The Turkish Temptress: Börek

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Strolling through the streets of Istanbul, it is impossible to miss the warm, buttery aroma and seductive window displays of börek shops strategically tucked into nooks and crannies all over the city. Börek are savory pastries fashioned from flour, water and salt doughs of varying thicknesses, resembling anything from thin filo sheets to thick egg noodles. These light, flakey pies can be found stuffed with meat, cheese, potato, herbs, mixed fillings or nothing at all. The fundamental focus is on the butter slathered layers formed into a myriad of shapes from squares, rounds, crescents, cigars, to whatever a baker can dream up.

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Börek may be boiled, baked, sautéed or fried and half the fun is sampling as many versions as possible to find a favorite.

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At Ça?da? Börek, on a corner across Taxim Square from Istiklal Caddesi, we sampled meat, cheese and potato börek, finding them all light, flakey and just the slightest touch greasy. Our favorites were the beef and potato, both packing a flavor punch of spices we wish the more mellow cheese bundles carried.

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The unfilled börek look like hot crossed buns,

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or big slabs that are cut into long slices with the help of a wooden measuring tool. Both are served with packets of powdered sugar.

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The protocol is to dip the unencumbered, warm layers into a mound of sweet, soft, sugar dust, turning each bite into a habit forming, melt in your mouth, fluff of Ottoman Empire culinary history.

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Börek are usually served for breakfast, but are available all day and late into the evening at a myriad of brightly lit shops all over Istanbul. Don’t hesitate to take the edge off your hunger with this savory or sweet snack regarded as one of the national treasures of Turkey.

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Ça?da? Börek Merkez-Tarlabasi Cd No. 20 A,Taksim-IST(0212) 237 67 41

Ça?da? Börek     Istasyon Cad. No. 7/B,   Yesilkoy/IST   (0212) 663 32 47

Ça?da? Börek     Sipahiglu Cad. No. 5/B   Yesilyurt/IST  (0212) 662 99 69

Ça?da? Börek     Cekmece Cad. No. 4/1     Florya/IST      (0212) 580 80 64

For börek in West Los Angeles try:

Aroma Cafe, 2530 Overland Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-836-2919

The Power Of The Pomegranate

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Street vendors all over Istanbul soothe parched pedestrians with freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice. The orange is delightful, but it’s the red, juicy, ancient (dating back to 4000 BC) nar (Turkish for pomegranate) nectar that has us dropping Turkish lire all over the city.

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We are told that autum is prime season for the power packed fruit, but we have found the most vibrant, ruby red seeds are still exploding with the sweetest juice in early March.  Even the sweet, slightly tart cups we encounter have us singing the praises of this enchantress.

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It takes just moments for our juice barista to halve and squeeze two or three globes, place them in the sturdy manual juicer and extract the liquid ambrosia.

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Small servings set us back about .50 cents with larger cups ranging from a dollar to two depending on size and vendor location. At this price we indulge daily, taking advantage of the benefits of this Turkish delight.

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Celebrated for its high antioxidant content and inflammation reducing properties, we find it one of the most restorative beverages we’ve encountered. Ordering large glasses after long days exploring the vast treasures of Istanbul we feel instantly revitalized and up for more adventures.

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Fresh pomegranite kiosks and stands are located throughout Istanbul.  Every pedestrian and tourist area we have explored offers abundant opportunities to experience these glasses of pure refreshment. Don’t miss this charming tradition.

 

Ecstasy Inducing Thai Papaya Salad

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Ruen Pair, is one of the old timers in Thai Town for good reason, they have remained dedicated to the flavors of Thailand. Everytime we return we are pleasantly surprised by the freshness, quality and intense Thai spices, curries, herbs and seasoning that transform their dishes into heaven on a plate.

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Open from 11 AM to 3 AM everyday of the week, they give us lots of opportunities to immerse ourselves into the joys only an accomplished Thai chef can deliver.

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An extensive menu covers a wide variety of diverse classics starting with their beverage page that offers exotic hot and cold delights.

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We can’t resist the Thai Ice Coffee which is not as sweet as Thai ice tea and delivers a seriously creamy coffee punch.

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Jet Tila, the Thai and Chinese food aficionado, declares Ruen Pair as the place to get the best Papaya salad in Los Angeles and we are going to second that declaration.

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No matter how we order the shredded green fruit masterpiece it always tickles our tastes buds in ways that thrill and excite us. A slightly sweet, savory, spicy, combination of green papaya and secret ingredients makes this multi-nuanced salad hit the tongue and back of the throat with more refreshing surprises than we ever expect.

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It can be ordered with or without dried shrimp, salty black crab or raw crab and is always a winner. We requested it this time sans shellfish and it was perfect with lots of crunchy, roasted peanuts playing against the snap of crisp papaya slivers in a dressing that is truly miraculous.

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By no means is Ruen Pair a one trick pony, there is considerably more that shines here. The pad kee mao, also known as drunken noodles, are broad noodles stir fried with chili, basil, egg and we chose chicken for our protein component. Pure comfort food is how we would describe this homey plate.

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The noodles and curry dishes can be enhanced with their condiment tray which offers chili powder, chili sauce, sugar and chopped green chilies in vinegar.  The later which takes the noodle dishes to new heights of oral pleasure.

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Chinese broccoli with crispy pork comes with a dipping sauce but doesnt need anything in our humble option. The chunks of fat laden pork are an enlightened contrast to the still crisp greens.

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We strongly recommend a visit to Ruen Pair to anyone interested in tasting the Thai flavors that helped establish Thai Town in Los Angeles and with pretty much everything under $10 a dish, its an easy exploration of the best of the cuisine.

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Ruen Pair, 5257 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Phone – 323-466-0153          web site – ruenpairthaila.com

or

Ruen Pair Thai Restaurant, 18219 East Gale Avenue, City of Industry, CA 91748
Phone – 626-964-2370

Inexpensive Sushi Stop

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As sushi fans we are always looking for good sushi at affordable prices. We have been long time customers of Sushi Stop from back in the day when they had only one tiny outlet on Sawtelle.

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They now have six, four of them on Sawtelle, one in Hollywood and another in Pasadena. We attribute their success to quality seafood and a $2.95 price point for most rolls.

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A rich miso soup, at $1.60 a bowl, does not skimp on the miso. It’s a soothing, warm, velvety, healthy broth dotted with scallions, seaweed and a few tofu squares.

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While the crunchy seaweed salad pops with the delightful essence of the ocean.

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Besides the menu, there are specials listed on the wall with slightly higher prices.

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A pen and order form list the offerings and we simply place check marks or the number of orders we want next to chosen dishes.

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The seared peppered tuna is super fresh and meaty, seared at the very edge only.  We roll them up, capturing the onion and sesame seeds, then consume the little ponzu marinated packages.

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Specialty rolls also come in at $2.95 per plate and we definitely have our favorites.

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The dynamite roll conceals a California roll under baby scallops in a rich sauce  quickly broiled and presented still bubbling. The hot, creamy topping is a memorable contrast to the cool inside out crab and avocado roll underneath.

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A shrimp tempura roll pairs crisp, batter encased shrimp with cucumber and avocado, then drizzles everything in sweet eel sauce.

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Under the appetizer section are spicy albacore tartare, fried wonton skins with spicy tuna, avocado, onion slivers, sesame seeds and a serious splattering of spicy Sriracha mayo for one crunchy, smooth, spicy bite.

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The Las Vegas roll is artistically playful, with eel and cucumber beneath spicy tuna and architecturally stunning fried lotus root wheels, smeared with eel sauce.  Another attractive and flavor packed combination.

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Desserts also fall under the $2.95 price point making them a no brainer.

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Being near UCLA, there is usually a wait at peak meal times, but we were seated immediately at 5 PM on Saturday night. Be aware that it is a cash only establishment, but with these prices the bill is usually manageable, plus there is an ATM on the premises. For affordable sushi in a lively environment, Sushi Stop is a great choice that we frequent when the mood strikes.

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SushiStop, 2222 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-479-1222           web site – sushistopusa.com

or

SushiStop, 2053 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Phone – 310-473-3999

or

SushiStop Izakaya, 2218 Sawtelle Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-479-1001

or

New Japan by SushiStop, 11283 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Phone – 310-477-0557

or

SushiStop, 5917 Franklin Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90028
Phone – 323-468-2496

or

SushiStop, 58 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena, CA 91101
Phone – 626-405-1518

Terrific Tinga

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East LA closes down early, but for breakfast, lunch or an early dinner they bring mouthwatering Mexican food big time. We were lucky enough to get to La Placita de D.F. Restaurante before they closed and began what has now become a search for the best Tinga in Los Angeles.

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Tinga is a stewed pork or chicken stew, slow cooked in a spicy chipotle sauce and served in a variety of ways. The super tender, seductively seasoned, smokey dish is traditionally served as a tostada, wrapped in a soft tortilla or stuffed into a fried quesadilla. It is often piled high atop sopes, a thick, flat, griddle fried, corn dough called masa.

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We managed to wrangle both a plate of the smokey, stewed, pork tinga with a side of rice and beans and a tinga tostada, loaded with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, avocado and grated cheese. Both ways we found this particular pork tinga recipe to be outstanding and a true pleasure to consume.

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Everyone in the restaurant had a cemita in front of them so we had to order one to find out why. Cemitas differ from Mexican tortas (sandwich) in a number of ways but one of the most important differences is the bread. The cemita’s “bun” at La Placita is etherial, light, slightly sweet, toasted heaven. Inside the bread sits a thinly pounded and fried slab of meat, shredded queso Oaxaca (a type of fresh string cheese), greens, chipotle peppers, avocado and beans.

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We found that dousing this big boy with the green salsa sitting on the table was an excellent addition and next time will ask for more chipotle chilies on top.

We are excited to continue exploring East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and neighboring areas, in our search for the most flavorful tinga. But we have to say that La Placita is up there with some of the best we’ve tried and that we are off to a fantastic start.

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Be aware that they are closed all day Thursday and at 6:30 PM the rest of the week. Don’t let the early hours stop you from experiencing these fantastic family recipes that are bringing the flavors of the Mexican state of Puebla to Los Angeles.

La Placita Del D F, 1859 East 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033                           Phone – 323-780-8232

East LA Mole Find

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Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights is many things. Starting with a central community square and metro stop, which allows for easy access.

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It is a central gathering place for community events happening throughout the year.

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We happened to be in the area on Sunday evening and found music, dancing and vendors peddling goods. We now know that Fridays and Sundays from 2 PM till 9 PM the community comes together to commune, eat, dance, celebrate and take advantage of vendors selling goods.

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We were particularly intrigued by a jewelry and ceramic vendor whose booth advertised Mole Mama Chabel.

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We hurried right over to find out what we could about this 100+ year old recipe of one of the most famous sauces originating from Puebla, Mexico.

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We were assured these are in fact traditional family recipes handed down from 1892. Samples are given of the green and red mole offered. The green mole is recommend for vegetables and has the distinct flavor of ground pumpkin seeds, while the red mole is rich, smooth, chocolaty, sweet and savory bliss.

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At $5 per pack we had to purchase both. Instructions are simple. If making the entire bag simply add 18 ounces of chicken stock to the mole and heat. Adding cooked chicken, vegetables or any other preferred ingredients is all that’s required. No need to spend hours slaving over a stove trying to demystify this challenging recipe that contains over 20 secret ingredients.  It’s already been perfected and is ready to go. The moles are also freezable if not intended to be used immediately.

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For those interested in participating in celebrations of Latin culture, dancing and purchasing some delightful moles, Mariachi Plaza on Friday and Sunday afternoon and evenings is a charming place to be.

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Mariachi Plaza, 1817 East 1st Street, Los Angeles, CA 90033
web site – mariachiplazalosangeles.com

Exciting Taiwanese Breakfast, Brunch And Lunch

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One of the less explored meals is breakfast and for those interested in delving deep into Taiwanese morning meals, we recommend starting at Huge Tree Pastry in Monterey Park.

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The small dining room is usually full and may require a short wait to be seated. Simply add you name to the list and you will find the turnover quick and efficient.

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Besides what’s on the menu there are also pastries lined up on the counter to choose from.

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Trays of green onion stuffed puff pastry and curried pork crescents beacon and if chosen are heated before being brought to the table.

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We found gua bao, sitting on the counter. The famous pork belly stuffed buns are accented with pickled vegetable, cilantro and crushed peanuts. Served hot, the pork is a layered combination of melt in the mouth fat and meat. Be sure to eat it as soon as possible to get the full effect of the melted fat before it cools down. We hit ours with some chili sauce to add a little zing.Be sure to remove the thin paper stuck to the bottom as soon as it arrives.

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Another Taiwanese breakfast delicacy is fan tuan. A sticky rice outer layer wrapped around a variety of ingredients. We chose the purple jasmine rice which adds a sweet, sticky component. Filled with egg and pickled vegetables, it creates a sweet and savory Asian style burrito that satisfies on every level with its mix of flavors and textures.

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Fan tuan is served in Saran Wrap which is slowly peeled away as one picks up this big boy and feasts on it one delectable bite at a time.

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As the name Huge Tree Pastry implies, there are quite a few pastries on the menu. We chose the sesame seed crusted, beef pastry with pickled greens which melts in the mouth like a meaty, flakey cloud.

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Condiments on the table include soy sauce, vinegar, chili oil, chili sauce and an onion sauce.

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We also indulged in the green onion pastry which is full of greens and glass noodles.

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The cong you bing omelet is also known as a pan fried green onion pancake with egg.

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As we lift up the top layer, we are delighted to find a savory pancake inside which we splashed with chili sauce to add yet another layer of complexity to the egg dish.

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The crowd is primarily Asian and beyond adorable from the youngest patrons,

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to the most seasoned of customers.

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For authentic Taiwanese specializes, especially breakfast dishes, Huge Tree Pastry is a fantastic addition to any brunch rotation.

Huge Tree Pastry, 423 North Atlantic Boulevard, Suite 106, Monterey Park, CA 91754         Phone – 626-458-8689

Luscious Dumplings Are All That

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The epitome of Mom and Pop, homespun, delicious dumplings is a straight up description of Luscious Dumplings.

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Two locations, one in San Gabriel and the other in Monrovia, house small dining rooms with a handful of tables and a smattering of stuffed dumplings, snacks, vegetables and soups on their menu.

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You can’t go wrong with anything you order, but there are a few stand outs that reside on every table. The angus stewed beef noodle soup is an oil bubble topped, clear, well seasoned broth. The star of the bowl is the meaty, super tender chunks of beef that melt under the slightest pressure.  The greens and noodles are outstanding supporting players.

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Luscious Dumplings crafts their own chili oil which is heavily laden with sesame seeds, sesame oil and chili flakes, all combining to form an exemplary spicy condiment appropriate for every item on the menu.

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We spoon heaping mounds of it into our soup, turning our comforting bowl into a whirlwind of heat, spice, texture and homestyle goodness.

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The pan fried chive pockets are loaded with green herbs offering a mellow onion flavor under the crunch of crisp skins.

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Everyone raves about the pan fried pork dumplings and for good reason.

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The ten plumped packages are sautéed in unison and come attached to one another at the corners.  Customers simply snap one off the pile, wait a moment for them to cool and dig in.

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A condiment tray offers not only the in-house made chili sauce but also black vinegar and soy sauce which combined make the perfect dip for the juicy parcels.

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We give ours a good dousing after each bite to saturate the flavorful meat filling with even more punch.

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These dumplings are so famous they sell them frozen to be prepared at home.  A great addition to any party, assuring tasty treats for guests.

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For some of the best dumplings in the southland, Luscious Dumplings is a must try that reminds us to add a trip to China to our bucket list.

Luscious Dumplings, 919 West Duarte Road, Monrovia, CA 91016
Phone – 626-821-0518          web site – lusciousdumplings.com

or

Luscious Dumplings, 704 West Las Tunas Drive, Ste 4, San Gabriel, CA 91776
Phone – 626-282-8695

Killer Banh Mi

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Always on the lookout for the consummate banh mi, Vietnam’s perfect melding of cuisines with the French baguette in sandwich form, we have definitely found a top contender coming out of the tiny kitchen at Banh Mi My Tho.

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The space is minuscule but mighty.  The counter is lined with a selection of dishes to go, if something calls don’t hesitate to grab it.

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A heated case displays egg rolls, pork loaf, fried chicken and pork meat balls threaded onto skewers all reasonably priced under $2.00.

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Stacks of sweets offer a delightful way to complete your meal.

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This family run business established in 1993, offers charming and dedicated service with the intention of making  customers happy and that they do in spades.

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This is a takeout only set up and if you are not going to be eating your banh mi immediately it’s best to have them wrap the vegetables separately to keep the ingredients in their most pristine state.

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We arrived home and cranked up the toaster oven where we heated up the sweet and savory, juicy marinated pork with caramelized edges.  We also toasted the soft yet sturdy French baguette before stuffing it full of the cilantro, cucumber spears, pickled radish and carrot, with the final addition of jalapeño slices for a pop of fresh heat. The resulting sandwich is perfection in our book. Warm toasted bread and tender fragrant pork flecked with roasted peanuts are a sublime contrast to the tang of picked and fresh herbs and vegetables.

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The meat balls are light, gratifying, sweet, porky goodness that also reheat extremely well.

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For one of the best banh mi in the San Gabriel Valley and some seriously memorable Vietnamese dishes for your next picnic, party, event or meal, Banh Mi My Tho is a do not miss Vietnamese hidden treasure.

Banh Mi My Tho, 304 West Valley Boulevard, Alhambra, CA 91803
Phone – 626-289-4160         web site – banhmimytho.com

Southern Smoke and Shopping Visionaries

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We are continually delighted by the inspired and delicious treasures the city of angels conceals. Today we found J N J Bar-B-Que and Burgers, which has been a Los Angeles icon since 1993, we’re just a tad late. But our timing is perfect because the parking lot is currently being transformed into a grassroots shopping boutique. Configured of lego-shaped storage containers that serve as the brick and mortar, these tiny stores sell produce, clothes, jewelry, hair services, cactus and the list goes on.

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The decor is simply adorable, decked out in country style to align with J N J, each store owner has enhanced their space with stunning old fashioned ingenuity, props and creativity.

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Certified organic produce and edgy fashion are a small portion of the goods these unique merchandise peddlers offer, making this space as inviting as they come.

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Be aware when stopping by J N J that this new retail wonderland is available to explore. Hours are irregular, based on each shopkeepers availability, so expect more shops to be open on the weekends

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J N J is actually two restaurants in one space. The first window we came upon was the burger stand and to order barbecue we had to walk to the patio at the side of the building. The aroma of both burgers and smoking meat fills the parking lot with intoxicating smoke and we couldn’t resist the call of slow cooked meat in spicy sauce.

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Prices here are down to earth, but it’s a cash only situation so come prepared.  Lunches, dinners, combination plates, sandwiches, party platters, sides, beverages and desserts in any combination required abound.

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Covered seating is available and they do a brisk take out business.

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Well packed to go orders keep the meat hot, the sauce in place and all the components pristine until customers are ready to make a mess.

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We got the 4 meat combo with pork ribs, brisket, hot links, and pulled pork, all smothered in the house spicy barbecue sauce.

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For our sides we chose the sweet, smokey, onion flecked beans that melt in your mouth and the cinnamon and clove enhanced chunky yam mash, both bewitching versions.  All the sides are made in house so it’s tough to go wrong.

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The hot links of beef have a nice snap and a slow spicy heat that complements the heavily herb and spice infused meat. A cross between a great sausage and tender, succulent beef jerky flavor, is the best way to describe this taste treat. We will be back for more of this in every form they serve. Hot link sandwich anyone?

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The pork ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender, smokey, thick, slabs of  juicy  goodness that are seriously substantial.

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While the brisket, with its thin layer of succulent fat is a rich beefy, tangy testament to the chef’s labor of love and care.

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And finally the soft pulled pork is a mix of shredded, delicate pork interspersed with the intensely flavored sauce it’s cooked in.

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We are loving these meats and for an occasional treat we look forward to diving back into this plethora of southern intensity and skill from the kitchen.

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Some add-ons we couldn’t pass up include the crumbly, honey infused cornbread that arrives warm and ready for a slathering of butter and a drizzle of honey.  For black pepper fans the macaroni and cheese is a creamy, pepper punched, tangy side dish that reminds us of the best food we ate on our trips to the south.

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Hidden on Adams just a short drive from La Cienega and Washington Boulevards, J N J Bar-B-Que and Burgers is a tried and true Los Angeles treasure that is expanding their space into a neighborhood friendly environment. Be aware that their hours are 10 AM to 6:45 Monday thru Thursday, 10 AM to 8 PM Friday and Saturday and that they are closed on Sundays. But don’t let the early closing hours stand in the way of some great barbecue and burgers that have stood the test of time.

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JNJ Burger Shack, 5754 West Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90016
Phone – 323-934-5390           web site – jnj-bbq.com