Istanbul & Beyond Champions Uncharted Turkish Delights

Stunning, slice-of-Turkish-life photos by David Hagerman and recipes from remote regions of Turkey, are the focus of Robyn Eckhardt’s latest cookbook, Istanbul & Beyond. The two spent 18 months digging deep into “one of the most gastronomically complex countries anywhere”, as Robyn so eloquently states it. The diverse terrains combined with interactions with neighboring countries has produced a richness that can only evolve through centuries of experimentation with local ingredients.

The breath of the book is expansive and no single recipe defines the cuisine. We found it best to follow our whims through the dense contents. The purple basil cooler is a great place to start with its anise back-notes and cool, sweet refreshment. Robyn tips us off to the fact that alcohol enhancement produces a wonderful cocktail.

Turkish red pepper paste and flakes can be found piled high at almost every market in Turkey.  The liberal use of this important element of Turkish cooking requires chefs to decide on a preferred flavor profile from deep and smokey to fruity spicy and every combination in between. Red pepper flakes elevate the Spicy Egg Salad on page 260 to a dish that complements every meal or snack served throughout the day.

Do not miss Robyn’s green olive salad with pomegranate molasses, a pomegranate reduction, which can be found in middle eastern stores. The recipe is from Hatay in southeastern Turkey, which was just honored by UNESCO for its exceptional cuisine, and after tasting this salad we know why.

Frangrant Orange Cookies from page 75 are just that, and so addicting we are actually afraid to make a batch for fear of not being able to stop at just a few.

Istanbul and Beyond delightfully champions hidden treasure dishes that have made Gaziantep and Antakya cities of noteworthy gastronomy according to the United Nations Creative Cities Network. You are unlikely to find these gems in your local Turkish restaurants. So thank you Robyn for sharing these recipes that we hope to have the good fortune of tasting in Turkey, but until then we’re covered.

Ramen Bowls Aplenty

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Ramen is having its day all over Los Angeles and we feel obliged to try them all.  Last night we hit Slurpin’ Ramen Bar, in the hopes of cozying up on a chilly night with warm bowls of noodle soup.

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The modern space is centrally located in Koreatown and there is a bit of Korean spin to the menu.

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One of the Korean adaptations is the bulgogi egg roll, which is stuffed with thin seasoned slices of beef, fried, split in half and topped with nacho cheese sauce and jalapeño slices. We placed the order because it was such an unusual appetizer, and were pleasantly surprised to find the tender and flavorful meat a playful match to the liquid cheese and spicy pepper, reminiscent of an Asian cheeseburger.

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We then moved on to the main attraction, with options including the original slurpin’ ramen, vegan ramen, dipping ramen (soup served in a separate bowl) and a chashu bowl (pork over rice) all available to us.

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We went with the super spicy slurpin’ ramen and found the small bowl plenty big and the regular great for big appetites. The creamy, pork bone based broth has been slow simmered to garner all the richness this soup commands. The description, super spicy, is inaccurate and is instead a mild heat.

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A big part of the ramen fun is the toppings and although they charge for every one, we had a blast checking them out and chose a few that we easily shared in two bowls of soup.

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From the top 5 toppings list on the wall, we found the spicy umami oil gracefullly smoothed out the ramen and made it sing. This spicy mix also added a great kick to the bulgogi egg roll.  We basically love the spicy umami oil on everything.

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The crunchy garlic and onion added a dilemma regarding how to consume it.  Should it be added to the soup where it would get soggy or consume it straight from its little saucer following each bite of soup to be savored at its crispy best?  Ultimately we did a bit of both.

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The exceptionally well cooked noodles were an easy choice and two of us were able to shared the extra noodles easily from the substantial sized serving.

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The soup includes a choice of chashu or super tender fatty pork which melts away on the tongue like a dream.

We find Slurpin’ Ramen Bar to be a respectable contender in the ramen landscape that is ever expanding in Los Angeles and beyond. We look forward to more warm bowls of noodle soup which seem to be growing at a delicious rate.

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Slurpin’ Ramen Bar, 3500 West 8th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90005
Phone – 213-388-8607

New Ramen House In Torrance

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Hakata Ikkousha of Costa Mesa has opened a new branch in Torrance that dishes out steaming bowls of their award winning ramen. Already a hit in the new location, we arrived shortly before closing to a full house.

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Their pork rich soup is a combination of broth enhanced by bones simmered for at least half a day, chewy noodles cooked to customers specifications, marinated pork slices and a blend of soy sauce, 20 seasonings and 5 types of rare seafood from Japan.

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The appetizer menu lists the Japanese delicacies of gyoza (pan fried dumplings) and fried chicken.

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The tiny, flavor packed, juicy dumplings come with a small dollop of chili paste that can be smeared on, with or without dipping into the gyoza sauce found on the table.

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Crisp-skinned fried chicken pieces encase moist meat that can be enhanced by the seasoning salt served alongside.

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We were excited to get to the main attraction, with a variety of ramen bowls calling to us.

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We like intense flavors and were immediately drawn to the tonkotsu black, a creamy pork soup made with mild garlic oil, noodles, homemade charshu (marinated braised pork belly), wood ear mushrooms and green onion. The broth has a mild garlic flavor, which we kicked up a notch with a ball of spicy paste available upon request.

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Each ramen listed has its high points. The Spicy tonkotsu mentaiko is unique to this ramen shop, the tonkotsu shio is light and clean, enlivened with black pepper in a fish broth while the tonokotsu original is their signature bowl.

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We couldn’t resist the God fire, delivered at levels of spiciness from 1 to 4.  We chose 2, which has a nice mellow heat plus tender fatty slices of pork belly, green onion, wood ear mushrooms and we ordered our noodles medium, versus hard or soft.

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One of the best parts of the dining experience at Hakata Ikkousha Ramen is the assortment of condiments on the table. We needed instruction on how to use the sesame seed dispenser but got the hang of turning the knob while holding the bottle over our bowl which grinds and dispenses the tiny crushed seeds.

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Our favorite condiment is the pickled spicy greens that can be eaten straight or added to the soup for extra heat and flavor.

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We throw the pungent ginger slivers into our bowl by the heapful, for a clean tang to balance out the fat in the broth.

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For a light, well seasoned version of ramen served with an assortment of Japanese condiments, Hakata Ikkousha Ramen brings it all, making us feel like we are in a small shop in Japan.

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Hakata Ikkousha Ramen, 21605 South Western Avenue, Suite J, Torrance, CA 90501                     Phone – 424-558-3953

or

Hakata Ikkousha, 3033 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Phone – 714-540-2066

Enchanting Westside Mexican Moles

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Juquila on Santa Monica Boulevard, is our westside mole spot. The time consuming Mexican dish is a reduction of a laundry list of ingredients, with each chef introducing their personal vision into the mix of chiles, nuts, spices, bread, fruit, vegetables and up to 100 ingredients, if you believe some of the legends.

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Juquila serves the food of Oaxaca in a narrow space with relaxing, warm, sunny, terra cotta colored walls and patterned booths.

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Everyone gets to sample the red mole drizzled on fresh tortilla chips, because they are delivered complementary to the table as guest settle in.

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The chips come with a spicy salsa that adds a nice kick to the starter.

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We were so enthralled with the red mole that we had to order a side of the rich, sweet, spicy, thick and complex sauce to submerge our chips.

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We ordered their cinnamon tea while dipping the crisp tortilla chips into our tongue teasing, flavor packed, red mole and perused the menu for dinner options.

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The red mole was so satisfying we had to order the mole negro or black mole. There are at least 7 types of Oaxacan Mole with the most well known being the black because of it’s enhancement with rich, bitter-sweet dark chocolate that adds significant excitement to the sweet, nutty, roasted, and bitter flavors.

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We stirred our white rice into the inky sauce and then pulled off pieces of the tender dark meat chicken and rolled them in the corn tortillas provided, creating a soft  black mole taco that brought joy to our hearts and palates.

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We strongly recommend trying their moles but there are also flavorful bowls of chicken and beef soup, burritos, tacos and some traditional, hard to find, Oaxaquina dishes such as tlayudas, large corn tortillas covered in toppings and resembling a pizza.

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Completing our meal with a thick, creamy slice of flan was just the ticket. We are always thrilled to have a wide variety of regional cuisines to savor locally and since its not always convenient to travel to East LA for some of the best Mexican food Los Angeles has, it’s nice to know we can find reliable and delicious alternatives that have been thriving on the westside for decades.

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Juquila Restaurant, 11619 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Phone – 310-312-1079         web site – restaurantejuquila.com

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

Southern Indian Enchantment

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Mayura brings the flavor of Southern India, Kerala to be exact, to Culver City.

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Their lunch buffet, lunch and dinner specials are reasonably priced and offer the curious a chance to indulge.

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The extensive buffet lines the western wall of the restaurant and comes with a drink and made to order dosa (rice and lentil flour crepes), on request.

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Our favorite dishes on the buffet were the goat curry and fish curry, both deep, complex, rich sauces concealing well prepared meat and fish.

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Mayura is one of the few places locally where we find appam , light, spongy, rice, lentil and yeast pancakes that absorb the curries served alongside.

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The buffet includes appetizers and soups,

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and of course traditional naan bread.

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South Indian cooking crafts amazing vegetable dishes to appeal to the vegetarian population. We benefit from this dedication in the form of mixed vegetable curries and a savory, dry string bean recipe on the day of our visit.

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An entire buffet island is dedicated to condiments, salads, pickles and raita.

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The condiments and potato curry from the buffet are savory and sometimes spicy dips for the dosa which come in a variety of shapes including the cone dosa below.

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Mayura prides itself on setting out the best dishes from Kerala and providing stellar customer service. They follow the philosophy of Gandhi and have his definition of customer on the wall, assuring a splendid afternoon or evening meal.

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Mayura Restaurant, 10406 Venice Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232
Phone – 310-559-9644           web site – mayuraLA.com

Philippe’s Is As Classic LA As It Gets

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One of our favorite Los Angeles classics is Philippe The Original, which has been in business since 1908.

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The charming deli/counter ambiance is enhanced with sawdust on the floor and shared high tables surrounded by stools. They also have booths in the back if that type of seating is preferred.

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For over a hundred years Philippe’s has been a cash only establishment and recently altered their policies to accept credit cards.

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The menu above the counter is small yet full of the favorites that have kept them going strong for 108 years.

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Philippe’s “French Dipped Sandwich” is the specialty of the house and consist of either roast beef, roast pork, leg of lamb, turkey or ham served on a light, freshly baked French roll which has been dipped in the natural gravy of the roasts. Swiss, American, Monterey Jack or Blue cheese may be added.

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To accompany your sandwich Philippe’s offers options such as tart, tangy cole slaw, homemade potato and macaroni salads, hard boiled eggs pickled in beet juice and spices, large Kosher style, sour dill or sweet pickles, black olives and hot yellow chili peppers.

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Daily soups are warm and comforting, like the navy bean on special the night of our visit.

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A crumbling of saltine crackers brings the down home feel.

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We are addicted to the lamb and have it with either blue or swiss cheese.

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We prefer it double dipped with both the lower and upper halves of the roll dunked in roasting juices.

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The pièce de résistance is the addition of their hot mustard which clears the sinuses and adds a mustard, vinegar spice tang that is the perfect accompaniment to the roasted meats.

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We simply can’t get enough of the mustard and purchase jars of the stuff to take home.

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The sour dill pickles feel right at home alongside the sandwiches.

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Cakes are moist and flavorful and the coconut cake is high on our list of great ways to complete a Philippe’s meal.

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For a taste of classic Los Angeles from one of the first purveyors of the French dip, Philippe’s is the spot to go retro.

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Philippe the Original, 1001 North Alameda Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone – 213-628-3781          web site – philippes.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Of The Oldest Thai Establishments In LA Brings The Classics Home

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Today we had the pleasure of dining at Chao Krung, one of the oldest Thai restaurants in Los Angeles. The second oldest, according to the owners.

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A tranquil space decorated with charming pagodas, wall murals, Buddhist art and lots of dark wood is warm and welcoming.

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The menu features traditional Thai cuisine and we dug into some of our favorites, beginning with chicken larb.

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The ground poultry salad is spiked with onion, chili, ground toasted rice and lime juice. Each chef has their own secret recipe for this Lao/Thai dish of pure refreshment.

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This version is served with lettuce leaves and mint, encouraging guests to wrap the salad in a romaine leaf, add some mint, fold into a taco shape and enjoy. The briny, tangy, coarse, citrus and herb scented mix is one of the most exciting Thai dishes we know.

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We were also impressed with the shiitake mushroom salad, packed with juicy, meaty grilled mushroom slices, a profusion of dark greens, tomato, bell pepper, cilantro and a light, complementary Thai dressing.

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No Thai meal feels complete without one of their signature soups and we feasted on a chili spiced, coconut milk based, chicken and herb soup accented with kaffir leaves, galangal and lemongrass.

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One of the most well known dishes is pad thai, where tangles of flat rice noodles are tossed with lime juice, green onion, fresh bean sprouts, shredded carrot, scrambled egg, crushed peanuts and plump shrimp in a mildly sweet sauce.

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The sweetness of the pad thai and other dishes can be tempered by the addition of vinegar with chopped chilies, one of the Thai condiments available to customers. The green chilies are hot and if spicy isn’t desired, the vinegar alone cuts the sweet and adds a zesty flavor creating a sweet and tangy melange that pushes Thai dishes to shine even brighter.

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Another bowl that is kicked into higher levels of excitement by the addition of spicy vinegar, is the duck curry. Tender, in-house roasted duck is combined with pineapple, tomato, basil, bell pepper and onions in a creamy, red curry and coconut sauce. This rich dish is perfect over rice, which sops up every drop.

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Meat lovers will appreciate the crying tiger appetizer, consisting of rare slices of beef that are dipped into the chili flecked sauce that accompanies, sometimes bringing guests to tears of spicy joy.

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We cooled our palates with their coconut ice cream, expertly accented with roasted cashew nuts and made on the premises.

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For a taste of Thailand from one of the families that introduced LA to the cuisine, Chao Krung remains a serene spot to savor life with good friends over memorable Thai classics.

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Chao Krung Restaurant, 111 North Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone – 323-939-8361           web site – chaokrungla.com

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

El Monte’s Vietnamese Soup Bowls

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One of the freshest and healthiest cuisines we’ve found is Vietnamese and from Little Saigon in Orange County to the San Gabriel Valley, little local establishments put out some impressive renditions of the flavor filled dishes.

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Viet Huong in El Monte is one such spot which doles out hot steamy bowls from a simple dining room.

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Our exploration of the menu began with goi cuon tom heo, also known as summer rolls or salad roll.

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These revitalizing rice paper rolls are stuffed with shrimp, lean pork, crisp fried pork, rice noodles, lettuce,and herbs and served with a sweet and savory peanut sauce.

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Cha gio are fried egg rolls of rice noodles, pork, herbs and vegetables that are served with a plate of lettuce and fresh herbs for wrapping the rolls before dipping them into the chili spiked dipping sauce.

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The crisp skins contrast well with the smooth savory filling.

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We love to hit these rolls with a serious dollop of the chili oil found on the table.

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Viet Huong has an extensive list of pho, noodle soups.

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There are the traditional meaty bowls of rare beef,

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or seafood.

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But we were drawn to the bowls we had never tried before, spicy beef stews.

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Bun rieu huyet (above) combines thin rice noodles in a tomato broth then adds shrimp, crab, chicken and  pork blood cubes which are good for those who need some extra iron in their diet. The bun bo hue (pictured below) is a spicy bowl of beef broth with a spagetti noodle, herbs and onions. We swapped out the pigs blood and pork hocks for flank and they were happy to accommodate our request when some ingredients are a bit too exotic for our tastes.

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The resulting spicy, rich and complex broth is highlighted by al dente noodles, herbs and tender chunks of beef.

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We spike the soup with the juice from lime slices, torn up basil leaves and a handful of bean sprouts.

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Exotic traditional Vietnamese coffee and tropical fruit drinks abound.

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Cafe sira da is an iced espresso coffee with condensed milk,

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While a cafe sira nong is a hot Vietnamese coffee that is strong in both it’s coffee kick and alluring sweetness.  Vietnamese coffee drinks are a must try.

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For a journey into the Vietnamese bounty a visit to Viet Huong is a good start.

Viet Huong Restaurant, 10727 Garvey Avenue, El Monte, CA 91733
Phone – 626-454-2590