Captivating Culinary Tours

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One of the most intriguing facets of Turkish culture is the dedication to stunning presentation alongside a perfected foundation. This trait is eloquently showcased at Istanbul’s most famous baklava emporium, Karaköy Güllüo?lu. Trays of meticulously crafted pastries seduce customers at this bakery established in 1949 in the Karaköy district of Istanbul, by a family that has been honing exemplary baklava in Gaziantep, Turkey since the 1800’s.

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This Turkish sanctuary of multi layered wonders, is known by locals for uncompromising dedication to tradition and quality which oozes from the depths of each morsel.

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We were lovingly guided to Karaköy Güllüo?lu by Turkish gastronomy expert, consultant and writer, Hülya Ek?igil on Context Travel’s Beyond Baklava Tour. Hülya’s expertise and organic streaming of relevant information, storytelling, and joy flowed effortlessly, adding exponential value to our explorations. Insider tips, hidden treasures and historic tidbits poured forth, keeping us spellbound as we savored our way through a tasting walk that covered much more than the title suggested.

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Our journey went far beyond baklava and deep into the heart of smooth milk puddings, gooey Turkish delight, thick fruit jams, almond paste candies, Turkish sesame desserts, to a tiny hole-in-the-wall coffee shop that roasts their own beans and lays claim to the best cup of Turkish coffee in Istanbul. We traversed fascinating, funky, and lively old neighborhoods where historic sweet shops, artisanal bakeries and hip cafes abound.

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Tucked between organic markets and artist studios we explored local cheese shops, traditional bakeries, and small restaurants, sampling unique cheeses, fresh baked breads, and thick rice flour puddings made with chicken. We learned about the history and significance of these diverse culinary gems, and the Ottoman Empire’s mixing of cultures to create a distinct and significant cuisine.

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At our last stop we savored layers of buttery filo, chopped pistachios and a perfect balance of honey while reflecting on the enjoyment of the day. It was difficult to tear away from our little group as Hülya continued to fascinate to the end with animated tales of Turkey, the owners of Güllüo?lu and Istanbul’s growth and transformation over the decades.

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We cannot overemphasize the value of a passionate and knowledgeable guide in a new city. We feel as guests with limited time abroad, we now have a basic understanding of the Turkish people, cuisine and culture that would have taken months if not years to gain on our own. Thank you to Hülya Ek?igil, Context Travel, Karaköy Güllüo?lu and an abundance of small shops and businesses that granted us an overwhelmingly hospitable and luscious peek into the heart of Istanbul. We have fallen deeply in love with Turkey’s culture and cuisine and look forward to returning at the earliest possible opportunity to delve deeper into your warm, creative and inspired soul.

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Karaköy Güllüo?lu Factory and HQ : Karaköy, Mumhane Cad. No: 171 34425 ?stanbul / Türkiye        T: +90 212 249 96 80 – F: +90 212 244 71 17

Karaköy Güllüo?lu Shop:Karaköy, R?ht?m Cad. Katl? Otopark Alt? No: 3-4 ?stanbul / Türkiye   T: +90 212 293 09 10      E-Mail: info@karakoygulluoglu.com

Context Travel offers intimate (six participants or less), local expert led walking seminars in some of the worlds most stunning cultural capitals of Europe, Asia, Australia, North and South America .

 

Koreatown French Bakery

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Deep in the heart of Koreatown is the seductive Paris Baguette, an elegant bakery displaying luscious traditional French pastries, as well as Asian fusion surprises. Originating in Korea, the franchise came to Los Angeles in 2005 and has been expanding ever since.

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The attractive space is well organized with crisp, clean, exceptionally packaging, making the goodies even more enticing.

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Creme filled buns and chocolate covered doughnuts glisten in glass cases.

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A wide selection of French macarons pack some serious punch. We fell hard for the passionfruit version which is a spot on, sweet and tart reflection of the tropical fruit.

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Attention to detail, design and decoration is the focus here, with sweets that are as visually ravishing as they are orally pleasurable.

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An assortment of ready to heat and eat appetizers can also be found on the shelves.

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Adorable mini croissants temp with flakey, puffed, buttery layers.

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Charming packaging makes every corner a joy to explore.

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Sandwiches, unique sausage stuffed pies and cheese tarts are savory options. Individual pastries start at under a dollar and rise to just a few greenbacks which makes us feel a whole lot better about giving in to such attractive and indulgent baked goods.

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For divine splurges that will impress at any party, Paris Baguette is one of our favorite spots to shop.

Paris Baguette, 3470 West 6th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90020
Phone – 213-384-0404          web site – parisbaguetteusa.com

or

Paris Baguette, 125 North Western Avenue, Suite 101, Los Angeles, CA 90004
Phone – 323-467-0404

or

Paris Baguette, 621 South Western Avenue, Suite 105, Los Angeles, CA 90010
Phone – 213-368-0404

Sublime Mexican Fruit and Ice Cream Creations

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Anyone who happens to be near Pico and Crenshaw between the hours of 6 AM and 9 PM should schedule a stop at Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars.

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The bright, colorful shop sells all natural, Mexican ice cream and popsicles as well as made to order produce juices, milkshakes and other fruit and vegetable based goodies.

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The fruit bars, also known as paletas, are made with minimal ingredients, most are simply blended fruit and a little sugar.  Chunks of fruit, citrus juice, spices and other natural ingredients are sometimes added, but its the simplicity and honoring of the fruit that is paramount.

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Besides popsicles and chocolate covered popsicles, Mateo’s also sells frozen bananas and ice cream that are all serious flavor bombs.

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We are head over heals in love with the passion fruit scoops that have a consistency hovering somewhere between sherbet, Italian ice and ice cream. The flavor is spot on passion fruit pulp, so much so we expect to crunch into the fruits black seeds. The driving force behind the amazing flavors of these frozen delights are the 100 percent all natural ingredients.

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The cafe and chocolate shines with strong coffee flavor and crunchy, frozen chocolate chips. The coconut ice cream is a creamy tropical pleasure.

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Prices are delightful as well with a single, very generous scoop setting us back $2.00. Doubles are $3.75, triples $4.50 and quadruples $5.75. They also have beautiful waffle cones and waffle bowls that add just a dollar or a dollar and a quarter more to the bill.

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Those looking for something a bit healthier will find smoothies, milk shakes and the famous juice blends called vampiros, all made to order.

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Another Mexican treat, corn kernels with mayonnaise, cheese, chili powder and lime can also be whipped up warm and ready to satisfy.

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Mateo’s is a Los Angeles fruteria (fruit shop) not to be missed, offering exceptional value on stunning versions of Mexican fruit and milk based sweets that take natural ingredients to their highest common denominator and that is something we think is worth sharing.

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Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars, 4234 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90019
Phone – 323-931-5500

or

Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars, 1250 South Vermont Avenue, Suite 105, Los Angeles, CA 90006                          Phone – 213-738-7288

or

Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars, 4929 Sepulveda Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90230
Phone – 310-313-7625

 

Gratifying Cuban Bakery

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Adorable Myrtle Avenue in Old Town Monrovia feels like Main Street USA. The well tended, tree lined avenue is loaded with charming shops and a green park. The precisely placed benches in front of the library allow visitors to sit and savor a cup of coffee or a good book.

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Merengue Bakery and Cafe sits mid Myrtle and is a Cuban pastry shop offering handmade cakes, pastries and traditional Cuban delicacies. The in-house café has both indoor and outdoor seating where one can relax and enjoy a cup of Café Cubano or savor one of their world-famous cheese or meat filled potato balls.

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Were were impressed with the beauty of the luscious offerings inside the overflowing cases.

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Their Cuban specialties include Cuban cake, queso crema roll and refugees which are guava and cheese filled, flakey danish.

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The small dining room is a warm and inviting space to sit and enjoy a morning or afternoon replenishing reprieve.

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Cuban snacks include, Croqueta de Jamon.  Seasoned ground ham blends with potato coated in bread crumbs, creating a creamy, smokey, super smooth appetizer that soothes rough days.

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Potato balls are one of Cuba’s most famous comfort foods and Merengue stuffs theirs with either the traditional picadillo (spiced beef) or warm gooey cheese.

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Both are coated in a bread crumb crust creating a crisp shell to bite through before hitting the wall of silky mashed potato that gives way to the choice of filling.

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Picadillo also fills the pastel de carne.

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Where flakey layers of pastry dough conceal the spiced meat.

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Desserts are a tough choice with a wide variety that all called to us, but we ultimately decided on the refugee.

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Another light, thinly layered delight loaded with guava jam and cheese giving a sweet, salty, savory blend of flavors to the confection.

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We found all of the Cuban specialty snacks and baked goods to be exceptionally tasty and gratifying, making Merengue one of our top bakery picks for Monrovia.

Merengue Bakery & Cafe, 417 South Myrtle Avenue, Monrovia, CA 91016
Phone – 626-358-5650           web site – merenguebakery.com

 

A Local Indian Adventure

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One of the larger shops in the independently owned India Sweets & Spices chain is located in Northridge. Serving the local community, they offer a wide selection of goods for those interested in cooking, eating and living India culture and cuisine.

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A small produce section offers the basics at the front door, while aisles carry prepackaged mixes to facilitate the easy cooking of traditional snacks, dishes and sweets.

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At the back of the store, a hot food counter and small seating area supply Indian street food, mixed plates, chai and yogurt drinks for just a few dollars.

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The hot trays showcase what’s available on each particular day. A completely vegetarian menu highlights the talents of Indian chefs who have mastered the art of produce and legume specialties.

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A side case displays chaat and snacks that are commonly seen as Indian street and fast food.

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At the front near the register we encountered freshly made sweets. We had a hard time choosing from the colorful milk based desserts.  All are exceptional rich and a few bites satisfies our sweet tooth completely.

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A fried snacks case displays spicy, salty crunchy delights that are eaten throughout the day.

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We are fascinated by the beauty product aisles that hold the secrets to beautiful hair and skin.

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After browsing the store for a bit, we chose a selection of sweets that we will be savoring through the holidays.

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For an exciting look into India’s delicious locally made and imported treasures, India’s Sweets & Spices is a exotic adventure not to be missed.

India Sweets & Spices, 18110 Parthenia Street, Northridge, CA 91325
Phone number – 818-407-1498

German Treasure Trove in Woodland Hills

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Down an alley in Woodland Hills lies a treasure trove called German Cold Cuts International. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t find it right way , it’s there. Look for the big sign in the parking lot and then head back down the alley and there she is.

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The name appears to cause a bit of confusion, although there is a deli counter filled with cold cuts, the main attraction for us, are the wonderful imported and locally crafted German and European products that fill every nook and cranny.

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The deli puts out substantial sandwiches of fresh German salami, garlic baloney, wurst, etc. for the reasonable price of approximately $6.00 each.

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While the friendly and helpful staff are always there to explain the goods or assist in finding the perfect gift.

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Cookies, cakes, bread, chocolate, drinks, condiments, jams and little tastes of all things German, require a bit of time to explore and savor.

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We couldn’t resist the pretzels, and purchased a recommended jar of Lowensenf spicy mustard, which has the smoothest texture and a vinegar twang that is a perfect partnership with the thick doughy pretzel.

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We were most impressed with a dazzling pastry called bienenstich, that translates to bee sting and is a sweet little slice of heaven. The honey drenched thick creme filling is surrounded by dense cake layers, all topped off with a slivered almond filled glaze. We had never heard of a bee sting before our visit to German Cold Cuts International, but we will never forget this perfection in pastry and will be on the lookout whenever our travels take us anywhere near the vicinity of a European or German bakery.

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Then of course there is beer, consult with the staff to get the lowdown on which brand will be best for your tastes.

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Don’t be put off by the name, this is a German smorgasbord of a store that is best savored slowly while consuming something delicious from the deli or aisles.  Enjoy a traditional taste of Germany right here in our neck of the woods.

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German Cold Cuts International, 6019 Topanga Canyon Boulevard, Suite C, Woodland Hills, CA 91367          Phone – 818-883-8051

Snacks And Sweets In Little India

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Little India in Artesia, is home to some of our best Indian food and a little sweets and snacks shop called Ambala, has been serving these favorite bites to the community for over 24 years.

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Mithai (traditional Indian sweets), namkeen (Indian savory and salty snacks) and chat (Indian snacks prepared with a mix of savory ingredients), are all made with fresh and natural ingredients, free of preservatives and artificial flavors.

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Masala Chai, the warm, rich tea made with milk and spices is a superb drink to accompany the sweet or savory snacks.  Chai is $1.00 here and is enjoyed at all times of the day and evening.

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We sampled fried dumplings coated in honey.

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The puffed pastry was engorged with a mix of cardamom scented, coarsely ground, sweet nuts and fruit mix that is rich and satisfying. A bite or two of the intensely flavored sweets is all that’s needed.

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When we are in the need for spicy, savory or salty Ambala has us covered as well.

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Trays full of crisp, crunchy, baked and fried snacks enhanced with Indian spices, and if desired with spicy chili, are available to munch on alone or within chat. Chat street bowls mix the savory, crunchy snacks displayed with chutneys, yogurt and in other presentations that can be a full meal or just a appetite appeaser after a long day of shopping in Little India.

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The shop is 100% vegetarian and has a number of vegetarian plates, if a meal is what’s called for.  Ambala takes care of you no matter which end of the peckish spectrum your on and does it with panache, tons of flavor and low prices.

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And don’t forget they also have kulfi, a milk and ice product cooked down to its thick, rich, sweet essence that blows most American ice cream out of the competition.

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For a taste to go, a snack, meal, sweet with tea or any other combination or Indian themed event, Ambala has a long standing tradition of being a leader in the sweets and snacks arena and worth a visit to partake of their colorful and fragrant nibbles.

Ambala Sweets & Snacks, 18433 Pioneer Boulevard, Artesia, CA 90701
Phone – 562-402-0006         web site – ambalasweets.us/index.html

 

 

Frozen Yogurt Stands Its Ground For 20 Years

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For twenty years we’ve been visiting the little yogurt shop in the mini mall on the south-east corner of Westwood and Olympic Boulevards and we’ve never been disappointed.  The line most nights snakes out the door, but things move fast and a light jovial atmosphere prevails.

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Frozen yogurt comes in and out of fashion, but with UCLA just a short distance up the road, The Bigg Chill appears to have a steady clientele in search of a healthier sweet.

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The creamy, soft serve, frozen yogurt comes in fat free, dairy free, wow cow and carbolite, to satisfy every dietary and calorie restrictive diet. Flavors change daily with some standards that are always on the menu like Chill Berry (a sweet, tart yogurt), vanilla classic, Ghirardelli chocolate and peanut butter.

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They also offer shakes, pies, ice blended mochas and a small selection of low fat, low carb, and low calorie baked goods and snacks.  But everyone is eating the frozen yogurt and that’s what we order also.

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Pretty cones dipped in chocolate and sprinkles are displayed, but we’ve never seen anyone eat one.  Most embrace the healthy spirit of the place and order their yogurt in a cup.

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Of course there’s no sense going overboard with the health and wellness philosophies and some toppings are on the slightly sinful side.  It’s up to guests to decide how healthy or not they want to take things.

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Being purists we like to dive into the unadorned frozen yogurt.  Last nights choice was a mocha fudge custard that didn’t need anything except a spoon to make the smooth, mildly sweet, coffee rich cupful a great end to a long day.  All the custard flavors have an extra creamy texture and intensity that we like.  We also took home a quart of the chill berry (also known as sweet tart) because it goes with absolutely everything and we love knowing we have a stash in our freezer for emergencies when something sweet and satisfying is desperately needed.

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Consistency in product quality and service for 20 years explains why the Bigg Chill still pulls long lines of happy students and neighbors in search of a dessert that tastes more decadent than it actually is.  It works for us every time.

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Bigg Chill Frozen Yogurt, 10850 West Olympic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90064
Phone – 310-475-1070          web site – thebiggchill.com

 

 

 

 

 

Westside Mexican and Salvadorian Temptress

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Tonight we checked out Manoly’s Bakery on Santa Monica Boulevard. A couple blocks west of Barrington, in the heart of west LA, we were thrilled to find fantastic tacos, tamales, flan and pupusas, not commonly encountered in these parts.

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The small shop painted electric green, forces the walls to vibrate against the red signage. A case of Mexican sweet breads sits along the wall as we entered.  We then came upon an ice cream case filled with Thrifty brand ice cream sidled up to Latin crafted exotic flavors.  A cold pastry case also thrills with sweets such as napoleons and flan.

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The menu has a selection of American offerings but based on the decor, staff and recommendations we went right for the Latin food and hit pay dirt.

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We were especially thrilled with the tacos of al pastor and carne asada. The pastor is juicy, spiced pork carved off a rotisserie, edged with fat and brimming with the flavor that only comes from slow cooking grease trickling down and imbuing its essence into the meat. This al pastor is particularly remarkable for its very distinct infusion of sweet pineapple juice that adds a citrus sweetness perfectly complementing the porkiness.

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The carne asada  (roast meat), is a cut of fine beefy steak that is well marbled and spice balanced. Succulent enough to eat alone, the meat transforms with the addition of onion, cilantro, avocado and salsa, into the taco of our dreams.

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Speaking of salsa, Manoly’s has a slightly spicy molcajete, coursely ground salsa, that celebrates the roasting and burning of fresh peppers and tomatoes by incorporating their smoky goodness into the condiment.

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We used the molcajete on everything achieving stunning results. Its freshness enhances all it touches, including the chicken in red sauce, tamales Oxaquenos.

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Outside on the sidewalk, Salvadorian pupusas are prepared on order and grilled, not a regular sight on Santa Monica Boulevard at this end of town.  They take about twenty minutes and combine simple cheese, cheese and calabasa (pumpkin), pork or beans.

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Customers choose their fillings which are slapped into corn flour and grilled.

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A red tomato sauce and curtido (pickled cabbage relish), top the oozing, grilled cheese filled packages.

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The beans add a hit of saltiness to the basic homey flavor.

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Desserts abound as this is a bakery, which we briefly forgot as we dug into some of the best tacos we’ve had on the westside. Napolians and fat cakes temp.

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As do the enormous Mexican sweet breads, that will surely throw us off our carb free diet with the force of a freight train.

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We were able to pass the breads this time, but the flan proved too tempting.  They have two kinds and we fell big time for the large round of homestyle flan, whose eggy richness is enhanced by the sweet caramel syrup that it floats in.  This flan is amazingly light and rich at the same time with just the right touch of sweetness.

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This physics defying dessert, is the perfect finish to any meal.

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For an emersion into the enchantresses of Mexico and El Salvador, Manoly’s Bakery proves to be a revelation, escorting the exciting flavors of Latin America to us in the most rewarding of forms.  Thank you Manoly.

Manoly’s Bakery, 11771 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Phone – 310-473-0622

 

Hidden Farmers Market at Kaiser WLA

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Today we found ourselves at Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles, searching for a cure to our lovely bout of vertigo, when we stumbled upon their Wednesday farmers Market. Waiting to see a doctor, we decided to check it out.

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The small but well rounded market boasts vendors selling produce, juice and healthy lunch options. Ken’s Top Notch Produce offers fruit and vegetables that are certified organic.

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Other stands, such as Buenrostro Farms, grow their natures bounty in Turlock, California.

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Bright, fresh vegetables abound, a testament to Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to the healthy lifestyle their commercials promote.

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Pure pomegranate juice, free from water, sugar and additives is available in an assortment of sizes.

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Baba Food offers Mediterranean dips, chips and salads that we couldn’t pass up.

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The sun dried tomato garlic dip made with whole food ingredients, is a kick of garlic in an intense, rich dip that went well with their Greek flat pita bread, also free from additives and preservatives.

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The California Juicery will squeeze out your favorite mix of fresh juice.

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While Salsas Poblana offers samples of their fresh spicy salsas, guacamole, sour cream and chips to help customers chose salsas most suited to their taste.

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The fat packages from Jumbo Tamales are made without lard or preservatives.

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We chose the chicken tamale with green sauce, a lighter masa version stuffed with tender shredded chicken and a tangy green salsa.

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By the time we arrived at 1 PM, Good Morning Vietnam was completely sold out of everything, meaning no banh mi, pho, spring rolls or green papaya salad at all.  We now have an opportunity to revisit this market to find out why.

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For a little nibble of sweetness from natural, chemical free, freshly baked bread and pastries, Delices de France Bakery brings the goods.

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These pastries called to everyone in the courtyard.

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The farmers market sets up Wednesdays from 9 AM to 2:30 PM in the courtyard in front of Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles.  You can pay $2.00 for an hour’s parking in their lot or find free spots on one of the adjacent streets and get a bit of exercise while taking advantage of the healthy offerings at this hidden market place.  Live long and thrive.

Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles Medical Center, 6041 Cadillac Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Phone – 323-857-2000      web site – kaiserpermanente.org