

As one of the few Turkish restaurants in Los Angeles offering stunning renditions of Turkish favorites, we encourage visiting The Kitchen @ Westwood for a chance to savor this specialty, hard-to-find cuisine right here in our own UCLA centric neighborhood.

Old School Italian In Burbank

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We can’t seem to get enough of the old classic restaurants. They remind us of a simpler time, firmly rooted in great food, exceptional value, local community and service with a smile. Pinocchio Restaurant in Burbank has been a neighborhood institution since the 60’s. The restaurant is only half the story. The expansive corner establishment also houses the Monte Carlo Deli, which has been providing in house, locally sourced and imported Italian delicacies to an appreciative customer base for over 40 years.

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The restaurant is set up cafeteria style and we hopped in line to view both the menu on the wall, as well as the steam trays overflowing with freshly prepared, enticing dishes.

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Standing in line we also found sides and salads to accompany entrees, pizza and sandwiches.

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We are huge fans of eggplant parmesan and couldn’t resist an order. The hefty slice comes submerged in their garlic heavy marinara which we chose over the meat sauce. The rich and satisfying layers are enhanced by the soul of tomato, herbs and spices blooming in a sauce cooked down to its thick, chunky essence, that can only be achieved by hours bubbling away on the stovetop.

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Prices on entrees, pizza and salad all fall into the exceptionally reasonable category and dishes share easily.

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The homemade Italian sausage is a fennel punctuated, Italian herb and spice heavy blend that is bliss in a casing. We chose ours with grilled onions and peppers, over pasta topped with their house meat sauce.

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Don’t forget to check the specials board at the beginning of the chow line to see if any additional options call.

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Three vintage dining rooms are warm and comfortable, providing plenty of seating in various configurations, accommodating everything from a dinner for two to a family affair.

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Either before or after your meal a visit to the attached Monte Carlo deli is a must.

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Well organized rows of almost everything one could need or want for an Italian feast are displayed.

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Refrigerated cases overflow with an abundance of pepperoni and salami.

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Dried pasta in shapes that grab on to rich sauces and a profusion of olive oil fill the back of the shop.

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We tried some of the imported chocolate and appreciate the flavors and texture of Kinder brand.

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Behind the deli counter, loaves of freshly baked breads are the precise tools for sopping up the sauces or making garlic bread.

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While the counter itself displays a wide variety of deli meats and sausages for those wanting to fill their homes with the smells and flavors of Italy.

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Surprises line every shelf and counter, so give yourself enough time to search for delicious indulgences.

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And of course no Italian meal is complete without a nice bottle of wine and Monte Carlo has a well laid out selection to chose from.

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For a homestyle taste of Southern Italy, inside a space that feels welcoming and hospitable, Pinocchio and Monte Carlo warm the heart and the soul in a way only Italian cuisine can.

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Monte Carlo Deli & Pinocchio’s Restaurant, 3103 West Magnolia Boulevard, Burbank, CA 91505
Phone – 818-845-3516          web site – montecarlodeli.com

Overflowing Italian Market

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Claro’s Italian Market has been serving Southern California for almost 68 years. Joe Claro, started the business with his wife Mary. He soon became partners with his son Frank and wife Geraldine. In 1958 Joe retired and his son took over the business. Today, the tradition continues with their two daughters, Rosemarie and Mary Linda, along with their husbands, Bob and George running the stores.

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They have grown to six retail outlets and import many items from Italy. The vast array of products provide everything needed to prepare Italian meals, with a little Greek, French and Argentine thrown in for good measure.

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Be sure to allow ample time to wander and peruse the shelves piled high with delicious ingredients.

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The deli case is a wonder to behold and the place to order slices of cured meats, cheese and their famous sandwiches.

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A long list suggests some of their best meat and cheese combinations or guests can custom order sandwiches that bring them the greatest joy.

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We went with the two most popular sandwiches. We had to try their beloved  Grandpa Joe, which unifies lettuce, tomatoes, pepperoncini, mortadella, capacollo, dry salami and provolone. We were also attracted to the Spicy Mike, a soft roll topped with capocollo, casalingo salame, hot calabrese salame, hot pepper cheese, sliced pepperoncini & oil dressing. Both subs are very meaty and satisfying with a small being more than sufficient at $5.99, or for big eaters they have a large for $6.99, which looks to be almost twice the size.

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In house whipped up deli salads, marinated vegetables and olives take up a portion of the deli case.

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While the far end houses a hot food bar, all well within reach price-wise.

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Strategically placed counters on the way out, house pastries and desserts cases.

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We couldn’t resist the dense, almond rich wedding cookies.

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We asked about cannoli and they were happy to fill a shell for us with the freshest ricotta, studded with chocolate chips and candied fruit. The cannoli are creamy, thick, dense, mildly sweet, cheese filled crisp shells that should not be missed.

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For old school, ready made Italian delicacies along with an impressive selection of imported and locally sourced Italian goods, Claro’s is an amazing go to and to go resource.

Claro’s Italian Market, 1003 East Valley Boulevard, San Gabriel, CA 91776     Phone – 626-288-2026 web site – claros.com

The Gourmet Italian Market Of Our Dreams

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One of our favorite gourmet shops is Bay Cities Italian Bakery and Deli. It’s been an institution in Santa Monica since 1925, serving freshly made Italian food and groceries and it just keeps getting better.

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The deli is always our first stop because there is usually a wait.  We grab a number and peruse the hot and cold delights overflowing the cases.

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The electronic menu on the wall lists sandwiches they prepare on the spot, that are some of the tasties in Los Angeles.

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Like most of LA we can’t get enough of the godmother, a harmonious marriage of Genoa salami, mortadella, coppacola, ham, prosciutto and provolone cheese on a chewy roll.  We like ours spicy and with the works which includes lettuce, tomato, mayo, mustard and a hot, crunchy, pepper relish.

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The combination of spicy heat on the tongue is soothed by he smooth and creamy mayo and hearty deli meats. The godmother definitely ranks as one of Los Angeles’ best sandwiches.

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But Bay Cities is a lot more than a sandwich shop. Refrigerated cases display  imported European butters, gourmet items and prepakaged ready to go Italian meatballs, entrees and sauces.

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While aisles of dried, canned, jared and prepackaged imported and locally produced items can keep us wandering these halls for hours.

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The cheese section alone is a party waiting to happen.

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And an outdoor seating area is the perfect spot for a quick lunch.

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For some of the cities best Italian entrees and sandwiches plus all the paraphernalia one could need for lunch, dinner or a well stocked cocktail party, Bay Cities is our one stop shop.

Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery, 1517 Lincoln Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA 90401 Phone – 310-395-8279          web site – baycitiesitaliandeli.com

Classic Los Angeles Italian Near LAX

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We have been fans of Alejo’s Presto Italian Restaurant for as long as we can remember. Frequent visitors to their Lincoln and Washington location, now closed, we are happy to find they are still cranking out old school Italian at their Westchester branch.

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The first time we visited we were blown away by the minced garlic in olive oil served alongside freshly baked bread.

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We add parmesan and crushed red  pepper to the garlic dip and would eat the entire bread basket if not for the knowledge that comforting Italian food is on the way.

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Reasonable prices and large portions are still the standard.

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The chopped Italian salad is a classic mix of chopped greens, garbanzo beans, mozzarella cheese, salami and tomato all tossed in a tangy house dressing.

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Main courses are large and orders come with a side of spaghetti pomodoro.

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We chose the chicken marsala which pairs pounded chicken with marsala wine, fresh garlic and mushrooms for a satisfying warm kiss of sweet and savory flavors.

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There was no problem with our request to switch out the spaghetti pomodoro for an order of green fettuccine with an exceptionally well balanced pesto sauce.  Pine nuts dotted the delicious, large bowl of vibrant green pasta and we licked the bowl clean.

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They also offer smaller orders at lower prices for less ambitious appetites that save customers money.

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We added a side order of sweet Italian, fennel flecked sausage, which was a perfect meaty counterpoint to the basil and parmesan rich pasta dish.

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For a taste of an old time Los Angeles Italian restaurant, Alejo’s in Westchester offers scrumptious food and large portions at reasonable prices, which keep locals visiting this neighborhood standard and make trips to LAX a whole lot tastier.

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Alejo’s Presto Italian Restaurant, 8343 Lincoln Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90045 Phone – 310-670-6677           web site – alejosrestaurant.com

 

 

Great NY Pizza Joint Hiding on Wilshire Near Crescent Heights

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We found another hidden in plain sight gem that we’ve missed for 15 years according to the sign plastered across the front of the building. Rocco’s Pizza has been hiding on Wilshire Boulevard just a tad west of Crescent Heights, next to a McDonald’s and squeezed in one of the big office buildings that dominate that stretch of Wilshire.

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Outdoor benches and a long homey interior space are available seating options.  With our heat wave plodding along we chose the brick lined, red checkered, air conditioned dining room that is a blast from past New York Pizza joints.

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A colorful chalk menu lines the wall, enumerating the pizza, pasta, salads, specials, sandwiches. calzones, entries, desserts and drinks available.

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A paper menu does the same.

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We started with the small Greek salad, an extravaganza of feta cheese atop dark and light leafy greens, green peppers, tomato, onion, olives, and spicy peppers all dressed in a tangy italian herby dressing.  Three of us shared the small and didn’t finish it, we can only imagine how big the large is.

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We ordered bread which sent our waiter to the kitchen.  Be patient because a fresh loaf baked just for us was deliver hot and toasty along with a garlic butter spread that melted into the fluffy interior.

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The New York style pizza is a medium thin crust with a sweet spiced tomato sauce and a well balanced cheesy top.  We requested ours well done and it arrived crisp and gooey, just the way we like it.  This is one stellar pizza in a town that has a few memorable pies, this one is now added to our list.

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Their most famous pasta, the baked ziti is an homage to cheese, from ricotta to mozzarella, that soothes like grandma’s kitchen.

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A charming spot with stealer food, great prices, a friendly and playful atmosphere and free local delivery, all make Rocco’s a pizza to be embraced regardless of its hiding and waiting 15 years for us to find it.

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Rocco’s Italian Kitchen, 6335 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90048       Phone – 323-655-0058           web site – roccospizzala.com

Killer New York Slices

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Always on the look out for great pizza, we have to share one of our favorites, the well established Joe’s Pizza.  This small chain of shops hail from New York and brings the real deal to LA, with slices and entire pies served smokin’ hot from numerous locations around the city.  The Hollywood location probably has the most interesting street scene, but it’s the pizza that’s the main draw.

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A narrow strip of a pizza joint with two tables in the back, a counter and a row of bar stools, make this an eat and run or take out experience more than a leisurely dinner spot.

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Open until 2 AM Sunday through Wednesday and 4 AM Thursday through Saturday, they feed the hungry revelers 7 days a week almost all night long.

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A selection of pies sit on the counter for those who don’t want to wait 20 minutes for an entire pie to be cooked to order or if customers prefer each slice with a different topping.

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Choose from traditional cheese or pepperoni to the more exotic grandma pie or white pizza pie.

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Whatever you choose will be tossed into the gleaming pizza oven to heat and crisp up before being served bubbly hot.

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The menu lists a variety of slices, pies, sides, pasta, heros, calzones and salads, but we’ve never see anyone eat anything but the pizza, and that’s what we order here as well.

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We take a moment to let the pizza cool and throw on parmesan cheese, dried red chili flakes or both, which elevate this crisp, thin-crust dream slice to the next level of oral excitement.  A slight resting time prevents the roof of the mouth burn that takes a week to recover from. A bit cooled but still hot, theses babies reveal the slightest hint of sweetness punctuating the savory tomato sauce, underneath a flawless mix of cheese, all perched atop a gratifying chewy crust that transports us to the east coast in a heartbeat.

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We like to pretend we’re New Yorkers and fold our slice in half, we don’t know why they do it but it looks cool.  No matter how you eat it, it is the simplicity, the quality ingredients, the balance of tomato sauce tang with a thin layer of gooey cheese, all pulled together by the crisp crunch of a great pizza crust chew.

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Thinking one slice of this pizza will be enough is a constant miscalculation beccause we can’t stop eating them.

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All the locations offer the same great pizza, so we can pick one up no matter what part of town we’re in.

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For some great slices that set us back just $3 each, or an entire pie starting at $20, we love to dig into what Joe cranks out without having to travel or deal with New York weather.  Now that’s our kind of New York Pizza.

Joe’s Pizza, 6504 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028                          Phone – 323-467-9500

 

 

Charming Neighborhood New York Pizza Joint

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We’ve lived in LA and driven by The Coop for 48 years without bothering to check it out.  Today we remedied that situation and placed an order over the phone, before stopping by to pick up our New York style Italian dinner.

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The restaurant is a to go and cash only pizza joint, these two important facets of the business keep prices low and customers happy.

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Slices start at $2.00 with toppings .50 cents each, while entire cheese pizzas range from $8.00 to $14.00.  Good sized salads run from $2.50 to a high of $5.00. Sandwiches, served on long rolls are $5.50 for the submarine and $6.00 for the hot ones.  Dinners, which include salad, garlic bread and pasta, are $8.00.  This kind of homestyle cooking and pricing keeps loyal patrons lined up out the door.

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The Coop is housed in a mini triangular space that the charming owners navigate like a well choreographed dance team.  He commands the pizza oven while she takes orders, money and bags cold and hot dishes separately to keep them at their peak until customers arrive home.

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The thin crust NY pizza is their claim to fame and it does indeed remind us of pizza we found on the streets of New York City, but considerably less greasy.  Our large pie of 10 slices set us back $10 which we felt was money well spent.  We like to crisp up our crust a bit extra in the oven but otherwise find the mix of cheeses and the respectable crust a great combination.  We requested extra thin crust and will next time ask for it cooked well done and crispy.

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We also enjoyed the Cesare salad with its hearty dressing and lots of big dark green leaves topped with crunchy croutons.  This is a large salad that we shared easily between 3 people and at $5.00 is the perfect accompaniment to our pizza.

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We had to try the eggplant parmesan sandwich which The Coop places on a soft, fresh roll. The smooth crunch of this bread is a delight to sink our teeth into before hitting the thin slices of breaded eggplant and the sweet tang of marinara sauce and cheese.  We strongly recommend anything and everything they serve on this bread and will be back to work our way through the rest of the sandwich options.

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A small sign advertises tiramisu and this homemade version is light, fluffy and not overly sweet with layers of creme, chocolate and moist cake creating an alluring end to a satisfying and exceptionally well priced meal.

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Anyone who can stay in business in Los Angeles for 48 years and still draw a crowd night after night must be doing something right and we find The Coop’s down home Italian at the right price a sustainable neighborhood business that we are pleased to support with our patronage.

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The Coop Pizza, 10006 National Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Phone – 310-837-4462         web site – thecooppizza.net

An Italian Farm to Table Classic

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There are some Los Angeles classics that have stood the test of time and Marino is one of those gems.  Serving straight up Italian, made from the freshest seafood, meats and produce, has been the philosophy for 50 years, and it still works beautifully.

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Attention to detail in the two dining rooms and a commitment to providing a stellar experience, leaves guests feeling cozy, comfortable, well fed and well tended.

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A lunch menu as well as the dinner menu, offer specials that reflect the most interesting and pristine items found at the local farmers and fish markets, always keeping the focus on seasonality and Italian tradition.

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We began our lunch today with the antipasto vegetariano, a selection of grilled, sautéed, and marinated vegetables including golden beets, Japanese eggplant, zucchini and some spectacular onions.  This plate is a refreshing and healthy way to start any meal.

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The dinner menu lists more substantial appetizers and a a variety of soups, salad and pasta.

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We found the organic arugula salad with red and yellow tomatoes hidden under  thin sheets of parmesan, to be a delightful paring of mildly peppery greens with the deep, rich, nutty bite of parmesan.  A light dressing keeps the emphasis on the flavors of the bright ingredients.

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From the dinner pasta menu, we reveled in the ravioli di spinaci al pomodoro.  The in house made ravioli is stuffed with ricotta and spinach and floats in a fresh tomato and basil sauce.  This dish is a taste of the Italian home, warm, rustic and satisfying,

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Spaghetti with scallops begins with shallots and butter that are enhanced with the addition of chives and sweet large grilled scallops.  We hit this dish with a sprinkle of parmesan and then used the bread to sop up the onion infused butter lining the plate.

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Fish, chicken, veal, beef, pork and lamb are all available, but on hot summer days we like to keep it light and went with the fish.

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Today Mario poured his heart and soul into the final preparations of the branzino al sale.

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He gently bones and filets the Mediterranean striped bass with a technique clearly honed through a lifetime of practice on a variety of fish.

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He completes the bass with a big squeeze of lemon and a drizzle of olive oil.

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The halibut special is a work of art in its presentation, with the meaty, flakey white fish intensified by a balsamic reduction and served alongside freshly prepared vegetables.

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As a transitional interlude, limoncello is served to refresh guests and as a digestive.

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Finally we indulged in the torta di Ricotta, also known as Dad’s famous ricotta cheese cake.  The rich and gratifying dessert melts easily on the tongue, while small pieces of candied fruit play against the smooth creamy cheese.

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For a taste of Italian farm to table tradition, where the flavors of the fresh ingredients shine though, Marino upholds the cuisines history in the most luscious of ways.

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Marino Restaurant, 6001 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Phone – 323-466-8812    web site – marinorestaurant.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden Historic Italian Sandwiches

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Eastside Market and Deli is perched in a quiet neighborhood above Chinatown.  It’s story begins in 1929 and through transformations, relocations and transfers of ownership, Eastside Market and Deli now proudly represents a part of Los Angeles history as well as the history of our now defunct Little Italy.

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The deli is famous for their sandwiches from the D.A. Special, a mix of sausage, meatball, roast beef and pastrami, and the number 7, both humongous meat filled man pleasers to the eggplant parmesan and straight up number 9, a combo of cold cuts and cheese.  These torpedo bombs of Italian specialties are either $8.90 or $9.40 depending on ingredients and are definitely hefty enough to share.

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The room is decorated with nods to Los Angeles icons and history. The location near Dodger Stadium, the Police Academy, and our county court houses, pulls an eclectic mix of customers all hungry for the hearty and affordable taste of Italian handheld meals. The quaint space is often filled with professionals in uniform from attorneys, to police, firemen, government workers, emergency personnel as well as UPS drivers.  

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A chili pepper bar offers little spicy yellow chiles as well as the mild golden salad pepperoncini to accompany lunch.  While the deli counter lists sides of potato and macaroni salad, antipasto salad, soup of the day, a fruit bowl and shelves of chips in most flavors.

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The combo cold cuts and cheese, is a handful of soft, fresh french bread slathered with mustard and mayo, into which is loaded shredded lettuce, tomato and a combination of mortadella, capicollo, ham, salami and cheese.

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Number 3 on the menu consists of weighty meatballs, cheese, red peppers and spiced Italian sausage, all submerged in their signature marinara sauce, which the bread sops up like a sponge.

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A plaque from the Los Angeles Fire Department thanks Eastside for their support but based on the clientele, it looks more like the fire department is supporting Eastside Market.

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For some seriously beefy Italian sandwiches, you’ll need your GPS to find this little joint, but you’ll be paid off with a taste of Los Angeles history.

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Eastside Market Italian Deli, 1013 Alpine Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone – 213-250-2464      web site – esmdeli.com